The next morning, stiff after sleeping on the cabin floorboards, I awoke to Kristin’s culinary prowess, fantastic breakfast burritoes. After a savory nosh, I offered my goodbyes and thanks to me dear friends and pointed the front wheel south towards Anchorage. “Maybe I will finally get to see this damned mountain,” I yelled aloud, smirking to myself.
The next 100 miles were a dream. Ideal riding conditions: the air crisp, the immense scenary with its vivid hues of greens, browns, and blues, the growl of 1200cc’s, the aniticipation of Denali, Talkeetna, and then Anchorage with Uncle Frank.
But first, at Healy, I decided to explore the Stampede Trail made famous by Chris McCandless and his biography derived from his journal accounts, Into The Wild.
At first the road had a nicely groomed gravel surface that followed a winding river bed, but then several miles into the trail, small boulder sized rocks and one to two feet deep pot holes began swallowing up my front wheel and jolting my luggage carriers. I slowed my pace, stood up to allow my legs to absorb the shock, and allowed my dirt riding experience to shine. Just as I was feeling more comfortable on the hazardous surface, I headr a loud snap. The bike began to veer to the right and left, feeling out of balance. I pulled off and looked down at the pannier rack which is the mounting mechanism for the side luggage cases. The welding at a main joint had completely failed and caused the right case to dangle, barely attached.
They say the two most important tools in one’s tool kit are WD-40 and duct tape. If it doesn’t move and it should, use WD-40. If it moves and it shouldn’t, use duct tape. The latter was the case, so I reach into my travel tool pouch, grabbed the duct tape, and reaffixed and supported the welding failure. It worked swimmingly, remaining in tact to Anchorage.
I continued down the Stampede trail and spotted a group of 15 volunteers collecting litter. I asked about the famous bus McCandless used as his temporary home, where he eventually died. Geoff, a tall, gangly teenager with patchy facial hair and a cartoon smile communicated that the road disappears shortly ahead and the bus is still 20 miles away. The bus visit would have to wait for another time. As I road back to the main thoroughfare, I intently marvelled at Chris McCandless’s story. How can someone’s spirit have so much passion to denounce civilization and lead a life solitary wilderness? What drew him so powerfully to engage in such extreme measures to find himself? Was he scared towards the end? Did he find the freedom for which he searched? How was I like Chris on my spiritual pilgrimage? I’m definitely not as extreme, but I, too, was searching for freedom and self-actualization. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do something remarkable, that I could be a supertramp, an adventurer. I remembered one of his final observations before he died, “happiness is only real when shared.” Then why am I doing this alone?
Back on the Parks Highway, I passed the national park entrance. Just then my eyes snapped to the right, overwhelemed by a jolt of ecstacy, I raised my body towards its majesty. I stood erect on the pegs, reached up to hit record, and pointed my GoPro camera right at it. There it was. Finally. It took two different trips over four years and many disappointed days. Denali.
While its my job to describe in words the sights I witness, afterall this is a travel memoir of sorts, as I write this, I am experiencing great difficulty naming the words to respectfully illustrate the grandeur of The Great One.
In the foreground, some of the most massive snow-striped rock monstrosities imagineable compeled awe. Then icey dark blue craggy peeks of the Alaska Range rose above those impressive granite towers. Even higher, a layer of clouds shroud the lower visible section of Denali, causing the peak to rise up, seemingly from nothing into the sun. A dream would have seemed more plausible. My imagination could not do justice to this scene.
Denali, at over 20 thousand feet, is the highest mountain in North America. But with it’s base to peak rise of around 18,000 feet, it’s the tallest base to peak mountain, not covered or partially covered by water, in the world. Everest’s base to peak rise, at its most generous calculation, is 15,000 feet.
I paused my journey to Anchorage again and again to bask in the mountain’s mammoth aesthetics. Each time, thinking to myself that this view was better than before. I turned onto the spur road to Talkeetna. On 2008’s trip with my parents and brother, we missed Talkeetna. I need to see the town where many climbing trips to Denali commenced and where the inspiration originated for the hit TV series, Northern Exposure.
And again, another breath-stealing perspective of The Great One. I rode down the main drag of the funky, hip tourist town. The Denali Brewing Company was my stop for lunch. While I refrained from imbibing the tempting brews for safety reasons (I never ride even after one beer), I enjoyed a scrumptious angus burger with aioli garnish and garlic fries.
Onto Anchorage. I arrived at Uncle Franks condo in the late afternoon, ready for a little rest and a real bed. We grilled salmon and sipped Bulleit bourbon on the back porch. I contemplated my next few days with the motorcycle rental. Tomorrow, I would stop at Motoquest to deal with the broken pannier rack.