Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Day 5 Haines or bust

I was up early again. For some reason I was having a hard time sleeping in the tent. It was really close quarters compared to sleeping in a king sized bed. After such a huge day, I just wasn't tired. I guess the anticipation of town food was enough to get me up. I spent an hour watching the lake, reading a newspaper, and drinking coffee. It was unbelievably quiet, and serene. The only noise I heard were the buzzing mosquitoes.

My tent mate woke up, we ate breakfast and packed up. The other couple were still in there tent when we rolled out. I was feeling for them. What a day they will have. It felt really good to be almost done the "hard work" portion of the vacation. My rear end was so painful, sitting on the seat was torture. Hoping to beat the headwind by starting early backfired, and soon we were pushing into it again as we followed the Chilkat river, home of the famous bald eagle gatherings in late fall. No fish in the river yet, so no bears and few eagle. The river was picturesque, it would be really neat to watch the bears and eagles fish this river in the appropriate season. There were some nice interpretative spots to stop and learn about bald eagles.

It was a long 40k into Haines. We rode right up main street and headed for the visitor info center. Getting out of my cycling clothes was heaven. We asked at the info where to get good fish and chips, and they sent us to the Lighthouse restaurant down by the marina. And who did we run into at the info center but Urse and Chris. Freshly showered, fed and happy as could be. There were loving life. We had a quick visit then had to vamoose to get some food, so we reluctantly got back in the saddle and rolled down the steep hill to the marina and the restaurant.

The food was excellent, ceasar salad, fish and chips, chocolate cake and a couple of Cokes. Re-fueling always makes me feel much better, and we had gotten some vague directions to our friends place where we would be staying. First we went up the street to the Rusty Compass for an iced americano. Life was great, but too soon back on the bike for the 3k ride out to our home away from home, american style.

Haines in a nice little community. You sure know you are in America. The stores, banks, the way people are, things are just different than Canada. For being so close to Canada, it is so different. The residents were nothing less than super friendly, really happy and welcoming.

We managed to find home, and were a surprise, since we weren't expected until the following day. We had a good visit and a shower, then whisked away to go for dinner. All-you-can-eat tacos at the Elks club. OMG it was the best meal on the trip. I was still feeling famished and I had 8 tacos, I could hardly move, but it was worth every bit of discomfort.

Back at the house we were escorted down the hill to our accommodation. A little bungalow on the beach, paradise. We all stayed down on the beach watching the eagles play and the cruise ships until we got tired and hit the hay in the sweet little cabin on the shores of Lynn Canal.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Day 5 Headed to Alaska 120k

It was an early start this morning. The anticipation of the big day had me up early. I went to the river for water, and got the pot on to boil for breakfast. Hot tea on granola. So yummy. Camp was packed and we were on the road by 8.

The first three quarters of the day went like this. Climbing, rainy, head wind, frustration, cold. We left Yukon after about three hours into the day, and back in BC, for a couple of hours, before Alaska. We stopped and had a snack behind some bushes on the side of the road to get out of the wind. It was a nice break, although far to short, and soon we were back out in the bitting cold wind. The sun would come out and tease us just a little, it would start to warm up, then more wind and misty rain. It wasn't coastal B.C. rain, it was still wet and cold. Tatshenshini/Alsek Provincial Park is a tough piece of Canada.

Lunch break was at Mule Creek. There is some kind of a maitenance building there with an outhouse and a trash can. And the building was a giant wind break. Perfect opportunity for a quick nap and a hot lunch. We stopped to check out a small cabin just off the road. It would have been a good spot to camp if it was later in the day. I wasn't ready to stop yet, it was only 2. We kept going. There was some snow in the ditch that we paused at to sit on to calm the saddle sores. It was painful but it helped so much. Numb bum.

Finally by around 3 P.M. we made it to the Haines Highway Summit. At 1070 meters is the highest point on the road. It was time to celebrate. We talked to a family at the summit and they told us there was more hills ahead. Party over. We descended quickly down to a river bottom, and had a huge climb to get up to the Three Guardsman Summit. This was an epic climb, so done with going up, needing a break. The Guardsman mountains were so close, and so tall. The highest peak is over 6000ft, and it looked like it was right there. So impressive. Awe inspiring.

