Where The River Meets the Road

The adventure begins soon!
Track me here: https://share.garmin.com/mapshare/JessicaKelley


This summer I’m embarking on a 1,250 mile bikerafting loop through Alaska that I’m calling “Where The River Meets The Road.” My hope is that my trip will promote low-impact travel, encourage human-powered exploration in Alaska, and inspire other people – especially women – to tackle solo adventures.

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A general overview of the route: Red is bike (approx 1,000 miles total, 40% off-pavement), blue is packraft (approx 250 miles total), and orange is by train.

An interactive, detailed map of the route can be found here and I’ve provided a detailed description of the route below.

But this adventure is about more than just pedaling and paddling. I’m a grateful recipient of the Kyle Dempster Solo Adventure Award, and have also received generous support from Alpacka RaftsCorpore Sano Physical TherapyLa Sportiva, Black Diamond, Duct Tape Then Beer, Hyperlite Mountain Gear, Revelate DesignsProBar, Outdoor Research, Kenmore Camera, and Four Leaf Spirits. This support has put me in a unique position to pay it forward. With much of my gear and expenses covered, I’ll have more time and energy to tackle another aspect of the adventure: fundraising.

Although I know that riding my bike alone through Alaska will be awesome, I also know there will be days when I wonder why the hell I’m out there, grinding along, far from home. On those days, I need a reason to keep going – an external motivator that is bigger than me. As a female cyclist and mother to a 7-yr old girl, I love the idea of getting more young girls involved in cycling. I also want to contribute directly to one of the communities I’ll be riding through. Therefore, I will be raising funds for Anchorage GRIT, to help cover program costs such as cabin rentals, racks, locks, water bottle cages, and food.
Committing to this route as a fundraiser makes the adventure even more meaningful, and will give me that extra boost to keep going on the toughest days. Donations of any amount are greatly appreciated, and can be made here.

Route Details:

My trip will begin in the Seattle airport, where I’ll wave goodbye to my husband and daughter and board a flight to Anchorage. As much as I hate to leave my family, I’m glad my daughter will watch me fly off to Alaska. In her world, Mama goes on adventures while Daddy stays home to take care of her, and we are all proud of this arrangement.

After landing in Anchorage, I’ll purchase some final supplies, take my bike for a test spin to make sure all systems are go, and then attempt to get a good night’s sleep. My plan is to pedal out of Anchorage first thing in the morning on June 21, the day of the summer solstice in the land of the midnight sun. I’ll head northeast out of town on the Glenn Highway.

Although I will mostly stick to the Glenn Highway for the first few days, I plan to explore a few backroads, such as the overgrown but charming Pinochle Creek Rd that briefly runs parallel to the Glenn Highway. After almost 600 miles of riding, including some fantastically scenic gravel grinding along the Taylor Highway, I’ll arrive in Eagle: the end of the road. It’s here that I will inflate my packraft, lash my bike to the bow of my boat, and start paddling down the Yukon. Heck yeah! It is approximately 160 river miles from Eagle to Circle, which should take me about four days if I paddle steadily and make the most of the long daylight hours. I’ll float through the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Reserve, take endless photographs, and camp along the river when I get tired.

In Circle I will roll up the packraft and put my bike back together. At this point I begin riding the Steese Highway southwest, past the White Mountains, towards Fairbanks, and into the ghost town of Chena. During the winter of 2016 I raced the White Mountains 100 on foot, so it will be fun to ride past those same mountains and see what they look like in a different season, from a different perspective.

Upon reaching Chena, I will again inflate my boat and paddle down the Tanana River to Nenana. In Nenana I’ll get back on my bike and ride south along the Parks Highway until I reach Denali National Park, at which point I’ll hang a right and head up Denali Park Road. (There’s no way I can ride past the Denali Park Rd and NOT ride the length of it.) The first section of this road is paved, but after mile 15 it becomes a well-maintained gravel road that is closed to public vehicles, making it a great place to explore by bike. I’ll ride all the way to Kantishna at the end of the road, camp for an evening, and then catch a shuttle bus back to the Parks Highway the next morning and continue on my way.

From Denali it’s a relatively short ride (65 miles and 2k of elev gain) down the Parks Highway to Hurricane Gulch, where I will wave down the Hurricane Turn train. Although I typically prefer human-powered travel, I’m excited about this train! It is one of the last flagstop trains in North America, and is often used by locals accessing backcountry cabins up the Indian River Valley. It has open-air cars, dogs and kids milling about, and it stops whenever someone flags it down. I’ll hop off the train at Gold Creek, which is accessible only by rail, and begin my last float of the journey: 40 miles down the Susitna River from Gold Creek to Talkeetna. I walked on sections of the frozen Susitna during the 2017 Iditasport, and it’s another area I’m eager to see in a different season.

I’ll take out in Talkeetna and head for Anchorage, now in the final days of my trip – but not without one last scenic detour up and over legendary Hatcher Pass. Upon reaching Anchorage I’ll pack up my bike for the the last time on this trip, and then catch a flight back to Seattle and home, sweet home.

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Bike and raft on a recent day trip on the Yakima River. I’ll be carrying considerably more gear while in AK, but this gives a general idea of the set-up.