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900 miles through Alaska: Part 2 Anchorage to Cantwell

Our family spent 3 weeks biking 900 miles in Alaska. This is the second part of three parts describing our journey. Click here to read Part One.

Our adventures of fat biking through Alaska began in the city of Anchorage. Anchorage is a typical metropolitan area. There are tall buildings, lots of traffic, and plenty of people. To leave Anchorage by bike there are 18 miles of bike path, north to the community of Eagle River. From the Comfort Suites, where we had prepared our bikes upon arrival in Anchorage,  we wound through commercial warehouse areas, past strip malls, schools, and parks. We even witnessed the police moving homeless people out of the woods, near a park,  showing us that Anchorage is coping with many of the same issues as other large cities.

Riding on the Glenn Highway, departing Anchorage

The first day of riding was not our ideal riding situation after we followed the 18 miles of bike path, we met the interstate.  We turned off on the Old Glenn Highway to avoid the heavy traffic, but the Old Glenn Highway continued to rattle our nerves. There was less traffic, but much less of a shoulder for bikes to travel on.  The shoulder opened up more, the closer we got to Palmer. If we were to do this trip again, we might skip riding from Anchorage to Palmer to avoid traffic. There are both public transportation options and private taxi companies, that could transport a rider between the two cities.

We continued on from Palmer, 6 miles, on the Glenn Highway to Moose Creek Campground. The forest was lush and dense in the campground. There was both a spring and a fast flowing creek within the campground boundaries, so our water supply was not a worry. We set up camp and enjoyed rice and eggs in tortillas, retreating to our tent for the night.

April at King Mountain SRA

From Moose Creek Campground we only traveled 20 miles on our second day. Rain was on the way and we decided to stop early. We set up camp under the tarp we purchased from a small general store in Sutton, that day.  King Mountain SRA was a large campground on the Matanuska River. We checked out the river and took a few moments to relax and soak in the scenery.

We woke up to rain the next day. After we packed up, we began the day climbing through a road construction zone. The silty mud caked our bikes. Initially, the workers tried to get us to load our bikes in a pilot truck and take a ride through the construction zone. We were able to convince them to let us ride with an escort instead.

Bryon and April at Matanuska Glacier

There was still not much of a shoulder on the Glenn Highway as we ventured toward Glennallen. Fortunately, because of the construction, we were able to have 15-20 minutes between surges of traffic. We were grateful for this. We reached Matanuska Glacier by lunch. We found shelter from the light rain under an interpretive exhibit that looked out on the glacier. We enjoyed our warm meal before heading back to the road. We had climbed about 2500 ft already and had another 1500-2000 ft of climbing left before we reached Eureka Summit.

Matanuska Glacier

We stopped at the Eureka Roadhouse on top of the summit, that rises to 3600 feet. We descended to our camp for the night. We camped at Little Nelchina, a campground that has been abandoned by the state but still has places to put up tents, along with two outhouses. The creek running through the camp was clean. We used this water for drinking and cooking. We set up under our tarp for the second night in a row as the rain continued to lightly fall.

We rode a good part of the next day through light rain. We reached Glennallen in the afternoon, where we restocked on food and diapers. We stopped at the local Napa, so Bryon could get a couple hose clamps to better attach our racks to our bikes. We used Salsa racks on our bikes for this trip, which worked great but needed some adjustments early in the ride.

After we left Glennallen it began to pour. Eight miles out of Glennallen the Wrangell-Elias National Park has a large visitor center. We stopped there and were able to find a room in Copper Center for the night, before continuing on. We were told by a friendly park worker it had been raining heavily in the area, and rain was expected to continue to fall the next few days. The McCarthy Road, would probably not be passable if the rain continued.

Riding the Richardson Highway

That night after checking the weather we decided instead of going to McCarthy we would head to Gakona, the next day. We were fortunate to have made this decision, as the McCarthy road did close due to erosion from the rain the next day.

From Copper Center we headed to Gakona where we took shelter from the rain in a shed like cabin with a bathroom and bunkbed at the Gakona RV Park. We cooked dinner on the sheltered patio outside their kitchen building. April played with the grandchildren of the owners of the RV park, while we cooked. Bryon and I were exhausted, so exhausted that we dozed before April and woke to her wandering around our quarters chattering away.

