While we’ve taken a hiatus from writing to our NomadicCycling blog, we have been busy traveling, writing and posting to social media for PeopleForBikes. In case you didn’t follow our blogs for PeopleForBikes, you can find most of them at the following links (there were two that didn’t make the cut to get published):
- May – Seasoned riders learn new tricks
- June – Bike trail development makes better communities
- July – What’s in North Dakota?
- August – A visit to a velodrome
- October – Confessions of a traveling duo
We had the experience of a lifetime traveling around the country in the name of bicycle advocacy, and we feel honored to have been able to work on making a difference in the political climate for cycling in the United States. There were definitely some places that were discouraging, but the majority of people we talked to were supportive of bicycling and wanted to see more bike infrastructure in their cities. While living out of a car for six and a half months was definitely stressful on our relationship, we would do it again in a heartbeat if offered the opportunity.
The best part about our short job was getting to network and meet so many people in the bicycling world. Not only did we get to make some awesome new friends, but we were able to visit old friends and family all over the country that we hadn’t seen in months, or years. We visited over 70 bike shops, mostly on the eastern half of the US, and really felt that we were able to connect with some of them to improve cycling conditions for them locally.
The second best part about the job is that we got new mountain bikes from Giant/Liv, and we got to take them to some of the best trails in each of the states that we drove through! We didn’t get to do quite as much riding as we wanted to, but we did get to go to places that we never would have otherwise. Now that we’ve surrendered our car, we’re not sure we’ll get to use the mountain bikes that much, sadly.
Since our contract ended at the end of October, Dallas and I are taking some time off to relax and make up for all the long days we spent on the road with no down time. I’m trying to focus on the remainder of the cyclocross season, and we’re both hoping to go somewhere warm (South America?) for the winter. In the meantime, Dallas is in Portland and I am in Providence until further notice! Also, follow us on instagram for photos! (I’m too lazy to include any in this post right now)
Dallas and I figured that while we were already in the Southwest, we should find a way to explore the surrounding area before our dog-watching duties began again. So we rented a car and drove down to Flagstaff, where I have a cousin, Jeanine, and Dallas and I have a friend, James.
Over the past two years, I have been traveling around my own country like I never have before, and I am still astounded by how vastly different it can be depending on where you go, and how dramatically beautiful it is. It’s amazing that you can see such an array of climate zones, landscapes and people all while remaining within the United States. These experiences that I’ve had make it a little easier to appreciate being an American, even though I am still itching to get out and explore the rest of the world. From the food and hospitality of the South, to where the mountains meet the ocean in Alaska, and everything in between, I am more in love with this country than I ever have been. Our recent trip to the desert in Arizona further exceeded my expectations, and continued to awe me in every way.
The enormous red rocks rising straight up, illuminated by the sun, give off a presence that is impossible to capture on camera. Yet, the scenery was constantly making me want to stop and take a million pictures everywhere I turned. It is so stunning, I could not take my eyes off of the landscape. This presented a challenge when Dallas and I went trail running in Sedona. We spent a few hours on a ‘run’ that couldn’t have been more than 6 miles, pausing to take in our surroundings and attempting to photograph everything without falling into the canyon. It was equally difficult to drive down to Sedona from Flagstaff without stopping or slowing down to feast our eyes upon the vivid land.
The day before we went to Sedona, we drove from Durango to Flagstaff, stopping at the Four Corners National Monument along the way. My eyes could barely handle all of the visual stimulation then, and it was nothing compared to Sedona. Once in Flagstaff, Dallas and I met up with James (who Dallas had originally met on his first bike tour in California and who had stayed with us in Portland when touring with his mom, Jo). James brought us to Diablo for burgers, and then we walked over to Flagstaff Bicycle Revolution to meet my cousin, Jeanine, and her husband, Stuart. Flag Bike Rev is a local bike shop, and they were having their holiday party.
