Alaska Scout Trip Recap

by connal on August 2, 2011


We just got back from a very successful scouting run for our Alaska Trip. 12 days of riding, 3300 miles and 7 nights of camping. We’re thrilled to say that though there’s still a lot of planning to be  done, we’ve returned from the trip re-inspired and re-invigorated.

To be clear, this wasn’t a dirt run, this was strictly information gathering. We took our road bikes through California’s Modoc, Lassen, Plumas, Tahoe and Eldorado National Forests visiting ranger stations and administrative offices to talk about our plans. (actually, we rode all the way north through OR, WA and up into Canada, but that was a side trip to our Alaska research 😀 )

Across the board the people we spoke to at Ranger Stations were interested in what we were doing and I’d go as far as to say that most of them were actually excited. The best comment came from Dana in the Modoc office who sent us an email a few days after we talked to her saying “I really am blown away wandering through your website!  You really are going to dirt bike that route from the bay area to Alaska!”

Dana gives us the inside scoop.

Most forest maps can be bought online or even at some large bookstore chains, but talking to people in person was invaluable. It was interesting to find that although we’d always thought of the national Forests as one large entity, each forest is managed individually and often quite differently.

The rangers at Eldorado (just east of Sacramento and southwest of Lake Tahoe) said that theirs is actually a very “urban” national forest. “It’s more like a park than a forest,” they told us. “There’s boating, fishing… We get a lot of people that come out for the weekend or even just for the day as a getaway.” Modoc on the other hand was much more remote and tended to have very different use groups.

We learned about using “township” and “range” to find one’s position on a forest grid map (basically latitude and longitude), how most trails are clearly marked “until hunting season when the hunters tear all the signs down,” and to keep an eye out for yellow k-tags on trees which show you your location on the grid map.

As far as trail maps go, online research originally pointed me to Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs) as the definitive legal map to use when travling through forests.  They’re freely available online and we’ve linked to them in our Logistics section, but they are very difficult to use – something that was confirmed by more than one ranger. “They’re terrible. I know the forest and I can’t even tell people where to go on these.” One of the big problems seems to be the complete lack of recognizable landmarks included on the map. It’s as if someone created a map of California that listed every major freeway, along with lakes and rivers… but didn’t mark a single city or town.

Regardless, we got great help. The rangers suggested which maps would be best, and in a couple instances, just gave us an extra atlas they had.

The best news we got was that Lassen already has a 180 mile, dirt road, Backcountry Discovery Route running through it. So we’ve been able to effectively check that stretch off the list.

While most of the Rangers were immediately on board with what we were doing, one or two seemed a little confused at first. There was one back and forth where we were told that this was the only map we’d need for the forest since it listed “everywhere that cars could go.” “That’s great,” we’d say, “but we’re really hoping to spend most of our time where cars can’t go.”

Or we’d explain that we were trying to do the trip entirely on dirt roads and they’d point out several roads that would take us through the forest. “Perfect, this will run us right through. And are any of these trails paved?” we’d ask; “Yes of course, they’re all paved! we were told excitedly. “Well, these stretches here will be gravel, but it shouldn’t be too bad.”

But as we said, these were the exceptions and most people were super-excited by the idea.

The next step is going to be to put together a few sample routes and then test them out – possible a Plumas to Lassen run. We still need to get the bikes out there and start to find out what it’s like to ride for multiple days with everything strapped on the back.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Kevin Carpenter August 4, 2011 at 11:56 am

Welcome back and congratulations! Hope to see you at The Laney Shop Volunteer Day Thursday 8/11 4:00 – 9:00, so I can have vicarious adventures through you.


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