From Gakona we continued down the road east against the headwind, for about 15 miles before deciding we would head back toward Glennallen to camp. We were a day or so ahead of schedule, but with the poor weather conditions felt we needed to use our time wisely. We needed food too. We had planned on stocking up in McCarthy, but with the reroute our resupply would have to be in Glennallen again.

We turned around and returned to Dry Creek Campground, where we had eaten lunch the previous day. We set up camp then headed for Glennallen, and resupplied for the 8 days we would have between Dry Creek and Cantwell, a town on the far end of the Denali Highway, from where we were.

There would be roadhouses and lodges along the Denali Highway, where we could get a couple of meals, but there were not grocery stores or gas stations once we passed the turn off to Tok, 15 miles from Glennallen.

While we were staying at Dry Creek Campground, a couple with a daughter pulled up to our camp in a car. They woman in the car gave us a bag of bottled water. They had seen April and Becky getting water from the tank at the campground, that had to be treated or boiled before drinking. They offered us several bottles of water and even gave April a yogurt treat. We were thankful for the water, as it saved us the hassle of boiling water and from the taste of the purification tablets when we filled our bottles the next morning.

Sourdough Campground

We headed up to Sourdough Creek Campground, the next day. Sourdough Creek was a beautiful campground about half way between Glennallen and Paxson. We set up camp in the early afternoon. The sun had come out, and in the week that we had been on the road, we had not done laundry. Becky took our socks and chamois and a couple articles of April’s clothing down to the creek to wash. The creek was high and ran over the banks, but we were able to clean and dry our clothes before the clouds moved in the next morning.

We packed up on the morning of August 11th ready for a long day in the saddle. It was over 65 miles from Sourdough Campground to the Tangle Lakes area, where we hoped to eat pizza and find a place to sleep that night.

Climbing out of Paxson Lake Campground

We made it to Paxson Lake by lunch and descended into the campground to make hot soup. After lunch, we climbed the 200 feet back to the highway and continued on for 10 miles to the turn for the Denali Highway. The Denali Highway was once the only way to get to the park from Anchorage. It is 135 miles, 122 of which are gravel. We were itching to get onto the dirt. The Denali highway climbed the first several miles.  While we stopped to snack, in a pull-out along the side of the road, we saw a woman pulling a bob trailer coming up the hill. She stopped to talk with us, she had started riding from Fairbanks a few days prior and was touring solo.

Paxson Lodge. abandoned.

After talking with the woman, we continued on our way. We came across the Tangle River Inn at mile 20 of the Denali Highway. This was not the pizza place we had hoped to find, so we continued on for about a mile and found the campground. Still no pizza, so we turned around hungry and defeated, but settled on food at the Tangle River Inn.

Eating at Tangle Lakes Inn

The Tangle River Inn, is a family run restaurant/lodge. It was a bit pricey, and the staff was unusually eccentric. We ate our burgers, and a tasty piece of pie with ice cream, before searching for a place to camp. We hoped to disperse camp, after seeing a sign that the BLM campground was full. We passed the Tangle Lakes Lodge in our search for a camp spot. This was the pizza joint we had been searching. We had not gone far enough on the road! We were tired and decided to try the campground, despite the full sign. We had found that BLM campgrounds often had walk-in sites, outside of the general RV and car camping area. Luck would have it we were able to snag one of the two unoccupied walk-in sites, in the otherwise full campground.

We set up our camp next to a family. The seven-year old boy at in the neighboring site was especially curious about what we were doing camping on bikes, when he read the word bike on the back of Becky’s flannel, as she walked about after chasing April. We told him we had biked almost 70 miles to get to our camp spot. He told us he had biked 70 miles since turning 7.

We put together camp and were ready to rest our worn bodies. Rain fell through the night and much of the next morning . We decide to stay put and rest for a day at Tangle Lakes Campground. The rain stopped in the afternoon and we made the short jaunt to Tangle Lakes Lodge. The open sign was not lit when we rode up. As we readied ourselves to go back to camp and cook, the owner saw us and told us he was about to open up for the afternoon.

