Bike Alaska!

Barbara Morgan

John Conrad, a special education teacher with the Anchorage School District, and Rochelle Smith, a mechanical engineer for Coffman Engineers, enjoy a bicycle trip near Kincaid Park in Anchorage.

Walt Rowland, owner of Alaskan Bicycle Adventures, spends his summer out of doors most of the time. In fact, when he is not organizing his bike tours and taking care of company business, he is bicycling the Alaska Highway or the California coast. Each winter he takes at least one long trip. This last year he bicycled the Mississippi (1,550 miles) from Minneapolis to New Orleans. This trip took 25 days at the rate of 65 miles per day.

With revenue of almost $1 million a year, ABA has six vans and 100 Touring Cannondale bicycles that are provided and maintained for the clientele. Customers have a choice of many different tour combinations. The Alaskan Adventure Tour (seven days and seven nights) combines half days of bicycling with canoeing, hiking, sea kayaking, a spectacular drive across the Denali Highway, and an awesome glacier cruise across Prince William Sound. This trip averages 30 miles of biking per day.

Bicycle Alaska (eight days, eight nights), with an excursion into Denali National Park, averages 65 miles of riding per day to include 360 miles down the spectacular Richardson Highway.

Hike and Bike Alaska (eight days, eight nights), the most leisurely tour, averages 15 miles per day. This tour includes canoeing, sea kayaking, hiking and a beautiful cruise across Prince William Sound.

The Kiondike Gold Rush Adventure (eight days, eight nights) bicycles the Yukon with a day hike on the Chilkoot Trail, a canoe ride on Braeburn Lake, a railroad ride to the top of White Pass, and a tour of the town of Skagway with Dawson City as the ending destination. This tour retraces the route of the Gold Rush of 1898.

The Alcan Highway Expedition (12 days, 12 nights) tours from Juneau through Canada, ending in Anchorage-averaging 65 miles per day. Sights to note along the way include St. Elias National Park and Worthington Glacier, as well as a cruise through the beautiful Prince William Sound.

The Arctic Ocean “Ride of Pain” (11 days, 11 nights) starts in Fairbanks and runs along the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean. This trip crosses the Yukon River Bridge, passes by the Brooks Range and Atigun Pass, runs along the Arctic Tundra and ends in Deadhorse, Prudhoe Bay. This tour, which rates as the toughest of all the rides, is not for everyone. It is the only tour that includes all camping.

These tour packages highlight the overall choices, but many tours are specialized custom tours. Group sizes vary, but average about 10 per group. All tours include snacks, meals and lodging. Average cost of a tour is $2,595 and up.

ABA has been in existence for nine years and started as an idea that Rowland researched and a plan that worked. The business also started purely by the experience of being on a bike on a beautiful summer day in Alaska.

Rowland feels his business has been successful because of good marketing, happy customers and good employees. His formula is simple: Select the best locations and activities, and then design the logistics necessary to make it happen. When asked about his company’s economic contributions to the state, Rowland replied, “We spend a lot of money out on the Richardson Highway, a very depressed area.”

Rowland, a resident of Alaska since 1975, was a construction worker and a stockbroker before he started his biking business. He also sings, plays the guitar and entertains his tour guests at various lodges on their trips.

ABA employs one full-time office person year-round, one winter office person who is a mechanic in the summer, and many seasonal positions: 12 guides, one mechanic/guide, one food prep person and one food prep/miscellaneous office worker.

ABA’s 1,500 clients have adventured to Alaska from Tennessee, Illinois, New York, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Germany, South Africa, Singapore, Hong Kong and Montreal to name a few of the locations. His oldest client, an 85-year-old, had no problems keeping up with the pace. The youngest clients this year will be two 2-year-olds and a 4-year-old who will ride in a trailer on a custom tour with parents.

Sometimes there are complaints: “You mean there’s no outhouse?” But for the most part the job comes with the rewards of comments from happy customers: “Best way to see Alaska up close!” “Fulfill your lifelong dream of seeing Alaska.” “Great guides.” “Everything planned to peffection.” “I recommend your company to everyone.” “I had a great time.”

Alaskan Bicycle Adventures is a member of the Alaska Visitor’s Association and the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Alaska Business Publishing Company, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning