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Kenai Peninsula? That’s a Paddlin’

Last July, I took a trip to Alaska to meet up with Kim McNett and Bjorn Olson who were wrapping up a kayak trip navigating the Kenai peninsula. Daniel of Defiance Frameworks, musician Ben Weaver, and I met up with Kim and Bjorn after the sea portion of their trip to ride and packraft from Seward back to Homer.

Daniel, Bjorn, Kim, Ben, me

We take off late afternoon from Seward and ride into the Chugach National Forest. Glacial waters on the trail floor hide our route. Riding is slow going and dense. Our map references a cabin and we point towards it. It takes a river crossing and countless bear and moose tracks before we find it, tucked away and surrounded by fresh berries. There’s an exhausted silence as we stain our fingers purple and eagerly fill our mouths. The cabin guestbook brings us up to speed on the active bears in the area that have marked time by destroying the nearby outhouse after each quarterly repair effort. We dry our shoes on the fire. With no darkness, my body is confused and exhausted.

Photo by Bjorn

Photo by Bjorn

Photo by Bjorn

We take in a lazy morning, leaving the cabin in the afternoon. A trail clearing effort proves to have only gone so far as the cabin and we’re soon pushing through thick overgrown forest. It’s slow going. We ferry our gear across another river crossing. The easiest ferrying spot on the river puts us at the edge of a good bushwhacking. There are several downed trees and thick Devil’s club to push through in an effort to join back up to our trail. Bjorn’s saddle and one of his pedals call the quits in the scramble and the rest of us are left eyeing our gear cautiously. We spit out of the brush and ride dotted two track which eventually blurs into a solitary line in the ground, set too deep to pedal a full rotation. The flies are thick and biting. After a mix of ratcheting, kick-push and riding alongside the rutted single-track, we leave the primitive trail into open gravel road. The fast descent is a welcome reprieve and dumps us into a small campsite where we call it a day.

The next morning, we pedal into Cooper Landing and decide our best course of action is to delay a bit so Bjorn can replace his pedal and find a saddle that still has a nose stuck to it. While he sorts out his parts swap, we nap, trade stories and take the rafts out. It’s a lazy day that leaves us a bit stir-crazy to keep moving but it’s too gorgeous to be frustrated by much of anything. We stay put for the night at the edge of HWY 1. The cars don’t sound much like waves, but I try and convince myself anyway.

From Cooper Landing we load up the rafts and take off, putting in some eddy practice under bridges as we move. I am, by far, the least experienced paddler in the group and I’m trying to absorb as many tips as I can during this short paddle section, knowing the days ahead will be much longer. Midday, we pull out at a boat launch and pack the rafts back onto the bikes. It’s an energized hilly gravel pedal into a campground on Skilak Lake where we tuck away for the night.

Junk Strap use #203

We cross Skilak in rafts in the morning and navigate into the Kenai River, putting the mountains behind us. The river is mellow with small rapids and every now and again some boulders to dodge. The water is lined like streets on parade day. It’s fishing season. Folks of every sort are wearing suspendered pants that come up to their nipples, but floating on brightly colored inflatable boats with fat tired bicycles strapped to them, we’re still the odd ones. There’s lots of attention our way.

We take out for lunch in Sterling then paddle a bit further to an oversold campground near Soldotna. It’s 10:53pm but looks like a sunny 2 o’clock. I abandon any hope of drying my shoes and pass out.

In the morning, we point towards Kenai, finishing the paddle with some swift water, white tips, and boulder obstacles. We pull out at a bridge access and make our way towards the beach. The sun is beating us down. We pass a few hours at a local roadhouse as we wait for the tide to go down. Plenty of plastic bottle whisky, cold PBRs and fishing talk. Getting antsy, we take off for a short pedal down the beach and prop up in the sand for a quick snooze as we continue to wait for tide. We finish the day riding to Kasilof Beach where a dip-netting tent village has spread itself wide across the sand.

After breakfast, we paddle across the river mouth between dip netters. It’s a day of hot beach riding. Long grinding miles past fishing shacks on mostly smooth packed sand. We pause only to nap briefly in the shade and wait for tide to go down. A beachside waterfall location makes the perfect location to make camp at for the night.

Onward we point to Diamond Gulch, where a welcoming crew meets us with provisions and high-fives. We swap stories and laughs around the fire until wind and rain drive us into our tents. It’s single digit mileage to Homer, and it’s sinking in that the trip has come to a close. A good mix of known and unknown, some physical and mental pushing and some of the best folks you could hope for. I haven’t yet started packing to leave and I’m already scheming to get back. I hear that Homer Cycling Club puts on one heck of a Big Fat Bike Fest…

Photo by Bjorn

Photo by Bjorn

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About GypsyK

Amy brings with her an impressive cycling resume as a mechanic and industry pencil pusher. Both worlds of knowledge serve her well in her role here as she communicates with our suppliers and facilitates all the things that go along with getting our bikes produced and hanging parts on them. In her personal life Amy has a thing for Abraham Lincoln and a lifelong love of NASCAR, which is actually car racing believe it or not. Huh. It’s a strange world. Someone should sell tickets.

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