A Closer Look

The following Story, “A Closer Look” was published  this last fall in a fantastic collection of stories entitled, “Adventure at High Risk: Stories From Around The Globe”

After waiting an obligatory 3 or 4 months since it’s release, I am now publishing said piece to Just Rolling By for my readers to check out.

I am currently writing a novel sized book on the entire journey.

Hope you like it…

A Closer Look

By Linus Lawrence Platt

 I first fell in love with Alaska when I was 15. Having grown up in California, Alaska seemed as far away and as wild as any place on Earth. I’d heard of this land when I was even younger, perhaps at age 8 or 9, when my father and his brother decided to drive to the Great White North to “check it out.” My Dad and Uncle never made it to Alaska, but the notion that it was an endless wilderness full of giant mountains, feral people, and wild animals, was born into my young mind. When I was 15, as a young neophyte climber, I read as many books about mountaineering and rock climbing as I could; these books spoke of far away places and far away ideas that left deep impressions on me. One such book was Art Davidson’s “Minus 148”, a tale of the ground-breaking, first winter ascent of Denali. It was this read that left on me an ironed-in impression of Alaska.

Over the years, as mountaineering became less and less important to me, I began to realize that my desires to be in the wild places that climbing afforded, was as important as ever. Being in the mountains was paramount, and climbing was a mere vehicle. Early on in life, I developed a love affair with bicycles and the notion of traveling long distances on one appealed to me, in the same manner that expedition mountaineering appealed to me in earlier years. So in the summer of ’93, I set out from Utah and pedaled to San Francisco, via Idaho and Oregon. This journey demonstrated all that I desired: to be self sufficient on a long, physical trip; one that allowed an element of adventure while traveling through high country and mountains. It was an eye opener for what might be possible; and somewhere, in the back of my mind, revelatory ideas about wilderness and ways to travel through it, began to hatch. I do believe it was on this trip, that I began to see and feel something greater in the world than just the routine of human life; to understand a deeper connection to all things wild and free and to appreciate the fact that we, as humans, were actually a part of this great wildness — and not separate from it. In late April 2011, I set out, from my home in Moab, Utah, on my bicycle — bound for Alaska.

It was a terrible winter that year, with record snowfall in many northern areas, and unusually low temperatures. I travel north, through Utah and into Wyoming, all the while feeling overwhelming joy that such a trip had finally started. I enter a different world as I pedal into Montana. No longer in the high desert of the past 1000 miles, I cross a threshold into the beginning’s of the Earth’s great boreal forests; forests that do not stop ’till high above the Arctic Circle, 3300 miles to the north.

I travel on, into British Columbia, and climb into the Canadian Rockies; I enter Alberta, the scene of many past climbing memories with people from another time and place. It was magnificent to see, after all these years, the Ice Fields, and all of her adjoining peaks and glaciers; this time armed not with ice axe, but with bicycle. The wheels turn, and soon I witness the vast boreal plateau of central British Columbia; I see more Black Bears than I can count. I roll through Smithers B.C. and marvel at this place, surrounded by glaciers and mighty, salmon filled rivers. Tribal elders and native fisherman tell me stories of long winters and their anticipation of the upcoming Moose Hunt. Alas, on June 9th, I cross the Skeena River and turn onto the mysterious Cassiar Highway. This road is a westerly alternative to the far more popular Alaska Highway in northern B.C., and gifts mountain scenery and remoteness. My first night on the Cassiar, I pull into an open area and spot a dead Grizzly; shot, I presume. I am too fatigued from pedaling a full day of rain to search out another camp. I am gripped by my short lived, but intense paranoia of the bears and sleep with one eye open. Over the next eight days, I witness some of the most remote and incredible scenery visible from a road in North America; fantastic glaciated peaks, bear, moose, eagles, rivers, and lakes. This natural balance I see before me brings tears to my eyes, and I think hard on where the human race is heading — and why. Rain falls like it will never stop. Spinning through this much rain . . . this many miles . . . this many hours, instigates bizarre things within my mind. I take a hard look at myself and the world around me.

Days later, past Whitehorse, I flow into the Kluane Range, the guardian front range to the mighty St Elias. Out of these mountains, flow the some of the largest glaciers in the Western Hemisphere. I journey on, around Kluane Lake, the Yukon’s largest; and once beyond it, the ecosystem changes yet again, and I see the first of many Black Spruce Taiga Forest, the hallmark of the True North. On June 27th, 2011, 59 days after leaving Moab — I enter Alaska.

