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Saturday - April 5, 2003
I am resting in Tok, Alaska about 330 miles from Anchorage, a five day ride that I estimate. The odometer is at 2,169.2 miles and ticking. I had great riding days coming into Tok after having to wait out flurries at the Kluane Wilderness Village for three days and four nights. Yesterday was a rest day, a beautiful sunny one. Today the clouds are rolling in, I am hoping to ride regardless. We shall see...
This is the beauty of being on the road. I get up every morning and judge the day based on what the forecast says and what I can read from the cloud and wind patterns. I try to avoid fresh snow for safety, both to keep me upright on the road, and to ensure visibility. Blowing snow by passing traffic obscures me on the roadside for those drivers that follow...
I spent an extra day in Whitehorse on Monday the 23rd, when my bike received much needed attention. The chain had stretched, and the rear wheel had cracked around the insertion holes of the spokes. The cogs had to be replaced along with the chain, so at the end of the day, I had all shiny parts on the bike. The new rim was wider and had grommets punched through the spoke holes, which would serve to contain any localized stresses that the spokes create on the rim. The rear wheel carries most of my weight, the two heavier panniers as well as the trailer. Adding to that, that is where the propulsion is. I had clearly abused the previous wheel!
A few interesting things in Whitehorse: one was the two pairs of moose antlers locked in a mortal combat, complete with skulls, on display at the Riverview Inn where I had breakfast. These moose were challenging each other in rut season, and the horns got tangled enough that they could not separate. They died, horns locked, only to be found as two complete skeletons head-to-head. The picture of how they were found was also there, with bones bleached and weathered.
There was a statue of a prospector and his dog complete with gold pans, which was "dedicated to all those who follow their dreams." I thought that I probably would have tried my luck in the Gold Rush had I lived back then. I do buy one lottery ticket per week back in the city after all ;-)
On Tuesday morning, I had a live interview with CBC Radio Yukon, then an interview for Yukon News newspaper. I pressed on around 10:30 up the Two Mile Hill out of Whitehorse to the postal facility to claim my general delivery. The part that my friend Steve Nagode sent me was not the one that I needed, a lesson in communication skills! I will have to be more specific the next time. I had been able to fix the handlebar bag sufficiently well after my crashes that I think it will make the trip to Anchorage, and perhaps even back to Seattle. Ortlieb makes good products, no problems with the panniers so far.
The BOB Trailer has been a quiet partner in this whole trip, never squeaking, never failing. I have abused the bike, the handlebar bag, the pump, the bike computer, but the trailer has been a winner. I have the new Ibex trailer with suspension that BOB Trailers gave me before it even went in the stores. The only modifications to this product have been the slot that we cut through one side its floor mesh to thread a kick stand through, and an extension to the fender for its wheel, which is essentially a front bike fender bolted on to the existing shorter flap of the trailer. The extension significantly cut the mud and grime that was accumulating on my load. Also we attached to flasher lights on either side of the wheel fork for safety. These get mud on them the way that they are installed, but the original reflector dead center over the wheel at the end of the short fender became painted with grime even faster.
The kickstand was a must on the loaded trailer. I lasted only 30 miles without it on the first day, getting so sick of the rig wanting to be keel over the whole time, that I stopped at the REI Lynwood store to have the kickstand installed. I have loaded the trailer with heavier and higher load than that BOB recommends, so if it holds up to my abuse, it will last for ordinary loads!
I rode west from Whitehorse along the Takhini River basin. I was soon out of the 911 service area, a sign said. Shucks, I could not call if I wanted to anyway as there was no cell phone coverage anywhere. Whitehorse was the first location where I had coverage since Fort Nelson. The next one was going to be in a four mile radius around Tok!
Takhini River basin was a glacial lake when the ice age glaciers blocked the valley downriver. The ancient shoreline from that period were visible on the hillsides across the valley. There were persistent fires passing through this valley in 1958 at the end of which plenty of land was cleared, allowing for elk and mule deer to move into the area. The forest has been rejuvenating and what I could see was mostly aspen groves with some pine and spruce clusters among them. A different appearance than the typical boreal forest that I had been seeing...
