FAIRBANKS — When Dawson Lewandoski, 16, and Robert Williams, 17, embarked on a 376-mile bicycle trip from Fairbanks to Valdez in early August, they didn’t figure on 30 mile per hour headwinds.
The West Valley High School students anticipated fluctuating temperatures, searing sun and spitting rain, but the almost constant headwinds tested both their physical strength and determination to complete the odyssey.
The teens figured their summer outdoor groundskeeping jobs and two months of pre-trip training — which included weekly, long-distance bike rides — prepared them for the journey. They quickly learned otherwise, but persevered to complete the trip in 4 and 1/2 days.
Without question, the riders agree the trip was worth the effort and jokingly refer to the long distance ride as “a bonding experience in pain.”
“It is tough. You have to do a lot of conditioning for this,” Dawson said. “I think I’m pretty fit, but it nearly killed me.”
The first and longest day of the ambitious ride was the roughest. For 100 miles, the duo switched off pulling a bike trailer loaded with about 30 pounds of gear.
After a grueling 13-hour ride, the exhausted bikers finally arrived at the day’s destination — the Delta State Campground, 267 Mile Richardson Highway. At day’s end, Dawson said the state park appeared to him as, “The most beautiful place I had ever seen.”
After a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast at a Delta restaurant, the teens hit the road pulling their gear behind.
About 30 miles down the highway, the duo rejoiced when Dawson’s father, Jim Lewandoski, caught up with them. From that point on Dawson’s dad would haul the gear, set up camp at state parks along the route and cook breakfast and dinner for the young men.
The arrangement worked well. The bikers carried their lunches and a couple times were offered food or water by friendly motorhome tourists at turnouts along the way.
Packing in a lot of calories daily was essential for the challenging ride.
Each day the cyclists started out with a breakfast of oatmeal, noodles or pancakes. They carried power bars, snacks and lunch, stopping for breaks every couple hours. Dinners were large and ranged from freeze-dried stroganoff to steaks Jim grilled at the campsites.
The few cafes or lodges along the route also provided extra calories like pie and ice cream
Staying hydrated also was at the top of the teens’ list. The pair carried a water filter which they used without exception when filling their water bottles at roadside springs or creeks.
Their second day on the road, the bikers temperature gauge registered a high of 102.4 degrees near Fort Greely.
On the fourth day, the coolest temperature on the trip — 42 degrees — was recorded atop fog-enshrouded Thompson Pass.
The bikers shortest cycling day, their fifth and last day on the road, was a breeze. Starting out from their campsite at Blueberry Lake, 25 miles from Valdez, they cruised, downhill all the way into town.
At the end of the road, Williams and Dawson rewarded themselves with a deep sea fishing charter, while Jim spent a day casting for pink salmon off Allison Point.
For Williams, the August expedition was his second long-distance bike trip along the same route. Last summer, he went most of the distance with two friends but a bad sunburn and illness put him down at one point, and he succumbed to the comfort of being driven for 30 miles of the journey.
Not this year. Both Williams and Dawson pedaled the entire distance — all 376 miles.
“There was so much more discipline this year. Bert (Williams) made sure of that,” Dawson said.
Williams’ determination to complete the entire trip without assistance led to a casual question during a conversation with Dawson early last winter.
“Do you want to go on a bike trip to Valdez? Williams asked.
“‘Sure,” replied Dawson.
For long-distance bicycle riding, the teens recommend wearing bike shorts for comfort and rain and windproof jackets, in addition to a good helmet, of course.
Williams replaced three tire tubes along the way until he eventually located the problem — a small piece of glass embedded in the tire.
The young cyclists say the Fairbanks to Valdez trip is an experience neither will forget for the camaraderie, adventure and beautiful scenery all along the route.
For anyone contemplating a similar bicycle trip, Williams recommends taking more time and extend the adventure as long as possible.
“It’s wonderful way to do it,” Williams said, “and it would be better if you have the time stop and look around along the way.”
Contact staff writer Mary Beth Smetzer at 459-7546.