0021: Deadhorse to Whitehorse
To be woken by Wolves one might think, is a terrifying experience. They sounded very close but their howls, whistle and yelps were so loud that they that they were probably quite some distance away.
The sound was quite magical. It was almost operatic in its performance. The sound gradually got louder and louder with different tones and calls as more and more Wolves joined in. Almost like the finale of a grand opera.
Then suddenly, they stopped...complete silence.
It was quite eerie the way the stopped at exactly the same time.
And after that I heard nothing more from them.
I packed my tent up and continued on my journey. A few kilometres down the road I called in at the petrol station and bought some drinks.
After a few minutes chatting with the owner, who was a woman from the Philippines who had decided that living in the cold of Alaska was much better than heat of the Philippines oddly.
The road is relatively flat and soon I came across a big river.
At the side was a small car park space, and I decide to stop and fill up my water bottles.
Hidden in the back of the car park were two cyclists who were camping in the bushes. I introduced myself but they were not very talkative as I think I woke them up.
After filling my bottles I continued. Further down the road was a bed-and-breakfast and I called in to see if they served food.
Just as I was finishing my soup and sandwich, the same two cyclists came into the café to try to fill up their water bottles.
Again they didn’t want to talk much, so I left them and I continue my journey.
A few kilometres down the road my chain started making a clicking sound, and then suddenly my drivetrain started getting very stiff. The chain went very slack and I couldn’t see what the problem was initially but a closer inspection I saw that one of the chain links had actually cracked and the chain was splitting. Very unusual!
Fortunately, I carry an extra piece of chain so I was able to repair it on roadside. However, the chain tube that the chain runs through was badly damaged so I had to cut part of it away.
Later that afternoon I arrived in Tok Junction with no further problems.
In the centre of the town there is a famous Thai restaurant so I stopped and I had some food there. It wasn’t very cheap but it was fresh and quite filling and made a change from all the dehydrated foods that I’ve been eating over the past few days.
I also called in at the visitor centre to find out about local accommodation. There was a free campsite a few kilometres down the road or a paid campsite in the centre of the town.
Before leaving the visitor centre, the same two cyclists came in again, but really weren’t very interested in chatting so I gave up and just left them to it.
I chose the paid campsite because the cost also included a shower and laundry so I took the opportunity to clean my clothes and myself.
I was up several times in the night, as the Thai food didn’t agree with me!
From Tok junction it is approximately 95 miles to the Canadian border. The following day I really wanted to cross the border so I decided to set off early and make an effort to get as close as possible to the border if not cross it.
I was also lucky in that I had a tailwind. That pushed me along quite a lot though didn’t help much on the hills. It was a long difficult day, and I ran out of water several times. I was able to refill my asking a Canadian couple on one occasion and by filtering water from a stream on another. As I approached the border, the landscape changed and became hillier having been relatively flat for most of the day. I stopped in the car park to catch my breath, and another Canadian couple came and offered me some more water and a couple of small cakes which were very nice.
They told me that I would be better to camp on the side of the border in the USA rather than cross at night (even though it doesn’t get dark) and then start fresh in the morning. But being so close to the border I really wanted to get across.
At the last chance petrol station about 3 km from the border I stopped and had some food. Rather stupidly, this was the only meal I’ve had today apart from the breakfast I had a Tok junction. I don’t know why I haven’t stopped. I just had the urge to continue and having the tailwind behind me kept pushing forwards. I have a large bag of food with me, left over from the Dalton highway. But I much prefer fresh food.
I know one of the biggest expenses of this whole journey will be the cost of food and I’m not prepared to compromise because of my dietary requirements. I certainly don’t plan on eating steak or lobster every night but given the opportunity to have real food and a real meal I will certainly take advantage. Anybody who knows me, also knows that I enjoy eating and trying different types of foods so it would be a big mistake to be passing through the various towns, cities and regions and not try the local specialities.
The owners of the petrol station also had a motel next door and try to scare me with tales of bears and animals and accidents and sell me a room. Well she did make a good effort but I wasn’t entirely convinced though she did get my fears started again. As I approached the US border with Canada I was a little bit nervous because I wasn’t entirely sure if my passport would be acceptable. But speaking with the officer in it in the booth he barely gave it a second glance and sent me across without problem. As it was very late and the Canadian Office is approximately 30 km further down the road I asked if it was permitted to camp in the neutral zone between the two offices. He said yes, no problem so at the first opportunity (which just happened to be the Canadian border exactly)
I set up my tent and fell asleep very quickly. The following morning I cycled the 30 km and got stamped into Canada officially. Then the Canadian official questioned where I had slept and I told him quite right on the border as a sort of symbolic gesture. He then immediately reprimanded me for not reporting directly to the Canadian office but didn’t make more of an issue of it as he understood that I was riding a bicycle rather than driving a car but warned me that if it happened again I must immediately report to the customs office. Just as I rolled into the next town I was very tired, hungry and in a bit of daze.
I saw a sign for a café and decided to stop and have some breakfast. As I approached I saw a cyclist riding towards me who then proceeded to ask me if I was Matthew. I replied yes, and she introduced herself as Charlotte.
About four or five days ago I had been contacted by an English girl called Lulu who had also stayed with David and Lynn in Anchorage. As we were both heading in a similar direction they thought it might be a good idea to try to meet up.
But as I was delayed in Fairbanks the girls managed to get a head start.
They were headed from Anchorage to San Diego.
Oddly though I had managed to catch them up though I thought they were still 2 days ahead. We had breakfast together and then continued to cycle towards our next destination, which was a small campground about 50 miles down the road.
