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Photo Set: Alaska Bike Tour


Week-long bike tour in central Alaska with Lu in first week of September, 2023.

We originally planned to bike the Oregon coast this week, but wildfire smoke was too thick, so we did a last-minute replan. This was only a week or so after the end of the Alaska "summer season", but the shoulder season is almost non-existent and it was rapidly turning to rain, slush, and even hints of snow. Had a couple rainy days, but were prepared, used to biking in the wet from Seattle, and had a great time. Folks we met on the road universally loved the outdoors, and were friendly and enthusiastic about our trip.

Any time spent in the air over Alaska is amazing, window seats very recommended. We flew in to Anchorage, landed early evening, and re-assembled our bikes on the airport curb. There was a fun late-nite ride through the general aviation section of the airport (across plane taxi routes!), along a nice shoreline multi-use trail with dramatic unexpected northern lights (didn't come out in photos), and spent a hotel night downtown. Anchorage had more fancy cafes and student culture than I expected, though still mostly industrial by area. We loaded our bikes on a train in the morning for a second day of transit to Whitter, then ferry connection to Valdez. Almost everybody on the train was either a retiree day drinking at 11am, or a backcountry guide or service industry worker. Through a long tunnel to Whitter, a strange tiny town where virtually everybody lives in a single building (we saw it but didn't get close). It's mostly a cruise ship and ferry connection; we loaded up and made the state-ferry-service connection across to Valdez. We had great weather this whole section and could see lots of snow and glaciers; would love to come back and explore much of Alaska at higher elevations! Valdez is beautiful from the water, can see what a disaster the oil spill was.

Valdez was booked out for a fishing competition, and we tent-camped at a commercial place right downtown. Our first day riding started pretty wet as we climbed up Thompson pass and the Blueberry Lakes area. There were huge dramatic gushing waterfalls along the way, and views of glaciers. The biggest climb of the trip, and clearer weather would have been nice, but it wasn't totally socked in, and felt proud of our cold-and-wet weather fortitude by the end of the day. Despite being a major route, it was very remote, with almost zero food or supplies along the way. We stayed at a lone roadhouse with a small dinner attached. Great hosts! Lots of helicopter activity in this area: backcountry heliskiing and snowboarding later in the winter, and daily inspections of the pipeline by air.

We biked on Rt 4 along the Trans-Alaska Pipeline basically the entire way from Valdez to Fairbanks. This is one of really just a small handful of significant paved highways in Alaska, and it is very well maintained to enable maintenance of the pipeline, and, ironically, for trucks carrying diesel and aviation fuel back north from Valdez (which has a small refinery) to the northern oil fields. Some of our main interactions with locals were the workers managing traffic around road repairs. These were mostly strong young outdoorsy women with huge pickup trucks, who would toss our bikes in the back for short rides through active construction zones.

Continued north through a few days of tent camping in mixed wet and dry conditions. Huge snowy mountains on the horizons, and beautiful dramatic airstrips with handfuls of pilots fueling up classic planes at sunset. Small planes everywhere. We had a particularly wet day riding in to Delta Junction, which was where things really started to shift to military training land and huge Air Force facilities with stealth bombers and rapid intercept fighers out on the tarmac. Whole lot of money!

The last day or two in to Fairbanks was increasingly high-traffic and regular highway, though there were some great bike trail sections and public campgrounds. Fairbanks itself was surprisingly PNW-style hip, with big ourdoor beer gardens and good food trucks. Lots of homelessness; seems like a super rough place to sleep on the street. Wonder what the zoning situation is around the city, given how abundant land is generally in the state, and how flexible zoning and enforcement seemed. We re-united here with the retiree crowd.

Stopped at an REI for free bike boxes, packed up, and flew back to Seattle. Real disassembling touring bikes (S&S or break-away) are still very appealing, but it has actually been quite fast to pack/unpack our regular touring bikes, and this way of traveling works great for non-loop trips because we don't have to worry about bike case logistics.

Alaska is big! It feels like most outdoors folks get off the highways in to wilderness as fast as they can, but this route worked pretty well as a bike tour. Would maybe have skipped the Fairbanks area (bus connection?), or taken the connecting highway West to Denali. Also probably more to explore on the Kenai peninsula.

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