I finally left Alan’s at around 12:30 having minced about a bit with loading up. With Alan behind me I wobbled off up the road and into the start of my cycle tour. Any feelings of exhilaration soon drained away as I struggled out of Anchorage. Although slowed by a dead-end or two I finally made it out onto the cycle path bordering the Glenn Highway that would take me north towards Palmer. By the time I left Anchorage I had already clocked up 8 or 9 miles and wasn’t feeling particularly energetic. I will not miss Anchorage which I perceive to be one of the lower rise cities in the States; just a few hotels poke their obnoxious heads above the canopy in down town.
I gave Eddie Vedder the chance to ignite my spirit of adventure, it flickered but in a rather underwhelming fashion so I was glad to reach Eagle River and the chance to refuel. The break did me good and I enjoyed the next miles along the Old Glen Highway up to Peters Creek where I was forced to join the highway proper. I admit that the thought of riding the highway did intimidate but with a large shoulder and towering mountains to my east it turned out to be not so unpleasant. I soon mastered the highway slip roads and had only the wobble in my front wheel to dwell on. After about 47 miles, my first day ended in an RV park in the pouring rain.
Next morning the sun was shining again and I was able to drink in the beauty of my location. Under the hum of morning highway traffic I gazed out over a mountain vista unremarkable to Alaska but sharp and exciting to a freshman cycle tourist.
I jumped on the Parks Highway and started peddling up my first inclines. After ten miles of incline I was rather unjustly rewarded with the dubious delights of Wasilla, home town of the seemingly unpopular Sarah Palin. I chomped through a sub and moved on up to Willow where I again stopped for some food. The riding was tough on my untuned body and I had to force myself to admire my surroundings.
I left Willow around half four and planned to stop at a point 3 miles off the highway. I was all set to throw in the towel but when the turning came I span right past it… I wasn’t ready to stop. The 18 miles after that were great as I finally got into a flow and zoned out. The road was mellow, my knees pumping and the sun beating. On one particularly straight section of road I’ll always remember looking up from the shoulder to see my first real view of the Alaska range towering away in the distance. I’d never seen really big mountains before and was accordingly gobsmacked. Here were the mountains of my mind and I knew they would only be getting closer.
Following two miles in the back of a road workers pilot truck and a few more colored by Jimi Hendrix and his Band of Gypsies, I found myself camped up by Sheep Creek.
As you can see, I got a little over excited about things at this camp spot.
As I got further from Anchorage the traffic got lighter and I subsequently became more bear aware. With my little can of bear spray at my side I washed in the creek and set up camp. Having cooked and made my first successful hoist of food into the trees, I had just enough time to sit down and reflect. The beauty of my camp spot cemented the advances I had made with my mindset. I’d spent much of my time thus far wondering what the hell I was doing here but that evening, perched on a log in the midnight sun, those doubts seemed to be quashed. The final words in my diary that evening were; ‘…great riding, beautiful camp spot, gorgeous weather and more tomorrow’.
Friday May 21st saw me spin 62 miles up to Byers Lake campground and not up to Talkeetna as I had intended. I quickly learnt my first lesson of the day in that it is not advisable to mix peanut butter in with luke warm porridge oats. A second lesson would later follow as I rediscovered the merits of navigating in bite sized 10 or 20 mile blocks.
I had expected to ride the 14 miles up to Talkeetna but was surprisingly talked out of it by the Talkeetna tourist information lady at the start of the road. I sacrificed the 28 mile round trip for the knowledge that if I made Byers lake that day I could enjoy a relaxing day off. I was very conscious of over doing it but my body was feeling good, even as I soldiered on in temperatures reaching up to 82 degrees F.
Not even being sprayed by a sewage truck with an open valve could dampen my spirits as I pedaled up to the Denali South viewpoint. In the clear air I had been afforded good views of Denali (Mount McKinley) much of the way up the highway, but actually stopping at the viewpoint to talk with others and admire the mountain gave me license to tick off my first ‘must see’ of the trip.
The mountain captivated me, she rose in the distance like a behemoth from the sea, with no smaller topographical features to disturb our view of her. I imagined piling the entire repertoire of Cumbria’s finest fells in a giant heap and wondered if their combined mass could match the colossal beast that stood before me. In my admiration I struggled to get context on her extraordinary dimensions.
By this stage I was becoming more and more aware that I was in bear country. Having done my research I was theoretically educated on the threat but still at times feared that this unknown enemy may be lurking behind every tree and in every bush. One thing you don’t want to do is surprise bears and to avoid this one is advised to shout and make lots of noise. People seem to develop their own shouts and with the help of Bob Marley I developed mine. Over the next few days locals would be witness to a white middle class English chap sweating his way though the heat to the tune of regular and loud proclamations of ‘JAH… RASTAFARI!!!’ Thanks Bob. Saw a Moose, but no bears.
A day off at Byers Lake where I enjoyed the company (and food) of Jason, Jim and Brandy set me up to continue north. A day of frustrations followed as cafe’s marked on the map failed to materialise and I suffered with hunger. After one particularly gruelling ascent I rounded the corner to see the Igloo and expected to be able to buy refreshments. Unfortunately all that met me was a huge unfinished igloo and nothing more. Between curses I managed to sit and brew some tea while eating half a jar of peanut butter for energy.
68 miles down in the day and 3337 feet climbed, I eventually rolled into Cantwell to be met by a whole load of people shooting guns. They weren’t at me thank goodness but none the less it was a bit strange. I really shouldn’t have been surprised as everyone seemed to have a few guns, a fact justified by the statement that ‘this is Alaska’. People I have met on the road would ask me what firearm I was carrying and almost look at me with shame as I revealed I’d never even touched a gun let alone fired one. Their shame would then turn to amusement as I’d rather feebly point out the can of bear spray hanging limply from my bar bag. For goodness sake America, with all these guns around, someone could get hurt!
A couple of days from Byers Lake I reached the Denali Park entrance and prepared myself to ride the Park road.
You can view the photo diary for this section of the journey here.