Day 4

8/4/95 - Friday
Route: Valdez to Blueberry Campground
Lodging: Blueberry Campground
Mileage: 30 miles
Weather: Drizzly or cloudy most of the day. Overcast at night.


There IS a free lunch! The Valdez Gold Rush Days celebration is an annual event, and today is the day that everyone who happens to be in town receives a free celebratory lunch. Town residents. Homeless people. Itinerant touring cyclists. Everyone is welcome to line up at the tables set up behind the the cool, drizzly weather. And if you happen to want to make a small donation in the large glass jar, it is gratefully accepted. The Air Force Band of the Pacific provided jazz for our dining pleasure. Small children racing around on tiny bikes, young men in black leather jackets dangling silver jewelry from any manner of piercings, young women pushing strollers and older women traipsing in their Birkenstocks. There was room for everyone.

After lunch we were on our way out of town, established on the Richardson Highway - our route for the nearly 400 miles to Fairbanks.

We rode the bike path out of town, stopping briefly to watch salmon spawning in the Robe River, and then began the day for real. We didn't have many miles travel, but with the iffy weather and a long uphill grade to Thompson Pass, it could have been unpleasant. We had a late start to our day. I prefer to ride early and if the mileages are short, quit early.

Along the way we stopped to explore a cave and to appreciate Bridal Veil and Horsetail Falls as we entered Keystone Canyon, where the fast running falls freeze solid in the winter and are used by ice climbers to practice their skills.

After huffing and puffing my bike and its gear nearly to the top of Thompson Pass (elevation 2,719 ft.) which holds the Alaska snowfall record (1952/3, 81+ feet of snow), I arrived at Blueberry Campground, our retreat for the night. (I had been worried about pedaling up Thompson Pass. My reference book ["Alaska Bike Touring Guide"] has a terrain profile that seems to translate into at least an 8% grade. I train regularly on a 7.5% grade at home, and knew that I could schlepp my gear up that. Fortunately, Thompson Pass wasn't anywhere near a 7% grade - more like 5%. I never had to drop into my granny. But I was slow.)

One of the available camping sites at Blueberry had large chunks of dead salmon in the fire pit and salmon blood on the picnic tables. With a careful thought to grizzly bears, we decided to set up our tents elsewhere. Perhaps our concerns were overrated; according to the campground "host," the bears don't come to this campground until August 15th when the berries ripen. We were about 10 days too early for the bears. Fine. We'll take appropriate precautions anyway.

This was a potentially outstandingly beautiful place. Unfortunately low scud and quick rain showers moved back and forth across the ragged peaks. I yearned to see these mountains, but the weather didn't cooperate. Briefly, prior to a late sunset, the clouds thinned and blue sky and rocky peaks jutted through the scud. Perhaps tomorrow morning will be clear and I'll get my mountain peak "fix."

The two cooks for the night had a grand surprise for us: pasta primavera. I'm amazed at the innovative meals our various cooks have planned. For dessert, the trip leader attempted, for the second time, to make his famous "wok-steamed cake." (The first time was tasty, but we dubbed it "pudding cake" for obvious reasons.) This rendition was still "same song, second verse." But it was good, and I don't recall anyone turning down their share.

We discovered crowberries along the road and began to gather them up. Crowberries are small very dark berries which look like large black ball bearings perched on tiny thick leafed shrubs hugging the ground. Crowberry juice is good, but the skins are astringent and fibrous. For me, it was better to munch and dejuice the berries, after which spit out the skins.

It was quite cold at the campground - windy, and rainy at first. It quit raining, but we were tired from today's uphill ride and most were tented before the 10:30 sunset.

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Copyright (c) Judith J. Colwell, 1995. All rights reserved.