Day 4: Valdez to Tiekel River Lodge - Alaska Loop 2015 - CycleBlaze

July 15, 2015

Day 4: Valdez to Tiekel River Lodge

The first 3 days of this tour were all about coastal Alaska. Today I begin the more challenging inland portion of the tour. Navigation is extremely easy because I follow the Richardson highway 368 miles from Valdez to Fairbanks.

Today I climb from sea level to 2678 foot Thompson Pass and beyond, with no services on the road and few services at tonight's destination.

I got up at 7 and had a very good hot breakfast at the Best Western Valdez. On the way out of town I stopped at Safeway to stock up. The next food store is 2 days down the road. Finally on the road at 9 AM. Overcast sky, 52F (11C).

Richardson highway leaving Valdez. I'm happy that it's not raining.
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The Richardson highway is flat for the first 15 miles. Outstanding scenery with big mountains all around.

Bike trail for a few miles on the way out of Valdez. Fireweed looking good.
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Moderate traffic, mostly trucks. Fortunately the road has a paved shoulder and I was able to escape on a quiet bike trail for a few miles.

Richardson highway and Lowe river.
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The highway joins the Lowe river for 5 miles before entering Keystone canyon.

Entering Keystone Canyon. Horsetail Falls on the left. Bridal Veil Falls center.
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I stopped for a while in Keystone canyon to look at the waterfalls. A turnout across from Bridal Veil Falls has space for many motor homes to park.

Bridal Veil Falls in Keystone Canyon.
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Bridal Veil Falls drops about 300 feet.
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Steep Walls for 3 miles in Keystone Canyon.
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22 miles out of Valdez I finally left the Valdez municipality which is functionally equivalent to a county.

Leaving the Municipality of Valdez. Alaska is divided into Municipalities and Boroughs (similar to counties).
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The climbing begins shortly after leaving Keystone canyon. The scenery continues to be magnificent but the low clouds weren't entirely cooperative. When the grade gets steep a climbing lane begins and continues all the way to the summit. Unfortunately the climbing lane takes away the paved shoulder.

Looking back near the beginning of the climb to Thompson Pass. The uphill direction has a climbing lane but no shoulder.
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The climb is mostly less than 6% grade. Long, but not difficult. The trees get gradually shorter, then are replaced by bushes above about 2100 feet elevation. Eventually the bushes fade away and the landscape becomes tundra. The tundra is so close to the ground that you can see every little fold in the terrain.

It also got noticeably buggier above 1400 feet. They didn't swarm around me when on the road, but quickly swarmed around me if I stopped in a grassy or forested area. It's best to stop at one of the many large gravel turnouts.

Looking back near the top of the climb. Climbing lane all the way to the top. The poles guide snowplow drivers.
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Near the top the view is very interesting in all directions. You really get a good view when in the tundra zone. No trees to obstruct the view.

Looking left from near Thompson Pass. The original wagon road is visible. Tundra, no trees.
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Looking ahead near the summit of Thompson Pass. The clouds don't quite want to reveal the mountains and glaciers.
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The most spectacular rock gardens of the tour were at Thompson Pass.
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I stopped to take pictures at Thompson Pass but the view was actually best a little before the pass. Wind was surprisingly calm at and near the summit.

The descent goes along the foot of two glacier-covered mountains. Unfortunately I only had partial views of the glaciers through the clouds.

812 meters elevation. Coming from Valdez the steep climbing begins at 500 feet elevation.
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I don't see tundra very often.
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Looking back. Tundra and a glacier.
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I took the short spur road to the Worthington Glacier recreation area. It has nice facilities, but it's obvious that the glacier was much closer when the recreation area was built. Now it's about a 1/2 mile scramble to the retreating glacier.

The Worthington Glacier has retreated significantly since the recreation area was built. Now it's a long scramble to the glacier.
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Eventually the tundra gives way to forest and the highway follows the Tsina river downstream. Great views.

Richardson highway far above the Tsina river.
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Awesome view looking across the Tsina river.
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A few miles later I crossed the Tiekel river. I hoped that meant that I was close to my lodge, but it was still another 15 miles downstream.

I thought this crossing meant I was close to the Tiekel River Lodge. Wrong.
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The highway continues to thread downstream. The mountains ahead look smaller than the mountains behind me.

Last view looking back towards Thompson Pass. The Chugach Mountains.
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By 3 PM most of the traffic was going the opposite direction and by 5 PM there was basically no traffic. I arrived at Tiekel River Lodge at 6 PM. The restaurant normally closes at 2 PM but I made prior arrangements to have dinner waiting. My stinky rustic cabin costs $75 and has a shared bath in a nearby cabin. This turned out to be the 2nd most rustic accommodation of the tour.

Tiekel River Lodge. The restaurant normally closes at 2 PM but I made arrangements for dinner.
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I haven't seen power lines since leaving Valdez municipality. Tiekel River Lodge is off the grid. Most off-grid lodges run a diesel generator, but this lodge gets electricity from tracking solar panels and two small wind turbines. All the kitchen equipment runs on propane. My cabin has a propane heater.

My rustic cabin at Tiekel River Lodge. Shared bathroom is in an adjacent cabin.
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The cabin has 2 twin beds and a propane heater.
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I was surprised to learn the the lodge has a Verizon repeater. My phone has service in the lodge building but not in my cabin. I'm amazed at how often my phone works in Alaska.

The lodge has 3 pipeline maintenance workers staying for 3 months. This would be a boring place to stay for 3 months.

The temperature was only 50F at Thompson Pass, but was in the 60's for most of the afternoon. High of 65F. Overcast all day, with two light showers in the morning.

Today's scenery is outstanding from beginning to end, even with pesky clouds at Thompson Pass. Today's route has a lot of climbing but I started very well rested after sitting on boats for two days.

Distance: 64.3 mi. (103 km)
Climbing: 3499 ft. (1060 m)
Average Speed: 9.0 mph (14.4 km/h)

Today's ride: 64 miles (103 km)
Total: 143 miles (230 km)

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