To the south behind the ridgeline was the Kusawa Lake that extended far to the south, providing for a trade route for the natives of the coastal floodplains to reach the plains populations. These natives closely guarded the knowledge of their trade routes from the European settlers until the late 1800's.
I camped that night, starting a fire using the dead branches of the trees near the ground. It was a nice setting, watching the fire in the shade of the trees, on snow that had melted in a ring around it. The smell of the wood smoke had an attraction to it, making me come closer reaching my hands over the fire. Playing with the fire and feeding it helped me spend a couple hours at the end of the day while cooking, feeding myself and preparing hot water to take into the bag with me next to my feet. There were thick layers of pine cone sheddings at the base of the trees. Squirrels were around me, a half dozen shrieking at each other, and running around my camp. I wondered if they would chew into my food pannier as I laid down. The sheddings had to be from the squirrels feeding on the pine nuts within the cones, making a nice insulating layer over the snow.
The next morning, I packed up noticing a hole in the sleeping bag where an amber had burned through. It was not bad when I noticed another hole in my belay jacket. Now THAT was not cool!
After passing the marker for historical 1000 mile on the Alaska Highway, I arrived at Haines Junction to the view of a range of rugged peaks and a ridgeline that lies west of the town. Sun was behind the ridge, making the details even more mystical. Quite a location, little did I know that I would see miles and miles of similar ridges and peaks all the way to Tok. I was at the beginnings of the St. Elias Mountains that reached over to the Wrangell Mountains to the west in Alaska. A very young formation that contained peaks over 5,000m including Mt. Logan (5,950 m - 19,520 ft), the highest point in Canada only about a hundred meters lower than Denali. That night when I woke up by chance, I dragged myself out to see if I could spot the northern lights. Sure enough they were there, wisping in the cold night.
Haines Junction has a long hill that climbs up to the Bear Creek Summit. This 11 mile long hill was inclined just so that I could not ride the bike faster than 4-5 mph, and I could walk at 3.5 mph. After what seemed forever, I reached the top at 1,004 m (3,294 ft). Then there were stretches of road with unpaved surface, that broke my pace. I camped at the Slims River crossing of Kluane Lake. This lake had been flowing south to the Gulf of Alaska for millennia when 300-400 years ago, the Kaskawulsh Glacier advanced, blocking the Slims River drainage. The water level rose in the lake and cut itself a new channel at the northwest end of the lake to join the Yukon River system, emptying into the Bering Sea. Kluane means Lake of Big Whitefish in the Tutchone language, the largest lake in the Yukon.
I had intended to make it to Destruction Bay that day, but had decided to break camp around 18:00, instead of pushing into the dark. I was glad about my decision in the morning when I saw more of the vistas of Kluane Lake and the surrounding mountains. Of course the lake was a big white frozen plain, forcing me to imagine it with the dark blue water in the summer. It had to be impressive...
Across my campsite on the other side of the Slims River was Sheep Mountain that was a protected site for a large herd of Dall sheep. I spotted three of them in the distance and zoomed in with my camera. I barely captured them as specs on the image using 10x zoom! I had digital zoom on the camera as well that enhanced the zoom to 30x, and for the rest of the ride to Destruction Bay, I was wrecking my brains trying to remember how to turn that on. Over a late lunch there, I figured it out which came in handy later to take a picture of a Northern Hawk Owl, with the head of an owl, and the body of a hawk...
I met Cathy Irons in Destruction Bay who was from Tok, involved with the Tok Boys and Girls Club, who later provided me with the contact information for the statewide office. I will stop by on the way back to tell them our story...
Kluane Wilderness Village came up after a long day, when I rode in with lights flashing. I had been riding with mountains to my left all day. I stayed there for three days and four nights, waiting out the flurries.
I met Scully in his 80's, the "Burl King of the North" who created attractive bowls out of spruce burls, and canes. The shape of the burl dictated the shape of the bowl, and one would not know the shape for sure until the bark was shed off the core by boiling... "These would be in the forest waiting for an old fool to come by and to do something out of them," he would say, playing in his shop rather than working. He gave me a small bowl to send Nancy.
I met John Trout also aged well, the proprietor of the gas station who posted the Yukon News article on the wall in the restaurant, telling me "I hope you can do all that you say you will do. Do not be afraid to change your mind..." There was a lot of wisdom in that little settlement.
