2014 Tandem Bike Tour – Alaska & The Yukon

August 8 – 23, 2014:  Jerry and Odette biked from Fairbanks to Dawson (over the Top of The World Highway) then continued on to Whitehorse and Skagway on the Klondike Highway.  A ferry ride to Juneau completed the tour.


Odette surprised me with a Christmas present of a bike tour in the Yukon.  I didn’t think that she would volunteer for camping way up north, but it was her idea.  She said she wanted to try out bike camping in a supported environment before we took off for a long self-contained trip. She remembered me really wanting to hike the Chilkoot trail and thought that this would be a way to see that country without the boulderfields.   Pedalers Pub & Grill, the company that operates the tour she chose, guides trips mainly in Asia but they run three or four trips a year in Alaska.  We put a deposit down early in 2014 and then started riding our tandem hard to train for it.  We wondered if the Ibis would be a better bike for Alaskan roads, but we were told the route would be all paved.  A few weeks before we were supposed to leave we got an email saying that the chartered plane from Fairbanks to Dawson wasn’t running any more, so how did we feel about being driven or biking to Dawson and could we start a day earlier to allow time to cover about 300 extra miles.  We responded that it sounded good to us, we were flying into Fairbanks a couple of days early anyway, and that we wanted to bike as much of it as we could.  Apparently at that point all of the other people booked on the tour backed out, because it ended up with just Odette and me with the owner of the tour company as our guide.

Here is a Google Maps diagram of the route

Here is my journal of the trip:

Friday August 8.

did laundry and packed,  decided to take winter shoes.  checked the weights of the bike cases and stuffed some more things into the lighter one.  took Shuttle Express to the airport – sitting interminably on Westlake waiting to turn left onto Mercer.  Luckily I-5 wasn’t backed up.  security had to rescan my laptop.  the agent at the check-in desk made us take our bike cases to oversize.  stood in line at Starbucks to get a sandwich.  boarding seemed to be a free for all.  plane ride was long and cramped.  still light in Faribanks at 11:00.  good times.

Saturday August 9

after a breakfast that wasn’t my favorite, assembled the tandem.  no issues – chain went together easily.  had to start over on the rear rack.  met Tom from Pedalers as I was finishing the bike.  talked for a while about the tour and about his business.  rode around the block with Odette to confirm that shifting worked then took a shower.  rode to the University and did the museum – which was fun.  watched a movie about the aurora borealis then had lunch there.  tried to ride to the big animal research station but kept going exactly the wrong way.  had trouble remembering that the stoker is always right.  got there too late for a tour.  forget to turn on my cyclometer for the ride back to the motel.  the bike wasn’t shifting right so I fiddled with the cable runs and got it slotted in the right places.  rested for a couple of hours in the room then rode to pioneer park for the salmon bake.  the bike was shifting okay but we had some more 180-degree off experiences before eventually getting there (Fairbanks is just figuring out bike lanes – google maps kept sending us back and forth between frontage roads on either side of Airport way and they all seemed to end on sidewalks signed “no bikes.”  pioneer park was signed “no dogs or bikes.”  the food was okay but over-priced.  Odette got us a pitcher of beer and that was actually quite good..  we improvised a route back to the room which was better than the route out.  it sprinkled on us but we had raincoats.

Sunday August 10

same breakfast process as the day before, then hauled bike and bags out to the street.  had to unpack to retrieve the bike lock keys from yesterday’s pants pockets.  drove to delta and walked around a roadhouse – got mosquito bitten.  exceptional views of the Alaska Range and of various big braided rivers.  drove on to Dot Lake, had lunch and started our ride.  the van waited for us every 15 miles.  The   terrain was rolling hills with lots of stunted spruce.  played tag with rainclouds but never got wet.  about 12 miles out of Tok we picked up a bike path.  it had a lot of gravel on it and I couldn’t decide whether it was better or worse than the road.  ended up riding just under 50 miles but it didn’t really feel that far.  got to the campground and Tom suggested we go into town before setting up the tent.  We checked out the visitor center, emailed Will and bought some fudge before returning.  pitched the tent, had dinner, charged phones.  ate more than I should have

Monday August 11

lots of bacon at breakfast.  packed up and got in the van for a ride toward Dawson.  mlles of stunned spruce burned over by forest fires.  lots of badly maintained unpaved road.  Saw the town of Chicken and the mining relics (including a dredge.)  started biking where the new pavement started.  pavement ended at the border after a long hill.  the Canadian customs guy gave us a little bit of  a hard time but let us in.  lots of ups and downs on mainly unpaved roads.  we got tired after 45 miles and rode in the van for 20 mostly flat miles, then biked on into Dawson which was another 20, mainly downhill.  last segment was really muddy & slippery .  crossed the Yukon river on a very small ferry.  showered, had a very big burger for dinner.

