Well, I’ve returned from pedaling from Fairbanks to Deadhorse, across the Brooks Range and into the Alaskan arctic; that be told, I’m tired and possibly starting a job for a couple of weeks to earn cash for the continuing journey. I do not have time to do a full update at the moment, but soon come, so check back! Here’s a couple of teaser shots from the Brooks Range…
I awoke last night around midnight and lay quietly in the forest. My deep fears festering in the darkest hours of night. Not literally, since it does not actually get dark, but metaphorically. I kept thinking to myself, “How could I be so foolish.” “Where did the envelope go”. Too many possibilities to contemplate. Like in needle in the monstrous haystack of Alaska. I do have a few bucks left, and family and friends have been extremely supportive. But another question kept itching the back of my skull. Is this a sign? Should I call it quits? Am I in over my head? Or am I just a monumental screwup? These questions kept me awake last night. Angela confirmed to me the notion that these hours can be the worst on a temporarily troubled mind. I know it to be so.
I have decided that I will carry on, the torch of my spirit and the handlebars of my bike. Keep calm and carry on…
So I left Dawson City behind.. a town rich in it’s past and present history. I’ll be back. Hopefully to engage the elusive Dempster again at some point. Leaving town around 4:00 pm and crossing the Yukon River on the constantly running free ferry, I was thrown into a world of steep hill climbing that would not let up for another 110 miles. Right off the ferry, the road turns skyward, straight up at angle of about 10-12%. For 8 miles straight without mercy. Near it’s “top”, there is a rest area of sorts and I call it home for the evening. Over the course of the next days’ 68 miles of pedaling, I must have gained and lost 5000′ of elevation, without really gaining or losing any. This highway, a dirt path through the forest for 110 miles, connecting Dawson City, Yukon, and Chicken, Alaska, is known as “The Top of The World Highway”. And for good reason too. The path leads across the bald, tundra coated, ridges and summits of the western Yukon and eastern Alaska “hill country”. The views are stupendous; I now am looking across to the continental divide, 150 miles to the north east. In fact, from this vantage, I can see the Tombstone Mountains that I was forced to retreat from just days earlier. Only this time my view of them is from the directly opposite side and over 200 miles past. It is a truly remarkable place. After landing in Chicken, in a rainstorm of rainstorms, mud, landslides and all, I secure a Salmon Burger from the tiny grill located there; It is a real surprise to find the food quite fantastic. I chat with the locals a bit and down a couple of beers. I must go back into the forces of the rain, hill climbs, mud, and misery. Back on the bike, the storm eases up a bit, and I begin to find a rhythm that breeds peace. A big bull moose crosses the road in front of me and magic is afoot once again.
The next day, after crossing the flanks of Mt. Fairplay, I turn the corner and am greeted with an unexpected surprise. The almighty Alaska Range is standing before me, clearly demonstrating my subordinance. Once again, I am in awe.
Finally reaching Tetlin Junction at the merging of the Taylor Highway and the Alaska Highway, it occurs to me that the hill climbing is over for the next several days, as, if memory serves me correctly, the stretch between Tok and Fairbanks is flat pedaling, but a spectacle of the foothills of the Alaska Range. This combo makes for some blissful times indeed.
I spend a couple of nights in Tok, at my old camp in the woods to the southwest of the school. I always have, and do now, find Tok and this part of Alaska in particular, very satisfying. It’s close proximity to the Alaska Range, great country side, and a relaxed atmosphere is unique, even for Alaska. It’s winter’s are another matter, however. Locals confirm it’s reputation as a scene of brutal cold; Winter time temps of -60F are not just occurrences, they are outright common. Land is cheap here, there is no sales tax, no property tax, no building codes, and no jobs. Sounds like a good place to retire to for part of the year.
Moving on, I head north along the northern and eastern flats below the impending Alaska Range. The creeks are plentiful and crystal clear, and I drink copious amounts of water from them; gorging myself on their nectar. Another night of thunderstorms and another morning of packing it up in the rain today. It is getting to be routine. I am finding myself able to pack it in with my eyes closed. Later in the day when the sun is out, I pull out the fly and it dries while I snack. No big deal.
I am now in Delta Junction, camped on the gravel beaches of the wildly braided Tanana River, looking to the south at the appearances of my favorite mountains on Earth.The central Alaska Range’s Mt’s Deborah, Hayes, and Kimball, all are reaching upward in an attempt to put on a show for me, but the storm just won’t have it. I have never seen this side, the north side of these peaks, and I decide to camp here tonight in hopes of catching a time-lapse of these marvelous peaks in the morning, with the sunlight splattered across their eastern escarpment and embellishing their glacially clad, icy armor.
What’s up next, You ask? Perhaps an adventure up the Steese Highway for a trailride on the Pinnel Mountain Trail and the Circle-Fairbanks Trail. Or perhaps it is time again to settle the score with the Arctic once and for all, and head up the Haul Road, into the Brooks Range. I don’t know yet.
