Rest stop or scenery stop!

Cycling Richardson Highway in Alaska – Valdez to Paxson

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Mountains, Glaciers, Rivers, its the journey and not the destination which is the best way  to describe cycling Richardson Highway.

Cycling Richardson Highway from Valdez

Starting out of Valdez its only about an hour or so of cycling the Richardson Highway along the flat roads until the climb up Thompson Pass begins. It starts slowly and gently through the narrow gorges past some very large avalanches which during the winter or spring bought huge quantities of snow down the mountains. At one point there was a huge river flowing through a snow bridge more than 20 meters in height. Must have been a decent sized avalanche that bought that amount of snow down.

Cycling the Richardson Highway
The cycling team of Johann, Lucile and myself on our first day cycling as a group
Ice bridge created by a large avalanche
Ice bridge created by a large avalanche

Thompson Pass

The climb continues at a steady 5%-6% grade until it reaches the top of the Thomson Pass at 2678 feet. Its not a hard climb by any means, but its hard to focus on the road when there is so many awe inspiring snow covered mountains.

Our small group of three has both Lucile and I at about the same cycling pace with Johann more like a Lance Armstrong type cyclist, fast and strong up the hills. He has refused a drug test on the first day. The descent from the top was cold requiring the addition of layers of clothing to keep the biting cold at bay. It wasn’t long before we reached Worthington Glacier.

The hiking track was still covered in snow which was now slushy and wet, our planned afternoon hike was put on hold in favour of a hot cup of tea. The information shelter was our home for the night. The peaks in this part of the world are very photogenic and crazy to think that a few people consider it fun to ski down some of these extreme slopes.

Lucile cycling Richardson Highway about half way to the top of Thompson Pass near Valdez
Lucile about half way to the top
Thompson Pass Near Valdez
More than half way
Rest stop or scenery stop!
Rest stop or scenery stop!
Near the top of Thompson Pass on the Richardson Highway
Still a ways to go
Lucile near the top of Thompson Pass
Lucile near the top of Thompson Pass
Cycling between Valdez and Paxton

Next day was a rather quick ride mostly downhill though some rugged mountain scenery which slowly over the course of the day became progressively more gentle rolling hills until our campsite at Squirrel Creek. The only wildlife sighted apart from mosquitoes was a lone Porcupine which disappeared up the nearest tree as we approached. The day was mostly overcast with every shade of grey present in the clouds and peaks, but still no rain.

Cycling the Richardson Highway
On the road
Porcupine
Porcupine

Leaving the camp we were greeted with strong 20-30km/h headwinds. Lucky for us we had Johann, a strong cyclist traveling on a light bike he bought on craigslist for $170 in Anchorage before the start of this trip. He powered into the wind and pulled Lucile and I through.

The views of the nearby Wrangell St Elias National Park was stunning. Its hard to show the scale and beauty of the place with the camera. At times I found myself wandering off the road as I was spending too much time gawking at the scenery. Luckily I only let myself do it when there’s no traffic.

By lunchtime we were in Glennallen, our last real chance to be civilised until we reach Denali National Park (via Denali Hwy) in several days time. So we relaxed in the afternoon and do what cyclist do when they relax, eat. And eat a lot we did. The Thai takeaway on the junction of the highways cooks up a good feed.

Riding into strong wind on the Richardson Highway its so much easier being at the back
Riding into strong wind its so much easier being at the back
Wrangle St Elias National Park has some exceptional mountains
Wrangle St Elias National Park has some exceptional mountains
Johann looking for beer after a hard ride into strong headwinds
Johann looking for beer after a hard ride into strong headwinds

From an overnight shower and laundry stop in Glennallen we rode still further north past the turn off to Tok, which sees all the tourist traffic heading from Canada to Anchorage. By staying on the Richardson Hwy we had a huge decline in traffic and more of a feeling of remoteness. The winds of previous days had declined and although it was an ever so slight uphill ride we made good time.

The trees on the side of the road started to get smaller and smaller which made the sky look ever larger, that being in the outback feeling. By late afternoon we decided that one of the campgrounds would be a good place to put up camp for the night.

What we didn’t know was the decent into the campground was on dirt roads with over 100m of vertical decent which would have to be climbed in the morning. Hindsight would have had us camping on the side of the road at someplace.

But the early morning saw us bright and fresh and we made the short cycle to the junction of the Richardson and Denali Hwys. We all agreed that cycling the Richardson Hwy was one of the best cycling experiences. From here its into the wilds of the Denali Hwy.

The more remote section of the Richardson Hwy, with little traffic and awesome cycling.
The more remote section of the Richardson Hwy, with little traffic and awesome cycling.
Three thumbs up for cycling the Richardson Hwy, from Valdez to Paxson
Three thumbs up for cycling the Richardson Hwy, from Valdez to Paxson
  • Valdez to Worthington Glacier – 54km
  • Worthington Glacier to Squirrel Creek Campground – 82km
  • Squirrel Creek Campground to Glennallen – 62km
  • Glennalen to Paxson Lake Campground – 102km
  • Paxson Lake campground to Tangle Lakes Campground on Denali Hwy – 56km

Next : Cycling the Denali Highway


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  1. Just returned from a bike tour in Alaska, climbed up Thompson Pass and cycled some between between Paxton, Glen Allen and Denali. No better rides!!

    1. I agree, awesome place to ride. The Thompson pass area is so nice. The Denali Hwy between Paxson and Cantwell would be my all time favourite ride so far on this trip!

  2. Dear Brad,

     

    I always read your posts and they are wonderful. I really enjoy your writing and the photos. It is wonderful that you found two nice cyclists. Alaska is very beautiful. I hope I can cycle or hike their one day, too. So we always wish you joy, happyness and health. I know I am repeating myself, but it such wonderful and amzing wat you are doing. So we are following you and hpe we will meet one day again…

     

    All the best.

    Alice and Daniel

     

    Gesendet: Donnerstag, 29. Mai 2014 um 00:33 Uhr Von: BikeHikeSafari <[email protected]> An: [email protected] Betreff: [New post] Cycling the Richardson Highway in Alaska – Valdez to Paxson

    BikeHikeSafari posted: " Mountains, Glaciers, Rivers, its the journey and not the destination which is the best way  to describe cycling on the Richardson Highway. Starting out of Valdez its only about an hour or so of cycling along the flat roads until the climb up Thomps"

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