Realizing A Dream On The Lost Coast - Part Three

Editor's Note: We continue with Part Three of Realizing A Dream On The Lost Coast -Kid

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Crux No. 3: The Elements and a Lost Road

With nearly 325 days a year of sunshine, when it rains in Colorado one takes notice. In fact, it is not unusual to hear Colorado natives begin to eek out a few complaints about dreary weather when they experience more than two days in a row of overcast skies. The coast of southeast Alaska averages 155 inches of rain per year. It rains there…a lot. Going into this trip, we were all prepared to be wet and expected to be wet. However, with our Colorado optimism, we had hoped, that we would get lucky with the weather gods and have some good fortune shine down upon us.

An unexpected sight as we rode into our camp after crossing Controller Bay—the remains of a bald eagle…

The morning after crossing Controller Bay, we awoke to our good fortune being dampened by a cold drizzle. Thus far in our journey down the coast, our weather had been relatively uneventful. Overcast skies had dominated the past couple of days, but no precipitation had made its way out of the atmosphere.

The boys surveying the route ahead…

My first pedal strokes from camp were demoralizing. The sand was soft and unsupportable under my big tires. It was the kind of sand that required the recruitment of every muscle to keep the pedal cranks turning over while keeping the front wheel straight. The slightest veer to the right or left could easily “jack knife” the front end of the bike and cause a complete loss of momentum. As I struggled to find a rhythm in the off camber sugar, I watched my teammates pedal away into the mist.

My failure to find a rhythm in the soft sand resulted in my teammates pedaling away…

And so the morning progressed. As a group, we were strung out down the coast, each alone in our battle of the varying sand conditions accompanied by a stiff southern headwind as a bonus challenge. Having put our packrafts away after the crossing of Controller Bay, we had been looking forward to an extended amount of beach riding without any major bays to cross. We knew we had some major rivers to cross, but we wouldn’t be doing multiple “disaster” style crossings every few miles. No matter how efficient going from bike to raft and back to the bike, our pace always suffered during these transitions. With the soft sand, rain, and headwind, we might as well have been crossing bodies of water, as our going was slow. Our morning of struggles continued interrupted only by a welcomed rest to marvel at the carcass of a massive whale washed up on the beach and the icy, spooky crossing of the Seal River.

Each of us was in our battle with the elements…

One that lost its battle…

Interspersed along our route were several prominent rivers which originated at the toe of some of our country’s largest glaciers. The Seal River begins its fall towards the ocean at the Bering Glacier, which combined with the Bagley Ice field, is considered one of North America’s largest glaciers. In a downpour, our approach to the Seal River was marked by a distinct drop in temperature and the accompanying fog which blanketed the river corridor. The strikingly beautiful and surreal formations of ice washed up on the beach were also a clue that our first major river crossing was upon us.

A small remnant of the Bering Glacier…

The deep blue glacial water was flowing to the open ocean at a pace that raised our heart rates when we saw it. We would have to start our crossing a little way upstream to ensure that the fast moving water did not carry us into the thundering surf of the ocean. Along with the accelerated current, we would have to dodge car-sized blocks of ice that had calved from the Bering Glacier. Needless to say, this first crossing was no walk in the park. Bikes were rigged securely, and dry suits were donned. We all made it without issue, but it was exciting nonetheless.

Taking a riding break from the conditions became common place every 30 minutes or so…

The rest of the day continued with rain, wind, and soft sand. All of us were exhausted by the time we reached the Kaliakh River. Another crossing was in our future, but it would have to wait until the morning. We would huddle by a fire and let the seals on the opposite river bank have their space for the evening.

The seals would have their rest for the evening before we crossed the Kaliakh in the morning…

Given the day, a fire for the evening was essential…

Exhausted from the day’s efforts, we enjoyed a short respite from the rain…

We awoke to more rain and wind, and after the crossing of the slow moving Kaliakh river, more soft sand. Once again we each tackled the elements at our own pace, finding a rhythm that was unique to each of us. We had two goals for the day: first, we needed to reach the airstrip at Yakataga where our resupply of food was waiting for us in a shipping container; and second, we hoped to find an old logging road that would get us off the sand and accelerate our pace to our next bay crossing.

Yet another wonder on the route…the rusting remains of a ship wreck…

Pedaling towards our resupply… —Photos courtesy of Steve “Doom” Fassbinder

In 2010, the indomitable Andrew Skurka walked our route as part of his 4,700 mile, six-month journey through Alaska and the Yukon. Roman had assisted him in his planning for the trip and had even joined him for a couple of segments of the adventure. Consequently, Roman brought a copy of Skurka’s annotated maps. According to Skurka, there existed an old logging road that ran from Yakataga to Icy Bay—nearly 40 miles. In his notes about the road, was the warning to watch out for bears, as his encounters with these intimidating creatures were frequent. With full bellies and frame bags bursting at the seams from the additional food, we found our road and sped our way towards Icy Bay.

Reaching our resupply was a milestone…

Speed—oh how elusive it had been over the past two days. Though the rain was still our constant companion, our spirits were rising as our tires rolled unimpeded down a hard packed gravel road. Relief from the sand and the wind was welcomed by all. As we flowed past raspberry bush after raspberry bush and giant piles of bear scat, we understood the cause for Skurka’s warning. We were once again reminded that we were visitors in this wild land.

The raspberries were oh so good…

Finally—some hard pack… —Photo courtesy of Steve “Doom” Fassbinder

Our jubilation at being able to freely spin the cranks was short lived…after four miles or so, our road ended in a bramble of impenetrable trees, bushes, and dead fall. In a mere six years, the forest had reclaimed what had been its domain long before man ever imposed his will. With the roar of the ocean still in earshot, we abandoned the remnants of Skurka’s lost road, and pushed, pulled, lifted, and manhandled ourselves and our reloaded bikes down a maze of a gully back to the beach. Our riding high plummeted as quickly as it rose. Little had changed on the beach in those four quick miles…the sand was still soft; the rain was still falling with no sign of respite, and the wind was still blowing into our faces.

After the loss of our road, we headed back to the beach.

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TO BE CONTINUED…

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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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