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230 – 237: Whittier to Fairbanks, AK.

Moose, big days and Independence Day. It’s been another wet week, most days providing torrential rain sessions. Not unbearable, but kind of frustrating as Denali is totally invisible in the heavy grey clouds. Quiet week in terms of meeting anyone and filming with them – that’s Alaska though I guess. Hoping to backtrack a little bit and head back into the National Park and to Healy in a day or so on a slightly different mission which could result in material. Rather than post about the rain too much, here’s a few highlights.

235: 20m N of Trapper Creek – Cantwell, AK (80 miles)

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Face to face with a moose. Holy smokes. Not many places in the world where you find yourself making eye contact with a moose. 11PM in Cantwell, working up and down Denali highway trying to find a place to setup camp. And there it was, maybe 50 metres away, stumbling across the road with the most unusual walk. It paused. I paused. It moved. I moved. It was awesome in the literal sense of the word.

A few people so far have talked about moose as their primary food source. They say a moose’s meat can last a family a year or more. It’s hard to picture from photographs, but seeing the scale of the animal – it instantly made sense. Still amazed, I couldn’t find a suitable place to camp, so might’ve slept on the floor in a post office. Not sure if that’s strictly allowed but it might have been / was warm, dry and mosquito-free.

236: Cantwell – Healy, AK (40 miles)

It was about 10.30am and I was sat at a table in the corner of a Cantwell gas station. Firing off some emails before setting out for the day. A brief look up every now and then to see whether the drizzle had ceased. Current mileage, zero.

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“That your bike outside?” asked Jeff, an Alaskan native cycling from Anchorage to Fairbanks. A super positive guy who was travelling light, on a racing bike and having a friend following him in a van providing support.

“How far have you gone today?”. Nowhere yet, Jeff! How far have you gone?

“I’ve done 77 miles this morning. Been pretty grim on the road though in this weather.”

77 miles and he was only just stopping for breakfast/lunch. As you do. I was inspired by Jeff’s pre-breakfast epic mission and positive mentality, and left eager to hit the road. And minutes later Jeff overtook me, with ease, on his carbon fibre bike with speed bars.

“Have a good ride!”, he shouted back. You too Lance. Sorry I mean Jeff.

237: Healy – Fairbanks, AK (113 miles)

The longest day so far, by a single mile. And certainly the most arduous for a long time. There are days that look ‘big’ on paper but aren’t. One that comes to mind is the stretch from Van Horn – El Paso, TX. It’s basically 106 miles of downhill with minimal pedalling, and it’s over really quickly. Then you get some 50 miles days that take forever because of the terrain. Today was more like the latter – a long and gruelling hilly day.

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It’s the height of Alaskan summer, so there’s plenty of light. Really the days can be as long as you like. It was a typical groggy morning waking up on a patch of grass near Healy’s only gas station. I cycled up to the centre of town (it’s a tiny town so ‘centre’ is a loose term). It was only then that the celebrations made sense. 4th of July – the USA’s birthday. There was going to be a bunch of floats driving down the main street at 11am, celebrating the day. Not going to miss this. I wondered over to the street and waited, along with maybe 20 locals lining the side of the street. It wasn’t a big do, amusingly small even – a few horses, a fire engine, someone getting pulled along in a kayak by a bicycle, a gorilla mascot – and it was over in about 5 minutes. A late start but worth the wait to celebrate the 4th. Everyone was happy and got free candyfloss. No one was complaining. Sweets for breakfast? Go on then.

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It was a national day off so most people were staying home. Empty roads. The start of the ride was fast. A strong tailwind and mainly downhill for 30 miles. Even on the uphills, the wind would keep you going in top gear. Get in. Then the wind died down, the climbs became consistent, and it started to pour down. It can be alright riding in the rain for a bit. Then it starts to suck. There was maybe an hour or so of heavy rain riding, before cycling through Nenana and finding shelter at the gas station, where these folks all had the same idea.

