Thursday, July 31, 2014


Made it to Whitehorse!  We're hanging out now with a couple of other cyclists, and we're hoping to stay with a Warmshowers host tonight.
Matt and Sarah

A wonderful place

Best falafel ever at the farmer's market. His shirt says, "make falafel not kerfuffle."

Trying out the owner's recumbent bike at the bakery

July 30: Water Everywhere

Last night, July 29, we ended up staying in Haines Junction to hang out with Berel and Chris, our German friends who rolled into the bakery just as we were about to leave.  Gabriella and Joelle went off to camp, and us and the guys camped in a different spot.  The girls somehow found the only spot in town that had a no camping sign and put their tent right next to it, and we shook our heads.  We had a great time talking and laughing with Berel and Chris late into the night, and it was too bad that today we had to say goodbye.  Next time in Germany!
Though Haines Junction does not have a grocery store, it does have a community pool with public swim from 7:30-9 every morning, so Tam and I woke up early and went to check that out.  For $4, we were able to swim in the pool and take hot showers!  Again, it's the little things. The subsequent ride was cold and wet; it had rained all night and all morning and continued to rain while we rode.  I would look down at my odometer and find that I had only traveled a tenth of a mile since I last checked.  One of those days.  We stopped about 20 miles in at the truck stop in Otter Falls, where we warmed up and had a nice lunch with Uschi and Christoph, two really thoughtful German folks who spend their summers here in Canada.  They do kayak touring and are on the road driving for a few weeks to check out some of the more northern lakes.  They generously paid for our pancakes before we had a chance to pay, and the stimulating, spiritual conversation gave us food for thought for many miles down the road (and will continue to ruminate).  If you're reading this, thanks guys!
A bit after Otter Falls, it stopped raining and we made good time.  Around 7:30, we camped by a side road near a big patch of small but sweet wild strawberries (!), and as we were eating dinner, another cyclist rolled up.  Max, from Salt Lake City, was planning on taking the side road a few kilometers to the campground, but we convinced him to stay and hang out with us.  
The rain held off throughout dinner, and we shared stories, food, and road beta (information - he's heading in the opposite direction).  Currently it's raining again, which seems to be the norm everywhere we've been, but we press on.  

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Lakes and Teleportation, July 28-29

July 27: We started off the day in fine fashion with couscous and olive oil; we had let the couscous hydrate overnight in a peanut butter jar.  The morning fog quickly cleared up and the valley we biked through was nice, but it was tough to focus on that because of a stiff headwind.  Some lollipops helped; an RV pulled alongside us as we were riding and gave us two of them!  It's the little things that make each day unique and special.  
We made it to Burwash Landing, our first town, in good time, the headwind notwithstanding.  There isn't much there except a museum, which we thoroughly enjoyed.  The exhibits were well done and had interesting facts on native animals and people.  Did you know that moose can reach submerged vegetation up to 20 feet below the surface of a pond?  I didn't.  
A few miles up the road we came to Destruction Bay, which is so vividly named for a windstorm that came through and destroyed the town some years ago.  It's not really a town, just one motel with a little gas station, store, and restaurant.  We had been crossing our fingers that they would have chips, salsa, bread, and peanut butter, and they did!  We spent a few hours eating a satisfyingly large lunch of chips and salsa with cheese, and PB&J sandwiches, and using the Wi-Fi to update the blog and check email.  On our way out, we ran into Berel and Chris, the Germans we had met the day before.
 We talked for a bit then headed out, promising to keep an eye out for them when we found a good campsite.  Unfortunately, it seems we went farther than they did, because we haven't seen them again.  We couldn't seem to stop riding; the wind stopped blowing, and the road, winding around the west shore of giant, turquoise Lake Kluane, was incredibly scenic.

 We ended up camping right on the shore, where we made a fire with some driftwood and used it to heat up water for beans and mashed potatoes, as well as to warm ourselves after going for a very quick swim in the frigid lake.  Then, to top it all off, we enjoyed chocolate chip cookies with peanut butter, all warm and melty from the fire. What a wonderful day!

July 28: The same headwind from yesterday did not let up, so the miles came slowly.  We were apprehensive of the highest point on the highway, but we stopped at one point and figured out that we were actually at that highest point!  A long downhill lay ahead, but the rain clouds were threatening.  We donned our rain gear and headed downhill.  And what a downhill!  It lasted over six miles, and though we froze during it because of the cold rain and wind, when we reached the bottom the sun was out, flowers lined the road, which had become smoothly paved, and the headwind had turned into a tailwind!  It was as if we had teleported.  We were flabbergasted, happily surprised.  We spent the next few hours in Haines Junction eating pizza, shopping for food for the next few days, and talking with two cyclists, Gabriella and Joelle, from Quebec.  
They enjoyed their pizza too!  Off to Whitehorse- we will be there in two days and will hopefully take a day there to rest and recuperate.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Destruction Bay, Haines Jct

We're in Destruction Bay now spending a few minutes to talk with family and update the blog, and we're headed to Haines Junction tomorrow.  More updates from HJ or Whitehorse, a few days after that.
   Lake Kluane

Tam's Journal, July 24-27

July 24: In the morning, we wake up in the bus, eat more than our fill of chocolate chip pancakes, do laundry, and clean up as best as we can.  Afterwards we both spend time talking to Jay and his wife, Debbie, along with their friend Bob, who lives down the road.
They're a wonderful resource of entertaining stories and advice.  It's 3:15 when we finally set off.  We wind up and down over gradual hills with lakes, clear streams, and rounded green mountains that break up the spruce-birch forest.  Around Tok the road flattens out, and it's like a runway. The good road, an amazing tailwind, and pancake fuel make the ride go by quickly.  When we arrive in Tok, I can't believe we've gone 60 miles.

