August 11-September 2--Interior Alaska

August 11 Snag Junction Campground, YT to Border City, AK
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ELLIE!! We sing at breakfast, joined by Norm and Ed, our campsite neighbors from London, Ontario. The road north to the border is not as hilly today, and a tailwind helps us along. At noon we stop at Northway Junction and have lunch at a restaurant called simply by it's milepost number, 1202. The waitress and cook and owner there get into the birthday mode and bring out muffins with candles in them and gifts for Ellie. We all eat too much and stay too long.

The border is fun with a straight line cleared through the forest for miles and miles. Customs was amazed to see us, and it was an easy few miles to Border City (not a city at all but an RV campground and gas station.) We camped with a motorcyclist bound for Michigan and a sailor from California, sharing stories and food.

August 12 Border City, AK to Northway Junction, AK
The road in Alaska is not much different from the road in Yukon Territory, except that we are back to miles and US dollars. At a USFS visitor's center we met some other cyclists from the States and some Native Americans from the local area. We pushed on, ten days now without a rest day, because we are eager to make it to Fairbanks or at least Tok. We lunched by the roadside again and cooked rice. Our campsite for the night was at a Native American-owned spot called Naabia Niign. They had a decent store and laundromat, and the kids had showers.

August 13 Northway Junction, AK to Tok, AK
It rained all night, but quit around 6:00 AM. It took a while to pack up our wet tent, but we had a great breakfast and the coolness kept the mosquitoes away. A long, long day fighting a headwind brought us to a campground three miles from Tok, where a church group from Anchorage befriended us and fed us, We joined Mat and Elizabeth and Steve and Tracey and the rest around the campfire, singing until the campground host had to quiet us down.

August 14 Tok, AK
A rest day at last. After giving rides on the quad to fifteen kids and four adults, we biked the three flat miles into Tok without even working up a sweat. We spent time at the visitor's center (more rides and pictures) and ate at a famous salmon bake place (I had reindeer steaks in addition to salmon and halibut) and shopped. We met lots of people in town and spent most of the day talking. Henry experimented with being a big boy by taking off on his own for a while. We accepted an invitation to stay at a B&B where John and Jill, tandem enthusiasts, were pleased to show us their new recumbent tandem. Henry and Ellie got to ride John's rental bikes on the trails here while I worked on the computer and did laundry. A great layover!

August 15 Tok, AK to Dot Lake, AK
A chilly headwind and clouds spitting rain in our faces didn't bother us at all; the road was dead FLAT for miles from Tok. At Moon Lake we were hosted by Chuck and Molly in their camper for a huge pasta and chicken feast. They had met us in Tok the day before and their invitation couldn't have been more appreciated. We met their friends, gave rides on the quad, and stayed for hours exchanging stories with their neighbors, a bush pilot and a Fish & Wildlife officer. It was a hilly, rolling, and challenging ride to Dot Lake, where we found a lodge, store and restaurant CLOSED on Sundays. We camped there anyway, by Dot Lake, and turned in early after raspberry sandwiches.

August 16 Dot Lake, AK to Delta Junction, AK
Our tent kept us dry in a hard wind and rain last night, it's first real test. But Dad's hurried choice of location resulted in a puddle under the tent, and we spent the morning drying out in the laundry room and eating at the lodge. Proprietors Dale and Martha not only were great cooks and hosts, but Dale's stories from his Iditarod days kept us in the warm diner and out of the rain. At mid-morning a film crew from the Discovery Channel arrived to spend four days with us. Don, the director, Greg, the cameraman, and Aaron, the sound engineer, were all Austrailian and very easy-going and personable. We were instant friends.

We both shared the same goal, to make the best half-hour video documentary of the Wind in the Face Expedition as was possible in four days. So we agreed to do whatever we could for them, no matter how inconvenient or tiresome.

