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  1. #1
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    Yukon Quest trail, from Chena Hot Springs to Eagle

    (Warning - this post is a trip report, and a bit long, and photo heavy, and burdened by bad grammar and poor spelling. Possibly not a good fit for this forum, but such is life )

    The Iditarod (and the "race" on the same trail, the Iditarod Trail Invitational) gets lots of press and interest, but there is another long sled dog race in Alaska, the Yukon Quest, that receives a bit less attention, but has a reputation for being remote, cold, and hard.

    Last year Jeff Oatley and his wife Heather Best biked it near the tail end of the mushers, and I watched them with envy - it looked like a great snow bike tour!

    Other folks have biked it, though not (to my knowledge anyway ) recently. I think Pat Irwin and MikeC from this forum did in the early 2000s on semi-fat bikes, as did Andy Sterns, so this isn't new.

    This year things aligned such that I was able to do a portion of the route with a friend David, from Chena Hot Springs to Eagle, which is about 250 miles if we skipped the section of the trail on Birch Creek (slow, winding, and really cold).

    The ride was awesome fun, though cold, windy, and remote.
    We started off with Rosebud and Eagle summits...

    Chena Hotsprings to Eagle via the Yukon Quest Trail by J C

    Chena Hotsprings to Eagle via the Yukon Quest Trail by J C

    Chena Hotsprings to Eagle via the Yukon Quest Trail by J C

    Chena Hotsprings to Eagle via the Yukon Quest Trail by J C

    Chena Hotsprings to Eagle via the Yukon Quest Trail by J C

    Chena Hotsprings to Eagle via the Yukon Quest Trail by J C

    Then spent the night in Central, enjoying the last burgers and showers we were to see for 5 days. The next day we took the road over to Circle..

    Chena Hotsprings to Eagle via the Yukon Quest Trail by J C

    It was much hiller than I expected, and the downhills were petty cold at the -20f to -30f weather. When we arrived at Circle a photographer told us it had been -58f on Birch Creek, which caused a bit of a freakout, as our next leg had us riding up the Yukon River, a pretty cold place. After a bit of inreach texting back and forth with some weather folks, we headed out, pretty sure those -58f were either confused or found a black hole sun cooled spot.

    This area in Alaska gets strong inversions, so low spots can be particularly cold. Alas, the Yukon river is pretty low..

    The first night on the river we spent in "Brian's Cabin", a neat but run down shack, and in the morning we were welcomed by sub -40f weather. For the rest of the trip we tried to hit the trail at 6am, well before sunrise at 9:30, because I have always felt it is way easier to head out in the dark and cold looking forward to a warm(er) sunrise, than it is to set out in the sun, looking forward to a cold(er) sunset. Until the last day near Eagle, we saw mornings in the sub -40f, and mid day highs of -20f to -30f, sometime accompanied by stiff headwinds - it was cold!

    Just as the sun rose we ran into the red lantern, camped out on the river. She had broken her headlamp, and camped when daylight ran out in a cold little hollow in the river. Quest mushers are amazingly tough..
    Chena Hotsprings to Eagle via the Yukon Quest Trail by J C

    The next three days we rode up the river, to Eagle, spending the night at Slaven's a historic roadhouse staffed by a horde of National Park Service folks, and with a family in a giant octagon log cabin. I had been told the river was scenic, but I had dismissed this as unlikely, as I have spent a bit of time on the lower yukon, which is wide, flat, and boring. I was wrong - it was fantastically beautiful! Alas, it was too cold to get very many photos (or any good ones at all )..

    Chena Hotsprings to Eagle via the Yukon Quest Trail by J C

    Chena Hotsprings to Eagle via the Yukon Quest Trail by J C

    Chena Hotsprings to Eagle via the Yukon Quest Trail by J C

    Chena Hotsprings to Eagle via the Yukon Quest Trail by J C

    This section of the trail is very remote. On the 160 miles of river we traveled, we saw the Yukon Quest trail breakers once, the red lantern once, and no one else on the trail until just outside Eagle. There are a few families that live on the last 40 miles, and they were very welcoming.

    Chena Hotsprings to Eagle via the Yukon Quest Trail by J C

    At our last stop on the trail, at Trout Creek, we stopped and talked to Mike, who said over the years he has had three groups on bikes stop by stop by in the last 20 years.

    The final 30 miles into Eagle were a slog into a really stiff headwind, on bare glare ice in -10f weather. We arrived to a nearly deserted town, and it took an hour or so to find the place we stayed at. For most of the trip I was regretting my tire choice of a D5 on the back, and a Wrathchild on the front, as we had nice firm trail conditions and the Wrathchild rolls really, really slow on cold hard snow, but the last few hours I was amazingly thankful for the studs and grip.

