ADVENTURE BY BIKE®
To me, Alaska has always seemed like a far off wild country with no rules or laws. It seemed like a place where there might be more wild animals drinking beer at the bar than humans. I pictured few paved, and mostly minimum maintenance, roads that had car-swallowing ruts for miles. I imagined that people there carried guns on their hips, and the sheriff wore a cowboy hat with a tin star under his duster. These were the visions that floated through my dreams as a youngster longing to visit a not-yet-settled land.
My dreams started to come true when we announced the winner of our Reveal the Path contest. Erinn Vasquez solicited five more votes than the next closest contestant in the final minutes of voting. Click here to see his winning video. It was official, we had a winner and we needed to draw straws to determine which lucky Salsa team members were going to get the privilege to go to the beaches of the Kenai Peninsula. The straw drawing came shortly after we shipped Erinn his sweet new Mukluk Ti, the other half of his winnings.
Bobby Dahlberg and I came out the victors, and it only took a few weeks for the tears from the rest of the crew to dry. My mind found this an amazing excuse to buy a bucket load of new gear. And I do mean a bunch…quite possibly too much. But that theme seemed to be the same for everyone on the trip. From tents to cookware, to new camera gear, the folks on this trip found ways to make it memorable.
The trip was arranged to ride the same section of beach from Clam Gulch to Homer as is seen in the film Reveal The Path. We set out for three full days of riding with a day up front to test our gear and get a warm-up ride in, and a day after as a free day for travel and sightseeing. For Bobby and I, the free day would be for salmon fishing.
Day one we journeyed to Resurrection Pass. We heard of beautiful views of waterfalls and other tranquil Alaskan landscapes. On loaded Mukluk’s we set out for a climb. The gravel from the parking lot turned to singletrack and we headed up. And we headed up some more. This year, Alaska had a winter that lingered on much like most of the upper Midwest and their season was three to four weeks behind schedule. But the bike gods smiled down on us the whole trip and gave us beautiful weather with plenty of sunshine and 70-degree days. The nights did dip down into the 40’s and 50’s, but it was comfortable with the sun shining in your tent…more on that later.
There is an ATV campground and parking area where we met up with the rest of the folks that joined us for the beach ride. Kathy and Pat from Free Spirit bike jerseys were the inspiration of the first trip and the guiding light for the second. They are the nicest two individuals that you will ever have the luck of meeting on a bike. And man can they ride! They are part of the Homer Bike Club, and assembled a crew of fatbikers to join us on the ride.
Night one was filled with introductions and stories of adventures around the campfire. Everyone was excited to ride the beach. Even those that had done the ride before, longed for the sand under their tires. So the night shinned on and a handful of folks took towards the beach for a late night photo shoot. I myself tried to figure out how to sleep with the sun shining brightly into my tent at midnight. A bandana over my eyes, and the aftereffects of the climb up Resurrection Pass helped me knock off. Rollout would be at 9AM.
I am an early-to-bed, early-to-rise type of guy, so when 5AM rolled around, I was ready to go. Bobby on the other hand is the total opposite. Needless to say I was the first up.
9AM may have come around quick for some, but we were soon on the beach and the ride began. Eagles have always been a majestic bird for me. And Alaska has bald eagles…lots of bald eagles. I didn’t let an opportunity pass without pointing out the bald eagles to my fellow riders. It started to become a joke by the end, but I really do enjoy those birds!
The first day would end at our first major river crossing. That night we would sleep on the beach near the town of Ninilchik. The pace was good for the first day, and the sights were abundant. The amazing part about being on this beach ride is that it really doesn’t matter if you go fast, or slow, or take pictures, or take naps; you just have to be to the river at low tide. If you are there before, you wait. If you miss the window and arrive late, you either get really wet, swept to sea, or you wait. So we took our time and made the most out of the opportunities for photos and mid-day naps.
I have to admit that the river crossings were the events I looked forward to the most. The tides are a wicked beast and the rivers flow with such fury as the water moves toward the sea. Tides were an ever-changing occurrence. The one thing that did stay consistent on the trip is that the morning tide was generally three to four feet below the low tide in the evening. That meant a river that appeared to be four feet deep in the morning could easily be seven feet deep during the low tide of the afternoon, sweeping you and your fatbike to become halibut food.
The first river crossing was fairly easy. You had to read the river. The wider the area for the water to move, the less pressure there is in the current. This time it meant there was a chance I could ride my bike across it! This river spread out nicely in the morning and we all did just that; rode across it. Some of us had better luck than others. Kathy lives for river crossings, as much as I do I believe. She was always the first one on the bike, slicing her way through the rapids and seashells. I tried to pick my route across where it was almost too deep, but not deep enough to capsize my Mukluk. Bobby however took a wrong turn at Albuquerque and dipped into the river up to his handlebars before the current decided he was finished riding his bike. Luckily he was able to collect himself quickly and get across.
The ride on day two was even more spectacular than the first. You knew you were going the right way when the ocean and volcanoes stayed to the right of you, and the cliff wall stayed to the left. Everything in-between was our playground. You really become a geologist on these types of trips. Which rock would be the best to ride on? What color of sand is the fastest rolling? You would think where the water hits the sand would be the best for riding since it is packed down the most…but that is not the case. The sand is so full of water at that time is actually sinks and slows you down quite a bit. The soft sand is difficult to navigate as well. And the craziest of revelations, the areas with tire tracks are no good for riding either. When the sand has been ridden over by a car, or a tractor, or a fatbike, it opens up…meaning now you get to it and the tilled sand is soft and swallows your tire. The sand that was a little dry, yet a little wet, was the best sand to ride on. If the beach had a few black pebbles in it, it was even better for cruising. After a few hours of testing the limits, you get good at finding the right section of beach to ride.
