Kitsbow Ambassador Sam Schultz has been on and off the road in his newly acquired Sprinter. Most recently, he and his girlfriend, Emily returned from their two month adventure through Alaska and Canada. Before he hit the road again last week for another 6 months, we were lucky enough to hear some details from their trip!
Tell us about your van setup. What are the essentials for van life? What worked well, or didn’t, about your rig for life on the road?
“The van is a 2004 Freightliner Sprinter. I bought it used and already built for adventures by a couple who spent 5 winters living out of it in Baja, Mexico. It is obvious that it has always been a well-loved van, and it was great to get it pre-built with a lot of very thoughtful additions, but it needed a little TLC and some changes to accommodate my needs. With the help of my Dad, Big Sky Brewing’s head fabricator, and an electrically savvy friend, I stripped it down, sorted out some wiring weirdness, refinished the counter/stove, added solar, a new battery, an electric fridge, different shelving, and an adjustable bed platform designed to accommodate bikes underneath. Things that were existing that are super nice are an Espar diesel heater that cranks out an amazing amount of BTU’s while sipping off the main fuel tank, a roof fan, propane stove, solar shower, swivel seat, windows, and a whole lot of insulation.
Everything in the van worked amazingly well. I packed a big kit of screws, bolts, fuses, wires, and tools in preparation for it to rattle apart on the rough roads up north, but surprisingly nothing went wrong. It was really nice to have bikes and everything inside the van, and to have it arranged so that nothing needed to be moved to pull over and sleep. Having a pretty big Truck Fridge brand DC refrigerator was also great and the solar panels kept the battery topped off. Stocking up at the store and throwing groceries in the fridge makes life on the road pretty plush. And the freezer allowed us to bring back over a gallon of wild Alaska blueberries!”
Tell us about your trip itinerary and the route you took from A to B.
“I started in Missoula, MT with the end point goal of Denali Park, AK. I didn’t have much of an itinerary outlined for the way up, but I had an idea of what to expect after riding my motorcycle on an exploratory trip up to Alaska last fall. I was most excited about having bikes along. Still in recovery mode from knee surgery, I wasn’t able to do as much hiking as I would have liked, and I was regaining confidence riding with my knee on some gnarly and new-to-me terrain. Luckily my knee cooperated, and I got great intel from some cool bike shops along the way about some off-the-beaten path mountain bike meccas. I bounced from one riding area to the next, through the amazing expanse of Canada up into Alaska.
I spent about a week in Denali exploring the incredible landscape, and Emily, who has spent the last seven years working seasonally in Alaska, joined me after finishing her summer work. Emily had a great list of places to hit in Alaska before making our way back to Montana, and we were fortunate to hit up the isolated towns of McCarthy, Anchorage, Hope, Seward, Haines and Skagway before making our way back through Canada. All of our stops were amazing with some of the most incredible riding I’ve experienced.”
What was your favorite stop? Any can’t-miss destinations for mountain bikers in Canada or Alaska?
It’s not easy to pick a favorite since it was all so good, but if I had to pick one I would have to say Carcross, Yukon Territory. The area has an amazing network of trails to this sleepy, but incredibly scenic town and they are psyched to have people there. It was really cool to meet the teenage leader of the local trail crew and see him hanging it out there on a Frankestein hardtail that has somehow survived a decade and a half of hard riding.
What were the best trails that you rode along the way? How does the riding in Alaska and the North differ from other places that you have ridden around the world?
“The single coolest trail was probably the Lost Lake trail near Seward, AK. Like most trails in Alaska, it required a little mud bogging on the climb up before popping out on an amazing alpine tundra ridge, flanked by big mountains that are riddled with glaciers. Once on the ridge, a perfect ribbon of flowing singletrack cuts through the red tundra, weaving through forests of dwarf spruce, and countless lakes that are an unreal shade of blue.
Riding was different as there aren’t a ton of established trails and the trails that do exist are not always as buffed out as other places. It’s not uncommon to carry your bike through a mile-long mud bog, push up a nearly vertical ridge line social trail, or to attempt to connect caribou trails and end up riding pieces of tundra that feels like a couch cushion.
Riding amongst the glaciers is a pretty unique experience. Even though I found myself near glaciers quite a bit, the massive chunks of blue ice, jagged ice falls and crevasses generated awe to say the least. And as I found out after being dropped off by a jetboat near the Maclaren glacier, the massive moraines make for some pretty inspiring terrain to ride around as well.”
Feeling inspired to explore the road less traveled? Sam has officially hit the road again and will be filling us in on his adventures. Start planning your spring and summer trips now…you never know who you’ll find on the trail. Perhaps Sam will be traveling near you soon!
Words by Sam Schultz @samschultz13
Images courtesy of Emily Sullivan @emelex
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