I awoke at 4:30 AM to stunning views of the Matanuska Glacier. After an early morning phone call and a couple fitful hours of sleep I finally awoke and got started pedaling at the pathetic hour of 9:30. The first 10 miles were seeming punishment for a late start. There were several climbs that were unfriendly to my chicken legs, and they were asking my brain what was going on with this biking business. I attempted to regroup at a diner 10 miles into the day, hoping that a plate consisting of three parts syrup and one part pancakes would do the trick. No such luck as the next 10 miles found me rolling up half a dozen hills in the lowest gear that the bike has. And my breakfast was dampened by the fact that a loaned Go Pro camera had seemingly been cooked by a faulty USB cable.
The tradeoff for slow biking was the scenery. The views of surrounding mountains and glaciers were simply stunning. Many of these peaks appear to be jutting up close to a mile in elevation above the road. I rode out of the valleys of the salmon rivers that feed into Cook Inlet and pedaled straight into the deep black spruce taiga that defines interior Alaska. I saw lovely tundra swans, bald eagles soaring, and a short-eared owl day hunting right by the side of the road.
The real change for the day seemed to occur later on, but only after I stopped at the Grizzly Country Store, a place that proved that my knack to find some neat places on the fly needed some refinement. The store was a perfect cross between an old ash tray, country flea market, and tornado alley. Its owner seemed to nee nothing out of life except for copious cans of tobacco and lawn ornaments. I patronized the place by buying an ice cream sandwich that tasted like it was out of the ice age, my enjoyment of which was severely dampened by a man sitting on the store’s porch; he had to decided to pass the afternoon by freely emitting gas. He looked as though he hadn’t showered in years. Perhaps he was thinking the same thing of my appearance.
It had seemed for the past roughly 150 miles I was on a decided uphill climb from sea level in Anchorage. So little did I expect that the last 40 miles of the day would be so smooth and enjoyable. When I first day dreamed of bike touring a decade ago I saw photos of the northland and long straight roads with stunning views. Those photos grabbed me and stayed with me. They might as well have been taken here on the Glen Highway. The last hours of the day I pedaled on a seemingly never-ending gradual downhill with a wide, smooth and uncrowded road lined with brightly colored fireweed in full summer bloom. The mighty Wrangall Mountains, 16,000 foot glaciated peaks in the heart of the nation’s largest national park, loomed in front of me. The magical miles just leisurely rolled on by until I entered a campground and enjoyed a cold beer with newly made Swiss and American friends.