Man rides bike almost 3,400 miles from Alaska to Granby
Mike Darrah wants to encourage others to go the distance
Every now and then, Mike Darrah gets the itch to do something big.
In his 40s, he crossed Greenland on cross-country skis. In his 30s, he climbed El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.
Perhaps it was only fitting that, after spending enough time in Alaska, the now-60-year-old man decided it was finally time to ride a bike from Fairbanks to Granby and complete a string of long-distance trips stretching from the Artic Circle to the U.S.-Mexican border.
“Going off and doing big trips is not unusual for me,” Darrah said. “I was overdue.”
According to Darrah’s wife of 33 years, Gayla, this is just the kind of person he is, and she’s learned over the years that these kinds of trips are “normal” for him.
“I always knew what I was getting into,” Gayla said. “It’s happened all our married life … He’s always been that way. That’s just what he does.”
Seeds of inspiration
The idea to ride a bike from Alaska to Granby didn’t come to Darrah overnight. Rather, it was a confluence of his experience, observations and desire.
The last several years, Darrah has been working on mineral exploration projects in Alaska, a state he became familiar with as a commercial fisherman during his college years, including a stint crabbing like they do on the reality TV show, “Deadliest Catch.”
“I’ve worked in Alaska a lot, and I’ve often run into people doing big adventures while I was working,” Darrah said, as he explained a good number of those people were cyclists ending or just beginning long-distance bike trips.
Those adventurists inspired Darrah, who’s been cycling himself since he was young and always had “the itch” to do a long-distance tour.
But Darrah didn’t set out to ride a bike from Alaska to Granby on just an idea and an itch. He worked himself up to the big ride by building on smaller opportunities. One of those came up when a project Darrah was working on in Alaska ended in September 2015.
As Darrah recalled, he flew from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay on the Artic Ocean and rode a bicycle almost 500 miles back to Fairbanks.
He made the ride by himself, and he pressed on through rain, mud and snow.
Then in 2016 and 2017, Darah took two more long-distance bike rides — one when he wanted to visit family in New Mexico and rode there from Granby, and another when he connected Albuquerque, New Mexico, to El Paso, Texas, the following year for “spring training.”
Combined with his earlier Alaskan excursion, that left about 3,400 miles out of roughly 4,200 for Darrah to complete the string of bike trips from the Artic Circle to the U.S.-Mexican border.
“Ever since 2017, I’ve had this itch to fill in the middle portion,” Darrah said. “My schedule just opened up enough that I figured I had enough time to do the portion from Fairbanks to Granby.”
On the road
Darrah left Fairbanks on May 17 and arrived in Granby on July 11. Altogether, the 3,340-mile ride took him 51 days with 43 of those on the road, six at rest and two weather days.
It all works out to about 77 miles a day, and Darrah typically carried enough food on him in Alaska and Canada to last about four to five days because stops up North were fewer and farther between.
“It was hard to predict what you could buy,” Darrah said of supplies, adding that after about the third day, he had to cut sugar out of his diet because his body wasn’t reacting well to it.
“Once I got to White Horse in the Yukon, I realized my body wasn’t really recovering the way it needed to and I found a store that was selling protein powder,” he continued. “That was really a game-changer.”
Miles of memories
Darrah remembers the wildlife on his trip and his numerous encounters with hungry black bears. He estimated he saw more than 15 eating grasses and other things on the side of the road. Darrah carried bear spray with him, but luckily he never had to use it.
More memorable than the black bear sightings, though, was one mountain lion that crossed the road in front of Darrah on the Alcan Highway in the Yukon and sat on a hillside and watched the man on his bike.
One sighting that Darrah hadn’t planned on, he added, was the bison on the side of the highway in Canada. He said about half of the bison herd ignored him, but the other half, spooked by Darrah and his bike, ran parallel with him for a little more than mile down the highway.
As far as the people, Darrah encountered a wealth of kindness on the road, from the truckers who laid on horns to scare bears away to the RVs that stopped to offer him water and food.
“The people I ran into were always very curious, and I had a lot of good conversations with folks,” Darrah said.
Once he reached Wyoming, Darrah started reflecting on the bike ride and a satisfying feeling set in. By the time he got to Granby, that feeling was in full force.
“I felt a little tired, but it was an amazing feeling,” Darrah said of when he finally arrived in Granby.
He’s flown to Alaska a number of times, and thinking about covering every inch of that trip on a bike is somewhat “mind-blowing” for him.
“I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s a long trip to fly from Denver to Fairbanks … and when you think about looking out that window and seeing all that wilderness, it kind of sunk in,” he said.
If Darrah could impart one lesson he learned on this trip, it came from the people he found Augusta, Montana, where a lot of long-distance hikers and bikers pile up as they do the Continental Divide Trail.
“I was sort of amazed,” he said. “I sort of thought everybody would have to be a super athlete to do that, but I began to realize as I ran into those people … that there’s a lot of people who are ‘Average Joes’ that have gotten this itch to do a ultra-long bike ride or hike — and it’s doable.”
Darrah said he was surprised to see how many people were capable of doing such long-distance trips, and he hopes others will take that as a nod of encouragement they could do something like it too.
“If you have a dream, take out a bite-sized chunk of it,” Darrah said. “If you can break a big trip into bite-sized chunks, I think many people could actually achieve something that might be a big dream for themselves.”
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