On Thursday evening before the BWR, Damon and I spun south from M__'s house to join the Coastal Trail. We followed that path from Westchester Lagoon past Earthquake Park, the airport, Point Woronzof, and much of the way to Kincaid before turning to retrace our steps. Instead of returning via E Street we climbed the hill north of the lagoon and followed the Park Strip back east to M__'s. 20 fairly unremarkable miles, though I did see one bull moose sporting an impressive rack.
|Westchester Lagoon, facing the Chugach Mountains to the east.|
|View of Mt. Susitna -- "The Sleeping Lady" -- facing south and west from Point Woronzof.|
Assessment of the Coastal Trail: it makes a better run than a ride, but it is a marvelous public resource. I returned to it both by foot and by bike later in the trip.
|Beluga Point, with the Kenai Peninsula across Turnagain Arm to the south.|
|Potter Marsh. Not Mt. McKinley!|
An interesting realization hit me as I was cruising past Potter Marsh headed back north to the car. It went something like this: this is as good as it will ever be. I was feeling strong and enjoying the extraordinary weather, scenery, camaraderie, and anticipation of the upcoming 1200K, and I understood then that sport simply will never be more enjoyable than it was at that moment. That meant not just that the riding was great but also that any quiet aspirations I've been harboring of becoming a serious or a competitive athlete are pipe dreams better suited to a younger man. The realization was in equal parts liberating and depressing -- or, perhaps, seeing what happened to my cycling aspirations a few days later, foreboding.
Thompson Pass Descent
The Big Wild Ride was scheduled to begin at midnight rather than the originally planned 6 pm with the result that we would be making the uber-scenic Thompson Pass ascent after dark. With a day to kill and a car to kill it with, we addressed that problem on Sunday by driving to the Worthington Glacier parking area for a picnic and returning half of the way to the hotel by bicycle. We announced our intention to G__, the ride documentarian, who asked to join us to film the descent. G__ also brought a third rider, this one astride a recumbent.
|Worthington Glacier -- taken while *not* carb loading for the Thompson Pass Descent.|
Few to no cars shared the road with us, so there was nothing keeping us from simply letting it go. After the initial steep descent I engaged the pedals just enough to keep the speed over some flats before entering Keystone Canyon, where we zoomed past several waterfalls. We stopped not long after G__ filmed us passing Horsetail Falls, on the west side of the highway not far uphill from its better-known sibling Bridleveil Falls (picture below).
Once again, Damon's report is the best source for enjoying this one. His videos from the descent -- well, everybody should have that kind of magic at least once in his/her life.
Valdez to Nowhere
Damon took the BWR start with 43 others at 11:59 p.m. while I did my best to sleep and to recover. I had been granted a waiver from the closing times on the early controls for "mechanical reasons," so my plan, if I could recover, was to start riding in the morning and arrive very late (or early the next day) at the first overnight in Delta Junction, 270 miles up the road. By morning my nausea had abated and at the very least I was unable to sleep longer, so M__ filled in the start time and signed my card and I headed north at 6 a.m.
This road was not new to me. In 2011 Sam and I rode the first 70-or-so miles of the BWR before I wrecked. We cruised the first 15 flat miles with a 29-rider peloton. (An image of that peloton is the cover photo on the November 2011 American Randonneur Magazine. Yes, that's my mug prominently displayed, riding second in the pace-line.) Early ascending through Keystone Canyon is casual riding.
|Bridleveil Falls, Keystone Canyon, 17 miles north of Valdez.|
It is also profoundly beautiful. Off to the right (east) are dramatic vistas of ridge after ridge of craggy peaks. To the left (west) the mountains rise immediately from the road-side with long and steep expanses of well-vegetated hillside and, even as late as July 22, a substantial remaining snow-pack. Ahead the road snakes upward into a seemingly impenetrable range of mountains and behind it falls away, descending to parallel the churning silty Lowe River carrying melting glaciers into Prince William Sound.
|Lowe River, Keystone Canyon, approximately 17 miles north of Valdez.|
Proof, by the way, that I was checked out of this ride before it started: I stopped mid-climb to change the wheel for some women who had been hoping to drive their bald-tired Subaru to Anchorage.
I topped out on Thompson Pass after 2.5 hours and snapped a photo that none of the official riders would be able to take:
|The Gunnar at Thompson Pass.|
|The Gunnar at Tsaina Lodge|
|Picture of a picture of the Tiekel River.|