This spring my partner Kim McNett and I flew from Anchorage to the village of Aniak on the Kuskokwim River and rode a trail on the river to Bethel. This was only half of our original trip plan, but what we rode was great and highly recommended to anyone looking for a remote fat bike tour within a culturally rich region of Alaska.
Our route choice was based around a film project Kim and I have been working on for over a year. The project in a nut shell has been a human powered "ground truthing" mission to learn about Donlin Gold and find out from people within the region what they think about one of the worlds largest gold deposits being developed into an open pit mine within this subsistence rich and remote region of the state.
Aniak is a medium size village (population 570) and is the middle river hub. People fly into Aniak and either take smaller Cessna airplanes or snow-machines to their up or down river home village. For us it was the beginning of our route that was to take us down river 150 miles to Bethel and beyond to the Bering Sea coast to visit coastal Yupik Eskimo communities.
The first 40 miles of river trail were hard packed and fast. We made it to Kalskag Village in 6 hours. The next stretch to Tuluksak however was not as heavily traveled and we had to work harder during this 50 mile stretch to make miles. Grossly deflated tires and low gearing was required. This has been a record snow year in Alaska and we were very unsure at the out set of our trip if we would be able to bike at all. Even with a somewhat punchy trail we were thankful to be riding and not pushing or pulling our bikes in our roll up sleds with snowshoes.
Once into Tuluksak we checked the forecast and read of an imminent blizzard. From Tuluksak to Bethel there is a plowed ice "road" that can be driven on by cars and trucks. We decided to take this easier albeit less scenic route in order to make hast ahead of the storm. With inflated tires and pushing hard on our big ring we made it to town a few hours before the wind and snow.
And just like that winter was over. When the storm passed the skies cleared and daytime temperatures shot into the 30s and lower 40s. We waited for days hoping that conditions would return, but they never did. Sloppy wet trails with patches of open water were the new norm and we had no stomach for it. It was hard to believe that the week before we had been camping in negative 30 and day time temperatures were 0.
Although we did not make it to the Bering Sea we still had a great trip and time. We met new friends and reconnected with old ones. We ate fresh moose that a buddy had recently
shot on the Yukon, went to a traditional Yupik drum and dance festival and had a great three and a half day bike tour under clear sunny Alaskan skies. My friends son from Bethel summed up winter fat bike expeditions well when he said, " you get what you get, and you don't get upset." Wise words for a six year old.
For more information about our project visit: http://www.groundtruthtrekking.org/Journeys/Donlin.html
Or find us on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/fatbikebjorn