Sleep In The Dirt

Riding the Pipeline: Alaska by Bike

Essays From the Field

When the opportunity to go bikepacking in Alaska for two weeks presented itself, I had two thoughts, “Hell ya!” and “When do we leave?” I partnered up with my longtime friend, Scott Richardson. We picked a start date and before we knew it, we were standing in Anchorage at the airport trying to find an Uber that could fit two bike boxes at the stroke of midnight.

Our plan included trains, boats, crushed gravel and dirt roads, and pavement. In total we rode our bikes 471 miles from Valdez to Fairbanks over a period of about 10 days. Our goal for the trip was to ride the Right of Way (ROW) along the Alaskan Pipeline from its southern terminus in Valdez to the Paxson area. Little did we know what this included.

After two full days of uncooperative weather and insanely steep grades, we realized our plan was overly optimistic. After a brief discussion, we altered the plan to better match the terrain on the ground and to maximize our saddle time. 

The rugged terrain and harsh weather wasn’t the only barriers we had to overcome. I started the trip with a cold, which was slowly getting worse. On night four I laid down inside my Fly Creek HV2 Platinum tent, with my head slightly downhill. Within minutes Scott yelled over from his own Fly Creek and said he could hear the change in my voice, as whatever was in my lungs moved into my sinuses. The result was I couldn’t breathe. 

I ended up sleeping with my head where your feet go so it would be higher. This meant my face was now inches away from the no-see-um and about 100+ mosquitoes trapped between the mesh and fly. At least our Q-Core SLX pads made sleeping a dream.

The highlight had to be riding the Denali Highway. The views were endless and awe inspiring. Denali itself was just as spectacular. Forward progress was limited with such views around every corner.

Looking back retrospectively, I’m convinced that the both of us were so taken back by the beauty and grandeur of Alaska that we just didn’t care about the original plan. To drive that statement home just a little more, this wasn’t our first time to Alaska. Two nights of night terrors, days of rain and a cold for the entire trip couldn’t distract us from the experience. The cold and night terrors were unfortunately mine. Both are better told in another forum.

The point is, it was one of those trips where the unexpected is just that and nothing more. Rainy weather, blocked roads from overzealous beavers, colds, France winning the World Cup, bad food, over crowded buses, steep grades or night terrors, were all just part of the adventure. As each one came our way we just dealt with it and moved on to enjoy where we actually were. Bikepacking, like hiking, is just so simple. Sometimes things like plans and deadlines just over complicate things. Sometimes you just have to step outside the door and go!


Craig Fowler is a professional adventurer, story teller, and motivator. Fowler specializes in hiking and bikepacking, though he’s also an avid fisherman, birder, and disc golfer. Currently Fowler holds the title as the only person to have completed both the thru-hiking and bikepacking triple crowns. Using his experiences from the trail, Fowler shares his knowledge through his stories and guides on his website,

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