In June 2001, I cycled in California AIDS Ride 8. I heard about the Alaska ride - 500 miles from Fairbanks to Anchorage - but I didn't know if I could ride again so soon. So I decided to crew instead, signing up to work at Outpost 4, where riders could stop for a snack, a drink and a smile. The ride lasted six days, August 20-25th, and it was one of the toughest but most rewarding weeks of my life.
Part 1: Denali National Park
I flew to Anchorage on August 14th and the following day boarded the train bound for Fairbanks. The whole trip takes 12 hours, but I stopped off at Denali National Park for two nights. The train ride was a great way to see Alaska. From the windows I saw rivers, lakes, valleys, mountains, glaciers and wildlife.
Denali was amazing, so vast the eye cannot comprehend and my photos cannot do it justice. The park is the size of Massachusetts, but there is only one road that runs 89 miles into the park. Private vehicles are not allowed into the park, so I took a 13-hour bus trip that goes to Kantishna, the end of the road. I saw incredible views and all of the "big six" wildlife bear, moose, wolf, caribou, fox and Dall sheep. I wasn't lucky enough to see Mt. McKinley - it's only seen by 30% of visitors. But I was awed by all that I saw.
Part 2: The Ride
On August 7th I was back on the train to Fairbanks. By now I had met lots of riders and crew, and we had a blast on the 5-hour ride. The next few days were registration and crew training, then it was time to ride. Our crew was supposed to do Outpost 4 every day, but plans changed and they only needed OP4 for the first day. For rest of the ride our crew was redeployed to a variety of jobs, but we decided to keep the theme from our only outpost and came to be known as the Seuss Crew.
I know now that riding is easier. Being on crew, especially jumping from job to job, was really tough. I hated driving a huge van on the same narrow roads as the riders. I was frustrated and tired and sore, but at the same time I felt excited and appreciated. The ride was an amazing experience, and the crew perspective is one I won't forget.