Anchorage to Seward to Hope

Alaska is way too big to squeeze into a single two week trip so for this, our first Alaskan adventure, we focused on the Kenai Peninsula. We flew into Anchorage, spent a couple days making sure our bikes were put together properly while playing and exploring Kincaid Park with our friend and host Susan. Yes, Portland, Anchorage has access to mountain bike trails within the city limits! I knew Paul LaCava had been to Alaska recently, so I got the download from Paul on where to ride. He mentioned the Kenail 250 race, so we took parts of that route and figured out which trails were worth doing.

Once we left Anchorage we drove straight to Seward. Our friends had told us that no trip to Alaska was complete without getting on the water. Since we wanted to ride trails by bike, that meant a six hour boat tour. I wasn't sure what to expect, but we got lucky with weather and had sunny skies and glassy seas. On that one boat ride we saw calving glaciers, dolphins, humpback whales, oracas, sea otter, sea lion, moon jellyfish.

Back in Seward, we asked a ranger about tent camping opportunities and they pointed us to the Exit Glacier campground. Wow! we were so impressed with the facilities in all the campgrounds in Alaska. Exit Glacier had a communal cooking area, with a designated food storage area, clean toilets, nice campsites, and it's completely free! We even had a ranger come by in the morning and ask if anyone had any questions and wanted to know if they could help out with anything. When is the last time that's happened in Oregon?

A note about bears: Oh man! I couldn't have a conversation about Alaska without the threat of bears being brought up. I mean, I get it–Alaska is grizzly country. It's their habitat. But to get beyond the hype, they don't want anything to do with humans for the most part. The big threat–the situation you're trying to avoid–is to startle a mama bear and getting between her and her cubs. That's when things turn ugly quickly. So to avoid these unpleasant encounters, the trick is to make a bunch of noise–carry your bear bell, sing your songs, have loud conversation on trail. Bears can smell you coming. Humans are stinky. Another precaution you should take is bear spray. Fifty bucks at REI gets you 10 ounces of pepper spray. Keep it within reach, not buried in your pack. The next way to keep bears out of your hair is to keep your food in bear-proof containers when you're not on trail. We thought we had to carry a bear-resistant container, but the last thing we wanted to do was spend another $75 on bulky piece of ABS polymer that wouldn't really fit in any of our bags, so we did the simplest thing, which is sticking to campsites with bear boxes. At the end of the day that's success. The only bear sighting we had was the stuffed bear at the airport while we were standing in the security line. I'm OK with that.

Lost Lake Trail to Primrose and back

The next day we set off to ride Lost Lake Trail. The plan was to ride from the Lost Lake trailhead to Primrose campground. This is not a huge ride in terms of mileage, but this was to be our first loaded ride in Alaska, so it was a bit of a test to see how it went on legit singletrack. According to our Garmin files it took us just over 3 hours of ride time, but once above treeline we wanted to linger, stop and eat food, take pictures, so we did. OH! the scenery. This has to be one of the most scenic if not the most scenic routes I've ever done. It really is breathtaking. Lost lake trail at the beginning feels a bit like Oregon with its lush forest, but once you get above the tree line it opens up to spectacular 360 degree vistas and alpine lakes. If you look back towards Seward you see the ocean sparkling, with misty layers of mountains echoing back into infinity. We kept wanting to compare it to places we had been…Northern Italy, France, or Switzerland. Tori said it reminded her a lot of New Zealand. But in the end all those comparisons fall flat, because it's Alaska, and it's even bigger than those other places and breathtakingly beautiful. The descent into Primrose was challenging with a loaded bike. At times it was steep, rocky and littered with roots. We rode most of it and walked the crazy parts. We stopped and picked blueberries. We stopped and chatted with a couple we had met at Exit Glacier CG. In hindsight I think I'd rather camp up by Lost Lake just for scenery, but you get bear boxes and views of Kenai Lake at Primrose CG. I wouldn't say we were bearanoid, but just wanted to take every precaution to avoid any grizzly encounters. We rode back to Lost Lake TH the following day. The climb out of Primrose to Lost Lake was definitely steeper than the climb from Lost Lake TH to Lost Lake and involved a decent amount of hike-a-bike. It was well worth it doing the route in reverse, since the trail is that gorgeous it deserves to be enjoyed from every possible angle. We stopped at Lost Creek to filter water and have a little lunch break. After lunch we took our time descending, savoring the views of snow-capped peaks and the ocean towards Seward.