The mountains to the south on my left were inhospitable for most. The migrating birds followed the valley northwest along the ridgelines. This valley is known as the Shakwak Trench, and reaches all the way to Alaska, joining the Tetlin National Wildlife Reserve there. The valley has lakes and wetlands that provide habitat for all migrating birds. I found out in Tok that the flocks of small sparrow size white birds with dark wingtips that I kept seeing along the road were the snow buntings in their breeding plumage. These birds were typically the first migrants of the year.
Beaver Creek was an 85 mile push that made for a long day. This is the westernmost permanent settlement in the Yukon, about 21 miles from the US border. The Canadian customs was just outside the town, which would make it interesting on the way back. I would not see a customs officer until I traveled that far into Canada!
In the morning before I left Beaver Creek, the proprietor of Buckshot Betty's received a phone call. She handed me the phone, saying "it is the RCMP!" Well, what stop sign did I miss??? Constable Ray Warner wanted to ask me if I needed anything. He was an avid cyclist, and owned the local bike shop as well. He had seen me push my rig to the restaurant from the cabin where I had stayed the night before. Ray ended up giving me two Canadian Army rations for the road, saying that these were so good that on international duties, everyone else try to trade their rations with the Canadians. I had to get creative with the packing as I had no room anywhere. I tucked the boxes away thinking I would eat one of them that night.
Soon after crossing the border, I came across a bicyclist, Frank from Belgium, who was on his way to Haines, AK. He had taken ferries and flights to connect big pitches of his trip, already having cycled from Izmir in Turkey to Kathmandu in Nepal. He had flown in from New Zealand to Anchorage, and wanted to get to LA, eventually to South America. He asked me if he could travel safely through Central America, and I told him that from what I heard, he should take the ferry around Colombia. He was on a low budget trip, telling me that he was not sponsored like me - little did he know!
After Frank, I ran into Seth and Teri, a ranger couple on their way to duty at the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. They had been to ranger training in southern USA, migrating much like the birds with the season. Early migrants like the snow buntings, I thought, the tourists will follow...
After another night of camping, I pulled into Tok. I finally had cellular reception. I called Nancy, the team, all those that I owed a phone call. As I approach the mountain, there is a great deal that needs to be coordinated so that the team can find me with the least trouble. A smooth transition from my lone cyclist mode to climbing with a team will be crucial to set the pace on the mountain.
I have no doubt that the team will arrive well prepared. Eddie Espinosa has taken on the leadership role for us to bring the team to the mountain to join me. We have Cory, Jeremy, and Chris who will be on the mountain to complete a team of five. Denise and Dave could not make it due to personal commitments. I will write more in Anchorage about our preparations before we commit to the mountain.
It would have been nice to have a computer, satellite phone, solar panels, cellular modem, a virtual office on the mountain. Our first summit will have to do without due to budget constraints. So I would anticipate little information coming to you from us on the mountain until we descend in late May. I may be able to reach Nancy by radio via the Park Service, who would post a transcribed update, but that is not guaranteed.
I plan to be Anchorage by Friday the 11th. Be well until then...
Tuesday - April 15, 2003
I arrived in Anchorage on Friday, April 11. I am staying with a colleague of Nancy's while waiting for Cory
and Chris to arrive at the end of the month. We will start the hike in on May 1.
Please expect a more detailed post from me within the next few days.
Best to you all.
Cross training in Anchorage!
Monday - April 21, 2003
Time to provide a lengthy update before I head north from Anchorage on the 26th. As I indicated in my
previous dispatch, I arrived at Anchorage well ahead of schedule. I had allowed for more storm days than
I needed given the relatively mild winter along the way. It is so mild that the team was not able to cache
the supplies at McGonagall Pass by musher help. So we changed our route selection to the West Buttress from
Kahiltna Glacier, rather than the Karstens Ridge by a Muldrow Glacier approach from the north. In this
manner, we can fly the team supplies into the Kahiltna Base Camp. This forced a change in the approach route, which I reflected on this site
Approaching from the north would have meant that the rest of the team would have had to do multiple carries
to get established on the mountain. We thought that that would burden the team with a time commitment that
we could not afford. So we opted for Cory Groom and Chris Woytko to arrive on April 29th, and to walk in
with me from the south of the mountain. Eddy Espinosa and Jeremy Cranford will arrive later with the bulk
of the supplies for the team. They will fly ahead of us, landing near the Kahiltna Base Camp to wait for us. After the climb is done, I will walk out with Eddy and Jeremy. Basically, the team chose to stagger their arrivals all around to ease the time commitments away from their jobs...