You’ll know, when I know…
Well, now I know, well, sort of… Life just threw me a curveball. I awoke this morning and while packing up and getting ready for a northward stint, I noticed that the envelope containing 90% of my cash is gone. I knew instantly that this was not a case of misplacing it within my kit, but one of absolute disappearance. I spend the entire morning on the phone to all places past I had visited and with no avail. I suspect it is a case of carelessness on my part; possibly left at the counter of a shop somewhere in Tok, or who knows where. Maybe it fell out of my bag when I pulled over to take a photograph. I just do not know, and suspect I never will. Either way, it is gone, and so is this journey, at least in it’s current fashion. Again, Ill let You know when I know. If by chance there is a person out there who knows something of an envelope labeled only “Trip”, that contains nearly 4000 dollars in cash, gimme a call.. Please! (435) 260-1990.
That’s all I have to say at the moment.
I really like Whitehorse, really, I do. But the hustle and bustle of even a cool town can wear me down. I’m not much for seeing the usual tourist sites of a given local, generally getting on with my business, and then heading for the hills. I had numerous things to attend to, however. The 11 litter MSR bladder I had lovingly carried through many thousands of miles, had sprung a leak. Besides, previously having traveled with a trailer made it possible to simply strap the apparatus to the top of the trailer and carry on; but traveling with panniers is another thing altogether, and the bladder concept wasn’t as useful now. So I needed water bottles. I needed to purchase a phone card, do laundry, buy food, convert U.S. dollars into Canadian fun tickets, make phone calls, buy a reading book, and get my load straightened out. Without much fanfare, I accomplished these tasks and skinned out by 1:00 pm. In all honesty, Yukon hospitality has been hit or miss for me in the past and now as well. It seems 2/3 ‘rds of the folks I meet are friendly and open. And all of the first nations peoples I talk with are open to conversation, it’s always been this way. There seems to be that reserved crowd who just don’t dig folks on bicycles around. For example: at the Braeburn Lodge, the proprietor, an enormous bellied, white bearded dude, who could have passed as Santa Clauses’ cousin, sporting a Harley Davidson T-shirt, simply grunted when I spoke, and barely gave me the time of day. He sure took my money for the regionally famous Braeburn Cinnamon Bun that I purchased though. Paradoxically, when speaking to a First Nation’s man in Carmacks, we chatted and chuckled, and he wanted to know why I didn’t have a fishing pole with me, as some mighty fine suppers’ could be had ahead. Why don’t I have a fishing pole I contemplated?
A ways past Braeburn, the terrain opened up to an unexpected valley of agriculture. Soon though, the North Klondike Highway turned upward once again, and we rose into the Spruce, and my favorite forests, revealing rivers and meadows. I take a short 2 track leading into said forest, and it dead ends into a splendid old cabin, long since forgotten. It looks to have been built during the Klondike gold rush years at the turn of the century, but it could have been a tad bit more recent, I don’t really know. Rusted tin cans, old miner’s boots, fragments of tools, and a caved in sod roof, rounded out this historic and peaceful camp. I walk down the hill, after setting up camp, and a spectacular site unfolds before me.. Fox Creek, teeming with Grayling, and surrounded by meadows and high mountains to the west are a treat to my eyes and senses. What a place to have lived at one time.
After a bit, the mighty Yukon River herself appears, and after following her course at river level for a short while, the road climbs upward, diagonally across the ancient alluvial plane, and settles down upon the flat bottomed benches overlooking the great river. Sprouting from this bench, are great forests of Spruce as big as any I have ever seen.
Onward, a car pulls over and two fellows I had met previously, from Juneau, inform me that there is a big Grizzly just up the road. I say farewell and cautiously pedal on. Not much further, I spot the large brown mass, way further off than I expected. The creature is perhaps 800 meters away, on a hillside, digging for rodents; it looks to be a big one too.. perhaps 800 lbs. I say farewell again, and off I go. The North Klondike Highway, from Whitehorse to Dawson City, largely follows the relative path of the Dawson Overland route taken by gold seekers of the great Klondike Goldrush of 1898. The treasure I seek on this passage is not gold, but animals. Today I spotted a large rabbit; like none I have seen before, with large furry white feet and belly, brown back, and shorter ears than I am accustomed to seeing. This was no cottontail or jackrabbit. I mention this to locals and they say it is an Arctic Hare.
The daytime temperatures are nearing the mid 80’s.. This seems astronomical for this time of year to me, and the locals tell me that the ice breakup was literally last week! It went from winter to summer almost overnight, skipping spring altogether. Wacky.. This part of the Yukon is definitely drier than other parts of The North, it reminds me bit of central and western Colorado at around the 6,000′ to 8,000′ elevations, although here, the mean elevation is nearer to 2,000′. Today, as I passed through the areas north of McGregor Creek, I spot the Klondike Treasure I have been so anxious to see.. In addition to the big Grizzly spotted the other day, today I spy another Arctic Hare, two separate Black Bears, And another creature that has been so elusive to my eyes until now. I was pedaling along on a flat straightaway, ipod cranking out the Allman Brother’s “An Evening With The Allman Brothers”, and I see up ahead, maybe 300 meters off, a dark shape, clearly cruising the tree-lined corridor of the Klondike Highway. I thought it was a bear at first, perhaps even two bears considering the movement I was witnessing. I stop way early in order to change the lens on my camera from a 10mm wide angle to a 24-105mm telephoto zoom. I put the camera around my neck and pedal on, cautiously. Getting to within around 75 meters or so, it dawns on me: It is a Wolf.
