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Photograph by Cameron Lawson

Alaska’s Lost Coast by Bike and Packraft: Blind Date, Alaska Style

Before departing for Alaska’s Lost Coast, my partner and I had never met, and we certainly didn’t know if we’d make good traveling companions. We had a 200-mile journey through remote Alaskan wilderness ahead of us, and we both had a lot of questions brewing in our minds before meeting up for the first time in Yakutat.

Like most journeys of this distance and difficulty, I wanted my partner to be a known variable. Through observation and experience, I’ve learned that a positive, capable partner who shares the same enthusiasm and commitment for the trip is paramount. A strong mental attitude can overcome most obstacles.

With that in mind, I got in touch with a great friend. Back in 2010, we teamed up for a similar ride and packraft trip that took us from Yakutat to Cordova, Alaska. He was built like a linebacker, easy going, tenacious, and our personalities clicked. Wanting to replicate the same blithe experience, I pitched the upcoming adventure to him. Unfortunately, he was committed to changes at his business and was unable to pencil it in.

I desperately needed to shed my daily routine in Bozeman, Montana and submerge myself into an expansive wilderness full of unknowns. Some how, I knew I could find a partner that would be excited about the Lost Coast trip. Soon, I got in touch with a crew of fellow outdoorsy pilots that I used to work with at Talkeetna Air Taxi in Alaska, but they were busy zooming around Denali giving flight tours. However, they did have a lead and gave me some contact info.

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Day 1. A few hours after meeting Iris, I took a snapshot. This image was taken on a dirt road that lead us from Yakutat to the coast. Photograph by Cameron Lawson

Via email, I was introduced to Iris (pronounced “E-res”). Originally from the Netherlands, she now called Talkeetna home. After a couple emails that showed promise, we switched to Skype, because we both felt it would be more personal. After some light, introductory conversation, we started talking about the possibility of doing the trip together.

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A formidable obstacle looms ahead. La Perouse Glacier is the only glacier that fronts on and discharges into the Gulf of Alaska. This required securing our bikes to our packrafts, launching through a beach break and paddling around the glacier. Photograph by Cameron Lawson

Over the next couple weeks and using Skype as our main source of communication, I could tell that Iris was psyched about going to the Lost Coast. But I was still reserved. I knew the trip was going to have some potentially sketchy rivers that needed to be crossed, a day or two of big boulder hopping while carrying an awkward bike, hours bushwhacking and a lengthy, open ocean crossing.

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A solid day of battling thick brush and mosquitos came to an end as we found this small creek that lead to the tidal flats of Taylor Bay. This is the closest I’ve come to feeling like a bug stuck in a spiderweb. Photograph by Cameron Lawson

Iris had done some stout bike touring in both Europe and South America, and this helped alleviate some of my concerns. But, as the trip neared, I got more anxious and my questions to her became more challenging. I’d reiterate obstacles we’d potentially encounter and test her commitment level. I really wanted to have the adventure, but I didn’t want to get into a situation where we’d be turning around within two days of a 14-day trip. I also wasn’t into a trip full of compromise or disagreements. I found myself asking a million questions – What if we moved so slowly we ran out food? What’s her level of risk? At one point does she melt down? Is she physically fit enough to carry a heavy pack and an awkward bike through miles of boulders? Will she pull a u-turn if we need to cross a fast moving river?

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Iris hauls her packraft onto a gravel bar during our crossing of the Alsek River and Dry Bay. Around this time of year, the mighty Alsek flows about 82,000 cubic feet per second. Photograph by Cameron Lawson

I imagine that Iris was thinking the same thing – Do I feel secure going on a big trip with some guy I’ve never met? What’s his personality like in adverse conditions? Is he going to be a ruthless jerk? Can I handle a remote trip of this magnitude? What if I don’t like him, what will I do? How hard are the river crossings going to be? Can I do it?

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We had to circumnavigate an impassable river on the coast, so we hiked up to the headwaters and crossed a lake below Grand Plateau Glacier. It was magical. Water droplets falling from the melting icebergs was the only sound that broke the silence. Photograph by Cameron Lawson

It’s like the adventure began before we even started. I think we were both a little nervous and anxious about meeting up and diving into the raw Alaskan wilderness together. But, as the Horizon turbine prop was pushed back from the Bozeman terminal, many of my inhibitions or concerns vaporized. I was eager to meet Iris and roll with whatever unfolded.