With 175km left to Valdez I start around 10AM. No rain in the morning which is a big plus while packing up and having breakfast. I pull a sharp wire out of my back tire that I must have caught at some point yesterday. No deal for Klaus, no flat tire.
This morning I feel very energized. [I wonder if I should just have burgers every evening and the energy issue I was wrapping my head around yesterday is solved.] I don't even recognize some of the [smaller] climbs as climbs that the elevation profile is displaying me today. Great! I basically fly the first 90km.
In these moments it also comes to me that I absolutely LOVE this bike/setup. The bikepacking style certainly has its pitfalls [in my opinion it needs a lot of creativity and trial & error to pack properly for an extended trip like mine and is excessively overpriced] but the ride feel is just amazing. The perfect distribution of weight makes fast descents on gravel so much fun. About Klaus I don't have to say much, up until now he seems undestroyable. I am also happy that I opted for aerobars. I really started to love this comfortable and efficient position and spend at least half the day in it since my start in Prudhoe [without any neck issues, bikefitting, I tell you!]. This is particularly good because I experience my first day of headwind today. [Double bonus: With my 175km stage riding in this position today I feel a bit like Rebecca and Felix who just finished the Frankfurt Ironman a week earlier. Felix, congrats to the outstanding debut! Rebecca, congrats to the incredible Kona qualification. I am over the moon about it! I know you worked so hard for this. Be proud!]
After 90km I stop to cook lunch at a nicely roofed picknick table [the treats of non-Ironmans like myself]. I usually eat warm for lunch and even eat dinner before finding a tent spot because it's not recommended to cook/eat where you sleep in bear country. Also the rain joins for the break and stops exactly for the one hour that I spend under the roof.
On my way up to Thompson Pass the scenary decides that it is showtime again. I get my first glimpses of glaciers that await me in the next days in form of the Worthington Glacier. I like the seaside, too but I love rough, dramatic mountains. In the next days I might get both of it. On top of the pass I am in between two layers of clouds. Breathtaking! The rain has stopped. I can't do much but smile. By now it is 8:30PM and the road is mine.
After the long and fast descent from the pass I enter Keystone Canyon. I am not 100% sure what it is but I completely freak out. Maybe because the rain stopped, it's twilight time [my favorite hour], 140km in my legs or this amazing canyon - probably a mix of all. I have goosebumps all over and basically tears of joy in my eyes. It's 9PM and still 35km to go, but without worries about a place to sleep I don't care at all about the upcoming darkness. I can't put it in appropriate words what happened down in the canyon [didn't take pictures, they couldn't describe either].
A lousy try to fuel your imagination and my memory: I descent into the canyon. Still slight downhill, so easy pedaling. The road follows and crosses many times over a raging river. Steep, rough mountain walls on both sides so that you feel incredibly small. I am completely alone, no car for the last half an hour. Enormous waterfalls and dripping water on each side of the road [oh thank you heavy rain!] that fuel the river below. Everywhere where they can get a hold on the steep rock walls plants fight for their place. Ferns, moss, I don't know much about plants..., even trees manage to grow on basically vertical walls.
It's just a glimpse. I have been very privileged to see many great landscapes on this trip so far but this has been certainly the most intense nature experience yet.
Maybe even more exhausted from this overstimulation of my senses than from the riding the remaining 35km through the darkness to Valdez seem endless. About 10km before Valdez I get my first dose of salty/fishy sea breaze and 11PM I reach the house of Amanda and Tom, quickly check in with them via e-mail, take out my sleeping bag and unintentionally sleep in on the carpet in the living room. Happy!