Kathy Sarns and Pat Irwin go on a beach vacation with Puglsey and Little Ray
off to where no one has ever ridden a bike.. what could go wrong?
1.Belugas, Bears, and Seals oh my
Tuesday evening August 16, 2005 our pilot friend who flies for bike parts dropped us off where the beach starts west of Hope near Chickaloon River, Alaska. This was nice of him since we have more bike parts than money.
dropped off just west of Hope & the treacherous Chickaloon River
We had two sand/snow bikes: Puglsey and Little Ray. Pugsley is a NEW snow and sand fat-bike made by Surly that has the biggest fattest tires ever called Endomorphs. ( these were the first real fatBike tires- little did we know how popular they would become later or we would have invested in this idea!) Pat calls the tires Surly Burley Tundra Hogs. Little Ray is a sand and snow bike designed by crazy random Ray Molina. We spent a week with Ray so we can say this in good faith. Good crazy though. Ray follows his own drummer all over the planet and sometimes over the edge. He left us his bike last winter because, well, he ended up with a sled dog that Kathy rescued and its a long story, but in short he couldn't afford to ship his bike and a dog back to New Mexico. So we used his bike on this trip to compare to Pugsley. We need to email him to let him know.
After our 7:30 pm start we soon had 5 Beluga whales swimming about 50 feet from us off shore. They were looking at us and blowing and looking at us again. They would go ahead of us and then come back to roll around near us. They had not seen cyclists before. There was a seal that was rolling around with one of the whales. He appeared to be part of their pack. We could hear them breathing and blowing out air. After about 15 –20 minutes they swam east, blowing their good byes. The little black seal head bobbing behind them, looking back at us as he followed his odd family.
white backs of belugas that were actually checking us out
We saw brown bear, wolf, fox, and coyote tracks up and down the fresh beach below the tide water mark. The tide was just going out so these tracks were very fresh! No people tracks. So we yelled "Yo bear!" often. The Alaskan way of alerting bears that you are coming, in hopes they run away. Most bears really want nothing to do with us humans.
160 miles to go baby at 5-6 mph
Eagles were flying overhead. We would have many eagles as our guardians for the next 5 days. The bikes rode very well over the rocks and sand. Surly's Pugsley really floated over all terrain and Rays bike did great too and could roll over the same stuff as Pugs but was more clunky & wasn't quite as fast or easy riding as Pugs. These bikes have 4 inch wide tires and special rims. Since Pat is in shape for riding and I had been training by walking the dogs, eating bonbons and sitting at my computer designing jerseys, I got to ride single speed Pugsley a lot so I could keep up. We are wearing light weight breathable (synthetic) hiking shoes and using platform pedals. Our gear is bare minimum. Just the layers we need for cold (45 degrees F) and light weight rain top and bottom. Instant food and snacks. Summer sleeping bags, pads and a Golite TP tent. Each bike with gear weighed 60 pounds starting out. We averaged about 5-6 miles an hour that first night. We got to Point Possession at about 10 pm. With no wind and a beautiful yellow and pink sunset we decided to camp there. We went about 10 miles that evening.
Pugs & Little Ray rolled right thru the rock gardens
Pat at Point Possession, Alaska
2. Ghosts in the Wind
At Point Possession you feel like you are being watched. Maybe it is the Dene Athabaskan people, that have lived here for 1000s of years. Maybe it is Captain Cook who claimed this point for England as "an act of possession" for England. Maybe it's the brown bear or the wolf that patrols this shore line. Maybe they are the spirits looking for the bottle that Captain Cook buried here that held papers claiming all of the land drained by the waters of Cook Inlet for England. The bottle has never been found. The wind started blowing as soon as we put our tent up. We heard a few ghosts that night.
campsite at Point Possession
the morning after
the view ahead of us as we leave our campsite
3. Fisher Men and Women Off the Grid
Wednesday morning after a hearty breakfast of instant cereal and instant coffee we started biking at 8 am.
Within about 20 minutes we heard a 4 wheeler. He introduced himself as John and said he has been set net fishing here for 25 years & never seen cyclists on this beach. He was out looking for signs of the brown bear that's been around and he asked if we had seen it. Nope. Yikes.
He asked if we needed anything and to come visit his home just up the beach.
