Hobbs, Erin, and I headed down to Hope last Friday to see Cold Country play. We had heard and read that Johnson Pass south was in good condition at least 10 miles in. We awoke in Hope around 9 or 10 and headed towards the trailhead.
We made it up about 10 miles before turning around. The first 8 miles were good, with several fallen trees that we were forced to walk around. I kept trying to get Hobbs to bunny hop one, but he wouldn’t do it. The last 2 miles we rode were a little sloppy, still affected with snow melt.
Didn’t see this guy, but they are out and roaming around.
Erin got a new bike! Rolling the 29 inch wheels now.
Still a bit wet and sloppy up near the actual pass.
This past weekend we drove up to Denali National Park to bike the road before the bus tours start running. The road clearing had been completed several days before and the weather looked like it would provide good window. We headed out of Anchorage on Thursday night and camped near the park entrance.
Riley Creek Campground on Thursday night
We did not get a early start on Friday. The main reason for this was the fact that we needed to pick up our backcountry camping permit. Obtaining the permit involves watching a 30 minute long video about bears as well as getting quizzed by park staff about what you have learned. Once we got our permit and bear canister we headed out to Teklanika. Tech is the furthest you can drive a private vehicle into the park. It is 30 miles from the Park Highway, and gave us a good jumping off point. Surprisingly when we arrive there were less than 5 cars in the lot.
29er Mukluk ready to rage
The other reason that we got a slow start was the fact that Erin’s bike had a flat before we even started riding. Silly bikes. We ended up leaving the parking area at 11:45.
Hobbs’s Stumpjumper gained a few pounds to keep them off his back.
Lunch break just past Polychrome
The weather was awesome and we soon found ourselves riding in shorts and t-shirt. Our game plan was to bike to Eielson on the first day, a 36 mile ride with 5 passes (they aren’t very big) seemed well within reach. We figured on day 2 we would ride from Eielson to Wonder lake (40 miles round trip), and on day 3 we would cruise back to the car. Things didn’t quite go to plan. We never made it to Eielson.
Seriously stellar view, along with some haze from China.
We were stopped about a mile short of Eielson by a bear just above the road. We was digging around a little and napping, but was too close to the road to comfortable squeeze by. We sat and watched for a while weighing our options. We opted to back track about a mile and set up camp on a bluff about 400 feet above the road. We figured that the bear would have wandered off by the morning and we didn’t mind adding on some extra miles to the next days ride. We stashed our bikes off the side of the road and headed up the bluff to set up camp.
Wine for the adventerous
Our camp had a spectacular view of Denali and was quite nice. We ate dinner, drank wine, and called it a night relatively early. We woke up around 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning and started getting coffee and breakfast going. I was pumping water when I heard Erin yell to me “We got a bear.” At first I was startled and started to pack up the water pump, thinking we needed to move, but Hobbs clarified that it was 200 yards away in the road ditch. All was good and dandy, except that the bear was too close to our bikes for us to get them.
No big deal we thought. We will eat breakfast and watch as he walks down the road out of sight.
Not a bad breakfast view
That didn’t happen. The bear cruised down the road at a speed equivalent to roughly 100 feet per hour. We sat and watched for those hours. He made a pass by our bike and then looped back to them. He must have seen them as he passed by. The wreckage of bike parts running through my head was pretty intense. I was imagining broken spokes, bent wheels, shredded saddles, etc. Eventually he continued down the road, but was still within 100 to 150 yards of the bikes.
After several more hours, as he hung out on a small knob we decided we would break down camp and swoop in to get our bikes. We took down our tents, packed everything up, and were about to head down to the road when the bear started heading back to our bikes. We sat back down on the hill and watched him on and near the bikes, being too far away to tell what damage he was doing.
As we sat there waiting, a grater came into view. As he got closer he must have seen the bear on the bikes because he started in on the horn. The bear’s immediate response was to site down next to the bikes, as if claiming them as his own. When the horn didn’t work the grater operator turned the grater towards the bear and gunned it. The bear took off at a run as the grater turned around to make a second sweep at that section of road.
Trying to get back to our bikes
“Alright, we wait until he [the bear] gets halfway across the snow field.”
We made it down to the bikes fast, not quite running, but I would’t call it walking. A quick assessment of the damage revealed that my saddle was a little torn up, and my rear tire was flat. We wanted to get out of there fast in case the bear decided to return to the bikes he had claimed. Hobbs and I conducted the most stressed out tube change possible. We got a tube inflated in my tire and lit out of there.
We cruised down hill for a couple miles and stopped near a stream where we repacked our gear and ate lunch.
A little extra charge after we got out bikes back.
Our new plan was to mellowly cruise back to Toklat (roughly 8 miles) and set up camp there. We decided against trying to go further into the park, since it seemed like the bear was sticking to that section of road.
A little wine to help with the climb.
We biked out onto the gravel of the river, and had a nice evening on the floodplain of the Toklat. Ptarmigan interrupted our sleep by loudly dancing around our campsite in the middle of the night.
Erin always bikes with her eyes closed. You have to feel the bike guide you.
The next morning we packed up camp slowly and started our 25 mile pedal back to the car. We ended up in shorts and short-sleeves again as we immediately began climbing up a pass. At the top of Polychrome we got a really fantastic look at 3 rams. They were huge, all three full curls. I was able to stop about 30 feet from them and get some awesome shots. Thinking back I wish I had brought a bigger lens for the both sheep and the bear.
We continued our ride, stopping for a while at the top of sable pass to eat some food and enjoy the view before we dropped down into the trees. We made it back to the car around noon and enjoyed some Tecate to celebrate a great trip.
The Equipped bikes:
I was almost able to fit everything onto the Mukluk. I had a backpack for extra water and my DSLR.