Alaska AIDS Vaccine Ride, 20-26 August 2000
What an adventure!!!
AAVR Main Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7
Aug 25th, Friday - Day Five. Sheep Mountain Gravel Pit to Palmer Fairgrounds, Palmer, Alaska, 67.3 miles.
Last night we slept in a gravel pit, I can vouch that gravel does not retain any heat; the campsite was dark (heavy cloud cover), and very, very, very wet from the constant rain. In the morning I finished drying the last of my riding clothes and headed for breakfast, where we were informed that for the duration of the ride we were the 6th largest city in the state of Alaska!
It took forever to get out of camp this morning. It was a very wet morning and the fog was so thick that it was not possible to see more than about 30 feet, we couldn't see from one side of camp to the other. The route is supposed to open at 6:30 am every morning, but by 7:20 the route had still not been opened, seems the fog was so bad that the Ride organizers didn't feel it was safe enough to Ride. We had been warned the night before and at breakfast again this morning that the route was the "least safe" stretch of road along the entire route. The first 20 miles of the road snaked its way along the edge of the mountains, fortunately we were all riding on the mountain side of the road, the other side of the road was simply a guard rail and a long, long, long (but beautiful) way down. Unfortunately the mountain side of the road had no shoulder, so between the fog, lack of a shoulder, and the incredible switchbacks riding safely a most challenging task.
When the route finally opened they only let about 10-15 riders leave at a time, in attempts to spread out the line of 1,500 cyclists. No one was allowed to pass another cyclist, if they caught people trying to pass the Ride staff would write down their rider number and their bike was impounded at the next pit stop or at camp that evening. We had all sorts of traffic racing past us not more than a foot away at times - oil tanker trucks, tourists driving huge Winebagos for the very first time, yahoos in pickup racing around the mountain, not to mention almost 100 Ride support vehicles, it made for some very tense riding, talk about being in-the-moment! Once we got down below the fog line riding became much easier (well, "easy" for Alaska).
This day also featured some of the most magnificent scenery I've ever seen in my life, the mountains towering above us were rugged, capped with snow, and circled with clouds at the top; we passed an amazing glacier, the Matanuska Glacier. This glacier exhibits some very un-glacier like behavior (or better said, doesn't exhibit proper glacial behavior), while glaciers are supposed to flow and recede, "Mat" has not moved in over 20 years and scientists can't figure out why. Mat has deep, cobalt blue, crevices in the down slop edge of the ice flow which stand in sharp contrast to the bright white of the glacial ice, an incredible sight.
We knew that we'd be riding downhill today so we were all psyched for an "easy" day of coasting. Once we left the fog we encountered a brutal headwind into which we road the rest of the day. I'd look at the ground and swear I was riding down hill but I was still pedaling just as hard as if I was climbing the other direction. I got both wind burn and sunburn on my face something fierce today, that was certainly a fun change from riding soggy :) One thing that made the day mentally a bit easier was the knowledge that we'd be reentering civilization (or at least inhabited parts) and the fact that the SUN WAS SHINING for the first time since we'd arrived in Alaska!
Part way "down" the mountains toward Palmer a large group of riders had pulled over on the side of the road, I was about to ride past when someone yelled "salmon spawning". Sure enough, right at the side of the road was a stream and it was filled with exhausted red and grey salmon struggling upriver. I stayed a while and watched this live version of the Discovery Channel, it was amazing. In some way we empathized with the salmon as we knew full well what it felt like to struggle up over one hill just to find another.
As we approached Palmer, Alaska, we saw some of the most beautiful sights in the world, Denny's, Taco Bell, McDonalds, and, are you ready? Pizza Hut. Pretty sad eh? Yeah, but after 5 days on the road you'd understand the thrill. (No, I didn't stop at any of them but rode directly on into camp, ah, the will power).
Looking back, today was an incredible ride - only in Alaska can you ride from 3,000 ft. to 400 ft. above sea level and have to pedal the ENTIRE way. The fog in the morning was amazing, the Alaskan headwinds were amazing, the lack of a shoulder on which to ride was amazing.
Our campsite was at the Alaska State Fairground and today was opening day! Factoid: "Alaska has the 2nd highest consumption of Spam in the United States. With good humor and a sense of the absurd, they celebrate this fact at the State Fair every year with a Spam Recipe Contest." Unfortunately, we missed the contest which takes place later in the week.
TONIGHT WE CAMPED ON GRASS, thick, luscious, green grass, our tent stakes pushed into the ground with such ease (and stayed there!). Camp was buzzing with activity, we strung up laundry lines from anything we could find in order to dry out our clothes, the sight of laundry everywhere and on everything was most amusing. I was too tired to head into the State Fair but did manage to watch a fine bit of demolition derby from across the field.
Went to bed feeling a little sad with the thought that this incredible adventure ends tomorrow, but excited at the thought of finally reaching Fairbanks where a hotel room with a real bed and a real shower awaited!
AAVR Main Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7
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