Set net fishing is done with nets that are attached to the shore. The buoys you see in some of the ocean pictures are connected to the set nets. In this area the set net sites have been owned by the natives of this area, and passed down through generations. We cycled to his house that literally sat on the high tide water mark on the gravel. Their children had bicycles out there too, so we were not actually the first to ride bikes out there! Their kitchen table was out in front on the beach. He said that this was their dining room table and office. He brings it in closer to the house in the winter. There were several other homes on either side and he explains they belong to his brothers in-law, sisters in-law, and mother in-law.The fishing isn't as good as it used to be but they like the lifestyle. He also thought that when Captain Cook buried the bottle that the natives probably watched him and then dug it up afterwards and now the locals are adding that part to their stories and he chuckled. He gave us a lot of bottled water and when we tried to be polite and refuse too much of his precious water he insisted that we take more. I used his cell phone to remind our house sitter that we have a cat I forgot to mention besides the four dogs. Last call home.
John took our picture before we left
4. Spirit Rocks and High Tides
We said good bye to John. Cloudy, overcast, pretty good beach riding, variable terrain from small rocks to hard pack sand with rocks. About 6 miles an hour. We were wearing shorts, short sleeve jerseys and sweating from the heat even though it's overcast & about 59 degrees.
We saw lots of brown bear, black bear, and coyote tracks. Eagles were always over our heads. We passed by a cozy well kept set net homestead. A dog comes out of the open front door and looks at us and goes back inside like he sees bikes out here everyday.
We saw an eagle nest with two young ones that are getting ready to fly. The adults whistled and landed on either side of us keeping an eagle eye on us not to disturb their young. No worries we are moving on.
We heard a 4 wheeler and see a fisherman hauling in his set nets and buoys for the winter. He has lived out here 35 years and has never seen a bike on this beach. He said his son is up the beach and would want to see our bikes. And yeah that was his dog up there protecting his house, he said that that dog doesn't get excited about much.
I've lived here 35 years and has never seen a bike on this beach
Further up the beach we visited with his grown son who lives in Oregon and fishes with his family in the summer. He was excited about our bikes and thought beach riding was a great idea. It started to rain as we said good bye. We were still warm.
We passed another cozy looking home on the beach.
Dad, Mom and 10 year old son were standing outside in the rain smiling at us. Dad suddenly said "come see my rocks!" and was behind some bushes gesturing for us to come over. Mom and son were smiling but silent.
Standing on a beach filled with rocks we hesitated and approached slowly. We were relieved to see they did have some different rocks behind the bushes. They are called "Spirit Rocks" that are formed by glaciers and are only found in one or two places in the world according to Dad. They looked like they were carved and sanded by hand into shapes of people, animals, and strange beings. He had his self published books ready under his arm as if he had been waiting for us. We insisted that one book was plenty. The rain was getting them wet. He offered us a rock but they were too heavy to carry and we thanked them and started down the beach. The sand was turning to mud as the tide was rising. He yelled that Captain Cook Camping area is only 6 miles ahead. One hour of riding for us.
The waves came closer as the tide rose fast. We thought high tide was at 5pm but this looked really high at 3 pm. We were to find out that tide charts are a little off in these parts.
Because we knew Captain Cook Park was just ahead we kept going. We made it around a house built between 2 rocks with about 3 feet of beach to spare.
house with a view
We rounded a bend that had steep 200 foot sandy cliffs on our left and too big of rocks to bike over so we had to carry our bikes as incoming surf spray hit us. Pat had to come back to help me carry my bike. Each bike with all our gear is about 60 pounds and I was a shivering wet weakling. Visions of Mom's email that we could drown and be carried to sea came to mind. As we rounded this hair raising corner, soaking wet from ocean spray and rain, we could see the sign for the park ahead. After that experience we planned on reaching our other destinations at LEAST 2 hours before high tide.
We camped at the campground. Built a big fire and dried out. And listened to the rain on the tent all night. Our light weight tent has no floor. We used a tarp and sleeping pads to lay our summer sleeping bags on. Today we went about 28 miles.
smoke drying our wet gear
blowing up my bed
5. Oil Platforms and the Twilight Zone
Thursday morning we got up at 4:30 am. Which is unheard of for me the ultimate non morning person. But inspired by respect and a little fear for incoming tides we wanted to get as early a start as possible. By the time we ate and put our gear together we were on the road about 6 am and had a flat tire on Rays bike. Pat fixed it next to a big pile of bear scat and we continued the 2 or 3 miles down the road to get over the Swanson River by bridge. Not a lot of traffic out there and it appeared that bears used this paved road too. We turned down Bishops creek trail. A deserted damp and dark trail in the woods posted with bear warning signs, we yelled as we cruised down the trail to the beach.
crossing Bishops Creek
Sunrise illuminated the beach with pinks and yellows. After crossing Bishops Creek by foot we cruised down the beach along the outgoing surf. No more 4 wheeler tracks or truck tracks here. We have the beach to ourselves except for the shore birds, eagles, and ravens. We are going maybe 7-8 miles an hour on the harder pack sand below tide line.
