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Thread: Alaska?

  1. #1
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Alaska?

    I have not decided where I am going touring in the remainder of this year, but... One option I am toying with is the notion of an Alaska tour and would appreciate any input folks might have about touring there.

    It seems like maybe it would make sense to fly into and out of Anchorage and I am not crazy about out and back tours, so I am thinking a loop including Denali. That isn't based on any knowledge of the area though, just a quick look at the map.

    The questions that first come to mind are:
    1. Route suggestions?
    2. Road bike or mountain bike? I am mostly a road tourist these days, but wonder if I would be missing out if I limit myself to good surfaces. I do own a suitable mountain bike and have done a lot of off road riding and racing in the past, but not so much in recent years and never any loaded off road riding.
    3. When to go? I am sure weather and traffic both are factors here.
    4. How much time? Is it crazy to limit this to a relatively short tour, like 3 or possibly 4 weeks? I burned a lot of leave doing the Southern Tier in February and March, so my leave is somewhat limited.
    5. How remote? How frequent will restocking points be for food? Water?
    6. Other than airfare how expensive? My guess is that it would be mostly wild camping and therefore pretty cheap, but again that isn't based on any local knowledge.

    Also feel free to answer the questions that I don't know enough to ask.

  2. #2
    mev
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    Alaska, Yukon and NWT are among my favorite places I've ridden. I've done a few shorter trips: Haines to Skagway, Dalton Highway, Dempster Highway and also the length of the Alaska Highway. I'd say it is possible to get a taste even in two weeks though more time would be better.

    Do you want to stay on paved roads or is gravel also ok? As far as bike choices go, I rode the above on a touring bike (Cannondale T1000 w/700x35 tires). Most of the gravel on Dalton and Dempster were reasonable so if you've got slightly wider tires your road bike might also still get you some places.

    On the routes I went, there were occasional streams and longest stretches w/o water were seldom >80 miles so might need to stock for day or two but if you can treat water you'll find some along the way.

    One suggestion, pick up a copy of The Milepost and browse through some of the roads in that area. It will give good sense of camping, roads and points along the way.

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    I don't know anything about Alaska. Well, except it's known for mosquitoes and grizzly bears. And amazing scenery of course.

    Have you thought about Colorado at all yet? Denver airport hosts 2 airlines with $50 bike transport fees - Southwest & Frontier - and you can take a city bus almost to the mountains for $13, or just ride out of the airport (for a day of riding across the city).

    In 4-5 weeks you can ride over most of the paved continental divide passes in CO. Mountains, streams, trees. High mountain passes with valleys between if you need a more moderate day. Campgrounds all over the place, and lots of forest service land. Great weather June-September. Easy route planning - just pick any road in the mountains, they are all good. No grizzly bears, just black. After June/July, the mosquitoes are pretty mellow. Enough towns to not have to carry multiple days supplies, but enough undeveloped land so you feel you are out in nature. You can go all on-road, or head out on dirt roads if you want more solitude - there are several dirt roads you can ride on a road bike. Mostly good pavement, mostly enough shoulder or light enough traffic, lots of friendly locals with pickup trucks if you need a quick hitch-hike.

    You do need to carry rain gear and be prepared for cold weather any time of year, though, and nights can be cool/cold even in summer. Afternoon thunderstorms are pretty common until late August, but usually last only an hour or two. I toured in July 2005 (5 weeks) and Sept 2009 (3 weeks) and was rained on once on each trip.

    If you come in late August, you can watch some of the pro tour.

    Am I selling this too hard?
    ...

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    weirdo
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    OOoooh. Not that it should really influence your decision, but I`d be looking forward to your AK pics a lot more than I would be for the pics from your proposed east coast idea

    And wherever you go, give dirt a chance!

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    Bike touring webrarian
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    Here are 16 links to information about bike touring in Alaska.