An Alaskan native once told me, in jest, that the Pacific Northwest of the lower 48, was “a desert”. On this day, upon penetrating the Alaskan border, a rain begins to fall that is everything that man inferred. And for the next five days, that’s indeed what it does — with no end in sight. The setting up and taking down of the tent, the moisture consuming my sleeping bag, and the inability to keep or get anything dry, begins to take it’s toll on me. Worst of all, now nearing the Alaska Range, the storm obscures views of the peaks I came so far to see. I turn south on the Richardson Highway and the clouds part and for the first time in what seems like eternity, the sun bares brightly and the glaciers of the Central Alaska Range shine deep within me.

I learn, from a woman in Delta Junction, that a narrow two-track would lead, some fifty miles south, into an area known as Rainbow Ridge, and that an excursion there would reward me with access to the Canwell Glacier and the lesser, but enormously beautiful peaks of the Eastern Alaska Range. After some time scouting, I spy the two-track, and head off into the innards of the Alaska I really desire to see. I ride and push the bike back far from the highway, perhaps eight or nine miles, until I come to the lateral moraine of the glacier. I camp perched atop the moraine, overlooking the ice. I am home. The next day, as fine as the one prior, I embark on a scramble up a nearby granite peak, surrounded by nameless glaciers and tundra. The sensation of this magical place sinks into me, and there is no turning back.

A day later I enter the Denali Highway, 135 miles of dirt road traversing some of the finest wilderness in North America, in which I slow down, breath deeply, and take it all in. I spend four days out there marveling at the grand peaks of Mt Hayes, Hess, and Deborah, eventually turning south on the Park’s Highway and heading toward Talkeetna and Anchorage. As I move south, I feel civilization creeping in on me. I know that the part of this journey to encompass supreme wilderness is nearing closure.

I had pedaled over 3800 miles, and on August 9th, I board the Marine Vessel Columbia for a trip down the whimsical Inside Passage, ending port at Bellingham, Washington.  I spend the next two weeks pedaling down the west coast’s of Washington, Oregon, and California. This is another world to me; cars, traffic lights, cities, towns, and difficult camp spots, at least in comparison to Alaska, where I could easily push my bike into any section of woods and have my own palace for the evening. Within the cities of central California, I feel trapped and overwhelmed; I long for the quiet and solitude that Alaska affords. After 4700 miles, this trip is over with a quickness. What I really want is to get back to Alaska and spend less time  getting there, and more time  being there. I crave a closer look.

Settling down in Sacramento for the winter to visit family and earn money for my return to Alaska was in order. The unfortunate event of having my bicycle stolen the following spring, just one month prior to my planned departure date, thwarted all that I had worked toward and my dreams of returning that summer shattered. I kept my head up and pushed on, hanging tough through the next 12 months and creating a tight and sound itinerary for the following summer; I developed an acute taste for the Yukon during this time, and wanted to see more of it. The following May, I drive my pickup to Bellingham, park at a friend’s house, and board another Marine Vessel, this time heading north to Skagway, Alaska.

The first day I face the biggest climb of the entire trip; from sea level at Skagway to the summit of 2864 foot White Pass at the B.C. border. I  offload the ship, and dive into the dragon’s mouth. By dusk, I make the pass and have my tent set up in time to witness the alpenglow cover the glaciers to the east. It is may 20th, 2013 and it feels surreal to be back, as if I never left, but merely awakened from a long dreamy nap. I pedal up the Klondike Highway, passing through Whitehorse and embarking on many side trips down old mining roads in search of beautiful campsites, old cabins, wild rivers, grizzly bears, and eagles. I find all of these things in the Yukon and much, much more. About 2 days south of Dawson City, I spot a large mammal up ahead on the shoulder; I slow down and approach cautiously. At first, I take it to be a small Black Bear, but it doesn’t move like a bear; It dances and darts in a way that tells me only one thing — Wolf. As I move closer, it sees me and flies into the brush; as I move past, I can still see it’s legs behind the shrubbery, moving laterally with me. I stop. The Wolf stops. I move and the Wolf darts back out, into sight. We stop. We lock eyes. I am mesmerized by this magnificent animal; It appears to be an older wolf, perhaps lone; his coat, thick from a recent cold winter; his color nearly solid black. We tire of this staring contest and and in a flash, the wolf is gone. The next day, I spot a large Grizzly on a nearby ridge, digging for food. It is far away, but it’s motion and heft clearly demonstrate it’s kind.

