Home » Cycle to Alaska » Headwinds Make the Journey Memorable – Earning our stay in Valdez, AK

Headwinds Make the Journey Memorable – Earning our stay in Valdez, AK

This post covers our bicycle journey from Tok, AK to Valdez, AK

Distance: 2,139 miles
Riding time: 185 hrs 29 mins
Elevation gain: 113,853 ft
Flat tires: Justin 1 and Melissa ZERO!

Day 30 Wednesday July 15, 2015
Lakeview Campground to Eagle Trails Campground
Distance: 72.5 miles
Ride Time: 5hrs 47min
Elevation gain: 2,729ft
Departure/Arrival: 7:15am/6:10pm

It feels as though time is going so slooowwly – but in the best way possible as we are enjoying every minute of it! Crossing the border from Canada yesterday, we bumped our clocks from 10am back to 9am, giving us extra time to ride, explore, and… well… try to hold back from eating dinner too early. I paused while Justin was building a campfire and asked (only half-jokingly), “Is 3:30 too early for dinner?”

Lakeview campground (solid name for this place)

 We both fell asleep quite early and by 5:45am this morning, we were both up and ready for the day having slept since 7:45pm! Breakfast consisted of me trying to choke down a few gulps of granola and dehydrated milk before starting the 58 mile trek to Tok. A headwind and bitter chill greeted us on the highway, but the sun was high and bright, and we hoped we would thaw in a few hours. Even with conditions against us, we somehow rode the rolling hill repeats at a descent pace, making it to Tok right at noon!

Light reading to avoid eating dinner at 3:30pm

 As we sprinted the last few flat miles into town, a mama moose and her calves greeted us on the highway, more concerned with their yummy lunches than dealing with us.  

We stopped at the only restaurant in town (but clearly a must-stop for anyone passing through) called Fast Eddy’s and both ordered cheeseburgers and fries. Reducing our hunger from critical mode to just somewhat empty pits, we rolled the 1/4 mile to the opposite side of town to the happening grocery store, where everyone was excited because an order just came in and there were fresh fruits and veggies! A pint of ice cream later, we decided to get our internet work done before re-stocking on groceries. Sadly, we learned the only internet in town was from a small gift shop that restricted bandwidth, so with our abilities cut down to slim to none, we moseyed back over to the grocery store.  

Squash, mushrooms, onion, apples, cookies, crackers, and cheese were highlights to the usual pasta, rice and lentils purchased. Any guesses on the price of a watermelon? $15!  

With our high hopes of Tok dashed in its minimal truck-stop glory, we pushed on with our first option in which road to take in a long time! We headed south towards Anchorage/Valdez and found ourselves on the flattest, straightest road we have seen the entire trip! 13 miles later, a slight bend came in the road and we quickly found ourselves at a campsite.

As we lightly pedaled around the grounds, we noticed there were no bear boxes. Having just passed a bear on the road, we were not too happy with this campgrounds set-up. An info board stated to put your food in the trunk of your car. Since ours is parked in Folsom, California, this suggestion was not going to do us much good. We explored the sites and found a young gentleman, about our age, alone at a site with a sweet expedition rig set-up.   

We shared a campsite with Alex from Alberta

 Alex works in farming in Alberta, Canada but it was easy to hear he was from France originally from the moment he started to chat with us. We hit it off immediately, talking about adventures and learning more about his rig, and ended up joining him at his camp for the evening. We loved his humor and curiosity, and shared tid-bits we had learned along the road, since he was headed from where we came from. And lo and behold, Alex was more than happy to store our food and scented items in his truck for the night. 

We all hit the hay around 7pm listening to the loud angry wind wrestling the birch trees that surrounded us.  

~ Melissa

Day 31 Thursday July 16, 2015
Eagle Trails Campground to Posty’s Post in Chistochina (population 86)
Distance: 73.1 miles
Ride Time: 6hrs 15min
Elevation gain: 33,255 ft
Departure/Arrival: 8:15am/5:20pm
Alex started rustling from his tent about 6:10am and I awoke from a light on/off morning sleep. I usually first wake-up around 5:15 when the sun is shining bright and the birds are chirping away and just enjoy the ability to doze… not many more days like this ahead for us as we get back into the school routine in a few weeks.

