Destination: Whitehorse, Yukon Territory
Mode of Transportation: Bicycle
Route Taken: Alaska Highway
I’m calling this section “The Last Leg.” There were still over 950 km to go but this section involved a lot of riding through consistent terrain and scenery. I rolled out of Fairbanks on day 6 of my tour and continued pedalling down the road for the next 9 days without any serious mechanical or health issues. The road conditions were variable, sometimes gravel with potholes, sometimes rough chip seal with regular frost heaves and on more rare occasions short sections of smooth asphalt which my butt thoroughly appreciated. My impression is that the freeze thaw cycle and swampy environment that the road traverses are not ideal for maintenance.
I passed by Eielson Airforce Base where the runway ran right next to the road. There was a lot of very loud activity with planes taking off and landing and circling the base. Fun to watch for a few minutes. Then farther down the road was North Pole and Santa Clause House. Santa was available for photos and Christmas wishes but he was busy entertaining some southerners and I wanted to get back on the bike. Delta Junction was my rest stop for the night.
Some interesting sights along the way ….
After Delta Junction it was 180 km to Tok, the next town/campsite so in an attempt to gain some local knowledge I stopped in at the visitor information centre to find out if there was anywhere in between that I could set up my tent. The woman behind the counter couldn’t find anything official in her book but remembered calling the Dot Lake postmaster for information about camping when another cyclist had asked the same thing. The postmaster apparently has a reputation for providing tent space for wayward cyclists. The Dot Lake postmaster is another angel along the way. There is nothing at Dot Lake but the post office. At one time there was a campsite behind it but that has been taken over by the forest. The outhouse is still there though and the postmaster was happy to fill up my empty water bottles in exchange for an adventure story.
Day 8 was another epic day, from Dot Lake to Northway Junction 158 km. I hadn’t planned on going that far but Tok wasn’t quite far enough. My intention was to wild camp at one of the many interpretive pull-outs along the way but none of them had level enough ground for setting up a tent so I just kept on pedaling. Just when I thought my legs were about to fall off from fatigue, I pulled into Northway Junction with a corner store. I could use a drink! I also noticed a giant camp ground sign. That looked promising until I approached the door and saw the “Campground full” notice. Sigh! All I needed was a small rectangle of grass ……. no harm in asking. The camp ground was definitely a no-go. It was fully taken up by forestry service people and there was a baseball tournament in Northway so there wasn’t much available. The woman, Sharon said I could camp in the grassy area in front of the gas station, but rowdy baseball players would be raucousing all night. In the end she offered me a patch of grass in her yard by the state trooper station. Nice! My third angel!
On day 9 I landed back in Canada.
As I was riding along the road I kept coming upon scat of different varieties with some unnerving frequency. I wondered to myself what manner of beast would be crapping on the road. Wish I could identify it and know whether or not I should be worried about bears or wolves. I did recognize the occasional horse dropping interspersed between the unidentifiable varieties. I’d heard a story somewhere along the way about a Mexican who was riding his horse from Alaska to Mexico. I wondered how long it would take to catch up with him.
Further along the road was the Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. Perhaps this refuge has something to do with the quantity of crap I was seeing on the road. I stopped for a refueling break and went inside to see if they had something to drink. No beverages but I did note that they had books on scat identification. They also had telescopes sited on a huge bull moose eating grass in one of the lakes.
Back on the bike after refueling, I finally made it to the US Customs area. Built on the crest of a hill of course. As I was riding by, a Mexican on a motorbike stopped me to chat. He was riding across all of the continents on a motorbike and had plans to repeat the trip on a pedal bike. He really liked my ortlieb panniers and wanted to take a picture with me. Ok?!
Canada Customs was another 27 km past the border and the no-man’s-land section in between was all bumpy chip seal. Not an easy ride. It was slightly easier in the middle of the road where it had been worn down by cars. And since I was encountering cars so infrequently, that’s exactly where I rode. Somewhere in this section is where I also passed a convoy of about 100 north bound cyclists from Texas doing a Livestrong charity ride.
