By Tom Clark
Here's a long-duration winter ride that goes pretty smoothly and stays on major trails. There are some bail-out points, but even then you'll expend some energy. To do this ride you need to be damn sure that you can pedal your bike in the winter for 7 or 8 hours and not bonk. Bring a couple sandwiches, plenty to drink, and some energy bars. You should also have a spare tube, pump and tools. Bring whatever you might need to stay warm in case you get chilled. Tell someone where you are going.
This is a 55 mile winter ride, and if ridden when the trails are firm, you might be able to knock it out in about 7 hours, including some rest stops. If the trails aren't great at the beginning of the ride, don't do this whole ride. Live to ride another day. Keep in mind that you'll be a long way from anything in quite a few spots. Bring fire starter. There are some steep downhill parts so check to make sure that you've got lots of brake pad left.
Begin at Anne's Greenhouse pullout on Sheep Creek Road. Ride back Sheep Creek to the railroad crossing, and turn south (right) along the tracks. Follow the trail, and don't take any "exits". When you come to the big powerline, turn left and follow it all the way to the even bigger powerline (the Intertie), and turn right. Continue along the powerline, crossing Henderson road, staying on the powerline. The wide cut abruptly ends, with the powerline going down sharply to the left. You go up to the right, and follow the trail, all the way up through the mine. Pick your way around the mine (going up to it and circling it on the left is easiest) and get out to Henderson road.
Go up Henderson road all the way to Ester Dome road. Turn left, and go up Ester Dome road. Climb all the way up. Resist the temptation to stop and rest at the top, you'll just get cold. Ride west, past all the antennas. Follow the trail, down, up, down, until you come to a 3-way intersection at the bottom of a fast descent. Go right. You'll do another short climb and then top out on a little ridge. When it starts going down, take the big trail to your left. This is one of the great descents in the area.
There are a few spots where you have to go up short climbs, but it's mostly down, with lots of twisty, wide singletrack. Eventually you come to a saddle where you have to peddle up a half mile section of trail, finally coming to a "T" intersection. The trail goes left and right. This is about the 12 mile point, and if you need to bail, this is the easiest time to do it. Go left to bail out. To continue, go right. The next 3.2 miles of trail are really great. You can coast a lot of it, and peddle the rest of it really fast. Take care on the corners.
You've probably noticed all the orange signs on the trees. Some have arrows, others are blank. Keep a lookout for these, because you'll follow them through a few intersections.
At the bottom of the great descent there is a 3-way intersection. Some faded yellow wooden signs point to some directions, but all you have to do is follow the orange signs -- go straight. You'll come to a 4-way intersection. Left goes up to Old Ridge Road, off the Old Nenana highway. Right goes cross-country to the Dunbar trail, complete with a creek crossing, sans bridge. Straight is the way you want to go, as you can tell by the ... orange signs.
After 1.5 miles, you come to yet another 4-way intersection. Left goes up to Old Ridge road, straight goes up to the Standard Creek wood cutting road, and right (the one with the orange signs) is the way you want to go. This is another bail out point by the way. There's a bit of climbing to do, but if you need to get out, go straight. After four miles of mostly climbing, you'll get to the Old Nenana highway. You'll still have some peddling to do, so save some energy.
Anyway, following the orange signs again, you'll ride along, going straight through a lesser 4-way intersection, and continue on your twisty way. After some more miles of really interesting trail, you come to a three way intersection next to a collapsed cabin. The accommodations aren't that great, so keep following the orange signs (go right).
After about another 1.5 miles, you meet with the Standard Creek wood cutting road. You could bail out here, but this is the 24 mile point (out of 55) and there's probably less effort involved in just finishing the ride. Then again, you could get lucky and meet a kindly soul with a warm truck...
Continuing on, abandon the orange signs. Go right, down the road. You'll go over a bridge over Goldstream Creek, and cross the railroad tracks. Follow the road up a couple of miles, to a "Y" intersection. Bear right, into the woodcutting area. Follow the road for a few miles across two bridges and numerous culverts. The road finally fizzles out and the trail continues on. There are some short, steep climbs and some steep descents, and finally you come to a creek crossing with a rickety little bridge. Since the creek is frozen, you can just cross the ice. (In 2003, the ice engulfed the wooden bridge.)
Ride along for a few tenths of a mile, and you come to a 4-way, diagonal intersection. Bear right, and you are on the Dunbar trail. You do go through some intersections, but all you have to do is keep going straight, staying on the main trail. Eventually, you'll encounter some big time overflow. I think it's the Cache Creek Glacier... It goes on for about a quarter of a mile and is just slanted enough to be treacherous.
Pick your way across the ice, and stay on the main trail. At a 3-way "Y" intersection, bear right, towards the railroad tracks. Ride, ride, ride. At another 3-way "Y" intersection, follow the main traffic up to the left. You can go right, but the softer trail isn't worth it. You'll pass a minor 4-way intersection, and then come out on a major trail going up to the left, and down to the right. This is a bail out point. If you need to save effort and see about getting picked up by a good Samaritan in a truck, go up to the left. This will get you to Murphy Dome road, about 8 miles in. Otherwise, go down to the right, and take the first left-hand opportunity you have. Cross the tracks, and continue on your way, bearing east/north-east.
After a couple miles the trail jogs into the woods to pick up another winter trail off Ester Dome. You need to follow the trail back towards the railroad tracks. Cross the tracks again, and follow the trail, which is really getting good now. After a 1.5 miles, you come to a plowed road. Go down and across the tracks. There is a surprise drop-off on the other side of the tracks. Go slowly. Follow the trail out into the middle of the frozen lake, and turn left to follow the main trail on your eastern quest. Ride, ride, ride. Try not to crash on the overflow. Finally, after riding past the mine on your right for a ways, you encounter a intersection of a road and the railroad tracks. Cross the tracks and pick up the trail again on the other side. There's more overflow here, so be cautious. You go through an intersection or two, but just stay on the main trail, heading east.
Stay on the trail past the house. You'll encounter two more houses, which you'll ride behind, on the trail. Finally, wonder of wonders, you encounter Sheep Creek Road. You could bail out now like a total weenie and just ride back to your car at the Anne's Greehouse pullout, but why bother? Just cross the road and follow the main trail across a bit of field, through some woods, across a lake, past a house, right to O'Brien Rd. Left goes up to Ivory Jacks (mmm... pizza and beer), and right goes down to the commuter trail (follow the powerline) across the valley and over a plywood bridge, up to Sheep Creek near the railroad tracks. Turn right, and ride a few tenths of a mile back to the car at the pullout.
Wahoo! What an excellent ride. If you finished in the dark, maybe I should have mentioned that you need to bring a headlight as well.