Introduction - Alaska Loop 2015 - CycleBlaze


Alaska has been on my bicycle touring wish list for a long time. Unfortunately I'm a mosquito magnet and had a miserable time camping during a tour in northern British Columbia. Alaska's mosquitoes are even worse, so I dreaded camping in Alaska. Last year I quit camping, solving the "camp with mosquitoes" problem.

Alaska is famous for having long distances between services. Is it possible to do a tour with a bed every night? I bought a copy of The Milepost and studied my options. It should be possible. Things looked pretty good until I discovered that the Paxson Lodge is closed. That increases the longest day from 84 miles to 99 miles. I can do that if I take a rest day afterwards.

Over the years I've done bike tours in most U.S. states. By 2004 I had pedaled through 39 of the 50 states, but then didn't visit any "new" states until the 2014 Steel City to Cowtown bike tour took me to states 40-44. Of the 6 remaining states, Alaska is the most challenging. My endurance is declining so it's now or never for an Alaska tour.

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In the map above it's easier to visualize the route if you click the button in the upper right and select "Terrain" view.

I want to see both inland Alaska and coastal Alaska, so part of the loop is 90 miles on the Alaska Marine Highway from Whittier to Valdez. While on the coast I want to see tidewater glaciers up close, so I did the 26-Glacier Cruise from Whittier.

Most of the loop is on Alaska's two longest paved highways. The Richardson Highway goes 368 miles from Valdez to Fairbanks. The George Parks Highway goes 323 miles from Fairbanks to near Anchorage. Navigation was extremely easy except in Anchorage and Fairbanks.

In Fairbanks I took a day off to rent a car and visit Chena hot springs. In Denali National Park I took a 7 hour bus tour on the park road. Those routes are shown in orange on the map age below.

Map image showing the terrain and more place names.
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Alaska is big! It has more than double the land area of the second-largest U.S. state, Texas. Alaska has more coastline than the other 49 U.S. states combined.

Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
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The 918 mile (1469 km) bike tour covers only a small portion of Alaska. Most of Alaska has no roads. Bush planes, river boats, and snow machines are the most common transportation in the interior. Commercial airlines and state-operated ferries are the main transportation for coastal towns.

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A large portion of Alaska is north of the Arctic Circle. My tour stays well south of the Arctic Circle but I still had usable light all night long. I was in Boreal forest most of the time and climbed into tundra several times.

Arctic Circle Map. Image courtesy of
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Alaska's two biggest mountain ranges sprawl east-west unlike most mountain ranges in North America. I will see the Alaska Range and its southern cousin the Chugach mountains. I won't see the Brooks Range in northern Alaska.

Elevation contour map of Alaska.
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Alaska's population is only 750,000 and half of the people live in Anchorage. Most of Alaska has a very low population density.

Alaska has few highways because it's very expensive to build and maintain highways on permafrost. The highways tend to be busy because all traffic is concentrated on just a handful of roads. There are no back roads for a cyclist to escape to. Fortunately Anchorage and Fairbanks have extensive bike path networks and the busy highways near Anchorage have some parallel bike paths.

The Bike

My Bacchetta Giro 20 recumbent bike is unchanged since last year's tour.

Bacchetta Giro 20 recumbent. Euro Mesh seat, Ventisit seat pad. Faded Arkel RT40 panniers, Terracycle underseat rack.
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New Camera

My Canon S100 camera died near the end of last year's bike tour. My new camera is a Canon G7X which has a 1 inch 20 Megapixel sensor and a bright lens: f/1.8 wide angle, f/2.8 telephoto. The bigger sensor gives higher sensitivity/lower noise, more dynamic range, and some ability to control depth of field. The fast lens allows sharp telephoto images in dim light. The downside is that the G7X is double the price, 4 ounces (112g) heavier, and 1/2 inch (12 mm) thicker than the S100.

Getting to Anchorage

I booked my Alaska Airlines flights back in February and found that Alaska Airlines stocks bike boxes at their air cargo office in Eugene. I bought the $20 box in advance and boxed the bike the day before departure. The box is 70x40x9 inches. Wide enough that I can fit my Bacchetta Euro-Mesh recumbent seat inside the box for the first time. On previous flights I had to rope the seat to the panniers because the seat wouldn't fit in the bike box.

It took most of a day to get from Oakland, Oregon to Anchorage. My wife and I left home at 10:15 AM on July 11 with the boxed bike roped to the roof rack of her Subaru Forester. The loose bike fits in her car but not the boxed bike. After an early lunch at the Taste of India buffet she dropped me off at the Eugene airport. The check-in agent only charged $25 for the bike plus $25 for the two underseat panniers as a piece of checked luggage. The bike fee was supposed to be $75.

The flight to Seattle was a few minutes late but I easily made the connecting flight to Anchorage. The 3-hour flight to Anchorage arrived on time at 6:20 PM Alaska time (7:20 PM Pacific time). My hotel is Lakeshore Inn very near the airport, so I rode alone in the hotel's shuttle van with the boxed bike laying on top of 3 rows of seats. That allowed me to leisurely assemble the bike in my motel room instead of at baggage claim. And to store the bike box at the hotel to re-use for the return trip.

First I took a break to get dinner and look around the lake next to the hotel. It's used exclusively by float planes. No fishing or swimming allowed. Operated by Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. I only saw float planes up close once before, at the opposite end of the continent in Key West. The planes are extremely noisy when taking off, but traffic died down after 10 PM.

The lake across from the hotel is used by seaplanes.
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Lakeshore Inn cost $167 and is not especially fancy. Everything in Alaska is expensive during the short summer season. My room has no air conditioning but it does have an oscillating fan. The room is fairly warm and the sun shone on the window until 11 PM.

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