Finally we hit the top again, this time for real. The highway dropped away in front of us. A quick three kilometer drop brought us to another point of interest. The sign showed the elevation drop. We would be going from around 1000m to sea level in 30k. It was the most intense down hill I have ever encountered. We went from alpine, no trees, just rocks and lichens, to large hemlock and spruce, cotton wood, and the ocean smell in about half an hour. The gusting head wind was scary feeling. It felt like the wind was acting as a brake. We did good at keeping the bike at about 30 kph. I am sure my brakes had some major wear on them by the time we hit the Alaska border.

The border sure was less intense than where I have gone through before down south. There is one place to drive through, one guard, and a small little building. The Canadian Customs was even smaller, and rustic looking. A nice border guard "let" us into the country, asked some questions and played tour guide. He tried to help us find a campsite. It was getting late in the day. I think it was after 5 by the time we went through the border. I was nervous about wild camping in the U.S. I didn't want to trespass, and there is no way to tell out in the rural area.

The head wind didn't let up, and we were riding with all we had left. It was 70k from the border to Haines, too far after a huge day like this, but we need to find some where to sleep. The k's(or miles) were going slow, my rear end was in pain, I was hungry and tired, but had to keep on going. Finally we came to a road, Mosquito Lake Rd. The talkative tourer in Haines Junction had mentioned a campsite at Mosquito Lake, so we turned down for a look. A couple of locals we saw on the road confirmed the campsite. It was about 5k to the site, and that was about all we could take. We slowly rode into the empty site, at about 7, to find two other bike tourers there, setting up camp. They were headed to Dawson City. They had to ride up the big hill we just came down. Although I was feeling for them, their spirits were high, and were excited about it. It could have been the micro-brew they had enjoyed upon arriving in Haines. It was nice to talk to some other cyclists, and ones that were full of energy, since we were completely done. It was a good night. The weather was getting better.

Unfortunately my camera battery ran out of juice during the day, so I don't have many pictures of the later part of the day, they are on my girlfriends camera. We ended up riding 120k this day, 70 of it was up hill. We crossed two borders. Cycled across the province of B.C., well just a skinny northern part. The most remote part. There are no towns in this part of B.C., not really any dwellings, just a few cabins. Tomorrow we would be in town, hot shower, greasy food, and coca cola. I can't wait.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The shortest day. Kathleen Lake to Million Dollar falls. 60k

I woke up around 4 in the morning, looked outside, and I was sure there was snow in the ground out in front of the cabin. So glad that the cabin won the debate. It was raining hard all night. A leisurely morning was incredible, as was breakfast in the lodge. Hot eggs and hashbrowns, plus lots of coffee. I was a happy traveler.

The asphalt continued to be smooth and wonderful. The first 10k went really well. Suddenly as we hit Dezadeash Lake, and the head wind got unbelievably strong. It felt like it was hard to control the bike, and it got really cold. Full rain gear was a must. After we got away from the main body of the lake, the wind dropped a little bit, but it was still so cold. . It was really stressful with the wind, and another guest at the lodge said there were numerous bear sightings the day before during the race. I was so jumpy. A squirrel ran across the road in front of me and I startled. It might as well have been a grizzly by the way I reacted. Speaking loudly and whistle blowing were our way of warning bears we were coming. We stopped around 30k to have a lunch break.

The climbing started almost right after the break. It was 15k of gradual climbing, nothing too steep, just long. Some hills were over a kilometer long. My backside was really giving me trouble. It hurt to be on the saddle. I was a bit worried about two more days of this. The fear of bears started to go away gradually, and by the time we hit the Tatshenshini river lookout, I was calm and feeling good. We stopped for a break. 8 French Canadian tourists were also at the rest stop, taking pictures. I was trying to talk to one, finding out where Million Dollar Falls is, when I could see a bear run out on the road about 200 meters away. Me and the other guys run towards the road to get a closer look, then two more bears came out of the bush and on to the road, then back again. The first one crossed the road and went into the bush adjacent to us. At first it appeared that the bears were grizzly, because they were brown, but upon further investigation I realized they were brown phase black bears. I was stoked. I went up on the viewing platform to watch the bear. He was slowly grazing his way towards me. However he never got closer than about 70 meters. My girlfriend was nervous about the bear, so I decided to leave with her. A couple of big whistle blows and we were down a big hill and right to the Million Dollar falls turn off.