    A really fun, but hard adventure! I have biked to Nome twice, and to McGrath three times, and this was a fair bit harder. Perhaps I was just lucky (I have been told this *countless* times), but the combination of shorter days and low sun angles means it is pretty cold and never really warms up, and the it is very remote.
    Last edited by spruceboy; 1 Week Ago at 07:28 PM.

  2. #2
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    Cool trip Jay. Envious of the brownie stop!

    Pat and I did it in '03, on Airborne ti hardtails with 29 x 2.1" tires.

    Great to hear that Mike is still @ Trout Creek. Quite a memorable night for Pat and I there, playing wallflower while listening to the lead mushers talk story.

  3. #3
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    It is amazing to me how far winter biking has come in 15 short years.
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  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by mikesee View Post
    Cool trip Jay. Envious of the brownie stop!

    Pat and I did it in '03, on Airborne ti hardtails with 29 x 2.1" tires.

    Great to hear that Mike is still @ Trout Creek. Quite a memorable night for Pat and I there, playing wallflower while listening to the lead mushers talk story.
    I think Mike at Trout Creek still remembers you - he mentioned one of the groups, possibly yours, had two bikers one of whom owned a bike shop in Anchorage. Maybe you and Pat Irwin?

    Did you guys do the whole thing, or just to Eagle?

    I am pretty motivated to do parts of the rest of the route.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by spruceboy View Post
    (Warning - this post is a trip report, and a bit long, and photo heavy, and burdened by bad grammar and poor spelling. Possibly not a good fit for this forum, but such is life )

    The Iditarod (and the "race" on the same trail, the Iditarod Trail Invitational) gets lots of press and interest, but there is another long sled dog race in Alaska, the Yukon Quest, that receives a bit less attention, but has a reputation for being remote, cold, and hard.
    Awesome job! I feel like just now, we are on the precipice of the coldest cold of the season and when it starts warming (at least in the daytime) due to longer days and sunlight. I fly over much of that terrain and the inversions can be something, especially if you spend most of your time down low. Thanks for the story!
    "It's only when you stand over it, you know, when you physically stand over the bike, that then you say 'hey, I don't have much stand over height', you know"-T. Ellsworth

    You're turning black metallic.

  6. #6
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    Awesome! Looks so cold, you guys are brave.

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    Quote Originally Posted by spruceboy View Post
    I think Mike at Trout Creek still remembers you - he mentioned one of the groups, possibly yours, had two bikers one of whom owned a bike shop in Anchorage. Maybe you and Pat Irwin?

    Did you guys do the whole thing, or just to Eagle?

    I am pretty motivated to do parts of the rest of the route.

    Yep, Pat had a shop in Anchorage at the time.

    We started at Tok, rode through Chicken and up to Eagle, then down the river to Circle, then made it to ~Birch Creek before pulling the plug. We figured it was within a click or two of 500 miles. Will have to see if I can dig that story out and post it elsewhere, so as to not hijack your great thread here.

    Thanks again for sharing.

  8. #8
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    Awesome report, Jay.

    Sent from my SM-G900V using Tapatalk
    --Peace

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    Thanks for posting up a great ride report! Deciding on which 4.4764" tire to use is great and all (and honestly more within my scope of ability), but the stories of where those tires but the trail is what I look forward to.

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    Awesome trip and thanks for taking the time to share it. Out of curiosity what boots did you use on that trip and how well did they work?

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    Quote Originally Posted by SJ-AK View Post
    Awesome trip and thanks for taking the time to share it. Out of curiosity what boots did you use on that trip and how well did they work?
    I used 45n wolfgars, several sizes too big with slightly thicker wool liners (9mm vs whatever they come with), and some overboots to go over the top of that when it gets really cold. David used the stock liners and overboots as well. The overboots are made by Apocalypse Designs http://akgear.com/ . We both used vapor barrier socks. I am a bit paranoid about frostbiting my feet, and so the overboots are probably not strictly necessary for the temperatures we saw, but if it was much colder I would have needed them. This setup was good for me down to the mid -30s, without the overboots, and *probibly* good to -50s with the overboots. Maybe not though, hopefully I will not have to test that!

    This was my first long trip with the wolfgars, and I sort of like them. I think they are too tall and too stiff, but they seem to work ok.

  12. #12
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    Awesome, thanks for posting. Its hard for me to imagine riding at -40*.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikesee View Post
    Will have to see if I can dig that story out and post it elsewhere, so as to not hijack your great thread here.
    I think folks would love to hear that story, if you end up finding it and the time having the time to post it.

