Cycling Alaska: Cycling the Tok Cutoff

Endless spruce

Endless spruce. All day.

Cycling Alaska: Cycling the Tok Cutoff

Country: Alaska, USA

From just before the Eureka Summit to Tok

Lesson learned: Please people, NEVER EVER fool a hungry cyclist in the matter of food.

Laughed about: The fake moose call

Most wonderful miracle: Our angels Deena and Sasha

Greatest challenge: Cash

Days on the bike: 3 1/4

Kilometers cycled: 327.14

Average Kilometers per day: 100.65

Total Kilometers cycled till Tok: 19,968

Auf deutsch: Tok Cutoff per Fahrrad.

And if you have missed it, here’s the link to Cycling Alaska Part 1: Cycling the Glenn Highway.

We slept better than expected in between the shrubs and bushes. I walked straight to our food containers. They seemed untouched. That’s good. Our water bottles were empty by now, but there was a lake nearby. We grabbed our pump and filled two of the bottles.

Filtrando Agua

Squeezing the water through the filter

When I pulled the hose out of the water, I discovered four small leeches sticking to it. We kept the water nevertheless for an emergency and I was just relieved that I didn’t shower in this pond.

Cycling the Glenn Highway

On the Glenn Highway

We had eight quite easy kilometers to the Eureka Summit, the Glenn Highway’s highest point. We parked the bikes and chatted to some bicycle tour guides who carried people, bikes and equipment along the Glenn Highway.

Apoyo en la Cima

The bottles were full and we were ready to continue

They filled up our water bottles and we could let go of the leech water. The roadhouse offered $0.25 bottomless coffee and we stopped for breakfast.

Cycling through spruce forest

Cycling through spruce forest

It was another hot day, but we rolled downhill and made ourselves some cooling winds. Stopped for shade at the Grizzly Country Store, where we chatted with owners Chris and Maria. They built their house and shop themselves and have spent many happy years living here in bear-country. We heard several scary and beautiful stories about their bear encounters.

Outhouse at the Grizzly Country Store, Glenn Highway, Alaska

Handbuilt Outhouse at the Grizzly Country Store

For most of the day we were the only ones on the road and all we could see was spruce and lakes. We finished the day at the Tolsona Wilderness Campground, where owner Curtis, who refers to himself as the “crazy old Texas man” made us a gift of a bottle of mosquito spray.

Annika vs. La Carretera

The Glenn and I

We had carried several detergents from Indonesia, Malaysia and New Zealand, but the Alaskan mosquitoes were desperate enough to bite through anything for some drops of blood. What Curtis gave us, was 98% of pure Deet. This stuff is so poisonous that he warned us not to touch any tents, jackets or our computer after we’ve used it, because it could burn away all kinds of plastic.

Glenn Highway

Glenn Highway

And there we were happily spraying poison into our faces to keep those beasts away.

Curtis had WiFi and I checked the finances. In Anchorage I had mistakenly transferred all our money onto our savings account. Now all it needed was two online transfers to get it accessible.

Chris and Maria built the Grizzly Country Store in Alaska

Chat with Chris and Maria

I got things started, but each of these transfers takes 3-5 days and by now all we had left was $4 (later in the day I found an additional emergency-$20 bill). So we decided to change our New Zealand Dollars in Glennallen.

Many mosquitoes inside the tent

We didn’t camp alone

Glennallen, being the biggest town around, still was a small nest with less than 500 inhabitants. Exchange to such an exotic currency as the New Zealand Dollar wasn’t something they did every day and it took nearly two hours until Roberto found somebody who had an account in one of those banks and exchanged the money for us (better don’t ask about the exchange rate, we were desperate enough to accept anything).

Deena and Sasha

Deena and Sasha made our day!

In the meantime I sat outside the bank wondering what to do. This was where Deena and Sasha approached me. They worked in one of the banks and felt very bad because they weren’t able to help us out of this situation. Deena grabbed $60 and gave them to me. Just like that. “If I were in your situation I’d also want somebody to help me out”, she said. Pure empathy. I just stood there with a puzzled face, not knowing what to do. In the end I just hugged her.

Quite some impressive views

Quite some impressive views

Sasha offered me to accompany me to the other bank, trying to exchange. By then, Roberto had already finished the exchange and we were settled for a week or so. When I went to return the money to Deena, she wouldn’t accept it. Still we don’t know how to thank them and we just hope that someday we can get the chance to pay it forward.

We just love to poke our heads through those kind of things

We just love to poke our heads through those kind of things

I don’t know if it was the campground’s yellow drinking water or the ridiculous amounts of parmesan cheese and salami that we had eaten, but it was clear that we should need to spend the night somewhere with a bathroom. The town’s campground cost a whole $27. We didn’t have much of a choice.

"The Hub of Alaska"

We had reached “The Hub of Alaska”

I felt much better by the following morning and started the day with a reindeer hotdog at the “Hub of Alaska”. We left the Glenn Highway and hopped onto the Richardson Highway for – a ridiculously short stretch for any Alaskan – 14 miles. Then we took a right onto the Tok Cutoff. From here it was only 200 Kilometers to Tok.

Alaskan Reindeer hotdog

Reindeer hotdog!

There’s little traffic on those roads. Most vehicles we encountered were campervans, school buses that function as campervan, caravans, RVs, and “monsters”. Driving a “monster” was a popular thing up here. Want to go for an adventure up North but don’t want to lack the comfort of your house? Take your house onto the road!

El paisaje es increíble.

Good views, good mood

Imagine a bus big enough to fit a brass band with all their instruments. Now imagine a big car. So big and adventurous that you could easily ride up a rocky 30% mountain road. Let’s say a huge Hummer. Now in your imagination attach this one to the rear of the bus. Maybe also imagine a bike rack and some shiny new mountain bikes on the back of the Hummer. There you got yourself a “monster”.

