North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure from Georgia to Alaska (Day 17)

August 19, 2019

Day 17 – 7/14/19

My plan for today was to spend some time in Denali National Park and after yesterday’s frustrations, do something other than riding. There are several ways to explore Denali, but getting into the Park’s interior (other than by airplane or helicopter) requires paying for one of the tour bus options. In the interests of limiting vehicular access during summer, privately owned vehicles aren’t allowed in beyond 14.8 miles. The thought of sitting on a tour bus all day, even with the spectacular scenery, didn’t sound appealing. I’ll come back to Denali someday for a more in-depth visit, so today would involve a hike and looking at a few points of interest closer to the Park’s entrance.

It was chilly when I woke up, and I wished I’d brought some gloves other than my riding ones.

First up was the hike. Those who know me know that I don’t usually do relaxing hikes; I like to push myself and enjoy the challenges presented by a strenuous hike. The Mount Healy Overlook Trail seemed to fit my desired criteria. I also wanted to see the sled dog demonstration at 10am, and the free bus to the kennels would be leaving the Park’s visitor center at 9:20am. This didn’t leave much time for the hike, which the National Park Service suggested would take 4 hours for the round-trip. I thought that was an overly conservative estimate and figured I could probably get it done in half the time. I took the courtesy shuttle from my lodging to the Park and arrived at the visitor center around 7:15am. I hustled over to the trailhead and began the hike.

It was a strenuous and steep hike for some portions, but I was able to finish it under my goal of two hours.

I did have to jog for the last few minutes to get to the bus depot just before 9:20am. When I got there, the bus driver said we’d be leaving in 10 minutes. Insert shrugging emoji.

The shuttle bus deposited my fellow tourists and me at the sled dog kennels, where some of the dogs were out and about before the demonstration. Disclaimer: I did have concerns going into this visit about whether the sled dogs were treated well, given what was essentially a “forced labor” environment. After seeing the dogs, facilities, and staff, I can say without reservation that I think the dogs enjoy what they do and have happy and fulfilling lives. The dogs are born and raised in the Park and are usually put up for adoption when they turn nine. Of course, they much prefer the cold northern climates, so you won’t see any retired sled dogs in the Deep South.

After the sled dog demonstration, I took the shuttle bus back to the visitor center complex and grabbed some lunch at the Mono Grill ahead of the crowds. Then I walked down to the train station to await the arrival of the next passenger train.

I think exploring Alaska by train would be pretty cool, and I’ll look into it for my next trip. I walked around the visitor center for a little while and called for the courtesy shuttle back to the cabin in the early afternoon.

I spent the rest of the afternoon reviewing trip photos and videos and looking at the route for tomorrow. After supper, I walked down the hill and picked what I thought would be the best line for the morning ride to the main road, visualizing the control inputs and avoiding the hazards. Expert riders would likely call this overthinking, but I just wanted to feel prepared and confident. Tomorrow was going to be a long day, and I had no intention of starting it with another riding mishap.

Daily portrait challenge: Sled dogs love love.

This day off from riding was exactly what I needed. The finish line for my adventure was in sight, and I had one guaranteed tough day ahead of me. I hoped the scenery along the way would take my mind off the miles.

Total mileage: 0.0

Lodging: Denali Crow’s Nest Log Cabins, McKinley Park, Alaska