The latest plan is that we will start the walk in from near Petersville on May 1. Petersville is west of
Talkeetna, with a road that is partly paved. Cory and Chris will be picked up from Talkeetna and delivered
to our meeting point by Kroto Creek where the paved road ends. If the rest of the road is rideable by then
on a bicycle, we may choose to meet further up the road. Otherwise that is the starting point of the hike
where I will arrive on my bicycle. The same vehicle that delivers them will pick up my excess that will
include the bike, the trailer, bike helmet and the like. I will be carrying in all of my personal gear that
I will need to climb Denali, seven days worth of food for one try on Denali and ten days worth of food for
the walk to base camp. It will be a heavy load, the most that we can tolerate without multiple carries.
Cory and Chris will travel light, as their gear will be flown in with the rest of the team.
The hike from Kroto Creek to base camp will be about 50 miles, the last 20 of which will be on the Kahiltna
Glacier. We will follow a tractor trail beyond Petersville over the Dutch Hills, staying high on the
ridgeline to avoid most creeks and bushwhacking. We will try to join the Kahiltna Glacier higher up where
there is more snow on which to travel. Lower on the glacier, the crevasses will not be covered well, given
the low snow year. I cannot say enough to commend the team's flexibility to accompany me into the mountain.
Not only will I enjoy their companionship during the approach, and the return trip, but I will also find
safety in their rope on the glacier, and in our numbers in the tundra - the bears are out already!!! I have
been reading about bears lately, trying to understand their behavior and to learn the best practices. I
think we have a plan that will help us avoid (or deal with) the bear encounters as best that we can.
On the 11th, I bicycled directly to the REI store in Anchorage. They were expecting me there. Andrew Cutting
who had so graciously followed all of my progress since Seattle was present. We finally met in person when
I could thank him for the pump that he had drop-shipped for me to Tok. John Glidden, the master mechanic in
the bike shop, could not wait to get his hands on my bicycle. He wanted to hear any and all issues with the
bike. He admonished me a bit about my choice of lubrication for the chain along the way, telling me that on
the way back they would send me off with the right kind of lubricants. Andrew told me that he was talking to
a few of his coworkers in the store who had cabins near Talkeetna, who could perhaps help us with the logistics
on May 1. I felt at home, once again part of the big family called REI - I had been gone too long!
All the problems that I faced with the bike had to do with my inability to take good care of my chain and gears,
which led to premature wearing of the gear teeth. John also did not like the damage that the chain suck had
caused on the frame. The chain often would get stuck between the small chain ring and the frame, which I could
only undo by reverse pedaling. That jamming action of the steel chain against the aluminum frame had taken off
shavings from the frame. John would have none of that! "I can punch through that metal with a screwdriver" he
claimed; he was not liking the way the frame had been nicked. He felt that he had to strengthen the frame or
to replace it. He briefly considered epoxy and fiberglass, then gave a call to Steve Gluckman, REI's Novara
brand manager who had provided me the bicycle in the first place. Steve had a frame that he could send up.
John was set: he would strip the bike and rebuild it on the new frame. Radical solution, but I was not going
to complain. REI was standing behind their product, not to mention my epic. They understood the seriousness
of a failed frame away from their reach, and we were not going to take any risks. I was in good hands...
I left Tok on April 6th, heading south on the Tok Cutoff toward Glennallen. I had crossed into Alaska Time,
and the previous night the clocks had "sprung forward" for daylight savings. Too confusing I thought and I
kept my watch and bike computer at the same time settings as they had been. I had been basing my travel hours
according to the daylight, so I wanted to keep a sense of consistency in how I measured time. Well, that did
not last too long - in Glennallen the restaurant that they said was open until 21:00 had closed when I arrived
at 20:00 by my watch, and it was 23:30 by Nancy's time when I woke her up by phone. What a night of confusion
that was, with me having no clue about the time. Such is life when one pegs his schedule to the sunrise and
the sunset. I hear that such a schedule can lead to a delirious state of mind in these northern latitudes as
the nights get shorter and shorter in the summer months!
