North American Epic
Join us in the summer and fall of 2015 as we undertake another epic adventure.
While most trans-North American cycling journeys cross the continent from west to east, the north to south route from Anchorage, Alaska to Mexico City is filled with irresistible sights, sounds, and challenges that will appeal to the spirit of the curious/adventurous cyclist.
Following the gold rush trail, climbing peaks and dodging grizzly bears…
We celebrate the start of our adventure alongside the Gulf of Alaska’s Cook Inlet in downtown Anchorage with group photos and perhaps a bite of smoked salmon. Time to ride. In early July at latitude 61 degrees N we could cycle into the late night twilight but we will keep our distances closer to 110 km/day as we spin up the Glenn Highway and revel in the stark beauty of the Matanuska Glacier. Besides, we don’t want to run into a Grizzly Bear in the wee hours of the morning!
From Gulkana we take the Tok Cut-Off past the Wrangell Mountains, home to some of the continent’s highest peaks, until we reach our first rest day in Tok Junction. There we join the fabled Alaska or Alcan Highway bound for the Yukon Territory, Canada’s land of the Midnight Sun.
We will overnight in Destruction Bay, a hamlet next to Kluane Lake and Kluane National Park, not far from Snag, Canada’s all time cold spot which registered a bone numbing -81°F during the winter of 1942. This section ends in Whitehorse alongside the Yukon River which thousands of fortune hunters trekked and sailed down to Dawson City during the famous Klondike Gold Rush in the 1890s.
Hot springs, buffalo, and moose…
The 2nd section of our epic ride follows close to 1400 km of the Alaska Highway, which was constructed during World War II for the purpose of connecting the contiguous USA to Alaska. Legendary for being a rough, challenging drive, the highway is currently paved over its entire length, although we can expect a few rougher stretches due to construction work and periodic flooding.
From Whitehorse, our route takes us past tranquil Teslin Lake, then across the continental divide for the first time, and into Watson Lake famed for its signpost of license plates from around the world. From there, it’s into the northeast corner of British Columbia and a rest day in search of moose and a refreshing dip at the Liard Hotsprings.
The quiet majesty of jade green Muncho Lake will beckon us onwards towards Fort Nelson which was founded as a trading post but today derives its livelihood from oil & gas and forestry. This section ends in Fort St John. Here departing and arriving riders have the convenience of an airport with connections to and from Edmonton and Vancouver.
Exploring the Canadian Rocky Mountains, Jasper National Park, and Banff…
This section takes us through the iconic scenery of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. After cycling past mile zero of the Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek B.C., and then briefly across the northern prairie in western Alberta, we turn south along remote Highway 40 towards the Rockies and the town of Grand Cache.
Near Hinton we turn west onto the Yellowhead Highway which takes us to a rest day in Jasper National Park, and the resort town of Jasper where deer, black bear and big horned sheep may wander the streets. Then it’s down the breathtaking Icefield Parkway which runs alongside the continental divide, past Mt Edith Cavell, the Columbia Icefields, and serene Lake Louise en route to the winter sports and hiking haven that is Banff.
From the Rocky Mountain resort down of Banff our journey continues on another shorter but stunningly beautiful section. Along the seasonal Kananaskis highway we spin up and down the foothills of the Rockies, climbing to 2200 m at Highwood pass, and camping in provincial parks. Then it’s down the Cowboy Trail with the MacDonald Range appearing in the distance and into the oil fed town of Pincher Creek. Riders can cycle into beautiful Waterton Lakes Park before climbing to the remote Canada-USA border crossing at Chief Mountain, Montana. From there we enter the lands of the Blackfeet Indians which surround Glacier National Park. After a rest day at the village of St Mary eating huckleberry pie, we’ll cycle on the Going to the Sun Road through this jewel of the USA parks system surrounded by towering peaks as we climb to the Continental Divide at Logan Pass and then descend past ice fed Lake MacDonald.
From Kalispell it’s a 3 day ride to the Montana’s capital of Helena, through state forests and ranchlands, along the Flatbush and Blackfoot rivers, including a remote but mostly smooth 20 km off road stretch to avoid traffic, a lunch stop in the bike friendly hamlet of Ovando (population 50) and a sweet ascent and descent on Highway 279 into Lewis and Clark County.
All 8 sections of the NAE offer a different window into the natural splendors of the continent, but if you’ve only got a couple weeks to spare in late summer, the Road to the Sun section will wow and invigorate you to come back for more.
The American West conjures up images of the Rockies, crystal clear mountain streams, endless skies, and cowboys and cowgirls huddled around a campfire sipping coffee. And while the Great Divide section includes several long challenging days in the saddle those who are able to find the frontier spirit within themselves will be richly rewarded by this journey on 2 wheels into the Wild West.
After exiting Helena we visit the historic Missouri River headwaters before spinning up the Gallatin River canyon where white water rafters dodge boulders as they rush downstream. From there it’s a quick ride to West Yellowstone and a rest day when clients can cycle into or take a guided tour of Yellowstone Park where they will spy herds of bison, fields of hot springs, and the world’s most renowned geyser, Old Faithful.
Back in the saddle we’ll cruise along 2 quiet scenic roads in Idaho, with great views of the foreboding peaks of the Tetons which we traverse at Teton Pass. Then it’s a wicked downhill into the rich and famous … and expensive … ski resort town of Jackson Hole followed by a sweet rolling bike path most of the way to Hoback canyon. From there the riders’ mettle will be tested by a century+ day of 165 km up onto and across the gauntlet of Wyoming’s remote High Chaparral. Reminiscent of Botswana, here humans are vastly outnumbered by cattle, and the few lonely settlements such as Big Piney are populated by oil industry workers, trailers and pick up trucks. At more than 2000 meters elevation in the middle of nowhere one shudders to think how cold and lonely it must be here in winter.
