After chatting to our host Alan, a wiry, lithe guide whose inhabited these parts for some 27 years (we’re camping in his garden, amongst the twenty or so bikes parked up and dozens of tyres scattered about like pasta twists), we’ve rejigged our program a little. We’ve decided to slim down our possessions and head off to the Kenai Peninsula for six days, and ride a loop that fellow bike traveller Sage and Epic Eric, designer of such Alaskan products as bicycle frame bags and poggies (motorcycle-style gloves for the bizarre and gruelling mid-winter ski v bike race, for example), have recommended to us.
We also want to check out Whittier, a settlement that our guidebook has promised us is ‘a must see attraction for cultural anthropologists’. A military site decommissioned in the 60s, it’s surrounded by impregnable mountains and glaciers, and is home to an eighteen story tower block where most of the population (187 at the last count) have taken up residence. Linked by a network of tunnels, they scurry around like troglodytes between the buildings come winter.
But the real aim of the trip is to link up some of the finest singletrack in Alaska. Starting in Hope, we’ll climb the Resurrection Trail first, dropping back down to Henton’s Lodge and looping round Russian River Trail (a bear corridor, or so we heard it described). Prime camping real estate is then to be found beachside at Kenai Lake. Everyone tells us that Lost Lake Trail isn’t too be missed either, so that’s on the list next. Then we’ll head back round to Anchorage, bushwacking our way through Johnson’s Trail (don’t forget to keep talking, reminded Speedway Cycles Greg), retracing our steps back to the city again. Talking is one way of keeping roaming bears at bay. In case of emergency, we’ve also been lent a couple of cans of bear mace (range 30ft), which we’re supposed to attach to our belts like gungslingers. This stuff is seriously strong, and can floor a man for two days! We’ve agreed: no practical jokes. It reminded me of the time I was in Tibet with San Franciscan Joe. While we were pitching our tent, a curious nomad bystander began rifling through his panniers, only to chance apon Joe’s inviting can of mace, successfully popping open the safety catch and expertly spraying it directly into his own face! Incredibly, he looked more surprised than shaken up, returning to his rifling once the effects had worn off a little.
Anyway, we’ve chosen to ride the Kenai Peninsula first and then head up to Prudoe for strategic reasons. With the incredible weather that’s beaming down on Alaska this summer (global warming?!), many of the trails would be overgrown by the time we got back. And by leaving the Prudoe Bay and interior section until a little later, the infamous gangs of ‘ard northern mozzies (whose probosci can drill through even jeans) will have retreated a little. Which is good, particularly for Daniel, as there’s no love lost between them. As I write this, he’s patrolling the Megamid tent for infiltrators with a rare, concentrated zeal.
Earlier this evening, in the jaw-droppingly massive camping shop (heaven on earth), I caught him eyeing up the wonderfully titled ‘Bug Jacket’, a completely enclosed, mozzie-proof bodysuit. I pushed him to get it, reckoning it would go nicely with his homemade, French Foreign Legion hat he rarely takes off. Unfortunately, at $25 it was deemed out of budget. A shame – after all, what price can be put on fashion?