    Not all of them will be of interest to you but some will be, including a planning page for a bike tour from Anchorage to Seward.
    Visit the on-line Bike Touring Archive at www.biketouringtips.com

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    Fraser Valley Dave
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    Although I'm sure "mev" has ridden a few more routes than myself, I've ridden the Alaskan Highway, starting from Fairbanks, and several other sections in the Yukon and NWT. Thoroughly enjoyed the experiences, and would do some more if I wasn't so old, and could find a compatible riding companion. I found riding early in the season (beginning to mid-June) to be best, less bugs, good weather, and less tourist traffic, although many roadside facilities are still closed. Boiling or treating water is advised if you don't buy it, and being very careful where and how you camp. Early in the year there are a lot of grizzlies along the main roadsides because of the early sedges and clover. It's advisable to be well prepared for weather extremes, and able to fix breakdowns etc. on your own because of the lack of facilities.

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    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mev View Post
    Do you want to stay on paved roads or is gravel also ok? As far as bike choices go, I rode the above on a touring bike (Cannondale T1000 w/700x35 tires). Most of the gravel on Dalton and Dempster were reasonable so if you've got slightly wider tires your road bike might also still get you some places.
    I typically have been going really light lately and using 1990 ish Cannondale crit bike or road race bike. I think the widest tires that will take are 28mm. I really prefer to either ride on decent surfaces or actually go a bit more off road and use a mountain bike. For some reason the middle ground usually doesn't appeal to me. Maybe not completely rational, but that has been the case up until now at least.

    The Mile Post looks like a great resource. I'll have to pick up a copy to read even if I don't do an Alaska trip this year.

    Quote Originally Posted by valygrl View Post
    If you come in late August, you can watch some of the pro tour.

    Am I selling this too hard?
    No, and having done a bit of touring there and having thoroughly enjoyed it, I could be pretty easily sold on Colorado.

    I hadn't thought about crossing paths with the pro tour. That would be pretty cool.

    I will definitely keep that option in mind.

    Quote Originally Posted by rodar y rodar View Post
    And wherever you go, give dirt a chance!
    I probably will at some point whether it is my remaining tour for 2012 or at a later time. As I mentioned, I have thus far not been all that fond of riding on poor road surfaces unless there is some off road component to the tour. So I have this bias to either stick with fairly decent roads or go off road.

  8. #8
    <riding now> BigAura's Avatar
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    Last year I did my tour from Seattle, WA to Deadhorse, AK (may 11-aug 5) I returned to Seattle using bus, ferry, and bicycle. It was a beautiful, exciting, touring adventure.

    Many of the road sections were gravel. Some rough and some very rough. It varied all the time, with the Dalton Highway having the most extremes. I would not recommend using anything less than 700x35 on the gravel roads. I saw guys on the Dalton riding 700x28 tires and they looked terrified. The roads are also dusty when dry and muddy when wet. On my route there were long stretches without services. I always carried a few days food. On the Dalton I packed nine days worth. I carry a back-country filter so water was not a problem. The mosquitoes can be rough, at times, so be sure to have a head net. A nice plus is it's always light so you can ride any time of day.

    You may want to consider flying into Anchorage and then having an bush pilot outfitter fly you to Deadhorse and then cycle from Dalton to Fairbanks, then to Denali, and on to Anchorage. I met a guy that did that and he said the fight to Deadhorse was $230(ish), for he and his bike. Or you could ride up and fly back.

    There are lots of places to explore. You can get a copy of the Milepost at the library to get a concept of the different areas.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Thulsadoom's Avatar
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    I rode up to Alaska years ago on a motorcycle. I always tell people that Alaska is the only place I've ever been where; no matter what camera you use, the pictures don't do it justice. The scenery is completely stunning, and there's a "wild" vibe that cannot be described. Go for it Pete.

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    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BigAura View Post
    Last year I did my tour from Seattle, WA to Deadhorse, AK (may 11-aug 5) I returned to Seattle using bus, ferry, and bicycle. It was a beautiful, exciting, touring adventure.

    Many of the road sections were gravel. Some rough and some very rough. It varied all the time, with the Dalton Highway having the most extremes. I would not recommend using anything less than 700x35 on the gravel roads. I saw guys on the Dalton riding 700x28 tires and they looked terrified. The roads are also dusty when dry and muddy when wet. On my route there were long stretches without services. I always carried a few days food. On the Dalton I packed nine days worth. I carry a back-country filter so water was not a problem. The mosquitoes can be rough, at times, so be sure to have a head net. A nice plus is it's always light so you can ride any time of day.

