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Alaska

Into the Interior

Riding out of the Brooks Range into blue skies, dry roads and lush, green forests.

My first 9 days on the road can be characterized by one word: HARD! I tend to relish the occasional challenge, and was welcoming of those I anticipated encountering on the Haul Road, but ran headfirst into a host of other unforeseen hurdles. Compounded by one hell of a knee injury (suffered on Day 2 from an ever-so-slightly higher saddle height–I think) I can safely say the 9 days from Deadhorse to Fairbanks were the hardest of my life.

After 3 full days of rest, recuperation and an eating binge of A.T.-sized proportions, my spirits are on the up and up and I’m excited to skip town for Denali National Park and the Alaska Range beyond.

With promises of smoother sailing as the Brooks Range faded behind me, I was quickly reminded that a lack of tall peaks doesn't always equate to easy riding; think Vermont-sized "hills," with the grades to boot, on rough dirt roads. This lovely stretch of fresh blacktop just north of Coldfoot gave brief relief to my now nauseatingly painful knee. A steady diet of Vitamin I was soon to follow.

With mud-clogged brakes and a gritty drive train it was time for some maintenance as I rolled into Marion Creek Campground. My motivation for spending any amount of time off of a moving bicycle or out of an enclosed tent was quickly zapped as I was introduced to the interior's mosquitoes.

Typical view at either end of the tent, all throughout the night. Just a few of the billions...

To celebrate the passing of Horace Mountain the previous day--thanks Horace! (There's a photo of the mountain somewhere, shrouded in clouds) Eating proved to be the most difficult challenge when it came to the mozzies; for fear of spilling food in the tent and attracting bears I was forced to don the mosquito net and start walking. I'd scoop a bite of food, pause long enough to eat and leave the cloud of bugs floating just behind.

Impromptu burger and fries in Coldfoot, merely 5 miles after downing the bacon and eggs with oats breakfast-of-champions.

Pumping crude oil 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay south to Valdez, the Alyeska Pipeline is always within site on the Dalton Highway. Zigzagging across the landscape to allow flexibility for expansion and contraction with temperatures swinging from 80* to -80*F, the line is mostly elevated to prevent the hot oil from melting the permafrost.

Clearly it wasn't all pain and suffering. I caught back up with the Swiss crew a couple nights later along the North Fork of Bonanza Creek.

We celebrated Xavier's birthday in style, his last one with a '5' in the front. The bug canopy made for a more pleasant, stationary meal.

The beginning of a brutal day on the road. I'd be seeing my first sunset later that night.

Carved into the landscape in just 154 days, the Dalton has no regard for gently graded climbs. Most longer climbs checked in around 8-9% while the shorter ones, like the Roller Coaster--Alaska's steepest grade at 14%--take the form of a straight line. It's a wonder dirt sticks to the hillside on some of them.

King of the Road. Trucks own the right of way on the Haul Road. With the exception of one buzzing (my fault for not hearing it approach from behind), the truckers were quite respectful, often slowing down to lighten the dusting and always passing wide to the left. My Ibuprofen stash was also restocked by a female trucker--in her 20s--at the Hot Spot Cafe.

Snacks from a passing team of researchers. With the exception of the Swiss couples, I saw 1 other rider over 500 miles--and he was asleep in his tent...

Mostly it was me and the wildlife. Thousands of Monarch butterflies, 3 grizzlies (2 of which were feeding on a caribou carcass directly downwind from my first planned campsite), moose, foxes, caribou, Dall sheep, Trumpeter Swans, geese, ravens, marmots and one large, unsuspecting wolf that ran across the road 50 yards ahead of me.

End of the road. A left on Route 2 and 80 miles to Fairbanks.

A common scene in the summer, forest fires dot the Alaska interior's horizon. In 2004, fires scorched an area of land equal in size to the state of Massachusetts.

Motivation for a 90-mile push on my final day. Beer, green salad, burger, fries and a massive pants-tightening piece of bread pudding!

A night in an eclectic neighborhood in Goldstream with Emily and the dogs, a solstice cookout with friends Jennifer and Pete from the Dalton Highway, a couple nights at Billie's Backpacker Hostel, lots of coffee, vegetables and Ben & Jerry's and I'm ready to hit the road again.

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Discussion

32 thoughts on “Into the Interior

  1. Nice reading and great photos! You would be a great leader for a company called Backroads! 🙂 Sounds like you are enjoying it. I would love everything except the mosquitos!! I know that they love me! Looking forward to more great photos and descriptions.

