Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Day 22 - Denali Highway - Part 1

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

The Denali Highway, Alaska Route 8, is actually a misnomer, it's really not an highway but mostly a dirt and gravel road.  Most of the 135 miles of this road cuts through a very desolate area of Alaska and during my entire ride I came across one car going in the opposite direction.

As I was getting my bike ready to leave Cantwell, I see a BMW go by and noticed it is a woman riding.  She pulled into the main building where the restaurant is, not shown in the photo below.  I was curious to see who this adventurer was and after packing my bike I head to the restaurant for breakfast.
Below is the place I spent the night in Cantwell, a prefab building with the showers at the end of the corridor.

Outside the restaurant was another BMW GS which I hadn't seen.  I go in and see a beautiful woman and her male companion sitting at a table busy typing on their laptops.  I go over to talk to them, she looks up and the first thing I notice is her beautiful eyes, she smiles and says "hola!".  She introduces herself as Alicia Sornosa, I immediately knew she was Spanish by the accent but at the time had no idea who I had just met.  She tells me she's from Spain, had just come down from Prudhoe Bay and was now riding south through North America and then South America.  Her male companion keeps on working on his laptop, most likely updating his blog, and doesn't say much.  We chat for a while, she tells me she's planning on riding around the world and she's not married.  We exchange contact info and much later I find out she's well know in the motorcycle community.  Her blog is in Spanish but you can use Google to translate to English:

I took this photo from Alicia's Facebook page:  She's currently in Bolivia,South America.

I have my cup of coffee, say goodbye to Alicia and head out to the Denali Highway.  I had heard stories about this road that cuts across Alaska from Cantwell to Paxson, but not all stories had been good.  I enter the road alone with a little apprehension.
Quote: "The highway is now little used and poorly maintained, and closed to all traffic from October to mid-May each year" Wiki

The weather was miserable on this day, cold and with menacing clouds in the horizon.  I make my first stop at the Seattle Creek.  You will notice the road is already wet, it would get much worse later.

Second stop at the Brushkana River where I wonder off a little, climbing the hill next to the river, but I had been warned that this is bear country and to be careful.  I kept an eye and ear out to any sounds around me but all was quite.  Notice the dark clouds over my head.  A drizzle was coming down by now.

I would put the stretch of road from Coldfoot to Deadhorse as the best part of my adventure and the Denali Highway in second place.  The scenery is stunningly beautiful, a sight that filled me with awe,  admiration and a little fear at the same time.  At one point I just stopped the bike and sat in the middle of the road for a while, thinking about what I was doing, about my family which I hadn't been able to communicate with since I had left Fairbanks, what if my bike broke, what if I had a flat tire, all the different scenarios racing through my head.

About halfway I come across this truck on the side of the road and then notice a house and store/coffee shop.  The day was cold and a cup of coffee showed up just at the right time.  I park the bike and enter the place.  An old couple lives here year round and own the coffee shop and a towing business.  He was carrying a gun at his side and after a long chat with the owner I find out they have lived here for a long time and his wife is always carrying a gun with her.  I asked them if they not afraid at night and he tells me they both sleep with a gun at their side.  He was very anti Obama and his policies.

The inside of the coffee shop is covered in dollar bills. We had a long and interesting political conversation, notice the Obama picture.  His views on guns were pretty much aligned with mine and he was very interested in how I had come from Mozambique to the US, all the way from the southern part of Africa.

I leave the coffee shop and continue east stopping again when I came upon this rather large river which I can't remember seeing a sign for it.  The wooden deck bridge is quite long and is only a few feet above the river.  I stop about halfway, not much traffic to worry about, and simply enjoy the view.  The air was quite brisk and there was a cold drizzle coming down as you can see from the spots on the camera lens.  I sat on the side of the railing for at least 15 minutes, enjoying life with a little quietness with only the occasional wind gust breaking the silence.

The road goes through the Maclaren River Valley and offers beautiful views towards the north of the Maclaren Glacier.  I made a few more stops along the way and have way too many photos to include in this blog.  There are quite a few pullouts along the way but you can stop anywhere along the way to enjoy the views.

About three quarters of the way the road goes through a long flat stretch with unbelievable mountain views to the north.  I stopped in one area where I could climb a little hill on the side of the road for a better photo and was about 100 feet away from the bike, trying to get to the top when I look down and see this huge bear paw that stopped me in my tracks.  I couldn't believe the size, about 6 inches wide and each print spaced far enough to suggest this was from a big Grizzly bear.   I stood there motionless listening for noise, my bike 100 feet away and the engine not running.  Luckily the bushes here are pretty low, I felt comfortable knowing I would see a bear easily coming towards me.  I took one photo of the paw print and slowly backtracked back to my bike, whereupon I immediately start the engine just in case I have to make a run.

This is the beautiful view I was trying to capture from the top of the hill with my bike in front but instead got it from the side of the road where my bike was stopped.  

Quote from "here"
Today the Denali Highway is an often overlooked treasure taking the traveler back to Alaska's rich prehistoric past, it's colorful gold rush history and the awesome wilderness that remains throughout much of the state. No longer the primary route to Denali National Park, the highway is lightly traveled on the 133 miles between Paxson and Cantwell. Gravel after the first 21 miles, the road is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace

To be continued......

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