Justin got out of the tent first and Alex asked if he would like some coffee. He smiled and politely declined but said, “I know Melissa just jumped for joy hearing that. She would love some.”

Granted it was pretty rough instant coffee, I was more than ecstatic for the morning caffeine boost to get my legs working for the day. Each day we push on, I feel it is getting more difficult to recover from the prior day’s ride. This morning was no exception. We said our goodbyes to Alex, and went to filter water from the ground well pump that was rich in iron. Is it bad to drink iron infused water? These and many more questions I have for google… 

Tok cut-off highway

 The ride was slow to start the day, with a hellish headwind and frigid temps. It was not until 2 or 3 in the afternoon that the temperatures rose above 50 degrees. Hence, any time you stop, it must be brief or your core temp drops too low and my knees seem to ache the most.  

A touring cyclist from New York rode up while Justin and I ate lunch, and we were blown away by his minimalist set-up. He was pushing 110 miles + a day and had done a circuit around Alaska thus far. Fancy enough, he was a teacher from New York who was into endurance travels as well, having hiked the AT and cycled the continental divide trail in 23 days! 

 We pushed on to Chistochina, sneaking glances of 16,000+ ft mountains amongst a valley of trees. When we arrived at Posty’s Post, the only store in Chistochina, we met the owner Barb. She has lived in Chistochina her whole life – her parents came out during the early 1950s when folks were homesteading in Alaska. Today, she is the main hub for the village folks to buy food, cash their checks, or get a little fuel. Chistochina has a population of 84 people, and as we sat at the little table in the shop drinking hot drinks and munching on heated snacks, we chatted with perhaps a third of them. Such a sweet community, we were amazed by their stories as bush pilots, hunters, and explorers. We both feel this experience has been a major highlight, becoming immersed in a community so open to chat with us (While also thinking we were absolutely nuts to be on bicycles out here). Barb offered for us to stay behind the lodge in the soft grass tucked in the forest, as well as let us shower in her lodge’s washroom. 

Tonight, the rain is gently serenading us as I type away and Justin reads his book “Tisha” about a young teacher from Colorado who moved to Chicken, Alaska in the 1920’s to teach in a rural community. The atmosphere is peaceful and I love how quiet the town of Chistochina is when the highway tourist traffic dies down for the evening and the sled dogs have tucked in for the night after their evening barking celebration for chow. 

~ Melissa

Day 32 Friday July 17 2015
Posty’s Post in Chistochina to Grizzly Pizza “lodge” Richardson Hwy 4
Distance: 71.1
Riding time: 7hrs 17min
Elevation gain: 2,783ft
Departure/Arrival: 8:20am/9:30pm
Some hungry howling huskies woke us up to start the day and we hustled to break down and be the first to enter the post for some warm drinks. We ate some breakfast sandwiches and yogurt while enjoying meeting the morning locals coming in. Each greeted by name, they shared the latest local news and caught up on how they were enjoying the summer.

We said our farewells and were sent off by an older woman who spends the Winters in Hawaii. She didn’t hesitate in saying that she earned this privilege by spending 50 years worth of winters in Alaska. She piggy backed on Barb’s news of strong winds headed our way up the road…grrrrr. 

 The first 3 miles were pleasant and then all hell broke loose. The wind increased and began to smack us in the face. The trees swayed and forward movement came to a crawl. We passed some construction workers and no sooner than my handkerchief was ripped out of my pocket, did it blow away high into the wind like a rag doll. We gritted our teeth and initially had positive spirits and made slow progress. We stopped for a quick morning snack to avoid chilling too much and carried on with great views and strong, consistent gusts. 

Wind beaten in Glenallen

 Later on came a low point, when we were both so discouraged that we weren’t sure what to do. We both just wanted to be enjoying the final miles of this trip and the wind was hampering any enjoyment by keeping the momentum from ever cresting 9 mph. At points we would have a decline and be in our smallest front chain ring, trying to make forward progress by barely cracking double digits on the speedometer. By lunch we had covered just 30 miles and were feeling a little discouraged. Some cookies and chocolate milk aided in brighting our spirits but it was the genuine older woman, who ran a small store at a junction and gave us an offering of a large apple, that really perked us up. She then came outside to a picnic table we were sitting at to mention in her bubbly soft-spoken yet enthusiastic voice that there was no worry to wash the apple as she had already done so. I couldn’t help but be reminded of my own late grandmother and her cuteness in this moment.