In 2011, I had developed a hunger to visit the Arctic. To me, the Arctic represents the last bastion of real wilderness left on the planet; it is a place that few travel, and it is a place that, for all of it’s supreme ruggedness, remains one of the most fragile places on earth. I imagined it to be one of the most beautiful as well. I had to get there. I roll into Dawson City, centerpiece for the historical mining heralds of the Yukon, past and present. It is May 28th, which meant that it is still very early in the season for travel into regions of the Dempster Highway, but not impossible. If I am to embark on a trip up the 500 miles of dirt road on the Dempster, there might be weather and road conditions that are not favorable. But to me, it seems perfect.  After spending a day in Dawson, I decide the only way to do this stretch is to do it round trip; 1000 miles total. The Dempster ends at the village of Inuvik, Northwest Territories, where one can buy food and supplies, but the two villages on the way are situated along the road as to make carrying the necessary food impractical. To alleviate this matter, I box up 4 days worth of food and leave it at the Dempster Interpretive Center in hopes that a traveler might pick it up and take it to Eagle plains, some 300 miles to the north. I spend the day gathering the remainder of supplies for a venture into a fantastic arena of mountains and arctic plains. In the morning, I pedal the 25 miles to the start of the Dempster and am pinned down by a several hour rainstorm that began calm enough, but was soon a torrential flood of monstrous proportions. I hole up at a defunct gas station at the junction of said road, and eat and drink to pass the time. Over the next two days, I cross the Tombstone Mountains and into the Blackstone uplands, famous for it’s crossing of the mighty Porcupine Caribou Herd, which, during it’s migration through the region, numbers in the high thousands. Passing the continental divide, the terrain is of an alpine nature of which I am most happy. From here, all water from these mountains flow to the Mackenzie River, and ultimately, the Arctic Ocean. More rain comes and I dive into the Engineer Creek Campground, which is still closed for the season; the place is deserted. It has a screened in cook hut and a luxurious evening was to be had. The following morning, I cross the Ogilvie River, and see the unfortunate sign ahead. “Road Closed”. A road worker chases me down after I sneak past the closure in hopes of somehow working myself and my bicycle around whatever obstacle lie ahead. The road worker says:

“Can’t you read?”

“Yes Sir, I can read just fine”, I say.

As I attempt to keep pedaling, he whips his truck in front of me and informs me that NO ONE will pass through here.

“The River has changed course from flooding and has taken out the road. Go back to Engineer Creek and hole up there ’till I send word you can continue.”

Reluctantly, I turn around, head back to the campground, and down the last couple of beers I had stashed. In the morning, a truck pulls in and some folks from Washington inform me they have heard that it will be several days before the situation is rectified. I felt sunk. I don’t have enough food to stay here sitting and waiting. They offer me a ride the 130 miles back to Dawson and I sheepishly accept. That night in Dawson, I wrestle  my thoughts: Had I made the right decision? Could I have stretched the food I had? I put it all behind me and went to bed, hoping I wouldn’t be discovered, camped illegally on the outskirts of town. After breaking camp, I board the ferry across the omnipotent Yukon River, and commit myself to what’s known as the “Top of the World” highway; a hundred or so miles of gravel traversing the hilly, sub arctic dome country of the western Yukon and eastern Alaska. The monotony of the endless forest and the ever growing number of hills are putting a hurt on me, but I manage to get across the Alaska border the next day.

More rain ensues; more spectacular scenery begins to appear. Great, wild rivers in the areas surrounding this stretch of the Taylor Highway begin to cheer me up, and soon the Dempster/Top of the World episode is behind me. Near the junction of the Taylor and Alaska Highways, about 30 miles from Tok, I crest a hill, and as if on cue, the clouds part, and the sun shines down upon the ever magnificent Alaska Range. I feel, once again as if I’d come home. They appear almost himalayan in size and have the sensation, to me, of seeing an old friend. I spend a couple of nights in Tok, then pedal 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. Another night of thunderstorms and packing 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 tent fly and it dries while I snack.

In Delta Junction, I camp on the gravel beaches of the wildly braided Tanana River, looking to the south at the appearance the central Alaska Range’s Mt’s Deborah, Hayes, and Hess; all are visible. I have never seen the north side of these peaks; I decide to camp here in hopes of catching a time-lapse of these giants’ in the morning, with the sunlight splattered across their eastern escarpment and embellishing their glacial armor. The scene before me stirs my desires for reaching the Arctic again.

There are only two roads, in North America, that one might pilot a vehicle of some sort, leading to this continents Arctic area’s. The Yukon’s Dempster Highway, and the Dalton Highway, aka “The Haul Road”, in Alaska.  Both of these paths are of the dirt and gravel variety. The Haul Road, remote indeed, was built in 1974 as a supply line to the north slope oil fields at the Arctic Ocean, and parallels the Trans-Alaska Pipe-Line, was not open to use by the general public until 1996. Up to that point, the truckers had it solely to themselves. The Haul Road traverses a rugged landscape north of Fairbanks and leads to Deadhorse, Alaska, crossing terrain varying from the forested hill and dome country beginning at Fairbanks, to Taiga swamps and open tundra, crosses many, many rivers and streams, and penetrates the “Alaskan Rockies”; the continental divide at the bastion of true roadless Alaskan wilderness: the venerable Brooks Range.

