Working with Outdoor Research and Big Agnes in July of 2018, I had the opportunity to join a friend, who is a sponsored endurance mountain athlete, and head up to Alaska to scout some sections for a potential new backcountry bicycle route.
One day out of the blue, my buddy Craig (@OneofSevenProject) called me up and asked if I’d be interested in heading up to Alaska to do a bikepacking trip. Of course the only correct answer to that question is yes. Having done some bike touring in Alaska previously—in 2000 I pedaled from Prudhoe Bay to Southern California over about 5 months—I was eager to get back up north and explore more dirt roads and trails that I had missed on my previous trip.
A couple months after our phone conversation, we agreed it was time to pull the trigger and make this trip happen. We both jumped online, looked at flights and debated dates—and before we knew it tickets were purchased. Craig was flying from Boston, and we would rendezvous in the airport in Portland, OR, before taking separate flights about 40 minutes apart up to Anchorage. Game on.
We flew with our bikes to Anchorage and then pedaled north from Valdez to Fairbanks. It was a trip full of tough miles, lots of HAB (hike-a-bike), one curious brown bear inside our comfort circle, lots of rain, a couple head colds, and endless amazing views.
We had heard about the possibility of bikepacking the Alaskan Pipeline access roads and, based on both of our previous experience bike touring in Alaska, decided we needed to check it out. The pipeline is a monster and requires a ROW, which is a permit to access this sliver of secured private property that runs across the state of Alaska.
Heavy rain and countless steep grades kept our average speed low as we settled into our first few days on the bikes. Not knowing if there would be bears or moose around the corner as we rode through dense vegetation kept the excitement level high.
The topography of Alaska and our starting down on the coast meant we faced the majority of our climbing early in the trip. The same mountains we would climb over were also acting as a barrier for Pacific storms, keeping us wet and muddy until we made it over Thompson Pass in the Chugach Mountains. Better weather and flatter roads were the payoff as we continued north.
We attempted to follow the ROW as much as possible, but between the over-zealous beavers, endless HABs, and the unknown conditions of remote dirt roads, our timeline to make it to Fairbanks and catch our flights home in a little less than 2 weeks meant we had to put in some highway miles.
The Richardson Highway took us north into the vast Alaskan interior. We had views of the Wrangell–St. Elias mountains to the east, and then the Alaska Range as we worked our way north to the turnoff for the Denali Highway.
The highlight of our trip had to be the Denali Highway. We were both blown away by the scenery along what is said to be one of the top 3 highways in North America. Forward progress was constantly interrupted by one view after another as the highway switched between sweeping pavement and dirt. It’s hard to put into words the scale and beauty of this route as it cuts east to west across Alaska, ending at the Parks Highway, just south of the entrance to Denali National Park.
We decided to take the time to stop in the park and play tourist for a couple days. Despite the rain the first day that kept us sleeping in our tents well into the late morning, Denali came out in grand fashion. It was spectacular and a well-spent 2 days of rest and recovering off the bikes.
Inclement weather, physical discomfort, and challenging terrain are part of any big trip into the mountains, but despite these, bikepacking in the Great North was incredible. We both agreed it was a success and we were ready to keep pedaling rather than get on planes to return home; our bodies and minds were just settling into the daily ritual of moving long distances through the mountains. Unfortunately, the ‘real world’ was calling us back.
Having been friends for 15 years, we share the belief that vacations, and even life, aren’t about sitting in a resort or behind a desk, but about getting outside one’s comfort zone and sleeping in the dirt. We also realize how lucky we both are to have a buddy who is down for the big ideas and outdoor adventures we dream up while stuck in the daily grind. Cheers to all the crazy friends and plus-ones out there who are down for adventure at the drop of a dime!