Back In Seward we took coin-op showers by the boat docks, did some laundry at Suds N Swirl (they have a great black bean burger) got gelato at Sweet Darlings, stocked up on some groceries at Safeway, bought some more HEET stove fuel at Napa Auto Parts and then drove to Hope. Hope is tiny and it all seems to center around the Seaview cafe. Two things you need to know about the Seaview is craft beer and halibut sandwiches–or halibut fish and chips–those might actually be better in my opinion. But I'm getting ahead of myself. You can tell where my priorities lie…first we did our best to not be eaten by mosquitoes as we pitched our tent at the Porcupine campground. You know, $14 for a bear box, a picnic table, toilets, and a place to park the car. Then we made a beeline for the Seaview. The Seaview was packed. There are three distinct scenes there: the dining room, the deck, and the bar–complete with a band doing loud 80's covers like 8675309/Jenny and goofball originals. Not great music my any means, but it felt completely appropriate for the scene. The next morning we woke up early–for us, since we wanted to hit trail at a reasonable time, and headed to Tito's Discovery Cafe. I had asked the waiter at the Seaview the night before if it was any good and he just kinda shrugged and said it was the only option. Unfortunately Tito's seemed like it had just had one of those Home Depot makeovers, where it's all new drywall and cheap kitchen fixtures and left it with zero small town Alaska charm, just new and tidy. I would have loved to visit when it still looked like a double wide. My blueberry pancakes tasted like a Bisquick mix. Tori liked her scramble. The highlight was talking to the guy next to us a the bar. He was proudly telling about his new job as security for the mining companies. He basically got flown into the backcountry by helicopter with the scientists, carried a shotgun and made sure no one got eaten by grizzlies. We told him our plans to do four days on Resurrection and he said to make sure we got off trail and climbed a peak or something.

Day 1 on Ressurection Pass

Lost Lake was a good warm up, but now we're ready for the real test: Resurrection Pass. On the way to the trailhead we stopped at the Hope post office to mail postcards. It was a quick drive to the trailhead parking lot via windy, smooth dirt roads. At the trailhead the car exploded and we did our nervous pack-the-bikes-and-don't-forget-anything-important dance. Make sure you've got 4 dinners and 3 breakfasts! How much stove fuel do we really need? You've got the tent poles, right? How many pairs of bib shorts do I need? The correct answer was one. I'd say, for a race we carried a lot of stuff, for the take your time touring that we were doing, we trimmed it down to the essentials. The weather was supposed to be nice for at least the first couple of days, but that can change quickly in Alaska. It took us a good hour and a half to do that dance, but we felt good about what we had packed, and that's half the battle. Before this our longest overnight trip had been a one night, two day shake down on Mt. Hood. We were excited and nervous.

Here we go! Resurrection Pass! jingle jangle of bear bells. The first thing that struck me about the trail is that it was nothing like Lost Lake. There was sustained climbing, but it was so much gentler. This was more of a proper bikepacking trail.  We were really reminded that no two trails are the same. Resurrection starts slowly with rolling terrain in the woods, through drainages and many creek crossings. From the book Hiking Alaska– “The North end of the trail is rolling and forested, with some scenic bluffs above Resurrection Creek between Fox Creek and tree line. The lower end of the north trail threads through a mix of conifer forest of Sitka and white spruce and its natural hybrid, Lutz spruce. Caribou Creek, Fox Creek and East Creek cabins and nearby campsites are good destinations from the Hope trailhead. The Hope end of the trail passes gold-dredge tailings and an overgrown mine site, each a good reminder of the area's past. Around 1890 a prospector found a small amount of gold on Resurrection Creek, setting off a series of gold stampedes to Cook Inlet later in the decade. The lower part of the trail is on an old mining road, following an easement across mining claims.” All good info. Parts of the trail are narrow double track and you get a feel that you're on a trail with history and it's fun to imagine how it was used. Also, that explains the gentle grade of the trail, since whoever made the trail originally would have been looking for the easiest path through the terrain. We were happy to discover there is no shortage of water. I was carrying three 24 oz. bottles and probably 1.5 liters in my pack, which was total overkill. I think our first water refill was Fox Creek. Tori was starting to get tired at this point–we had just done Lost Lake and back in the past two days–but I really wanted to get above treeline, so we pushed on to the first campground after Devils Pass. We met our first bunch of marmots–they're bascially ground hogs–they signal each other to let their crew know we're approaching. Aside from birds, they're the only wildlife we'll see, which I find strange. I was hoping to see some mountain goats at least. I love the trail above treeline. It’s alpine tundra–raw and sculpted. I love being able to see where the trail is going. The elevation isn’t extreme by any means. Resurrection Pass starts at sea level and goes up to about 2300 feet. After a short, fun, flowing descent after the turnoff to Devil’s Pass, the trail turns quickly left, crosses Juneau Creek, and then turns again quickly right. There is a campground. The signage indicates a campground just up the hill from the trail, but it’s unnamed. I had a hard time finding a proper guide to all the campgrounds online, but it’s 23.5 miles from the Resurrection Pass North Trailhead–from the trail you can still see Devil’s Pass Cabin. We filter water for dinner and breakfast, set up the tent–100 feet away from the bear box, mind you and quickly boil water for our dehydrated buffalo chili. It wasn’t a huge mileage day, but it is our third consecutive day of riding and camping and the day has been primarily climbing–gentle climbing–but climbing with a loaded bike still takes is out of you. We do dishes and brush teeth at the creek, put all of our pots and pans and food in the bear box and retire to the tent, satisfied with a good day on trail.

