Saturday, February 15, 2014

Day 21 - Fairbanks to Cantwell

This post is a continuation of my Alaska trip in 2012 for anyone reading my blog for the first time.

Maybe last night's drinking wasn't a good idea, the sun came up and I rolled over and went back to sleep, the alcohol effects still being felt.  I slept until 9am and then took my time getting my things organized and transported down to the bike.  I was only planning on doing about 150 miles with a stop at Denali National Park.  I left the University and made a stop at a McDonald's for breakfast.  After a quick breakfast I head out to the George Parks Highway, Alaska Route 3 and with one last glance at the University I bid a sad goodbye.

54 miles later I cross the Nenana River and then pull over when I see the Taku Chief steamboat in Nenana.
When the tug boat Taku Chief began its career in Southeast Alaska in 1938, the age of steamboating on Interior Alaska rivers was dying.  Link

I spend some time reading the story of the tugboat and visiting the stores nearby, have a cup of coffee and then continue south.  A few miles down the road I cross the Nenana River again.

I find a place with access to the river, I leave the bike close to the road and proceed down to the river where I spend time admiring the beautiful scenery.

A while later out of the corner of my eye I see something moving in the distance.  I stop the bike after I realized it's a train.  As it gets near I see the name on the side, it's the famous McKinley Explorer.  I have always wanted to do an Alaska Cruise and then do the McKinley Explorer tour.
Holland America Line and Princess Cruises, both owned by parent company Carnival Cruises, operate the largest fleet of dome railcars in Alaska, including the McKinley Explorer. Link
I will have to convince my wife to do an Alaska Cruise, she doesn't like the cold but I think a trip on the McKinley would be wonderful.  Follow the link above for more info.

Another stop along the way as I get near the Denali National Park

I made one more stop to see the McKinley Chalet Resort and the various stores in the area.  Didn't take any photos, it's just a big tourist place and there were lots of people walking around.  Bought a few souvenirs and then continued to the entrance to the park.

The park is serviced by a 91-mile (146 km) road from the George Parks Highway to the mining camp of Kantishna.  You can only drive the first 15 miles (24 km) of the road which are available to private vehicles, the rest can only be accessed through concessionary buses.  You can see my bike below, I quickly climb the mountain and get an amazing view of a little section of the park.  The best part of the park is further in but I had no time for the tour.  It's best to get on the bus, take camping equipment and spend the night in the park.

This gives you an idea what I climbed, my heart was pumping like crazy and I only went about halfway

I was alone but found a place to perch the camera and used the timer to get a few photos.  It was a little tricky having to get to the spot and sit down with the 10 second timer.

This is what I climbed for the previous photos.

There's a pathway along the little river, I walk it for a few miles till I see a wooden bridge to cross over and then make my way back.

The other side of the river was under heavy shadow but I was able to get a few photos, the scenery is simply breathtaking.

I get back to the starting point but now I'm on the opposite side, luckily the bridge that allows the buses to continue into the park is in front of me.  I get to the bridge and sit there admiring this beautiful park, the vistas are simply amazing.

I walk down to the edge of the river and hear rustling noise near me.  I stop and stay motionless for a while trying to see where the noise was coming from.  Less than 10 feet from me is this little fellow, not sure what it is.  He wasn't afraid of me, kept getting near but always with a suspicious eye on me.

I get on the bike and start heading out of the park but a few miles up the road I see something I hadn't seen yet.  At first I wasn't sure but after stopping and pulling out the camera with the zoom I was able to see it better.  This is the view from the road, do you see anything out there?

I knew I had seen something and with the zoom I was able to see a reindeer laying on the riverbed.

Upon further investigation with the zoom, I see another one approaching.  I wait until it's near the other one before taking the photo, I couldn't believe I was seeing reindeer in the wild.

While taking photos of the reindeer this little guy approaches me on a nearby tree.  I get a photo of him and then hit the road.

I had planned on finding a camping site in Cantwell, about 25 miles down the road.  Cantwell sits at the junction of the George Parks Highway and the Denali Highway.  My plan was to cross the Denali Highway the next day.   I arrive in Cantwell and can't find a campsite but do see a little bar and I needed food.  I walk in and find out they have rooms in the back on a prefab building used by workers.  After asking if there was anything better, I'm told this is the only place with rooms, there are no motels in the area.  The lady at the bar shows me the room and I quickly accept it.   I was too tired from the previous night partying and in no mood to camp.  It was the best $35 bucks ever.  It was rudimentary but had a bed and a warm shower down the hallway.  I go back to the bar where the lady cooks me a huge burger with fries.  I really enjoyed it and took my time with a local beer which I can't recall the name.  There were a few workers drinking and singing which at first had me a little worried because my bike was going to be outside in a dark area but everyone was very friendly and after a while I knew the bike was going to be okay.  I go back to the room, take a quick shower and jump in bed.  The linen didn't look too fresh, I opted to sleep inside my sleeping bag.
I quickly fell asleep.

To be continued......


  1. Nice ride report, and beautiful photos! Although I'm a little's *never* that clear in Denali Park, lol!

    The "little guy" who snuck up next to you was a Ptarmigan -- they are all over interior Alaska, and I believe, are closely related to grouse.

    Also, you aren't entirely correct about the park road being closed to private vehicles. Every September, for four days (as I recall), they open the road to private vehicles all the way back to Wonder Lake. It's not a free-for-all; they hold a lottery for tickets to drive the road. Unfortunately, by late September, when they open the road, there's usually already plenty of snow in the area, and most times, even 4WD can't make it all the way to Wonder Lake due to road conditions.

    1. Mike, I was lucky on this day, had a beautiful day but you will see on my next post, a ride from Cantwell to Copper Center that I wasn't that lucky with the weather. Thanks for the info on the Ptarmigan.
      I got the info from the park attendant and later got more info from Wikipedia, that's great that they open the road but like you say, in September it's probably already covered in snow. I really don't get it why we can't drive all the way. There's millions of acres, how much damage could cars or bikes do on this part of the country? none IMO. Damn politicians, they screw everything for everybody. Alaska is so big with only a few roads.
      By the way, do you live in Alaska?

    2. Just saw your G+ profile and added you to my circles on my personal page and my Riding-the-USA page. I also saw that you live in Anchorage :-)

    3. Yep, I've been here since '89, but only started riding four years ago. Your photos from this trip certainly bring back memories :) I've rafted and kayaked the Nenana River, and I've done a little rock climbing in the area where you took the photos sitting on the rocks. It's definitely a paradise for outdoors types.

    4. You have amazing territory to see, not that many roads though, but lots of trails. I wish I lived closer.

  2. Great Post George! The bird looks like a Ptarmigan or a Quail.