Million Dollar falls is a nice campsite. It has firewood, pits, and picnic tables. It was nearly empty. We decided to stay close to another occupied campsite, to ease worries about more bears. I went off to find an axe from them, and got a chance to chit chat. I got the lowdown on the next day. It will be a big one. 17k of climbing right off the bat, and its about 70k to the summit. Okay, we can do this. It was good to be off the bike early to rest up for tomorrow. I split up a bunch of wood for a fire, and came back to camp set up and dinner being cooked. I am a lucky guy!

Dinner was noodles and soup mix with some diced veggies in it. Lots of salt and the fresh lightly cooked veggies was fantastic. The whole pot was emptied in short order. We went to the river to pump water for tomorrow and for breakfast. Tea and coffee was a nice treat for after dinner. We walked to the falls, which is really impressive. Not very high, but so much water running down it. The Yukon parks have done a nice job of building a elevated viewing platform along the banks of the Takahanne river to view the falls. Back at camp we spend almost an hour trying to get this damp spruce wood to light. It is terrible firewood. Finally after tearing a bunch of dead limbs off another spruce were we able to get the fire going. It got going really well just about the time it was time to go to sleep. It was nice while it lasted, and I left a lot of wood for the next folks who camp here. Sleep was nice, it was dry, and I felt safe here.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

cool link
It will make you smile.

Day 3 60k to Haines Junction and 30k to Kathleen Lake.

After a somewhat disturbed sleep, nervous about Ursus Arctos Horribilis, we awoke early to the alarm clock of squirrels scolding us for laying on their cones. We also heard an owl hooting in the night which was very cool. Tent was down and bags packed in record time for the mosquito's were still everywhere. We had a quick breakfast of yogurt and protein powder, then hit the trail. It was really quiet on the Alaskan highway that morning, Saturday before 9. We were passed by a tractor and trailer, which had Walmart badging on the trailer. I thought this was odd, I can't imagine there to be a Walmart way out here, but who knows.

At the 20k mark we stopped for some more food and a stretch. The sun was starting to break through and the mosquito's were still buzzing about. Suddenly we saw two touring cyclists coming our way. We went to the road edge to meet them. It is Chris and Urse, two fellows from Switzerland, who met in Central American and decided to cycle together. Pretty cool. They are on there way to Cancun, Mexico via Anchorage. God damn what a ride. We chatted for a while, super nice guys. They were also planning on catching the same ferry as us to Prince Rupert, from Haines. They decided to carry on, and we did the same shortly after. I could see them in the distance, probably 2k away, the road was so straight. It reminded me of the line from the Allman Brothers song "One more silver dollar" where Duane Allman sings "and the road goes on for ever"

The first amenities we found since Whitehorse was a little store and RV park called Otter Falls Junction. Chris and Urse also found it to hard to resist, they were in having coffee. I was wanting one so bad, so I sat down with them and had a cup. More chatting, comparing notes and stories. The bathroom was a nice luxury and so was the water tap outside we used to fill our various vessels. Today was going to turn into a day of luxury, little did we know.

20 more kilometers to go to reach Haines Junction. The mountains of Kluane Park were so close it felt like you could reach out and grab one. The terrain was changing. The trees were getting more numerous, things were a little more green. There was actually a sawmill just past Otter Falls. I laughed at how small the trees were, they really are only about 20 feet tall. Its so funny.

Finally we made it into Haines Junction. It is a small town, with several small hotels and restaurants. I wanted to eat at the Raven Motel, apparently it is phenomenal, but it was closed. A quick visit to the Visitors Info was less than informative, so we wandered to the bakery across the street, which wasn't that appealing for lunch, but the scones looked good. We would be back. An American man was cycling to Whitehorse the opposite way was at the bakery so we chatted with him for a while. He had way to much to say, so we got away as quickly as possible. It was obvious he was on the road for too long by himself. Deciding to take a ride around we ended up at a Chinese Food place for lunch. It was perfect. A trip to the little grocery store for supplies and back to the bakery. Ice americanos and scones were another luxury that is so important on a big journey like this. About 5 it was time to end this little vacation in a vacation and hit the pedals.