After passing by Green River and the Flaming Gorge Reservoir we’ll catch our first glimpses of the surreal rock formations of the southwest, on a day of 2000 meters climb and descent that takes briefly takes us into the northeastern corner of Utah where prehistoric sea life flourished and dinosaurs roamed long ago. Then it’s up and over western Colorado’s Douglas pass down into a beautiful campground at Highline lake. Finally we cycle into the psychedelic and mystical Canyonlands along Utah’s Highway 128, dwarfed by red rock cliffs and buttes carved eons ago by the Colorado river, and arrive at the mountain biking paradise town of Moab. Here the tour will have a 2 day midway break during which the riders can explore Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, test their rock-hopping bike skills, or just explore the shops and kick back with good food and beers at the Moab Brewing Company on Main Street.
The Canyonlands section of this year’s North American Epic covers the 1225 km from the mountain biking mecca of Moab Utah to sun baked Yuma Arizona near the USA-Mexico border. En route our rider clients will revel in the psychedelic landscapes of the southwest and then encounter serious heat as they descend into and spin across the desert with saguaro cacti, tumbleweeds and roadrunners as their companions.
After reluctantly departing Moab, we’ll continue cycling past red and brown rock formations of every shape imaginable on Utah’s Highways 191 & 163, stopping to shop for silver and turquoise Navajo jewelry. At iconic Monument Valley riders can explore the buttes and mesas featured in many a western movie, before hopping back on their saddles bound for the Grand Canyon, one of the world’s natural wonders.
After a rest day in the Route 66 university and winter sports town of Flagstaff we’ll descent 1000 meters down the Oak Creek Canyon to the red rock vistas of trendy Sedona. Then it’s a stiff climb up Mingus Mountain through the historic mining town of Jerome with its fascinating bars and tasty ice cream and Bar BQ. After camping on the top we’ll cruise downhill and ride a beautiful bike trail into the small city of Prescott.
Yarnell marks the start of the downhill into the heat of the Arizonan desert where temperatures will approach 45 degrees Celsius and refreshes in the few small communities will be de rigeur. The last day from Quartzsite to Yuma will be a particularly tough 130 km gauntlet through the middle of nowhere and a US military desert training base, but anyone and everyone who completes this stage will be aptly rewarded by a dip in the pool at our hotel and a frosty margarita across the street at Texas Longhorn’s.
The Canyonlands section will first amaze you with its stunning vistas, and then daze you with desert heat. Its harsh environment and welcome watering holes will give us a glimpse of how tough life was in the Old West as we spin on our 21st century 2 wheeled steeds across lands that covered wagons once struggled mightily to cross.
Into Mexico, cervezas, cactus forests, and beach camping…
After maneuvering our way past Mexican customs we cross the remnants of the Colorado river and head down the eastern Gulf of California side of the Baja peninsula on Highway 5. Our first rest day is in the waterfront town of San Felipe where the gorgeous beaches and delicious seafood will tempt us with early retirement.
Instead we pedal on, basking in sunshine, and dipping in the indigo Sea of Cortez. South of Puertecitos we have a 120 km off road gauntlet to negotiate before we meet the Trans-Baja highway at Chapala. After entering the state of Baja California Sur we arrive for a rest day in Guerrero Negro on the Laguna Ojo de Liebre which is known for being a whale watching heritage site and its small town Baja charm. We then traverse the cactus forest landscape of the Deserto de Vizcaino and pass by the Volcano of the 3 Virgins.
After camping on the beach at the Bahia Concepcion and a rest day in the small seaside town of Loreto we spin inland once more, towards the middle of the peninsula stopping for cervezas and open spit chicken in the junction of Ciudad Insurgentes. South of Ciudad Constitución, the world’s straightest road may make our minds wander elsewhere, but shortly thereafter our arrival in the bustling city of La Paz will bring us out of reverie. La Paz marks the end of our trans-Baja trek, here the riders can wander the Malecon promenade while the tour staff make the arrangements for our ferry crossing to Mazatlan.
This quick and easy section of our trans-continental odyssey on two wheels begins in the Sinaloa state port of Mazatlan, which is famous for its Aquarium, and Pacific Ocean beaches. Enjoy lagosta al ajo (garlic lobster) washed down with Corona and Tequila during a day off. The next 5 days feature several Unesco World Heritage sites before we head back to end the section in beautiful Puerto Vallarta. This is a great opportunity to cycle for a week and then take a vacation in the sun.
Seafood, heritage sites and mariachi bands…
At Puerto Vallarta we bid adios to palm grove playas and freshly caught fruta del mar and begin our ascent into the Sierra Mascota and the Mexican plateau. We then pass through the Sierra Verde and central valleys of Jalisco state. We begin the final stretch of the tour by cycling along the shores of the Laguna de Chapala where Canadian and USA expats winter. After a breakfast of huevos rancheros in Ocotlán we follow secondary roads towards the colonial towns of Guanajuato state, which include the heritage sites of old Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende.
The historic monument zone of Queretaro city is worth a visit, before we cycle triumphantly as a Convoy de los Conquistadores y Cyclistas into Mexico City at the end of our 10,000 km journey. After celebrating with more cervezas it is time to say goodbye to the friends we have made, pack up our bikes and head for the airport enriched with memories to last a lifetime.