By Cameron Nowell
[Ed. note: this ride started at Cleary summit parking area. Perhaps it should start down at the Chatanika Gold Camp.]
Joe and I "discovered" another loop that offers up some terrific downhill that comes with a price. The turn off the Fairbanks/Circle Trail will occur at roughly the 5-mile mark. This will be just past one of the "marvelous" vistas (a tall set of rocks just off the left side of the trail - can't miss it - great spot for pictures) at the top of the first and only major climb that tops out at about 2400 feet.
About 150 yards down the trail there will be a fork in the road. To go right will keep you on the Fairbanks Circle Trail. We took the left fork as this fire road was obviously more heavily used - and the arrows we had been following pointed in that direction. The next mile and a half has a couple of ups and downs through the burn area, with some ups being fairly steep, but very short. We had to slug through about 300 yards of mud and ruts, but staying on the side of the trail kept us from bogging down (Tread Lightly?!) - be sure to look for bear tracks in the mud - we found a couple that raised the hair up on the back of our necks - but, I digress. At the crest of the last short climb, you will be rewarded with about 3.5 miles of killer downhill with small bumps to satisfy the kid in all of us. There are a couple sections of deep ruts from erosion you will need to slow down for, but otherwise, it's a fast, extremely fun downhill that will not wear out your brake pads. Probably the best part of the downhill came after the 8.5 mile mark after negotiating a section of eroded trail. The trail turned into a smooth, fast fire road that passed through a heavily forested area of tall spruce - very peaceful and very fast! At just about 10 miles and 920 feet elevation, we came out on the Old Chatanika Road, hung a left and back on the Steese grinning ear to ear, but not looking forward to the 6.4 mile climb back home.
Overall, with the one-hour return climb home, the ride took us about 2 hours and 20 minutes to complete. Except for the hour-long slog back home up the Steese, the ride was good with great views of the valley.