As the evening drew near, we approached our next water crossing. The Anchor River near Anchor Point, Alaska stood between our next campsite and us, and the Anchor River had no love for us. The river was roaring, the tide was low yet almost four feet higher than the morning, but we were determined to get to our next site. The long day of riding was coming to an end and we all agreed food in our bellies sounded like just what the doctor ordered. But first…we needed to get across.
We all attacked the river differently. Some went all the way out into the ocean. I, however, stayed in the middle. Looking hard for the area wide enough to slow the current down a few miles per hour, but shallow enough I might be able to pedal across. But there was no pedaling across this bad boy! Actually after the first few steps in I quickly realized the water was going to be above my waist. The rest of the crew found a spot, that although not much shallower, did break into two rivers giving some relief to the current. We all hoisted our bikes up on our shoulders and dove in. Well not all of us. A group of riders decided it would be safer to hit the road a few miles back and ride to our next camp spot. But I will leave their names out!
Across the river we all shook like wet dogs retrieving a ball from the lake, and just a mile later we were at camp. There is a little campsite just outside of Anchor Point that a few of us used and the rest of the crew set up on the beach. The campfire stories that night were fueled by the group that took the road, and the beer treasures that they generously brought back to camp. A beer by the midnight sunlight never tasted so good!
Day three was the most interesting day of riding on the beach. The section between Anchor Point and Homer is riddled with boulders, coal slabs, and rocks of all sizes. It is a trials riders dream. The group evenly split that day. A few riders stayed high using the loose gravely sand as their super highway. The rest of the crew stayed low winding in, out, around, and over rocks and other obstacles that stood planted in their path. I love picking lines, and connecting them as I figure out how to go a little faster than the mile before. This was the section of beach we also saw the most wildlife. Seals, otters, sea lions, octopus (RIP), starfish in tide pools, and eagles soared alongside us. Man, I love me some eagles.
We rolled into the sleepy little town of Homer that afternoon. Actually Homer is a beautiful town that should be on anyone’s list of to-do’s that visit Alaska. We had a nice lunch at the Two Sister’s Bakery that Kid likes so much. I can see why he has an affinity for the place. Then one last pedal down to Pat and Kathy’s house were we laid our bikes down for a long rest. Kathy was able to pull together fresh halibut, salmon and even some road-kill moose that I had the pleasure of cooking on their grill. The rest of the crew came over with greens and rice and other libations to celebrate our trip and the ride along the beach. It was a perfect ending to a perfect trip.
I left out many names up above because I wanted to talk about the people separately. Much of the enjoyment I get out of any bike trip is the camaraderie with the many folks I encounter. This trip was special, the people were special, and they really made this adventure come alive. Here they are with a short bio of the main characters:
Pat and Kathy: These two fine folks were the glue on the whole trip. Planners, advisors and friends of Salsa. These two have also done more bike trips that would blow your mind than any other couple alive. Including a frozen fatbike ride with the destination of Nome, Alaska in mind! They are happy when the weather is above -20 degrees. They are tough with the kindest hearts. They run a bike jersey business in Homer and ship all over the world through www.freespiritwear.com.
Kat: Kat joined us for the entirety of the trip. I believe it was her first bikepacking trip and the first time down the beach from point to point. She was a trooper. She was also the first on her bike and the first to pedal down the beach. Kat resides in Alaska all year except for a couple of months where she heads back to her home in Minnesota. And she also makes amazing kettle corn!
Josh and Jen: Josh is a park ranger that lives up in Fairbanks with his lady Jen. They both love fatbikes and are very talented riders. Josh lives for endurance races and the outdoors. Josh also rode the beach ride on his Mukluk with 29+ wheels and Surly Knard tires.
Bjorn: Bjorn is native Alaskan and has seen it all. By day, he guides by kayak, foot, or whatever means necessary, to see bears. Not always to see bears… but his bear stories were amazing. He is a talented photographer and free spirit himself. Bjorn would surprise you with what came out of his mouth morning, noon or night. He re-sparked my interest in slingshots as well!
Erinn: Erinn was the luckiest man alive. He won a Mukluk Ti and he won a trip to Alaska with Bobby and I. Hah! Erinn has an awesome background and job in working in the Hollywood circle, currently editing the Dr. Phil show. Erinn loves to ride and has fallen in love with fatbiking and sewing his own framebags and other gear. I look forward to my own custom piece with a custom fatbike patch!
Bobby: It was great to get to know him a little better. Bobby shares many passions of mine and he and I were able to go salmon fishing together on this trip, which was an experience worth a story of its own. Suffice it to say that he fell into the drink…and I snapped my fishing rod…and our fishing day ended early.
My first trip to Alaska was a real treat and it certainly won't be the last time I venture there. If you are able to, I highly recommend traveling to this great land.
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Justin Julian (Red)
I am lucky enough to be the General Manager of Salsa Cycles. I hail from central Missouri where the hills hide some of the most fascinating treasures. Moonshine being one of them, great singletrack being the second. Bikes have been an important part of my life from the ripe ol’ age of 3. I have raced, rode, crashed and enjoyed motorcycles for going on 34 years now. The bicycle has been a critical part of my motorcycle career (loosely used) in terms of training, enjoyment, rehab, and escape from the day to day. Both of these two-wheeled contraptions are the reason I exist. They are very much part of my life and being. Cycling and motorsports are also a strength and bond that connects my wife and two boys. Live to ride, ride to live!