|our local muskox herd|
The first part was actually one of the hardest for me; even though I’ve been staying active, I’m still not exactly fit for the long inclining hills that require you to drop into low gear just to make it to the top. By the time we got to our first intersection about a mile and a half out of town, I was almost ready to head back! Still thinking we only had a few miles to go though, I stuck with it. Besides, it was too perfect of a day to spend cooped up inside.
|The Nome-Teller Highway|
We took the Nome-Teller Highway — one of our 3 main road systems — out of town and up towards the mountains, before turning onto Kougarok Road, a semi-improved dirt road that runs east-west beyond our closest mountains (in the photo above).
|Cotton grass field|
Before getting too far though, we stopped to frolic in a dense cotton grass field on the side of the road. That stuff is pretty magical.
Unfortunately I didn’t take any other pictures along our trip, which I am now regretting, so hopefully I can paint a vivid enough picture with words from here on. We eventually turned right onto Dexter Bypass, the road that leads up through the mountains to the Kougarok Hwy.
Up and up we went, past the outlying homes and gold mines in the foothills, towards the big grassy ridges with just a little bit of snow left melting at their peaks. By now it felt sweltering hot, but fortunately it was also super dry and the icy wind off the tundra made the heat surprisingly bearable.
Eventually we made it to an ascent that was just too steep to bike, and so we walked (and walked, and walked, and walked, and walked) as the occasional car roared by, kicking dust in our faces. It was great fun, nonetheless, as we sometimes chatted, sometimes trudged on silently admiring the grand views of the mountain range before us.
At the top of the hill, it became clear that the trek up was more than worth it. For the next 2-3 miles, it was literally all downhill along a steep, winding dirt road that made hairpin turns around the mountainside.
The ride down was a pure adrenaline rush. I have never ridden so fast in my life! White-knuckled and grinning, I just held on and couldn’t stop laughing the entire way, as terrifying as it was. I was quite disappointed when we reached the stop sign at the town of Dexter where the road evened out, and I saw that the Kougarok was all uphill again to our right.
Nonetheless, we continued on, taking our time as the sun beat down upon us and the wind was suppressed by the mountains around us. Past little farmhouses, gold mines, fishing camps, and abandoned buildings we pedaled on. I fell into the comfortable rhythm of changing gears up and down the hills, feeling the grit of dust in my teeth, and pedaling steadilty.
We continued 8 miles along this road until we came out of the mountains again and the freezing wind picked up again on the tundra. By now we could see the Bering Sea on the horizon, just beyond one more monstrous hill. This last stretch pretty excruciating, as we were pedaling uphill against the wind. At least I had gotten used to it now, and managed to pedal all the way up without walking.
At last we made it to the sea. We chained our bikes to a sign, scrambled down over the rocks, and collapsed exhausted in the warm sand. By now the air was at least 10 degrees colder with the relentless sea breeze, but it felt good after all our exertion under the hot sun.
We took a break on the beach for a while until we got cold, and then pushed through the final stretch — once again uphill and into the wind, 2 more miles back into town.
By the time we got back, my legs were throbbing with soreness. And no wonder — it took 5 hours (including breaks) and we figured out we rode a total of 20 miles, through mountains, hills, and tundra, almost all on dirt and gravel. I gotta say, I am quite proud of myself for staying with it even though I’ll be sore now for days! It was totally one of the best days yet.