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Eric Parsons
November 16, 2017

Annual Holiday Sale!

Posted by Eric Parsons

Saturday 11/18 thru Monday 11/27.
Save up to 30% on select items while stock lasts!
Holiday sale 2017

Eric Parsons
October 19, 2017

Nulato Hill Exploration

Posted by Eric Parsons

Luc taps me on the shoulder, “Got a water bottle?” I see desperation in his face. I shake my head, all I had was the full 1 liter bottle I had just purchased in the Fairbanks airport. The drone of the twin engine, eight seater Navajo plane muffled out any small talk, this time for the better. I was sitting right behind the pilot, and could read his GPS display. Galena, a town along the Yukon River in Interior Alaska, was our next stop, 128 miles distant and at least another hour. Though rightfully concerned for the situation in my own bladder, teamwork is essential for a two person group heading off on a wilderness bike trip. I pounded the full bottle in one go and passed the bottle to Luc, he awkwardly unbuckled from his seat and squirmed behind the only other passenger on the flight to re-fill the bottle. I took one for the team, now my eyes focused on the GPS display 124 miles. 123.9..

The plan was to attempt a bike traverse of an alpine ridgeline that spanned almost 100 miles, separating the Yukon River from the Bering Sea Coastline. Luc came up with the idea through talking with friends and intimate studying of google earth imagery. (See his trip planning insight here). Luc grew up in the Kuskoquim village of McGrath and was able to get some key logistical contacts. We advance air freighted our bikes to the Athabaskan Native village of Nulato and had a care package of packing tape for our bikes and dry socks shipped to our planned finish on the coast at Unakaleet. nulato_hills_LM__5928

Upon landing in Nulato, Luc and I picked up our bikes and packed up near the school. The forecast for the week was not great and we were thankful to at least start off dry. That didn’t last long though as right at the end of the road we had to cross the chest deep Nulato River. It was an abrupt entry into wilderness.  Start pedaling. Get soaked. Commence bushwhacking. 

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Our first day we knew would be hard, we had to traverse 8 miles of trail-less terrain to get close to the ridge line. The area had several forest fires recently and we encountered the full range of bike-schwacking greatness from apocalyptic burnt bogs, low deadfall, and thick, seemingly impenetrable new growth. By taking our pedals off and rotating handlebars sideways we threaded through the worst of it and slowly gained elevation. With fading light, we scrambled up a steep slope out of a small valley and finally hit tundra and easy travel. We setup the Mid and crashed out exhausted.DSC01736

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DSC01977The morning greeted us with rain and a heavy fog that stuck with us all day. While technically on the ridge now, it was more a series of hills with bush in the low points. We had no visibility in the clouds and were reliant on using Gaia GPS. Even a small navigation error meant leading into more brush and trees which with the bikes and rain meant a lot more soakings and bike wrangling.

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We made steady progress and let out whoops of joy as we put the pedals back on the bikes and started to ride. First only the downhills which were are a soft spongy brushy mess, then later hitting animal trails where we could ride through some of the low points more and more.

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“Get up here now!” Luc said in a half yell, half whisper. I drop my bike and run up the hill. Through the mist right in front of us a large musk ox. “So that’s who’s been making these trails”, goes through my mind. It was a mystical encounter, the beast was seemingly unafraid of us and slowly wandered off until we lost it once again in the cold mist. I hop on my bike following a trail to the side around where the ox was seemingly giving a wide berth, moments later I come face to face with the ox again! The ox snorts and rears up on its hind legs while I simultaneously slam on the brakes, jump off my bike and fumble for my camera. Having lived in Alaska for over 15 years I’ve startled more than my share of very large mammals while biking, and I never thought that I’d be adding musk ox to that list.nulato_hills_LM__6045

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The next day we continued traversing high point after high point in a cold but now broken fog. We could see more and we moved faster with the easier navigation. Riding more and more as we left the brush behind and the tundra firmed up under our tires. Climbs were all still a push but then we were treated to wild cross country travel and brake squealing descents.

