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Somewhere Between Obscurity and Oblivion
Denali Highway Bike Trip
July 31 to August 3, 2003

Starting out in Cantwell at 5:00 PM.
It was a nice day, but a strong breeze made it a bit chilly.
Left to right: me, Linda, Jessica Smith, Scott McArt.

Note: You can click on any of these photos for a bigger view.

One mile down, only 135 to go to get to Paxson. The pavement ended two miles beyond this sign and it was dirt road from there on.
Scott and Jess head up the first climb. We quickly found out that it was slow going. We were pedaling at a steady, but comfortable pace. I thought we could average 10 mph. But because of lots of stops (photos, food, etc.) and our heavy loads, we were only doing 6-7 mph.

Oooh, our first great view.

I should mention that the despite its name, the Denali Highway is not in Denali National Park, nor does it climb up any huge mountains. It is simply the old road that people used to get to Denali National Park before the paved highway was built from Anchorage.

The Denali Highway travels through the remote backcountry of interior Alaska. It varies between 1,700 feet and 4,100 feet in elevation. But there are no huge mountain passes, it is all wide-open tundra with views like you see here.

Cruising along, feeling fresh on our first day. I wanted to go a good distance on the first day so that we wouldn't be overwhelmed on the next two days. I think everyone else was kind of upset with me for pushing all the way to Brushkana Campground (31 miles from the start). We didn't arrive there until 9:30 and everyone was tired and hungry. I didn't necessarily care about the campground, I just thought we should get 30 miles or so under our belts and it was a good target on the map.
View of the Alaska Range to the north from near the Brushkana Campground as the sun went down on Day One. After a hot dinner of Tasty Bites, complete with Wine & Cheese brought by Scott and Jessica, I think everyone was back in good spirits.
Day 2:
Every view along the road was spectacular in its own way, but they all had a few things in common. Fireweed on the side of the road, lakes and lush greenery in the foreground plains, with spectacular snow-covered peaks off in the distance. We were constantly scanning the area for wildlife, but we didn't see much. Our guess is that this is a popular place to hunt, so the animals know better than to be seen from the road.
Linda cruises along, wishing she had suspension on her bike for the nice washboard gravel.
Scott looks like he's having a good time, either that or he is on drugs.
me, Jess, Scott
Yeah, yeah, another stunning view. Ho hum.
There was very little traffic on the road. We saw probably 20 or so cars the first two days. Weekends get a little more traffic.

At mile 82, there was a small resturant/lodge called Gracious House. This picture was taken near there.

Linda really wanted to stop for pie (apparently it is really good), but we kept pushing on. if I stopped for pie, I might never leave. We did stop for pie when we drove back across the highwya to get our Scott's car (which we left at the beginning). Mmmm.. pie.

We stopped at this lake to see a few swans (both Trumpeter and Tundra Swans according to another observer). They were too far away for a picture. The mountain was also far away, but it was bigger.
On the bridge over the Susitna River.
We only covered 37 miles on our second day, which was less than we expected. We thought that we would only have to bike for 4 hours or so each day, then have time to hike & relax. No such luck.
Our campsite for the second night. Notice the two tents. It was an amazing spot. Only about 100 yards off the road, but there was no trail to the spot so it felt extremely remote. We had views for miles in all directions, and not a single sign of any other human activity. We couldn't even see the road we had been biking on.
View from our tent. This was one of my five favorite camping spots ever.
Cooking dinner. Our campsite was surrounded by blueberry bushes, so when we made oatmeal the next morning, we had plenty of fresh blueberries to add to it. Delicious!

Day 3:
Big day ahead.

On the road again. We had to cover almost fifty miles today if we were going to be able to finish by noon tomorrow.
A cool shot of the road winding along a glacially-carved esker. These sinuous waves of silt, rock and sand were left behind by the last ice age.
Stop for lunch.
Another view, another photo op.
Shortly after lunch on our third day, we came to Waterfowl Lakes. They lived up to their billing with plenty of birds. We saw a loon and chick in this lake, but they were too far away for a good picture.
The MacLaren River, which flows from the MacLaren Glacier in the background. Crossing the MacLaren River meant we were about to start our biggest sustained climb of the journey. 1,100 feet over 5 miles.
Nearing the top of the climb.
The sign is misleading, we actually still had about a hundred vertical feet to climb before the actual summit.
Scott crests MacLaren Summit
Another gorgeous view which my photogrpahy skills can't do justice to.

Our tent site for the third night. This was at mile 113, near Tangle Lakes. The bugs were pretty bad here. We had finished a dinner of pasta & sauce, plus Pistascio pudding for dessert, by about 8:00 PM, but since the bugs were so bad, we just crawled into our tents and went to sleep while the sun was still high in the sky.
The next morning, just as we were about to leave camp, we saw our only bear of the trip. The Grizzly was fishing in a stream, about a 1/4 mile from our tent site.

At Tangle Lakes, we hit pavement. But that did not mean the final 21 miles would be easy. We still had two climbs to cover, including another 1,000 footer. Here we have reached the top of the climb and can now cruise the final three miles down into Paxson. If you look closely at this picture you can see the Alaska Pipeline in the background.
Crossing the finish line. Woo-hoo!
Group photo before heading inside for warm drinks and club sandwiches.

© 2003 Cory Smith. All Rights Reserved.