At first, the wolf does not see or hear me, (one of the real advantages of bicycling The North) and I am able to fire off a couple shots of the camera. Then it looks up, we lock eyes for a solid 5 or 6 seconds, then the Wolf turns and gallops into the brush. I cautiously pedal a bit more, as I wish to continue on, just as as the Wolf. It re appears from the thicket and we stare at each other for a bit, and then it is gone. What an exhilarating experience seeing this magnificent creature.. It was mostly black, with bits of grey streaking, and a long, long, bushy tail that too was black and grey. It’s face was grey around the eyes and it’s snout was as black as a northern winter’s night. I pedal on, and after 65 miles of hammering, I am exhausted and in need of a place to call home. I spot another Blackie, and just passed there is a small two track leading into the woods. Not spectacular camping tonight, but it will do. After supper, I go looking around and spot both Grizz and Blackie prints. I am truly where I want to be! The next morning, en route to Dawson, I catch the views of three more Hares, a fat, wallowing, Porcupine, and another elusive creature, the Black Marten.
I met a couple of guys from Dawson City, Jordan and Cafrey, who were hitchhiking back after a visit with friends in Carmacks. They mention for me to stop by “The Pit” for a round of drinks when I get to town. Anyhow, I’ll be in Dawson by tomorrow night. Dawson is the farthest north town in the Yukon accessible by car, so I guess you could call it the hub of the northern Yukon. It has much the same appearance as I’m sure it did 100 years ago. It’s streets are dirt, sidewalks wood, and false fronts galore. Many of the old, original buildings are sinking or leaninginto the melting permafrost. I grab a couple of beers and head to the outskirts to camp.
The Dempster is now weighing heavily on my mind. The plan is to go to Dawson for a day or so, then head back out and up the Dempster, hike into the Tombstone Mountains for 2 or 3 days for a peak bag and some photography, then continue for a pedal up to Inuvik, above the Arctic Circle, in the Northwest Territories near the Arctic Ocean, over 500 miles from Dawson, then, turn around and pedal back. Am I biting off more than I can chew?
Only time will tell…
Finally off the boat in the late afternoon, Skagway seems to be a serious tourist trap so I catch a Foster’s oil can, and head for the hills. White Pass (3296′) climbs all of it’s elevation gain in about 9 or 10 miles. Fresh off the boat from sea level, I am catapult into a hill climb like no other. My legs are not strong yet, but my spirit is high and I climb, slowly and methodically, towards the pass. About a mile from the true summit, with most of the climbing done, I choose to camp; a mediocre roadside pullout, but with 4 feet of snow everywhere, it will have to do. In the AM I wake, pack, and get on to the top via it’s last mile of climbing and sail down the other side and into B.C. Coming into view to the east is a peak of sizable proportions bearing a jagged glacier, exposing it’s innards in the form if giant seracs and expansive crevasse fields. A few miles later comes the Canadian Customs office, where they grill me hard. Back in the 80’s, when I was going to the Canadian Rockies a lot, I would get waved through into Canada, but upon returning to the U.S., I would be searched and treated like an axe murderer. Now it seems, the tides have turned. Glad to be allowed in, I continue pedaling on and into the great Yukon. I wander on, taking in this place, smelling it with my heart, seeing it with my mind. I roll into the tiny village of Carcross, and a First Nation’s woman tells me of a cow Moose and her two sow’s, down by the water. They have taken refuge here near town, an escape from the chasing and harassment from the Bears and the Wolve’s she says.
That nigh I set up an early camp in the Carcross Desert, an area of unfitting sand dunes in the North. Not a desert though, it is the remains of an ancient glacial Tarn. That night I hear Wolve’s and I now feel more at home than ever.
Later the next morning I roll by a little lodge roadside and decide to stop in for some breakfast. While sipping coffee and consuming an extraordinarily delicious omelet, I chat with the owner, Richard Tran. He and his father, Henry Tran, bought the place some time back and now have a good thing going. Called the Spirit Lake Wilderness Lodge, they have a great little restaurant, camping, fishing, and Yukon hospitality that cannot be beat. Richard tells me that the Spirit Lake Lodge has been popular among the bicycle touring crowd since they opened. If you are passing through, give ’em a check out. Later, I pass abook on the side of the road, discarded or forgotten, it is a Mandolin player’s guide to classic rock songs. How fitting. On I pedal and it begins to rain; then it begins to snow, but lightly. It feels good nonetheless, and I am thrilled to be traveling such splendid country once again.
Early afternoon, I roll into Whitehorse; last time I was here, I fell in love with Whitehorse. I wish I could live here, but it is difficult for American’s to get work here, I imagine. The last time I was here, the Yukon River was a flowing, mighty beast. Now, 6 weeks earlier in the year, it is a frozen, semi flowing beast.
In the morning the sun shines brightly and not a cloud to be seen, I can tell right away that this is going to be an extraordinary way to get started on the North Klondike Highway, enroute next to Dawson City… Onward.