We started by filming our mock-arrival at Dot Lake. After about six takes, we proceeded to film Dale and Martha, and then rode in Dale's van to a spot on the road where the scenery was right, and rode up and down the road until Don was happy with the shots. We spent the rest of the day loading up into the van and unloading for a few miles of filming, until late in the day. We rode by a moose and calf by the roadside, and Greg managed to get us and them in the same shot. In Delta Junction we asked the fine folks at Kelley's Motel for a room. Sue and Sam (part of the family) immediately said yes, and agreed to say yes again for the camera (four takes later...). We finally fell into bed after a home-cooked dinner in our kitchenette. We were more tired from the filming than we would have been from riding fifty miles.

August 17 Delta Junction, AK to Salcha River, AK
A bright and sunny day, cool and crisp, perfect weather. Don hired a truck and driver (Kim, a bright and cheerful Alaskan B&B owner and mom) to shuttle us from sequence to sequence. Filming all day, riding little, loading and unloading the bike and trailer a lot and repeating takes over and over was exhausting. It was also great fun, and we got lots of real interaction with tourists, Alaskans and each other on film. We did a rolling interview, were treated to lunch by the folks at Rika's, a Roadhouse Historic Site, and camped by a beautiful big river. We cooked, cleaned up, set up the tent, made a fire professional filmmaking around us. It was great fun, made more realistic by the mosquitoes and no-see-ums that made their appearance at dusk. There were wonderful shots of Billy, Patti, Ellie and Henry smoking cheap cigars to keep the mosquitoes away, but I don't think they will be in the final cut!

August 18 Salcha River, AK to Fairbanks, AK
Today's filming included another moose, two bike shops, a visit to a chiropractor, an interview on local TV, an impromptu invitation to stay at someone's house and our arrival there, a health food store, a construction zone, and a fast downhill run.

Cliff at Beaver Sports, Fairbanks' finest bike & sports shop, took good care of us, and Dr. Bill Tewson not only provided great health care for us, but good-naturedly did it over and over for the cameras. A great healer and a great actor! When the local TV crew was interviewing Patti at Dr.Tewson's, our Aussie film crew was filming them, and I got a picture of that. Great fun.

Our invitation for dinner and overnight came from Debbie, who learned about us from her son Charlie, who met us in Haines on August 2. The whole family, dad Bob, and kids Mitch, Destiny and Stephanie, with visiting Uncle Louie, prepared a barbecue feast at their log home. No mosquitoes, wonderful food, even better company. The film crew got great footage, and everyone was extremely happy. Bob explained permafrost to me and the kids, and told us how to catch more salmon than the average fisherman. We stayed up late talking Alaskan philosophy.

August 19 Fairbanks, AK
Today was a high point in this trip for Patti. Her long-awaited meeting with Susan Butcher, legendary four-time Iditarod sled dog race champion, was scheduled for today, and the film crew was in tow. Luckily, Susan was used to cameras and attention, so the tour of her kennel and Patti's conversation with her was smooth and natural despite the microphones and lights. Susan's husband David and I enjoyed talking just out of the limelight. We arranged to have dinner with Susan and David in a couple of days.

After giving the famous sled dog racers a ride on the quad, we were off to meet some home schoolers, do more filming, and eat some dinner. Jamie and her six daughters have a wonderful place 20 miles from Fairbanks in Two Rivers. Dad was off working in Haines. A big old log home, horses, geese, chickens, and lots of toys keep them busy on their classic Alaskan homestead. Jamie had gathered several home schooling families to meet us, and rides on the quad were a big hit. The Fairbanks area has a high concentration of home schoolers, nearly 13% of the school-age children, much higher than the national average, which I believe is about 2% or 3%. One of Jamie's friends invited us to stay at her house a few miles away, so a short ride in the 9:30 PM twilight brought us to the home of Jane and Joe Russo, where we made a real connection with a great family. Joe is a realtor and outdoorsman, and mountain biker, and he enjoys pointing out that behind his property is untouched wilderness, all the way to the North Pole! Joe and his friend Mike came out to meet us on their bikes and escorted us in. We ate salmon until midnight and stayed up so late that we considered skipping sleep. Then our kids and theirs played happily, and the Fairbanks area began to look very much like our kind of community.

