Once, twice, or three times a year I get the itch to ride my bike a lot. Awake in my tent down the Petersville Rd. at ten in the morning, I stretched like a well-rested lioness. I didn’t have anywhere to be and I wasn’t racing to slip into wet shoes. I mechanically packed my things and rode away, pushing through the first few snow patches and churning my tires through mud on the all-too new, experimental bike. Soon, I was pedaling down dry dirt roads, and then pavement. Faster and faster I rode until a brief coffee and internet stop at the crossroads in Trapper Creek enlivened me. I almost stopped for the day, but a light tailwind encouraged me further. The bike is heavy and the day was cloudy, but the wind was in my favor and I wouldn’t miss it. I know how fortunate a tailwind is to a cyclist. At first, twenty miles forward, then a break. Then thirty. Stop. Lube the chain, regain feeling in a cold, wet right foot. An exact handful of raisins and six almonds. Nice to have this new crank. The broken creaking yellow Race Face crank was driving me crazy. Then forty. Then fifty miles without a rest. And then, at half-past midnight, I had arrived at tomorrow’s destination.
As cold rain had began to fall in the early afternoon, I set into a comfortable gear and found a rhythm, hoping to reach Carlo Creek at mile 224 on the Parks Highway. At that time, it was still over a hundred miles away. It was here, at 224, that I had spent a summer in 2009 working as a baker in a cafe. It is here, at the Panorama Pizza Pub that I could expect a lively scene and some fresh pizza along with some familiar faces past midnight. Across the creek at McKinley Creekside Cafe I would awake to Raven’s Brew coffee and a traditional breakfast, finishing with a square of strawberry-rhubarb coffee cake. The cake recipe is from Lael’s family, and it’s legendary along that stretch of highway. Or I could stop and camp in the rain. At the thought of the cake, I pedaled.
I pedaled twelve hours to get here, I told them, but nobody really cares. They shouldn’t. That’s not why you do these things. I did recognize some faces at Panorama, and I quickly ordered up three slices and a pitcher. I found a roof for the night, and wandered in for some coffee and eggs, over easy, at Creekside in the morning. That’s why you do these things.
This is the greatest distance I have ridden on the Pugsley in a day, and nearly as much as I’d ridden in one day on any bike. I like to reignite my legs several days into a tour. It’s a way to remind myself that, “I can do it. But I don’t have to.” On this day, it wasn’t about me as much as the bike. Two hundred and twenty clicks on a snow bike with fenders in the rain. It’s sort-of a road bike I suppose. The bike experiment is proving to be a success.
On the same day, the Alaska Endurance Association and the Alaska Randonneurs held their Denali Highway 200/300K in an out and back format from the Brushkana Campground in three distances from 60K to 300K. This is the longest gravel event in the state, and seems to be growing with popularity Here’s a set on flickr: looks like a great time when the sun is shining. I’m rarely willing to spend money to ride my bike, so I thought my ride was a fair consolation. I’ll be riding out the Denali Highway soon.
Camping is possible all along the road, including several established campgrounds within Denali State Park. After Trapper Creek, there aren’t many services until the entrance to the park. Cantwell has one dusty gas station and Carlo Creek, fourteen miles further (MM 224), is where Panorama Pizza and the Creekside Cafe are found.