The weather is perfect on this August morning as I get ready to leave the parking lot in front of the lonely Ranger Station in Chitna, Alaska, on my way to the Kennecott Mine. After checking my bike one last time to make sure that my tires are pumped, my pockets are filled with gels, and I have a can of bear spray just in case, I hit the paved road that abruptly ends a quarter mile down the road when I head through a narrow rock opening to the grand scene of the Copper River Bridge spanning over the fast flowing silt-brown river. This area of Alaska is truly God’s Country, and this morning sees a host of dipnetters already dangling precariously over the side of cliffs in hopes of catching Copper River Silvers that are making their final journey to the coast.
The dirt roads begins to climb immediately as soon as a I cross the river, and I am doing my best to focus on the road as the snow-capped mountains of the Wrangell-St Elias range begin to peak into view to my left. For a cyclist, this is pure nirvana – I do not see another soul on the road for over an hour as I begin to wonder how many people make the trek down this lonely road. A bit later, the tour buses start to descend down McCarthy Road, but they are friendly and curious why anyone would choose to take the journey on two wheels. Nevertheless, they offer an encouraging word and some even offer a variety of beverages. I take a kind older gentlemen up on his offer for water, and continue on my journey down the road wondering if I am more likely to encounter a bear or another bike tourist.
Two hours in, I hit the Kuskulana Bridge and get to make the epic ride over the railroad span that looks as if it was dropped into the area straight out of the movies. All the tourists have unloaded from their busses to snap their photos and stretch their legs, and they get a kick out of taking a picture of the lycra-clad cyclist making his way over this iconic attraction. It is my Tour de France moment that will fuel me for the remainder of the ride where I get to enjoy beauty and think about life. Past the bridge, the views become endless as the sun shines down brightly through the azure blue sky. I am getting hungry and tired, but town is still 20 miles away so I grab another GU and press on in the remote Alaska wilderness.
Once you arrive in McCarthy, you are provided the money shot view of the Kennecott Glacier that has created a beautiful valley of rocks and running water. Riding your bike over the footbridge into the area leaves another five miles uphill to get to the bright red mine that dominates the skyline from the bridge. The journey is worth it though as you inch closer and begin to smell the pizza and Thai food that are being cooked up in the two food trucks that were somehow transported to the literal end of the road. The mine is as stunning as advertised, although I do not have time for the guided tour since I need to get back to my car in Chitna before the sun goes down. The view of the mine, the quick tour of the area, and the Thai food make the four hour cycle on the bumpy and rutted road worth it. While the return journey home will not have the same splendor and I begin to feel every single bump in spite of my Canyon Grail’s best efforts to reduce the shock of the Edgerton Highway, it is all worth it and a small price to pay for a ride that I will never forget.
Cycling to Kennecott could be done as an overnight trip with a planned stay in McCarthy. Doing so would allow a cyclist to explore the mine and all of its restored buildings. It would also allow for a proper night in McCarthy since the town seemed like it had a really cool vibe. I will certainly be back to Kennecott next summer with a tent and a sleeping bag attached to the bike to support the return voyage.