Alaska: Bears and Bikes and the Midnight Sun
I have done this solstice ride for the past four years and can think of no better way to stay up and enjoy the "longest day" in this beautiful part of the world. There's perhaps no better time to ride the Denali National Park Road than on solstice night -- when the buses stop running for the evening, you have the road to yourself ... well, there will probably be other riders and some wildlife! (The shot above is of me, with a Denali backdrop, at around 10 p.m.)
We take the last bus of the day in to Wonder Lake, mile 85, and ride through the night back out to the park entrance. We start riding at about 9 p.m. and watch the sun set -- and then watch it rise again just three hours later, with dusky light illuminating the ride in between. In the past few years while doing this ride we have seen grizzlies, wolves, moose, caribou, Dall sheep, and numerous bird species.
The moon over Denali at the summer solstice.
We generally take our first break at the Eielsen Visitor Center, Mile 65. The bathroom and foyer stay unlocked all night, so it is a good place to take a break and also to get out of the weather if necessary. Our first year it was pouring rain, so we dried off and napped on the foyer floor!
Riding Polychrome Pass in the rain.
The facilities at Toklat and Teklanika rest areas stay open all night, also, so there are adequate "formal bathroom" opportunities along the way.
Then it is a series of ups and downs on the unpaved road out to Mile 15 at Savage River; there are five passes on the park road. It seems so much easier to ride the last 15 miles, as they are paved, and the last 13 or so are mostly downhill.
Bears enjoy snacking on certain signs.
Another great thing about this ride is that if you are not having a good time and want to bail out, you can just hang out wherever you end up -- then, about mid-morning, the buses will start running. Because you already bought a park pass the evening before, you are able to jump on any green bus heading out, as long as it has room for you and your bike.
The view from the saddle.
Tips for this adventure: To make this a true Bike Overnight, you could carry camping gear and ride the 55 miles from Wonder Lake to Teklanika Campground (be sure to make a reservation in advance), sleep until the following evening, and then ride the remaining miles to the entrance that night. Be prepared for changeable weather, mosquitoes, and wildlife encounters. Our favorite place to stop after the ride is 229 Parks, at Mile 229.7 Parks Highway (about 8 miles south of the Denali National Park entrance). It's a beautiful timber-frame building with Alaskan beers on tap and a great menu featuring locally grown, freshly harvested ingredients with a strong commitment to sustainable cuisine. A just reward for a long ride!
Favorite local bike shop: Goldstream Sports in Fairbanks. At 128 miles north of Denali, they are our closest bike shop. They have fantastic, knowledgable mechanics and great customer service.