Bay Area couple stops in Frisco along 19,000 mile bikepack from Alaska to Argentina (podcast)
It was a case of “hurry up and wait” for Devon Proctor and Caitlin Hewitt as they were on the verge of their year-long, 19,000-mile bikepacking trip.
During this year’s summer solstice on June 19, the San Francisco residents found themselves 200 miles north into the Arctic Circle, soaking in the endless daylight hours at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. It’s the location of the end of the northernmost accessible road in North America.
At an elevation of 30-feet above sea level and a latitude of 70.25 degrees north of the equator, the scene at Prudhoe Bay was one of heavy machinery and seasonal workers at the oil camps on Alaska’s northern slope. Soon enough, though, Proctor and Hewitt were excited to pedal past this relative commotion to the open Arctic tundra south of the oil camps.
There was only one problem: Proctor and Hewitt’s epic journey was delayed by a day due to the fact that their airline lost their bikes and supplies somewhere between the counter at San Francisco International Airport and their landing spot at Alaska’s Deadhorse Airport.
Just how does an airline company lose this kind of atypical checked luggage?
“That’s a good question,” Proctor said with a laugh while staying in Frisco on Friday.
Luckily for Proctor and Hewitt, their bikes would show up to Deadhorse a day later. It enabled them to commence their long-planned journey from Alaska all the way down to Ushuaia, Argentina.
As the crow flies, the distance between the two locales is roughly 9,500 miles. But after they both committed to take a year off from work in the Bay Area of California, Proctor and Hewitt decided to choose a route more than double that distance.
LISTEN: While staying in Frisco, Bay Area residents Devon Proctor and Caitlin Hewitt described the highs, lows and in-betweens of their 19,000-mile, year-long bikepacking journey from the northernmost road in North America to the southern tip of Argentina
With a focus on experiencing the most beautiful settings both North and South America have to offer, the couple planned out a tentative path that would take them, eventually, through the heart of the Canadian and American Rockies to a town they’d familiarized themselves with a couple of times prior: Frisco.
“It’s a pretty serious thing but we’ve set enough time for it to enjoy the local mountain towns,” Proctor said.
Way back up in Prudhoe Bay weeks before, however, what the couple had staring them in the face was 500 miles of dirt road. Each year, Proctor said about one to two dozen adventurers make the decision to bikepack from the top of Alaska to the southern tip of South America. Along the way between Prudhoe Bay and Frisco, Proctor and Hewitt said they’ve passed and encountered most of them along the way, some attempting the trip over a timespan as long as three years.
While traversing Alaska, the couple experienced the alien sensation of 24-hour sunlight illuminating wildlife such as elk, caribou, lynx and bears across the barren, flat tundra.
After a blizzard dropped a foot of snow in northern Alaska a week before they started their journey, the couple at first dodged the massive mosquitoes Alaska is known for. After the honeymoon of those first four days were over, though, the bikepackers dropped into the other side of Alaska’s Brooks Range to be greeted by those notorious pests.
The Alaskan stretch between the Brooks Range and Fairbanks required some serious scaling, at times over 15-percent grade. That first section eventually gave way to the Alaska Highway near Fairbanks, which eventually led them to one of their favorite spots on the trip thus far, Watson Lake in the southern Yukon of Canada.
But it was at Watson Lake where they had a frightening grizzly bear encounter. While Proctor listened to an audiobook atop his bike, he suddenly rolled past a grizzly bear five feet away from him. From behind, curious why Proctor suddenly rolled to the other side of the road, Hewitt noticed the grizzly once she was 10 meters away. As Proctor possessed the bear spray, she patiently waited the 30 seemingly endless seconds before the grizzly stood down from its height of eight feet. It finished assessing her and continued on its own path.
“It was both terrifying but really cool to see one up that close,” she said.
Biking down through British Columbia next, the couple basked in the hundreds of miles of beautiful, remote and recently-paved road of the Cassiar Highway. It’s a stretch they each described as their favorite of the trip thus far, complete with intermittent wildlife dotted along the glacial streams and big, craggy, purple mountain landscape.
“I feel like I found pure bliss on that road,” Hewitt said.
On this start to the journey, the couple found themselves biking quicker over longer distances than the standard Alaska-to-Argentina bikepacker. Through Canada, they biked about 120 miles per day, covering the distance from Prudhoe Bay down to Banff National Park in Alberta in three weeks.
And on this section of the overall journey, the couple finally hit some more dirt. Cycling through Banff, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming before arriving here in Summit County, the more strenuous Great Divide Mountain Bike Route then greeted them.
Once they arrived in Frisco, the couple was 4,500 miles into their odyssey. A quarter of the trip down after fewer than two months, Proctor and Hewitt hung out with friends here in Frisco for a couple of days last weekend before continuing their journey.
And with more than 13,000 miles between here and the finish line in Ushuaia, the couple is still open to learning new things from people along the way about how to undertake this kind of adventure.
“It’s been a real pleasure of seeing how everybody has their own little flavor and way of doing trips like this,” Proctor said.
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