August 20 North Pole, AK
Huge pancakes. Jane and Joe, we'll be back, that's a promise. Thank you!!!

An early departure in Don's rented truck brought us to Fort Knox, by far the largest gold mining operation in North America. We were met there by Tom, the operations manager, and Bill and Michele, who are environmental engineers. They treated us to an in-depth tour of the unbelievably huge operation, personal attention to our children, and genuine interest in our family and our tour. We can't get over how friendly, upbeat and happy the people there were. Morale seemed to be soaring, and that's something that can't be faked. The place was clean, and although it was noisy, it seemed safe and purposeful. It is a zero-emissions operation with a zero-injuries safety record. Tom, Bill, and Michele are understandably proud to work there. We saw the world's biggest dump trucks working furiously to supply the mill with 150-ton loads of ore every few minutes, and the processessing of that ore all the way down to pure gold, which was poured into molds as we watched. We got to hold a 58-pound gold ingot ($200,000 at todays price) and were given books and gifts. No free samples, however. The film crew had a fantastic time filming there. We came away with new friends and a completely revised impression of the mining industry.

After a few more riding shots, we were finished with the filming. We said our good-byes to the crew, and Don drove us to the home of Larry and Lisa Mitchell, who we met through the chiropractor. We made yet another great connection with a fantastic family. Larry and Linda had just returned from an overnight on their recumbent bikes, and had ridden 85 miles. Soon there was lasagna and neighbors and talk until midnight. True bike enthusiasts and home schoolers of Katie and Amy, these folks are another reason for us to move to Fairbanks.

August 21 Fairbanks, AK
Larry and Lisa enjoyed a ride on the quad with Katie and Amy. They looked great and we took pictures. This family needs a Quad!

Making our way into Fairbanks (fifteen miles), we were struck by the agricultural land, which reminded us of New England. This is a town we could live in, and we have already made several fine friends here. When we mention the possibility of moving here to Fairbanks residents, they always mention the winter. Summer here is glorious, winter is challenging. Even now, the sun sets after 9:30 PM. In mid-winter, it sets at 2:15 PM. The temperature drops to minus 50 Fahrenheit for days or weeks at a time. All I can answer is that we live in Vermont, where the climate is not mild in winter. Some have told us that despite the low temperatures, the sunny, dry, mostly wind-free weather here is easier to deal with than New England's temperature swings and wetter winters.

We heard great arctic and polar bear stories from John Moore at dinner, and enjoyed meeting his son Wes and friends. We met John at the Yukon border. He has promised to bring me up to the Arctic Ocean on one of his equipment-moving trips. Because he had a full house, we stayed at Dmae Binkley's house on the Chena River, a beautiful home in a beautiful setting. DMae's son Scott, works on the riverboat Discovery, a paddle-wheeled excursion boat that cruises the Chena River with tourists, stopping at Susan Butcher's for a sled-dog presentation.

August 22 Fairbanks, AK
World-class pancakes, a computer to work on and DMae's great hospitality made for a late departure. We are staying in Fairbanks another night or two anyway, so no hurry. Now that we are within 600 miles of our goal with plenty of time, we want to savor new places and friends a bit by slowing down the pace. Today we rode back to Beaver Sports bike shop to rendezvous with Eric from the local newspaper. Then we rode to Susan Butcher's house, where a fine party commenced with mushers and friends from Fairbanks, Anchorage, Gold Stream, and all over Alaska. A warm sun kept the kids in the pond until late. There were so many of them, and they were so enthusiastic about riding on the quad, that I was kept busy with rides around the pond for all (parents too!). As usual, the Romps were the last to leave. We didn't have far to go, as Susan and David had a cozy cabin on the pond where we laid our heads down in the late-night twilight.

August 23 Fairbanks, AK
It seems that pancakes are a point of pride with hosts here in Alaska. We have had them most every morning. If there were a competition, Susan Butcher's pancakes would win hands down. Sourdough, with fresh blueberries, big and abundant. Real butter and REAL maple syrup.