I finally arrived in Beaver Creek and decided to get a room and have a shower and a good night’s sleep. It was an awful, smelly room with shared bathroom. But 4 walls is what I needed right now. I did wander down the road and found an awesome burger joint, Buckshot Betty’s.
I woke up at 6 am on day 10 to the sound of rain. Sure glad to have those 4 walls and a roof over my head, hope it stops before riding time. Back to sleep. Zzzzzzzz ……
I’d planned a super easy day and after my requisite stop at the info centre found out that another Lakeview campground was a reasonable 80 km down the road. More construction and more rides in pilot cars – short rides. The next 40km was mostly loose gravel, packed gravel, a few paved sections and one more ride in a pilot car. I battled a mean headwind as well. But up to this point I had been quite lucky with the winds. It meant hard riding up the hills and no coasting on the downs. A mentally and physically draining day.
I pulled in to the campsite around 4 pm and I was literally the only person there. I went for a walk just to make sure when another cyclist (northbound) pulled up behind me and asked where the water was. There was no water, except for the creek running beside the campground. The thing with most of these campgrounds is that the maps show things like fresh water wells and garbage bins and toilets but a lot of the time they don’t exist when you get here. And riding down the road, especially in the 27 km of no mans land between the US Customs and Canada Customs there are numerous signs promising rest stops with food and water which, in reality, don’t exist. Do not count on the maps and information to be right.
The campground slowly filled up with people in giant RV’s over the next few hours.
On day 11 I was awakened by stoopid motorcycles at 6 am. What assholes! Is that kind of noise necessary? Could still hear their bikes for miles after they left …. finally fell back asleep for a bit. Woke for good at around 8 am. I was trying for an earlyish start for a slow and easy 100km day. It rained a bit over night so packed up a slightly wet tent. I was ready to hit the road at 9 am. The weather gods had other ideas though. The downpour started at 8:59 and didn’t stop for 2 hours. So much for my slow, easy day. I hid out under the cooking shelter with Richard (the northbound cyclist) waiting for the weather to break.
Finally at 11 am we decided to take our chances as the rain had lightened up a bit. We said our good-byes and good lucks and headed out in opposite directions. The rain stopped completely after a few kms.
It would seem that this was headwind territory. The uphills were gradual and not too tough but it’s really demoralizing to not get a break on the downhills. Camped at Destruction Bay. A bare bones ugly campsite, but the only one around.
Day 12 was another extreme headwind day. Another day of battle. I tried to take it slow and easy. Kluane lake is a beautiful glacial green through my sunglasses. It didn’t really tranlate in the photos. The mountains were also amazing. Tall and green but not many trees, with glaciers hanging in the tallest ones in behind the green ones. Stopped to check out Soldier’s Summit, the site of the 1942 opening ceremony of the Alaska Highway. After feeling like I was riding up-hill all day into the headwind the last 20 km down into Haines Junction was a dream come true. I stayed at the Cozy Corners Hotel.
It’s amazing how the wind at your back for even a short while can be a game changer. Finally had a tailwind for a couple of hours on the morning of Day 13 where I cruised along easily at 27km/hr. I made significant headway before noon so didn’t even mind when the wind changed direction. I’ve been seeing a lot of horse manure on the road and today I saw hoof prints in the dirt on the side of the road. I must be catching up with the Mexican.
I encountered a coyote today. It popped up on the road right in front of me. It didn’t know I was there until I gasped. It looked at me for a few second and then turned back into the forest. Glad I found Irene’s place and will be staying in the shed out back. People have been asking about wildlife but apart from the muskox at Deadhorse, the Moose in the marsh and the coyote today, I haven’t seen much ……. and not one single bear.
On day 14 I finally arrived in Whitehorse.
Some photos of what I encountered on my last day ……..
My overall impression: An exciting ride and adventure which was by no means lonely to do as a solo trip. I met a number of people heading north along the way. Mostly solo cyclists.