July 25: We wake up and bike 1.8 miles back the way we came, to Sourdough Campground.  We can't pass up all-you-can-eat pancakes for $10!  Together we consume a total of 45 good ol' sourdough pancakes.  The lady working there also makes us veggie sausage and hot chocolate.  While we're eating, we meet three guys from New Zealand: Sam, Sam, and Cam.  They've been driving around having adventures in an old green van with a lego man as mascot on the front.
We share stories over breakfast and talk a bit of politics with the pancake chef.  All of this amounts to a true, sourdough, Alaskan roadhouse breakfast, the perfect way to say goodbye to this fascinating state.  Afterwards we go food shopping and fly out of town propelled by yet another tailwind.  About 57 miles up the road, we stop at a free campground in the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge.  The campsite is beautiful, and just when we thought our night couldn't get any better, we have the pleasure to meet some other travelers down by the lake.  Two are cyclists on a round-the-world trip, and two are from Switzerland exploring Canada and Alaska in a van.  As we talk, we are entertained by a mother duck and her twenty adorable ducklings out on the lake.

July 26: At 8:40 or so, we meet our new biking friends Billy and Nolwenn for breakfast by the lake.  We share with them the last of our pancakes, and they share Japanese Green Tea and oatmeal with fresh raspberries.  It's a delicious way to start the day.  It's already 10:30 or so when we begin to ride.  Our road takes us through more spruce forest and lots of hills.  The clouds are hanging low, so there's not much to see besides the occasional lake.  Our first bit of civilization is the Tetlin NWR Visitor Center.  We find it thoughtfully designed, just like the campsites and displays also associated with the park.  We fill up water and eat lunch. Just seven miles up the road, we reach the Alaska-Canada border.  Only U.S. Customs is here.  They have a huge building with a yard for the dogs, and the road passing through is watched by large, gray cameras from every angle.  There's no Canadian Customs here.  It's 20 miles down the road, just outside the town of Beaver Creek.  Those 20 miles are on bumpy chipseal, but the road flattens out quite a bit, and the sun finally comes out through the clouds.  On the way, we see multiple cool birds and meet two cyclists on a tandem bike.  They have plans to travel up to Deadhorse, where we started.
At the Canadian border crossing is a large, red maple leaf and a small, brown building.  I'm sure there are cameras, but they aren't large enough for me to notice them.  A nice guy checks out our passports and asks a few questions.  In a couple minutes, we're through.
Once in Beaver Creek, we make a couple of stops.  #1 to purchase and eat an amazing peanut butter cookie, #2 to purchase a grapefruit, and #3 to get a map and information on the road from the visitor's center. We decide to head to the first campground, 10 miles out of town.  At this point, we've been warned multiple times about the construction on this road, and we're not sure to expect.  What we find is a combination of gravel, mud, and rocks, but for the most part it's not too bad, and we make fairly good time.  At the end of the day, we're both happy to find a cute campsite with a big picnic table and a view of the lake.

July 27: When we emerge from our tent, the sky is cloudy but there's no rain. Yay!  We ride for a bit on bumpy gravel then get to a section where we must ride in a pilot car for 3 km or so.  After this, there's only a bit more gravel, then we hit chipseal.  Never have I been so happy to ride on chipseal.  We ride through more forests and lakes.  In one of these lakes, we see two regal trumpeter swans and three of their gray, fuzzy cygnets.  It's a treat to see them so close.  Cruising along, we notice two cyclists coming up behind us.  It's Chris and Berel, both studying medicine in Germany and biking around Alaska and Canada on their holiday.  They're friendly guys, and talking with them makes the miles fly by.  When they stop at an RV campground to get coffee, we keep riding.  For lunch, we stop at a "rest area," really a pullout with a bathroom and a small deck over a lake with some info boards on it.  The boards explain how this valley is, and has been for years, an important migration corridor for birds and other wildlife.  Even ancient tribes in the region used this corridor between the mountains to travel.  Now we are too!  After lunch, we start talking to a young couple from France who have been driving around Alaska.  They share water and cookies with us!  Back on the road, their red van passes us and stops.  We think they might be waiting to say something to us, but then we realize that there's a mama black bear and her two adorable cubs on the other side of the road.  I'm apprehensive about being so close, but the mama bear ignores us as we bike slowly past.  On a road with very little traffic, suddenly there are several cars and multiple RVs all stopped to take pictures.  Down the road, the construction we thought was over, isn't.  I'm convinced we are riding Canada's version of the Dalton Highway.  Even though the road isn't great, we make good time due to a generous tailwind (we've been so lucky with these recently!) When it gets late, we set up camp in an open yard next to a ramshackle auto shop.  Its owner looks like he's lived here for 50 years and hasn't showered once, but says that it's fine for us to stay here for the night.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Magic Bus

