Monday, June 23, 2014

Coldfoot, June 11th 2014

We get up around 10:00AM to be greeted with cold wind and rain.  The frigid headwind makes biking unpleasant, but the forest on either side of us is lush and glistening with the rain.  The streams are gushing happily with the fresh rainwater and the mountains loom mysteriously, shrouded by clouds. In some ways it is still a beautiful morning. It's only 13 miles to Coldfoot, where we find a mud pit full of trucks and ramshackle buildings. Luckily, one of these buildings is the lodge which is actually quite nice.  We walk out of the cold into a small, cozy room lit with Christmas lights and
Coldfoot restaurant. photo credit:
painted with murals of winter scenes. We meet Keith at a table, just sitting down for breakfast. Then proceeds a delicious breakfast of large buttermilk pancakes, the rest of Keith's toast and hash browns, as well as large white chocolate cherry cookies. We have a wonderful breakfast, exchanging stories and math problems. After the meal, we pick up our food packages and talk to another biker who has just rolled in named Nathan.  He has an awesome lightweight set-up on his bike that I'm definitely
Nathan is an incredible photographer - check out his website at
going to keep in mind for future travels. After repacking, we say goodbye and head across the street to the Visitor's center, which is beautifully designed. It looks completely new and has a theater,
the beautiful Arctic Interagency Visitor Center
interactive displays, and tons of information. Here we meet Heidi, an incredible lady who grew up in Wiseman and now runs her own business there as well as working for the National Park Service.  We spend all afternoon looking at large laminated maps, planning where to hike and talking to her about everything from winters in the far north to pipeline construction. At 8:00PM we go to the daily presentation in the theater. Tonight it is about the first people in this region who came looking for gold. The presentation is very well done. We learn how big steamer ships froze solid in the river their first year, and many got 'cold feet' and turned back, traveling overland to go back south. The few that stayed developed a strong community.  To get through tough times they danced and played music, and they had to learn how to do everything themselves. The gold explorers also met the natives.  Some assimilated into the community and helped it thrive with their local knowledge.  Unfortunately many also got sick from diseases the pioneers brought with them.

After the presentation we meet Mel and Kelley, world travelers. They generously offer to drive us a few miles up the road to the starting point of our backpacking trip.  We leave our bikes locked at the visitor's center, grab our packs and go.  They bring us on a small tour of Wiseman and show us a small church built in honor of a native woman who used to live in the area.  The outside is a bit ramshackle, but inside it is carefully, and beautifully decorated, warm and cozy.  A small gem in the forest. Then they take us up the Nolan road (a mining road) and drop us off in a valley amid tremendous mountains.  (Thanks again for the ride!)

We hike along the road for a while finding fresh bear tracks and scat.  After a few miles we walk down through some brush and find ourselves in the land of the tussocks. We quickly discover why they are called ankle-breakers.  But I love them. The diversity of life and colors found in this vegetation remind me of the underside of tidal rocks I researched on the Maine coast. It's late and cold so we eat dinner and set up the tent.
our tent on the tussocks

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