Mode of Transportation: Bicycle
Route Taken: Dalton Highway
I’ve been back from my bike tour for a few weeks now and have settled back into my daily routine of cycle commuting 12 km to work and 12 km back home again and repeat …..
I am reminded how amazed I was by the outgoing, friendly, generous people I encountered in Alaska. The cycling trip began as a real adventure and a means for challenging myself by pushing my own physical limits and comfort levels. Somehow it evolved to become as much about people I met along the way.
On the Dalton Highway the people I encountered were so interactive. They were interested in where I was going and where I had come from. A woman I met at the Deadhorse airport was excited for me, exclaiming that I would love the scenery. Some hunters passed me on my way out of Deadhorse and expressed concern over whether I would make it through the cold nights, truckers slowed down and gave me a wide berth on the road, random strangers and road crew offered me bottles of water, a Mexican motorcyclist circumnavigating the globe on motorcycle wanted a picture with me as did numerous other people. There were so many fun and interesting interactions with people I returned to Vancouver with a restored faith in humanity.
This brings me to to the first angel I encountered on the trip. As I said in my last post, the sidewall of my tire popped about 400 km from Fairbanks. A tanker truck pulled into my little rest stop and a big black fluffy dog jumped out and bounded towards me. He sniffed around my tent a bit ignoring his owner’s (Michael) calls. We started chatting and I showed Michael my damaged tire. He offered me a ride in to town.
Sometimes you have to take a chance on someone and besides I got a good vibe from him and his happy dog, Dougie so I accepted the ride. So what if I land in Fairbanks at 4 am. I can pitch my tent in the park and I would be so much closer to the bike repair shop. It was the fastest tent dis-assembly ever, I quickly threw my stuff back in my panniers and tossed them in the truck.
Michael and Dougie were great hosts and travel partners. So glad I took the ride! And very educational too. I didn’t know that the Dalton was one of the highways featured on the TV show Ice Road Truckers. I had questions about the Ice Road, the pipeline, the truck we were riding in …….. as we were riding along I was learning more and more about Michael as well, a really sweet guy. His catch phrase was, “What would Jesus do” (WWJD) lucky for me Jesus would pick up a stranded cyclist.
I also noticed the terrain was getting hillier and much more challenging. Atigun Pass was tough but this section was probably tougher. On one particularly steep hill Michael really had to let the truck go on the down side in order to make it up the other side. It must have been about a 12% grade. That would have been tough to pedal up on my fully loaded bike.
We stopped to stretch our legs at the Arctic Circle and I got my requisite photo.
We arrived in Fairbanks, where I discovered the hotels were all booked up due to the carnival. By this time it was after 4 am so we decided it would be easiest if I just stayed on the couch at his place. Nice! I was exhausted! Woke up around 2 pm feeling not very refreshed. Michael’s friend Stanley was in town – also a trucker and 72 years young. Boundless energy, lots of stories and loves stopping in at museums in the towns he passes through. Very interesting people I have found myself in the company of. This is what adventuring is all about!
After running errands, purchasing a new tire, and my first shower in 4 days, Stanley took us out for dinner to Big Daddy’s BBQ restaurant as seen on the TV show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. After my raw food rations for the last few days I was ready to sink my teeth into a giant mushroom swiss burger. Yum! They had many great stories to tell about adventures in trucking. Both of them knew where my home town Fernie was and had both delivered part of a ski lift there.
I took a couple of days off in Fairbanks to re-provision and let my knee rest before continuing on to Whitehorse.
Was my damaged tire a curse or a blessing? There are now about 400 km of the Dalton Highway I still have to ride under pedal power and Michael has offered to drop me off in the exact spot he picked me up if I ever decide to go back and do those 400 km. But if it was adventure I was looking for, it was adventure I got! An awareness of the forgotten dimension of adventure, called human nature.
Maybe people in Vancouver/Richmond are friendly and generous too but I don’t see it very often. I see people focused on their phones in their cars (which is illegal) on the bus, skytrain, and walking down the street. They are barely watching where they are going let alone looking up long enough to give a smile or nod to people they almost run into. My general observation in day to day living is that Vancouverites are “plugged in” to the internet at all times and “tuned out” of real life. And I, I’m sad to say, am not usually in the mood for smiling and nodding either after fending for my life and rights to use the road as a cyclist every day in Vancouver/Richmond.
Maybe my feeling about Alasaka had to do with my attitude too ….. I was on vacation with no real agenda and in no hurry to get anywhere. I was open to what came my way. And probably seeking to engage people in conversation myself.
Regardless, a renewed confidence in people is what I took home from this experience.