    Posted by Chris Wagoner | June 22, 2011, 9:09 am
  2. Awesome Greg! I’m bummed I didn’t get to see you before you left, but I’ll be following your progress religiously. I’m impressed by the ground you’ve covered in such a short time. Keep up the good work.

    Posted by CSproul | June 22, 2011, 12:27 pm
    • Packing the apartment and leaving town turned into more of a fiasco than anticipated. I wanted to cruise over to your place with the bike loaded but honestly didn’t pack it for the first time til the Prudhoe Bay airport! Thanks for following and be well!

      Posted by The Simple Pleasure | June 23, 2011, 3:14 am
      • Greg,
        Are you planning on riding the Great Divide route? If so, would you be roughly following the mapped route that mapped by the Adventure Cycling Assoc? What is you’re projected time for being in that area?

        Posted by CSproul | June 23, 2011, 2:34 pm
      • Yes! The Divide is most certainly on the agenda! As of now, I have tentative plans with the brothers Ward to do The Grand Traverse in Jackson the last week of August, head back out on route the first couple days of Sept before splitting again around Sept 12-14 (in Silverthorne, CO?) to catch a train to SLC for a couple weeks of Backroads work. The timeline from Banff to Jackson is a bit less firm but — and I’m sensing a potential meetup along the way — I could nail things down if need be.

        Posted by The Simple Pleasure | June 24, 2011, 2:57 pm
  3. Greg, Great stuff dude. I’ll definitely be following along with this blog. Take care of that knee – it’s gotta take you a long way.

    Keep trucking brother.

    -TBX

    Posted by TBX | June 22, 2011, 1:14 pm
  4. Your photos look great! Sending you knee-healing, mosquito-repelling, Grizzly-avoiding vibes for the next leg!

    Posted by Erin | June 22, 2011, 1:38 pm
  5. Keep the updates and photos coming! I’m drooling with envy (and hunger) at your photos. Tell me that’s a free-wheel and not a fixie. That’s just utter insanity! When do you think you’ll be roaming down the West Coast? Stay hunger (in more ways than one) buddy!

    Posted by John Miller | June 22, 2011, 7:07 pm
    • Miller Time! I ain’t that crazy; that there is a Rohloff hub with 14 internal gears to keep things simple. No West Coast swing this time. Staying in the mountains on the Great Divide. Once Nick’s knee is rehabed you boys need to come join!

      Posted by The Simple Pleasure | June 23, 2011, 3:26 am
  6. Hope the next leg goes well and that your knee gives you no more trouble. Loved the photos and talking with you on Father’s Day, wish we could talk more often. Call again soon. Love, Mom

    Posted by Dorie | June 22, 2011, 7:17 pm
  7. PS that bread pudding looks almost as good as the stuff in Hill City!

    Posted by Dorie | June 22, 2011, 7:18 pm
  8. Solstice greetings to you from hilly Vermont. It is wonderful to follow along with you on this journey, and share in the experience. I love your story telling voice – keep musing. I think of you moving across the landscape often and I’ll send a little extra energy your way each time you come to mind. Thanks for bringing us along, hopefully your fans don’t add any extra weight.

    Might you want a little care package at some point?

    Travel well Greg.
    Ruby

    Posted by ruby | June 22, 2011, 8:36 pm
    • Ruby! Thank you so much for the extra energy — I could feel it as I cruised up and over each hill today!

      A care package!?! How could I refuse a care package:) I’m sure we can find a way to coordinate something….

      Big hugs to you and Andy!

      Posted by The Simple Pleasure | June 23, 2011, 3:34 am
  9. Hey Greg,
    I almost forgot about this. I am salivating while reading this…so jealous! Hey, what type of tent are you using? I was quite skeptical of the disc brakes. I hope they don’t give you too much trouble. See you at DaVita maybe (I heard a rumor that you might be there)? Keep on rollin’ buddy!
    -Jason

    Posted by Jason | June 22, 2011, 10:58 pm
    • JD! Glad you found the blog. I’m using a Tarptent Squall 2. I’ve had this one for 5 years and it’s still going strong. No need to be skeptical of mechanical disc brakes — possibly MORE reliable than rim brakes, especially screaming down 5-mile-long snow-covered muddy descents. And rumor has it right. See you in Conn. on Sept 15!

