I’d been looking at this loop for a while now- Eyak River, down and around Pt Whitshed and back to Hartney Bay. It would be a fun little pedal/paddle trip. A quick day trip. 28 miles or so…
My wife, ever supportive yet always the realist- asked me how long it was going to take me. “Six hours, maybe eight.” I said.
She smiled. That smile she gives me when I tell her I’m just going to have one more beer at the bar. The smile that says: “I know you think that’s the case, but I know you and you’re full of shit.”
As it is most of the time- she was right.
Even though it’s just out my back door, I knew that chances were slim to none that I would see anyone for the day- so safety was a concern. Packing in the off chance that I’d have to bivy in the rainforest was necessary.
My pack list:
- Lunch: a couple granola bars, some dates, coffee in a thermos, a salmon sandwich, and a can of salmon in case I needed more. I had some GU Brew in my water bottle, and some IPA poured into a VAPR bottle that fit smartly into my water bladder (which had ice water in it to keep it cold.)
- iPhone to use my GaiaGPS app
- DeLorme InReach Explorer
- Packraft and paddle packed into my Blackburn handlebar harness
- PFD strapped to my backpack when not in use
- First Aid kit. with emergency blanket
- pack raft repair kit
- Tool kit, pump, Leatherman
- Bear spray (I opted for spray over gun because of weight.)
- Long underwear top and bottom and spare socks
I wore my brand new Louis Garneau techfit shirt and shorts, my sock guy socks, crappy sneakers, OR Helium jacket, and my light fishing shell pants. I wore my Hodala vest that was made by Doom and some smartwool arm warmers. A cycling cap and a stocking cap to keep my thoughts warm. Light GIRO gloves. I also brought along the new Ryders THORN sunglasses I’m trying out.
Wifey dropped me off at the trailhead on her way to work and I got started. Though I’ve lived here for near 10 of the last 15 years, I’ve never hiked the Eyak River Trail. I tried riding down it, figuring it would be quicker than paddling. I made it a couple hundred yards and gave up. It sucked. Up and down through roots and boulders- if that’s what it was going to be like- I was better off in the boat. I will walk or ride it in the future- but I’m thinking that that it’ll be like just about every other USFS trail in the area in that it was built to say “Fuck you” to mountain bikers. I got my raft together and then enjoyed a leisurely float down Eyak. Listening to birds and watching the sand tumble down in the current. It was quite peaceful.
Then came Mountain Slough. Years ago- I traveled a similar route in a canoe. But we couldn’t find Mountain Slough- so we took Eyak River all the way to salt water and paddled the coast. This time, through the miracle of GPS and some local knowledge, I found it. Though it isn’t much of a slough now, after the 1964 earthquake that raised the elevation in the area by six feet. A big sand bar marks where it used to be. I got into pedal mode.
In pedal mode, with 4” tires, I was able to navigate the sandy slough, through some of the veiny iron rich water deposits twisting and turning as sloughs often do. The brush above the slough became too thick to navigate, and the water too deep to ride through effectively so I resigned to staying afloat until Crystal Falls.
Back to paddle mode. The tide was going out, but I was high enough that the area isn’t affected tidally-much. Bike strapped up with the wheel and pedal off, I headed down stream… a very short distance. The water got to be about ankle deep- and my boat just wasn’t cutting it. Sloughs are a fickle lover. One stretch can be water head high. Turn the corner and it’s nothing but a puddle. More than once I was baffled as to where in the shit the water went. For the next few miles I clamored in and out of my raft- paddling or pulling. At about this point- 2 1/2 hours into the trip, I realize it was going to take me more than 6 hours.
I skipped the cutoff to explore Crystal Falls, an old abandoned cannery just off of Mountain Slough, as I was beginning to realize I needed to get my hustle on to make the tide. With big tides in this area and the best riding to be done at low water- sometimes you gotta beat feet to make it. I decided I’d take the straight shot across the intertidal area to Pt Whished.
This is where I started to question what in the hell I was thinking to start such a trip.
The muskeg and meadows and mud that I’ve seen from the air quite a bit looked far different up close. The muskeg in this area is in fact small little sloughs with mountains of grass between. It’s the equivalent of trying to ride over 6-12” curbs placed in no order, but between 10-20” apart. Soggy ground with slippery mud in-between. The “meadows” are water soaked bogs, often with tall grass and brush growing 2-4’ high, making riding impossible and pushing the bike very difficult. The mud is soft and gooey- like a greasy turd. Break through the surface of the gray slime and you get the black anaerobic compost of millions of years of decaying life.
Multiple times I sunk balls deep in a sinkhole and found myself staying afloat by using my bike as a snowshoe. At one point I was making headway riding in the refried beans-like mud. A low spot in the mud was ahead and I figured I could just hop my front wheel over it and keep going.
I hit the ground in an instant. Shit. My shoulder was about three inches in the mud, cheek to the slop. What was that sound? Did I just break my collarbone? Did my carbon fiber frame or fork just snap? Should I move? I slowly righted myself. I felt whole. I picked my bike up. Bike was good. The Blackburn handlebar roll carrying my raft however, didn’t make it. The bracket- which felt a little chintzy, has a little zip tie thingy to keep it in place and the thing snapped. Thankfully it didn’t fall into the tire and it still works, but it doesn’t stay quite in the right place.
