From our “on-the-scene” rando correspondent and guest blogger, Mike Downer:
The Denali Dirt Road Randonnée melds the spirit of randonneuring with the appeal that draws so many of us to Alaska. It could be argued that no other randonneuring event in the world celebrates the spirit of self-reliance in such a real way. While Paris-Brest-Paris has its challenges; it does not have Grizzly Bears.
I had the opportunity to camp in the park over the recent weekend. Through conversations with several park workers and personal observation I was able to piece together a fair picture of what we will be facing on the 17th. The most obvious thing about the road is that it’s not very flat. “Thank you Captain Obvious” you may have just muttered. I don’t blame you, but seeing those long uphills winding around mountain bends and then reappearing far back on another slope really gave it perspective.
I’m sure that’s a challenge most will relish.
What you may not relish is the traffic. The first shuttle bus heads into the park around 8 am. There are a number of guided tours that leave earlier. The first buses coming out of the park leave Kantishna and Wonder Lake around 6 am. The first bus which passes will bring a semi-regular stream passing at 5-10 minute intervals, sometimes two at a time. The speed limit on the road is a tame 25 MPH and the drivers I observed seemed very respectful of cyclists. Nonetheless, due to the narrow nature of the road, casting a regular glance over the shoulder will be important. Don’t let any of this discourage you. The majestic scenery will most certainly overcome any minor inconvenience the busses might be.
The road surface itself also appears to be in good shape. I rode the Denali Highway 200K brevet over Memorial Day weekend, and for sure the Denali Park road is better maintained and in better condition. It is nicely packed down on the regular bus lines and also seems very rideable near the edges. The gravelly soil should provide excellent drainage. I spent time checking it after a night and morning of rain. There were no running rivulets. If anything it will be a faster (and obviously less dusty) surface when wet. According to a friend who lives in the park that’s going to be important. They haven’t gone a day in nearly three weeks without some part of the road receiving precipitation.
At this point I would be no sort of biking enthusiast if I continued sitting inside while the sun beats down on my ride. The trail is calling.
Hope to see you in Denali!