sometimes you have to stop and smell the chamois butter

Friday, January 4, 2013

valdez - glen allen

     The rate of heat exchange between me and the surface I was sleeping on suddenly went to the negative side.   The cold slab of concrete I had rolled onto forced my hand at holding off my bladder for a little more sleep.  I had spotted a bathroom across the way behind the giant rotting pile of snow.  Much to our delight it had running water and a flusher.  The pissing rain had lifted leaving misty clouds floating against the hillside as we packed up and made our way to breakfast.  We went back to the same place we had dinner at the night before and guzzled coffee while destroying platefuls of calories.  Not really sure when our next meal was going to be, we hit the convenience store for one last stash of snickers and cokes.
     Valdez delivered in great Alaska style with a sweet bike path ushering us out of town.  It was a nice way to ease into the day as we had some climbing ahead of us.  The stacks of snow-covered peaks gave a clue of what was to come.  We were headed across Thompson Pass, a popular heli and back-country skiing hotspot, put on the map by a bunch of badass snow ninjas.
     Our first hurdle of the trip came when we hit Keystone Canyon.  Jason was looking forward to riding through and had me all psyched up by the time we rolled up to the road construction stop.  After making no headway convincing them to let us ride through, we heaved our bikes onto the back of the flatbed pilot truck and climbed in with a skinny meth-head chick.  She was quite entertaining to talk to in a creepy yet harmless kind of way.  As we said our goodbyes to the shuttle gal, she piped out to Jason and asked if he thought I looked like Richard Branson.  That alone gave away to a bunch of miles as we started pedaling because we were laughing our asses off.  Richard Branson, seriously meth lady!
     The incline of the approach to Thompson was pretty mellow and the traffic was pleasingly light.  Jay motored away for a bit as I was geeking out and snapping photos.  Peaks and ridges smashed up against each other as if trying to be corraled.    I was definitely working up a sweat which was battling the cool wind whipping across the snowfields. There was no cheering tifosi when we hit the summit, merely a well stickered sign and a bunch of dirty snow.   After a nature break and a few quick photos, we were off.  It was chilly enough we didn't really want to hang around and after that long climb we were beginning to think about lunch.
      The first place that we came to, Tsaina Lodge, looked pretty inviting yet was unfortunately closed.  Their main focus being a hub for Valdez Heli Ski operations in the winter.  Everything had really just melted out at this point and folks were taking some much earned time off from a banner snow year.  The more we considered this fact, the more worried we became about our food options.  We were in the bush now and there weren't going to be many choices, coupled with the fact that it was still early for the tourist traffic, we were becoming a bit antsy.  We had enough food with us for a couple of days, but our big pick-up was in Fairbanks, some 300-400 miles away.
     Luckily the scenery as well as the weather were fantastic, so the miles clicked off rapidly.  The road undulated through meadow and thick forests while skirting endless lakes.  Signs of life were few on the Richardson Hwy, so when we spotted the next bit of civilization resembling a store, we stopped.  Jason ran in to check it out and came back out with a bummed look on his face.  In the bush it's kind of common courtesy to spend money in someone's place of business once you have darkened their doorway.  I felt the same way when I stepped in, but knew we could find something to eat.  The choices were few everywhere and the couple running the joint seemed out of place for Alaska folk.  We guessed they were witness relocate people from Boston.  Crime family, we reckoned.  So we best sit our asses down and buy something from them.  We chose the her "special" sandwich, which consisted of - cheap ass bread/crappy salami/crappy ham/mystery meat/cheezy american cheese- all grilled to perfection. It came with a side of chips and some "special" dip she created.  Yeah, it was ranch dressing and sour cream, real freaking special all right. We ate the crappy food and got the hell out of there as soon as possible.  Lucky for us, some Euros popped in and made our exit less awkward.
     Now we were pedaling with gnarly food knotting up our bellies. It just increased our motivation however, because we just wanted to get as far away from that place as possible.  More miles of perfect pavement a sparse vehicles lulled us along.  We were breaking no records, yet still making good time.  Our goal for the evening, Glenn-Allen, was around 40-50 miles out which would put us a little over 120 for the day.
     At about 25-30 miles out we spotted another roadhouse.  This was one J knew about and had been in so we decided to stop for a beverage.  It took a us downing a couple of beers before the local bush-people warmed up to us.  I could feel stares heating up the back of my neck for the first thirty minutes we were in there.  Some of the folks finally broke down and started inquiring as to what the hell we were doing.  Several beers went down easily as I was still trying to forget that awful sandwich.  That's when Jason suggested we eat there, because camp was before the next spot, which would be breakfast.  I conceded, not really hungry or feeling I needed to eat.  It was Russian food, however and I was a bit intrigued.  After the logger-sized plates showed up, I felt less intrigued and more overwhelmed.  I did what I could and took one of the Russian-meatpockets with me in some foil.
     Now piloting with a buzz and a double gut bomb, we weaved our way down the empty highway toward camp.  The small, barely noticeable turn-off held an awesome camp.  Just behind some pushed up dirt and downed trees high above a river, lie a perfectly level pine thicket with a nice clearing.  This would be our camp tonight after some good pedaling and questionable eating.