After nearly 30 hours aboard the Marine Vessel Columbia, I feel as though I am finally entering a place of magic; one that has little visible damage from the throes of humanity; a landscape that has all the smells and sounds that are favorable to me. My tent has been pitched on the upper deck of the vessel’s stern, not under the shelter of the cabin deck’s overhang, but flat up against the railings of the utterly exposed rearward partition of the boat’s Solarium deck. The last time I sailed, on the M/V Kennicott, the entire Solarium was located inside, away from the elements. This vessel seems to be a bit more modern, but seemingly lacks some of the fundamental niceties of the Kennicott. There is less space to merely hang out, but more room for paying cabin guests, it seems. This boat is 418′ long, is powered by two 6000 horsepower diesel engines, and can travel at speeds up to around 18 knots.The campers are crammed outside on the Solarium, under it’s overhangs, perched on foldout lawn chairs, sleeping bags lining the deck, one after the other. If one wants relative security for belongings and a wee bit of privacy, a tent is in order; and if a tent is in order, then you are out in the elements. So be it. That is where I am headed anyway and that is where I desire to be… It is where I belong. However, after 2 hours of wandering the ship, I head back to camp to find I have chosen perhaps the worst spot on the vessel to erect a dwelling. It is situated to the far starboard side of the vessel, beyond the relative shelter of the hull body, fully encapsulated to the southbound wind created by the ships’ steady forward motion. Hastily, I break camp and scurry to the more sheltered, and quieter, deck below. I feel as though this bivouac is better suited to my needs and walk away smiling.
Finally aboard, I am relaxed and can reflect on the months prior; hell, the 24 hours prior… Pat and his buddy Jason take Dennis and I out for a fine day of Cod fishing in the Pacific waters around the eastern San Juan Islands. We catch the daily limit of Ling Cod and head back to Bellingham for an evening of swill and fabulous fish tacos. The Cod is delicate, nutritious, and tasty. The next morning I am up and packing; preparing for a journey I have envisioned since the last time I departed this favored landscape. After parking my truck at Pat’s mom’s house (Thank You, Claudia!), I head to the ferry terminal and get situated. Now, on the ship, I am bearing witness to the great northern country I love so intrinsically. There will be stops along it’s journey to Skagway, Alaska, at Ketchikan, Wrangel, Petersburg, Juneau, and Haines, finally sailing to port in Skagway, and the beginning, so to speak of my own personal journey northward further yet.
British Columbia’s wilderness west coast is the stuff dreams are made of. The water is deep turquoise in color, it’s beaches scattered with driftwood, deep, intense forest abounds it’s shores, and Eagles, Bears and Wolves scavenge it’s edge ward advance into the mighty North Pacific. After sailing furlong through narrow straits and passages, with land close at hand, we begin to enter a thoroughfare of more openly water, while quite beautiful, it’s expanses become slightly monotonous. Suddenly the mindset is broken to reveal two Orca’s surfacing 200 meters westward, in the deep water’s of the channel. On the far side of the vessel, through the clouds and mist, I see the lower bits of B.C.’s daunting Coast Range, home to Mt. Waddington and some of British Columbia’s largest glacial ice sheets.
We pass by the Bella Bella entrance; gateway to the pristine Bella Coola Valley, where friends Greg and Allison live on their farm, also home to more Grizzly Bears than anywhere in B.C. That Afternoon, sliding up the narrow channels just south of Prince Rupert, in the Princess Royal Channel, the watery boulevard turns magically into an avenue of waterfalls. Dozens of them, ranging from 200′ to over 1000′ in length, some multi tiered. There are immense granite walls abounding the area, nearly always dumping themselves into the deep channel of the sea. Later, we pass through the expansive Dixon Entrance and sail smoothly into Alaska’s lower water’s, passing by the village of Wrangel, situated at the mouth of the mighty Stikine River, one of North America’s great, wide, Salmon rivers, of which I witnessed first hand previously while pedaling the fantastical esoteric Cassiar Highway back in 2011.
In The morning, at 5:30, I gaze out over the bow and spy the overblown cruise ships sitting fat in the water and it dawns on me where we are; we arrive, at 7:00 am, in Ketchikan. I remember that there is an excellent grocery store mere yards from the port, and, in need of food that is not over processed and over priced, I embark on an Alaskan shopping shindig.
North of Ketchikan, the passage begins to widen slightly, revealing splendid beaches abounding with driftwood and wildlife, signifying a channel that is considerably shallower than had been previously. The Inside Passage, as it is known, is a whimsical place of seemingly endless forest. Amongst it’s channels, islands, bay’s, inlets, and stretches of open sea, the northwest coast of this continent presents literally thousands of miles of coastline. Nearly all of it is wilderness, and beckoning my higher self to a simpler time of fishing and foraging. Even though I am aboard a diesel powered vessel, I have come home. In my opinion, unless one is embarked on a life journey of living wholly within the simple, yet often rigorous and uncomfortable means of hunting and gathering through the unlimited boundaries of nature, one is merely a product of a destructive economy. A tourist. Most of us are, and I am no exception. And when I say unlimited boundaries, I mean only within the said practices of a proper, aboriginal human, not on the whims of an industrialized, separated, and economy based, modern human. This, I believe has very finite limits that are now nearly reached. The Grizzly’s, Salmon, Wolve’s, Eagle’s, Polar Bear’s, Musk Ox, and Walrus, all see this. I, as most, have spent the greater part of a lifetime taking from our planet, our mother ship. I wish to somehow do better. Obviously, a portion of humanity has pondered this virtuous dilemma since the beginning of the Industrial Age, and even longer I suspect. To doubt and to question the status quo and it’s “happening-right-now” destructiveness toward all that is greater is something that appears to be scornful thought amongst the vast majority of our peers. It is required, however. This, I believe, is how evolution ultimately occurs, at least at this stage of human domination.