About this time, I figured out that a certain point I got sand on my shirt or my backpack. This came to light as I was pushing my bike through 4” of mud. An uncomfortable sensation, sort of an itch- sort of a scratch. I lifted my shirt to find sand. I lowered my chamois to find…. sand. I don’t know if you’ve ever had sand in your chamois- but sand is what they make sandpaper from and riding on 60 grit isn’t something that I’m fond of. Thankfully much of the terrain was unrideable, so I only had to walk in my sandy chamois.
All this, 6 hours in, and I’m not even at my halfway mark. Shit. The first thoughts of where I might sleep for the night crossed my mind. My phone was near dead because the GPS app eats batteries like Garfield eats lasagna (mmmm…. lasagna) and for whatever reason, my Satellite txt unit, though it sat on the charger all night- didn’t take a charge. Though I knew where I was at- my concern was for communication with the wife that gets nervous if/when a situation like this arises. What should I do? What CAN I do. I looked around. Camping in 3” of water isn’t a good idea. I have weather on my side- I’m not broken and I know where I’m going.
So I took that to heart. That’s what I did. Pt. Whitshed was right there. I mean- I could almost touch it- 5 miles away. So I slogged along- stopping for water here and there, hopping some small sloughs, fording others.
I was stalked by two moose that were hanging back around 50 yards. After researching back in town I have learned that when they pull their ears back, raise the hair on their hump and lick their lips- you should get the fuck out of there. I wish I had read that before I left. Thankfully I didn’t have to use my tiny can of bear spray- as I don’t even know how effective it is on moose. But seriously- I’m more scared of moose in the woods than bears. I doubt I’ll leave my sidearm at home when I’m this area next time.
I got to the bay just to the east of Sunny Bay. I don’t know the name of it. It was 4:30. I’d transitioned from push/pedal to paddle 4 times now as I approached the biggest slough yet. About 10’ wide, it was a murky glacial blue that I couldn’t see a bottom in. That was it. Whitshed was close enough- My riding was minimal up this point and I’d been out 9 hours already. 9 fucking hours and I was half way. Man do I have a way of putting the “what the fuck was I thinking?” into Advewhat the fuck was I thinkingnture.
On the water, I was bucking the tide a little bit- but making ground. my legs were tired, as was my wind- turns out working on fishing boats and doing construction for the past 6 months hasn’t helped my cycling at all.
I paddled around Pt Whitshed, tide almost high- then around Wireless Point, then Big Pt. Then Gravel Pt. and into Hartney Bay. The tide just began to turn and I touched down at Hartney. I drug my boat up the beach and took everything down. Txt’d the wife (on the DeLorme as the phone was dead) that I was riding home, and got on the road. Pavement never felt so good under tire as those last 5 miles home. With no pasty mud holding me back- trying to glue me to the landscape- I felt like I was flying along.
I got home and the wife met me at the door with a warm hug, a cold beer and a hot meal. Some guys have all the luck.
All this and I realized a couple things:
- Sometimes it feels good to hurt bad.
- The people that lived here and traveled this area- even 50 years ago, were tough sumbitches. Way tougher than me.
- Bicycles are the cyclist’s selfies.
- For being as pessimistic as I am, I’m overly optimistic about how much time it will take me to do something.
- Bring snacks.
- Take pictures.
- Even if you don’t enjoy the whole ride, you’ll enjoy the story.
- When in heavy moose country- bring a sidearm.
Will I do the trip again? Yes and no. If I do the same route- I’ll skip the bike. I may try and ride the Eyak River trail- as much as is rideable. I want to explore Crystal Falls- maybe overnight there.
I’m really loving my packraft. I enjoy making loops out of trips because out-and-backs are for suckers. I’m still working on my pack list. I felt fairly good about my preparedness minus the electronics which are not necessarily crucial- though do offer some safety especially the DeLorme satellite txt unit.
And some gear reviews:
I wore my Louis Garneau Techfit shorts and shirt under my shell as a base. The shirt was great- I didn’t use the back pocket- but the zipper didn’t chafe under my pack. I would prefer a snap to the Velcro closure on the shorts as I could feel the edge of the Velcro on my tender muffin top. A belt might have helped keep them up- they sagged a bit when soaked with silty water. The chamois fit well and was quite comfortable. I wore a size XL in both and like many cycling garments- I couldn’t go smaller. European cycling companies don’t care that Americans are getting fatter. They’ll call a spade a spade. That “extra-medium” you’ve been wearing… Yeah- get a large.
I also have been wearing the shit out of my Ryders sunglasses. I brought the Thorns out and they were great. The anti-fog feature works really well- though I did manage to fog them up. It was actually well beyond fog, more like water droplets- I’m a heavy sweater. One wipe down though and I was good to go. I feel confident in saying that most shades would have been worthless for much of the trip. The hydrophobic outside doesn’t seem that effective, but the photochromic lens- especially the yellow was great for a grey day. Looking at the frames, I was surprised to see that they are only UV400. That may have something to do with the other technologies- but if 100% UV protection is real important to you- it’s something you should know. The Thorns fit snugly- maybe even too snugly for my fat noggin. The pinch point is right above my ears. The Caliber model fits better, but I like the look and yellow tint (as opposed to brown) of the Thorn.
So that’s all that’s fit to print. And this is all being done on my phone- as I sit back on the boat on the Gulf of Alaska. Here’s to more bike rides and to moving forward. I hope my misadventures inspire you to push your limits, to explore the wilds around you and to breathe deep the fresh air that your lungs were built for.