After about 6 miles oil platforms appear on our right in the ocean. A weird contrast to the snow capped mountains, and volcanoes. All we could hear was the vibrating roar of many engines like 100 airboats off in the distance. It was so irritating and constant that we agree we would not be able to camp along this section across from the oil rigs. We wonder how the sea life gets along with all this noise. If I was a Beluga I would NOT swim through here. NO WONDER there is a decrease in Belugas and fish in upper in Cook Inlet! Its the kind of noise that vibrates in our bones when we stand still. Funny how they never talk about the noise pollution of oil drilling. We see absolutely no sea life and very few birds anywhere along this area across from the oil platforms. It is the only section where we see litter, large pieces of machinery and strange metal parts that don't look like boat parts scattered along the beach. This 10 mile section across from the oil platforms is the only part of the 160 miles of beach where we saw garbage. The other 150 miles of beach was beautiful. We wonder out loud with all the money oil makes, why they couldn't give a little back by cleaning up this junk.
after the oil platforms it was beautiful again
After the oil platforms we had some more nice beach with no thumping roaring machine noise, and no more trash. Just birds and waves and mountains. And hard pack sand below the tide line.
Then we came to an impassible oil dock and had to leave the beach to go up to the road. It was hot, sunny and traffic was loud and thick, we wanted to get back to the beach. High security along the road with signs that say Don't Stop , Do Not Take Pictures. Darn and this was really pretty scenery here with smoke stacks, junk piles, and barbed wire fences. We couldn't find beach access anywhere.
We passed the fertilizer plant next. Still no obvious beach access and still high security. We made jokes about why the fertilizer plant worried about terrorists. No one waves or seems to notice us. We are invisible! We stop at a gas station and ask the lady outside that is filling propane tanks where there is a beach access and she gives us a blank stare; beach access? She can't think of any and has never thought of visiting the beach here. We are in the twilight zone. We seem to be the only ones that know about this secret beautiful beach.
oil docks blocking the beach
We couldn't wait to get out of there. We followed a few more right hand turns and were stopped by drop offs of 200 foot cliffs or more and no way to get down. An old man came out of his house and told us that the bluff used to go way out there as he pointed his shaky finger out towards the ocean. It is eroding everyday and he has watched it for 30 years as his house gets closer to the edge. He was lonely and wanted to talk, as his happy wagging labrador licked our hands.
steep drop off to the beach- no way down
He said the next beach access was in Kenai. We are almost in Kenai now. He didn't act surprised that we were biking the beach, he nodded and smiled and said that folks have been driving it for years. We waved good bye.
We rode about 5 or 6 miles on the hot road that day and it felt like 100. Pugs and Little Ray don't go too fast on pavement. Finally we found a steep access we could walk the bikes down using the brakes. Out of the twilight zone back to quiet reality.
back on the beach again!
It was sunny and the beach is hard, we tried not to think about the 6 or more miles of it we missed. We headed towards Kenai river and for kicks went to see how far along up the river we could go. Not far. We hit slimy mud and some cannery workers taking a smoke break stared at us as we slipped and slid up the bank. We came back out to the road and crossed the Kenai river over the bridge.
We stopped at a laundromat for showers and washing cloths. Yes this is our vacation and a little luxury can't hurt. Next stop was a diner for fish and chips. On full stomachs we biked to Kalifornsky-Beach cannery area looking for a campground. Pleasantly surprised by the new Kenai Landing that has renovated some of the old canneries into gift shops, brew pub and Inn. Wow. Used to be old stinky canneries last time I was here in 1983. This place is pretty fancy. They gave us lots of free bottle water because the iron in the water here is bad. They offered us free showers. yippee. We perused the gift shops and had a beer at the pub. We found a camp spot in the RV lot.
Before we go to bed Pat and I each took another hot shower and it felt really good on our sore muscles. Today we think we went about 30 miles.
6. Kenai to Ninilchik in record time
We were so rested from our Kenai Landing visit that we hit the beach by 7 am. Kenai Landing folks made us strong coffee the way we like it(wow) and we ate left over pie from the night before for breakfast! yahoo I love vacations.
We were cruising the hard pack gravel and sand. By then we both knew what the better riding sand looks like so we both veered towards better spots at the same time and were keeping up about 8-9 miles an hour. Eagles followed us and occasional beach houses could be seen on the bluffs or at the shore line. A wide variety from shacks to mansions, no social order of building here.The snow capped volcanoes were peeking out from the clouds across the inlet. We got to Kasilof River in about an hour and half. We knocked on a boat shack building to see if anyone was going across the river. A man came out and stared at us.
