Adventure Journal - The Denali Highway
Words: Liz Barcheck
Photography and Videography: Ian Matteson & Mike Swim
The Denali Highway is often referred to as one of the loneliest roads in America. It’s a bumpy, and inconvenient road that spans more than 130 miles, mostly above treeline, along the Alaskan Range. I visited the Denali Highway for a brief time years ago and that visit stuck with me. I knew I had to go back and this past summer, with my husband and a small group of friends, we did.
As cyclists, perhaps it’s our nature to see a road and want to ride it. This specific dirt road lives just outside of one of the most famous national parks in the world, and while many confuse it as the road to the park, it no longer serves that purpose. It’s host to grizzly bears, caribou, ptarmigans, and moose. It’s old, it takes a while to get to, and even longer to drive across. In the winter, the road and almost all of the lodges along it succumb to ice and snow, leaving a very small window of summer time when it erupts in color and becomes passable to cars. At about 130 miles from end-to-end, riding its length or close to it seemed just long enough to feel like a tangible challenge to us: consecutive 100+ mile days, on fully loaded bikes, and on a road we were all curious to see from two wheels. Our ride would be a two-day out and back between the towns of Cantwell and Paxson. I haven’t done much bikepacking, and none of us seemed all that excited about tent camping in grizzly country, so we booked lodging along the way.