At last, the big day came! I finally got to be the lucky one to accompany Grandma and
Grandpa on their annual bike trip. My sister had already gone on two bike trips with
them; I joined in on the second one for part of the way. On this trip, we would be riding
for ten days in mid-July on a big loop along three interior Alaska highways. Little did I
know that I was in for a very memorable adventure!
I met Grandma and Grandpa just down the hill from where I live---on Murphy Dome
Road. Finally, I heard the words I had been waiting to hear for a long time: "Okay, I think
we're about ready!" said Grandma, excitedly. It was Friday morning, July 10, 1998.
"Wait, Carol," exclaimed Grandpa, impatiently, "we have to check the tires!" We
pumped up all the tires, adjusted our panniers, tents, and sleeping bags one last time, and
then we were on the road!
Eight miles after we started riding, we met the Parks Highway and officially began this
year's bike trip. Our route would include the Parks, Denali, and Richardson Highways,
passing through Nenana, Healy, Cantwell, Paxson and Delta. We camped every night,
except for the evening of "the cold day" when we stayed in a motel. This was the last of
the five most memorable days of the trip, which included "the toughest day" "our
sunniest day," "the day I caught my first fish," and "the thunder storm."
"The toughest day" which was also our first day, we biked from Fairbanks to Nenana.
The enormous, rolling terrain was quite difficult and exhausting. We started out in the
sunshine; 20 miles later it started raining on us for about two hours. At last, the skies
cleared and we were warm once again. We pedaled into Nenana and found a
campground, completing 57 miles on our first day. That night, we all appreciated a full
"Our sunniest day" was the warmest (hottest!) and truly the most enjoyable day of all!
Every other day there was at least some rain. This was disappointing, because I had been
looking forward to biking in the sun. We took lots of pictures with the Alaska Range in
the background---it was our first day on the Denali Highway. For this portion of our trip,
my Aunt Jeannette and Uncle Bob joined us. Aunt Jeannette biked all three days, and
Uncle Bob drove ahead to set up camp (taking half of our load!), and to go fishing. Some
days, the fishing was great, and other days it was luckless! Uncle Bob gave us a fish
report every night.
Another favorite day of mine was "the day I caught my first fish." This was our third and
final day along the Denali Highway, and Uncle Bob took me fishing. It all started when
my uncle told us he caught two dozen fish.
"Yeah, I only caught two fish a couple of streams back," reported Uncle Bob.
"Wow! Two dozen?" I asked, surprised.
"Yeah, I know. not very much, huh?"
"What! The only things I've caught with a fishing pole are seaweed and sticks!" I
answered without sarcasm.
Uncle Bob is an awesome fisherman, and, if the fishing is decent, he will catch 100 or
more fish! Then Uncle Bob asked me if I wanted to go.
"Sure, I'll go," I said, "but I've never caught a fish before."
"Oh well; you'll definitely have to catch one then," Bob replied without hesitation. So,
Uncle Bob took me fishing in the middle of the day's ride. He taught me, in numerous
ways, how to cast and how much slack I needed on the line. We used several of his
home-made flies, and put this liquid we called "floaty stuff" on it.
"All right. Now before you cast," my uncle directed, "give us your fly so I can put some
'floaty stuff' on to make it float good." I swung my pole around and he smeared the oily
substance all over the fly. I cast my line and started to reel in as I was told.
"You gotta bite!" Uncle Bob shouted.
"Aaah!" I squeaked with excitement.
"Now pull up! Pull up! Reel in quickly! Don't lose it!" coached my uncle. I did exactly as
I was told, and out came a small, slimy grayling out of the water, going haywire, flapping
its fins, and trying to get loose! Ha-ha! I didn't let him go! I caught a total of four fish,
and kept two, one of which was the very first one. That night, we had two grayling with
The day after I caught my first fish, was our longest day. We rode 75 miles, but it seemed
like only 10-20 miles. We had sunny weather, easy terrain, and we were in great riding
shape by then. We almost decided to continue on into Delta, only another 30 mines, but
for various reasons we didn't. Boy, was I glad we stayed, because "the thunder storm,"
we soon discovered, was rapidly approaching!
We were all starving, so Grandma took out the miniature propane camp stove and tried
several times to get it started, but it wouldn't ignite. All of a sudden, we heard a loud
crack, and it started pouring down rain. Buckets of water just fell from the sky. We all
froze and stared at each other. Then a 1-2 second streak of lightning scared the living
daylights out of all us. The rain kept falling harder and harder. Grandma and Grandpa
raced into their tent with the stove, a pot and the bag of good and drink mixes.
"Where's Davya?" screamed Grandma.
I answered her, "I'm out here! I'm by my bike!"
"Davya, get in here---quick!" she yelled.
"Okay!" Another flash of lightning and a crack of ear-piercing thunder exploded less than
50 feet away from me, so it seemed. I was digging through my front bag as fast as I could
to get the things I needed. By this time, I was soaking wet. I grabbed my journal, my
book, and my snack bag, and quickly hopped over to the tent that my grandparents were
in, only 10 feet away.
We ate in the tent together and stayed in there for about three hours. There was no more
lightning or thunder, but it was still pouring down rain. At bedtime, I jogged over to my
tent with my books over my head and my raincoat on.
The next morning's ride was the most unpleasant experience my grandparents or I have
ever had. It was a day none of us will ever forget. We refer to it as "the cold day." It was
still raining, not quite as hard as the night before, but still steadily coming down. We
usually loved the downhills and hated the uphills. This day was the absolute opposite!
We were just too cold and wet to enjoy coasting on the downs; the ups were nice because
we warmed up a bit. The 33-mile ride into Delta took us only 2 hours, 59 minutes, and 22
seconds (I timed it), but it seemed to take much, much longer. My whole body was numb,
and my legs felt like they were being moved mechanically --- up and down and up and
down forever. I was so cold! I wished I had put on my sweats before leaving camp, but
stopping now was out of the question. I'd freeze for sure!
"Delta come quick. Please, Delta. Come quick, come quick, come quick," I repeated to
myself over and over again. Finally, it came! We spent almost an hour in the Visitor
Center looking, and calling around, for the perfect motel.
"Ooo! Look at this one, Dave," Grandma said to Grandpa. "Is this one good? They even
give us food!"
"No! It's too expensive and too far away!" Grandpa replied as he examined the brochure.
We did find a motel that Grandpa agreed to. It was inexpensive and only a few miles
Before going to the motel, we had to eat or we would have died. So, we rode across the
street to Pizza Bella and ordered lots of hot chocolate and a huge 16-inch pizza. Poor
Grandpa! He was so chilled, he could barely hold onto his mug of cocoa. His hands were
shaking out of control. I was shaking a little bit with him.
"I've never been so cold in my life," I said with my teeth chattering, "and this is
After a few hot chocolates, Grandma and I stopped shivering. It took several slices of
pizza, in addition to the hot drinks, for Grandpa to recover. Knowing we had a warm and
dry motel room waiting for us helped us warm up as well. We bought some groceries
after eating, then went "home" to dry out.
Our real homes were another two days away. Those final two days felt effortless,
although we were riding faster than we had been at the beginning of the trip. I discovered
that we rode an average of 50 miles per day. The temperature averaged between 50 and
70 F, except for "the cold day;" it started out at 40, or less. The high that day was only
54! Our hottest days were along the Denali Highway and the last two days into
Fairbanks---all in the 70's. The bike trip was fun, and full of unexpected adventures. I
look forward to my next bike trip opportunity. ~ Davya Baker