Alaska 2011

The following is an excerpt from 2011.

While not really a new post, per say, it is a recollection of the past in order to glimpse the future, and a chance to do some creative writing in order to get psyched for Alaska in May 2013!

The storm finally passed over this part of Idaho, and my knee swelling subsided, so it is time to hit the highway again. After crossing the Snake river, I entered the Snake River plains and north into Idaho’s fantastic mountains. Spent the Night on the Salmon River near Challis and really started to enjoy myself. For the next 2 days I pedaled and photographed my way up the Salmon River corridor, stopping at a fantastic hot spring that David Schipper told me about. This place was a one of a kind… a 3 mile hike up a beautiful and steep mountain canyon bring one to a literal waterfall of hot water, with pools of various temps below. Totally natural and with unforgettable views.

Onward…. up the Salmon to it’s head waters and over Lost Trail pass and into Montana. More rainy pedaling and a stop in Missoula to buy a new H2O filter put me on the map of the north country. I stayed in Whitefish for a couple of days to relax, and then bolted for the border.

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British Columbia! B.C. is beautiful! I pedaled north, following the Kootenay River most of the time, and eventually entering Kootenay Nat’l Park at Radium Hot Springs. After climbing up the 10 percent pass into the Rockies proper, I stopped at a small lake at it’s summit called “Olive Lake” and cleaned up a bit. It started to rain. Starting down the other side, I spy a small Black Bear cub, dead, on the road. I stopped, and shooed the Crows off of it, and pulled it out of the road and off to the side. It was no bigger than a large dog. It’s fur was incredibly soft and claws very long. I spoke to it for a bit and bid it farewell to the afterworld and continued on. A quarter mile further, I look down and lock eyes with a Grizzly! I stop and speak softly to it and take some photos. Eventually, it wanders into the forest. Awesome! Then, not 200 yards further, I see a Black bear that was WAY big! She spots me and instantly bolts… Talking to a park employee later, I am told that the Black’s name is “Olive” named after the lake nearby where she is known to habitate. Apparently, she births 2 cubs every 2 years. The cub I found was hers… very sad

The next day, still raining, I finally cross Vermillion Pass and the continental Divide, and reminice of when my climbing partner at the time, Ron Alexander, RIP, pulled in here on our first trip of several, and climbed the N. Face of Mt Stanley. This place, these mountains, are the stuff of my dreams. Ron and I, and other partners went on to do the N. Faces of Robson, Athabasca, The W. Shoulder Direct on Mt Andromeda, and quite a few others. It has been nearly 20 years since I was last here. I’m feeling pretty blown away…. I am now at Lake Louise for the third day and now the rain has turned to snow. according to the weather forecast, it should improve tomorrow… then I can get to the Columbia Icefield where the REAL action is!

Well, my last update was in Lake Louise, Alberta, and now I am in Whitehorse, Yukon Territories. It has been one helluva ride, lemme tell ya…

I finally escaped Lake Louise and in the rain headed for Bow Pass and the Icefields. Snow “flakes” the size of golf balls greeted me on the descent towards the Sunwapta River. Once over Sunwapta Pass, I was greeted with the familiar views of the Columbia Icefield, Mt Athabasca, Mt Andromeda, Slipstream, and the Grand Central Couloir on Mt Kitchener. When I spied the Grand Central, I could see it still, after all these years, giving me the finger, from a botched attempt at climbing it over two decades ago…

Cruise up to Jasper and re-supply and on to the B.C. interior, stopping at the magnificent Crown Jewel of Mt Robson to shoot a time-lapse or two.. Robson rises over 10,000 feet from its base, and pretty much controls the weather patterns over the Northern Rockies.

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Down through the beautiful Robson Valley, I am immersed into a world of forest… Birch, Alder, Poplar, Fir, and Spruce. There is even temperate rain forest here with Hemlock and Cedar. The rivers are big, glorious, and plentiful.

I enter Prince George and am thrown into the grips if everything I hate about cities, but soon I am out and on the Central B.C. Plateau. Mostly logging and farmland, it is not my favorite place on the trip, as there is very little camping and “open country”.

I rest a day in Burns Lake and head for Smithers, B.C.

Smithers is a great little mountain town that blows doors on ANY Colorado or California mountain town. I would live here if I could… A couple of days later and I am on the fabled Cassiar Highway, one of two routes to the Yukon and Alaska. It is the more westerly, and remote of the two. The other option is the lower Alaska Highway. With only one re-supply near the end, I load up with 9 days of food and commit myself.

The first night, I pulled into an open area near the road and spot a dead grizzly, shot I presume. I am too tired and wet from a full day of rain to look elsewhere to camp, so I camp. I become intensely paranoid of the bears and sleep with one eye open.