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For a while there was an inpromptu bike party, everyone sitting out the torrential rain. It eased off after a while though, and it was great to ride with Julia and Hannes from Germany who were heading the same way (see their website). Seems like the majority of other cyclists on long trips aren’t from the US and have been drawn by a grass-is-always-greener thirst for a North American adventure. Thinking back, it’s probably a ratio close to 5:1 International / USA.

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At this point it had been a long day, but there was still 44 miles or so to go. On one hand knowing how much you have left is a good thing, the countdown keeps you pedalling. “1 mile down. 43 left.” etc. On the other, it just can seem never ending. There were so many times, getting to the top of a hill and seeing another hill coming up. It’s torture. But eventually the climbs turned to downhills, and there was a 3 mile full-speed-ahead blast into town. Nice way to end. I pulled into Fairbanks at 11.15pm, dizzy and drowsy, set up the tent near a community centre and that was that.

Just throwing this out there – what kind of people sum up America & Canada in your mind? There are no pre-arranged Vague Direction People meetings for a while, so I’d love to hear any thoughts you have as to who might be interesting to feature and talk to about their lifestyle. (For example – a clown, ice hockey coach, gold prospector etc). Love to hear your suggestions if you have them in the comment section below.

Huge thanks to Best Western Chena River Lodge for their amazing hospitality on a rest day in Fairbanks, what a place! Worth a look if you’re in the area.

Here’s the last week, plus quick map.

230: Whittier – Anchorage (60 miles)
231: Anchorage – Palmer (42 miles)
232: Palmer – Willow (48 miles)
233: Willow – Trapper Creek (52 miles)
234: Trapper Creek – McKinley View Lodge (20 miles)
235: McKinley View Lodge – Cantwell (80 miles)
236: Cantwell – Healy, AK (40 miles)
237: Healy – Fairbanks, AK (113 miles) 

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Vague Direction: A 12,000 mile bicycle ride, and the meaning of life.
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6 comments on this post

  1. george foster says:

    bon effort as per davey lad! what’s your plans in alaska? you heading across canada still?

    • Dave says:

      Yep gonna start heading east in a couple of days, still loose with the exact route but the it’ll be Canada for a while. Thinking of maybe riding to Winnipeg then dropping back into the US to hit Chicago and some of the Northern US, but maybe just keep going staying above the border. Seems to fluctuate daily! You still hitting Squamish? Bring ‘yer bike and get in the game!

  2. Bill Maylone says:

    fire fighter, someone who lives out in the middle of nowhere, alone. a moose!

  3. Roger says:

    I’ve just started following your adventure through Alaska’s north country. I lived in Alaska 30 years and currently reside on a 40ft (12 meter) sailboat on Lake Michigan. Will your adventure take you beyond Fairbanks north on the Dalton Hwy to the North Slope? That’s where a true adventure would begin on gravel. It’s over 414 mi (616 km) long. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1f/Dalton_Highway_Map.png

    Just a note to include for your journalistic style…….an Alaskan Native is considered to have aboriginal status. A Native Alaskan is one who is born in Alaska. My two kids are Native Alaskan’s but not Alaskan Natives.

    You’re adventure would be complete by going south from Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula to Homer to catch a ferry to Kodiak island. It would be rather inexpensive only taking bikes on board rather an a car. They run several times a week from Seward and Homer to Kodiak. There are certain times when that ferry actually goes out to Dutch Harbor on the the Alaska Peninsula. That’s where the King Crab fishery prevails.
    Good luck.

  4. Pat & Jerry Hanley says:

    Hey Dave! did you get that hot meal we talked about?
    Jerry (N.Y.F.D. firefighter)

    • Dave says:

      Hi Jerry and Pat,
      Yep and it was amazing, thank you so much! I’m backlogged with blogs to write but meeting you will definitely be written about at some point.
      Had a great time meeting you both and hope that the rest of your trip went / is going well!
      Cheers,
      Dave

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