MILES OF PORTRAITS: ALASKA – THE MOST BEAUTIFUL HIGHWAY IN THE WORLD

MILES OF PORTRAITS: ALASKA EPISODE 3

New here? This is the third part of a five-part series. Read about and watch all the episodes here.

It’s confusing. There’s Denali National Park and then there’s the Denali Highway; dubbed the most beautiful highway in the world. Both named after Denali – both breathtaking.

We begin the next part of our journey waking up in a trailer in Healy, a town just north of the park entrance. Our Warm Showers host, Paul has quite the setup. He hosts both motorcyclists and cyclists in his many campers that flank his cozy home.

There seems to be a theme on this trip of having reunions with those we’ve met before. Erik and I stock up on groceries at Three Bears. There, we run into Abra, a local fellow type 1 diabetic who has been following us on Instagram. On our way to the Denali Highway, we meet Brooke and Kailey, the winners of the Lael Rides Alaska Women’s Scholarship – the scholarship I applied for and the one that gave us the idea to cycle 1,000 miles around Alaska. They’re cycling across Alaska and collecting stories on climate change.

We finally reach the T intersection of the Denali and Parks Highway, where we have breakfast at JP’s Coffee House, a new restaurant specializing in meat pies that has quickly become the local hangout. 

Erik stays for a few hours to catch up on work while I start riding, the road quickly turns to gravel. Straight out of a painting, the highway is backdropped by snowy mountains, dotted with lush trees, and crisscrossed by a plethora of rivers. There are pull-outs everywhere and here in Alaska, we’re permitted to camp just about anywhere we please. It’s wonderful to not have to read directions and follow one road for 140 miles. Erik and I have chosen to take it easy and not go too crazy with our daily mileage, reaching the other end of the road a few days later. This is, after all, the most beautiful highway in the world.

bicycle touring through Denali National Park
Towards the end of the highway, gravel turns to pavement and there’s one long glorious downhill.
photo of Annalisa and Erik's shadows on a long dirt road as the sun sits low.
Golden hour goes on forever here.
Annalisa and Erik posing for a photo in Denali National Park
We pause to take in the views... and do a photo shoot.
Erik hikes to get water as a vast mountain range grows in the background
Hiking to the lake to filter water.

We were warned there wasn’t much civilization but it seems there’s a lodge every 40 miles or so. Compared with hiking, cycling is great because if you do get into a pickle, you can always wave over a car. There are plenty of RVs on the road that stop to check on us. One couple even stops to fill up our water bottles. Every time we park ourselves at one of the taxidermy-filled lodge cafes, we get peppered with questions about our adventure. Multiple couples on RV road trips tell us they’ve got bicycles strapped to the back of their vehicles but never use them. We’re proud to inspire them to finally take their rides for a spin!

Observing RV life, we’re thankful to have found our preferred mode of transport. It amazes me every day that we’re able to strap all of our belongings, including our diabetes medications, on these two wheels. Nothing against RVs, but we’re hooked to the freedom of self-sufficiency. We’re drawn to the satisfaction of 120 miles of gravel turning back to pavement. Bicycle touring makes you appreciate the little things; the smoothness of a paved road, a warm shower, a shady spot, warm food, and a real bed.

This third episode documents these gratifying contrasts between roughing it and living it up – between washing our clothes in a river and killing three hours in a lodge in the middle of nowhere.

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Wendy, Jenny, and Louisa – the crew behind the delicious meat pies at JP’s Coffee House.
Wendy, Jenny, and Louisa – the crew behind the delicious meat pies at JP’s Coffee House.
Brook and Kailey –– the winners of the Lael Rides Alaska Women’s Scholarship, heading in the opposite direction.
Brook and Kailey –– the winners of the Lael Rides Alaska Women’s Scholarship, heading in the opposite direction.
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Annalisa van den Bergh was born and raised in New York City by a Venezuelan mother and a Dutch father. She's a visual storyteller with a BFA in Graphic Design from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). She's currently riding her bicycle around the world and taking pictures of the people she meets. The project, called Miles of Portraits celebrates the ways the bicycle brings people together.

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