These cycling alternatives can beat the training doldrums
One of the challenges of road cycling in Alaska is beating boredom. Because long, paved sections of roadway are hard to come by, it’s easy to get in a cycling rut, riding the same route over and over. If you are searching for alternatives to your usual ride, these cycling options on the outskirts of Anchorage are well worth exploring.
Choose your route to match your fitness. You can chill out and ride the flats or challenge yourself with a leg-burning climb.
GRANITE CREEK CAMPGROUND TO HOPE AND BACK
Distance: 47 miles
Nestled in the folds of the Kenai Mountains is a scenic bike route for the moderately fit cyclist. Park at the Granite Creek Campground at Mile 64 of the Seward Highway. Turn left when leaving the campground for a 6.3-mile downhill cruise on the separated path to Hope Road.
Beginners may want to turn around at the Hope Junction for the ride back to Granite Creek Campground. A cyclist’s heaven awaits those who pedal onward 16.5 miles to the tiny hamlet of Hope.
Rolling terrain and good quality asphalt trace the Six Mile River, a popular kayaking and rafting destination. Rest and refuel at the Seaview Cafe offering a hearty lunch and a cold beer, or the Discovery Cafe known for a generous slice of homemade pie.
PALMER TO KNIK RIVER ROAD
Distance: 42 miles
One of my Palmer favorites starts at Backcountry Bike and Ski on West Arctic Avenue. The friendly folks at this shop will give you the low-down on cycling in the Mat-Su.
Ride east over the Matanuska River. Take the separated path along the Old Glenn Highway to the community of Butte. Beginners may opt for an 18-mile ride by circling Bodenburg Loop for a scenic tour of farmlands before heading back to Palmer. Stop in for an educational tour of the Williams Reindeer Farm, home to reindeer, elk, horses, and bison.
For the long route, continue south for three miles on the Old Glenn past Bodenburg Loop. Cross over the Matanuska River and take an immediate left to ride east on East Knik River Road. Follow the 9.5-mile rolling, out-and-back road to the wooden bridge over Hunter Creek. You will ride in the shadow of the majestic Pioneer Peak among towering cottonwoods with peek-a-boo glimpses of the Knik River.
Return to Palmer for a cold one at the Palmer City Ale House or enjoy a scrumptious meal at Turkey Red on South Alaska Street. If you ride on Friday, be sure to take in the Friday Fling, a farmer’s market and craft fair at the Pavilion in the heart of historic Palmer.
PALMER TO HATCHER PASS
Distance: 23 miles
Fit cyclists will want to take on this climbing classic. Begin at Backcountry Bike and Ski on West Arctic Avenue. Head north 2.8 miles on the Glenn Highway and turn left on Farm Loop Road. Turn right at Palmer Fishhook Road and cruise north on rolling terrain.
About 12.5 miles from your starting point you will cross over the rapids of the Little Susitna River. You may want to stop at the rest area to shed a layer of clothing for here the climbing begins. The grade is moderate and rolling for the next 5.2 miles until you make the switch back at the old Motherlode Lodge.
Drop into your granny gear and grind out the climb through the high alpine of the Talkeetna Mountains. You may think you’re finished when you arrive at the Hatcher Pass Lodge, but you’ll have one more mile to reach your goal of the Independence Mine State Historical Park.
Walk loose the cramps in your throbbing calves by meandering through the visitor center and museum, or coast down to the Hatcher Pass Lodge for a delicious bowl of soup. Drink in the view as you enjoy a thrilling descent back to the Little Susitna River, then cruise the rollers back to Palmer.