    You may want to consider flying into Anchorage and then having an bush pilot outfitter fly you to Deadhorse and then cycle from Dalton to Fairbanks, then to Denali, and on to Anchorage. I met a guy that did that and he said the fight to Deadhorse was $230(ish), for he and his bike. Or you could ride up and fly back.

    There are lots of places to explore. You can get a copy of the Milepost at the library to get a concept of the different areas.
    I like the idea of flying in to somewhere via a bush pilot. I really like point to point tours better than loops or out and back tours and would also get a kick out of the flight.

    Quote Originally Posted by Thulsadoom View Post
    I rode up to Alaska years ago on a motorcycle. I always tell people that Alaska is the only place I've ever been where; no matter what camera you use, the pictures don't do it justice. The scenery is completely stunning, and there's a "wild" vibe that cannot be described. Go for it Pete.
    It sounds great and I will definitely go. The hard decision is deciding when. This year I am limited a bit on time and money (or at least money that can be spent without raising wife's eyebrows too much) since I already did the Southern Tier from San Diego to Pensacola this year and a big chunk of the Pacific Coast in the Fall. After May of 2013 I expect to be retired and time rich, but cash poor.

    BTW, I may ride up to Alaska on a motorcycle some time after retirement with my wife. She will go on motorcycle tours, but not bicycle tours.

  11. #11
    Fraser Valley Dave
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    "staephj1", if you prefer riding with your road bike and relish in challenging paved steep grades, fly into Anchorage and do the loop to Fairbanks and back using the Richardson and George Parks Highway if you only have a short time. If you have a little more time, fly into Fairbanks, ride down to Anchorage and then out to the Alaskan Hwy at Tok, and then down to Haines, take the ferry to Juneau for a flight home. If you have even more time, and would rather stay away from the challenging grades associated with the coastal mountains, ride down the Alaskan Highway from Fairbanks to Dawson Creek. (or further down through British Columbia as your time allows) You can terminate your adventure from several spots along the way, Whitehorse, Watson Lake, Fort Nelson, Dawson Creek, Chetynd, Prince George, etc. I flew into Anchorage on my first trip, but used Greyhound for most of the others as it was cheapest (although the bus takes a lot longer) The most scenic and challenging would be the Anchorage-Fairbanks route, but riding the Alaskan Highway is a fantastic and scenic experience as well. You'll see a lot of wild animals of all sorts for sure. I was up close to wolves, grizzlies, black bears, sheep, goats, caribou, moose, buffalo, elk, deer, and even a wolverine. Which ever way you choose, you'll certainly enjoy the experience.

  12. #12
    <riding now> BigAura's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by staehpj1 View Post
    I like the idea of flying in to somewhere via a bush pilot.
    When flying into Deadhorse (Prudhoe Bay Oil fields) there is an airport. The bush pilot I mentioned was dropping off some backpackers into The Gates of The Arctic bush-country area, and also took the bike tourist to Deadhorse. I was impressed with the cost because it wasn't much more than I paid for a bus ticket. My point is it's a good idea to shop around for outfitters that can fit you in with others, to bring the cost down.

  13. #13
    Commuting & Touring Guy Doconabike's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by staehpj1 View Post
    I have not decided where I am going touring in the remainder of this year, but... One option I am toying with is the notion of an Alaska tour and would appreciate any input folks might have about touring there.
    One possibility is to fly into Anchorage, take the train to Denali (a lovely train ride), and spend your touring time in Denali National Park. I have spent wonderful time hiking in Denali and chatted with a few bikers who seemed to be having a great time. The Park Road is 92 miles long and very very sparsely traveled by cars. The biking would be a little rough, but nothing that a touring bike couldn't handle. You could stop at some of the wonderful campgrounds or do some backcountry hiking.

    See here for information on Denali Biking.
    http://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/bikecamping.htm

    See here for a description of a great hike in Denali
    http://www.hikingforums.net/forums/s...-Park-(part-1)
    (if you log in, you will see photos. If you don't log in, you can still read.)