We met the local Fox TV news lady, Tracy (who happens to be the wife of Cliff from the bike shop) and enjoyed filming an interview and ride at the city's Visitor's Center. After some errands, we rode out to the home of Wayde and Jean Leder, and their kids James, Barbara Ann, and Haley. We had met them in Northway, Alaska, a week ago, as they were heading south, and now they had returned from their camping trip and found us in Fairbanks. We watched ourselves on TV when we got there, the very best treatment that we have had on TV yet (THANKS, TRACEY). Salmon and moose from the freezer, kids the ages of Henry and Ellie, and talk of homeschooling and aviation filled the evening, and part of the wee hours as well.

August 24 Fairbanks, AK to Ester, AK
A look at the map will tell you that Fairbanks and Ester are only nine miles apart. This is how we came to cycle that short distance.

Jean drove Henry and me to the public radio station at the university at 9:00 AM for an interview with Noah Adams at National Public Radio in Washington, DC. That was fun, and took about an hour. Then after some last minute shopping we returned to packing and visiting and fixing a flat on the trailer, we set off into a light rain that increased, got wet, stopped at a store and laundromat to dry out and change into rain gear, and carried on. The few miles to Ester were punctuated by stops, mainly to talk to people who pulled over to meet us after seeing us in Fairbanks, on the TV or in the paper. Finally, Ted Sisson stopped us and said, "It's raining. Better stay in our cabin. I'll meet you at the post office in Ester." It was already late afternoon, so we jumped at the chance (the alternative was climbing a long hill and camping in the rain). Ted and Kay's "cabin" turned out to be a lovely small home that their son lives in on the land behind their house. He's gone to Valdez to do some work. Patti fixed us a dinner, Kay fixed us a hot tub and some popcorn, and Deirdre from the Ester Republic newspaper came over to interview us. Once again, we find ourselves the impromptu guests of wonderful folks. As I write this on Kay's son's computer, Patti and Ellie are going over an atlas with Kay, showing her all the places we visited on our trip.

August 25 Ester, AK to Fairbanks, AK (again!)
I had inspected our tires at Beaver Sports in Fairbanks, saw that they looked sound and had plenty of tread, and decided on replacement in Anchorage, 275 miles farther down the road. Wrong decision. A few miles into our ride today I felt a thump-thump-thump; the front tire had developed a huge bulge, a consequence of running 130 pounds pressure for months in a tire designed for 80 pounds maximum. So we found ourselves on a beautiful cool and clear day riding back to Fairbanks in a crew-cab pick-up with a crew of Air Force dental technicians, Matt, Tamika, and Amanda. By the time we put a pair of tires on the bike and joked with the folks at Beaver Sports for a while, it was late afternoon, so we accepted an invitation from Rita and her son Lars for a place to stay for the night. Rita's husband Dan taught us all about the Aurora Borealis, his area of research at the University, and we learned from him about the electrical power distribution system in Alaska (he is on the board of the power co-op here). Rita share her knowledge of Alaskan people and places, and her warm hospitality and friendship provided one more reason to consider moving to the Fairbanks area.

August 26 Fairbanks, AK to Nenana, AK
After a telephone interview with US News and World Report weekly, and another with the Anchorage radio station, Rita drove us out to the spot where we broke down yesterday (no sense climbing those hills twice!) Rolling hills and cool, sunny weather made for enjoyable riding. Just before a big climb, Mike and Alexis Sims shouted a lunch invitation from their driveway. They had seen us on TV and were waiting to catch us as we rode by. Great soup and sandwiches outdoors under their spruce trees.

Near Nenana another crew waited by the side of the road. They were A. P., Annette, Matt and Dan, taking a break from their auto towing and repair business to welcome us. Annette arranged lodging for us in Nenana, nine miles up the road, in the church. Before we arrived there, Matt's family, the Krenzkes, extended an invitation, and we went a few miles past Nenana to visit this wonderful family. Fresh strawberries, beans, lettuce and carrots, and even tomatoes from their garden shattered our perceptions of gardening in interior Alaska. Mom Janice and kids Siena, Steve, Paul Rachel, and Matt made us feel right at home (Dad, Mark, we did not meet; he works three or four days at a time for Denali National Park). Sitting by the wood stove, drying my hair after a shower and sharing parenting tales with Janice, felt just as warm and natural as if we had known each other for decades.