On the Tok Cutoff there were many sections of the road that had been damaged. These sections had gravel over
them, some of them being very rough. I had to get off the bike and walk it past these sections feeling as
though I was walking in a riverbed! I made it past the Mentasta Summit to the Mentasta Lodge where Crystal was
serving food. She told me about the big earthquake that they had on Nov 3, 2002 that measured 8.9 on the Richter
scale by the time it rebounded. The lodge had been sitting on a fault line and the ground had split under the
lodge with cracks running across the parking lot. The only reason the lodge did not fall apart was that it had
been built in sections that simply stood apart. Everything inside had been rearranged and tossed around! In
one fault that shot across the road, the ground had shifted 23 feet that moved the centerline of the highway to
the shoulder. Trucks had fallen into cracks in the road... All that gravel was the reconstruction of the
earthquake damaged sections.
Crystal sent me away with part of her tip as a donation to our journey. "I always give away my tips," she said
as I left her with a card of mine. She had invested in a satellite connection for better Internet access, so we
had gained another fan that would follow our journey. I made it to Slana that evening. The lodge that I tried
asked for $99 a night, which I thought was too much hotel for what I needed. I camped a 100 yards from their
entrance by the roadside among trees. That worked just fine...
Wrangell Mountains were to my south and east all the way from Slana to Glennallen. Mount Sanford, Mount Wrangell
and Mount Drum were visible. Mount Wrangell is 14,163ft (4,317m) high and is the largest active volcano in Alaska.
Since the 1964 Alaskan earthquake, it has been warming up. Ice and snow that was 160 feet deep then is now bare
rock. I rode that view all the way to Glennallen where I checked into the bunkhouse turned hotel that was originally
built for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline construction crews. The pipeline passed underground through Glennallen, so I
missed it. Perhaps I will see it on the way back when I will return via Fairbanks.
I had a very slow start the next day. I had biked 79 miles into Glennallen the day before, had my hours all screwed
up; my body did not know what time it was. To top it all, my rear tire sank when I loaded up to start riding... I
had a leak in the tire. In what seemed like a ceremonial routine, I unloaded everything in the reverse order that
they were put on the bike, and took apart the rear tire. I had an inch long wire that had threaded its way on the
edge of the tire. I had received extra inner tubes from Nancy in Watson Lake, so I did not worry. At the same time,
I felt that I should keep that margin of two extra inner tubes just in case!
As I toiled over the bike with a pile of gear around me in the parking lot, Mark from Fairbanks walked up and offered
help. We had talked briefly in the hotel lobby the night before when I had just arrived. He had seen the rig with
its flashers on, and was curious. Now he wanted to help. He left with my inner tube after asking: "so how self
propelled are you? Will you accept help?" I told him that I had never used the word "unassisted"!!! He was thinking
that he could have the nearby gas station find the holes in the tube for me in a tub. He was happy to return after
the tube had been patched, ready to go.
I packed and hit the road at 14:30 in the afternoon. It was a ridiculous start time compared to all of my previous
riding days! I made 35 miles regardless and checked into a cheap cabin at Mendeltna Creek Lodge. The cabin was
just one room with a heater in it, and I had to use the restroom by the restaurant. The restaurant felt homey, the
crowd friendly. The proprietors Ross & Mabel were also participating in a game of darts while serving the customers.
All around me were tables and furniture made out of burled wood. Their son worked at the NASA Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, sending commands to Cassini probe on its way to Mars. "He has a lot of spare time between communications,"
she said, hinting that he would enjoy reading from our web site.
The next day I rode over the Eureka Summit that commanded views of the Chugach Mountains to the south, and the
Gunsight Mountain to the west. Gunsight is a dormant volcano with an obvious notch on its rim, hence the name.
Nelchina and Matanuska Glaciers were bursting north out of the range, with Matanuska reaching very near the
highway. During the Ice Age, the entire valley had been submerged under a giant Matanuska Glacier.