We found our own magic bus.  After 60 or so uneventful miles, we wound up in Slana, a mile or so in on the Nabesna Road, one of two roads that leads into Wrangell-St. Elias (the McCarthy Road is the other).  There wasn't much there, and on our way back out to the main road, a man in an approaching car waved for us to stop.  "Y'all have somewhere to stay tonight?"  Hesitating, as this is not a question we hear every day, we responded that no, we didn't really know, but right now we were headed to the market just up the road.  "I own that place," he said, "and we have a little place for cyclists to stay.  Come on over; I'll be back in a minute."  He drove off.  As I mentioned yesterday, we must be the luckiest people in the world.  Right before he drove up, I had been kicking myself for not looking up on the interwebs where the store was in Slana; maybe we could have saved ourselves a couple of miles.  Of course, then we wouldn't have met Jay.  Those extra few miles are always worth it.
Jay Capps is a true Alaskan.  He hunts, smokes, fishes, does everything himself, and has a nice streak a mile long.  We haven't met his wife Debbie yet, but he says she's even meaner than he is.  After we walked in, Jay showed us to the bus.
I was expecting a leaky contraption with a rough floor, but this was no ordinary bus.  Four beds, a microwave, a toaster, a coffeemaker, pots and pans, a propane stove, a wood stove with hatchet and maul, a table with a booth, and various food items and whatnot that past residents have left.  Jay has even covered the sides with thick metal and replaced the door with a bearproof one.  "Do these work?" I asked Jay, pointing to the lights.  He looked insulted.  "This is Midway [the name of the store]," he said proudly.  "Everything works."  And indeed it does.  
Residents of the bus are encouraged to write something.  The numerous notes and drawings on the walls and ceiling add an incredible amount of character and warmth to what might otherwise just be a bus.  Many of the notes are from cyclists who were/are in the midst of their own Alaska-Argentina trip.  Tam added some artwork to the wall above the "kitchen" table:

Check out these pages from other cyclists who have stayed here:

(the last one's in Spanish but has some pics of the bus)

Jay also gave us free reign of the inside bathroom, shower, and expansive store, "Just write down what items you take, and we'll figure out money tomorrow."  He also pointed out that, because he was leaving the back door open for us, we could rob him blind, but that doesn't seem to bother him.  "We go off the honor system," he says.  
Tam and I took showers then cooked up a delicious amalgamation of pasta, garlic, and the remaining veggies we had from Kennecott.  Mmm!  Then we made some chocolate chip pancakes.  Having a kitchen is great!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Back on the Bikes

We are so lucky.  A few hours after beginning our efforts to hitchhike out of McCarthy and Wrangell-St. Elias, we were picked up by some really nice folks, Janet and Jim.  They and their friends Dan and Nanette, who were following in a car behind J&J's RV, had stayed almost two weeks in Kennecott at a friend's cabin.  We very much enjoyed discussing Alaska, wildlife, and all kinds of other things with them, and had they only dropped us off in Chitina, at the end of the McCarthy road, it would have been enough.  But they agreed to take us all the way to Glennallen!  We wouldn't have to backtrack at all!  This was especially exciting because the Edgerton Highway from Chitina back to the main highway, the Richardson, is pretty much all uphill.  We couldn't believe our good fortune, that these generous folks were willing to take us, and that our bikes could just fit into the RV with all the wheels removed.  Somehow it gets better.  We all stopped for lunch at Liberty Falls, a roaring slide surrounded by a cool spray and clear turquoise pools.
It turns out that Nanette and Dan are from Decatur and Roswell, right near where I grew up in Sandy Springs!  Nanette also taught at a summer camp that I attended when I was very young; I don't remember much, unfortunately, but it sure is a small world.  She's also a bird bander, something I dabbled in briefly, and makes incredible jewelry from repurposed bike parts.  Did I mention Dan and Nanette are both cyclists, too?  I had bought some chainlink earrings a little while ago for Tam, but she had tragically lost one of them to the black hole under the passenger seat in her car.  When I mentioned this to Nanette, as well as my intention to get Tam new ones at some point, she brought out her stash and gave Tam a beautiful necklace!
Chain links surrounding French gemstones below, quartz necklace from Wiseman above

Very cool people indeed.  Friendly, generous, kind... the world would be better off with more like these four (including Nanette, even though she's taking the picture).

