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ADVENTURE BY BIKE®

Wild & Unknown Alaska

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:

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.

 

The Route:

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.

River Crossings:

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.

The People:

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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Photography by Jason Boucher, Consumer Bike Brands Manager at Quality Bicycle Products, aka Gnat of ImagineGnat

 

This post filed under topics: Bikepacking Explore Fatbike Justin Julian Mountain Biking Mukluk Travel

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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!

COMMENTS (26)

Pat Irwin | October 2nd, 2013

Justin,

It was an absolute pleasure riding with y’all and our door is always open. Kathy says you can grill our roadkill anytime!

Cheers,

Pat

MikeBike | October 3rd, 2013

We Alaskan cyclists are always happy to hear of the joys of a fresh set of eyes, ears, and tiretracks in the Land of the Midnight Sun.  Thanks for a pleasant read.

Joe | October 3rd, 2013

Is there a tour company or something that runs a trip similar to this? I need to experience it. ASAP

Josh Spice | October 3rd, 2013

Great story, JJ. Best trip of the year, for me. It was a pleasure to share this experience with y’all. Now, you have to come back in winter! I’ll host :)

Pat Irwin | October 3rd, 2013

Joe,

We don’t have a tour company leading this trip…yet…but it’s a pretty easy route to follow and we can give you all the important info to do it safely. Heck, if the Hillbilly can do it…
The tides are the most important thing to be aware of and really low ‘Clam’ tides are the best time. We didn’t have Clam tides on this trip so the river crossing were not as easy as they can be.  Feel free to contact me if you want more info or some company on this awesome ride.

Pat

joe | October 3rd, 2013

how do i get in contact with you?

Kid Riemer | October 3rd, 2013

Joe - I’ll contact you separately via email and get you in touch with Pat. Watch your email box.

Travis Butler | October 4th, 2013

I would also like info on how to do this trip.  I know I (and others) would be willing to pay to have a guide to help with logistics.

Bjørn | October 4th, 2013

Justin- were you referring to crumbs of food, or my gems of sage wisdom?? :)
Great write-up. It’s always nice to meet new folks and find that they too don’t mind getting their feet wet to see what is on the other side of the river.

Derek | October 4th, 2013

Thanks for being open to me crashing your scene for a night.  I would have preferred to take the idyllic pace you all savored instead of the beach eating rally my overbearing sense of duty required.  Come again soon.

pat irwin | October 5th, 2013

FYI,

Derek of Cyclogical Bike Shop, a fatbike heavy shop here in Homer, and a recent commenter on this post, is planning on offering guided beach bike trips in 2014. I’ll let Derek take it from here and Salsa Kid can post additional info as he sees fit.

Thanks for all the interest and I hope I can guide some of you in the future. And thanks to Salsa for keeping the enthusiasm alive!

Pat

Chris | October 6th, 2013

Justin/Kid,
What tires did you guys find were best for this type of riding? I have a Muk with the Surly Nates and am thinking they may not be best for sand…

I’m over in Kodiak and was just thinking it would be pretty awesome to throw my bike on the ferry and take it over to Homer to do a week there this coming summer… 

I would also be interested in your choice of clothing for this type of trip…

Chris
The Coast Guard guy in Kodiak, AK

pat irwin | October 6th, 2013

Chris,

First off, thanks for your service!

Second, we had all the fat tires represented, including 29+, and they all do fine on these beaches. I can’t say one shines over the other so your Nates will be fine. Go out to Surf Beach at low tide and that’s what the Kenai Beach sand is like, wet and firm.

Let us know when you hit the mainland and we’ll ride the beach.

Pat

Chris | October 6th, 2013

Will do, thanks Pat!

Kid Riemer | October 8th, 2013

Chris - I agree with Pat. Your Nate’s will do just fine. I’m a member of the ‘use what you’ve got’ club and just enjoy the experience.

When you do wear out your tires…of if you’ve got a wad of cash burning a hole in your pocket, I’d consider Larry’s for beach riding. To me, they offer plenty of traction. Nate’s definitely offer more traction and on sandy rides I can always tell that the Nate’s have thrown more sand up and into my shoes.

But again…run what you brung.

Pat Irwin | October 8th, 2013

I’ll add to Kid’s reply that we mostly ride the firm wet sand after the tide goes out. The last photo in JJ’s post showing the tread mark in the firm wet sand is what we’re riding on. It’s the floatation and contact patch that matters more than the tread design, and I’ve found that Endomorphs work as well as any tires on the beach.

I think a lot of folks think we’re riding on warm loose CA/FL sand, but we’re not. We’re riding the firm packed sand after the tide goes out, which along this stretch of the Kenai Peninsula Beach exposes up to a 1/2 mile wide swath of awesome riding that is under water at high tide. At higher tides we do ride in the loose stuff above the high tide line where traction does matter more, but mostly we’re on the firm stuff. You just have to experience it! Bring whatever fat tire you own and have a ball!

Oh, and the best part is it’s a great ride year-round!

Chris | October 8th, 2013

Thanks Kid/Pat! 

I can’t wait to get over there next summer…  I just hope they have two ferries back running so I can make the timing work…

Chris

Diego | October 10th, 2013

Thanks Pat and Kid for sharing this fantastic adventure! Enjoy the trails!

Pat Irwin | October 10th, 2013

I’ll add one last thought before this post gets relegated to the next page. As I said the beach riding here on the Kenai Peninsula is great year-round. But in winter it gets even better when we combine the awesome snowmachine trails in the Caribou Hills, making a great 150 mile loop starting in Homer to Clam Gulch on trails then ride the beach back to Homer like we just did with Salsa. Or do it the other way, either way it’s great!
I don’t think there are many places in the world where you can ride snowmachine trails right out to a beach that has such a huge tide swing that it offers awesome beach for a few days worth of riding. Yep, this truly is a magical place!
Now if we can only get Salsa to come back this winter….

Josh Spice | October 10th, 2013

Hell, I’ll come down this winter for that, Pat! Great idea!

Errin | October 10th, 2013

I seem to remember you smiling when we opened our bags and started pulling beers and snacks out Justin. I think that road detour was a b-b-b-bonus!

Errin | October 10th, 2013

I can’t say enough good things about the entire Salsa crew and everyone that I met on this trip. To say it was life changer just doesn’t seem to be enough. Thanks to all involved and I look forward to pedalin’ or pushin’ bikes with all of you in the future.

GunsandTacos | October 16th, 2013

Just wanted to say that I really enjoyed this story and the great photos.  Homer is certainly a highlight- a wonderful town full of great people. I’ve visited there on fishing trips, but a fat tire bike ride sounds like an equally great excuse to visit. Sure enjoy my Vaya in Houston, works perfectly for a not-so-road bike friendly city. Again, thanks for the great read.

Josh Spice | October 16th, 2013

Two more videos from this trip…
Bjorn’s: https://vimeo.com/68258659
Mine: https://vimeo.com/69349175

Enjoy!

Alex Kanastab | March 3rd, 2014

Hey guys, just wanted to see, what seat pack are you guys riding?

Justin Julian | March 3rd, 2014

I use a Revelate Design Viscacha Seat Bag.  That is the one you see in the pics.

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