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Mid way through the day we had a reality check on our progress. We had an ambitious schedule to keep and were way behind it in terms of pace. Luc ran the numbers and we figured we’d need almost 4 more days worth of food than what we had brought if we kept at it. Our route took us into even higher country, while the riding might get better, there was no way around the amount of elevation gain and loss. Our rations were too thin to stretch and keep going. Decision made, we turned around and started heading back. While dreading the return trip through the bushwack I was somewhat relieved as I felt conditions in the high country would have been rough with the wet fall weather.

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Even though we were “bailing” it did not feel like that way. With the clouds and fog clearing out everything felt like new terrain as we worked our way back. Expansive views into Yukon country unfolded and I was still giddy that we were riding our bikes way out here. When trying new trip ideas and exploration the conventional terms of “success and baling” are all relative.

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In Alaska, water is almost never an issue. Until you’re on a ridge in the fall. We found no running water after the first day. We had to make gutter systems off the sides of the Mid to collect rain water at night. Later when the rain had subsided, we resorted to sponging water off the tundra using  handkerchiefs and liner gloves. It was desperate but kept us from getting completely dehydrated.

Reaching the one creek on the return bushwhack we celebrated by chugging liters of cold water and electrolyte tabs having not seen running water for days.DSC02009

Though dreaded, the exit from the ridge back to Nulato was not as bad as on the way in. Luc and I shifted into “Go” mode and cut a few hours off our time heading in, reaching the  river crossing at dusk. Luc promptly stripped naked and waded across, a proper cool down and rinse off.
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On the flight out we were treated to a tour of Yukon River villages as we made our way back to Fairbanks. It was glorious seeing Alaska’s interior in peak fall colors from the air, all the while tracing imaginary lines of where we could go next.

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Thanks again to Luc for several of these photos, and compiling the video featured in this post. You can check out his account of this trip as well as other adventures at Things to Luc at. Our many thanks also go to Jason Johnson of the Nulato school for his logistical help and to people of the village of Nulato who greeted us with smiles and gave us rides to the airstrip.

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“Double bacon cheese burgers are hands down the best trail food.”

This is my thought as I sit in the middle of an old forest service road in the 80 something degree heat and let the burger juice drip off my hands. Aaron (aka Thrasher, the other half of team DirtyThrasher) has the best ideas…sometimes. Why just eat a burger at a restaurant when we can also get one (or two) to go. Brilliant!
DSC08796This was a few days into an unexpected trip to Oregon on the newly established Oregon Timber Trail. I say unexpected because the plan came together on a Tuesday, booked tickets on a Wednesday, and we boarded a plane Sunday.  I had no intent to leave Alaska, nor did I think that I was going to be cranking out 70 to 90 miles a day of some of the most diverse and burly single track I have ever ridden. Minimal to no planning became the theme of the trip.
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A few weeks before the cheese burger and burrito binge began I was sitting in the rain looking at Google Earth trying to plan a backcountry bike/packrafting trip.  Normally this would make me all giddy with excitement, but for some reason I couldn’t bring my excitement to level up with a tween at a N’SYNC concert.  I wanted to go somewhere warm, or at least somewhere without bears. A vacation from Alaska. Reluctantly, I told Eric (commander in chief at Revelate) that I couldn’t bring myself to do the bike rafting trip we had been planning. The psyche was just not there. I pitched the idea of doing a portion of the Timber Trail to Eric. More single track than roads, my type of ride. Unfortunately this it was a no go for him.   

The trip plans where no more than scraps on the cutting room for at this point. Having written off any chance of it happening, I received a text message from Thrasher.

“How long would the Oregon Timber Trail take?”…The trip was back on!

