Cycling Alaska: Cycling the Glenn Highway

Biking the Glenn Highway

We had the Glenn Highway all to ourselves

Cycling Alaska: Cycling the Glenn Highway

Country: Alaska, USA

From Anchorage to just before the Eureka Summit

Lesson learned: Sleeping under the midnight sun needs training

Laughed about: The chicken under the umbrella

Most wonderful miracle: The Lowe’s surprise visit

Greatest challenge: Fluffy warm “snow”

Days on the bike: 3

Kilometers cycled: 207.6

Average Kilometers per day: 69.2

Total Kilometers cycled till just before the Eureka Summit: 19,641

 

It was a long day and a bit with two transfers, but eventually we reached Anchorage, Alaska. No more shorts, leis and shirts, we were back to fleece and hiking boots.

Welcome to Anchorage, Alaska!

Welcome to Anchorage, Alaska!

Jim picked us up at the airport and right away we knew we would get along great. Jim Lowe was a nurse who used to own a bike shop and knew most everything about mechanics. His wife Bernice, who grew up in Hawai’i, was a nurse too.

Dinner with the Lowe Family in Anchorage

Dinner with the Lowe Family in Anchorage

She loved all animals and often nursed orphaned baby birds, chicken and cats. Daughter Elise loved crafting necklaces, cuddling her cat and just hanging out with her friend Summer. Youngest daughter Naomi (short Omi) was always in action.

Hike up the Birds Ridge

Hike up the Birds Ridge with Bernice, Omi, Merlin and Ella

volunteering on Parks Day in Anchorage

The Lowe family invited us to join them volunteering on Parks Day.

Together with neighbor Harper she climbed the birch trees in search for larvae and worms that they could feed the baby birds. Dogs Ella and Merlin were always excited and friendly and Omi loved to play with them. From the first moment on we felt at home with the Lowes. Read more about how this family has affected us in our article Our Alaskan Family.

We spent two nights with Jen and Kyle, who we had met through warmshowers.org as well. That’s how we met their friends Amy and Brian and their cycling guest DeBruyn from South Africa, who is on a long epic bike trip.

Brian, Kyle, Amy, Jen and DeBruyn in Anchorage, Alaska

Dinner with DeBruyn, Brian, Kyle, Amy and Jen (left to right)

Kyle had caught some salmon and we helped him to smoke it. So as we stood there in the garage, fiddling with fish bones and tweezers, he laughed out loud. “If the neighbors saw this, they would think I employed illegal foreign workers!”

Smoking Salmon in Anchorage

Not a single fishbone left

The Lowes had a family reunion coming up down in the “Lower 48”, and couldn’t find anybody to take care for house, dogs, cats and chicken. We happily offered our help.

Smoking Salmon in Alaska

The proud smoking-pro Kyle

We needed some office-time anyways, and we loved their pets. For a week we spent our days walking Ella, working on the computers, going into town in the evenings and cooking in between. Summer finally had arrived and at 27°C it was hotter in Anchorage than in Los Angeles for quite some days.

Bear Square in Downtown Anchorage

Bear Square in Downtown Anchorage

Neighbor Steve took us out for a hike to the “Suicide Peaks” in Chugach State Park and we were rather surprised to see intact snow fields under the hot sun.

Steve and his girls hiking alongside the Suicide Peaks

Steve and his girls hiking alongside the Suicide Peaks

The house sitting went very well. Ella was friendly as always (even though she secretly ate all the chicken’s eggs). Even when a young moose ran right past us in the middle of the family neighborhood, she remained calm and well behaved.

Snow at 25°C in June!

Snow at 25°C in June!

The hens were another thing. One of them loved to hide in the evenings when it was time to get them into their cage. One evening I spent over half an hour looking for her. If she hadn’t clucked I would have never found her underneath the sun umbrella looking down and observing my desperate search.

Hiking in Churgach National Park

Steve took us out hiking in Chugach National Park

One evening we finished work early and went out into town to dance. We found a cool outdoor venue with live music and danced under the sun until we got tired. It was 2 am when we biked back home and we still didn’t need our lights in the twilight. I don’t think that it ever gets really dark here during summer.