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    Bikecentennial's North Star Route is 3400 miles from Missoula to Anchorage. They don't sell maps but someone is selling their old booklet on Amazon. They ran it as a 2 month trip from mid-June to mid-August. If you've already been over Going-to-the Sun & thru Glacier / Waterton on the Northern Tier, you could cut a few weeks off & fly into Calgary. From there to Banff, Jasper, Prince George & Smithers, Alberta, then onto the Stewart - Cassiar Hwy. Side trip to Hyder, AK (grizzly bear viewing & you pass a glacier on the way), then on to Watson Lake (Signpost Forest, bring a sign from your town). Then Whitehorse to Dawson City, Yukon - you'll want to spend a rest day in this restored gold rush town. Over Top-of-the-World Hwy to Chicken, AK. On to Fairbanks, Denali, end in Anchorage. Catch a plane to Juneau & take the Alaska Marine Hwy to Seattle, (don't know if they still let you pitch your tent on the deck so you don't have to pay for a room) & fly home. A little of everything.

    It was ~ half gravel roads way back when, maybe the Stewart-Cassiar is paved now? Only me and one other guy had mtn bikes, the other 8 in our group rode touring bikes & did fine. Sometimes you have to grocery shop for a few days at a time and food, camping, & showers are really expensive in Alaska. OTOH, you could camp in wide spots by the road Carry a water filter so you can use water out of streams. Alaska is the dream destination of every RVer, I think that's why Bikecentennial put us on the Cassiar instead of the Alcan. Still, plenty of RVs and ore trucks, be careful!

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    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Thanks for all of the info. If I wind up not going to Alaska this year I will file all this away for future reference. I expect to retire next spring so it probably won't be two awfully long before I'll get there even if it doesn't pan out for this year.

    I really am intrigued by the notion of the North Star Bicycle Route and ordered the booklet. I expect it is probably very out of date, but figure it might be a starting point in planning a trip.

  16. #16
    <riding now> BigAura's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Yumadons View Post
    Side trip to Hyder, AK (grizzly bear viewing & you pass a glacier on the way)
    +1 View from glacier summit outside of Hyder:


  17. #17
    <riding now> BigAura's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Yumadons View Post
    take the Alaska Marine Hwy to Seattle, (don't know if they still let you pitch your tent on the deck so you don't have to pay for a room)
    +1. I returned to Bellingham via the Ferry (embarked in Haines), and really enjoyed it. Yes they still do let you pitch tent on the deck, but I wouldn't recommend it, too windy. I just bunked for free on the, provided, outdoor chaises, under an overhang. Great fun.
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by BigAura; 04-26-12 at 10:38 AM. Reason: added pics

  18. #18
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Thanks to all. I am really sold on touring Alaska, but have decided to do it when I can take more time. So I will file all this away for Summer of 2013. Right now I am leaning towards Valygrl's suggestion and will probably start another thread on that.

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    With time on your hands, the one thing many of us wished we had done on the North Star was to leave the Klondike Hwy right before Dawson City and take the Dempster to the Arctic Circle (Inuvik). Probably 450 miles of boring nothingness, but a lot of tourers were doing it. The only way back is the same way you come in, so make that 900 miles of boring nothingness - hopefully you'd at least find the very cool polar bear shaped Northwest Territories license plate for your trouble Maybe you could find someone leaving Inuvik in a truck who'd take you back for gas money. The North Star doesn't take you thru Whitehorse - we detoured so as not to miss the *big city* capital of the Yukon.

    The booklet is really old (1981) but small, and along with a current Milepost, worth dragging along. I'm hanging onto mine to retrace the route in the RV. No idea why AC discontinued the North Star, you'd think it'd be one of their most popular. Maybe someone got hit by an RV?

  20. #20
    Fraser Valley Dave
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    I've traveled the Dempster (closer to 365 mi.), and didn't include it for "staephj1" to consider because it is a 'hit or miss' adventure depending on the weather. Once past the midway point, Eagles Plain motel etc., if it rains the road turns into a sea of oily mud. Secondly, unless traveling during the late summer, you have to wait until the ferries are running reliably, which puts you into the nasty mosquito season. It's not a road to take if you're traveling light because of the lack of facilities.

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    Yikes. There must be an easier way to find that license plate

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