Endless spruce

Endless spruce. All day.

Now subtract the brass band and add a jumbo deluxe kitchen with two gigantic fridges, a large freezer, a fully equipped bathroom, a big-screen TV with surround sound and Wii, a powerful AC and all kinds of extras for the little Chihuahua. And two inhabitants.

Llegando a Tok

Tok here we come!

Curtis had heard that if you got one of these “monsters” for half a million Dollars, you got a real good bargain. They rent from $500 per day.

La Belleza de Alaska

Up and down the scenic Tok Cutoff, there was always much to explore. Trees for example.

Take this and add an enormous expense for gas, because not only do you need to move this thing of an estimated weight of two walruses, a whale and twelve elephants plus the Hummer, no, apart from that you somehow have to keep the fridges, freezers and appliances going 24/7.

Camping in Glennallen.

Camping in Glennallen. We pitched the tent in the bushes instead of the gravel campspot

Wastefulness generally seems to be a problem in the US. Let’s say a pack of cornflakes costs $5, but if you buy five packs, you pay $15. Well, of course you go for the five-pack. But if the kids don’t like them, or if they’re about to expire or if it happened that your husband had just bought the very same five-pack earlier that day, then all the food goes straight into the bin.

Logo Vintage

Alaska State Park

Lately some towns started food banks and encourage people not to be too wasteful, but once you found yourself inside a Costco, where you pay $12 for a 60-pack of granola bars (your smallest choice), it’s hard to say no. At least for me it was. I love a bargain. And so I was hooked.

Roberto cycling the Tok Cutoff

It was just us, the trees, the road and plenty of bears that we never saw

We had a great day on the near-empty road. As usual we cycled side by side, talked, sang, and enjoyed each other’s company. The loud laughter also kept the bears away.

It was a warm and cloudy day with a good tailwind and the cycling was smooth and easy. To our right we saw the snowy mountain peaks of the Wrangell National Park.

Picnic spots were rare but very scenic at the Tok Cutoff

Picnic spots were rare but very scenic

Later in the afternoon we met an elderly Canadian couple, both rather chubby, standing outside their car. They had spotted two moose on the other side of the lake. The four of us just stood there enjoying the view and the silence, when the woman opened her mouth and groaned really loud.

Glenn Highway

Glenn Highway

The man, who stood about a meter further, joined her. For a moment they left me puzzled. Did the sight of a bull turn them on sexually? Should we leave them some privacy? No, the man explained me that they were copying the moose cow’s sound, hoping to get the bull’s attention for a good photo.

Moose encounter cycling the Tok Cutoff

Moose encounter

We pitched the tent somewhere on a gravely pullout and continued early next morning. The wind blew just as strongly as the day before, but from the opposite direction! Another car stopped for us. It was Deena’s daughter Rachel and her boyfriend Anthony. Deena told them that they might meet us and packed some extra fruits and drinks for us.

Los Heroes del Camino

Rachel and Anthony

It was a rather hard day for me. Climbs are something I have learned to live with. But headwinds still get me. We hadn’t met any other cyclist in a long time, when we saw Martine on the side of the road. The fifty-something year old Québéquoise (somebody from the Canadian province of Québec) architecture professor grabbed her bike (along with some of the fullest and bulkiest panniers I have ever seen) every summer holiday and went for a 2-months tour. After several of those tours plus a 1-year long travel she has accumulated 90,000 kilometers over America, Africa and Europe.

Martine on her bike

Martine on her bike

Martine offered us to share a campsite in Tok. But reaching Tok would mean cycling 100 Kilometers against the wind! I didn’t sleep very long and didn’t eat very well, so you can imagine how grouchy I turned when the wind blew right into my face and the bike computer didn’t seem to move at all. It was a real tough day and I was half-dead and very grumpy when we finally reached Tok.

Did I mention the Spruce?

Did I mention the Spruce?

In the evening we joined the campground’s pancake toss. Talking about waste. Aim of the game is to toss a pancake into a bucket. If you make it, they’ll pay for your breakfast. None of us made it, so Martine and Roberto biked into town to get dinner and breakfast. In the meantime I sat down in a corner with little rain and tried to connect to the weak Wi-Fi signal. The campground’s temporary caretaker walked by with a tray of pancakes. I had been hungry since noon, my stomach roared louder and louder.

Annika and Roberto in Tok, Alaska

Tok, Alaska

“Care for a pancake?”

“YES!” (I nearly yelled out the “yes”) “But aren’t those the throwing pancakes?”

“These ones here are. But those …” (he pointed onto a stack in the tray’s corner) “Those have all been thrown right inside the clean bucket!”

I couldn’t believe my luck. My belly couldn’t either and let out an extra loud roar. My mouth was all watering when I grabbed one. But in the last moment the man laughed out loudly and took away the tray.

Camping on some pullout

Camping on some pullout

“Hahaha I was just kidding, those are all tossing-pancakes. They are for the dog.” The man turned around and left. I fought hard with the tears. Stupid dog. Stupid dog. Stupid man. Stupid dog.

Three Bears Alaska

Three Bears Alaska, Tok’s supermarket

By now my stomach rumbled nonstop. For a while I considered stealing one of the pancakes from the dog, I couldn’t have cared less for a bit of soil, dust and hair from the floor, but I was too afraid to be observed by somebody in my desperate moment.

Cycling towards the Tok Cutoff

Yes, Alaska seems to be one huge forest.

This is NOT FUNNY for any hungry cyclist. It was about half an hour later when Martine and Roberto returned and by 10 pm dinner was finally ready. We very much deserved this dinner.

 

 

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  1. Well, that’s just so mean! Teasing with pancakes… tss…

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