 That's how a night out dancing looks like up in Alaska

This picture was taken at midnight. That’s how a night out dancing looks like up in Alaska

In Anchorage there is a long bike path that parallels the Chester River and led all the way from the Lowe’s neighborhood into town. In this path you’d never guess that you were in the state’s biggest city.

We're taking Ella for a little walk around the lake.

We’re taking Ella for a little walk around the lake.

All you see is green and all you hear are birds, the creek and the wind. It was alongside this path where I encountered another big moose. Fortunately we had participated in the REI’s free class of bear and moose awareness and knew how to react.

Yield for sled dogs

Along the Chester River Bike Trail there’s many more of these. A part of that trail is also use for the famous Iditarod Sled Dog Race

After weeks in beautiful Anchorage, we were finally ready to go on the longest day of the year: summer solstice. Our original plan was to bike along the scenic (and unpaved) Denali Highway, but due to forest fires and a late start we went for the more direct route: Glenn Highway, Tok Cutoff, Taylor Highway and Top of the World Highway into Dawson City, Canada.

A young and confused moose ran right past us in this family neighborhood.

A young and confused moose ran right past us in this family neighborhood.

Glenn Highway

The Glenn is a 528 kilometer long highway that is divided in three parts: Anchorage to Glennallen, Glenallen to Gakona (on Richardson Highway), and Gakona to Tok (on Tok Cutoff). Some parts were hilly and for some days we saw nothing but spruce and the odd house in the forest.

Bernice and Annika

Bernice and Annika

For most of the time there was hardly and traffic and we didn’t even need to stick to our wide shoulder, but just went straight onto the car lane beside each other. For the first time in a long time we were able to talk with each other while riding the bike. No more shouting – “What?” – shouting – “Whaaaaat?” – loud and annoyed shouting. We chatted, sang and just enjoyed each other’s company.

Spruce and mountains on the Glenn Highway

Spruce and mountains on the Glenn Highway

It was after 3 pm when we left Anchorage. First we stuck to the wide bike path parallel to the highway, then we changed onto the Old Glenn Highway, got lost briefly, came back to it. I had the idea to be cycling under the midnight sun on the year’s longest day, but at 10 pm we were so exhausted that we just pitched our tent on the side of the Knik River on the Old Glenn Highway. There were some other campers around.

Midnight sun

Exactly midnight. It was too misty to see the sun set, so we went to sleep instead

Despite the fact that the sun shone all night long, we managed to sleep in until 9.45 am. That’s new camping record. One of the campers, who we had had a nice chat with in the evening, for some reason blamed himself to have been “rude” and left us two fresh salmon pieces on our bikes as an excuse.

We had passed the famous Iditarod Sled Race post along the way. I really hope we can return some day in Winter so see the mushers and dogs!

We had passed the famous Iditarod Sled Race post along the way. I really hope we can return some day in Winter so see the mushers and dogs!

We wondered and wondered but we couldn’t seem to imagine why he had thought of his nice chat as being rude, but since he had left already we grabbed the salmon and prepared it 15 kilometers further in Palmer.

Lunch in Palmer. More and more people stopped, said hello and asked some questions. Joe chatted with us for quite a while. It's great to have so much nice company.

Lunch in Palmer. More and more people stopped, said hello and asked some questions. Joe chatted with us for quite a while. It’s great to have so much nice company.

In Palmer the Old Glenn Highway came to an end and we continued on the new one. Most street signs were covered in shot holes and there were many “No Entry!” and “Posted!” signs on trees and driveways.

Roberto is still in midnight-sun sleep training

Roberto is still in midnight-sun sleep training

Months later we found out that a posted-sign gave the property’s owner the right to shoot everybody dead who entered their premises. Luckily we never felt the urge to use one of those properties as an emergency bathroom.

