Trip Report

Adventure Cycling Association's

"Northern Lights"
Bicycle Trip
in Alaska

August 1-13, 1995

Judy Colwell
Copyright (c) 1995.

Photos by: Duane Jardine and Judy Colwell, © 1995.
Distribution for personal use permitted.
Distribution for other uses only with written permission.

This trip was sponsored by Adventure Cycling Association (formerly Bike Centennial). Eleven of us (7 men, 4 women) ranging in age from 30-67, signed up for their new "Northern Lights" trip, a self-contained camping trip cycling from Anchorage to Portage, train and ferry to Valdez, and then cycle The Richardson Highway ("the Rich") to Fairbanks. 450 miles, averaging approximately 40-45 miles/day. Two weeks. And with luck, see the northern lights.

The first night in Anchorage was spent at the Spenard Hostel where Jackie and Wanda provided excellent hostel hospitality, and the last night in Fairbanks was at Billie's Backpacker Hostel. All other nights were in campgrounds, many of which were state parks/recreation areas and were not reserved ahead. We *usually* cooked breakfast and dinner in camp and had lunch on the road.

It is said that it is people who make a trip special. It couldn't have been truer than on this trip. Most of us were strangers to each other when we arrived in Anchorage, and yet within a very short time, we were "family." From my perspective, it was the kind of cohesive group that a trip leader yearns for, never sure that it will happen. It happened. This group of people will be the benchmark of comparison for any group trip I take, or lead, in the future. (Of course the location was also incredibly beautiful!)

Those who have read my other bike trip reports over the past few years know that I travel with a smallish (oh, he's about 15" tall) teddy bear mascot on the back of my bicycle: Rufus Turre Bear. Although he isn't mentioned often here, he was an active participant, even garnering a gift along the way...a small blue foam visor found by the side of the road (roadkill). As someone observed, "You are never traveling alone."

My equipment: I ride an older Trek "sport/touring" bike, vintage 1987, a 400T (triple) which I have modified to 48/38/24 and 12-30; bar end shifters; a Brooks B-66 saddle (yes, heavy, but very comfortable; the springs absorb enormous amounts of road shock); fenders; Blackburn racks (front and back), Madden panniers on the rear, Lone Peak on the front, Lone Peak handlebar bag; 700x28C kevlar tires with Mr. Tuffy's (I get a flat tire about once a year...maybe...which is more than often enough). I carried about 32lbs. of personal gear (including pannier weight); the group also divided and carried "group gear" which included food and cooking equipment.

After absorbing some seriously good advice from our trip leader, I don't use zip locks bags any more for clothing, but now use OR (Outdoor Research) Advanced Hydroseal stuff sacks.

Tent: North Face "Tadpole." It's been in hellacious storms (Ireland) and innumerable rainy nights. I seam seal it every two years (I've had it since 1991 and it is very well used), use a small ground cloth (a cut open trash compactor bag), and have never had a drop of water inside that I didn't somehow cause myself.

Sleeping bag: L.L. Bean down bag, 2#2oz. (20 deg.) I adore my down sleeping bag, but in very cool nights, the foot section gets rather "condensed." Next trip I'll take a Primaloft bag or a Lite Loft one. (As yet unpurchased.)

Rain gear: Burley! (Ultrex fabric, similar to Gore-tex.) Jacket and rain pants. I used the REI Gore-tex over sox for the first time on this trip. They worked fantastically well. I'll always keep a pair with my rain gear. (I usually wore them over my [rather thick] wool cycling sox because it was chilly out.)

Clothing: I am a great fan of Polartec(tm) 200 outerwear and anything Patagonia makes from Capilene(tm). I generally subscribe to the notion that nearly all clothing must serve double or triple duty...for instance, I have "off bike" long pants that I could cycle in if necessary (climbing pants with gusseted crotch rather than a seam; they also convert to shorts with their zip-off legs). I dress in layers and stop cycling as often as is necessary to adjust, according to the weather. This way I am able to cover a temperature range of snow->90+ deg. (which didn't happen on this trip, but did in Montana). Most everything is synthetic fibers, with one cotton t-shirt just in case there is a very warm day.

Pre-trip Reading:

"The Milepost (1995) "- Excellent information.
"Lonely Planet Guide. 1995 - Alaska."
"Alaska Bike Touring Guide." This was generally useful, but the information is dated, and eventually was humorously referred to as "The Book of Lies," as many of the places cited have closed.
"Coming into the Country" by John McPhee.
"Alaska" by James Michner

Additionally: There is a wonderful REI store in Anchorage! Although I was well prepared gear-wise for this trip, I think many of us made *at least* one venture per day to REI prior to the trip to pick up one thing or another (this could have been as many as four or five trips for some of the riders; in my case, I think I was there three or four times before the trip got started. I should have a nice rebate at the end of the year.


This trip report is an abbreviated version of my personal trip journal which is far too long to consider posting. Because this was a group trip, I've purposely left out names, and used more generic references such as "we" or "one of the group...." My perceptions are my own and may not agree with others' on the trip, and I don't wish to offend anyone who was sharing this spectacular experience.

Table of Contents <-Day 1 ->

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