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Denali Park adventure

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Denali Park adventure

Old 10-29-15, 01:43 PM
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Denali Park adventure

I was asked for the story of a fall in Denali Park in a recent "broken collar bone" thread and didn't want to take over that thread so I'm posting the story here. I tried to check to see if I hadn't already told the story but didn't see it. I know I've mentioned Denali Park in several threads because it really is an amazing ride and I'll include a few links to videos from the park at the end of this story.

Originally Posted by Pamestique
Geezus... what a story! I would love to heard all the details; an incredible adventure and ordeal...
My favorite ride of all time is in Denali Park. The park road is highly controlled during the summer with busses running its 80mi length and cars are only allowed on the first 14mi of pavement. After 14mi you must take a bus or have a very special pass for your car that allows you to drive on your own to the Teklanika campground which is about 30mi inside the park. However, before the park is open to tourists and after the park is closed to tourist the road is open to cars (weather permitting) as far as Teklanika campground.
It is during that time that I often go in the car to Teklanika, which is where the real hills start, and ride out to Polychrome Pass and back a 34mi ride. Sometimes I'll go for a third hill but typically I do those two hills which are the most scenic part of the park. It's all dirt road, well maintained. The first 3miles or so is within a forested area and not much is seen during that time but on rare occasions one might glimpse caribou, moose, or bear. Only once have I seen a wolf in that area. It's a pretty steady 5-6% grade up that stretch and then the trees are left behind as you break out into the alpine area and some rolling hills before hitting the rest of the climb to Sable Pass. Once you are out of the trees the odds of seeing more wildlife increases, particularly for grizzly bear. It's not uncommon for us to have to stop due to a bear in the road and more than once we've had to slam on our brakes coming around a corner and having a bear...too close...in front of us.
On my bone crushing ride my wife decided at the last minute to join me. I do this ride alone fairly often. We had great weather and we saw nobody...not a single bus (drivers are often in training during this pre-season time period) or maintenance car or ranger. We were alone as we climbed up to Sable Pass. We saw a few grizzly off on the side of the hills while negotiating some of the 9-10% grades. The downhill from Sable Pass to the East Fork of the Toklat River is pretty sweet. You have to keep your wits about you as the road can have soft spots, rocky areas and ruts that can grab you but for the most part it's pretty nice. We saw no bear on the descent and began our steep climb up to Polychrome.
As we got close to top we passed a huge grizzly off to our right about 200feet. He was up the hill to the right (it's a steep drop off to the left as you climb westward on the north side of the valley) paying us no attention. As you approach the top there are a few small up and down sections and as I began to descend a short section with my wife ahead of me I hit a small hole in the road and went down hard and fast. I knew immediately I was hurt. I'm smart that way.
My wife came back as I lay on the ground. She is always hopeful and was convinced I had just dislocated my shoulder and wanted to manipulate my arm back into place. I was quite confident that would not be a good thing. I got on my back and into a position that was merely extremely painful which was better than the excruciating pain of moments ago. Then reality set in. We had seen nobody in the last two + hours and we quite aware of that big grizzly a few hundred feet down the road. We have done this ride out and back without seeing anyone the entire time so we had no expectations of somebody coming to rescue us anytime soon and I was only going to get colder and colder. We always bring extra clothing and as it was early spring and the road and air was quite chilly, my wife put extra jackets over me and we discussed her next solo adventure back to find a ranger which could be all the way back to Teklanika, or even further. There wasn't much point in her remaining with me.
My wife heading back those 17mi or so by herself wasn't a small thing. We have come around corners to find a sow and cubs in front of us, requiring us to slam on our brakes and then nearly face to face with a bear and cubs. Once she slammed her brakes on her bike so hard it pulled her rear wheel (with horizontal dropouts) out of place. Going downhill we've blown past a bear coming onto the road within 10 feet of the darn thing but there could be a worker coming part way into the park that would never get to us if she didn't leave and after some discussion she began to get ready to leave. Just then a car came from the west...with two park rangers in it. It was a small mini-van and they had room to throw both of our bikes in the back! I was really in a lot of pain but got seated in the front seat, twisting myself in such as way as to try to minimize the pain.
The best part of the entire thing happened after we started out and mentioned the bear. When one of the rangers heard there was a bear nearby he asked if we'd mind if he stopped to get a few pics. I wanted to turn to him and scream at him, asking him if he was @#$ing crazy? but was hurting too much ...and sure enough as we got to the area we had seen the bear in, the bear was on the road, crossing it and began to head downhill as the car stopped for a picture of the back end of the bear. I couldn't believe it.
We were back far enough in the park that there was no way to contact headquarters. No phone and no radios could reach them but as we got closer they were able to call for an ambulance which met us at Teklanika where my wife got in our car and I was transferred to the ambulance. It is NOT a smooth ride. The ambulance can't zoom out of the park. Too much wildlife and narrow roads in places with curves so we went as quickly as possible, I'm sure, but it took a while to get out. At some point I was transferred to a second ambulance that had better equipment and was more capable of getting me to Fairbanks where I live and where the nearest "real" hospital is. It's a couple of hours up the bouncy, poorly maintained highway (which has seen a lot of improvement in the last few years).
You'd think that a simple broken collar bone would not turn into a big deal. Pro's seem to break their collar bone and get back on the bike in a few weeks as if it's no big thing, and it's not like I was gut shot....but as some Bike Forum folks may know from previous posts, I've had two heart attacks and a stroke and am on meds that keep my HR down and keep my blood pressure down...and on top of that, like many cyclists, my resting HR is reasonably low, in the high 40's or low 50's. All of that combined with the very much appreciated morphine (or whatever it was) for the pain caused some serious problems in the ambulance. My HR got down into the 30's and my blood pressure was falling as I kept hearing nonsense like, "bud...you still with us? How you doing? We want you to stay awake." and commentary between the two folks in the ambulance like, "I don't like that blood pressure". Finally the ambulance stopped as they called the hospital (why it had to stop I don't know) and had to get advice on how to deal with the idea of having a guy with a broken collar bone die in their ambulance. It would have been very embarrasing for them, I'm sure.
In any case...I may be adding drama...but it was quite a nasty ride and an adventure I could have done without. I used to ride with one hand shooting video on that ride back into the park but have promised my wife I'll keep both hands on the bike from now on...I continue to ride the same ride solo or with my wife or friends. Any ride in a wilderness setting is a bit more of a risk but I used to be a full time hang glider pilot so this is far below my threshold of activities that seem dangerous. I may break down this season and get an emergency beacon of some kind in the event something like this happens when I'm alone. Here are a few links for those interested in seeing some video of the ride in question. Some of these links have been posted before.

Here is a 17min video that includes commentary on where I went down.

Our family (three generations) does a ride in the Park together. This has some horrible music but it was a family thing...Starting at Eielson Visitor Center, arriving with bikes put on the bus and going one way back to Teklanika. On this ride my wife had a caribou trot along side her for 100 feet and I paced a fox to my side for a short bit.

One more, similar to the first video.
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Old 10-29-15, 04:59 PM
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I asked you to post and now i am breathless from reading your story. Having taken the bus into Denali, I can't imagine you regularly driving in - that road is really rough and I can't imagine being driven out... I would suspect your blood pressure dropped due to pain. I can understand it is a beautiful (although dangerous) place to ride... it's probably top on my list of most beautiful place ever...

Private docent led mountain bike rides through Limestone Canyon. Go to letsgooutside.org and register today! Also available: hikes, equestrian rides and family events as well as trail maintenance and science study.
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Old 10-29-15, 06:53 PM
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WOW. I want to do that ride.
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