    The brownies were not the only trail snack we found on the way - we spend the night with a family in a giant octagon log cabin about 20 miles downriver from trout creek, and they gave us fruit smoothies for desert. Very unexpected, and pretty awesome!

  14. #14
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    Thanks for posting. My great grandfather Dilley, a 1898 Klondike goldrusher, laid in the first trail to Chena Hotsprings. He and is wife raised their kids (my grandmother and great uncle were born there!) at Jack Wade. I sure enjoyed the photos and cold temp references.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by spruceboy View Post
    I think folks would love to hear that story, if you end up finding it and the time having the time to post it.

    The brownies were not the only trail snack we found on the way - we spend the night with a family in a giant octagon log cabin about 20 miles downriver from trout creek, and they gave us fruit smoothies for desert. Very unexpected, and pretty awesome!

    Smoothies on the Yukon in winter?! Oy vey!

    I have a disc somewhere with the story and pics archived, but over the past few days haven't been able to lay my hands on it.

    Dirt Rag also published it as a feature ~13 years ago or so. I have that archived, too, but don't currently have the time to go digging through the ego-trunk looking for it.

    Thus, for now, this is the best I can do: https://www.bikeforums.net/8117641-post21.html

  16. #16
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    Great adventure, very impressive!

    You're pushing on some pictures, do you had to walk much?

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by mikesee View Post
    Thus, for now, this is the best I can do: https://www.bikeforums.net/8117641-post21.html
    Awesome!

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    Quote Originally Posted by eFat View Post
    Great adventure, very impressive!

    You're pushing on some pictures, do you had to walk much?
    We didn't have to walk much, just the (really) steep bits on the first two summits, Rosebud and Eagle, both of which are too steep to ride even if the trail is really firm. Parts of Rosebud are a bit hard even to push up.

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    Quote Originally Posted by spruceboy View Post
    Awesome!
    I was pretty struck by the similarities and differences in Medrid's writeup on your trip and our experience. The technology seems to have changed so much - these days just about anyone (at least anyone who lives in Fairbanks that is) can get their bike to work just fine at sub -40f.. David and I were both on tubeless fancy pants rims, on fat bikes.. It sounds like you guys were on normal or semi-fat 29ers.

    The trail is still a cold, remote place. We saw one dog team (the red-lantern, our timing got all screwed up when the last 4-6 teams all scratched when they reached the Yukon), and three snowmachines who were sweeping the race. We didn't see anything colder than the mid -40fs, but that is still pretty darn cold. A half inch of snow and a bit of wind and we could have been walking the rest of the trail.

    The description of your experience at Slaven's was radically different. Slavens had between 12 and 17 NPS staff, and two quest officials crammed in there. I don't know how they fit the mushers in when they arrive in a group mid pack - it was jammed tight with just one musher, us, and the volunteers. They were pretty welcoming, it just seems like an overwhelming amount of people.

    Anyway, thanks for posting that report!

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    Quote Originally Posted by spruceboy View Post
    I was pretty struck by the similarities and differences in Medrid's writeup on your trip and our experience. The technology seems to have changed so much

    The description of your experience at Slaven's was radically different.

    Technology is definitely vastly improved, from tires (not just size, but construction, durability, and weight) to shoes to pogies to lighting. At the time we felt lucky to have what we did. Looking back now is sort of a facepalm moment -- we had no clue how ill prepared we were.

    I don't see anything in Medred's write-up about what was at Slaven's, and I can't remember much about what we had there. One thing that does stand out is that back then the only comms for the YQ were ham radio operators -- talk about a quirky bunch -- upon whom everyone was reliant for trail info, dog drops, flights in and out of checkpoints, etc... Clearly the internet existed in 2003, but not on the Yukon in winter. I think that contributed substantially to the remote feel we experienced out there.

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    Yeah, it looks like I miss-read that, and was thinking the reference to "Everyone was heading for the same cabin 35 miles down the trail because it offered the only promise of shelter and warmth. A bunch of the mushers were already there when Irwin and Curiak rolled in. They had the wood stove fired up, and the cabin was snug and warmed." was slavens, but obviously not.

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    Quote Originally Posted by spruceboy View Post
    Yeah, it looks like I miss-read that, and was thinking the reference to "Everyone was heading for the same cabin 35 miles down the trail because it offered the only promise of shelter and warmth. A bunch of the mushers were already there when Irwin and Curiak rolled in. They had the wood stove fired up, and the cabin was snug and warmed." was slavens, but obviously not.

    I think he was referring to Trout Creek. Had to be, because no one was at Biederman's (sp?) that year.

  23. #23
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    Amazing stuff really, and great share spruceboy. I love to see all the places we can roll!
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