August 27 Nenana, AK to Tatlanika Trading Company
Backtracking the three miles to Nenana after breakfast, we visited the school in this tiny village, giving a presentation and rides to four of the grades. Nenana's location at the junction of the Nenana and Tanana rivers made it an important transportation center even before the railroad (in 1921) and the Parks Highway (in 1967) linked it to the outside world. It's gravel streets and low log structures remind visitors that "important transportation center" doesn't necessarily mean "large modern city". Our late departure meant that we wouldn't reach the next town, but we made it to the Tatlanika Trading Post, where proprietor Jay Reeder was busy preparing for a trip to moose camp (moose hunting season opens in a few days), loading both his truck and his small airplane for the first of several trips into the bush. He was happy to provide us with a free campsite, and he loved the bike and the trip. Henry and Timmy made a campfire after dinner while I hung our food bags in a tree to discourage bears from tearing them apart.

August 28 Tatlanika Trading Post to Healy, AK
More unseasonably fair weather, a tailwind, and a short day (30 miles). The lack of a shoulder on this narrow stretch of highway meant we had to be especially careful, and at least a dozen times I decided to leave the pavement, rather than force a trucker or motorist to slam on the brakes. The traffic was light, but fast, and when cars approach from both directions, we call it a "squeeze play". That's when we go off road.

Lunch found us at a pretty overlook, where we cooked a warm meal and made some tea. A climb or two later we found Healy, a tiny town near the Denali National Park. We are in the mountains now, not just looking at them from afar; the air is cooler and the wind more likely to be strong from any direction. Wally at the service center and Sonny the State Trooper both directed us to the Totem Lodge, where Shirley gave us TWO warm, cozy rooms for free. It was great to be indoors after a day in the wind. We entertained the entire dining room with stories and Q&A.

We continue to be astounded and humbled by the hospitality that Alaskans have shown us. Although it is a gigantic state, it is small in population (about the same as Vermont, 600,000 or so). That population is concentrated in Anchorage (one half of it), along the coast, and along the few highways that penetrate the interior. So it's a small state when it comes to news, which explains why everywhere we go, people have already heard about us. In fact, they are often waiting for us to arrive. "Figured you'd be along here about now..."

August 29 Healy, AK to McKinley Park, AK
Just fifteen miles to the home of Beth and Ellwood Lynn, who had contacted us by e-mail months ago extending an invitation. Elwood is the head of maintenance at Denali National Park. He is also the cousin of Angelo Lynn, the publisher of the Addison Independent, our local newspaper in Shoreham, Vermont. He learned about our trip from his cousin's paper, which he reads here in Alaska!

Just outside the National Park boundaries is a small cluster of tourist services; hotels, restaurants, shops, river raft guide outfits, aviation companies, outfitters, and the like. The locals call it "Glitter Gulch". It was the first such concentration of tourist commerce we have seen since...I have to think...Victoria, BC. Once entering the park boundaries, however, we returned to wilderness. The Lynns live in National Park housing in the most beautiful surroundings imaginable. A most challenging 10% grade leading up to their home put us there in a full sweat. We once again found ourselves surrounded by hospitality of the finest kind. Beth had invited a musher and his family to share dinner, Elwood had prepared their large fifth-wheel trailer to serve as our private chalet, and Elyse, 8, and William, 13, took care of Henry and Ellie, sharing books and teaching them rope tricks.

August 30 Layover, McKinley Park, AK
With so many things to do in Denali Park, we need a week. But we will take a day, instead, and pick and choose. The Lynn family went to work and school, leaving us with their pick-up truck, which we drove into the park on the only road. It was there we saw a couple of grizzly bears, which got within ten feet of the truck as we watched them feed on blueberries and whatever they were finding under rocks. Soon there was a "bear jam" with a dozen or more vehicles. We all remarked more than once that it felt good to be in a truck, rather than on our bike, for this particular encounter.