 While making our coffee/tea and oatmeal breakfast (the oatmeal packets turned out great–I'll post the recipe soon) we get a visit from a ranger who had come to install signage for the newly installed toilet. She had hiked in with her kids and spent the night at Devil’s Pass cabin. Talking to her, we found out she’s a mountain biker as well. We ask her 20 questions about the route, what trails are best on the Kenai, bears, and more importantly if there are any good food options on the South end of the trail. She recommends the Princess Lodge, run by Princess Cruise Lines. Apparently Princess owns quite a bit of land in Alaska. Saturday is also race day. Not for us, but we knew that the Soggy Bottom 100 race is today–60 racers will be coming through today. Their route starts in Hope, up Resurrection Pass Trail to Devil’s Pass, then Devil’s Pass out and back, then riding the rest of Resurrection to the South trailhead, making a U turn and riding all the way back to Hope. Sure enough, the exact moment we set foot on trail we look back to see three racers pushing hard, chasing each other down the trail. We step back, give them a “GO GO GO!” and then follow at our pace. It’s a fun change having so much company on trail that day, and really changes the mood. It’s odd to be so far away from anything and have so many people on trail. We see every kind of bike on trail, hardtails, rigid forks, full suspension, fat bikes, men, women, teenagers–we cheer them all on equally. I think we probably picked up the pace on race day, trying to stay with the racers as long as possible.  At Juneau lake we sit down on the shore and have a quick lunch of beef jerky and trail mix.

At Bean creek we take a left and bomb downhill towards Coopers Landing. All we know is that a hot meal awaits us there. When we hit the gravel road we see a group of 5 men and women loading panniers on mountain bikes. They ask us about our setups and we tell them the bags are made by Revelate in Anchorage–look them up. One thing we came to admire about Alaskans, is that they’re not too concerned about doing things the right way, they just get out and do things their way, with the gear that they have. It feels weird to be back in civilization. It feels hot and crowded and the fun pigs are zooming their pickups and SUVs hauling boats down Highway 1. We find the Princess Lodge with no real problems. As soon as I see the Princess cruises logo on the signage I have an ‘aha’ moment “Oh that Princess Lodge” We lean our bikes against the log cabin lodge wall and head straight into the dining room. We’re the only cyclists in dirty kit, but we’re not too concerned. We inhale the best Caesar salad we’ve ever had. The romaine is crisp and juicy and the dressing is as tangy and salty as it should be. It’s exactly what we haven’t had on trail. We haven’t really been out there that long yet, but the calories are welcome. I order a Denali gold and a Rafter burger and fries. Tori orders a halibut sandwich. The burger is fantastic and reasonably priced by Alaskan standards. We chat with a couple ladies that were doing a cruise and chat up the waitress for local info. We’re after ice cream and sunscreen. She points us to the RV park and if that doesn’t work, try Wildman’s, just down the road. The RV park store doesn’t have much, so we do the extra mile or so down to Wildman’s on Highway 1. Wildman’s is hot, stagnant, and full of people. I quickly lose my ice cream craving, so we grab our sunscreen and a coke and hit the road asap. That was enough ‘convenience’ and we’re anxious to get back to living in the woods for a bit, even though it’s now the hottest part of the day and we have to ride back up what we just bombed down. I’m not at my best climbing after a burger and a beer, but I’m full of calories and the climb goes quicker than we thought. By the time we make it back up to Resurrection Pass, the only thing left of the Soggy Bottom crew is tire tracks and it feels like afternoon. Before you know it we’re at a campsite and we’re ready to camp for the night. We don’t find a bear box and the mosquitoes are biting, so we decide to go take a peek at Roming Cabin. Resurrection Pass has 8 different cabins that you can reserve six months in advance. The cabins cost $35 a night and are pretty deluxe. They’re new looking, well maintained, have wood stoves and bunks to fit four to six people. Romig is right on Juneau lake and even comes with its own canoe! Maybe next time, eh?