"What are you doing?..Oh OK biking the beach...hmmm BE careful of the tides!" are his first words. And we take his words to heart.
He would have given us a boat ride across Kasilof River but his boat was high up on the mud and it would be 2 hours before he could take us. He also had a situation, " got 3 fishing boats tangled up out here" . They are big boats. We wonder what they will do. We thanked him and decided to ride the 5 miles up to the main road and over to the bridge and 6 miles of more road back down to the other side of the river. Long road ride for Pugs and Lil' Ray.
below tide real estate
one of the many crossings
Before the bridge we stopped at a quick mart. Everyone wants to talk to us about our big tire bikes and what we are doing. This is a friendly place. We are not invisible here. Kathy orders a Reuben sandwich with the works in hopes that food will make up for being tired. Even though its only 9:45 am the lady gladly makes it. We load up on chocolate covered peanuts the preferred snack and some more water.
A man with a beret like a French artist asks if we'd like a ride back down to the other side of the river. We decide it is no different than taking the boat across, so yes! He will help us avoid another 6-7 miles of pavement. Pugs and little Ray go about 8-9 miles an hour on pavement max, and well we'd rather do that on the beach!
Jon got his beat up old pickup truck with different color panels and a hound dog mix named Rowdy. We loaded the bikes and we all squeezed in the front and Rowdy was so happy Kathy brought a Reuben sandwich. He stretched across our laps his soft head in our faces. Nicest dog we ever met.
Jon is a merchant marine for NOAA and we had some interesting conversation. Kathy was trying not to lean on the door for fear it might rattle open. He dropped us off at the beach, we gave him our garbage from lunch and thanked him. Rowdy tried to follow us. Jon grabbed him after a fitful game of tag and held him until we were gone. He says he hopes to see us at the Ninilchik state fair later tonight. We hope so too.
We already miss Rowdy as we pedal out of sight. We liked them and hope we see them again. There is good feeling that lingers when souls interact on a trip like this. We had a similar feeling as the belugas swam away after playing near us and saying hello in their own way. All the smiles and good vibes from both man and beast lifted our spirits as we rode down the beach that day. An eagle soared over our heads and we were happy to be living this good life. We sure missed Rowdy.
We were cruising the beach in the sunshine, going faster and faster. About 8- 10 mph ! We were reaching points ahead of time and we think we can make Ninilchik before high tide. We were in race mode and pushing hard. The Reuben kicked in for me and I felt great. We cycled sunny pristine beaches and then we would see groups of people ahead clamming and we'd know it was a beach access. We saw no litter any where. They had trucks and shovels and dogs and kids running around. Everyone looked at us and smiled and pointed. Biking on the beach - what a good idea they would all say ! Everyone was so friendly. We felt kind of sorry for the kids that would probably bring their bikes down to the beach next time. You gotta have FAT tires, kids, really really fat bike tires , we would try to explain.
10 miles an hour
We got to Ninilchik around 2 pm! We had gone about 40 miles that day and we still had day light to burn. Tide was coming in and we have that excuse to rest. We rented a shore side bungalow called the Beachcomber . It was awesome, right on the water with a view of the mountains and Cook Inlet. Shower and kitchenette and a BED!!
sea side bungalow
Ninilchik is a really cute little fishing village with an often photographed old Russian Orthodox church on the hill. We didn't photograph it because it was WAY up on the hill. Its one of those cozy places you can just walk around and feel safe and smell the sea air and fish to your hearts content.
all cleaned up & ready to go to the fair
After cleaning up we walked about 2 –3 miles to the state fair that is up on the main road. We ate lots of fair food and didn't feel guilty.
We looked for Jon and Rowdy but we didn't see them. Bummer. We did see old friends that live nearby and they couldn't believe we biked there on the beach. They remind us to be careful of the tides. We look at all the cows and pigs and chickens and watch some live music from California. It's a long walk back and I am sore. So we stop to get an ice cream from a shop where a nordic ski companion of Kathy's is working! Small world.
Diana and Kathy try to kick each others butts nordic skiing in the winter so Diana was interested in this new training program of Kathy's. We would see Diana for breakfast and Kathy tried not to look too tired as she walked away. Wow my legs were burning. Even with these wide tire bikes this is a lot of work. Pat of course is just fine or so he claims.
7. Shifting sands and Smoke
We slept like logs except for the fireworks at 10 pm.
Big giant fat tired logs.
