Day 27: Moving on to Valdez
Even through a rain spattered face shield and partially obscured by constant gray clouds from horizon to horizon, Alaska never ceases to amaze and never disappoints. Heated jackets helped ward off the chill, but ignoring the cold was impossible as temperatures today started in the upper 40s in Palmer, moved to the mid 50s near Glennallen, and probably settled in the upper 40s again as we approached Valdez. Fortunately we only had a little rain at the beginning and for the final two hours of the ride, and that made it possible to enjoy most of the ride on dry pavement.
After stopping for a short time to marvel at the Matanuska Glacier visible from the Glenn Highway but receding further from it every year, we continued on to the Eureka Roadhouse, across from which flows the Nelchina Glacier in the Chugach Mountains. Marilyn and I saw the Nelchina three years ago and I’m convinced it has visibly receded during that three years. I was amazed at how little of the glacier is now visible from the Roadhouse.
I’ve noted before on this blog that meeting interesting people is one of the bonuses of these Adventures. Today at the Eureka Roadhouse where we stopped for a mid-morning breakfast, we met some of a contingent of 60 bicycle riders pedaling from the University of Texas at Austin to Anchorage, a 70-day adventure that today was one day short of completion. The group, part of an organization known as Texas4000, was riding on the world’s longest charity bike ride to raise money (nearly $2,000,000 this year) for and awareness of cancer research. I had a chance to talk with a couple of the riders and was impressed with their dedication to this cause and their youthful stamina that carried them about 5,000 miles so far. I would have liked to spend more time hearing their stories, but they were headed toward Anchorage while we were leaving it behind. I wished them well and honked and waved at additional riders we passed on the road as they headed for hot beverages at the Roadhouse.
We had been riding with the Chugach Range to our right and the Talkeetna Range to our left as we rolled along the Glenn Highway, enjoying the snow covered peaks when low lying clouds allowed an opportunity. But when we reached Glenallen and turned south toward Valdez, the massive, 16,000′ Wrangell Range rose up before us and kept us company much of the way to Valdez. Mountains in Alaska, at least in the parts we have been riding through, are ubiquitous. For the nearly two weeks we’ve been here, we’ve never been out of sight of these reminders of the power of nature.
I had heard from several sources that the road to Valdez was spectacular, and what I could see of it through the distorting droplets on my face shield for the last 80 miles certainly was. Snow covered peaks, massive blue-ice glaciers sliding precariously off rocky mountain tops, treeless Thompson Pass (the snowiest place in Alaska in the winter), dozens of snow-melt waterfalls cascading down the sides of tree-covered slopes all provided a marvelous postcard-like panorama. But the rain and the wet pavement focused my attention on the road and the hassle of getting out of and back into gear if we stopped kept me rolling past available roadside pull-outs. When I saw Bridal Veil Falls, however, I had to stop for a longer look at the water splashing down the side of a 250′ cliff. Beautiful.
A short, chilly while later we were in Valdez, greeted by more rain and clouds snaking along the mountains that blocked much of our view. Tomorrow the adventure continues as we take a day off in Valdez and explore by kayak and by foot this cold, wet corner of Alaska.