Realizing A Dream On The Lost Coast - Part One

Ever since I threw my leg over the top tube of a fatbike, I have wanted to ride on a beach. To experience the feel of the big tires imprinting their treads into the sand, only to be washed away without a trace by the swing of the tides. I have ridden fatbikes across endless desert plateaus; down cobbled canyon bottoms; through expansive fields of tundra; and of course, up snow machine groomed tracks. But until this past summer, I only daydreamed about riding along a rugged coastline which was under a continual assault from the powerful whims of Mother Nature.

Heading to the “Last Frontier” for a coastal dream…

At 4:30 PM on a Monday afternoon, our Alaska Airlines jet touched down on the tarmac just outside of the small fishing village of Cordova, Alaska. The weather was stunning with clear skies and temperatures in the 70’s. It was too warm for our preconceived notions of what we would encounter. Seeking shade outside of the tiny terminal, we began unboxing our overfilled bike boxes. On went wheels, handlebars, and pedals. Tires were inflated. Food and camping gear were sorted, and placed in their proper homes on the bike. By 5:40 PM the chores of preparation were complete, and we were ready to stretch our legs with the first few pedal strokes.

With the stress of air travel behind us, it was time to get after it…

We were a group of five. My four partners were some of the most well-accomplished cyclists and adventurers of recent times. The man who was responsible for our current trajectory was the famed Alaskan adventurer, Roman Dial. This professor of biology has a storied reputation of creating and tackling the most grueling adventures, whether it be finishing on the podium in the world’s toughest adventure races, or pioneering new routes in some far off region of our planet. A “charger” of life, Roman seems to always be on the move, testing what is possible with a little willpower.

Roman Dial, the famed Alaskan adventurer…

Steve “Doom” Fassbinder is an unassuming endurance athlete who brought pain to many during his 24-hour mountain bike race career. In the hall of fame for his prowess of winning such races on a singlespeed, Doom’s engine doesn’t fail regardless of the conditions. In recent years, his will for exploration has lead to many wild adventures involving all matters of human propulsion—from foot to bikes to packrafts. A talented photographer and story teller, Doom is always seeking out the next challenge.

The talented Steve “Doom” Fassbinder…

A trip such as the one that we were about to start would not be complete without the presence of perhaps the most experienced adventure cyclist in the last 15 years, Mike Curiak. Mike has seemingly spent his life expanding the realm of where bikes can be ridden. Beyond demoralizing his fellow competitors in the unrelenting Iditabike, Mike has adventured far and wide on tires of all sizes—going so far as to contemplate a ride to the south pole. He is a technician in nature, and his analytical mind is prepared to deal with any unforeseen circumstance.

An adventure cyclist for the ages, Mike Curiak…

Jonathan Bailey is a world class athlete whose laid-back style and continual energy are contagious to all who surround him. Along with an exceptional ability to suffer, JB’s technical skill on a bike is awe-inspiring. Though he can compete with any aboard a bike, he is more at home just experiencing the elements of an adventure free from competition. A skilled professional mechanic, JB can manufacture and adapt anything when disaster happens on the trail.

A continual force of energy, JB…

My teammates packed and ready to begin…

Crux No. 1: The Delta

With the first splash of gray silty water, I was welcomed to the Copper River Delta. Nearly 50 miles wide, this massive delta is home to an abundance of bird and marine life including one of the planet’s most prolific salmon breeding grounds. Traversing this vast expanse of sand bars, braids, and mud flats were the first crux of our route. With each footstep I found myself wading deeper into its cool waters. It hadn’t taken long to get wet.

Doom goes waist deep during our first encounter with the waters of the Copper River Delta…

On the other side of the waist deep channel, my tires touched sand for the first time. A vast plain of sand and grasses stretched out across the horizon. Riding smoothly into the landscape, the first signs of the other inhabitants of the delta became apparent. The massive prints of the brown bear were startling reminders that we were in the minority and only visitors in this wild land.

Evidence of the true inhabitants of this wild land…

The views were just as vast as the delta itself…

Before long, our dry sand was overcome by ankle deep water and our riding was suspended. We pushed our bikes ever onward taking care with each footstep to avoid falling into unseen holes. Eventually, we came to a water expanse of unknown depth. Testing the waters, Roman waded into the murky, meandering current. At this point, it became apparent that it was time to inflate our pack rafts. We were done pedaling.

Our sand slowly became covered with water, forcing us to push our bikes…

We looked on as Roman waded in for the depth test…

Finding pieces of drift wood to support our bikes as kick stands, we inflated our rafts and prepped for paddling into the soggy terrain. After Roman’s short, thigh-deep crossing, we continued our journey across the Delta on foot while pulling our bikes behind us on the rafts. Under the beautiful late daylight, we continued to splash across the horizon, making our way to the sands of the Alaskan gulf coast. It wasn’t long before we were taking our first paddle strokes of the trip. As the day faded towards late evening, we found ourselves in a surreal dreamscape. The vibrant colors of the setting sun were contrasted by a deep fog rolling in from the coast. The full moon somehow pierced the shrouded eastern horizon, adding an element of drama to an already indescribable scene.

No more pushing. It was time to pull…

What a way to end our first day…

Seemingly navigating by braille, we stared continuously at our GPS seeking some place to find a safe sanctuary from the encroaching darkness. Failing to bring a single headlamp among the five of us (it was, after all, the Land of the Midnight Sun), we were adrift in a land of nothingness—only the pale white light of the moon let us know what was up versus down. Drifting aimlessly with the current, we intersected the tip of an island with the precision of those who had been their before. As we hoped, the island was not a marsh of wetlands, but rather, a high spot of dry sand dunes and thick vegetation. We could camp here comfortably without the worry of being overcome by a rising tide.

The moon was our beacon of navigation…

The next morning dawned much the same as the previous day ended…with a deep fog obscuring the landscape ahead. We enjoyed the warmth of our driftwood fire with the morning dew blanketing everything in sight. After leisurely breaking camp, we paddled once again into a horizon of grayness. The sun was out there somewhere. High overhead, its rays of warmth struggled to penetrate to the earth’s surface. Alternating between paddling and wading across a sea of emptiness, our crossing of the delta was only interrupted by the sound of hundreds of unseen seals splashing off of sand bars into the river water or by the dull hum of salmon fishing boats trolling for abundant prey. And thus, we experienced the Copper River Delta.

The day began with dew blanketing everything…

We resumed our paddle back into nothingness…

The depth of the water varied forcing us to walk at times…

Late in the day, our senses finally indicated we were close to our sought-after coast. Our ears first picked up the roar of an active surf. Soon after that, we could see the spray of whitewater rolling into the sandbars revealed by a low tide. Encountering two fishing boats stuck high and dry because of the low tide, we paddled across a protected channel to a spit of sand that our maps indicated was the coast. It had taken us nearly a day and a half to blindly overcome the 50 miles of the Copper River Delta.

Unlucky…

Alas, we found the coast. Let the riding begin…

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TO BE CONTINUED…

This post filed under topics: Beargrease Bikepacking Blackborow Brett Davis Explore Fatbike Mukluk Sponsored Riders

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brett Davis

Brett Davis

I grew up in a military family where we moved 13 times before I left for college. Consequently, I have the continual urge to explore and travel having climbed, kayaked, and biked all over our amazing planet. My passion for the outdoors drives me to seek out adventures which often times combine multiple modes of travel or activities (i.e. biking to a wilderness area and then backpacking in to climb a high peak). "Keeping life simple" is a guiding motto of my life and for me, bike travel epitomizes simplicity.

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