Alaska- Frontiers Winter Issue 112
Print Page

A Cautionary Tale: Riding on Packing Peanuts into Alaska's White Mountains
Seth Beaudreault walks his bike uphill through new snow on the Wickersham Creek Trail in the White Mountains National Recreation Area. Photo by Craig McCaa.

Normally I’d be thrilled to arrive at a White Mountains National Recreation Area trailhead and find that a few inches of fresh snow had fallen the night before. This time, however, the new snow meant a long and tiring winter day ahead. My friend Seth and I planned to ride our bikes 20 miles to our reserved public-use cabin. I had enticed Seth to come on this trip by raving about an earlier White Mountains winter bike ride that my wife and I did a few years ago in ideal winter conditions.

A little loose snow on the trail would not challenge riders who train for the White Mountains 100 and other endurance winter biking races, but for our regular mountain bikes, the trip quickly devolved into churning back wheels and bucking handlebars. Seth compared it to riding on foam packing peanuts. We’d fishtail down the trail for a while, then stop to pant or walk.
“Seems like riding is twice as fast, but four times as much work,” Seth observed. I couldn’t argue with that. We walked some more.

The packing peanuts-type snow was nothing like my earlier mountain biking trip 14 miles into Colorado Creek Cabin on a firm, well-groomed trail right up to the cabin door. That trip was easier riding than many dirt roads I’ve explored. Those conditions were so fast – and so easy – that we periodically stopped just to give our dog a chance to catch his breath.

Winter cyclists take a break at the White Mountains trail junction. Photo by Jeff Oatley.Then we tried riding a section of the Big Bend Trail behind the cabin, and found the much less-traveled trail had drifted over and never set up firmly. After 50 or 100 feet, one of our wheels would punch through the crust, sometimes all the way to the hub. We quickly abandoned our efforts and returned to the cabin for hot chocolate.

Thus my cautionary tale. The lesson of these trips applies to all winter travelers – whether on bicycles, skis, snowmachines, snowshoes or simply walking: Always prepare for changing conditions, especially in Alaska.

— Craig McCaa

Last updated: 01-28-2011