We woke up at 7am, ready to go! Today was going to be a great day of cycling. Once we topped out on the Parks Highway a few miles after Cantwell, we would be descending or riding flat to rolling terrain the entire day. Add the short mileage, 125 miles, and the expected beautiful views of Denali and the Alaskan Range, and a perfect day was in order! As we left the hotel, I had to go back to the Chevron station for some food. They actually had fresh cinnamon rolls from a local bakery...excellent! I stowed one in my bag along with a couple more mundane bars, and off I went. Roland had continued on solo and I spent most of my day 20 minutes behind him.
It was a cold morning. It only got colder as I headed for the summit at about 2000 feet. It's amazing how much colder you feel when you are tired...by the time I reached the summit after 10 miles, I needed to add layers of clothing as I knew I would be heading downhill. It was damp, so I sat on my dry bag as I added a layer of clothing and munched on the cinnamon roll I got at the Chevron. Delicious!
By the way, the state of Alaska is very good at telling you when you've reached the top of something. They do it by calling it "summit" whatever. On day one, it was Summit Lake...today it was Summit Airport. When you are starting to get a little brain-dead, obvious cues are very important! :)
Then, the descent began. It wasn't a steep descent, rather just miles of rolling terrain, moving in a downward direction, punctuated by some short, steep climbs. I soon reached the next control 37 miles out, Hurricane Gulch, right as Roland was leaving. Mike was there with his behemoth truck that I think could handle anything Mother Nature threw at it. Great guys with soup...soup IS good food! So far, the day had been cloudy...no views yet.
39 miles down the road, Mary's McKinley View Lodge was waiting. 39 miles of wonderful cycling! Again, the road headed down, no more than about 1%, but perfect for a relaxing day on the road. The sun came out periodically, there were still no views of Denali. The traffic was light and all was good except for my squeaky chain. I guess that's what happens when you don't lube your chain before the ride and then ride 600 miles on it. No problem...a squeak is just a squeak...
The McKinley View Lodge wasn't...that is, it wasn't a Lodge with a view of Denali. That's okay...they more than made up for it with the best cinnamon rolls of the trip. Sticky pecan rolls, actually. Warmed up with a cup of hot chocolate was wonderful (I was trying to stay off the caffeine today as it was a short day of riding in complete daylight). Just to give you an idea of how good these rolls were...I asked the nice young lady who was serving me if she had made them. "No." Good thing, because if she had, and I wasn't married, I would have proposed on the spot! JR, the volunteer who was signing brevet cards said she's used to getting several proposals a day! LOL!
While hanging out and chatting with JR, I learned that Ryan had DNF'd. This made me Lantern Rouge for the moment, but I had plenty of time so I wasn't worried about it. Shortly, I stripped down (it was definitely warming up) and hit the road for the last 50 miles of the day. It was only 3:30pm...plenty of time!
As if the cycling wasn't perfect already (except for the missing views of Denali), it just got better. I had finally dropped off of the descent and was not cruising along "real" rollers. You know the ones...you cruise down one side at 25-30mph and you have a enough momentum to just soft-pedal over the top of the next one. It was truly delightful and the miles just melted away. I passed Hiroshi and relegated my Lantern Rouge position to him.
Two highlights. Bob stopped at one point to make sure I was okay. He was out of wheat thins and chocolate chip cookies, but he had chain lube. Nothing like having a quiet bike again. Second, outrunning a thunder storm! One minutes it's fine, next minute it's raining. Quick, put on the rain jacket and take off. Five minutes later, it's sunny again!
A few minutes later, I crossed the Susitna River, and it was a quick, rolling 20 miles to Talkeetna. The organizers had arranged for rooms and food at the Swiss Alaska Inn...a nice indulgence on the last night. Unfortunately, Beef Strogonoff just didn't do it for me, so I settled for soup, garlic bread, rice and corn for dinner. One more day!