Bears, Bikes, and Denali

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

In May 2010, I took one of the funnest trips I logged during my six-year stay living and working in Alaska. I joined a group of some adventurous and fun outdoor-loving Alaskans for a mountain-bike day trip into Denali National Park.

Before the National Park Service opens the main park road to tourist buses, it allows cyclists to pedal up this mostly dirt road. On that trip, I went with a group of four other mountain bikers, getting as far as the Polychrome Overlook. I didn’t see Denali. Clouds will cover the majestic peak more than half the tourist season, so I didn’t expect to see it. I did expect wildlife, maybe some waking grizzly bears, other wild animals, and beautiful terrain. On that front, the trip was a stunning success.

Denali by Mountain Bike, the Only Way to Travel in Mid-May

The adventure began, as you can expect, around a campfire after all of us had driven up from Anchorage (amazing drive, by the way). We secured a camping spot at the Riley Creek Campground, near the main entrance. This is still a surprisingly wild and beautiful area. Staying up late in the arctic night, we talked story around a fire and planned for an early start on a Friday morning in mid-May.

The next morning, we drove as far as the park service allows, not far from the Savage River Campground. From here, you bike in,

A group of five of us cycled ahead of most of the other mountain bikers that day and reached the overlook, 31 miles from the Savage River parking area. It’s a beautiful stretch of road that climbs up 1,500 feet vertically, with a few long up and down hills. The terrain is mostly brown and still snow-covered that time of year. Along the way, we had to stop because of traffic, namely, a grizzly mother and her two cubs. We laughed a lot as she and her young one slowly walked down the hill, calmly crossed the road, and then ambled down the hillside. We saw another pair close to this group, of a mother and just one cub, on a ridge, framed against a mastic mountain backdrop. That’s five bears in less than one hour!

Respecting, Not Fearing, the Bears

For people who don’t live in Alaska or those who pack guns to kill wild critters, this would appear to be a terrifying moment. It was not, and is not.

Bears are relatively predictable, but still lethal. If you respect their space, don’t threaten their food source or young, and don’t startle them, they mostly will leave you alone. Mostly, respect them and their home. And I can say that having travelled hundreds of hours and many more miles in Alaska’s wild bear country, by bike and foot, not once having been threatened.

I have not published these shots on my websites before and forgot until I saw them again how amazingly breathtaking the “Great Land” (that’s what Alaskans call their state) is. I miss it, particularly this time of year, when the snow begins to melt and the big critters begin to explore, eat, hunt, fish, and be wild–the way they were meant to be.

Here’s the video I published almost exactly eight years ago today from that great trip.


Wind, wheat, and windy roads near The Dalles

(Click on each picture to see a larger photo on a separate picture page.)

I finally did a bike ride I had been meaning to complete for several years. The area near The Dalles, about 80 miles east of Portland on the Columbia River, is wheat country. There are lovely, rolling hills, old and working farms, and the occasional abandoned home. All of this makes for great cycling. A group of friends got together over the Labor Day weekend and explored the hills southeast of the city. This area is considered some of the best for cycling in Oregon. You are greeted with few cars and lonely, two-lane black-top roads that lead, well, to nowhere and also beautiful places.



Back-roads bike ride in Lane County, Oregon

I used to live in Eugene, Oregon, in the mid-1990s. I had not been back for nearly two decades to do one of my favorite bike rides, up Fox Hollow Road, out into rural areas by the millionaires’ high-priced mcmansions and rural homes, then back into town on the Lorane Highway. It’s a classic short ride, with great views of Spencer’s Butte and rural Lane County.

Colors were about at their peak brightness, but a bit brown because of drought. I saw more than two dozen wild turkeys that day too–the most I have ever seen in Oregon. I love this ride. I miss it, but not the pay level I had working as a reporter in that area. Ultimately I left because I could not sustain things. I always enjoy my visits there to see places I know and the people I once had as neighbors and co-workers.

A great list of area rides is published by the local bike advocacy group called GEARs.

Crowded bike racks are always a welcomed sight

Slowly, and painfully slowly at that, efforts are underway to get more folks biking shorter distances in the United States. The biggest barriers, and rationally so, are safety and poor infrastructure that makes it unsafe for anyone but hardened cyclists to share the road. And the lack of places to lock a bike can be a barrier too.

Even in supposedly bike-friendly Seattle, less than one in 10 people ride daily. A 2012 survey found the top two reasons people did not ride were because of weather (in our case, rain) and safety. In this city, quite literally, you can be seriously wounded or killed at almost any time by inattentive drivers who are texting, talking on the cell phone, or simply hostile or oblivious to bikes. So that is why I always play it safe. Research also shows that conditions also can become safer when more people ride their bikes. Safety in a pack. I will keep doing all I can to keep those numbers growing. You can also read my blog post I write on bike safety and health in the United States.

I took this snapshot at the Fremont Fair, in Seattle, on June 21. My bet is a majority of people took their cars to the fair, but this is great to see. (Please click on the photograph to see the picture in a separate picture page.)

The John Wayne Trail … it’s alright

Today I biked one of my favorite off-road trails, the John Wayne Trail. The trail itself runs 100 miles. The ride I normally do on the trail, from Rattlesnake Reservoir near North Bend, outside Seattle, to the old train tunnel at Snoqualmie Pass, is 36 glorious, smooth off-road miles and an excellent way to see some of the front range of the still snowy Cascades. Good for running and even horseback riding too. Yes indeed, it is very much alright!

Biking on a spring day with an old bike


I have a 23-year-old road bike that, well, I just can’t seem to get rid of. Maybe I will this spring. For now, it works, and it is about as old as my bike pump too, which looks worse for wear. Today I experimented with mounting the GoPro on my handlebars to see what kind of angles would be generated and to see what kind of emotions are communicated when someone is caught in the middle of a very aerobic sport. Biking is one of the most aerobic sports I know, and that is one reason I love it so. As I often do, I adjusted the settings in Lightroom to accentuate the contrast, which is a look I am growing accustomed to. Here’s to spring days, the simple pleasures of riding an old bicycle, and seeing rows of blossoming trees along a lovely lake shore.