Bike Packing Denali NP on the Cheap

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I will be bike packing the park road in Denali National Park from 6-11 May, which is before the summer season starts and before the busses start running. The plan is to ride the entire park road out/back for a total of 185 miles and 14,000 feet of elevation gain. This is one of those trips where I really want to have all my good lenses with me while at the same time being a trip where weight is going to major concern. I will need a way to charge the electronic devices I am bringing (Garmin Edge 530, Garmin InReach Mini, Garmin Vivoactive 4, iPhone 12 Pro Max) as well as my camera batteries.

To keep my electronics powered on the trip I will be using a Goal Zero Sherpa 100AC combined with the Goal Zero Nomad 20. I am pretty sure that the Sherpa will have enough juice for my trip but I want to be sure so I picked up the Nomad to help keep the Sherpa topped off. With 18 hours of daylight the Nomad should have no problem fully charging the Sherpa, even on an overcast day. The problem is both of the units weigh about 2lbs, so I am starting at 4lbs of weight before packing any camera gear.

11.4 lbs - The gear I want to bring: EM1X, 300/4, 150/2, 14-54, 7.5
7.3 lbs - Dropping the 150/2
4 lbs - The gear I am bringing: EM1X, 75-300, 12-50, 7.5

I could actually drop another pound of weight by swapping the X for my EM1 or EM5, but the extra abilities of the X make it worth bringing. One of the reasons I love shooting Olympus is how I can go from over 11 lbs of gear to only 4 lbs while still covering basically the same focal range (actually gaining focal range with the lighter setup).

I switched to Olympus from Canon to drop weight and even with me using the largest Olympus body and the larger lenses I am still significantly lighter than when I was shooting Canon. As everyone knows I am super anal about image quality and it is why I use the lenses I do. But even the lighter weight of my gear isn't light enough for extended backcountry trips, especially when I need to keep up with someone not carrying the extra weight. So my only options are to really suffer and bring my good lenses or switch to lighter lenses and lower my image quality.

This is going to be my first major trip of the year as well as a huge test for my upcoming trips. The first test is going to be if I can take lesser quality lenses and come back from an epic trip with photographs that I am satisfied with. I pretty confident that the 7.5 and 12-50 will provide me with images that I am satisfied with when it comes to landscape photographs, especially when using HHHR. Where I really question my choice is when it comes to the 75-300. I have tested this lens multiple times against my 300/4 (as well as my 50-200) and I know it isn't up to the same abilities. But I also know that when used within its limits the lens can perform well. The only way to really know is to make a trip like this and see what the outcome is.

The second test will be that of the Sherpa and Nomad. I have charged camera batteries using the Sherpa via the AC output as well as the DC output. I have taken the Sherpa and Nomad out in the yard and tested the recharge side of the two. So I have an idea of how they perform and can make educated guesses as to how they will work in the field. But it is going to take a multi-day trip to really see how all of it works together in the field. I will be keeping notes on battery levels during the day as well as before/after charging different devices. After this trip I should have a good idea of the capability of the two units and will help with planning my trips going forward.

Phocal
 
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As I prep for this trip I will add to this the thread. Next up will be the packing of my trailer to see what I can fit into it, which will determine how much I have to carry on the bike.
 
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A quick update...........

First photo is the cockpit area. The handlebar bag is a REI Link Handlebar Bag and will hold my EM1X with 75-300 attached for quick access for those bears on the side of the road. Will also throw some other stuff I may need while riding into it. The top tube bag is the REI Junction Top Tube Bag will be for my phone and any snacks that don't fit into my feed bag. May end up losing the top tube bag as I don't think I will need the additional room. The other two bags are Revelate Mountain Feedbags with one for my bear spray and the other for my riding snacks.

Second photo is the Revelate Jerrycan and will contain my MSR Trail Shot for easy access while riding.

Third photo is an Ortlieb Fork-Pack and contains all my bike repair items I will be bring, except the spare spokes that will be in the trailer.

Fourth photo (which shows I really need to dust) is the trailer I will be pulling. The trailer is probably 30 years old and has been on a ton of adventures over the years.
 

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demiro

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...The handlebar bag is a REI Link Handlebar Bag and will hold my EM1X with 75-300 attached for quick access for those bears on the side of the road. ... The other two bags are Revelate Mountain Feedbags with one for my bear spray and the other for my riding snacks...
If I ever see a brown bear while riding a bike I'll need a change of underwear, an Uber, and a nice sedative.
 

OldRex

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Have a sensational time and may all your days there be like this
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If I ever see a brown bear while riding a bike I'll need a change of underwear, an Uber, and a nice sedative.

they are hard to avoid here. have not seen any reports of brown bears but been seeing a lot of black bear reports in and around anchorage
 
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Finally decided on a method for mounting the Nomad 20 on my trailer. Since my 2nd/backup sleeping pad (NEMO Switchback) is bulky I figured I would put it to good use as a shock absorber for the solar panel. Initially I was trying to mount it using shock cord but that plan failed. So I picked up some of the REI Packmod Accessory Straps and used the shock cord to keep the pad from sliding out. Now I just need to hit up a few stores in search of a rubber grommet of the correct size so I can pass the charging cable into the trailer. This will allow me to charge the Sherpa 100AC while riding during the day and keep the trailer watertight.
 