After climbing a small peak in the park, we drove down to Denali Outdoor Center, where Patti, Henry, and Ellie went on a guided river raft tour. As I sit here writing on Elwood's computer, I assume that they are having a great time. I will pick them up later and we will all go to a fund-raiser for Jimmie Hendrick, a local musher who hopes to enter the Iditarod. Patti will probably meet a lot of sled-dog people and we will all eat a lot of pasta.

August 31 Denali Park, AK
We decided to stay an extra day in Denali Park. The town is still called McKinley Park by the US Post Office, and on some maps, but the name of the park was changed from McKinley (a president who never visited the area) to Denali, a native word meaning "big one." There is just too much to see and do here, and the Lynn family's hospitality just too good. Ellie and Henry cut out on their own today, taking an all-day bus ride 66 miles into this huge park. The weather permitted a good view of the continent's highest peak, a rare thing, we are told, for this time of year. They saw bear, moose, caribou, Dall sheep, and a wolf. Mom and Dad attended to chores, changing the tires on the bike, making phone calls, and answering e-mail.

With one month to go, we find ourselves reflecting on the trip, the people we have met, the changes we have gone through in the last five months. Places like Vermont, Virginia, Missouri, even Colorado and Washington, seem so long ago. We will surely spend months writing to all of the people who have hosted us and helped us along our way. Sleeping in 150 different places, you might think the whole journey was a blur in our memory, but we remember each face and name clearly, as if it were just last week. Often, as we left our hosts, we would say, "We can't repay your kindness to you soon, so we will pass the kindness along to others." Now we think we will have to devote our lives to hospitality if we ever hope to erase the debt.

September 1 Denali Park, AK to Cantwell, AK
Before we left this morning, we were visited by Mark Krenzke, who works with Elwood here at the Park, and whose family hosted us in Nenana a few days ago. He brought tales of moose hunting, gold mining, and Alaskan living, and offered us a huge smoked salmon, in addition to fresh snap beans from his garden. This was no salmon jerkey, but an expertly smoked filet of King salmon that tasted to me like it had been perfectly cooked then allowed to cool. We shared half with the Lynns and still had enough for three meals left.

Leaving Denali, we rode into a stiff headwind to McKinley Village, where we had lunch and met some folks from the Denali Foundation. After lunch we were surprised by Arron Ernst, who was at our departure in Shoreham and had returned to his home state to lead Japanese tourists to Denali (Aaron learned Japanese at Middlebury College and in Japan). It was great fun to see him. His parents will host us in Trapper Creek in a few days.

In Ester a few days ago, Kay Sisson told us how to get to a cabin, owned by her daughter, that was used by various travelers. It was a fine place to spend a cold, rainy night, with a wood stove and gas range, lanterns, and, surprisingly, a telephone. We made a fire and dried out, cooked and ate, read by lantern light and slept in bunks. A light rain on the metal roof was our only music.

September 2 Cantwell, AK to Broad Pass, AK
It was hard to drag ourselves away from this cabin. It was surrounded by blueberries, not the ones we are used to from Vermont, but smaller and more tart. The kids picked a bunch, and we had breakfast. I even found some coffee among the food on the shelves.

A month ago we passed from the Pacific Ocean watershed, in Haines, to the Arctic Ocean watershed, in Yukon Territory. Today we passed over Broad Pass, a low pass that brought us back into the Pacific Ocean watershed. Although we still have plenty of hills to climb, it is symbolically "all downhill from here." A light misty rain increased, and the temperature was in the low forties. We pushed on to a place called Igloo City, which we read about in our guide book. It turned out to be closed, a deserted gas station, store, hotel, and gift shop. Huddled under an entryway, we decided to ride four miles farther to a riverside picnic area, and camp there. The next campsite was more than twenty miles, the next lodging more than forty. At the picnic area we found shelters, no walls but a roof with dry ground under it, and fire places. A couple named Otis and Pam gave us some firewood, and we were soon eating hot food and drying our clothes over the fire. It rained all night, hard at times.

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