We looked at maps and the Milepost Guide, while April played around the casual dining area. After enjoying our pizza we returned to camp where we picked blueberries, walked down by the lake and read in the tent the remainder of the afternoon.

We left Tangle Lakes the next morning. Rain trickled down, as we climbed Maclaren’s Summit. This is the highest point of the Denali Highway, reaching just over 4000 feet. From the summit, we descended about 10 miles to Maclaren River Lodge. We stopped at the lodge and enjoyed all you can eat soup and bread and drank coffee. We dried out as we ate. Maclaren River Lodge is a large camp, and also where the Princess buses touring the Denali Highway to Copper Center stop for lunch. A bus full of tourists unlike ourselves pulled up as we prepared to depart. We got a number of dirty looks from people as we prepared to leave. One old man was about to speak his mind about April and Becky being out in the rain on bikes, but when he saw Bryon, he stopped himself.

We continued on about 20 miles after lunch, before setting up a camp in a pull out on the side of the road. We set our tarp up for a cooking area, as we figured more rain was on the way.

We woke up to rain, and it was cold. We packed up after cooking oatmeal for breakfast. We put April in the Burley with her jacket and Mom’s puffy coat for extra warmth. We hoped to come across Alpine Creek Lodge later in the morning. We also hoped to find somewhere to dry our tent and gear, as we left our camp, with wet gear packed away.

We reached Alpine Creek Lodge by 10:30 am. We had only biked 12 miles, but we were soaked. We went in and enjoyed cookies and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while conversing with Chrissy. Chrissy was the lodge cook.

We found out that they had a dry cabin at the top of a couple switchbacks on the property available for the night. Meals would be included with the cabin if we wanted to stay.

Alpine Creek Lodge

We were very glad we decided to stay. The cabin was amazing. With the wood burning stove warming the cabin, we were able to dry all of our gear. We read and relaxed, we headed down to the lodge for a sloppy joe lunch, and then later ribs and potatoes with homemade peach cobbler, for dinner. We were thankful to have a warm dry place to rest and dry out, after getting saturated that morning.

We wished we could have stayed longer, but we needed to proceed to Cantwell if we hoped to reach Denali in time for our camping reservations. We ate a scrumptious breakfast of biscuits, gravy, fruit, and eggs made to order, before departing into the misting conditions towards Cantwell, the next day.

We traveled to Clearwater Lodge and bought cinnamon rolls from the Sluice Box,  and then continued onto Brushkana Campground, where we stopped to get out of the rain and make coffee in the afternoon. From Brushkana we covered another 7 or 8 miles and then found a pullout where we set up our camp.

It looked like more rain might be on the way…again. We used the Burley and our bikes to secure our tarp over the tent. We climbed into the tent that night, hoping the rain would let up by morning.

Of course, we found it to be raining when we woke the next morning. We waited for the rain to let up and then packed up the bikes and Burley, and headed for Cantwell, and the George Parks Highway.

We reached the George Parks Highway by lunch and enjoyed coffee, ice cream, and a hot pretzel in the Chevron station. From Cantwell, we enjoyed the flats and gradual descent into Denali National Park. The rain had let up, and we were happy to set up camp, for a couple of days in the walk-in campground. We were surrounded by several other cyclists at the Riley Creek Campground, as an Adventure Cycling tour from Missoula to Denali was ending in Denali, the day we arrived. We even talked to a man, in the Adventure Cycling group, that had a Gravel Pursuit buff on. Bryon had been wearing the same buff through our trip!

We spent the next day in Denali doing laundry, showering, and shopping for our 4 days of riding on the Denali Park Road. We planned to bike 170 miles, with around 14,000 feet of elevation gain on the Park Road, before cruising the Parks Highway to end our journey in Fairbanks.

 

Stay Tuned for Part Three…

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2 Responses to 900 miles through Alaska: Part 2 Anchorage to Cantwell

  1. Erv Spanks September 11, 2018 at 2:15 pm #

    Bryon looked to be wearing the proper jersey for shoulder riding on the highway, Kermit’s tough as nails!

    • Becky, Byron & April Vordermann September 16, 2018 at 6:23 pm #

      Yes! Kermit is tough as nails!