Q: Isn't it cold in Alaska?
A: In the winter it is very cold in the Interior. It is not very cold, even in the winter, nearer the ocean, in Southeast and Anchorage; highs reach the 20's and 30's. In the summer, highs generally reach the 60's and 70's, lows in the 40's and 50's, for most of the state. I had a few nights in the 30's, days in the 50's. One day I was snowed on, in the mountains (3500-4000 ft.).
Q: Did you see the Northern Lights?
A: No. They don't come around until fall. Sometimes they show up in late August, but the sun didn't set until 11:00 or later, and I was asleep anyway!
Q: Aren't things expensive in Alaska?
A: Yes and No. Everyday stuff like groceries and clothes are maybe 20% more than in the continental U.S. But, since the tourist season is so short, hotels and restaurants in touristy areas are quite pricey. I actually spent LESS, in terms of everyday expenses, biking Alaska than I did on previous trips, because I ate out less and stayed in a hotel less (both because of price and because of limited availability), and because camping was often free.
Q: Did you see Mt. McKinley?
A: I got a clear view of the summit once, in the evening (around 10:30). Clouds often surround the mountain, so clear views are rare. It's not hard to go a week without seeing the summit. During my stay at Denali Park I saw the bottom part of the mountain but never the summit. It is a very impressive mountain, but Denali Park is much more than the mountain. In fact, the original purpose for establishing the park was to protect the abundant wildlife there.
Q: Did you see any grizzly bears?
A: I saw several from the bus in Denali Park. I had no desire to come face to face with one on my bicycle. Although fatal maulings are rare, grizzlies are dangerous animals.
Q: Did you see any other animals?
A: Sure. In Denali I saw caribou (reindeer), moose, a wolf and a porcupine, ptarmigans, magpies, and other birds; on my ferry ride I saw sea otters, puffins, and a harbor seal. The magpies have a most interesting call, which sounds like that of the adult bird and about four children all at the same time.
Q: Did you see the Alaska Pipeline?
A: Yes, several times, it follows the Richardson Highway, roughly, from Fairbanks to Valdez. I also toured a pump station outside of Delta Junction, and saw the terminal across the bay in Valdez. It's not as big as you might imagine, only four feet across, 4-10 ft. above the ground (when it is above ground; about half of the way it's buried).
Q: Isn't it difficult to bike, with all the mountains in Alaska?
A: Surprisingly not. Because there is so little population in the rural areas, roads were free to travel the easiest route possible, which usually meant following rivers through the mountains. Furthermore, many river beds, and the land nearby, were formed from glaciers in the last ice age, and so were wide enough to accomodate roads, and flat at the same time. So often the uphills and downhills would be gradual.
Q: Are the people any different?
A: Sure. They are more diverse, with a large Native population and non-trivial black population. But they were also very much American. I probably saw American flags more frequently in Alaska than I do in Georgia (and Confederate Flags much less frequently, which was a blessing).
Q: What else was neat?
A: Watching salmon spawn, and swim upstream to spawn. Even though that's something everyone's seen on TV, TV doesn't really do it justice, doesn't really capture the struggle, both in getting upstream, and in dying after spawning.
I also really enjoyed the tundra, which is definitely something you don't see everyday, living in the South. Some of it is boggy, from peat moss accumulating over the years. And in the taiga, which is basically tundra with muchkin trees, spruce take a long time to grow, so they grow very scraggly and very small, and sometimes at odd angles if there's permafrost under the soil.
Q: Were you alone all the time?
A: Hardly. I met about thirty other bicyclists, some of which accompanied me for part of my journey, or hung out with me on days off. Many were college students, some of whom come up to work in the parks or canneries for the summer, and who do a little sightseeing before heading home (this isn't hard to do cheap, because hitchhiking is common); and many others were foreign, particularly German. What was unusual about my tour was not that I was biking in Alaska, but that I had a wife and two children. I didn't meet any other backpackers or cyclists who had children.
Q: What did your family do while you were biking?
A: They all went to visit my wife's sisters in Illinois and Missouri; they all got sick and came home tireder than they left! But it was sure nice of them to let me go.