A week of bicycling in Alaska

Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8

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The First Heartbeat

Note: The best way to see the Alaska Travelogue is by going to this link - http://confusionart.com/photoblog/alaska
This picture marks the beginning of my Alaskan experience. A mere glimpse from the airplane of the majestic Wrangell St. Elias range were enough to speed up the heartbeat. For the uninformed, this picture also marks the beginning of my travelogue - A week of bicycling in Alaska. Some quick facts about the trip are at my blog

First Glimpse of Anchorage

Waiting to land at the Anchorage airport. Its 12:30 in the night but still plenty of twilight. The sun went down just an hour before we landed. Anchorage was an exciting city. I stayed there for a week for the CVPR conference. Some more information about Anchorage is in this post

The night before

Why am I doing this? Do I want to prove something? To someone? To myself? Will I be able to do it? What about my health? Will it support me? What if something happens? What if I am not able to do it?... are numerous questions that always crosses the night before. They stay on till the first step.

Day 1 begins: The Alaska Railways

The bicycle journey was supposed to start at the entrance of Denali National Park. I took a trail from Anchorage to Denali hoping to see the famous Mount McKinley - Highest peak in North America at a height of approx 20k feet (6100 mts). Alas, it was a bad day with over cast sky, drizzling incessantly to even raise doubts about the success of my trip.

Change of thoughts

Trying to divert my attention away from the bad weather, to some better things - Photography

The Noble Steed

Beginning of the first step at the Denali Train Station. My noble steed stands gallantly carrying all the ammunitions needed for the war. This is how I packed my arsenal - The two red bags called - Panniers - contain food and clothing each. The food bag also contain spares: tires, tubes, breakpads, tools etc. The sleeping bag goes on the back carrier, with tent and sleeping pad on either side tied efficiently with bungee cords. In the front carrier bag are the easily accessible items: snacks, maps, knife, compass, pepper spray.

The bicycle was rented from Downtown Bike Rental. An great place for all your bicycle needs in Alaska!

On road

So the journey began. Slowly by steadily. I had never done such a trip. No idea what it takes to bike 50 miles a day. Some online research and some intuitive thought made me overestimate my target of 50 miles of daily riding. The total distance was about 350 miles with seven days in hand.

Welcome to the real world.

On the road and I know what it takes to ride on a hilly terrain with 20kgs of load. It took me about three hours to cover a meager distance of 15 miles. Simply put - it was HARD. The weather was against me with constant head wind blowing all along, it was cold with intermittent drizzle, and the grade was a constant mild uphill. Dammit! Did I overestimate everything?.
Another three hours and I reached Cantwell at about 11:30 in the night. Serious doubts were raised on the success of the trip. However, that was for the next day. The imminent concern was finding a proper place to sleep. Cantwell is a small town without any arrangements for accommodation (the next day I was told that there are a couple of lodges in Cantwell). The only option left was to camp, not sure where. Trying different places for safety from weather, bear, humans, I finally saw a cluster of `for sale' houses. A quick peek in a couple of houses did not reveal any sign of life. Taking my chances, I decided to camp there. Thus came to an end, the first day of my biking in Alaska.

Day 2 begins: The darkest hour

Do not be surprised if you dont see an image, because there aint one. Its black. Its the darkest hour of the trip.
"Get out of here! Its my yard" was the sweet wakeup call at 6:30am the next day. Startled, I could hear a shrieking sound from inside my tent. An old lady shouting at me to get lost. "Get out of here this very moment! or I'll call the cops!". That was all I needed to boost my sulking morale. I apologized to her, and assured her I would leave as soon as possible. Half asleep, I packed up my tent and belongings. Continuous drizzle mocking me at my fortune. This was not what I had planned for my dream vacation in Alaska. Sitting in a nearby gas station mart, completely exhausted - physically, mentally and morally, it took me an hour to get over the morning shock. People came and people went. I kept sitting there thoughtless. Probably I was finding comfort in the warmth of the place. The caretaker of the gas station was a middle aged German lady, her words soothing enough to amend for the morning mishap. However, there was no way I could be going on like this for the next seven days. This was Cantwell where I was lucky to find a gas station, but the next 150 miles were through a dirt road - The Denali Highway - away from civilization, away from any cellphone connection, amidst wild animals. Given the current experience, it would be insanity if I moved on. I called up home and told my parents I might give up the whole idea of biking, or take a simpler route. Although they were happy to hear me dropping the Denali Highway, I somehow found encouragement in their words. I also called up Himanshu to ask about the weather forecast for Cantwell and Paxson (The end of Denali Highway). Cantwell was supposed to get more rain the next few days, but Paxson was clear. A new plan - let me try to hitchhike the Denali Highway, then continue on bicycle. I was sure I wont be able to complete the next 320 miles in 6 days on bicycle only. So I decided to give it two hours. If I dont find a ride I would drop the whole Denali Highway plan, and go back to Anchorage.

The decisive moment

I stood at the intersection for about an hour. One road went towards Paxson and the other to Anchorage. A couple of cars did stop, but no one was going all the way to Paxson. Most of them were going only a couple of miles, where the dirt road started. I figured out, it would be better if I asked for a ride after that junction. The photo shows the junction where the paved road ends and the dirt road begins. Those few miles were the transformation. The weather cleared, my spirits cheered, my bicycle geared. I decided, that I should continue on biking for as long as I could, hoping to find someone passing by who could give me a ride.

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