We’ve now leap-frogged our way up to Fairbanks. We have Mike, who works with robots in the Air Force’s bomb disposal squad, to thank for our comfortable and speedy ride here, after he picked us up in Palmer and drove us all the way to Fairbanks. There can’t be too many places left in the world where two guys, two bikes and ridiculous load of luggage can get a 5 hour ride within an hour of sticking out a sign made from a pizza box…
It’s an exciting moment, as it’s here that the journey really begins. Our off road loop of the Kenai was superb, but wasn’t actually on the route. Now it’s time to get rolling. Daniel has to be in Montana by the end of August, and I need to get cracking on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Ride to clear Colorado before it’s too cold and snowy.
From now, we’ll keep riding towards an ever later sunset – I’m writing this at midnight and there’s still plenty of light to read by. Logistically, it seems easier to ride the gruelling Hall Road north to Prudoe Bay, and then try and hitch a ride back to Fairbanks, rather than the other way round. Hopefully enough people will see us struggling away over the next week to offer us a lift when we backtrack – avoiding the $280 ticket for the shuttle bus.
The journey here was a good chance to see what we have in store for us when we head south to Denali. It’s the scale of the wilderness that’s overwhelming. So few settlements; when they do appear, blips along the endless yellow paint strip that divides the road, they’re little more than a tyre repair shop, a gas station, a few rusty trucks, and perhaps a timewarped motel. “This place has a way of making you feel small,” commented Mike.
The grandeur was a relief after our ride out of Anchorage, working our way through its ugly sprawl of industrial estates and malls, onto its busy highway. Thankfully there was a cyclepath, even if our conversation was drowned up by the constant drone of heavy traffic.
These kinds of days are the the ugly underbelly of touring, the tedious slogs along busy roads to escape cities, the parts of a long trip we generally filter out from memory, or simply shut our eyes and sleep through on a bus journey. But these segments also lend bike touring its depth; it isn’t just the highlights of a country, it’s everything in between. They’re part and parcels of the highs and lows that, like the roads we follow, challenge us both physically and mentally. Luckily it only takes a small encounter or a breathtaking view to lift the spirits once more – or in our case, a free extra iced bun in a bakery on our way to Wasilla…
From what we’ve read, the Haul Road is both challenging and remote. There’s little to be found along its 400-odd mile length, much of which is gravel, muddy or potholled (for instance, there isn’t a single grocery store). Hopefully we’ll be back in Fairbanks within a little more than a week. In the meantime, thank you for reading and leaving comments – they’re always nice to read. And thanks especially to everyone in Anchorage who’ve offered advice, a yard to sleep in or spare parts to get us on the road – including Alan, Sage, Adam, Eric and Greg. You’re hospitality and kindness are much appreciated.