After transitioning our gear back to our bikes and putting the bikes back together, we had some awesome Thai food from a little place that was recommended to us by Spencer, the guy we went packrafting with.  The restaurant was in a bus.  In the past few days, we have ordered pizza, fries, and now Thai food from vehicles, and all of it was extraordinarily scrumptious.  We rode about 15 miles out of town, passing our first sign for Canada (213 miles!) and me getting the first flat of the trip from a staple-like piece of metal in my tire.  We're camped right now at a scenic overlook above the Copper River with Mts. Sanford and Blackburn, both over 16,000 feet, dominating the horizon.  Life is good.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Adventures in Wrangell-St. Elias, July 17-21

July 17: It's a gorgeous, sunny day. Something we never take for granted around here. The first part of our hike follows the trail that runs along the ridge by the glacier.  The woods are bursting with colorful wildflowers, and around us all sorts of birds are chipping and singing.  To get down to the glacier, we follow a steep scree slope and then hike along the lateral moraine.  A little ways down the glacier, we find Erie Lake, now drained and full of icebergs.  Glacial lakes such as this one are formed when the ice blocks the flow of water from streams.  When the ice blockage is breached at some point during the summer, the lake drains in an exciting event called the glacial lake outburst flood, or Jokulhlaup (pronounced YOKE-awl-aup).  We make camp above the lake with a gorgeous view of the Stairway Icefall, 7,000 feet of towering ice.

July 18: For the first time all trip, we leave our tent set up and head out wih day packs.  We spend a wonderful morning exploring the icebergs below us.  They are reminiscent of the jumbled boulders in Joshua Tree, but made entirely of ice.
In the afternoon, we hike up towards the icefall and find many spectacular glacier treasures: a huge blue pool probably hundreds of feet deep bordered by sheer cliffs we don't dare get too close to; smaller blue pools, also super deep, that we can get close to and gaze into, wondering how deep they go; many rivers gushing through the ice; and waterfalls that thunder down into the deep unknown. 
Fun fact: the glacial ice near the icefall is 2,000 feet deep in places! 
Our favorite discovery is a perfectly clear blue lake only a few feet deep that we can walk down to. Across from us is an ice cliff from which two small waterfalls pour down into the lake. The scene looks absolutely tropical, except it's all made of ice.
After an incredible day of exploration we retreat to our tent on the grassy knoll and simply enjoy the view. 

July 19: We hike out from our lake on a scree trail that we discovered as we watched another group hike easily along it. Then we head back out across the moraine. Behind us is the roar of two rivers cascading out of the mountains. All around us are the more subtle sounds of the ice dripping and stretching, like ice cubes as you pop them from the tray. Occasionally rocks tumble down from their perches on the icy slopes, and every once in a while there is a great thumping from an unseen basement: rocks tumbling and churning far below. 
Out on the white ice of the glacier it's quieter. The loudest sounds are our crampons scraping and puncturing the ice below our feet. Always there is the rush of water; sometimes a small stream, other times the louder rush of a waterfall tumbling into the deep blue depths. Around us rise the mountains, silent, stark and jagged, but clad in the softest coat of velvet green brush. Behind us now is the icefall, cold crystal in the sun. The peaks around it are coated with fluffy snow reminiscent of icing on a cake. Simply spectacular.
In the afternoon, we hike along the medial moraine. There's good traction here provided by the rocks frozen into the ice. We navigate many crevasses, streams, and a moulin before heading back across the white ice and finding a campsite in Donoho basin. Donoho is a mountain peak that separates the main flow of the Kennecott and Root glaciers (we've been hiking on the Root). It looks rather like an alligator- the two peaks as the alligator eyes and the long snout forming the basin between the glaciers where we are camped. 

July 20: It's 12:30 before we motivate ourselves to get going because it's raining again. Miraculously, the moment we emerge from the tent the rain stops and it's beautiful for the rest of the day. Thank you weather! It's easy to get down to the glacier, and from there we start crunching our way through the ice towards Kennecott. This part of the glacier has few big crevasses but it is quite hilly. We walk up a ridge of ice only to see another large sunken bowl as if the glacier was a poorly baked cake that caved in. It's not long before we can see a waterfall pouring down from the cliff we just hiked down. It's a three tiered affair, a thunderous white veil tumbling through the grey rock. What an incredible place we are in. 
It doesn't take long to finish our walk across the glacier then back along the trail into Kennecott. Once in town we treat ourselves to a giant M&M cookie from the lodge and an incredibly delicious pizza from Tailor Made Pizza. Pizza from a bus never tasted so good. Afterwards, Betsy from Kennicott Wilderness Guides lets us set up camp behind their guide shack- a perfect little tent spot that can only be reached through a "magical porthole," a small tunnel of rusted metal left from the mining days. 

