Arizona to Alaska Summer 2017
Alaska has always been a dream of mine.
I first became interested in Alaska as a backcountry skier, having seen it displayed in extreme ski films since I used to watch them on VHS as a high school kid. It occupied a space in my mind as this sort of mythical land that held huge mountains, rivers, moose and bears, where it was much easier to get lost than be found, and where taking any sort of risks in the outdoors came with a much higher consequence than nearly anywhere else in the world.
Over the years as my path of life wound its way through different corners of the world and my predominant mode of travel changed from skis to a mountain bike, Alaska faded to a distant dream in the corner of my mind. But it was still there. When I moved into my van two and a half years ago, the idea of Alaska was sparked again from somewhere in the depths. In the summer of 2015 I found myself halfway up the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, so tempted to point north and go all the way. But I had races to compete in and clinics to coach, and so with a twinge of sadness I pointed Suzy's nose back to the south. But the seed that was planted so many years ago began to grow again.
When I returned from Peru in January of 2017 and began my ski season, things started to fall into place. I had met Australian adventure athlete Shane Hutton the year prior in Guatemala, and as it turns out he had Alaska on his mind as well. He also had something else up his sleeve: a partnership with packraft company Kokopelli, known for making strong and stable whitewater packrafts perfect for mounting a bike to the bow, that roll up into a neat little 10 pound package which fit nicely on a bikepacking handlebar roll. I didn't know anything about packrafting, or really paddling of any kind at all, but it seemed like a fun element to add to a bikepacking adventure across the Alaskan wilderness.
I had been hanging out in Arizona for the winter, coaching mountain bike skills camps and getting in my physiotherapy work time for the year. When June 1st rolled around, Shane flew in from Australia to Phoenix and we began the drive. It was a looooooong way away, but we were giving ourselves six weeks to mountain bike and packraft our way up the western United States, through British Columbia and the Yukon, and into Alaska. I had a lot to learn about how to paddle a packraft along the way, and we both had a lot to learn about combining the packrafts with the bikes. And we had a lot of really awesome singletrack to ride all the way up. The hardest thing was leaving all the great riding to go to the next great riding, but all the way we had the allure of Alaska pulling at us like a North Star. Finally, I was going to play in this huge mythical land of my dreams.