There was a nine-mile stretch of the highway at Caribou Creek where there was construction. I was told that
I would be delivered through that stretch in a pilot truck. They were shredding trees along the highway, preparing
for road widening, and blasting in the sections that were cleared. I was ready to negotiate a way through that
without getting on the truck to keep the trip "human powered." I figured these guys would quit at some point,
and I was prepared to ride through the night if necessary. I would just camp out till they quit, I thought to
When I arrived at the person signaling, she told me that they would be quitting at 18:30. I had another half an
hour to wait, so I parked my bike and chatted with her. Her name was Angelique. She told me that this part of
the Glenn Highway sorely needed the widening, (read: shoulders that I could ride!) which had been delayed due to
lack of money. I thought Alaska had all the oil money, but hey, what do I know? This was a $37 million project,
It was like rush hour traffic when the vehicles would be led in from the other side by the pilot truck. RV's of
all sizes, pick-up trucks, SUV's would pass eastward by three times as many as all the traffic heading toward
Anchorage with me. All of that oncoming traffic was towing trailers loaded with snowmobiles. I was glad that I
was riding on the thin side of the traffic! Angelique told me that the traffic was heading to Paxson for the
Arctic Man weekend a couple days later. Paxson was a town of 100 people that would blow up to over 10,000 once
a year during the Arctic Man competitions. Competitors on skis or snowmobiles would race a downhill course, grab
a towline from their snowmobile partner to reach the top of the next hill. The race continued at insane speeds
mixing man and machine, and this was just one of the races that I was hearing about. A weekend for speed junkies
that attracted olympic skiers even. That had to be quite a scene!
I camped out that night just past the construction zone. The next morning, I would bike into Palmer without
worrying about crews stopping me. I stayed in Palmer for one evening and joined the highway to Anchorage. It
was a very noisy and crowded road so I eventually got off that section on to Old Glenn Highway that took me into
Eagle River. Doug "SNOMAN" Thibault was from Eagle River and I had to see where he was. I called his cell phone
and to my luck he was a couple blocks away. His truck was getting its transmission rebuilt, so he would be in
town for a few more days. We met briefly before I continued on for REI. By the time I arrived at REI, the
odometer was reading 2,506.5 miles.
It had been a great ride. The magic continues: In Anchorage, I am staying with a colleague of Nancy's, Terry
Smith who is a wonderful host. She also volunteers with the traditional Iditarod race stocking hay and food for
sled dogs. What a wonderful experience to have fantasized about that race, then to meet someone who lives it
every year. I have since met two friends of Terry's from Wasila, Peg and Bobbie, who generously offered to
take me in on my way to Talkeetna. Last night, I gave a call to Harold Hunt, a teammate on our 1997 attempt
on the South Buttress of Denali who lives in Anchorage. I had no idea that he lived only half a mile away
from Terry's, so I walked over late at night for a quick chat. The whole thing was too silly to pass up the
opportunity to have a beer together. We promised that we would climb indoors together tomorrow night.
I am getting antsy about the climb. I went to REI today to see what I could take for snowshoes. I will take in my boots with me tomorrow to make sure that I have one with straps that fits those boots. Getting everything together, loading it all up for a test carry will be good. I will isolate all the items that go with me on the mountain on the trailer, so that I leave nothing behind. Time for another checklist!
I hope to be able to post another dispatch from Talkeetna before I commit to the mountain. If I can call Nancy from the Kahiltna Base Camp by radio, she will post a dispatch for us in May. Otherwise, you will not hear from me until after we come off the mountain in early June. Until then, please take care and hug often.
Monday - April 21, 2003
What was I thinking? I forgot to mention the most important part - our wedding with Nancy in Homer AK on June 15. I am on this single track mind about the climb the last few days, and that was reflected in the below dispatch as well!
I have to get off the mountain in time to return to Anchorage for the marriage license, then head down to Homer. It will be a rush coming off the mountain since I have a deadline to meet after summitting Denali. Let's just cross our fingers that the team will not be waiting out too many storms. It would be hard to explain arriving a week late to my own wedding. However, I will not guarantee that I will have time to shave.
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