We carried on and knew that we had a road junction in 15 miles that was a fine goal to aim for. Progress remained slow and we took another lengthy break while I chatted with two cyclists from Switzerland who were cycling to Central America with a 3 year old.

At this point we realized that the National Park Office was 15 miles down the road and they closed at 6 pm. If we wanted to make it there to get a stamp in Melissa’s National Park Passport we would need to move along and make faster progress. This fueled the fire and we got a twelfth boost of energy. We pushed and pushed and arrived to get a stamp and enjoy the canyon vistas of Wrangell-St. Elias National park – the largest national park in the U.S. and fifth least visited.  

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

 We had just 4 miles until a campground so with our eyes on the prize we continued. Arriving at the campground was in a bit of a sad state and it was $25 a night for all the fishermen looking to fish in the adjacent river. We quickly concluded that we would make dinner and reassess our situation in a post-hungry state. We enjoyed some pasta with sautéed onions and mushrooms and afterwards, decided that we would push on. To our surprise a campground arrived an hour later and we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to climb into bed exhausted and dream of windless miles.  

~ Justin

Day 33 Saturday July 18 2015
Grizzly Pizza to Valdez, AK!!!
Distance: 100 miles
Riding time: 9hrs
Elevation gain: 4,350ft
Departure/Arrival: 7am/6:05pm
A restful night sleep made up for being chewed apart by mozzies before climbing into the tent. We completed our morning routine of tea, tent take down, and some grindies before meandering down the Richardson hwy headed for what would be our final day of riding.   

Richardson Hwy to Valdez!

 The snowy peaks began to reveal their tops and the road descended before climbing towards Thompson pass, the highest point on this road. From the crest we could see hundreds of craggy peaks, most with glaciers dangling like gooey icing atop a cupcake. We bundled up, stood in awe, and snapped some photos before beginning a massive, glorious descent.  

 Seven miles and 2000 feet later, our toes and fingers numb, we laughed and smiled how that had boosted our riding enthusiasm meter through the roof. We also both commented about how we spotted an old-timer local just below the cloudy cold summit climbing in a sleeveless on a day ride, and how hard core he was.

This picture does NO justice for our epic descent into Valdez

 At the bottom of the descent we saw a Valdez welcome sign… Melissa let out a big holler about how unkind it is to welcome you to town when you are still 22 miles from the center. At least this town had noted it on the sign, while others have left her only muddling under her breath about how rude that is to a hungry cyclist.

The final miles take you along a winding river that feeds these awesome fiords and sound and the glistening peaks that surround them. We gobbled down some burgers and fries immediately upon arriving in town and went to the local Safeway for some desert. I was shocked walking around the grocery store, as many shelves were empty of food. There was only one option for milk left (0% fat) and a few old pies to choose from. 

Bridal veil falls , Keystone Canyon

 Here is where things got interesting. We had stopped at the campgrounds and learned that the going rate for a campsite is 30 smackers plus additional for amenities. I am all for paying a premium price when it is due, but in this case we are without a vehicle (no need for parking) and tents are situated in a sea of RVs atop a gravel spot or at best a slice of lawn. We were not too pleased to give more money in a night than we had for the entire trip up here for a less than warm and welcoming spot. 

Happy cyclists!

 We happened to spot a traveler with a backpack walking past the Safeway as we munched on our desert, pondering what to do. We asked her the usual questions of where are you from and where you headed?

We love meeting other travelers and sharing stories from the road!

 She was from Russia but now considered herself a Californian from San Jose and before we knew it we were pushing our bikes alongside chatting about travels. We concluded that if we shared a site we could all benefit by reducing the costs. Upon getting to the campsite she had purchased we learned that only one tent was permitted so she offered for us to share her tent. Ours turned out to be larger so sure enough we now have a new tent mate for the night! As we unpacked our sleeping bags in the tent, I turned to Melissa and said, “Congratulations honey, we made it to Valdez!”  

She smiled and said, “Yea, and our Russian friend made it too!” pointing to Alena’s sleeping bag next to her.   

We walked around Valdez and laughed at our turn of events, little did we know this was only the beginning of a great adventure in this amazing corner of Alaska.

~ Justin


Valdez, AK


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