Scrolling through interesting content on Instagram is fun, but riding bikes in the wildest mountains in America with the most exceptional people in the world is something that really brings me to life. As a permanent, full-time resident of Alaska with an affinity for riding bikes and pushing skis over long distances, you could say I was excited when I learned that Dylan Morton (a fellow Otso Cycles lover) was being imported to Alaska for the summer of 2020 to ride bikes and work as a mechanic at the famous Bicycle Shop in Anchorage. Escaping the uncertainty of mechanic life amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Colorado, Dylan arrived in Anchorage in May and his wheels didn’t stop spinning until he left in early September. Our riding partnership would be a pivotal element in my ability to explore some of Alaska’s most beautiful and remote bike routes.
All Good Rides Must Come to an End: Riding in Alaska During the Summer of 2020
Our first ride was a tour of the local Anchorage singletrack during which we got impressively lost and ended up wading through a swamp until almost 10pm at night. It was immediately obvious to me that this person was a physical and mental powerhouse and I quickly decided that I would try to ride as many routes in Alaska with him that time would allow. As a former triathlete and an adventurous ultra-distance cyclist who has traveled the world to ride bikes (read: Atlas Mountain Race, Tour Divide, BC Trail), it’s incredibly convenient that he is also literally bursting at the seams with the desire to help other riders improve their experience on the bike! Bike mechanics are some of my favorite people in the world, and Dylan is no exception. Lucky for me, I had a new Waheela C on order—just in time to accompany him for a summer gravel season on his stunningly built Warakin Ti. We sprinted up every hill within riding distance and made quick work of all the local Anchorage classics.
It’s safe to say that Dylan’s happy place is riding bikes—and that’s where we connected. His strengths (knowledge of bicycles and ultra-distance riding) complemented my strengths (surviving in the Alaska backcountry and attempting big wilderness physical endeavors) to make for a successful riding partnership. Dylan taught me how to laugh uncontrollably at 2am after riding nonstop for 14+ hours. I taught Dylan how to carry bear spray so he didn’t become the main course for a grizzly family. Living in such a beautiful and wild place encourages one to appreciate photography and sharing—so I documented each of our trips and carried entirely too much camera gear the entire summer.
Our first big ride was a reconnaissance mission to tour the Kenai 250 race route—a beautiful, self-supported bikepacking race that connects Alaska’s best singletrack trails. We toured the 250 mile route and just three weeks later we raced the Kenai 250 in the company of some true Alaskan legends: Lael Wilcox, Dustin Eroh, Janice Tower, and Clinton Hodges to name a few. The Kenai 250 would be the first time I biked through the night and into the next day without sleeping, an experience in which I learned the true joys of sleep deprivation and sleep deprived riding. At 8pm on the second day, after riding my bike for 35 hours straight, I heard the 4th place female’s voice behind me at every bend in the trail. This hallucination motivated me to ride harder, and at the finish I discovered that she was hours behind. I would carry my experiences on the Kenai 250 with me and will forever marvel at what the human body and mind is capable of if given adequate food, water, and stoke.
Denali Park Road
When my newly devised ultralight and ultrafast gravel machine (i.e. Waheela C) arrived at the Bicycle Shop in Anchorage, we took off for the Denali Park Road, the Denali Highway, and Hatcher Pass. Denali Park Road is, according to Lael Wilcox, her “favorite ride in the world.” I return to this stunning gravel road time and time again for the same reason—it travels through 6.1 million acres of unadulterated wilderness, is the most highly trafficked grizzly bear corridor in the state, and displays unobstructed views of the highest peak in North America. Even better, the road is closed to traffic with the exception of an annual lottery and National Park Service tour buses. It is stunning, grandiose, and captures the true wild essence of Alaska’s wilderness.
After a smash and grab of Denali Park Road, we sprinted across another classic Alaska gravel grind: the Denali Highway. A 135 mile gravel road open to the public for hunting, touring, and camping, the Denali Highway boasts incredible views of the mountains, tundra, and glaciers of the Alaska Range. We crossed the length of the highway in one day, and returned back to the car on day two to complete 270 fast and beautiful remote Alaska overland miles.
It was during this time that I truly fell in love with hard ultradistance pushes on the bike with good company. There is something notable about sharing extreme wilderness adventures with people who love it as much as you do. I imagine this camaraderie also exists in alpinism and ski mountaineering. There is a flow state, a perfect cocktail of neurochemicals that produce an intoxicatingly satisfying feeling of full immersion and energized focus. When you’re fully involved in what you’re doing, there is 100% enjoyment in the process of the activity, and time moves at a joyous pace. I didn’t know at the time, but I would forever chase this ultradistance flow state.
All Good Rides Must Come to an End
Eventually, as all things go, the summer would start coming to a close and the end of our short riding season here in Alaska would grow near. I would summon all of my skills on the bike and all of my past wilderness experience to do a 4 day 8 hour solo ride on the Dalton Highway—a 515 mile gravel road from Prudhoe Bay to Fairbanks, Alaska. Dylan would ride from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez solo, crossing the entire length of the state of Alaska in 8 days. He would depart from Alaska to return to his home bike shop in Arkansas, and the gravel season would end and autumn in Alaska would begin.
Old Man Winter would slowly appear, as the cold darkness of the Alaska winter prompted me to dust off my Voytek for a long winter ahead. All good rides must come to an end. I reflect back on the summer, and marvel at the power of riding partnerships. In one short summer I learned so much about myself and even more about adventure: who would have imagined that all it takes is ample food, unlimited water, and the most exceptional partners to accomplish what you once thought was impossible.