July 10: Our travels on July 10 included an unusual event, beyond the customary awesome Alaska scenery. We looked forward to our 200-mile trip east on the Glenn Highway and south on the Richardson Highway to Valdez. Usually we take our time and may get on the road anywhere from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. Today, we had some early activity at our Mat-Su Valley overnight spot. Beginning around 5:00 a.m. a steady flow of vehicles stopped in at the rest area carrying bicycles on their cars. Maybe this isn’t especially unusual on a Saturday, but the frequency seemed high for the early hour. About 6:00 a.m. there were car doors slamming next to us, so we looked out to see a lady donning her cyclist clothing. Oh well, we decided to get moving. And as it turned out, we got on the road early enough to see a moose and her calf out searching for breakfast. Food sounded good to us, too. So I looked ahead a few miles in the trusty Milepost guidebook for an eating establishment that might have room for us to stop. Let’s see, how about the Sheep Mountain Lodge that’s only a few miles away? I kept reading for more descriptive information that might help us decide. In the category of other-interesting-facts the listing explained that the lodge is the starting place for Alaska’s Annual Fireweed 400 Bicycle Race. Guess when? July 9-10. It all became clear. That’s the answer to our early visitors this morning. We learned more later about the magnitude of this race. And we traveled more cautiously, passing a steady parade of smoothly peddling athletes who braved the steep inclines, the rain and wind.
All that exercise made us even more hungry. But we drove on by the Sheep Mountain Lodge headquarters when we saw the crowds in the parking area. At about 50 miles into our trip we came to the Mendeltna Creek Lodge. The small, rustic log building with an easy-access parking area looked welcoming. The inside gave us the same impression, with fireplace seating area, wooden-planked floors and flowers on the tables. Our stomachs were growling by now, so we both had a generous meal. The biscuits, gravy, potatoes and eggs, along with large mugs of coffee satisfied us for breakfast and lunch. Great food and reasonable at $10 a piece.
On the way inside we bought a newspaper to get some idea of what’s happening in the world. On the front page, along with the latest attempt to stop the gulf oil spill, we got an idea of the magnitude of the cycling event we were witnessing first hand. More than 800 cyclists compete in a variety of races ranging from 50 miles to 400 miles. We were discussing these motivated competitors when two attractive young ladies came in wearing distinctive clothing. While they were waiting to get coffee to go, we said hello. Our conversation gave us a closer look at the cyclers we were watching out on the highway. Here are Sara and Kara, cyclists from San Francisco who came to Alaska to participate with their friends from Anchorage. They are two members of a four-person cycling team competing in the 200-mile portion of the Fireweed 400. The cold, cloudy, windy weather wasn’t exactly attractive, especially for two San Francisco-ites. We agreed the wind must be pretty difficult to take today. Maybe cyclists are more accustomed, or prepared, for these conditions. But Sara and Kara were set to ride the last portion of the route that includes the brutal 2600-foot Thompson Pass before entering Keystone Canyon and the final leg leading into Valdez. No doubt, they seemed to have the right can-do attitude, ready for the challenge. I am sure they did very well. What nice people! Meanwhile, they were enjoying their first visit to Alaska. Sara commented: “This is the first time in a long while I have paid only $2.00 for a coffee.” Thanks ladies for your smiles and sharing your experience. Best of luck in your cycling future.
Four the remainder of the 200-mile trip east on the Glenn and south on the Richardson we glided along with cyclists. It reminded us of our friend Karen who we admire for her skills as a cycler on a team in Florida. (Go Karen!) Parked at intervals along the route were team members ready to take their turn and supporters offering encouragement. What determined folks to stay with it in those chilling conditions. The leg muscles must be soooo ready for coasting down the steep hills after pushing up the repeated inclines.
The six-hour journey included an assortment of colorful valleys, rivers and mountains, as we’ve grown to expect in Alaska. For instance, here’s a look at warm geological variations of the Talkeetna Mountains north of Chickaloon.
At Bridal Veil Falls in Keystone Canyon we stopped to listen to the roar and smell the freshness of the spring water cascading 100 feet down the cliff next to the road. There we came across a cycling team making a change in riders. Here’s the competitor taking
off from the falls on the last leg of the team’s ride. After 9:00 p.m. that evening, when we were settled in our campground and roaming around Valdez, the hardy cyclers were still streaming into the finish line in the blustery temperatures. That does take drive!
There’s more to tell about Valdez. See you later.