Day 13: Nenana to Healy - Alaska Loop 2015 - CycleBlaze

July 24, 2015

Day 13: Nenana to Healy

I got up at 7:15 and went to the Chevron station on the highway to have breakfast. The only place open in the morning in Nenana.

Afterwards I packed up and went out to see the hand cyclists. I spent a few minutes looking around, then got on the road at 8:50, a few minutes before their 9 AM mass start. A couple miles down the road I stopped on the roadside to watch them go by. I didn't have to wait long and after less than a minute they were all gone, never to be seen again.

Decal on one of the team vans.
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The hand cycles are all ultra-low delta trikes with front wheel drive. The hand cranks are in phase instead out of phase like foot cranks. Both arms working together have about the strength of one leg. The hand cycle power curve is similar to pedaling a bike with one leg.

Hand cyclist preparing for the start of stage 2 in Nenana.
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9 of the 10 hand cycles are made by Top End Wheelchairs in Tampa, Florida, the world's leading manufacturer of racing wheelchairs. The racer from Scotland uses a hand cycle from a different manufacturer.

Several of the hand cyclists are paralyzed veterans.
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The fastest 3 hand cyclists were in a tight paceline and must have been going 25 mph (40 km/h). Even the slowest hand cyclist went by so quickly that it was difficult to get a good picture.

Wide view of the first 8 hand cyclists approaching at high speed.
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The Alaska Challenge started with time trial and criterion races in Anchorage. Today is stage 2 of the 6-day stage race from Fairbanks to Anchorage.

Racers 1, 2, and 3 going maybe 25 mph in a tight paceline.
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Racers 4 and 5. On the right is Muffy Davis, winner of 3 Paralympic hand cycling gold medals.
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Racer 6.
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Every racer has a support vehicle and crew of 2 or more. The team van follows closely behind their racer to allow the racers to safely stay in the main traffic lane. The hand cyclists don't cower in the rougher and rockier shoulder like I do.

Racers 7 and 8.
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There are also a couple of vans for race officials who set up signs, organize the start/finish lines, etc. Overall it's a big road show with maybe 12 motor vehicles and 30 crew and race officials for 10 hand cyclists.

It was obvious that the Alaska Challenge hand cycle race is not a publicity stunt. No TV cameras, no corporate sponsors, no advertising banners, etc. The event is purely for the benefit of the racers, to expand the realm of what's possible for paraplegic athletes.

Blurry photo of racer 9. The brake and shift cables need to be long when mounted to the spinning hand crank.
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Seeing the hand cyclists really cheered me up. It's hard to have a bad day when thinking about the hand cyclists. Many had near-death combat injuries, but recovered to become world-class athletes despite having paralyzed legs.

Racer 10 was far behind the leaders but still much faster than me!
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After the race excitement I got back on my bike for a boring and much slower ride. The route is upstream but relatively flat for the first 40 miles going south from Nenana. Not many panoramic views.

Fireweed Roadhouse is 18 miles south of Nenana, in the middle of nowhere.
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Denali Borough is large and sparsely populated.
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I had an excellent grilled chicken salad for lunch at the Clear Sky Lodge. The Parks highway is spoiling me with restaurant lunches two consecutive days. The Parks highway has more services than the Richardson highway.

Lunch stop at Clear Sky Lodge. 2nd consecutive day to have a restaurant available for lunch.
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The Parks highway also has more traffic than the Richardson highway. It has a wider shoulder and more frequent climbing lanes. And the climbing lane doesn't take away the shoulder.

The Parks Highway has few grade level crossings with the Alaska Railroad.
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Today is cloudier and cooler than yesterday. High of only 72F. Quite pleasant. There was one late afternoon rain shower.

Nenana river again. I'm following it upstream to Denali.
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The last 15 miles to Healy is rolling hills with an emerging view of the Alaska Range.

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Very nice shelter at a roadside rest area. The Richardson highway didn't have facilities like this.
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Near the end of the day I started to see the Alaska Range again. Clouds were high enough to see some big mountains.

A big power line follows the the Parks Highway. Big hills always have a climbing lane.
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Approaching the Alaska Range near Healy. The Parks highway has a wider shoulder than the Richardson highway.
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Looking southwest at the Alaska Range, across a dry river bed.
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I arrived in Healy at 5:15 PM and got my reserved $144 room at Totem Inn, a large motel. Healy is the first place I saw No Vacancy signs on the tour.

Healy is a peculiar little town on the northern edge of the Denali National Park tourism region. Only a handful of stores and restaurants, but several lodging places. The main landmark in town is a huge building that looks like a prison but is actually employee housing for Denali Village 15 miles south. Basically a giant dormitory building. Nearly all the employees are in their 20's. Many from foreign countries, working here with a student visa.

Totem Inn in Healy. Photo taken at 10:30 PM.
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Dinner was Moussaka and a Crepe from a Serbian food truck. Yay, no halibut fish and chips tonight.

Today I traveled upstream and had a gentle headwind most of the time. But it was still an easy day.

Distance: 58.5 mi. (93.6 km)
Climbing: 1609 ft. (488 m)
Average Speed: 9.5 mph (15.2 km/h)

Today's ride: 59 miles (95 km)
Total: 609 miles (980 km)

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