How to explore alaska by bike
“No matter your starting point, every worthwhile adventure starts with a good plan,” says mountain bike adventurer Eric Porter. The Kentuckian has been planning backcountry adventures to the planet’s most farway locations since graduating college in 2002. After marrying a native Alaskan in 2006, annual visits up north for family began and were always accompanied with a bike. Through these trips, Porter has become one of few riders to gain the intimate knowledge of how, and where, to explore the last frontier of the west: Alaska. No matter where you’re at now, Porter can teach you how to plan your next Alaskan adventure on two wheels.
The weather in Alaska is unpredictable at best, and you’re going to deal with the full range. We had everything from 80s and sunny to 40 degrees and flash flood level raining. At one point we were camped out at the top of a mountain that had a shuttle road for DH runs, and after finishing riding and setting up camp on top, we woke up to rain, and a sinking feeling knowing that we were stuck on top of the hill until the rain stopped and the dirt dried out, which could be days or more. If you are camping, which is likely since there aren’t many hotels, bring tarps to set up for more dry space for cooking and eating, and generally waiting for it to stop raining.
If you’re renting a truck, seriously consider the extra insurance, because paved roads are few and far between the further out you get, and if you get in, you’re going to need to get out even if it means smashing a skid plate on a rutted out dirt road or pin striping the sides of the truck with alders. I recommend washing the truck before returning it, as well as giving it a good scratch filling hand wax if you have the time, not that I’ve done that to a truck… Also keep dirt tools in the truck for if/when you get stuck. We used ours to fix some truck ruts and get us out of some hairy situations.
When you plan your trip, book it for as long as possible, because on top of waiting for weather, it takes a long time to get anywhere you’re going. It is bigger than the next 3 biggest states combined, and there are no large highways connecting everything.
Alaska is actually wild, with some of the biggest grizzly bears in the world roaming around, along with wolves, moose, caribou, and more. I don’t go anywhere without my can of bear spray, and often shout or make noise while riding to let them know I’m coming. I haven’t had any close calls, but I know it’s just a matter of time before running into one. The other animal you will encounter is the dreaded mosquito, often referred to in jokes as the Alaska state bird because how big they are up there. I never use bug spray, can’t stand the stuff. In Alaska, I use it! They really can be that bad, and make your life miserable. Luckily though 100% deet bug spray really does work.
Some of the best riding in Alaska is out there, and if a rescue is needed, it won’t be fast. If you’re going to spend time up here riding, you’ll want to have as much medical training as possible, ideally Wilderness First Responder so you can stabilize an injury and facilitate a rescue. Always ride with a solid first aid kit, rain gear, bear spray, emergency blanket or bivy, and any tools or extra parts you may need for your bike. You could be a long way from a bike shop. I always travel with a Spot satellite beacon to let my family know I’m ok every day, since I may not have cell reception, and the heli rescue button is always there if things really go pear shaped.
It doesn’t get dark in the summer in Alaska, and it’s going to mess with you! The sun sets after midnight and comes back up around 4 in the morning, so there’s little time for sleep. On the upside, there’s plenty of time for riding. On our last trip we covered a ton of terrain since we didn’t have to worry about light, and packed 4 days of riding into two. The best plan is to go hard when the weather is nice, and catch up on sleep when the rain rolls in.
As mentioned earlier, you could get stuck in the middle of nowhere without cell reception, with the road washed out. Bring a few extra days worth of food just in case, and definitely don’t forget coffee and Red Bull to keep the energy up when the getting is good! Lots of snacks and Clif bars are good too, because you will literally have no schedule. The whole breakfast lunch and dinner routine throughout the day is gone, along with bedtimes, you eat when you’re hungry and sleep when you’re tired.
Type 2 fun
Some of your trip may turn into type 2 fun, depending on how ambitious you are. This means it’s fun after you’re done doing it, but possibly miserable at the time. It’s an acquired taste that you grow to love, and is the only way to get into some of the best places! Trail conditions are often in questions, and you may end up walking through swamps with wet feet, then getting your legs cut while bushwacking through overgrown alders, then putting your bike on the shoulders for an hour of hike-a-bike, and somehow it’s all still worth it!