Valdez to Denali National Park 28 to 29 June 2017

Giddy up and go

Left Valdez in the pouring rain and believe it or not the weather forecast for the coming two weeks was Rain with patches of Rain interspersed with Rain. The Kenai peninsula is one of the wettest places in Alaska. Was supposed to ride together with John and Anna the Canadian couple on a Kawasaki Versys but they were having a super lazy morning. So, headed off alone. My planned route was north on the Richardson highway then west across the infamous Denali highway, 216 Km length of gravel & hard packed mud road, to join up with the Parks highway and then further north to the Denali national park. The highlights being the Richardson highway & of course the Denali highway……. So once again it was “Giddy up and go” time

The first part along the Richardson was wet with heavy mist on the Thomson pass. It was there that I first encountered an American phenomenon. I first passed warning signs for an area of road works and ones that read “be prepared to stop flaggers active”. Now what is a flagger and would I recognize it anyways? Well I did….. kinda. Traffic was coming to a stop & I saw someone waving a big red flag. She then did a series   of maneuvers with her flag which I interpreted as filter up to the top of the line, consisting of 1 pickup truck & 1 car, which I did. She proceeded then to guide me to a stop like she was docking an airplane to its terminal. It turns out that we had to wait for a pilot car to guide us through the road works. Being wet and desperate to get over the mountain to where it was not raining I resigned myself to a boring wait. No way, it turns out the wee flag woman was really talkative and in no time we were chatting and laughing away, interspersed with her waving her flag, which she did with gusto. I learned all about her life story. When the pilot car arrived leading a convoy of cars, tuned & signaled us to follow, we parted company with a smile & a good feeling and I felt somehow a little bit richer for that chance meeting. Followed the pilot car as it weaved its way through the roadworks for about 20 km.

Stopped at the junction of the Richardson and Glenn highways at a services, needed to get my second breakfast, petrol & it wasn’t raining anymore. Met up with a load of interesting bikers, spent a while just relaxing and chatting.

 

Just as I was ready to go John and Anna pull in. Stopped a bit to chat and left them eating a Thai fried noodles. The scenery on the Richardson is simply amazing, every corner brings something new.

 

Stopped for lunch at an amazing place, it was an old wooden shack that housed a gift shop, a restaurant and accommodation for the family who owned it. They had kept a lot of the old furniture and trappings and created a sort of museum out of it.  This place was steeped in history and full of the ghosts of past clientele, there were also a few who were not ghosts. What I love about these places is the food & the conversations, both of what I have with people & what other people are saying to themselves. Whilst sitting there John & Anna whizzed by.

Carried on to the junction of the Denali and Richardson. Took a left and headed down the infamous Denali highway. Ignoring the signs one which read “Denali highway is not maintained”, another one which read “travel at own risk”. The rest I just didn’t bother reading. Then began the fun, it is simply amazing, the scenery is incredible.

Road surface is mostly potholes connected with strips of gravel road which is connected to strips of hard packed mud road. It was a treat and a pleasure to ride it. About 30 km into the road I stopped to mount my action cam onto my helmet. There was a little turn off with a trailer & a camper parked in it. Whilst I was getting my camera sorted out there was a huge explosion in the distance. A voice came out of the trailer saying, “that was a sonic boom”. behind the voice came a lean middle-aged man dressed in a t-shirt and jeans and he had a revolver in a holster strapped at his side. It was really surreal but kind of fitting, he fitted in with the scenery. He lived in Anchorage but came out to the country to get away from it all. Later on, I met up with John & Anna again. We teamed up to ride the rest of the way together, there is safety in numbers. The rest of the ride was a ride of a lifetime, words can’t describe it & pictures won’t do it justice. If you get the chance you have to do it.

Got into the Denali state park and of course all the camping sites were full, you have to book at least 6 months ahead. But they have an overflow site where no vehicles are allowed so we were able to pitch up our tents. As luck would have it we got a site by the river where we could also park the bikes…. Brill.

Next day explored the park & bought a State Park Pass for all the parks in the States. Means I get in for free. If you are visiting a lot of parks the pass is worth it.

“Denali State Park is an integral part of one of North America’s most spectacularly beautiful regions. The park’s 325,240 acres, almost one-half the size of Rhode Island, provide the visitor with a great variety of recreational opportunities, ranging from roadside camping to wilderness exploration. The park is about 100 air miles north of Anchorage and is divided roughly in half by the George Parks Highway, the major road link between Anchorage and Fairbanks. Situated between the Talkeetna Mountains to the east and the Alaska Range to the west, the landscape varies from meandering lowland streams to alpine tundra. Dominating this diverse terrain are Curry and Kesugi Ridges, a 35 mile-long north/south alpine ridge, the backbone of the eastern half of the park. Kesugi” is a Tanaina Indian dialect word meaning “The Ancient One” and is a fitting complement of the Tanana Indian word “Denali” which means “The High One”. At 20,320 feet, Denali is North America’s highest peak. It literally and figuratively towers over Southcentral Alaska from its base in Denali National Park.
Denali State Park was established in 1970 and expanded to its present size in 1976. Its western boundary is shared with its much larger neighbor, Denali National Park and Preserve, formerly Mt. McKinley National Park.”

Quote taken from government website   http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/denali1.htm

Took the Green Shuttle bus out to Wonder Lake, a return journey of about 9 hours. Bus stops for any wildlife along the way, offering fantastic photo shots. It is not allowed to drive with your own vehicle in the park.

 

With the Shuttle bus you can get off to hike or stay longer in a scenic stop area and take the next bus onwards. I did that on one stop….. not planned but just got carried away with the scenery & missed the bus. Took the next bus up & caught up with my own bus where my backpack with food, drinks, jacket & money was still there. From then on, I made sure that I was on the bus. The bus cost 50 dollars and was worth it. Didn’t see much wild life though. The scenery, however, was breath taking.

The day I was leaving was brilliant weather and sat by the river drinking my morning tea, watching a moose with her two young and just felt extremely happy and thought yes this is why we do it. Left and headed north towards Fairbanks and the next challenge….. the infamous Dalton highway to the end of the world.

Had booked into the university of Alaska, they rent student accommodation, on the campus, out to travelers. A really good deal. 38 dollars per night with use of all facilities. Of course the laundry is the most used. They also have excellent WI-FI…

Next trip to madness…… the artic circle and the Dalton highway to Prudhoe bay…..

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