The Kluane/Chilkat relay bike race was held the same day, but you never would know it. The road was empty. It was a big climb to get out of Haines Junction. I elected to not wear my riding shorts this evening, but I soon had to stop to change. My behind was getting very sore, after less than 200k, we still had double that to go. After climbing for about an hour, the road flattened out, and the pavement turned to glass. It was the smoothest pavement I have every ridden on. The bike just wanted to go. Add a tailwind and a slight down hill and coasting in the high 20's was easy. Thats the way to make time. We stopped at several places for photos, saw a couple of nice rivers, and met a husband and wife from Florida.

 It was nearing the kilometer mark to the campsite and suddenly Kathleen Lake Lodge came into view. Without hesitation we went in, while briefly discussing the idea of renting a cabin. The Lodge is run by a nice couple and soon we were having water, browsing a menu and debating the merits of a cabin over tenting. The cabin idea won that one. And we decided to have dinner there too. Oh the luxury. So fantastic.The food was really tasty, the cabin rustic. The bed was kind of broken, we had to put a drawer under it to level the bed out. There was a lack of hot water. But it kept us dry, warm and helped to raise our spirits. It began to rain really hard during the night so it was the right call to rent a room. We were basically half way through the bike portion of the trip. Feeling good except for some saddle sore issues. Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings........

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Day 1 and 2. Whitehorse to 100k out.

It had been a whirlwind couple of days, getting last minute things done, buying a vehicle(Honda Element) and being excited about this trip. Also saying good bye to my daughter, who I wouldn't be seeing for three weeks, the longest we had ever been apart. My emotions were all over the place.

We were out the door early. My sister picked us up a 5 am to drive us to Naniamo for the first flight of the day. I was unusually groggy, since we had been up late finishing the last of the packing for the two and a half weeks we would be away. And watching the Canucks lose the Stanly Cup final to Boston. Grrrr. We briefly stopped at Tim Hortons for some terrible coffee and equally terrible muffins for breakfast(What is it with that place anyways, it is really bad) I couldn't make my own coffee that morning since the Bodun committed suicide the night before by jumping out of the cupboard at me, launching glass all over the kitchen.

Upon arrival at the baggage check the woman checking us in decided that she had to see our camp stove, because they can't be on the airplane if there is any fuel left over in the burner. Well trying to find a stove the size of a can of beans in two boxes filled with stuffed panniers is almost impossible, so everything had to come out. She checked it out and said it was fine, but caused us a lot of stress. Boxes were repacked and sent through the x-ray machine. The only problem was that the bike boxes wouldn't fit through it, so they had to go in the back, be opened up and checked by one of the security people. So much stress. Once it was all said and done we got on the plane for a quick trip to Vancouver. The flight takes about 15 minutes, flying over Georgia Strait, and the Gulf Islands. It is a picturesque view. The aircraft never gets to high so there is a good view the who time.

At YVR, my girlfriend managed to talk us in at the buisiness class lounge. That was cool. I was already tired from the lack of sleep and the stress of flying. Food was great for the mood, so we wondered over to our gate. I saw Gino Reda from TSN waiting at the gate next to us. That was cool. He was in town for the hockey game. I was surprised I didn't see more media there that I would have recognized.

The flight to Whitehorse was nice and calm. The views of the coast mountains were spectacular. I really enjoyed looking out the window and trying to forget we were 35,000 feet up in the air. Gulp. Once we landed and gathered our boxes, while waiting for our cab, there was a fox running around in the parking lot. I didn't get a chance to take a picture of it, and thought we would see lots of wildlife. Sadly, I was wrong. A nice, older fellow with a huge case of plumbers crack gave us a ride to the hostel. This was a cool experience for me as I had never stayed in one before. We got our bikes built and bags packed quickly, and headed out into Whitehorse to get supplies. A quick stop at Canadian Tire, Marks, and Extra Foods and we were all set. We dropped off the bikes at the hostel and walked into town for dinner, to get our names on the list for dinner at Klondike Rib and Salmon BBQ, a must for anyone visiting Whitehorse. The fish and chips were the best I had on this vacation. The place had people waiting around the block to get in for dinner. A slow walk home and we were quickly in bed. I never got to experience the long Yukon nights. It was really overcast the whole time.

