Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Memorial Day Weekend - lots o' pics

After a ridiculously light week of riding I was ready to ramp back up over the three day weekend. Our friends Luke & Emily and Bob had planned to ride their mountain bikes across the Denali Highway over the long weekend. Its a beautiful 130 mile dirt road through the Alaska Range. Heather wanted to do that ride too, so we figured that I could ride from Fairbanks to Paxson (about 190 miles), meet them there, help shuttle cars and do some camping and fishing while they rode their mtn bikes, and then I could ride back to Fairbanks from Cantwell on Monday.
There are a lot of things that I really like about having Rocky & Gail as our neighbors. Rocky is probably the most insane-hardcore athlete around here and Gail is about the same, except that she's a lot more sane...and that even when she's skiing the Iditarod Trail, or something like that, she'd probably rather be working in her garden. One of the best things about having them as neighbors is that no matter what ride I ask Rocky if he wants to do his answer is going to be either "Sure" or "Let me talk to Gail about it". So Rocky was up for the weekend trip too.
We left Fairbanks at 6:30am on Saturday morning. It was 54 degrees, warm for that time of day, and mostly sunny with a little wind out of the south. Because it was so warm already we didn't take a lot of extra clothing. I took a lightweight windbreaker and rocky had arm warmers and a lightweight windbreaker too.

Captain Bianchi taking a break

About 40 miles out of Fairbanks we rode through a smoky area. The first significant fire of the year was burning in the Tanana Flats south of the Richardson Highway. The ride the rest of the way to Delta Junction (mile 100) was pretty easy and uneventful. We had a slight crosswind and averaged about 20 mph.

Rocky riding along the Tanana River near Shaw Creek

Me crossing the Tanana River at Big Delta w/ pipeline in the background

In Delta we stopped at the IGA (grocery store) for some food and drink. A family was sitting at a table eating and the father started ask us where we rode from, where we were going, how much we rode, how much our bikes cost, all that stuff. He was really nice and super enthusiastic and eventually he asked us "If we could race in the Tour De France?" We laughed and said "no", and tried to explain how much faster those guys are than we are, but I'm guessing that he didn't really get it. Its hard to understand how fast professional cyclist are (in this country let alone in Europe, which is a step above the domestic level) without actually seeing it in person and trying to race with them. But the family was really nice and its always fun to have a real interaction with a non-cyclist that doesn't involve getting honked at and yelled at.

Rocky climbing towards the Alaska Range into a nasty headwind

We left Delta heading south into a strong headwind. Our easy riding was over. For the next 60 miles we bucked a big wind, probably averaging 15 mph. On top of that, there is no place to get food or drink in the 90 miles between Delta and Paxson, so I had to start rationing my fluids which is something that I really don't like to do.

By the time we were in the heart of the Alaska Range I had run out of cytomax and gummy bears, the wind was even stronger and it was very obviously about to start raining. Oh yeah, and the temperature had dropped from 70 degrees to 45 degrees. Once it started raining we knew we were going to have trouble making it to Paxson, which was still about 30 miles away. It was just too cold for the clothing we had with us.
Putting on my only piece of spare clothing...rookie mistake
Riding near Phelan Creek with the pipeline in the background again

Summit Lake is a 10 mile long lake that runs north and south at the head of the Gulkana River. Its at about 3300 ft elevation and is still completely covered with ice. When we got to Summit Lake we were riding in a 45 degree (steady) rain along the exposed lake shore into a ridiculous headwind (coming across the ice covered lake) was seriously cold. We knew we were about 10 miles from Paxson and a lodge/gas station/restaurant, but weren't sure we wanted to do the final descent in those hands were already starting to get dysfunctional. We stopped briefly so that Rocky could put a plastic trash bag he found on the side of the road inside of his jersey to block the wind a little better and talked about the descent into Paxson and how much it was going to suck. Rocky said that he saw a light on in a cabin a quarter mile back. We knew that meant somebody was there because there is no electricity in that area. It took us about 5 seconds to decide to go back and see if they'd mind us warming up in there cabin.

The owner, Dan from Fairbanks, met us on the porch and welcomed us in. He said he'd saw us ride by and thought we must be "hardcore". We told him we were just a bit stuck in the weather without the proper gear. Dan was there with his son, Shane. They came down for the weekend to do some target shooting and have some some fun. Dan fixed us some coffee and hot chocolate and we warmed up quite a bit before we saw Heather drive down there road an hour later (we had propped our bike by the side of the road so she would see us).

When she got there we loaded up the bikes and hopped in the car and drove to the Tangle River Lodge for dinner. By the time we finished dinner it was 41 degrees and raining harder. The forecast for Sunday was for more of the same weather. Heather knew she wouldn't want to ride a dirt road in those conditions and we decided rather than camp in the rain we'd just head back to FBKS so that we could enjoy the nice weather there on Sunday.

Our ride was 180 miles in about 10.5 hours of ride time.


mjo said...

But what about the fishing??? You said you were going to do some fishing...

morgan said...

Ummmm... so you plan to bike across a whole country and you can't even make it part way across a measly STATE?!? Well, hopefully there will be room in that van of yours for more than just a hotrod soundsystem and one windbreaker... Be sure to bring extra socks, okay?

Emily & Luke said...

How good was that "Tangle Burger"?

John said...

Great story - makes me miss AK...and makes my stationary bike rides here seem so banal.