After being in this splendid landscape for more than a few hours, I have noticed something peculiar. With living in the city, I have nearly always needed to express myself on a much more intense level; it was easy to look around and feel the need to set forth some ideas about a positive change in the way the human race looks at itself and equally importantly, the world around it. In other words, living in the city, surrounded by crime, pollution, derangement, and the obvious notion that the greater portion of the human race has removed itself from nature, rendering itself out of balance, it has been easy for me to feel the need to write about it’s woes and faults, to express my displeasure with a world gone totally mad and devouring itself.
The peculiarity I feel, is that, now, being here, I remember these notions, but no longer feel them, because I am now bearing witness to a greater-than-human faction, a world that evolves out of pure and simple balance. The world of the forest , the Sea Otter, the Wolf, the Bear, the Eagle. And sometimes the occasional human. There are still those who wish to travel to these places to merely see it from the comforts of their artificial homes and RV’s. It seems to me that these creatures are looking to the natural world to see how the other half lives. Sort of like rich kids going for a drive trough the ghetto to catch a glimpse of something they have no desire to be a part of. I do not feel this way… I am more akin to be heading in the opposite direction and am attempting to become more apart of the natural world that humanity as a whole has left behind millennia ago. Being in these places makes my heart sing and my mind settle. Being here, now, in these landscapes, with these wild neighbors, once again makes me realize that the human world has become insanely complex, and in serious need of rebuttal from “the other half”.
Sailing northward, we cast ourselves into the confines of the Wrangel Narrows; a channel so skinny, even a river of equal size would not be considered large. We are very close to each shore, 200 feet maybe. Just south of Petersburg, I spy tiny homes built upon the beach head, with fishing boats parked out front and an array of solar panels of to one side, as to face the midday sun. These dwellings, this place, this… situation, is how I want to live again. We pass by immense Sitka Spruce, some of which have Bald Eagles perched atop. Petersburg is a stunningly gorgeous place. I have seen it in print more than once of it being called “Little Norway”. I see this. Earlier, we were delayed by the passing of a tugboat pulling a monstrous load, and as such, we fell behind schedule; as a result, the planned hour layover has been reduced to a half hour. I decline to go ashore and decide to stay and write. Twenty air miles west of here is the B.C. border, and sports the northern Coast Ranges’ biggest peaks, including the fabled Devil’s Thumb, a fantastic spire of granite, with no easy route to it’s summit, sticking from the Baird Icecap. If it were not for the impending storm, a glimpse of it may be had just north of here, but it is not to be, as is often the case in The North. Instead, the following morning, cold and clear, the Mendenhall Glacier at Juneau appears, a stoic reminder that all water, frozen or otherwise will always flow toward the sea. Further north, the jagged spires of the peaks jutting from the Juneau Icefield satisfy my need to see ice. The snow line is very low, and it occurs to me that I am arriving in the early season. Yesterday, it snowed in Whitehorse; pedaling over White Pass may be challenging and bitter. Moving northward yet further, massive peaks appear bearing vertical expanses of granite with hanging glaciers flanking their sides. This is the start of the Lynn Canal and the back side of the Glacier Bay area. Across the bow, miles ahead, a valley glacier reveals itself, flowing from massive peaks. This one’s a keeper; it looks to be a few miles wide and many miles long. This latitude and proximity to the North Pacific make for some of the largest glaciers in the Northern Western Hemisphere. Only the mighty St Elias has larger; yet, ultimately, these peaks before me now, are actually connected to the St Elias, and are merely a few miles away. With every turn of the ship, I am blown away by another massive set of peaks, and more rivers of glaciated ice. I am in awe…
In a couple of hours we will be in Haines, a town that I could live in I think. We will then sail to port in Skagway, hopefully by mid afternoon. I believe I have all that I need, minus beer, so spending time in Skagway will have to be of some other journey, as I think I might just pedal off this ship, heading North, and not look back.
After spending the morning in Anacortes at a coffee shop, writing and sorting photos, I managed to catch the 2:40 pm ferry to San Juan Island.
Friday Harbor is a small community situated on the east side of the island, and reminds me a little of Homer, AK. It is part fishing village, part tourist destination, part normal town, yet seems to have a for-real alternative feel to it, and that pleases me.
I’m here to visit my old friend Ben, whom I knew from Utah over the years. Ben works as a local carpenter and lives a simplistic lifestyle, in the woods, and off the grid. His current living situation involves a wall tent erected on a framed, wooden platform with his solar panels mounted to the tent’s roof; primarily for lights and refrigeration.