I was completely exhausted having slept uncomfortably on the border and had having had a very long ride the day before so I was cycling very slowly. The girls were very chatty and friendly and we got on well as we pedalled along together.
That evening we shared a campsite and some food together but I went to bed very early, as I was completely exhausted.
The following day, we cycled into a very very strong headwind. We were hoping to reach our destination, a place called Destruction bay, but because of the strength of the wind we were completely exhausted by the time we reached the town before, called Burwash landing.
We had previously picked up a guide which gave us the locations of various points of interest, stops and campsites and this guide told us that Burwash landing had accommodation, campsites and food. But what greeted us was a derelict little village with no functioning services. We were completely exhausted and had no desire to continue riding and less of a desire to actually stay in the dump of a village.
There appeared to be no option. So I began knocking on doors is to see if any of the locals could give any good advice.
I knocked on the door of a man who appeared to be a carpenter. He suggested a campground close to the lake but the girls had already checked that out and decided against it. We thought it might be a different location and this man drove ahead to show us what turned out to be the same place. We were very demoralized and extremely tired.
On seeing this, the man who now introduced himself as ‘OBI’ offered to drive us the 15 km to Destruction bay. We were initially little bit skeptical that he would do this for free as it seemed quite a distance but after a few minutes he drove up again with a truck and trailer and loaded our bikes into the back. As we drove down the road we saw a motorcyclist panicking as a huge grizzly bear was trying to cross at the same time. The girls were very excited to see the bear, but I was incredibly nervous as it was quite possible we might have been on the same road a few minutes before had we decided to continue cycling to Destruction bay.
Approximately 20 minutes later we arrived and were soon checked into the hotel.
Despite my desire to budget as much as possible I gave about half a second thought to asking about a campsite nearby, then remembered the bear followed by the day of headwind and proceeded to pay for a room.
It wasn’t cheap but it was worth the security and comfort of a warm room, shower and a bed for one night. Though it is not a habit I can afford regularly.
The wind had eased the next day and we made good, but slow progress as we continued alongside Kluane lake to Haines Junction.
The girls had already decided they were going to stay in a hotel.
I looked at the options for camping again, but really there weren’t many good choices. So once again I stayed in the hotel. However this time it was cheaper but the other guests were quite noisy for several hours into the night.
The highlight of the day really had to be the final descent into Haines Junction which was approximately 12 km long and a big relief to arrive at a significant point in my journey.
The next day the girls really wanted to get to our next destination which was Whitehorse. This would’ve been a mammoth challenge, riding about 160 km. I had my doubts but I checked my map and saw there was a campsite approximately halfway along the journey. Just in case.
As it happens though, the road was relatively easy and keeping a steady pace, we managed to reach Whitehorse in the evening. And that campsite didn’t exist!
We were all quite elated to have reached Whitehorse and also to have cycled such a long distance. The girls had pre-booked a hostel and I was hoping to stay with Warmshowers hosts, yet hadn’t received a reply to the many messages that I had sent. As a result I hadn’t given much thought to where I was going to stay. I left the girls at the hostel and found a coffee shop still open, so I used the free Internet there to see what my options were.
A chap at the next booth started chatting and suggested the campsite about half a kilometre south the Whitehorse. So I headed there.
Even though the site was nice, the prices were very high and the toilet facilities were appalling. I decided to stay one night and hope that warm showers host might reply the following day and I could spend a couple of days relaxing in Whitehorse.
After a cold night I headed into the city centre and back to the same coffee shop. I sent several more requests, but still no response. As the morning was getting on and I had several chores to do, I began walking around. The first job was to get a SIM card for Canada.
As I will be spending several months here, it makes sense to have mobile communications and I managed to find a reasonably good deal.
The next job was to replace my damaged tent pegs. The night before I had noticed a very large camping shop so return to there and began wandering around to see if they had what I needed. As I was paying, the lady behind the counter enquired about my journey and travels and I began to explain that I was looking for accommodation but was having difficulty. A man standing next to me in the queue joined in the conversation and then suddenly offered to allow me to stay at his house for one night.
I was amazed! A complete stranger suddenly invited me to stay at his home.
Of course I was a little bit sceptical first but he seemed genuine and for one night it was good enough as a warm showers host might respond the following day. As it happens later that day I did get some replies so made arrangements to move to a new location the following day.
However my new host, Norman agreed to allow me to stay for two days as I had originally planned so I had to cancel the original arrangements.
Norman and his wife Lynn were both very generous hosts allow me to sleep in a spare study room on a camp bed. They also fed me and allowed me to wash my clothes. I had a very relaxing time there and they were both very interesting people. Norman studies the type of massage therapy called Rolfing. Not one I’ve come across before, but sounded quite fascinating. Lynn was an artist and chef and often helped out at local cafes and restaurants as she works freelance.
Their house was decorated with a wide range of different art exhibits all of which were fascinating to look at.
The girls had also decided to change hostels. They didn’t like the original one, as the people were a little bit odd.
I bumped into them the following day as we’d agreed to have a meal that evening to celebrate Lulu’s birthday.
The meal was very good, the food excellent and the company even better.
As the girls are heading in different directions they were leaving the following day towards Carcross then eventually to San Diego.
So we shared a final breakfast together and then said our goodbyes.
I will miss riding with them because they were quite good fun and we often rode at a similar pace even though I struggle on the hills. And it was nice to have some company for a few days and somebody to talk to.
I certainly hope we will meet again at some point in the future.
So after a good rest in Whitehorse and around 1400 miles under my tyres, I am ready for the next leg along the last part of the Alcan highway, to Watson Lake, then switch to the Cassiar Highway and the Bears!