Morning came, some food was prepped for the road, and we set off. Looking for somewhere to eat breakfast. We happened upon Baked Cafe on Main Street. It is a happening spot. They have the absolute best scones I have ever eaten, bar none. Coffee and scones, plus some scones to go for the road. I also met Dusty there. Dusty is a little Grizzley Bear cub that followed me out of a gift shop that morning. He was my companion on the entire voyage.

It was time to go, so we followed the bike lanes out of Whitehorse, up Two Mile Hill, and found a section of the Trans Canada Trail that would give us a nice view of the city and an alternate way out of traffic. We ended up having to back track for about 1 kilometer to get to the proper road,  and off we went, on the Alaska Highway. We had a magnificent tail wind for the first 30k and we were feeling so good. The road was in good shape and without very many hills. We cruised along for a few hours, stopping every 20k for a break to stretch. We decided at around 60k to stop for a break, have lunch, set up the bug screen of the tent and have a nap. What a great idea. It was here that we met the Swedish cyclist, Edwin, who is heading to San Diego via Anchorage. So epic. We talked bear caching and he was very chatty. Soon we bid him farwell and we were on our way. About 10k after our nap, I had a near disaster. My pedal fell off. It unscrewed from my crank arm, and popped out. I was puzzled. I must not have tightened it well enough. The biggest problem was that the tread in the crank had worn off, and I couldn't get the pedal back into it. Luckily, I have had this problem with reddi-rod, so I threaded the pedal in from the back side and was able to "fix" the threads, and get the pedal back in, and cranked down tight. I never had another problem with it after that.

The rest of the day was a battle with the head wind and trying to get to the 100k mark, which was probably a little bit much for the first day. At 98k we found a road off the highway, and took advantage. We lugged the bikes down a sandy bank to get down to the road, and investigated. We were instantly swarmed by mosquitos. And lots of them. Got the tent up in record time, and sprayed the deet on really thick. It was insane. I was done, I didn't eat dinner. I helped get a bear cache up in the trees, and I went to sleep. It was a big day for us, and I drifted off with the promise of another bakery in Haines Junction, and more road ahead.....

Monday, July 4, 2011

Back from the north country

I got home yesterday from 18 great days away. That was the longest I have ever been away from home, and it was fantastic. I have never felt I had the time or finances to a trip like this, and now that it happened, I feel like it isn't that hard and it will be done again.

I will be writing entry's for each day, or group of days, in this blog. I could just write one really long account of what happened, but that could be kind of hard to follow. Stay tuned to this as I go along. I will include pictures as well.

I was quite surprised with the numbers of cyclists on the trip that we encountered. We met on fellow from Sweden who was touring from Anchorage, Alaska, down to San Diego. There were Chris and Urse from Switzerland who were going from Anchorage to Cancun, Mexico. Chris had already ridden from Patagonia on the southern tip of South America, to Cancun. He had cycled 30,000k in the past three years. Incredible. We met several other tourers along the way who were doing shorter trips, and all had stories, questions and advice in our interactions.

I was able to spend my first night in a hostel at this place in Whitehorse, called the Beez Kneez Backpacker Hostel. That was really cool. There were German and French people there, and it was cool to listen to them speak to each other, and to interact with them. We had a little garden shed sized cabin out in the year, just big enough for a double bed and our gear. What fun. I would recommend this place if going to Whitehorse, and you need accommodation.

I found out about days of headwind, mosquitoes, broken down bike, rain, loooong straight stretches of road, and how such a northern community, with nearly the same population as Courtenay, can have FAR superior bicycling infrastructure. There are cycling lanes all around the city, a separate trail going up beside a steep, busy main road(the trail has level spots to break to catch your breath as you go up. Nice touch), funky bike racks and bike lockers in and around the city. There were people all over the place riding on two wheels. There were lots of commuters, and pleasure riders. I never felt worried about the vehicle traffic while we were  moving about like the lost tourists that we were. This is a town that has freezing temperatures from October until March, snow and long dark winter days. It has better cycling that a city that has one of the best climates in North American. Something is wrong with this picture.

Stay tuned for more about my trip. I am excited to share it with you all. Re-happy.