Lael Rides Alaska: to Cantwell

Lael's Camera Photos Cantwell 04

We wake up late and drink coffee and talk and laugh and I get a late start leaving the A-Frame. I definitely want to ride 150 miles to Cantwell today.

Nick gets in the car with Christina and her mom to drive back to Anchorage.

I pedal 40 miles to the Talkeetna Junction, stopping at Sheep Creek Lodge for chocolate milk. There’s a weird laundromat and they won’t fill up your water bottles, so I buy a gallon and leave half of it just outside the door.

Talkeetna Junction has a gas station and cell phone service. I stop to call Rue because she’s planning on driving up to meet me in Cantwell. I talk to Nick too and he doesn’t want Rue to come. I try to call the 1800 National Park number to find out when we can put our bikes on the bus to drive into the park. The line just keeps ringing and ringing so I call the front desk at McKinley Creekside Cabins. I worked there for two summers a decade ago. I ask the front desk if she knows anything about the bus schedule. Then I ask her to ask Holly and Tracy if it’s okay if I camp there for the night. Then I tell her I’ll call her back for info on the bus. I send Tessa Hulls a Facebook message because I saw that she’s visiting friends in Kantishna and I’ve never gotten to meet her and I’d really like to. Then I realize that my tires have lost a lot of air and I try to pump them up with my hand pump, but the hand pump won’t let air out. Then an older lady walking by asks me where I’m going and I tell her and she has a floor pump and she’s been on bike trips and we pump my tires up together.

I call Nick again because my pump doesn’t work and Rue can bring me one. He just doesn’t like it. I don’t want to ruin everything. The two of them plan to meet up to talk about it.

I call Creekside again. Holly has relayed a message that I can come sleep in the treehouse. She’ll be out of town, but the door is unlocked and I’m welcome anytime. Many buses run into the park everyday. We’ll show up at the visitor center and figure it out.

Three hours later, I get back on my bike. It’s well past noon and I have 113 miles to get to Cantwell.

I make a quick stop 16 miles down the road at the market in Trapper Creek to pick up a phone charger. I’m pretty surprised they have one. I left my phone charger, cache battery and camera chord in the A-Frame in Willow. It’s typical. I lose everything.

Then it’s 97 miles and nearly 4,000 feet of climbing with no services to Cantwell. I ride into a headwind, but it’s so beautiful that I don’t even care. I’m out there for hours. I’m listening to music and my mind is somewhere in the mountains and Rue is on her way. She took the redeye from Chicago, didn’t sleep at all, met with Nick in the afternoon and got in the car to drive four hours north to come find me. I drink a little whiskey on the way and stop at the Chevron in Cantwell. My brain is pretty wind blown. I drink a coke and eat a bag of popcorn and buy $60 worth of gas station food. It’s the best stocked market for the next hundred miles. I post photos on Instagram and talk with the cashier.

Do you know Bugbee?

Yeah! He’s my good friend.

I used to live in Bugbee’s camping trailer next to his cabin above the Nenana River.

No way!

We try to call Mike Bugbee and it goes to voicemail, so I leave him a message:

Bugbee, it’s me, Fireweed. I’m here at the Chevron with your friend Steve. I’m riding my bike into Denali tomorrow. I hope you’re having a great summer. Wish you were here!

I call Rue again. She’s still half an hour out, so I start making the 13 mile climb to Creekside. The sun is casting a glow and it’s close to 10PM. It’s an absolutely beautiful corridor.

Rue catches me stopped taking a photo of the powerline bisecting the mountains.

What are you taking a photo of?

Nothing.

I’m sheepish. I’m really just taking a picture because I’m feeling really good.

We’re both quiet and we’re both smiling and we head for Panorama Pizza. Rue has been listening to Dancing in the Dark on repeat for the entire drive up. She hasn’t really slept in two days.

Panorama is a pizza bar that stays open until five in the morning. We order slices and ciders and station ourselves on the patio next to the cornhole boards. It is bright as day. It’s Buffalo Chicken pizza and it’s greasy and I don’t care cause I’m feeling giddy. We eat half of it and head out to take the bridge over Carlo Creek to find the treehouse.

Follow the creek past the property, past employee housing and the moose racks and the abandoned bus. Climb the little ladder and there you are. We open the door and it’s dark in there, but it’s still light outside, so we pull the mattress out of the treehouse and onto the porch and lay down to sleep.

Tomorrow we’ll go to the entrance of Denali National Park. We’ll find a bus to take us down the 90 mile dirt road to Kantishna and ride our bikes back out. Vehicular traffic is prohibited on the park road. Buses or feet or bikes are the only way to get in and out.

I’ve ridden this road before and I’m riding it again because I’m riding all of the roads in Alaska this summer. Two hundred fifty-five miles done, four thousand three hundred to go.

Lael's Camera Photos Cantwell 02

Lael's Camera Photos Cantwell 06

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8 thoughts on “Lael Rides Alaska: to Cantwell

  1. Eric says:

    Cool story. Fireweed?

  2. Terry says:

    I love your stories, makes me feel like I’m there. No fluff, no B.S., no gear to sell. Keep posting.

  3. Judi Lehmann says:

    I, too, love your stories and looking forward to you sharing more!

  4. Joshua L. says:

    I appreciate the writing style. You’re not out to win a Pulitzer prize or anything, just writing what happens. Thanks for posting, I feel more inspired to get out myself now (not today of course…)!

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