After leaving the party, we were kindly welcomed by Jame’s friend, Lauren, to stay at her house. Two of their other friends were in town from Silver City, New Mexico, and Dallas had stayed with one of them while he was passing through two years ago. We had good conversation with James and friends, and I really enjoyed listening to Lauren and Mike sing and play the guitar (Dallas even joined in on guitar towards the end). It’s really comforting to know that there are such good people all over the country, and we can relate to many of the same things, like music, the environment, and bicycling. I think that this would be my group of friends had I lived in Flagstaff or Silver City. It also makes me miss my friends back in Rhode Island, and I look forward to seeing them again.
Anyway, after all of us went out for an early breakfast of chiliquiles at Martan’s, Dallas and I headed off to Sedona. I could probably spend a few months in Sedona before I got tired of exploring all of the trails it has to offer. I did want to visit Arcosanti before heading back to Flagstaff, so we only got to spend a few hours in Sedona.
Arcosanti is an experimental town, designed by architect Paolo Soleri, who just passed away earlier this year at the ripe age of 93. Soleri was born and studied architecture in Torino, Italy before coming to the US and working under Frank Lloyd Wright. He started constructing Arcosanti in the 1970’s, based on his idea of Arcology (architecture + ecology). It is still somewhat a work in progress, but is a very cool idea with the goal of being environmentally sustainable and lean with regards to urban sprawl. I first learned about Arcosanti while working on my master’s at Brown and researching places that are not autocentric (revolving around the automobile). I am slightly embarrassed that we had to drive there, but I am glad that I got to see it.
On the way back to Flagstaff, it started snowing, and the next morning there were several inches of snow covering everything. I love the way the snow clings to all the tree branches, turning them white. We enjoyed coffee and breakfast with James and friends at Macy’s, and then said goodbye before driving to the Grand Canyon. We drove over a mountain pass on the way, and once on the other side, there was no more snow on the ground.
I felt like we were the luckiest couple of people on earth when the clouds began to break while we were at the Grand Canyon National Park, and I was reminded of when the same thing happened while we were visiting Denali National Park in Alaska. I can’t believe this enormous canyon has been sitting here all this time, and I had never even seen it once until now. It’s incredible how different everything can look depending on the season, the lighting, and the weather. There are so many different types of beauty, but I think my favorite is these striking natural landscapes.
Dallas and I began hiking down into the canyon from the South Rim’s Kaibob trail, but we only had enough time to go about 1.5 miles before having to turn back up. We watched the clouds shift as the sun set behind the south wall of the canyon, casting various colors and changing moods on the whole picture, all the while maintaining its majestic aura. The long drive back to Durango was dark and silent, but the moon rising behind the clouds was also pretty magnificent.
Dallas and I were able to take advantage of a deal on a rental car to drive from Skagway to Anchorage, from where we found cheap flights to Seattle. Since it’s so hard to get to Alaska, we figured we should explore some more of the state before leaving entirely. We left Skagway on a Wednesday and made stops in Carcross and Whitehorse before heading Northwest on the ALCAN. Once over the White Pass summit and into Canada, we enjoyed clear skies and roads lined with trees of autumn colors, ranging from dark green to bright yellow and orange. The Yukon is SO beautiful, but that first night of camping was FREEZING!
We drove on through places with names like Destruction Bay and Beaver Creek, and then crossed back into Alaska on Thursday afternoon, stopping in Tok and North Pole en route to Fairbanks. We were never far from a picturesque view of mountains, most of which were topped with snow. It actually started snowing on us while passing through Tok. In Fairbanks, Dallas surprised me and splurged on a hotel so we could sleep well in a warm bed. I had offered numerous times to drive, but he insisted on staying behind the wheel.
We took off from Fairbanks relatively early on Friday morning. Both of us had developed an aversion to big cities after living in Skagway all summer, and we were eager to continue on through this one. The day was mainly cloudy, and the enormous mountains surrounding us were mostly invisible. We really wanted to see Denali, but the road is usually only open to personal vehicle for the first 15 miles. A few days ago, they had opened the road up as far as mile 30 (weather dependent). We were fortunate enough to drive twice as far than most tourists who visit during the height of the summer season. Adding to our good fortune, the sun started peaking out in the distance behind the mountains as we neared the 30-mile mark. We paused at this lookout spot to eat some crackers with tuna and avocado, and by the time we were ready to move on the whole sky had transformed to clear blue, and all of the clouds were gone. At every moment on the way up the road, we were both stopping constantly to take photos. On the way down it was even more awe-inspiring.
