Me (Middle) - Riding an aluminum frame Fatback. Lives in Anchorage, Alaska. Spends way too much time at his desk and not enough time adventuring. Just wrote a book on adventure photography. Flies a little yellow Cessna. Likes beer, his Fuji X-T1, guitars, bread, pasta and pizza, (so basically carbs), and anywhere a good mountain is to be found. See more of his photos here
Josh Spice (Right) - The tall one. Riding a Salsa Cycles Ti Mukluk. Lives in a cabin with no running water in Fairbanks, Alaska. Works in the wilderness. Has a great beard. Rides with a survival knife on his belt. Hunts caribou with a bow. Likes beer, dogs, wild places, his Fuji X-T1 and kittens. You can see his photography here.
After riding a short trail, we reached the open gravel bar where we’d have to cross Jim Creek. Although it looked (barely) frozen, we were concerned about the warm temps and rushing water underneath. We made it across, but not before I broke through the ice to my axle and punched through to my knee. Further upstream, Josh broke through to his waist and fell chest-first into the icy cold river with his camera around his neck. Fortunately, the Fuji X-T1 is weather sealed, and it seemed to suffer no damage. The non-weather sealed lens XF 56mm f/1.2 lens didn’t fare so well. It got a large amount of water inside the front element and will have to be sent back to be professionally cleaned.
After making it across the river, we followed a muddy 4x4 track inside the forest just above the open gravel bar. This would allow us to bypass a number of additional river braids as we rode upstream, but it meant riding through miles of mud and huge puddles that were still frozen on the bottom. These sections actually made for easy (but slow) riding, as our studded tires cut right through and gave us good traction. With the muddy sections, not so much.
After breaking out on the river bar, we experienced some actual bike riding that went on for at least couple miles. Then we hit a spot where the main branch of the Knik River cuts against the bank and had to cut back into the woods. Due to a simple navigation error that could have easily have been avoided on all of our parts, we had trouble finding the right trail and killed about two hours bushwhacking with our heavy loaded bikes, or as some people often call it, “stumblef***ing,” where we lost the tent pole, and had to do even more backtracking to find it.
Just when we thought we’d made it, we found ourself on a steep bank above the Knik with absolutely no way around on either side. Feeling stupid and nearly out of daylight, we “back-whacked” back to the main gravel bar and set up camp for the night.
Although this part got pretty frustrating, especially for Josh, who was hoping for a bona-fide wilderness experience, we soon made it to moraine, where we finally got a close up view of the massive Knik Glacier.
Of course, the payoff for all of our muddy, watery, foresty escapades was actually getting to ride our bikes around the icebergs on the frozen Knik Glacier lagoon. This is where the ice calves off from the toe of the glacier and float around before melting and becoming silty fertilizer water for the Matanuska Valley. In winter, the glacier lake is frozen, and all the icebergs sit motionless, stuck in the ice like enormous blue monoliths, like something out of 2001, except instead of a space odyssey, it’s a frozen odyssey.
We rode around for a few hours and shot tons of photos of each other. Glenn and I were veterans, we’d been here before, but intrepid Josh the Alaskan had never experienced anything like this before, and he was like a kid in a candy store. Plus he’s younger; he was born in the 80s and wasn’t nearly concerned about the physical dangers of riding around on icebergs and possibly hurting himself. Even with studded tires, a fall could still hurt. Nonetheless, Josh summoned up his best Fuji Courage and carried on with great spectacle for Glenn and me.
Once we were done frolicking around on the glacier, Glenn, Josh and set up camp on a sandbar right at the edge of the glacier, next to a huge pile of wood that had been ripped from the surrounding hillsides and transported here by the advancing ice over the years. First order of business, get the fire going, which helped to ward off the chill from being right next to that much ice after the sun goes down. After dinner and drying out our wet shoes and socks, we set up our tripods and waited for dark and the aurora borealis that was forecast to be “active” that night. Miles away from any urban lights, we hoped for the best…
Glenn and I piled in the back of the first, with Josh in the second. Holding on for dear life, our truck made it across the deep, rushing river braids, all the while taking photos from inside the bed. Josh’s guy wasn’t so lucky and about halfway through, his truck hit broke through the ice with his front end. I, of course, documented the entire event, while Josh and his truck guy tried to figure out what to do. Our truck guy went back to rescue Josh before returning to help his buddy. We gave them gracious thanks while offering apologies, but the first Toyota guy brushed if off and said, “Oh no worries, he’ll be ok.”
When it became clear to us that the rescue wouldn’t be quite so simple, we three bikers high-tailed it right out of there.
I’m thrilled to have done this amazing trip with such fine fellows, and I look forward to future adventures with Glenn & Josh. Thanks to you both for your camaraderie and your friendship, and for being such good photo models. It was also very cool to go on an adventure with two other photographers. The shared passion added an interesting dimension to the experience, even though we kept stopping to take pictures of each other, and took longer to cover all that ground. Plenty of bikers could have ridden the route faster than we did, without getting lost, but for me it’s not about speed, it’s about fun, adventure and exploration.