Husky House

Posts Tagged ‘biking Denali’

2015 Teklanika-Polychrome Bike

Every year after Spring Road Opening and before tour buses start running on May 20, the Denali Park Road is open to private vehicles to Teklanika, around mile 30. Normally private vehicles can only drive to the Savage River at mile 15. It is a spring ritual for us to drive to Teklanika and ride our bicycles to Polychrome Pass and back to Tek, about 31 miles. This ride includes Sable and Polychrome Passes, and a very personal experience in the Park. This year we had a beautiful bluebird day, marred only by brutal winds. We saw a sow with a cub by the East Fork of the Toklat, Dall sheep on Polychrome, caribou, fox, moose and an assortment of ground squirrels and ptarmigan. It was one of the hardest rides of my life because of the winds, but very rewarding in terms of the accomplishment and the relative solitude of the Park pre-tourist.

Young moose along the Denali Park Road

Bill cresting Sable Pass on the way back to Teklanika.

Mt McKinley


This guy walked right by me like I wasn’t even there. I was about 5 feet from him.


The Road Less Traveled

I think I have taken that road less traveled most of my life; I prefer things that are off the beaten path and perhaps that is why I live in Alaska.  For me taking the road less traveled means two things:  first, in the most literal sense of taking one road when most people take the other, and second, in traveling that road by a lesser taken method.  For example, Triple Lakes Trail is the road less traveled because most visitors to Denali usually have time only to ride the bus into the park or to hike one of the short trails at the park entrance.  Second, while most visitors to Denali ride the bus into the park, I prefer to ride my bicycle.  I may not cover as much ground, but I savor every bit of it and become enveloped by it, breathing its scents, feeling its rhythm and stopping when I want.

My husband and I spend as much time as we can in Denali during our short summer, balancing our fun with summer chores and being with the boys (our four Siberian huskies).  We take the boys to the park for day trips, but if we stay overnight they must be boarded.  Out latest trip to Denali was last week, we hiked Triple Lakes Tail and biked a bit.  We had hoped to bike from Savage River to Teklanika and back, but ran out of time, managing only a couple relatively short bikes.  Despite forecasts for rainy weather, we never saw a drop!

The park rangers continue to improve the Triple Lakes Trail, there were about 20 of them working on three or four different parts of the trail, and pretty soon you won’t have to bushwhack across the ridge.  After carrying my Canon 7D over the eight miles last time I hiked the trail, I decided to buy a Canon S95 and give it a test.  I think the pictures are just as good, if not better in certain lighting (by eliminating the “me” factor), and it fit in my pocket where the DSLR is annoying to carry over that distance.  But I definitely missed the quick DSLR response and recovery, as well as the more powerful telephoto lens.

Here are a few photos, the rest are in my Triple Lakes and Denali galleries.

Bill contemplating floating an inflatable kayak down Riley Creek

The road less traveled

A view of two of the lakes from near the top of the trail

Fireweed along the park road

I was riding my bike around mile 15 of the park road when this guy came trotting down the center of the road

Just another beautiful day in paradise!

A bear of a ride….

On May 18, Bill and I departed Fairbanks on a road trip to Denali, Anchorage, Seward, Alyeska, Anchorage, and Denali.  The original destination was the Exit Glacier 5K in Seward, we had done the same round robin trip last year and enjoyed it so much that we thought we would do it again.  We had not planned to stay in Denali on the way south, as our favorite lodge was not yet open for the season, but a wild hair to bike another leg of the Park Road changed that. Last year we had biked from Teklanika (30) mile to the Park entrance, and I still had the crazy idea to eventually bike the entire Park Road, although in segments.  The tourist season had not officially started, so the buses were not yet running into the Park, allowing us to drive into Teklanika at mile 30 and bike roundtrip from there to Polychrome at mile 46.  The elevation ranges from 2655′ at Tek to 3900′ at Sable Pass to 3055 at East Fork River to 3695 at Poly, so it is a bit of up and down on gravel roads.

It was a beautiful day for a bike ride, with Mt McKinley fully visible

As luck would have it, it was a beautiful day, although a little windy, and since only a few Park Rangers and trainee buses were on the Park Road, it was peaceful and solitary.  After the last Ranger stopped and talked to us on Poly on her way out, about 7 pm, we were alone on the road that runs through 6 million wilderness acres, an expanse that people come from all over the world to see, and it is in our backyard.  We are so blessed.Bill wrote an email that accounts the ride, and I am inserting it here.  I just wanted to set the stage a bit.  Since I always have to say something, I will insert my comments in a different color.  Here is Bill’s account:

A perfect spring outing on the bikes. The day was sunny, windy and bright for the two of us, my wife Susan, the jock and I, to bike into Denali Park.  A friend of ours had done this trail a week earlier and the challenge was set for us to do the same.  The 35 mile ride was on a gravel hard packed surface, which sometimes was more loose than hard packed making peddling even harder.  It was onward and up and down steep hills as may be evidenced in the  photo as the old fart is pictured riding….or more likely struggling up to Sable Pass from the bottom of the valley.  Susan is, as always, up ahead and taking photos waiting for me to catch up.  It is very early spring in mid May and things have not begun to bloom or green up but the animals are stirring into the approaching summer.  We have already seen caribou, a wolf and numerous little marmots.  It is a hard ride though.  The picture shows me in my front tire fixation mode as the hills were increasingly tough for this senior citizen to negotiate along with keeping balance on some very loose gravel areas.  In the mid afternoon there where a few park vehicles to give us a fine dust coating as well.  Later we would have gladly welcomed their presence.

A look at the road surface

Bill peddling up Sable Pass

A couple little guys who emerged from their hole alongside the road and just loved having their picture taken

As the afternoon stretched into early evening, we reached Sable pass which is well known for being in the middle of bear country….and bear scat was already plenty evident. I guess for those who have never seen it they are like huge dog turd piles.  We stop at the Sable pass sign and I mimic a scratch and a much needed rest.  Bears really do use the sign to scratch and thus the park service decided to add some ticklers to help scratch their thick coats and hide.  You can not see it but there are little tufts of fur on some of the metal pieces.  And note that at 3900′ at Sable Pass we have to go down (to 3055′) and up to another pass a little over four thousand feet (3695′).  NOT EASY FOR OLD FARTS……but onward and upward we go.

The sign on Sable Pass has tines for the bears to scratch themselves

Finally we made it to the top of Polychrome Pass and you can sure see that we have gained some considerable altitude in this photo.  However, as we started down the road to go back in the early evening we found that while the park vehicle traffic had ceased, we were seeing bear scat and are obviously not alone.  We are now grasping what is more obvious  which is that we are NOT at the top of the food chain.  I was well behind Susan and was on the way back up to Sable struggling to get each pedal up when I look up and there comes Susan who tells me that she is not riding back to me for my health.  She tells me that there is a bear following her from the other side of the pass.  We dismount and stand together assessing what to do.  We have a long way to go back down and if it sees us try that as it comes around the bend upwind from us, it will likely make chase.  (We were a mile from the top of a four mile climb eastbound up Sable Pass and bear or not, there was no way I was going back down that hill) These bears can run at 33 miles per hour which makes even a down hill bike chase a loser for us.  I am assessing options and figure I will get the pepper spray out.  The wind was pretty constant and about ten to twenty miles per hour and in our face so pepper spray was really out of the question as it would just blow back into us.  So I told Susan to stand behind me and about that time the bear comes into view about forty yards up around a bend walking its pigeon toed gait toward us.  He is about a two to three year old three to four hundred pound male and likely hungry as it has come out of hibernation.

At last, Polychrome Pass, our turn around point. This is where we saw the last Park Ranger .

Mr Bear when I first saw him ambling down the road on his evening stroll

There are a lot of thoughts going through my mind like why didn’t I bring my gun etc.  I am also determined not to show fear of any kind and am surprised that I am actually pretty cool about this whole thing….or maybe in shock.  I am wishing we had something coming to our defense but know that as late as it is no vehicle traffic is left…most of those folks are already eating pizza.  I am thinking of a big rock but no time, hell, even a spear would be nice too.  We are on the up slope of a steep road cut from the side of the mountain and it has walls of some twenty feet high on our left and falls sharply off down another forty feet on our right.  THERE IS SIMPLY NO PLACE TO GO!!  Noting the bear is about thirty yards away and NOT showing any signs of avoiding us, I then tell Susan we will advance slowly with our bikes between us and the bear with raised arms and shout LOUDLY.  I am using as much command voice as possible, repeatedly yelling, “Get off my damned road!” with as much authority as I can muster.  I don’t remember what Susan was yelling but she was giving it her all too. (I was yelling “Hello Mr. Bear ” and waving my arms over my head) The bear meanwhile just keeps right on coming, in a rambling sort of stroll toward us and as it gets to about twenty feet from us I am thinking if he charges I will use the bike to try to shield us.  The rest will have to be as it must be.  I am mentally bracing myself for one hell of a thumping as it comes to about twelve feet from us.  Watching closely I notice it does not have its mouth open and its hackles are not up which are not signs of aggression.  It is not snorting or snapping its jaws either.  Suddenly it looks me right in the eye and in one spontaneous motion bolts ass over teakettle down the hill.  I see it tumbling and rolling head over heels down the forty feet and momentarily wonder if it is hurt.  Not so as it rapidly gains its feet and moves smartly on the valley floor continuing in its same direction of travel and AWAY from us. Susan actually manages to get a photo of it.  The photo preceding it is of the same bear as Susan first sees it coming up the hill and assumes it will not keep advancing….only it does and seems to her to have an increased interest in her.  In fact it moves into a trot and it is at that point that Susan decides it is good to come back to me so I can serve appropriately as bear bait. (No comment, “Discretion is the better part of valor.”)

