Pecha Kucha 2013: Denali Highway

9 Mar

My bike at the start of the Denali Highway

After 2012’s successful Pecha Kucha fat bike adventure, it was decided that an annual international snow bike trip should become a tradition.  Since the Canadian contingent played hostess in 2012, we decided to head north to Alaska for our 2013 ride.  After reading about another cyclists adventure on the Denali Highway, we decided that Denali would be our next Pecha Kucha adventure.

Logistically, Denali Highway has both challenges, and advantages.  The great thing about the Denali highway is the 2 lodges that operate along the 135 mile highway that goes from Paxson to Cantwell.  Although we pretend to be hardcore, we aren’t crazy enough to want to winter camp if it can be avoided.  The lodges also supply food, which means a lightened load on the bike.

The challenge with the Denali is that it is a point to point that involves a lot of coordination if you want to have vehicles at both ends.  In order to avoid an entire extra day of shuttling cars from Paxson to Cantwell and back, we tried getting a plane pick up in Cantwell.  Unfortunately, the quotes were astronomical and so we ultimately decided on an out and back.  This meant we would not actually ride the whole highway, but maximized our time on the bike, and minimized our time in a car.

The plan was to leave Paxson on a Sunday morning and ride 42 miles to MacLaren Lodge.  On Monday, we’d do an out and back from MacLaren to Alpine Lodge, which was 35 miles down the highway, ending with a 70 mile day (with the easy option to turn around at any time).  Finally, Tuesday would have us ride back to Paxson.

Our adventure started in Glenallen on Saturday night when we all reunited for the first time since Pecha Kucha Mountain.  With 4 bikes and 3 days worth of gear, we quickly obliterated the hotel room in an explosion of bags, clothes, snacks and general debauchery.

Explosion of gear and sour kids.

How much stuff can you cram into one hotel room?

On Pecha Kucha weekend I often muse about how within our group of 4 the stereotypes of American and Canadian are easily blurred.  The quietest of the 4 is definitely Jill Homer, and it’s a three-way tie for the loudest with 2 Canadians in the running.  Notice the Canadian bikes are a lot less subtle than the American ones.

The Canadian bikes – note the neon green and blue

The US bikes – note the grey and black.

It was a early night, with plans to be up for 6 am in order to make the 150 km drive to Paxson and the start of the trail.

The start and finish of our trip

Paxson Lodge is a great highway hotel/diner/cocktail lounge.  It’s nothing fancy, but everyone is super friendly and they make a mean breakfast.  Like most who encountered us along our journey, Paxson folks were a bit surprised to see bikers among their regular sledding crew.  And I must admit, as more and more sledders showed up in the parking lot, I was starting to wonder if I’d chosen the wrong vehicle for this journey.

Hmmmm…which one of these looks faster?

As we did our final packing, the lodge cook/front desk man/bartender did ask me “Are you usually this disorganized”, to which I responded “Absolutely not, we spent hours getting ready last night, so we’re actually way better organized than usual”.  But, eventually the last snacks were stuffed into bags, and we were ready to hit the road.

Before we headed out, we were left with a very kind offer, that in retrospect may have been a little bit more like a warning: “When you girls leave MacLaren on Tuesday, call me.  If you aren’t back here by 7:00, I’ll leave a key for you at the desk, and some food in your rooms”.  At the time we almost laughed – of course we’d be finished by 7 pm – but it seemed like a kind gesture by a concerned man, who hadn’t seen a non-motorized winter attempt.  Unfortunately, a few hours later, I began to realize he may have been more right than I had wanted.


Part II – Slower, Harder, Deeper will be posted shortly…