The Denali Highway

June 23

Friday morning we woke to a cloudy day in the high 50s.  After packing the bikes we went to the lodge for coffee and found the lone waitress busy because the cook did not show up so she had to do everything.  Reliable help can be hard to find in Alaska.  We served ourselves and then hit the road.

We were riding west to Denali and into the clouds that looked like rain.  The road had evidence of rain and for a while we were riding just behind it.  The gravel road was good and the rain held the dust down so we were riding about 45mph.  After an hour we hit several areas of road work and had to stop and wait for the pilot car.  Once past that we hit more rain and wetter roads.  After about 60 miles we stopped at a little lodge and had coffee and their modest food offering – a Jimmy Dean’s breakfast sandwich.

We were riding through the middle of nowhere.  The feeling of remoteness was very high even though people were around.  If something happened it could be awhile before anyone could help.  The scenery was amazing with the mountain ranges in the distance and the numerous streams running in the valleys.  There were still very few trees and mostly shrubs.  There is no place to hide in this country if the weather soured.

After we left the lodge the road conditions became a bit muddy and I had a few moments of concern with my tires sliding.  My riding partner had it much worse because Justin had street oriented tires.  At one point he and Alla disappeared from my mirror so I stopped.  About the time I was going to turn back there was Justin, Alla had to get off and walk so that he could manage the slippery mud.  The poorest conditions did not last long and they were able to ride two up but we were crawling about 15 mph.  After half an hour the road began to improve and we could ride at 40 mph.  Then, the last 20 miles to paved road things got really good and we could ride at the 50mph speed limit.  We got to Cantwell and sped north to a campground just outside Denali.  It felt good to be on smooth pavement at 70 and in no time we arrived.

The camping options at 4pm around Denali are few so we settled for a site that we had to walk down a hill to reach.  There is no place flat enough for two tents but there is a raised pavilion that we set our tents on.  The cool thing is that we have a roof above us and the chance of rain is high.  we will be here a few days to explore Denali.

We spent all day riding the 110 miles of gravel on the  Denali Highway and at times it was a bit stressful but the experience of crossing this desolate place and viewing the amazing scenery was well worth it.  My dirt riding experience has grown some more and through it all the marvelous BMW GS just flat performs its duty.

The mileage was short today, about 140 miles but the challenging dirt road makes it seem like three times that distance.  We are hoping to be able to see the peak of Denali but the weather forecast is not in our favor for the next few days – stay tuned.

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