Tuesday August 12

late breakfast.  walked around Dawson and visited museums.  City/federal places were really good; Holland America attractions, not so much.  skipped lunch and rode out to Dempster Junction and back.  flat, paved, pretty scenery lots of dredge tailings.  I’d like to drive up the Dempster and see the Ogilvie mountains.  got rained on coming back and then had a flat. tried to just pump it up but pump wouldn’t work so used c02, that lasted five minutes.  changed tube and used another co2 cartridge – that lasted ten minutes.  mad it back to town on the third co2 cartridge.  borrowed a pump and figured out that both of the flat tubes were pinch flats – then discovered that I also had a flat on the rear tire.  changed that and patched all three flat tubes  – still not sure exactly how I did that but know that R+E didn’t put new tubes on when they changed tires.  Ate dinner at the HAL restaurant and were the youngest people in the place.  I had liver & onions.  tried to get decaf but the power was out for the whole town…

Wednesday August 13

breakfast at the hotel then rode in the van to Dempster junction.  10k of roadwork that they wouldn’t let us ride so we shuttled most of the way through the construction zone.  in the next 10k we had three more flat tires and definitively broke my pump.  After that the ride picked up – no more flats for the rest of the day.  saw lots of poplar, lots of big vistas, low mountain ranges and far off rivers.  no people.  very few cars.  some up and down but no really steep hills (only got into the big ring a couple of times and only got into the small one once all day long.)  started to rain just before we go to the Moose Creek campground.  kept it up all through dinner.  climbed into the tent early.

Thursday August 14

woke up to no rain but cold.  had breakfast then rode to Stuart Crossing.  hit some construction and rode several small sections of gravel – got to a longer construction site and they wouldn’t let us ride and said they couldn’t shuttle a tandem.  we waited for the van and missed about three miles of our ride.  for some reason my gps kicked out at that point.  rode on to Pelly Crossing for the night.  lots of poplar, lots of spruce, lots of big vistas.  not a lot of traffic and not a lot of people.

 Friday August 15

after a warm night with lots of drive buys and barking dog packs we rode from Pelly Crossing to Carmacks.  headwinds all day.  spectacular views of the Yukon River.  at this point we’ve moved into forest and away from tundra – it feels more familiar.  played tag with a german sleeper-bus.  had several stretches of unpaved road – 10k of recent chip seal with one fast descent…  one bridge rebuilding project where the road was exceptionally rocky.  overall a slow day because of the winds but a good ride and no rain.  one flat tire – a quarter mile after the 10K stretch.  camped in a commercial campground with boaters and RVs.  shower felt really good.

Saturday August 16

rained a little over night and was cold in the morning.  started off with lots of clothes on and left most of them on all day.  forgot to start my cycle meter.  had a headwind again for most of the afternoon but only a little rain.  the riding was easier than the last couple of days but the wind still made us slow.  one section of construction but the loose gravel really didn’t make a lot of difference in our speed.  lots of lakes today,  out of tundra and into northern forest.  huge vistas, little streams and tarns that never stopped, cat & mouse with the Yukon River, historic sites, still very few settlements which made the ones we did encounter (Braeburns) seem more memorable.  low mountains across the lake still have snow patches.  got cold as soon as we got off the bike – had dinner and then crawled into the tent at 7:00

Sunday August 17

started raining during the night and was going good in the morning so we delayed breakfast.  got up, packed, rolled up a wet tent, ate a Braeburns Cinnamon Bun, then biked to Whitehorse in full cold-weather rain gear.  stopped raining after about 10 miles and midway I shed a layer.  it was really interesting to come back into cultivated fields and civilization after several days of wilderness.  the Alaska highway has more traffic and more shoulder (even if it was more cracked) than the traffic lane.  took the bike trail down 2-mile hill.  got to the motel before 2:00 and found we were already checked in and our stuff was in our room.  the showers felt good.  the bike store in town was closed for Yukon Days but we found the local sporting goods store and bought a patch kit, two tubes and a blackburn airstick.  ate too much for dinner.

Monday August 18

Discovery Day in the Yukon so we didn’t ride.  most stores were closed, most restaurants, too.  had lunch at Tim Hortons.  Dinner at the Klondike  Salmon Bake, again.  walked around the shipyards trail and out to the SS Klondike.  visited the McBride museum.  walked to the Yukon Brewery, but no tours or tastings.  didn’t start to rain until about 7:00 in the evening.