In its day, Kennecott was a bustling mining town that successfully mined huge quantities of copper. Now many of the buildings are being rebuilt and preserved for their historic value. Outside the town, high up in the mountains are the remnants of the old mining buildings, now falling into disrepair but still quite impressive for their machinery and locations.  Miners back then, in the early 1900s, received two days off a year: July 4 and Christmas Day.
July 21: An amazing day of packrafting! First, let me introduce Spencer, packrafting expert from Kennicott Wilderness Guides who happens to be good buddies with two of our good friends from High Trails, Austin and Jay! He's a fun and friendly guy whose enthusiasm immediately got us psyched for paddling and exploring the area. Our day started with a small tour of McCarthy and some amazing cheesy fries from another restaurant in a bus: The Potato. Then we suited up in our dry suits, blew up our pack rafts with inflator bags and headed out onto a lake at the bottom of the glacier. Having never used a packraft or worn a full dry suit, all the gear is novel and exciting. 
Our first few hours of packrafting are on the lake, getting used to the boats and checking out the melting ice and mesmerizing rock fall. Spencer says that watching the glacier is his version of TV out here. We approve. The next couple of hours are spent on the "training grounds," a series of small rapids, each of which drains into slow moving flat water. It's a perfect place to practice whitewater skills such as ferrying, peeling out, and catching eddies in our new blow-up boats. Here we are also joined by Candace, a wonderful lady paddler who offers helpful advice and encouragement. I particularly enjoy their acronym for getting out of eddies: SALI: speed, angle, lean, icebergs. It's the same sort of thing I learned in Maine- but here we are literally paddling through small floating ice bergs. It's crazy! Thank goodness for the dry suits and warm sunny weather. 
After a lot of practice, and a bit of river scouting, Spencer determines that we can run a section of the Kennicott (the silty river flowing from the Kennicott glacier) with a class III rapid. We are pumped! It's an amazing paddle with super fun wave trains, and neither of us goes for a swim. 
This wonderful day ends with us cooking dinner and watching whitewater videos at the little house Spencer shares with several of the other guides. They have piles upon piles of fresh veggies from an organic farm in Fairbanks- dropped off by the family of one of the guides. We are instructed to eat as many as possible. What a treat! 
Thanks to everyone at Kennicott Wilderness Guides for your kindness, generosity, and for all the fun! 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Wrangell St-Elias, Getting Started

I had thought we were going to enter the park yesterday, near Glennallen, but we ended up coming to McCarthy, some 120 miles out of the way, because it's the best place to get into the wilderness.  For all the hassle, it's already been worth it.  We met some friendly, welcoming people yesterday: Danny, Robin, Glenn, Tom, and Ted, who are spending their free time in Chitina, right outside the park, to help Tom build a cabin there.  Cribbage, Oreos, showers, and the softest, most comfortable lawn we have ever slept on.  Fantastic!
We had decided the night before to hitchhike the McCarthy Road, one of the two roads in this 13-million acre wilderness, rather than take the full day to ride it, but the meager flow of traffic made it tough.
 After about three hours and maybe six cars having passed, a nice couple picked us up and brought us along to the road's end at the tiny village of McCarthy (pop. 40 or so).  There is a lot of copper mining history around McCarthy and Kennecott, the only other town in the region, but as I'm typing on a phone, I won't delve into that.  Google it.  It's interesting.
With the help of Kennicott Wilderness Guides, we planned a five-day stay in the park.  The next four days will be for glacier and mountain exploration (we rented crampons), and on Monday we will be going packrafting!  It will be very different from our previous two trips in Alaska, and to say we are excited is an understatement.
The view from our front door!  Glaciers, mountains, and a clear sky with a setting sun.  Life is good.  And somehow there's superb cell service too.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Into the Wrangells

We are headed into Wrangell-St. Elias National Park!  At 13.2 million acres, it's bigger than Switzerland, so we have a lot of options for where to go.  More updates in a week or so.

Back to the Mountains, July 13-14, 2014

July 13
It rains all night and we sleep with the fly off under the pavilion.  What a luxury!  Unfortunately, it's still raining in the morning when we set off.  Our ride takes us up and down steep hills and through lush forest.  In the pouring rain we make slow progress.  After almost four hours and only twenty miles, the weather gradually begins to improve.  We have a long, beautiful descent into the Matanuska river valley, and a shoulder reappears on the road.  Hooray!  We stop at an overlook and eat lunch at a wonderful picnic table with a spectacular view of the Matanuska glacier.  The glacier looks rather out of place glowing in the sunshine in the middle of a lush, green valley.  After lunch, the afternoon gets better and better.  We have sunny weather, no bugs, and a tailwind that gets stronger as the day goes on and literally pushes us up the hills.  
Mid-afternoon we stop at the Grand View Lodge to share an amazing veggie burger and blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream.  Here we meet a motorcyclist who is very impressed with our journey and tells us, "I love adventure, the more the better. Five minutes on the edge is better than a lifetime of boredom."  Just down the road, we summit Eureka Pass, the highest point on the highway, and are rewarded with a spectacular view of the Wrangell Mountains, enormous and snowy.  We camp in a large gravel area filled with trails and firepits that appears to be a playpark for ATVs.  Our grassy spot is perfect.

