Man rides from Idaho Falls to Skagway on his bike

By Jerry Painter, Idaho Falls Post-RegisterDecember 6, 2012 

If you're traveling north along the Alaska-Canada Highway, you come to a town called Dawson Creek, British Columbia.

It's one of the last real towns for hundreds of miles -- known as "Mile 0 City" on the AlCan Highway. Beyond it, the road passes through rolling hills of wilderness as far as the eye can see.

From this point, "towns" become one-building affairs next to the road. Services can be minimal: a bowl of soup, a few groceries and maybe a gas pump. It can be daunting, even in a car, to launch down this wilderness highway. If you're going by bicycle, maybe even terrifying.

Ken Simpson, alone astride a self-contained tour bike, saw the road stretching out ahead and was excited.

Simpson uses glowing words to describe his 2,257-mile bicycle ride from Idaho Falls to Skagway, Alaska.

"It was just like biking through Yellowstone (National Park) for a thousand miles with very little traffic," he said. "I saw lots of bears, tons of buffalo. I had no idea that the Yukon had so many buffalo."

Simpson, who manages Onyx Financial Advisors in Idaho Falls, started his ride in June. He rode for a couple of weeks to Edmonton, Alberta, in awful weather before deciding to postpone the rest of the trip until the skies calmed down.

"I was in snow all through Island Park, and all the way up to Helena (Mont.) it was freezing rain," he said. "It was certainly a mess."

Simpson said he planned to camp most of the time, but the first 12 days of bad weather forced him to stay at motels and dry his clothes and gear out most nights.

"At one point, the wind literally blew me off the road," he said.

When he reached Edmonton, Alberta, he knew he was leaving the civilized world (few motels) and would be forced to camp almost every night. With storm after storm still in the forecast, he came home and didn't get back on the road until mid-August.

Despite better weather, the temperatures started dropping during his last week in the north country.

"Winter comes early up there," he said. "I got into Skagway (Alaska) on the 8th of September and had snow the night before going over White Pass."

So why Alaska? Why not, say, ride from Idaho Falls to Florida or Baja, Mexico?

"I wanted to do a long ride," he said. "I was thinking about doing a coast-to-coast ride, but Alaska seemed more intimidating. Just the remoteness of it, and I kind of liked the idea of riding my bike from here to Alaska."

Simpson described the terrain as mostly rolling hills once he crossed over the mountains north of Helena and into Canada. The road did throw a few serious passes at him once he crossed into Yukon Territory. He said a typical day would be riding 60 to 80 miles. His longest day was 124 miles because there were no services between stops. To show him the way, he brought digital guides loaded on his iPad. His bike is a steel-framed touring bike.

"By the time you take the bike, the gear and everything else on it, it was just under a hundred pounds," he said.

Despite the load, he had only one flat on the whole trip.

He worked up to his big ride with a few shorter rides during the past few years, and by taking a spinning class during the winter.

"After a five-day trip, I found that I was actually stronger at the end than at the beginning," he said. "So that got my courage up."

But despite the long-distance ride, Simpson doesn't consider himself a serious biker, an encouragement for others thinking of possibly doing a similar undertaking.

"I don't consider myself a real cyclist kind of person," he said. "For me, this trip to Alaska was all about the adventure more than cycling."

Tips from Simpson and other sources

* Hang a flag off the left side of your bike out about a foot from the panniers. "It makes a big difference in that it pushes that traffic out away from you that much more," Simpson said.

* Use mirrors to pay attention to traffic coming up behind you.

* Don't get bogged down in planning every detail of your trip. Spontaneity will create some of your best memories.

* Make sure to feed your engine plenty of fuel. Snack and drink at least every half-hour.

* Psych yourself up by reading Internet blogs and watching videos of other people's cycling experiences, especially for the area you want to bike.

* Test drive your setup, including your camping gear, before you take off on an extended trip.

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