I call Ben after getting off the ferry, and in minutes he whips around the corner in his pickup and we head to his workplace to look at some re-claimable lumber. The next morning, Ben convinces me to accompany him to the yoga class he frequents in town. It has been a long while since my body has experienced this type of movement and it was difficult for me, yet enjoyable. My Angela (Aote) also teaches and guides, among other things, yoga as well, and going to this class in Friday Harbor reminds me of, and makes me yearn for Angela’s instruction. I am certain she would like it here on “the Island”.
Later, after breakfast, we go back to Ben’s workplace and load his flatbed trailer with said re-claimed lumber. Then it starts to rain, Washington style, and he shows me around a bit. Later, at his place, we sip tea and discuss topics ranging from solar energy to bike trips in Alaska. Back in the 90’s, Ben rode his bicycle from Moab to Fairbanks and back. It was a journey of over 6000 miles
Monday morning, Ben heads to his work and I to mine.. I head up north to Roche Harbor and then down the spectacular west coast of the island, for excellent views of Vancouver Island and Haro Strait. Today I will catch the ferry back to the mainland and catch up with Dennis and Pat to do some fishing and get ready for Alaska..
The day has finally come; obligations, chores, work and goodbyes taken care of, I head out of town and on to Martinez to fetch my friend Dennis. Hook up onto Highway 101 and wind up the coast to Crescent City and up a beauty of a road to Grant’s Pass. Up I-5 through Seattle and on to Bellingham to re group at Pat’s house. A couple of beers and an Avocado Tostada, put Dennis and I back on the road that night to the Eldorado Peak trailhead.
A crack of 8 start, an obligatory log crossing to get started, puts us on the undeveloped climber’s trail leading directly upward and into the bowels of the North Cascades. The route we have chosen, the East Ridge of Eldorado Peak, rises 6800 feet from the road. We are heading to the ridge separating the 2 lower basins beneath the Eldorado Glacier. This ridge is situated at about 6,000′, which makes our approach 4000′ in about a mile. That’s damn steep.
The approach was steep indeed; an undeveloped climber’s trail without switch backs, heading nearly straight up for 2000′, ending at the dreaded “Boulder Field”. Luckily for us, it was mostly melted out at the start, but higher, a post holing episode of monstrous proportions ensued. We post hole in deep snow for hours.
That evening at our bivy, the sky is clear as a bell, and the magnificent alpenglow become the stuff of fantasy. A 360 degree view of all the high peaks of the North Cascades are a dizzying notion to my mind. I want to climb them all. To me, there is nothing finer than being in big, alpine, glaciated peaks.
A 5:00 am start see’s us descending slightly to the level of the Eldorado Glacier, then up said mass to it’s junction with the Inspiration Glacier, to form the largest continuous ice sheet not on a volcano in the lower 48. These peaks are fault block, glaciated, and made of Granite. This combo makes for my favorite kind of mountains.
Eventually, we climb up the last bit of it’s knife edged ridge, and on to Eldorado’s Icy summit; at just under 8,900′, we are just about as high as Carson Pass in California, but here, in the Cascades, this elevation and latitude and close proximity to the ocean, create an alpine environment that is unparalleled. The glaciers here are sizable indeed.
We descend the 6800 feet in a few short hours, that, over the last bit, had taken us 13 hours to ascend. Back at the truck by 5:00 pm, we head off to Pat’s for the evening. In the spirit of keeping the adventure alive, we experience a tire blowout on the drive out. A quick roadside fix and we are at Pat’s in Bellingham by 6:30.
Tomorrow I head out to San Juan Island to visit with my old friend Ben; then off to catch the ferry to Skagway and start pedaling to the Arctic… Onward.
Even though it’s just short of the Equinox, in my mind, at least in this part of California, spring is here. The days lately have been perfect for almost any activity one might wish to partake in.. Especially cycling. In my ongoing quest for beautiful areas that show some signs of countyside, ie: forest, lake, river, mountain, rocks, wildlife, and some type of contour or relief, within bicycling distance from the City of Madness, I decided to get a group together via the shop, and head out to Putah Creek Canyon for an overnighter. Just above said canyon, lies a damn dam, above which, pushing against it with all it’s might, lay Lake Berryessa. Home to many a water skier and fisherman in the summer, it’s rugged topography makes for some fairly spectacular scenery that is typical for this part of California.
We meet at Edible Pedal at 8:30 on Saturday morning for some hang time and some breakfast and coffee. John Boyer, the owner of the shop, and proprietor of many a past bike camping ensembles, was, unfortunately, unable to join us for this one, which left us with 5 riders: Mike, Gregg, Michael, Zach, and yours truly.
We blasted out “R” Street and booked across the Capitol Bridge, across motel row of W. Cap Ave, across the causeway, and into the splendid bicycle and college community of Davis, where, much to my pleasure, we were to meet an old friend whom I knew from Moab many years back. Robi moved from Moab 9 years ago and landed in Davis, got married, and procured a magnificent little girl named Miriam. A few short miles west of Davis we spot Robi and Miriam at an intersection of the bicycle path heading out. He was riding a three speed commuter with an active trail-a-bike attached to the rear, where 5 year old Miriam could assist in the pedaling of the apperatus. He had a long flag pole sporting Tibetan prayer flags, a Pabst Blue Ribbon on the bars, and a set of speakers gently cranking out pleasant tunes for the ride. Moab style.. Off we go..
