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Stampede Trail Ride
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"Fairy tales, can come true, it can happen to you, if you're young at heart" Those are the lyrics that played in my head yesterday as I rolled along the Stampede Trail over some of the best winter trail I've ever experienced. Spent the night in Anderson with an old friend so to cut down on the 150 mile drive from home to the trailhead. Got a sweet ride out on Lost Slough just outside of Anderson waiting for my friend to get home from work late.

It was about -15F yesterday morning so I lounged around and let the sun warm things up a bit before driving the last 40 miles to the trailhead. Because of the low snow I could drive to 8 Mile Lake (a big pond really)so wouldn't have to bike any of the road. There was some drifting but the all wheel drive and good clearance got through it and only bottomed out once on a hard drift. Stopped in and saw John and Kathy at Earthwinds Lodge to get a trail report. He takes folks out on dogteam and keeps the trail in good shape, the low snow has been rough on him and the dogs but a dream for biking.

Parked the van and geared up, it was still a little cool (about 10F) but I dressed very light knowing it would be above 20 by the time I got back. The first 3 miles are a steady drop towards the Savage River (7 miles in) and I was in big ring heaven flying down the concrete-like trail, the wind-chill created did make me question the it will warm up decision to dress light. John puts a trail in that starts north of the Stampede Trail across the tundra as the main trail follows-crosses Fish Creek and a series of beaver ponds that can be a hazard in winter. It's a very windy area and with the low snowfall the packed trail was a white strip through spotty white patches for much of the tundra sections of trail. I was running the tires at around 35lbs, a treat for me. His trail crossed the main trail a few times before it makes a due south turn before the Savage River to bypass open water on the main trail crossing. This section was a gas as it leaves the tundra and weaves through the trees with lots of turns and yahoo inducing ups and downs. My legs were feeling frisky and I was grabbing gears and standing up to hammer over some short hills, I'm usually a gear down and grind kind of hillclimber. Wow, was that the river, it just seemed like a snow-covered open area, on and up a ways until the trail levels somewhat for about 6 miles till it drops to the Tetlanika River. This run had some great spots where the tussocks stuck up and made for summer like semi- technical riding. John had warned me of the the big drop to the river, it was a steep side hill but the tires bit well and I cleaned it, better yet I cleaned it coming back up, that pulled a big yessss from deep inside me. Some cool sections of overflow and then the open river. Stopped here and had a short break. Checked my watch and thought I'd misread something, 65 mins. to cover the 13+ miles to the river, for me on a winter trail that's flying, plus I had stopped at least 3-4 times to take pictures. The trail does drop about 700 ft. from the trailhead and of course that was a big part of the fast ride.

Did I mention it was a absolutely clear sky with the Big Mac (Denali) slowly shedding it's tophat of clouds to unveil it's looming mass. The great trail, blue sky, magnificent setting where all fairy tale like but the icing was the still air, like I mentioned this is a very, very, windy area.

The Teklanika was as far as I'd ever gone on this trail and as I had made it quickly a few more miles were in order. The trail turned south for a mile or so along the river and then it climbs about 500ft. in 3 miles up a sort of draw that's in the shade of a ridge to the south, brrrrr, this twisty fun climb was about 10-15F colder than the sunny river. Finally close to the top I turned around, found out later I was only 5 miles from dead man's bus. Alright, batten down the hatches and screamed back to the river and a nice long lunch. It was so calm and warm I stripped to my thermal top and aired everything (hat, balaclava, gloves and windbreaker)out on some bushes. There's a small dark rock outcropping that was warm in the sun and provided a toasty seat.

After food and lots of picture taking I headed back but not before riding around some great overflow areas on the river. Found some tracks that I think were wolverine, they were big like a wolf but wolverines like others of the weasel family have a distinctive track pattern. Got some pictures of my tire tracks weaving in and out of the critter tracks. The ride back was fun, lots of picture stops. I was starting to feel it a little on the last few miles of climbing back to the trailhead. The ride back took 1hr 35min. I was on the trail for a little over 4.5 hrs. Perfect gift for my 49th birthday. tony

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