During the night it already started raining and it continues in the morning. Nonetheless, I want to start my day early to make it to Wonder Lake which is 100km down the road. Since I don't have a campground for tonight, hence no permission to spend the night in the park, I will have to make it by 6PM to catch the last bus back to the park entrance. At 8:30AM I am ready to go. But just like on every good campground back in Germany I get caught up in many conversations. Even though I wanted to set out early I do enjoy it and don't rush. This place is just full of people on all sorts of adventures, inspiring.
Around 9:30AM and with a huge chocolate bar and loads of contacts throughout the US richer I am back on the bike. Early on I meet Sarah on the road who is an environmental scientist in the park and will provide me with some shelter from the rain the next days. After a quick chat I make my way to the 50km far Eielsson Visitor center. Even though the rain and cloud coverage don't provide all the great vistas one could get, the scenery is completely mind blowing. Enormous riverbeds that fuel my imagination how immense the melting water must be in spring, lush green tundra valleys with the first yellow sprinkles of colored leaves, snow covered alpine mountains that peak out above the first layer of clouds, a rocky road with long climbs but literally no traffic except for the park busses... I stop a lot to take in the landscape. This is Alaska how I imagined it to be, wild, rough and beautiful. I think I see Denali at some point but I don't (and won't). I am excited anyway.
In contrast, the very rocky and after some point muddy road combined with the climbs really exhausts me today. I hardly manage to exceed 11km/h (!) on average. On top of that I got my calculations wrong and it will be about 66km to Eielsson instead of 50km.
On one of the climbs I catch myself with the thought: "Now I am high up, so I can put less attention if bears are somewhere near". No joke, 10 minutes later I see a bus stopping on the road and two black bears just 200m above on the hills. I am excited to finally see my first bears. I make it to the bus and watch them looking for food in the bushes.
Alright now I know where I have to look for them. On the last 10KM to Eielsson I spot 4 more bears, mainly black bears (I suppose) in a very safe distance. Just 1KM out of Eielsson I see a first Grizzly. A huge one (they are generally huge but since it's my first one I assume it to be a particular huge guy). It's quite close (about 150m) from me. So I decide to stop (to not be mistaken as prey) and make myself noticeable. It takes notice and seems courious but is not coming closer. I am not particular scared but have a great respect. I know when the bear wants it can be just in front of me in about 15 seconds. After a few minutes the bear continues its business and I feel comfortable to slowly pedal myself out of the situation. Wow! It was close enough to really take in its beauty, but it was certainly also a new and unsure situation for me. I think I will get more used to it but also not loose the respect.
Completely exhausted I arrive around 5:30 PM to the already closed visitor center at Eielsson. No way I am going to make it 34km further to Wonder Lake and get a bus at 6PM. Two options left, 1) take the bus from here or 2) be lucky and somehow manage to camp at Wonder Lake. I "chose" option two and got lucky. At Eielsson I meet Erin and Andrew two fellow cyclists from Washington state who offer to pitch my tent in their reserved spot at Wonder Lake. Great! They head off, but I definitely have to eat, dry out my tent and recuperate a bit before making the last 34km. I follow them about an hour later.
I am entirely caught in clouds by now and heavy rain adds to it. At least its all downhill from here, on rocky road though. With all the previous bear encounters it creeps me out a little bit to have very low visibility and oversight on the terrain. The rain, taking care on the road and on the surroundings at the same time requires all my attention right now. However, in moments when I do let loose to relax shortly I am reminded a lot of the Dalton highway. It's completely calm, no car for the whole 34km. I am lucky again, no bears but in total 3 moose very close by. Fascinating and enormous animals.
Very wet, very exhausted I arrive at Wonder Lake and after a quick dinner (and sip of scotch to warm up) with Erin and Andrew I go to bed immediately. Guys, thank you so much for letting me pitch my tent just next to your honeymoon suite and congrats again! See you in Washington!