The pedal from this point was a whimsical mixture of fairytale forests of fruit and Olive groves, creeks, farms, and a tastefully graffitied concrete bridge that really was a sight to see. Our first stop was to be in Winters. It is a small town nestled at the foot of California’s coastal mountains. The weekends there seem to be a mass of tourists and bikers- (motorcycles). But during the week, I bet it tones down quite a lot and becomes a nice quiet town again, Winters is the sort of place that looks as tho it might not have changed all that much in the last 40 years, and this pleases me. We hit the small, but well stocked grocery store there for some viddles, and them resume the journey westward.. and onward to the regionally famous Berryessa Brewery.
Everyone we talked to famously talked up the Berryessa Brewey, it did not dissapoint. Their selection of carefully crafted brews were few, but dang tasty. Robi picked up a growler to go and off we went into the canyon to find our camp next to the river. Later that evening, John Boyer shows up in his truck and we all stay up for some time and pull back on cervesa and talk.
In the morning, I awake, and Boyer has already left for the bike shop. We have a casual morning at camp, enjoying our breakfasts and coffee, and the scenery of the forest and creek areas. As we pedaled the 40+ miles back to Sacramento, we enjoyed more of the same nice weather that has been so typical of the season so far here. We said our goodbyes to Robi and Miriam in Davis, and pedaled home, smiling.
Back in October, some friends and I went on a sweet overnighter via bicycle – Here’s a recount:
The Sacramento River delta area nestled between the bay area and Sacramento are a maze of sloughs, levies, farms and vineyards. John Boyer, the owner of Edible Pedal,and I decided it would be a blast to take a couple of days in October and ride down to Brannon Island.
It’s a leisure cruise through a myriad of riverways, country roads, and both native and non-native history.
Relics of old farm trucks turned food delivery vehicles, migrant farm workers feasting on Sunday barbecue, harvest festivals, pumpkins and children.
It’s about 50 miles to Brannon Island from Sacramento.
My friend John Lucas builds custom steel and aluminum cycle trucks that scream “Sell Your Car”. Lucas showed up for the ride with his single speed cycle truck wearing jeans, flip flops and an old brim hat. After 40 miles or so, he said his feet hurt a bit, but other than that, he managed the round trip total of 100 miles without incident.
Although paying for camping is not my usual routine, since we had a group of 6 or 7, it seemed best. The campground on Brannon is a state run outfit.
A casual ride with friends and great October weather.
Sunny Sunday, early afternoon, chores finished (sort of), bike screaming at me. Stop! I hear You! Grab photographic devices, off we go, off to river. Find dirt trails, green grass, bike tracks, soft dirt, bare trees, glimmering water. Past Hobo camps, fallen trees, railroad trestles and graffiti. Pass dogs’ seemingly intent on murder – pedal hard. Homeless man without teeth to bare grins wildly at the sky like something is coming for him. Bike glides silently toward an unknown realm where there is no city, no filth, no goal. Only to be a bike.
112 days. That’s not to long, is it? Only 112 days left till the open road is mine once again. 112 days till I get in my truck (ugh) and drive to Bellingham to catch the ferry to Skagway. These days, lately, have been filled with wrenching at Edible Pedal, editing video, working on TV commercials and feature productions, doing construction projects, and just about any other thing I can muster up in order to make the funds necessary for my up coming yearly adventure by bicycle. This years’ adventure, as well as last years’, will be a northern one. When I’m not engaged in the above evil activities as a worker bee, I am sewing gear, repairing holes, altering tents, studying maps, reading web blogs, pouring over “The Milepost”, dreaming of Bears and Wolves, flying with Eagles, preparing my bike, and living a life of adventure in the city. I long for the forest and the mountains and the lakes, and the animals, and the valleys, and the glaciers, and the open coastlines of the North. I miss it’s smell of spruce and of berry patches and of the salty coastal air. I miss bearing witness to 30 mile long glaciers and Bears half the size of my truck. I miss the quiet and the solitude that these places offer my mind and my soul. A place to rest; not body, but mind. I miss the daily bicycle or foot travel that affords one a chiseled and lean structure in which to live. I miss sleeping in a sleeping bag and cooking my meals in a simple and enjoyable fashion. And yes, I miss emptying my bowels into the open forest, as all animals do… Only 112 days.
When most folks think of British Columbia, they conjure up images of Vancouver, Whistler, the areas around Kamloops or Fernie. These are all fantastic places filled with the the awesomeness that B.C. has to offer for those seeking beautiful wilderness forest, bears, rivers, or to spend the ever fascinating “Loooney”, or “Tooney” (one and two dollar coins). There are other (many other not mentioned here) places in B.C. that strike a resonant note with me. Bella Coola comes to mind, of which I have friends established there.. You know who you are! Bella Coola is a place I wish to visit sometime sooner than later, but who knows how the cards may fall!
For me, the Cassiar Highway, heading north from Kitwanga and highway 16, is without a doubt, the creme de la creme of northern British Columbia.
The Cassiar, which is an alternate route heading north/south, of the more largely known Alaska Highway,and is a is a fine example of Northern British columbia’s offerings of beauty, soitiude, and grandiose scenery and wildlife.
