An Alaska Fatbike Education

Before arriving at the Yakutat, Alaska airport neither Ryan or I had ever ridden a fatbike, pedaled on a beach, rigged a bike to a packraft, or actually done much of anything in a coastal environment. Which, for some reason, didn’t bother us at all. I damn near didn’t even bring a map. I mean, how hard could this be? You ride down the shoreline for a couple days, see how far you get, then turn around and ride back. None other than beach-riding pioneer and Anchorage resident Eric Parsons of Revelate Designs fame had called the wild coastline south of Yakutat the best beach riding in Alaska. What better place to learn the art of coastal fatbiking?

Or, another way of phrasing that could be “what better place to get your ass handed to you on the seat of a fatbike?”

Turns out riding wild coastlines in Alaska is no ride in the park, even if you’re in a park, which we weren’t (though we were a couple miles from Glacier Bay National Park). There were several reasons for our decisive ass-handing:

1. Riding beaches isn’t as easy as it looks in all those cool trip reports you’ve read. In other words, I don’t care how fat your tires are, you’re still riding a 50-pound bike on sand.

2. We made rookie errors. For instance, not being used to fatbikes we ran our tire pressure too high which cost us precious traction on looser sand, of which there was plenty. We also brought freeze-dried food but no stove, assuming fires would be easy and time abundant. But non-stop wind combined with ocean humidity made fire management more time consuming than planned causing us to miss precious riding time during low tide, when the firmest, fastest sand was exposed. Our packrafting transitions at water crossings the first couple days were also painfully slow, though by the end we were respectably quick. Had we been able to access a magical Alaskan time machine and do the trip over again we would have covered a lot more ground in our five days, I’m sure.

3. Alaska doesn’t #%*! around. Alaska doesn’t care if constant sun and sand-blasting wind drain your vital life force. Alaska doesn’t care if you assume finding fresh water will be easy (it won’t be). Alaska doesn’t care how you feel, or how prepared you are, or how you feel about grizzly bears sauntering through your camp. Alaska doesn’t play, and if you go up there to do just that, be prepared for the aforementioned ass-handing. It comes with the territory.

Not that we didn’t have a great trip, ‘cause we did. We just didn’t get nearly as far as we thought we would and the going was tougher than we imagined while looking at pretty pictures on our computers. It probably didn’t help that Ryan and I are both photographers and the landscape was so mind-meltingly beautiful that we were constantly stopping for “one more shot.”

Most importantly, we were transported to another world where we were constantly reminded of our insignificance in the face of all that is primal and wild. If you ask me now if you should go ride fat bikes on the coast south of Yakutat, one of the wildest strips of coast left on this planet, I will say: damn straight you should. It’s an elemental domain where bears run amok, whales leap from the sea, and eagles rule the skies. When’s the last time you rode your bike for five days through a place like that?



Writer and photographer Aaron Teasdale has taken bicycle tours on six continents—pioneering routes in the Andes, dodging Maasai warriors and herds of giraffes in Tanzania, exploring the former war zones of Vietnam with his veteran father, and piloting a tandem with a trail-a-bike on the back with his two sons on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route for six weeks—and would gladly go back and re-ride any of them any time. Except maybe for Trenton, New Jersey, which he rode through with the bike-touring band Bicycle for a story in BIKE magazine about ten years ago. That town was seriously sketchy. A former editor for BIKE and Adventure Cyclist magazines, he currently lives, rides, writes, and shoots in Missoula, Montana with his wife and two boys. You can read his story about the trip in Sierra magazine here


This post filed under topics: Beargrease Bikepacking Blackborow Bucksaw Explore Fatbike Guest Blogger Mukluk Overnighter Skills Touring

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Logan | October 7th, 2014

When I got back from a 6 month bikepacking trip in Africa, I found that issue of Sierra that my father-in-law had saved and left on my desk. Loved it!

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Rick F | October 7th, 2014

Reminds of the old saying:
“just because you love the outdoors doesn’t mean the outdoors will always love you back”

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Olov Stenlund | October 8th, 2014

Thats an honest and fantastic story. I wanna go there. The weird thing is even if i live even further up north we don´t have that kind of wild environment.

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