July 14
We start our day with a wonderful downhill.  The morning air is a bit chilly, but not uncomfortably so because the sun is out!  In the perfect weather, we bike through a gentle valley with rolling hills of spruce forest.  The trees on either side are occasionally broken up by a small, murky pond or blue lake.  It's perfect habitat for moose and mosquitoes.  Unfortunately, only the mosquitoes come to greet us.  The few lodges or houses along the road are either for sale or look abandoned.  We eat lunch on a dirt hill on a side of the road, 30 miles in.  Nothing special.  What's nice is that after lunch, the ride is mostly downhill, a runway straight to the enormous mountains in front of us.  In Glennallen, a small town right outside Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, we stop at the IGA to buy some extra provisions.  Eating an enormous bag of tortilla chips with salsa outside, we meet Toby and Ann, two touring cyclists from Switzerland.  They are traveling from Anchorage to Skagway over the span of about four weeks.  We share stories and end up camping with them in a small park just out of town.
   Our new friends: Toby and Ann

Fun fact: Wrangell Mountain, which we're right next to, is the largest active volcano in Alaska at over 14,000 feet!  It can be seen smoking on clear days.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Adios, Anchorage. July 8-12, 2014

Anchorage was great, but we were itching to get on the road again. Here are some highlights, good and bad, from our time there:

- We stayed with some wonderful people: our new friends Jeff and Sarah, who generously shared their lives with us, and Tam's friend from college, also named Sarah.  Sarah and her roommates were incredibly accommodating, and we can't thank them enough for opening their doors to us.

- Tam got sick.  She had some kind of bug or was maybe just really exhausted.  Whatever it was, we stayed an extra day for her to recuperate.

- We made pancakes.  Twice.  There's not really much more to this, but they were soooo good!  Having access to a kitchen was a rare treat.
    Blueberry and chocolate chip awesome-ness, almost ready to be flipped

- Adventures!  We explored the Chugach Mountains on a two hour run with Sarah and her friend Julie, who are both training for a 50-mile race.  Our early morning run took us through a spectacular valley bordered by snow-dappled peaks, and gave us beautiful views of downtown Anchorage on the edge of a misty ocean.  The joy and beauty of the run was long outlasted by the full body soreness endured afterwards. Running and biking do not use the same muscles.  
We also went canoeing with Sarah and her friend Diana on the glacial-fed Eagle River.  Fortunately we capsized before the Class III section and swam safely to shore, then we hiked back to the road, leaving the canoe to rescue the next day.  Exciting!
With a useless, tiny boat we had, before we all piled into the canoe

- We were able to finish a bunch of errands and projects, including things like my buying new rain pants (my old ones grew legs and walked away when we were in Fairbanks) and Tam sewing a new zipper onto one of her bags.
    Tam's handiwork

The road out of Anchorage was more pleasant than we had anticipated, for the city is rife with bike paths.  We made it to Eagle River yesterday, incidentally to the campground where we would have taken our canoes out had we made it there.  On the way to the campground, we saw Manu and Katrien, the couple from Belgium who had helped Tam fix her bike weeks ago!  They were coming into the city after spending a bunch of time in Fairbanks and Denali, and it was great to see them and hear about their adventures.

Today, we headed north on the Glenn Highway then branched east to Palmer.  The shoulder's a bit thin at times, which makes for some sketchy riding, but overall it's not too bad.
    Tam at a pullout on the Glenn Highway

The area we're in now, the Matanuska Valley, is known for its moderate weather and fertile soil.  We couldn't have asked for better weather today: mid 70s, partly cloudy... it's hard to believe we're still in Alaska!  Tonight we're camped at a campground right next to the large, silty Matanuska River.  We scored a covered pavilion all to ourselves.  I hope it rains while we're here, just so we can sit at the picnic table, dry and warm, and listen to it patter on the plexiglass roof.

Friday, July 11, 2014

So Actually, About Those Letters...

I recently learned that only one post office for each zip code does general delivery, and the ones I picked for Anchorage and Fairbanks were not the right ones. They held a few things for us, the nice people they are, but not all. We are very sorry if you took the time to send something to us and it was returned. 

If you can forgive me and would still like to send us something (we would still like to receive it), the best bet is the next sizable town we will pass in the U.S.: Kalispell, Montana. It doesn't appear that we will be able to receive post in Canada, and we plan to be in Kalispell around 9/23. Don't worry, I called ahead. This is the address they gave me:

Tamara Perreault and Danny Walden
c/o General Delivery
350 N. Meridian Rd
Kalispell, MT 59901

As before, remember to put in a prominent spot "please hold for touring cyclists to pick up around 9/23" or something similar.

Again, sorry for the mistake and thanks to all who have sent us stuff! 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The First Month By the Numbers, and Kindness

We've been traveling for a month, and what a month it's been!  Here are some facts:

Miles biked: 942
National Parks experienced: 2
Flat tires: 0 (fingers crossed...)
Money spent: $607 (by Danny, including an expensive new saddle and rain pants)
Grizzly bears seen: 5
Total time spent watching TV/movies: 27 minutes
Stops for pancakes: 6
Bird species seen: 64 
Holes in the tent: 6

I had thought, this being Alaska and all, that the most amazing part of this first segment would be the wilderness.  The Arctic tundra, the Brooks Range, and Mt McKinley and the Alaska Range are pretty tough to beat.  And the wilderness has been incredible, but most memorable and surprising has been the kindness we've experienced from people.  Bike touring brings out a good side of humanity; people realize that you have what you need to survive, but not much more.  Our friend Sarah, who is currently riding across the US, recently wrote about the kindness she has experienced along her tour, even after being consistently warned about the other people out there.  Here are some of the "other" people we have met:

Andrew and Anna from Fairbanks, who took us into their home for a number of days, spent countless hours helping us repair our bikes and review maps, fed us all kinds of incredible food until we were full (not an easy thing to do), took us canoeing, and introduced us to the city.  All while being busy grad students.