Got up at 6 am. Smoke has blown in from a fire somewhere. Alaska has HUGE fires that burn millions of acres and when the smoke blows in it is bleak. We ate at my friend Diana's restaurant and had a hearty breakfast of strong coffee and breakfast burritos. Lots of burritos. We waved good bye and she wished she was going with us. Yup and watch out this ski season - I be strong like ox. Or maybe just look like a tired burrito fed ox, which was how I was feeling that morning. Pretty worn down from the long day before and was thinking maybe this should have been a rest day. But too late, we had already checked out of our Beachcomber bungalow.
beach at Deep Creek
We got on the beach just past Deep Creek at around 8 am.
Cloudy, smoky, dreary, and lots of dead fish parts on the beach.
Flocks of ravens and sea birds and many eagles.
We passed two families of eagles, each teaching 3 young ones how to fly. The ravens don't make it easy as they hang out and bother the young eagles as they follow mom and pop down the beach. We saw about 20 eagles in a 3 miles stretch. Including a very large Golden eagle. And 100s of ravens.
this is a river at low tide- lots of moving water - dizzy making
miles of low tide river crossings- can't stop!
Then we hit the gravel from hell. Somewhere near Happy Valley we were struggling. Not happy, and no valley... just big stones. No packed gravel to be found. I was tired and this was exhausting. Burritos did not help today. Walking was actually harder than riding because the sand and rocks were so deep.
Kathy not happy in Happy Valley
Even Pat admitted it was hard going. Visions of our cozy bungalow danced in my head as I swayed exhausted and spinning on the loose beach, trying to keep momentum for as long as possible. We did the best we could for about 5-6 miles, stopped at the next beach access and decided to go the last 4 miles to Anchor Point on the road. Whew! We cycled the few miles to Anchor point and ate at the Anchor Point Inn.
Then cycled the road down to the other side of Anchor River and set up camp. I got in the tent about 3 pm and fell instantly asleep for 2 hours. After a light supper we went to bed early. We covered about 20 -25 very slow miles today. We stopped here today because we were tired and most of all because: We planned to do just the section between Anchor Point and Homer on one low tide. We have been warned repeatedly to be careful of this section. Experienced folks all said we do not want to get caught there with 500 foot steep cliffs and no way out. So it would be good to be rested and get up early and have plenty of time for this last part of our journey.
8. Homer Beer
Got up at 6 am. We ate instant dinners for breakfast. We were on the beach by 7:30am. Because so many people warned us to be careful not to get trapped on this section, we are a little nervous but excited as this is the last leg of our trip. We have a good early start with the tide. Great beach baby.
Much better than Happy Valley area. I feel great today! Rest is a good thing. Some rock gardens. As the tide went out we could go further out onto very hard packed sand. It was like riding on wet pavement next to the surf. Unbelievable!! 9-10 miles an hour. Remote area, no houses. No truck or people tracks.
Otters played in the surf not far from us. Some of them sat up and just stared at us as we went by. Otters have a way of sitting straight up in the water. Cute but very BIG. Like giant dogs in the surf. Sun started coming out. We were cruising 8-10 miles an hour. After a few hours we could see folks ahead on the beach and see 4 wheeler tracks. Then lots of folks out at low tide. We were near Homer!
People looked at us and smiled. We got to Bishops beach at 11:00am hours before high tide.
A little kid and her mom asked how far did we go today. We looked muddy and sweaty. We told them from near Hope to here. I could hear her explaining to her child that we went all the way from Hope to Homer on the beach! They smile and wave as we head to town. We were relieved but sad it was over. We cycled the road to the Lands End resort at the end of the Homer Spit, which is the end of the highway system in the USA.
Then we back tracked to the infamous Salty Dawg Saloon. We had 3 Homer beers (that come in recycled Sobe bottles). One for each of us and one for Surly Dave who sent Pat the Pugsley to try out.
A Hells angel who looked like he lived at the Salty Dog offered to take our picture.
He then explained he only had one good eye and he couldn't see in the view finder so he just held it out and clicked it.
We knew we had come to the right place. It was crowded for 11:30 am on a Sunday . We asked if church had just gotten out or what. Everyone was in a good mood. Bikers, fishermen and tourists and we were the only cyclists that had biked the beach to the Salty Dog from near Hope. We spent a little too much time there after folks bought us some rounds as celebration. Later we found our way back to town to stay with some friends. We think it was about 25 miles today. Next day we road the Homer Stage Line back to Anchorage. We are sad it's over. We still miss Rowdy.
2019: Pat was diagnosed with MS in early 2004. He is still riding his bike now although he would not be able do a trip like this. We are thankful for this wonderful adventure we could do together.
Ride while you can!