Tuesday August 19

raining at breakfast but mainly stopped by the time we took off.  Alaska Highway out of Whitehorse has good shoulders but a lot of traffic; Klondike highway is chip seal.  interesting collection of buildings at Robinson Roadhouse.  miles of dense northern forests and the beginnings of mountains with patches of snow.  rain off and on, but never had to put on rain pants.  got to camp at Carcross at 2:00 –  missed the turn and got cross-chained so I had to fix it by hand.  Set up tent and then went into the old town, did part of the walking tour and looked at the burned steamboat.  rained some more at dinner time.

Wednesday August 20

sprinkles at the campsite but quickly took off rain gear.  rolling hills with dense forest out of Carcross.  miles of lakes and then views of peaks and snow.  lots of avalanche area signs and evidence of rockfall.  broad valley that reminded me of the Enchantments with exposed rock and subalpine vegetation and little tarns and streams – went on for ten miles.  one more flat and I booted a slit in the casing with an inner tube patch. skipped the log cabin for big views at Fraser then a climb to the actual border.  rained on while stopped but not enough to interrupt a fast descent to the US Customs.  Then more winding descent into town.  dodged tour ship passengers to the motel and broke the bike down and packed it.  Then walked the main street and looked at the shops.  Skagway is a tourist trap – themed like Winthrop or Leavenworth but without their charm or integrity. (for some reason it was full of jewelry shops selling loose diamonds)  dinner at the Skagway brewery and a short sleep before a 5:45 AM wake-up (for an 8:00 ferry)

Thursday August 21

early trip to the ferry and then all day on board.  Alaska state museum is closed until 2016. walked around Juneau and had dinner at a Tracy’s Crab Shack – best food on the trip.

Friday August 22

good breakfast at The Sandpiper. walked to Juneau city museum which was closed because of a power outage.  took the shuttle out to the Mendenhall glacier visitor center and walked to the falls.  had lunch then killed time until we could get a ride to the Alaska Brewery tour.  visited the city museum which featured a tow-gripper from Meany.  went back to the room and repacked, then had dinner at the Wharf.

Saturday August 23

flight back to Seattle at 8:20 was notable for the early check-in time and the views of the water and islands around Juneau on takeoff.  had remarkable views of the BC Costal Range as we got further south.  the word “reservation” doesn’t mean what Shuttle Express thinks it does – the trip home from SeaTac took longer than the flight from Juneau to Seattle.

Here are the GPS maps of our rides:

Here are some materials scraped from the Pedalers Pub & Grill website.

Here are my photos and here are Odette’s

Here are the Garmin records


Lessons learned from 600 miles and 35,000 feet of elevation gain:

The highlights of the trip for me were the Top Of The World Highway with its huge velvety treeless expanses and the summit at White Pass – the beginning and end of the trip.  Doing it over I’d spend less time on the touristy stuff and more time on the wilderness.  The ferry to Juneau was a great experience but I could have done without the second day in Juneau – and probably could have done with less time in Dawson & Whitehorse as well.  However, we got tired after three or four days and a rest day was welcome (as were motel beds and restaurant meals.)  Charging batteries is something I need to pay more attention to – the laptop worked fine but we used it up after a couple of nights.  Also need to pay more attention to tires.  We had nine flats in twelve days, six of them coming within 20 miles.  My theory is that I got a cut in the tread of the tire in gravel on that first out & back and if I had booted the cut at that point I could have avoided most if not all of the rest.  I need to rethink frame pumps, too.  a broken pump left me unable to figure out where the hole in the tube was and I had a limited number of CO2 cartridges (cartridges which Odette woke me up in the middle of the night in Juneau to make me throw away because she felt guilty taking them on the airplane.)  The bike did well but Odette and I both need to work on bringing less stuff.  (It’s like backpacking, you need experience to know what you can get along without.)  The camping gear the guide supplied was not sexy but it did a very good job – I was impressed by how dry and warm we were able to stay in the tent compared to what we would have experienced in my climbing gear.

We drank a lot of beer on this trip – one or two a day while in camp and more than that in town.  I think that everything we drank was either from Yukon Brewing or Alaska Brewing and they are both pretty good.  I prefer stouts and porters that taste stronger than theirs do, but in the circumstances I wasn’t complaining.  A midnight Sun after a long day of riding hits the spot quite well.

Breaking the bike down and packing it is not nearly as big of a deal as people think it is.  For what it is worth, here is an MKV file of the instructional tape Rodriguez provides for customers.  It is 30 minutes long covering both parts of the process for a single bike, but you’ll get the idea.

I would do this trip again. I would do the Alaska Highway or the Dempster Highway, too.   I would do a tour with Pedalers again (we talked about Tasmania.)  I would seriously think about a van-supported tour for less exotic routes, like the west coast or transamerica.


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