Highway 16 which intersects the Yellowhead Highway, is also know by some as the Highway of Tears. Between 1969 and 2006, some 18 cases of missing persons or homicides of young girls have been reported. Riding through this section enroute to highway 37, The Cassiar, felt surreal to me, knowing there has been a great mystery here. My heart goes out to all of the families who are in pain from these incidences.
The last major town departing from the Yellowhead is Smithers, British Columbia. Smithers is a a fine town, with a strong bicycling community, including a DH and freeride scene upon the local mountains and ski hills. I spent an entire afternoon here, seeking out bike shops who might have the required length of spoke that I required. It was also a great place to get re-supplied for the long length of road ahead of me known as the Cassiar Highway. Just north of the town, lie splendid mountains, sporting moderate looking alpine mountaineering routes that might leave a Sierra climber in awe. A place called Glacier Gulch features two extarodinary peaks with a small glacier at their base. Ice couloirs bearing the gifts of alpine ice lie above, beckoning me.
Heading north from Smithers, I passed through the ancient Native fishing village of Moricetown, situated snugly against the mighty Salmon festooned river of Bulkley. And on to the hamlet of New Hazelton, which, though a place of unfounded beauty, did not stop raining once. I settled into a cafe there, and ate a magnificent breakfast, re supplied on beer, and headed for the Cassiar of my dreams.
I cross the mighty Skeena River, and upon entering the Cassiar, my mind began to fill with a wonder I had really never known. Of all the adventures taken past, climbing, mountaineering, bicycling, wandering, I had never felt such a presence before. It was an age old feeling of family and gathering and fishing that caught my imagination as though I had been here before. I felt strangely at home, yet I also felt an unnerving sensation of detachment that I was not expecting.
All day in the rain, pedaling, thinking, feeling these great emotions of past, I began to become as weary as I had ever been, but pedaled on, in hopes of engaging the Cassiar as fully as she deserved, I finally needed to stop. The area was festooned with brush so thick, one cannot really camp with any amount of enthusiasm. I spy a free gov’t campground, but, due to the constant rain, is totally flood out. I try to ride my feeble bicycle into it’s innards, but am rejected like a vomitous expulsion, that forces my weary body back to the road and onward in search of salvation.
After a couple more miles, desperate, a gravel pit area appears like a welcome wagon from hell, and I pull in. My first sight? A dead Grizzly, shot, I presume. The image brings an anxiety and fear of the Bears of which I had not come to terms with yet on this journey. Too exhausted to care, I pull a little further in and call it a day. Cottonwoods bigger than I had ever seen before sprouted the forest around me; I eat a meager supper, hang my food bag in said trees, and crack open a beer and a belt of Rum, and the world washes away, fears dissipate, and I begin to feel like I have finally come home.. The bear spray was not even clutched that night, as it had been so many nights before. The glorious adventure was now in front of me…
The next 24 hours become a mind numbing, but peaceful, pedal, through the boreal forests of the region, that, with the weather now clear, sunny, and glorious, finds my mind at peace once again.
These forests lead on and on toward an area, what one native in Smithers told me, “The Grizzly Bears there will make a small snack out of you”. The area in question is Meziadin Junction, where the highway splits to go either west, to Stewart, Alaska, or north, further up the Cassiar. This place, according to the locals, has the greatest concentration of Grizzlies in the central B.C. sub coastal area. I never saw a one, sadly.
I pedaled for 6 more days through this Alice in Wonderland of wilderness, passing through some of the most heart felt forest and landscapes my heart and mind could conjure up.
Passing through Dease Lake, I find that there is a small town there, and sporting a decent grocery store, laundrymat, liquor store, and cafe. This felt like a miniature vacation of sorts and, camped on the beaches of the local swimming hole and fishing spot, I drink and hang with the local native folks and learn of the long winters and of fishing and the hunting ways of native peoples. This makes me smile and I move on..
North of Dease Lake, I can feel the the landscape begin to change towards a more northerly and remote arena. I can smell the Yukon from here.
The last night on the Cassiar, I find a serene place next to a fine river and begin to unpack the bike. Seconds later, a van loaded full of Native teens pull in and open the doors; all pour out and declare their victory that day. They unfold a tarp in the back, revealing a large male Ram, shot on a nearby ridge, and declare that Ram meat is a delicacy that cannot be beat. They say that they intend to gut the creature here, next to the river. I know that the ensuing gut pile will attract bears for miles and I split. Later, I find a decent camp further up, next to the same river, but the skeeter’s are the worst I have ever seen. Welcome to the north!
The next day, I pass through the surrealistic remains of a forest fire, that given the eerie feeling of the last 48 hours, fit’s the bill. Later that day, I reach the Yukon border and the junction with the Alaska Highway, and already, begin to miss the Cassiar.
All told, the Cassiar highway is a place like no other I have ever been, and hope one day, to experience it’s haunting delicacies once again. I urge any one who might embark on a pedaling journey to Alaska, consider this as a superior alternative to the lower Alaska Highway through northern B.C.
And that’s all I have to say about that…
“How Can I Be Lost, When I have no Where to Go..?”