      Posted by The Simple Pleasure | June 23, 2011, 3:40 am
  10. Greg, your posts are really amazing. I hope you can keep this up as you continue south. It sort of makes our morning to sit and read about what you have been up to. Leighton is quite worried about your knee and hoping it gets better with each passing day. If you can give us a couple weeks head start, we will send you a consumable care package, as my Mom suggested. Also, I am going to be in SLC for a long weekend October 6-9 – maybe you’ll be there then? P.W. has embarked on his own journey from the food bowl to the couch and back. His knees seem to be fine. Much love to you. Z & L

    Posted by Leighton & Zpora | June 25, 2011, 9:35 am
    • Thank you both for following along! No worries about the knee; although a little swollen and achy still it gets better and better each day. Not sure we’ll cross paths in SLC. I’m back from Conn and headed out of town on the 1st. But if you’re headed south while there… A care package would be amazing! I expect to be in Juneau anywhere between July 11-14 but don’t have an address for my buddy yet. If your friend is still in town I’d love to meet her, otherwise general delivery at the post office always works. Hope the garden is keeping y’all well fed!

      Posted by The Simple Pleasure | June 29, 2011, 4:36 pm
  11. Greg! Your photos and voice are amazing. Ian and I have been checking your place on the map religiously and it’s so good to see you and hear from you on your voyage. We have been sending you much love and comfort since you started through the hardest thing you’ve ever done, these first 9 days. You are courageous and inspiring! We hope your knee falls in line soon. Of course all I can think about are the grizzlies – did they see you? How far away were you? What about the third? If I were there would they have eaten me? Much love, Brooke

    Posted by Brooke | June 25, 2011, 1:09 pm
    • Hey Brooke! Great to hear from you. The grizzlies up here are so friendly–much less nosy than the black bear on Hawk Mountain! They’re all well fed and want nothing to do with me (so far). Thank you so much for the audio piece, Brooke. It is an amazing gift and means so much to be able to hear everyone’s voice whenever the mood strikes. Hope the summer is going well!

      Posted by The Simple Pleasure | June 29, 2011, 4:47 pm
      • It was a pleasure making the audio piece and such an honor to hear what others had to say about you. You are very loved. Enjoy crossing the border and cycling in a group!

        Posted by Brooke Toczylowski | July 2, 2011, 11:24 pm
  12. Greg, it was a pleasure meeting you at the coffee shop in Denali. My family and I look forward to tracking your progress on this fascinating and courageous adventure.

    Best of luck,
    The Spencer Family.

    Posted by John Spencer | June 26, 2011, 3:15 am
  13. You da man Greg. Enjoy Denali. We did last year. All the best. Gary Toczylowski.

    Posted by Gary Toczylowski | June 26, 2011, 5:07 pm
    • Thanks Gary. I’ll be in your neck of the woods in Sept for a couple weeks of work and a nice break from riding. I’ll look you up if I get a free afternoon.

      Posted by The Simple Pleasure | June 29, 2011, 4:48 pm
      • If you need a place to crash feel free. We are in Glastonbury. Just let me know a little bit in advance so I can make sure I have enough food and homebrew on hand.

        Posted by Gary Toczylowski | July 3, 2011, 8:36 am
  14. Greg!
    I have been hearing about you from quite a few people. You are a few days ahead of me. I met Babs on the Dalton and she told me of your plan, great job bro!

    I’m outside Salcha on the Richardson headed for the Cadadian border. Where you headed in the next few days?

    Posted by Andres | June 29, 2011, 12:28 am
    • Andres! Great detective work! I’ve just come off the Denali Hwy and should be in Tok by Friday. My guess is we’ll bump into each other that day or the next. Would love to ride together, if just for a few days; I’m headed south on the Haines Hwy for a week or so off in SE AK. I’m on the orange Surly and I’ll be looking for your blue one. Otherwise, buzz me if you’re around Friday.

      Posted by The Simple Pleasure | June 29, 2011, 4:52 pm
  15. Greg,

    It was great meeting you in Denali last week. I was sad to miss an actual goodbye that I thought I would have at Black Bear—-my guest who fell hiking ended up needing a lot more of my attention. Which meant that I didn’t have coffee until around 1pm when I got settled on the train. The fact that that was rough makes me believe I’m truely addicted.

    Anyway, best of luck on all your travels. Enjoy every moment. 🙂

    Becca Fritz — Met in Denali at Black Bear Coffee House on June 24th (Because you’ll probably meet a lot of people I assume)

    Posted by Becca Fritz | June 29, 2011, 12:52 am

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