Alaska's Lost Coast, Pt 2

Editor's note:  Brett Davis is a Bedrock- and Salsa-sponsored athlete, a Durango local, a good friend, and a hell of an adventurer.  He does some big adventure every summer.  This year it was the Lost Coast of Alaska.  Here, he recounts his trip for our benefit.  We've already published Part 1 here... now for Part 2.

POSTED BY GUEST BLOGGER: BRETT DAVIS - Until one is intimate with sand, one does not understand how many types of it exist—from color, texture, grain size, to hardness and moisture content. Living in Colorado we have little exposure to the many varieties of sand. Our nearby desert sand is relatively uniform in comparison to what is found on the edges of our oceans. On day four, as our weather began to deteriorate into a cold rain with a constant companion of a head wind, the obsession with sand began to grow. Regardless of having it in every nook and cranny of our bikes, gear, and bodies, it became a determining factor of how fast we could ride. The sand above the high tide mark was typically too soft and dense for our big wheels. Our heavily laden beasts would just auger in killing all forward momentum. The most rideable sand was usually found down near the water itself. It was typically more compact and supportable. Riding close to the surf had its trade-off though, as you had to be on constant vigilance to the sea water rushing up the beach with each wave crash. Being caught by an unsuspecting wave meant splashing through salt water which over time does wonders in quickly destroying bike components.  

With the slightest change in texture and grain size, bike supportable sand turns to mush requiring a vast increase in energy in order to push the pedals forward. Short sections of soft sand are bearable, but on days four and five we encountered extended stretches of leg zapping mush. Combined with an unrelenting headwind, we struggled in perhaps, the first ever fat bike pace line, to manage three miles an hour. The lead rider would power forward. Head down with legs pushing hard, creating a track for the rest of us. After 30 seconds of torture, our wind breaker would pull aside and quickly shift back into the compacted track. The conditions were such, that off the bike breaks were taken every 30 minutes. The going was slow, demoralizing, and physically abusive. Several of us had swollen knees as a result of climbing the never ending hill.  

As we moved slowly south towards Yakutat, the weather gods continued to throw woes down upon us. The rain continued unabated; the wind came in a constant gale; and the seas viscously crashed on our highway of sand. A low pressure system was seemingly stuck up against the massive relief created by such giants as Mount Saint Elias (18,008’) and Mount Logan (19,551’). In our discussions prior to the adventure, we had hoped to view the breathtaking beauty of these sentries, but it was not in the cards for us. Instead, when we could look up from being pelted by the stinging rain, we were treated with a low ceiling of clouds, obscuring all but the never ending swells of the sea.  

Despite the weather, in a slow, methodical fashion we ticked off the miles and the major cruxes of the route: Copper River Delta, Controller Bay, Martin Point, Cape Suckling, Seal River, White River, Icy Bay, etc. Nearly 200 miles of our 290 mile route were behind us. The next major crux would be the impetus for “the decision.” The Malaspina Glacier is one of North America’s largest glaciers—it is larger than the state of Rhode Island. The highlight of our trip was to make our way on to its flanks and ride across its undulating ice…40 miles of riding. We knew that good fortune would have to be looking down upon us for this objective to be reached. Staring at the charcoal covered moraine in a down pour, the realization sunk in that our chances of safely moving across the glacier were slim. The low visibility conditions combined with the channels of free flowing water flashing from the torrential rain made a crossing virtually impossible by bike, let alone by foot. We each retired to our shelters hoping to awake the next day to a respite from the weather.

The rain continued. For the next 14 hours we lay in soggy sleeping bags listening to the rain pelt the cuben fiber above our heads. It had to stop at some point. Alas, man’s will and hope does nothing to influence the mighty Mother Nature. Despite a collaborative effort of wills, we had to retreat. Crossing the Malaspina was not in the cards for us. Hence, we found ourselves in an abandoned bear hunter cabin a couple of miles from the first unconquerable crux of our route. Given our time frame, we couldn’t wait out the weather—which wasn’t going to make much of a difference, as our weather system was forecasted to hang around for several more days. It was disappointing, but as is hardwired in each of these men…the word “failure” is not in their vocabulary. “Patience,” is however. We will be back to finish what was started.

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