Since there were only a few days from text to departure, we obviously did minimal planning. Riding into the unknown, we continued to live by the motto “Shit’ll buff”, and for most things it did.  From the start of the trip to the final hours of trying to get bikes to the airport, things just seemed to buff out for us, in one way or another.  DSC08660With a slight time crunch — I only had 7 days to get to my flight in Bend from the start on the border of California — we set off on the hellacious pace of anywhere from 45 to 90+ miles a day. Sun up to sundown we were riding. This ride was exactly what I needed and what I was looking for– Over 75K in elevation gain in 730 miles and over 50% burly single track– this is my idea of bikepacking!  Traveling through landscapes of dry arid plains and plateaus to the old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest.  Oh, did I mention the single track?!  This consisted of a mix of overgrown trail with baby heads for 30 miles on the Fremont Winter Rim trail to the full enduro style descents of Blade Runner in Post Canyon near Hood River.  We weaved our way up mountain cirque trails and around the towering volcanoes of Mt. Backer, The Sisters, Jefferson, and of course Hood.  Forty mile stretches with no water and smoke filled forests from the extensive forest fires.  There was an impressive the amount of diversity in landscape and terrain.
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Back to that 7 day time frame I mentioned earlier… We made it to Sisters in 7 days and that was my ducking out point to catch my flight out of Bend. This was about a third of the way through. Not ready to go home yet, I did a little bit of pleading to the boss man and was able to extend my time off to finish the route. Since we were not sure exactly how long the rest of the ride was going to take, and had no Idea how we were going to get from hood River to Portland when we did finish, I decided not to rebook my ticket until I knew for sure I could make the flight.

The last section of this route was an unexpected slap in the face. We were now in the Hood River Tier of the trail.  Due to the difficulty of the terrain, we couldn’t cover the distance we intended to.  If the terrain was to continue as it had the previous day, there was no way we could continue with the amount of food we were carrying. We were forced to stop for the night in a small town called Idanha, we waited for the store to open in the morning to restock our supplies.

Stumbling upon a small campground RV park, we were taken in by a group of retired RV’ers.  They told us stories of driving to Idanha every year from varying regions of the country to meet here. We were able to enjoy the local color and shared stories during their much welcomed taco night. The  RV park residents of Idanha where overly welcoming and even began bringing us snacks and goodies to take with us on or next portion of the trip.DSC08781Fueled up and ready to continue, we were forced to make a detour due to fire closure. We reconnected with the route only a few miles out of the way. The route seemed to ease up on difficulty on the remaining sections.  Bringing us up and down exceptional single track, we made our way around Mt. Hood with clear skies and exceptional views. At this point we could physically see our finishing point from a few of the alpine vistas. It was a bittersweet feeling, as ready as we were to be done riding, we wanted to hold on to the incredible feeling of being out on these trails.

As the evening drew near on our tenth full day of riding, we descended into Hood River via the Post Canyon trails. With massive jumps and banked turns, we found our way into the Columbia River valley. Navigating through the bustling town of Hood River, we reached our destination and dipped our tires into the Columbia River 10 days and 8 hours after starting the ride. For the food enthusiast, that’s 9 Cheeseburgers and 7 burritos from start to finish!
DSC08753Though the route was complete, we still had to make it to our plane. We could have rode our bikes down the highway, but I wasn’t too stoked on this. With limited time, this option was a tight fit.  Luckily as I stated before “Shit’ll buff,” and It just so happened I had been in touch with some folks via email who lived in Hood River. They had mentioned extending a warm shower to compleaters of the Oregon Timber Trail since they lived at the finish. This incredibly nice couple, Becky and Jonathan, not only offered a place to stay at the completion of this ride, but were able to get us a ride to Portland to catch our flight. It seemed like it was only a day since we had started this ride, but in actuality it had been almost two weeks.  What a whirlwind of riding from start to finish.

Every so often when you don’t plan and just go for it, things just seem to “buff out.”
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Words and photos by Dusty — dusty@revelatedesigns.com