Two weeks before the solstice in Alaska, the days are virtually unending. We took advantage of the sun-filled days to bike across the Denali highway from Paxson to Cantwell, a 135-mile gravel-and-rock road that passed some of the most spectacular mountain vistas I have seen in Alaska. I drove the sag wagon — our sprinter van and the car with the bicycle rack, offering a rest and cooked meals along the route for all.
On a Thursday afternoon, we drove five hours from Anchorage to get to the Denali Highway, determined to get some road time in before sunset. The four set off on the road at 8 p.m., pedaling uphill on the rock-strewn dirt road. I passed them driving as the landscape changed from a scrub forest to broad, open tundra then waited on a hilltop until they caught up with me 12 miles ahead.
We slept next to a river the first night. Brown hills still dotted with snow surrounded us. The next day we continued west and to the north of us, the sparklinng white tops of the Alaska Range and Amphitheater Mountains guided us.
Passing through the Tangle Lakes region we learned the area is dotted with archeological sites from the hunting grounds of the first people who roamed there more than 10,000 years ago. Along with the craggy rough peaks, we found graceful trumpet swans swimming in pure blue lakes along the way.
If you plan to drive or bike on the Denali Highway, be aware that there are a half-dozen or more places to stay overnight or get a meal along the 135-mile trip. The accomodations are simple. This sod-and-horn-covered shelter is a tool shed of one of the lodges, which is conveniently located right next to the quaint Sluice Box bar. If you don’t stay in a lodge and plan to camp outdoors, remember this is grizzly country and bear safety precautions are required.
We stopped at a couple of places to get water, including the Alpine Creek Lodge, where you can go out hunting and trapping in the wilderness year-round. Mark settled for a ping-pong tournament and handily defeated the father, the son and his best friend.
Bob, the 14-year-old son of the lodge owners, proudly showed off the muskrat and ermine pelts that he had trapped and put up for sale at the lodge.
Back on the road, the gravel got even more rocky and one of the tires blew a persistent hole. Roadside assistance amounted to whatever tools we had.
The isolation and sheer natural beauty all around us made this three-day journey extraordinary.
Unaware that we had busted a tire on our tow car we dragged it for miles down the highway.
As we look back, the busted tire appears as a small calamity on a breathtakingly beautiful road trip. I wasn’t biking, but my mates arrived each day tired but inspired by the beauty of the land.
Originally published at http://www.ivebeeneverywhereman.us.
All photos by the author.