The only thing both of us would change next time we visit Denali is our mode of transportation. It was warm and effortless to drive through, but it would have been so much better had we been on bicycles. Throughout our road trip we had to make frequent stops to get out and stretch our legs, run around scenic overlooks, do pushups, yoga, etc. On a bicycle we wouldn’t feel the need to stop to move our bodies, and we could take in all the beautiful scenery without a pane of glass separating us from all of this beauty and fresh air. Another benefit to being on a bike is that we would be permitted to ride the entire 92-mile road through Denali National Park, and not just 15 or 30 miles. The only other option to get that far into the park would be from the seat of a tan-colored school bus filled with other tourists.
Continuing south from Denali as the sun disappeared behind the mountains, we saw two moose playing in one of the creeks off the highway. Eventually, we made our way to Talkeetna, a small town best known for being the launching spot for climbers wishing to summit Mt. McKinley. The only place that was open was the Fairview Inn – an historic pub with accommodations on the second floor. The room we were given was filled with nothing but a bed, dresser, and noise from the bar downstairs, but the price was right. Dallas and I each enjoyed a beer from the Denali Brewing Company (located next door to the Fairview Inn) before heading upstairs to our room and falling sound asleep before last call.
On Saturday, we walked around Talkeetna, sampling coffee and baked goods from several cafes before heading towards Anchorage. We only stopped briefly in Anchorage to have sushi at Ronnie’s at the recommendation of Alex, a native Alaskan who I had worked with at Columbia in Portland. The rolls were so big, we took enough sushi with us for dinner later that night. Also at Alex’s suggestion, we continued on to Homer, instead of Seward, to where we had originally considered driving. Both towns are at the end of opposite roads on the Kenai Peninsula. Shortly after the sun went down it started drizzling, and we decided to stop and pitch our tent at a campground in Ninilchik. Our luck came through again when we woke up on Sunday morning to clear blue skies.
The drive out to Homer was beautiful, with mountain views on the other side of the bay. It was amazing how green the trees still were down here, while they were all yellow and orange up in Fairbanks and the Yukon. We were able to run 5 or 6 miles along the Homestead Trail after lounging at one of the only cafes still open for the winter season.
To be honest, the Homestead Trail left for much to be desired. The parking area was across the street and a block away from where we entered the trail. No big deal, once we found the trail. However, we were running up to our eyeballs in a field of fireweed that had turned to cotton, getting white bits of the plant all over our black shirts. Still, not that much of a problem. But the long grass around the trail covered up the surface, which was muddy and full of divots. Not being able to see our footing, I feared that I would twist an ankle or slip in the mud. Our fears grew worse when we accidentally stumbled upon the bottom half of what appeared to be a horse’s front leg. It looked like the leg had been sawn clean off right below the first joint. In addition to all this, the trail was inconsistent and very ambiguous. There were forks, dead ends, clearings (one of which we interrupted a steamy rendezvous between two ATVers), and eventually we had to take a road for quite a distance to get back to the car. None of our issues with Homestead seemed to bother the two big dogs who took joy in chasing us down parts of the trail, romping carefree circles around us through the muck before disappearing amongst the fireweed.
Any chance we got to move around in between long hours of sitting in the car felt great, and the weather could not have been better for us this time. We had to return the car the next morning, so we couldn’t spend the night on the Kenai. As we drove back up to Anchorage, the setting sun lit the sky behind us with shades of pink and orange. It started raining and snowing as we drove North into the darkness.
We totalled over 1600 miles on our Alaskan road trip adventure, yet we still covered less than half of the state. We could have driven more than halfway across the continental US. Another thing I find interesting is that Rhode Island, being the smallest state in the US, has more residents than Alaska. It is such a vast and wild land, empty when it comes to people, but so full of wildlife, mountains, trees, plants, water, and beauty.