Day 3 is sort of a quiet day on trail. We have to climb the overgrown, muddy, rocky descent we came down yesterday. Some of it we climb, some of it we hike. That's just how it goes. We catch up with the group that was heading out as we were heading into Cooper Landing. We ditch the bulk of our gear at trusty camsite #1, set up our tent and start climbing, mostly unloaded towards Devil's Pass. It feels odd to not have the weight we've gotten used–the bike feels jumpy in comparison. We get to Devil's Pass cabin and decide to have a look inside. It's not as big as Romig, but has a spectacular view of the valley towards Swan Lake. Devil's Pass trail is as beautiful as they said. We enjoy riding unloaded but we start to feel pressure from the gathering clouds, so we hang out a bit in Marmot land, before heading back towards Devil's Pass Cabin and our campsite. This is the first threat of rain we've had on this trip, so we get the tyvek tarp (they sell it by the foot at Mountain Shop) set up in the trees and get down to making dinner. Every night we're grateful to have the dehydrated meals ready to. Dinner is as simple as boiling water and waiting five minutes for rehydration. It's fun to huddle under the tyvek and watch storm clouds roll through.

Day 4 is going to be the rainy day on trail it seems. Tori coordinated to meet Susan at Devil's Pass Cabin at 11:00, so we make breakfast, break down camp and still have time for a game of Go Fish! before heading out for the day. Tori wisely brought newspaper plastic bags to put over our socks and under our shoes. I'm amazed how well they work to keep my feet warmer and keep the wet out. Best DIY vapor barriers ever. We figure we'll have to wait 15 minutes or so for Susan to show up, so Tori gets ready to ask the cabin guests if we can hang out on their porch while we wait. To our amazement Susan rides up just at that moment. I should have guessed she'd be timely. Pilots have to be on time. Susan rode up Devil's pass to ride with us to the North trailhead. Susan just moved from Portland to Anchorage and hasn't done Resurrection Pass yet. It's nice to have the company for the day. Susan has a long history of orienteering events and long mountain bike rides, so we don't worry about her a bit. She's always upbeat and up for an adventure. It's a ripping extended downhill and we finish in about four hours. We run into the Alaskan family with two kids and a big lab that were on their way to hike the entire trail. Dad has the gun strapped to his chest and an 80 pound backpack and is dressed head-to-toe in camo. Down the trail a bit we meet their friends who are on mountain bikes. The teenage son is zip-tying his rear rack back on his bike. The two girls are happily eating goldfish. Mom has pigtails and is wearing just a t-shirt and bibshorts–she seems oblivious to the wet weather and talks to us excitedly. They seem like a classic adventurous Alaskan family–just out there going for it, not a care in the world, completely at home 10 miles into a 15 mile day. The last miles of the day go quickly, finding good lines over wet roots, crossing streams, splashing through puddles. Before you know it we start to signs that we're getting close to the trailhead, signage that we saw on day one, a cabin, a group of day-hikers cheering us up the last grunty climb. I start to get that hesitation where I feel sad that I hurried back to the car, that I gobbled up the descent instead of savoring it in slow motion. We know this was special and we want to make it last. But we're also anxious to strip out of wet chamois and get to the Seaview for fish-n-chips and a beer. Tori flats just as she's crossing the bridge to the parking lot. Our only flat of the whole trip!  We strip the bikes bare, wash bags and kit in the river and think back to the last four days. It's been a huge success–75 percent perfect weather, zero crashes or mechanicals, no bear sightings. We were able to leave our anxieties, one by one at each stream crossing and get to a point where we felt not only safe, but really comfortable living by bike on trail. The ability to take everything you need to live with you and arrive safely under your own power is such a great feeling. Of course we see the same group of Alaskan bikepackers chowing down at the Seaview. My fish-n-chips is the best I've ever had–there's nothing so satisfying as a well-earned meal. Susan and Jay go Salmon fishing right out the front door and we head back to Anchorage.

Our final day in Alaska is spent doing laundry and packing the bikes to fly home. Susan joins us for dinner at the Rustic Goat, which is urban modern fancy wood fired pizzas, pear and brie “seasonally-inspired uncomplicated American fare” It's interesting to see this trendy, gentrified, aspect of Anchorage, but here it is. It's a nice meal with a good friend and a perfect wrap to a great trip. We talk about the multiple trips that we have to come back for. Alaska, you charmed us pretty good. We know you can be hard, and you have a lot to teach us. We'll be back for more!