Over the next 8 days, I witness some of the most remote and incredible scenery and wildlife one can see from a paved road. Big, glaciated, peaks, bears, moose, eagles, rivers, lakes. It bring tears to my eyes the natural balance I see before me, and makes think hard on where the human race is headed and why. There is much craziness in the world, but not here. Everything is as it should be.

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Eventually, I come to the Alaska Highway, and pouring rain for many days. Riding a bicycle this far, this many miles, this many hours, in this much rain does funny things to ones mind. It MAKES you take a really hard look at yourself and the world around you. It is tough. I’m enlightened as I pass through Tesli, Yukon, and talk with some of the first nation people. They tell me of life in the North Country – of hunting and fishing, and of living through the long winters.

Finally I roll into Whitehorse! The sky is blue over the mighty Yukon River.. it is the first nice day in a week and I am glad to be ALIVE! Well, I am now in and have been for a while, hangin’ in the AK… I love it here. I think my last update was in Whitehorse, so a lot has happened since…

After gearing up, so to speak, in Whitehorse, I pedaled up one of Alaska Highway’s worst sections.. frost heave has tore up the road surface so bad that it is not even a close relative of pavement anymore; furthermore, RV’s SUV’s, and Semi’s all seem to want to SPEED UP, rather than slow down, spraying me with gravel. Luckily this only lasts for 10 or 15 miles, and the magic road re appears.

About a day out of Whitehorse is where things began to change dramatically for me, in terms of country side, and therefore, pedaling bliss. This is where I begin to see signs of granite and big mountains appear, bearing the gift of glaciers.

I arrive in Haines Junction, what a nice little town with a fabulous bakery to boot. Up against Haines Junction, is the Kluane Range, a “front range”, or interior range of the Mighty St. Elias, the second largest chain of mountains on the continent and sporting the western hemispheres largest glaciers. It is remote and magnificent. For the next several days, I pedal along side the St Elias, and it’s largest glacial fed lake, Kluane Lake. This place is very remote feeling, and it’s people are mostly of 1st nation Natives, of whom’s company I came to immensely enjoy.

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After leaving the Kluane area, the Alaska Border became an obsession, as this part of the Yukon began feeling stagnant, and some of the worst people I met

on the trip seemed to inhabit this area.. I am not talking about Native People’s, mind you… Finally arriving in Alaska, It begins to rain a rain that only Alaska is famous for, and for the next 8 days it did so. I spent a couple of days in Tok, relaxing and checking things out. I stocked up on food, since I was now in “cheap” Alaska, compared to northern B.C. and the Yukon. In fact, financially, Canada just about bled me dry…

Up to Delta Junction and down the Richardson Highway, I ride and push my bike into the backcountry to an area known as Rainbow Ridge; 8 miles back and I find myself standing above the awesome, Cantwell Glacier. I stay here for 3 days, and manage to get back even further, to yet another glacier and bag a 3rd class granite “spire”. I am enthralled at the beauty and descend in a storm that chases me back to my tent and a victory cocktail!

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The journey continues, and I am now at the meat and potatoes of this trip: The Denali Highway. The Denali Highway is 135 miles long and 110 of that are gravel and traverses the entire central Alaska Range, covering some of the most spectacular scenery Alaska has to offer. I take 4 and a half days to cover this ground, and spend an entire day and a half camped atop a ridge overlooking the Susitna River Headwaters, the Susitna Glacier, the West Fork Glacier, Mt Hess, and finally, the AWESOME Mt Deborah. Mt Deborah is a peak that I want to climb incredibly bad. It is a haunting sight to my eyes. It is a peak that David Roberts also obsessed over, both in climbing it and writing about in the sixties.

I am camped on this ridge primarily for one reason; to capture a striking Timelapse sequence of the mountain in question. Unfortunately, as is usual in the Alaska Range, the view is obscured by clouds. I shoot what photos I can and by 11:30 pm I am asleep. The rain stops, and at 1:30 am, the clouds begin to part and the weary Alaskan Sun begins to “set”. As this sequence unfolds, Mt Deborah and Mt Hess appear, Alaskan giants, Himalayan in size, and engulfed in a red, sunset hue, Alaskan Style. I cry hard…

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This is what I came here for. The feeling of seeing these unbelievable peaks is overwhelming to me and I cannot fully express what it is exactly what they mean to me.