The manager of the Clear Sky Lodge (unfortunately never got her name) who made us hot chocolate even though it wasn't on the menu, let us use their grill to cook quesadillas, then refused to let us pay.

Al, who stopped in the pouring rain on a very rough stretch of road and offered to give us a lift, then loaded our bikes in the boat he was towing and dropped us off down the road.

John and Maureen from Anchorage, who shared their campfire and wine with us then drove many miles out of their way so we could spend July 4th in Talkeetna, where they gave us shower tokens, bought us dinner, showed us around the town, and then drove us back to the main road the next day.

Jeff and Sarah from Anchorage (John and Maureen's son and daughter-in-law, incidentally), who opened their home to us, took us out to dinner, and offered to let us stay as long as we liked.

Nancy, the campground host where we stopped one night, who offered us free firewood and her good water, then helped us pay the fee when we didn't have enough cash.

Karen, Brandon, Marco, Martin, and Chris, who gave us their extra backpacking food, shared their fantastic pizza dinner with us, and offered to let us stay with them if we pass through San Francisco.

Heidi, a Park Ranger from Wiseman, who spent many hours helping us plan our trip into Gates of the Arctic, invited us to stop by her place when we finished backpacking, and undercharged us by at least 50% on the things we bought at her store.  A wonderful young lady working with Heidi gifted Tam a beautiful necklace, which Tam has not taken off since.

Ashley at Yukon River Camp, a very friendly waitress who gave us free pie and salads.  (Randomly, she applied last spring to work at High Trails!  I would hire her.)

These are simply the people who stuck out in my mind.  So many more, like the bus driver who charged us for only one fare even though our bikes were taking up at least ten seats, have helped us out in small ways.  I can't even express how much this incredible kindness and generosity, a side of humanity I've never experienced in this capacity, has added to this trip and to our lives.

Anchorage! July 7, 2014

Made it to Anchorage!  Many, many thanks to Jeff and Sarah for welcoming us into their home last night.  We caught up on some errands today and met up with Tam's friend Sarah (different Sarah) from college.  We will spend the next few days fixing bikes and clothes, running more errands, eating tons of wonderful food, exploring the Anchorage area, and planning our route from here. 

Many thanks also to our parents and Leslie for sending us letters and packages!

My fancy new saddle

Saturday, July 5, 2014

More Pancakes! July 5, 2014

After we wake up, we bike into town with John and Maureen to have pancakes at the well-known Roadhouse restaurant.  They're simply delicious; thin, flavored with fat blueberries, nutmeg, and cinnamon.  Afterwards we go down to the Susitna River to enjoy a perfect view of the mountains.
at the Susitna River, big mountains behind
 I finally have time and weather nice enough to do a painting.  Danny works on updating the blog.   The river is a loud place.  Trains, helicopters, airplanes, motorboats, fireworks, and lots of people create a sort of cacophony of noises.  We spend multiple hours at the river then bike back to John and Maureen's RV, where we have lunch and share delicious tortilla chips and guacamole.  The guac is a wonderful delicacy.  It's late afternoon when they shuttle us back to the end of the spur road and we take off biking again on the Parks Highway.  The road is mostly flat with unremarkable scenery, but the 30 miles we bike are tough due to a fierce headwind.  We set up camp just outside of the small town of Willow at Nancy Lake campground.
Nancy Lake around 11 pm

Favorite "Adopt A Highway" sponsor: Backcountry Llamaventures
Strangest place passed: Family Firing Range

Danny's side note: Willow, the town we are camped next to, got its start as a mining town in the late 1800s and was relatively unknown until 1976, when it gained a moderate degree of fame due to it being the choice for the new capital city of Alaska.  The committee in charge of selecting the new city had to find a place on state-owned ground with moderate temperatures, along the railroad and existing roadways, and over thirty miles from Fairbanks and Anchorage.  Enough funding for the move never materialized and the idea was politically defeated in 1982.  Thus Juneau, though ridiculously far from actual Alaska, remains the capital city.