Cycling the relatively calm Old Glenn Highway

Cycling the relatively calm Old Glenn Highway

After all that bear talk and the purchase of bear spray and a bear bell, we had very much respect for bears and moose. So much that we didn’t ever shut up. “Make sure they know you’re there and they’ll stay away from you!” was the easiest bear defense. If we didn’t have anything to say we simply sang or hummed. Every time one of us had to go to the bushes, we took bell and bear spray and kept on singing loudly until the business was done.

Cycling the Glenn Highway

View after a little climb

Now that we’ve spent weeks and weeks in bear country we know how paranoid this behavior was, but better safe than sorry, right? For the first few days I even saw moose in every dead tree trunk and Roberto saw grizzlies in every root system. But came night we still hadn’t seen any real wildlife.

Glenn Highway by bike

The higher we climbed, the better the views

In Palmer a lot of curious people talked to us and we had nice company on our picnic bench grilling the salmon. The further we biked, the better the road surface and the less traffic there was. After Chickaloon there was hardly any traffic at all. For a moment we considered pitching our tent text to some caravans on King River, but it was still early, so we continued until the King Mountain State Campground, where we shared a site with motorcyclist Bill.

The Lowes!!!

The Lowes!!! Roberto, Jim, Bernice, Omi, Summer, Elisa, Annika and dogs Merlin and Ella (from left to right)

We were just chatting with him when some girls walked through our site. I said hello and kept on talking to Bill. It took a moment until I realized whom I had just greeted. It was Omi, Elise and her friend Summer! Behind them, Jim and Bernice were just letting the dogs out of the car.

Elise

Summer and Elise

We couldn’t believe it – the Lowes had driven full 70 Miles (100 Kilometers) only to see us again! Summer carried two huge pizza boxes, Bernice a big bag of salad and Jim a giant bottle of beer that they had brought from their holiday in Homer.

Omi's rain dance

Omi’s rain dance

We had a great evening with “our Alaskan family”. Elise painted Omi’s face with clay, and Omi grabbed a stick, ran to the river and invented a very loud rain dance. We all burst out in laughter. Some other campers who came close to the river turned around immediately when they saw us crazy pack.

See you again soon sweet Omi!

See you again soon sweet Omi!

It was 9.30 when the caretaker advised us to keep it down. We hugged lots and more, but we knew this wasn’t the last we’ve seen from the Lowe Family.

Camping under the King Mountain

Camping under the King Mountain

We had a 20 kilometer’s surprise-climb waiting for us. That was a good morning exercise under the hot sun. White dandelions and Cotton Grass grew on the side of the street and every gust of wind blew white fluff through the air like warm summer-snow. I was busy avoiding to inhale it and soon my sweaty face was covered in white, wet fluff.

View to the Manatuska Glacier

View to the Matanuska Glacier

Jim and Bernice had left us a tetra pack of coconut milk that gave us quite some gas. Going uphill real slow the air contained more fart than air.

Alaskan Glacier

Look at this huge pack of solid ice and snow!

The long climb was followed by a long downhill section all the way down to the Matanuska Glacier. The glacier was huge and for hours we had the opportunity to observe it from all angles.

Matanuska  Glacier View Point

Matanuska Glacier View Point

Glenn Highway by bicycle

We’re climbing higher and higher

For tens of Kilometers we had views onto the glacier

For tens of Kilometers we had views onto the glacier

We stopped at a rest area and ate Kyle’s salmon that we had smoked. In bear country we thought it was a good idea to keep the salmon smells and trash away from the place we’d pitch the tent. The cycling went much easier after dinner.

Dinnertime with home-smoked salmon. Thanks Kyle!

Dinnertime with home-smoked salmon. Thanks Kyle!

When we got tired of biking we just took a random side road and pitched the tent somewhere between the bushes on the side of the path. There were no trees around to hang our food, so we just left all food items, stove items and bathroom items in their panniers, wrapped an ikea bag around it and placed it together with the bear proof container somewhere far away from us downwind in the bushes.

Biking the Glenn Highway

We had the Glenn Highway all to ourselves

 

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