I finally get to the end of The Denali highway, and , I am in luck because Denali herself appears! The roof of North America, and one of the largest peaks

on Earth, I only see her summit poking from the clouds. That would be the only time I would see Denali on this trip…

The next few days are a blur to me, of rain and monotony as approach the populated southern coast of Alaska and leave behind the Alaska Range that means so very much to me… So, I guess for the time being, I now reside in Eagle River AK. It is about 12 miles north of Anchorage. I have a small job here, working on decrepit bicycles and splitting firewood for the campground guests.. at 9 bucks an hour , I’m not going to get out of Alaska and down the west coast as planned; perhaps something will arise unexpectedly…

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I went for a long walk by the river and through the forest yesterday, looking for inspiration and beauty. I was looking down, examining some strange markings on the ground, when I looked up, a mighty cow Moose was standing no more than 10 feet away, slurpping up forest foliage. I had heard of her, yesterday, from some campers, and here she is… one leg, her front right is badly injured. Broken from the looks of it. The strange ground markings I had spotted, were, in fact, the hook of said leg, dragging on the forest floor. I spoke to her softly for a bit and wished her healing energy. Then I said goodbye… If her leg does not heal, she will not make it through the rapidly approaching winter; she will be wolf food. When I returned to my camp, the front mosquito netting on my tent door was gashed open from a familliar black bear and her cubs I had soon so many times in the last few days. Today my goal is to repair this as the skeeters are pouring in…

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Well, all said and done, this adventure was extraordinary, beautiful, difficult, and not really long enough, but the reality for me at this point is that I am out of financial means, and my family is beckoning my help as a carpenter to get some much needed work completed. My sister and her fiance bought a house and it needs much work… My Grandmother passed away last fall and her house is badly in need of repair in order to sell, and last but not least, my Mom’s house is in need of some attention as well… once these jobs are completed, I can begin figuring out how to make money for my next trip into the Great North Country…

My last update was some time back… I guess that my writing ability has vanished along with my trip. I now sit at the computer, away from the wilds I have kept so close to my heart, and now must “force” the creative juices flowing, onward, to my keyboard. I sat in Whittier, Alaska, for 5 straight days, in the rain, waiting; waiting for the ferry ( the AMHS “Kenicott”) to take me down to the “panhandle” of Alaska, and onward to the Inside Passage of British Columbia, and to land at my destination at Bellingham, WA. I spent a good portion of that time either sitting in the bar or sitting in my tent, interspersed with hiking in the rain and taking photographs when it was dry enough. At one point, the damn rain stopped for an hour, just long enough to take a quick hike up to Portage Pass and check out the mind boggling scenery there… views looking down on the fabulous Portage Glacier, views out onto the Passage Canal, and alpine tundra galore, all combined with some of the best light of the trip, made for some stunning photos.

Finally boarded the Kenicott and off we go for the next 5 days to Yakatat, Juneau, Ketchikan, and the surrealistic west coast of B.C. During this time I saw Humpback Whales, Orcas, Porpoises, Salmon, and more seabirds than I’d ever seen before in my life… it was an unforgettable trip.

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After arriving in Bellingham, I was thrown into a world that was very foreign to me… People, traffic, stop lights, dangerous roads, country roads that seemed to lead nowhere, and a grim camping situation that would last the rest of the trip. Mind you now that I consistently “wild camped”(a term that a lot of bicycle tourists seem to us; I however, do not, because to me, camping is camping, and to me, camping means FREE camping). This “wild camping” thing was challenging down here in the states with all of the aforementioned things in the way… but , having the mind of an outlaw, I managed. For two and a half weeks I pedaled down and around Washington’s Hood Canal, the coasts of Oregon and California, enjoying the scenery and smelling the ocean air, but all the while, in the back of my mind, I was the longing to return to the North Country.

PROLOGUE:

About 3 days ride from Sacramento, up in the steep mountains of Northern California’s coast range, I came across a section of road so bad, I figured it would be suicide to attempt it on a bicycle. I am talking about Hwy 36 that connects Eureka on the coast to Red Bluff in the northern central valley. I spent two half days negotiating this spectacular road, and on the 2nd morning I got up and had every intention of finishing my ride, when I thought I might die when a log truck nearly creamed me. This road has 4 MAJOR summits, 12% grades. NO shoulder, with Redwoods growing right to the pavements edge, about a lane wide and HEAVY log truck traffic. I decided to put my thumb out and after a couple of short lifts, I ran into a couple from Roseville CA (basically, Sacramento) who offered me a ride ALL THE WAY to Sac… I took it.

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Now I am living in the city, up to my old tricks as a carpenter and trying to get involved in my other passion of film making and post production activities. This new concept is very alien to me, yet it is good to be around my family once again. I have not forgotten the North Country, in fact am downright foaming at the mouth at the thought of returning there in the spring…

I am reading a book entitled: “THE LAST FRONTIERSMAN”, which is about a man named Heimo and his family that live year ’round in the remote N.E. corner of the Alaskan Arctic… it is enough to keep me from forgetting.

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