More Biking Bliss and Talkeetna, July 4, 2014

It's a holiday!  We had talked about it the night before, but we didn't remember until midway throughout the day.  When you're removed from humanity, the days flow together.  The trees don't care whether it's Thursday or Friday.  But maybe the weather knows, because it could not have been better on this July 4th.  Before setting off from our campground in Denali State Park, we soaked up amazing views of the Alaska Range.  There are only two or three days per summer month where McKinley can be fully seen, top to bottom, and we were lucky enough to experience this one.
 The perfect weather and the road gave us some more biking bliss.  The miles flew by, and we had done over 40 by lunch.  After lunch, we biked 25 more and then met John and Maureen, our friends from the Denali campground, at the Talkeetna Spur Road.  We hadn't planned on going to Talkeetna, as it's 14 miles off the main highway, but they convinced us to go for the festivities and offered to drive us the 14 miles.  Why not?!  Talkeetna is a small, somewhat touristy town best known as the jumping off point for McKinley climbers to be flown out to the mountain, but it still maintains its original charm.  Live music was everywhere, and Tam and I shared a delicious calzone.  Afterward we fell for homemade ice cream (how could you not) and looked around for the mayor, who's a tawny cat, but couldn't find him. We pitched our tent next to John and Maureen's RV and fell asleep to the sound of fireworks.

Biking Bliss and the Ramen Experiment, July 3, 2014

Because of the late night getting out of Denali (late dinner + food shopping for the next few days), we woke around 10 to the pitter of rain on the tent... or so I thought.  It was actually flies buzzing around the inside of the fly!  Contrary to my original thought about the rain, it was a beautiful, warm day with no wind, and our road was well paved with a large shoulder and moderate grades to the few hills.  All shades of wildflowers lined the road: purple lupines, pink pea plants, and yellow asters sharply contrasted with the austere sharpness of the white mountains rising all around.
 We made it to a Denali State Park camnpground around 7:00, having ridden 72 miles in about eight hours, including a long lunch break!  We were very proud of ourselves; back on the Dalton, 72 miles would have taken us twice that time.  We planned on having a low key night to catch up on journal entries, reading, etc., but I struck up a conversation with John and Maureen, two folks up here RVing from Anchorage for the July 4th weekend.  We ended up spending the evening with them and their son Jeff and his wife Sarah.  The warmth of their company and their campfire, in the shadow of the Alaska Range, transformed an otherwise mundane evening.  McKinley, the Moose's Tooth, and Mt Hunter were all clearly visible.  A wonderful day it was, with splendid company and the best scenery anywhere.

I did find time among biking and being social to experiment with a new food: ramen noodles.  We were given some a few days before by Brandon, just one pack.  We refused more because we didn't think it would hydrate cold.  We don't carry a stove for ease and convenience, so for dinner we always eat foods that quickly hydrate without heat, couscous and instant mashed potatoes being our main staples in remote areas.  Ramen never occurred to me; it's much bulkier than couscous or mashed potatoes, so it doesn't fit so well into a confining, hard-sided bear can.  Still, I was curious.  I left some ramen in water for about 30 minutes, and when I came back it was fully hydrated.  I would surmise that, due to its pretty much instant hydration in hot water, that it would take no more than five or ten minutes in cold or room-temperature water.  I hope that many of the frightening ingredients are in the flavor packet that we wouldn't use, but we still probably won't buy ramen due to its atrocious nutritional value.  In a pinch, though, now we know!  It's pretty good dry, too, as a crunchy snack.

Goodbye Denali, Hello Pizza, July 2, 2014

We hike into Toklat station and hop on the first bus of the day headed west.  Our driver smokes at each rest stop and has a deep, raspy voice that is both nice to listen to and hard to understand.  We wind through mountains, valleys, and meadows similar to those we hiked through.  We pass the place we saw the grizzly, and we can see the pass we hiked over.  As we head west, things open up, and we follow wide river valleys.  We stop at the Eielson Visitor Center, which is beautifully and sustainably designed.  Here we are able to get water, as well as clarification on some of the tracks we saw.  There is a large model of Mt McKinley and routes people have climbed, as well as how it was formed by glaciers.  There is also a wealth of information on the wildlife and flowers in the park.  Continuing on down the road, we see open meadows with small lakes, and to our left, the giant mountains.  We can see the lower snowy ridgeline, and far above, a ridge of Mt McKinley pokes through the clouds.  It looks unreal somehow, like it's just floating in the air.  Wonder Lake is unmistakable.  It's the biggest lake we've seen yet, and quite beautiful.  We walk around for a bit, enjoying the patchy sun, then catch the bus back.  As we ride, it starts to rain again.
McKinley, way up there

On the bus, we see: many herds of caribou, including at least five bulls with huge, furry antlers, three grizzly bears, Dall Sheep grazing high on green slopes, two golden eagles, and one short-eared owl.  We discuss our grizzly bear sightings.  On one hand, it is nice to observe them and get a chance to watch their behavior safely from the bus.  On the other hand, it's not as special or as memorable as meeting such an amazing creature on their own terms.  On the bus ride back, we stop to pick up five wet backpackers.  They sit in the back with us, with all their gear.  Turns out they're the same group we saw while getting our backcountry permit, and they followed almost the same route as we did in units 8-10, except in reverse.  They are fun, friendly, adventurous people from all over, who somehow got to know each other through various connections.  We spend the ride back talking to them and moving all our gear when our bus breaks down.  Later on, we join them for a fabulous pizza dinner at the Prospector.  Thanks again to Brandon, Marco, Martin, Karen, and Chris for the wonderful stories, good times, and generosity.