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Joined
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Took the bike out for its first fully loaded test ride and everything went perfect. Forgot to put my flag on for the photo :-( I will say that on the climbs I really noticed the extra 40lbs I was hauling. There was a long section of my 20 mile ride where it was a 1-2% incline that also had a nice 10-15mph headwind, which really sucked with the load I was hauling but the return trip was very enjoyable with that wind pushing me along. Still have to drill the hole my solar panel cable to run through, will do that tomorrow.



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I also did the initial route planning for the trip, currently it is setup as an out and back. Once our backcountry permits are approved I will break it up to correspond to each days ride.

This is going to be one epic trip.

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So it looks like riding the Denali National Park Road is not going to happen and we will fall back on plan B, which is to ride the Denali Highway. The entire Denali Highway would be a longer trip and more elevation gain but we don't have time to do the entire road. So we will be starting 30 miles in and turning around 20 miles from the end. This will also cut out the really hilly section after our turn around. The start/stop locations were chosen because they are campgrounds, which will give us a place to park the car while doing the trip as well as a nice campground (stayed there last year on my failed attempt to drive the highway) at the midway point.

So here is the profile of the out ride. So it should be a pretty mellow trip with only nine climbs and of those there are only two of note. The first is a 9% 1/2 mile climb and the second is only 5% average but 3 miles long. The return trip has 11 climbs but they are all really mellow and easy.

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Here is my bike all loaded up and ready to go. I have switched to a different trailer and since it has more room I was able to get all my gear into the trailer.
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Here is the crazy about this trip.

Gear weight
10.60 Clothing
7.98 Sleep system
18.24 Food system
13.74 Backpack (basically camera gear)
4.82 Battery & solar panel
3.02 Boots
22.24 Trailer and bike tools/supplies
0.78 Henry

81.42 Total

I have looked at this and looked at it and I can't get rid of any weight. My cloths weighted more but I removed a few things. Problem is that the weather is going to be anywhere from 40-60 during the day with lows down to 32 with one night showing 29. The temps combined with everything from sunny to cloudy to rain to snow requires a wide range of clothing for on as well as off bike. It would cost me a lot of money to get my sleep system to anything lighter, well I could go lighter on the sleeping pad but I like being comfortable. I actually want to add more food and still need to add the bottle of whiskey. The 18lbs from the backpack and batter/solar panel are staying no matter what. My trips are about the photography and there is no way I am leaving that stuff at home. We will be hiking to get to some photo spots so I need my boots. I could ride in them but I really prefer my cycling shoes and it's pretty much assured that we will be in rain for at least 2 days (maybe 3), which means my boots would get soaked while riding. I could drop the trailer and switch to bags on the bike but I really hate that and do prefer a trailer. Finally is good old Henry who goes on all my adventures, can't leave him behind.

Will be heading out Tuesday morning............
 
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Well after all the planning and preparation the fact that you can plan everything except the weather reared its ugly head. Here I am at the start of the Denali Highway.

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Here it Goes by Phocal Art, on Flickr

Yes, that is snow falling.

So on the trip up I debated between putting the bike on the roof or the back. My thinking was put it on the back because I didn't want it getting all bug splattered before the long trip. Didn't think about the fact that I would be driving roughly 20 miles down a wet dirt road. Here is the result from that drive down the Denali Highway to our start point.

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Dirt Biking by Phocal Art, on Flickr

We get to the BLM campground we were going to leave the vehicles at and the weather was just shitty. The original plan was to ride 15-20 miles the first day before making camp but we decided to make up those miles over the next two days and just camp in the campgrounds the first night, this would also give us time to get the bikes all situated and cleaned up before heading out.

Both of us have a ton of outdoor experience and getting a fire going was next to impossible, we got one going but it never really put out much heat. When I finally crawled into my tent that night it was really raining but I woke up after midnight to silence, so I gained some hope before drifting back to sleep. Turns out the precipitation didn't really stop, it just turned to snow.

After a lot of discussion the decision was made to not do the ride. The temps of the next 6 days was going to be lows around 28 with highs around 42. It was also going to be raining/snowing/sleeting the entire time. None of our gear was going to dry out once it got wet (all of it was eventually going to get wet) and since the Denali Highway is seriously remote, the threat of hypothermia was very much real. It was a very hard decision to make but it was the right one. This also marked my 2nd failed attempt to travel down the Denali Highway. Last year I was going to spend 4 days driving down it but 35 miles in I shredded a tire and decided to turn around since I didn't have a full size spare (only my donut).

Here is a photo of camp that night. Water that pooled up in the tarp was frozen in the morning.

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Henry Sad by Phocal Art, on Flickr

Hoping to do the Denali Park Road in June or July (may wait until September after the buses stop running) and the Denali Highway sometime this year (will most likely be a car camping trip down the highway).

Phocal
 
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Sorry to hear. I hope to get to that area in the next few years but won't be biking it :).
 

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