Mr Bear after he tumbled over the side, a lot less concerned over his adventure than we were


And as if that weren’t enough adventure for one day, about two miles further down the road, as we were coasting down the east side of Sable Pass, still mulling over the bear encounter, we see another bear walking on the road.  My comment was, “Not another one.”  This bear knew that we were veterans and smartly took his cue to yield the road, but not before rising to sniff the air and check us out.  In both cases, we followed the NPS bear safety procedures, and are happy to report that they worked!  The following day, we made the requisite  bear encounter report to the Park Rangers.

Just another day in paradise

Back in Denali, where yesterday I biked the Park Road from the visitors center to Savage River and back.  I remember the first time I biked this section of the road, I thought the first hill would never end!  I am now much better prepared physically and mentally for this seven mile uphill peddle.  I don’t need to keep asking myself, “Will this hill ever end?” as I know exactly where the top is.  The first 15 miles of the Park Road are paved, so compared to the gravel road beyond (west) of Savage River this is a smooth ride.  Of course, since the first seven miles are uphill, the last seven are a nice long, relaxing downhill!  Considering the bear encounters on our RT ride from Teklanika to Polychrome several weeks ago, I felt much safer on this stretch of road.  Oh, I still need to write up that adventure.

Savage River

Along the Park Road

Lupine along the Park Road

Teklanika Bike Ride (May 2010)

Okay, I’m continuing with my attempt to recreate some of the lost posts.  There is no particular order to this, just whatever I feel like tackling.

Our favorite lodge in the Denali Park area (McKinley Village Lodge) opened for the season on May 24, so we headed down that way for a couple days.  The first day we hiked the Triple Lakes Trail from end to end and the next day we rode our bikes from Teklanika out (east) to the Wilderness Access Center, about 30 miles.  To do this requires a bit of planning, which isn’t our specialty.  Then again, maybe the problem is in the execution.

First, a few words on  Park operations.  The Park Road is not maintained during the winter, and once snow falls it is closed at the Park Headquarters (mile 3) until after the Spring Road Opening, at which time private vehicles may access the Park as far as the Teklanika Campground at mile 29.  Once the summer season starts and tour buses start running, the Park Road is closed to private vehicles at Savage River, mile 15.  At the end of the season, mid-September, the Park Road opens to Wonder Lake (weather permitting) for four days to winners of the Denali Park Road Lottery.  Once the lottery drive-in ends, the road is once again open to Teklanika until conditions dictate its closure.  The Park Road is paved as far as Savage River, after that it is dirt/gravel.

Memorial Day was May 31, so the full shuttle bus schedule into the Park was not yet in effect and tourist traffic was still light.  We made reservations for us and our bicycles on a camper bus that dropped us off at Teklanika (mile 29), although we could have gone as far as the Eielson Visitors Center, about 66 miles.  The buses to Wonder Lake don’t run until the first week of June.  It was tempting to go beyond Tek, but discretion being the better part of valor, we settled on the 30 mile ride.  The bus dropped us off and we unloaded our bikes and gear, then waved goodbye as the bus pulled away on its way to the Eielson Visitors Center.  The round trip to Eielson is about 5 to 6 hours, depending on wildlife sitings, and, although we had no time schedule, we had hoped to beat the bus back to the Wilderness Access Center.  It was an absolutely perfect day, and I was so excited about the ride, as it was something I had wanted to do for a long time.  We had packed plenty of snacks and beverages and stuffed them everywhere we could before biking off down the road.  We took our time, enjoying the majesty of the park and the Utopian day.  It was Nirvana: paradise, heaven, bliss, ecstasy, joy, peace, serenity, tranquility.  Several years ago I became frustrated with flat tires and switched to kevlar lined tires, and I have blissfully biked without a single flat ever since.  Not so, Bill.  After peddling the long climb before a nice 2 mile downhill coast to Savage River, Bill got a flat tire.  No problem, right,  3 spare tubes to choose from.  Not so fast, all 3 were bad.  It took us about an hour to get a fix and move on, during which time we waved at a few buses, including our camper bus, as they passed by.  East of Savage River the road was paved and the riding smooth.  Despite the flat, it was a great ride, and we earned our pizza, beer and ice cream.

I consider biking in Denali Park a privilege, and I still have a goal to bike the entire 92 mile length of the Park Road, I just need to either work the logistics to avoid camping or get in shape to bike it all in one day.

Nirvana. Mt McKinley, all 20,320 feet. My Inspiration.

Bill fixing his flat tire

There are more photos in my gallery.