Saturday morning I gear up, and soon my bicycle is spinning north. The day is filled with some of the worst hill climbing I have ever encountered. Finally crossing Snowshoe Summit at the apex of Alaska’s White Mountains, I am rewarded with a long downhill and a stream of spring water shooting from a pipe near the road’s edge. The water is clear, cold, and delicious. Passing creeks and abandoned cabins, I look for a camp, and pull onto a dirt track next to the Tatalina River and dive into the water after setting up. I am then greeted by terrible swarms of Alaska’s famous insect.

The next day, more of the same hill climbing ensue, only worse this time. The hills are 12 to 14 percent, made up of loose, unconsolidated gravel, and the truck traffic is thick. This day turned to be the hardest of the entire road. By day’s end, I am so exhausted, I can do nothing but dismount the bike and push the dead beast upward and over the hilltops, coast down the other side and repeat. More big hills the following morning, lead, thankfully, to the Yukon River, where once across, the road flattens out a bit and some pristine forested Alaskan countryside sprouts up. Eventually, however, the hills re appear and the grind continues. After 70 miles, I find a gravel pit to call home on the fringe of Finger Mountain, 25 miles south of the Arctic Circle. The first bits of Arctic tundra, permafrost meltwater lakes, tors of granite, and windswept mountain passes are now within my eyesight. The next day, the landscape changes dramatically to the type of high country I so desire. After crossing the Arctic Circle, I penetrate a  small mountain pass and catch my first glimpse of the mighty Brooks Range. I drop into the valley below, and am greeted with magnificent spruce forest, and creeks filled with 24 inch Grayling. There is drinking water everywhere, a far cry from the relative dryness of the last few days out of Fairbanks. This landscape is what I came here for… unparalleled high country filled with rivers, mountains, forest, and animals.

In the morning, I am excited to enter the Brooks Range. After a couple of hours pedaling through soaring scenery, I decide to get off Haul Road proper, and get onto the pipeline access road, which offers a bit more of the deep solitude that this unbelievable place offers. Eventually the road dead ends as the pipeline disappears underground, which dictates back tracking to the Haul Road a couple of miles. However, at it’s end, a spectacular campsite is to be had, on the Koyakuk, and facing a sunset view of the mighty southwest face of Sukakpak Mountain, an impressive chunk of  limestone real estate. After swimming in the Koyakuk, I set up the camera for an evening time-lapse of Sukakpaks’ dramatic episode of color and changing light.

A fine morning follows, and 40 miles of dead flat, yet gorgeous scenery ensue. The river becomes heavily braided; the forest begins to thin out. Signs of a changing ecosystem; of a different stature, unfold. The weather begins to change too. Thunderclouds build, then unleash; I retreat under a bridge and watch the storm from beneath, sitting next to river ice pack still 36 inches thick, here on June 20th. A few short miles and I pass the final spruce tree in this part of North America. It is all tundra and the road begins to climb. Up I go; the road flattens once again onto the spectacular Chandalar Shelf, a couple of hundred square miles of flat tundra in the heart of the Brooks, just below the continental divide of Atigun Pass, Alaska’s Highest and most northerly road pass at 4800′. As I near Atigun’s summit, the storm once again decides to unleash it’s fury. High winds, sideways rain, and plummeting temperatures commence. I top out at 9:30 pm and find a patch of snow free tundra a ways off the road and pitch my tent right there on Atigun’s high point. Even with guying the tent, I still have to brace it from the inside to prevent the poles from snapping. Finally, the wind dies off and I drift to sleep, dreaming that night of being deeper into this range of magic mountains in the North, father in than I am now, traveling high valleys among Grizzly Bear and Caribou.

I awake to a deeply silent atmosphere of near whiteout conditions; it is eerily calm. I pack up, and descend the pass slightly to the shelf on the north side and stop for a hike up to a ridge. The tundra here is squat and is easily traveled upon. It is crowded with tiny wildflowers of all shapes and colors. I pass the remains of a young Caribou, probably taken by Wolves’. Farther up, I glimpse down great gully’s of rock towards a massive creek with outstanding waterfalls feeding it’s descent into the Atigun River and beyond to the Arctic Ocean. The peaks are mere 6000 footers, but are massive just the same. The Brooks is a dry region; however, there are a few small glaciers scattered in a couple of places in the Brooks, but not here. There are thin gully’s of snow descending from the rocky summits of these peaks, providing a striking contrast to their nearly black and orange coloring. Eventually, I descend back to the bike, and continue on, down Atigun Canyon, and onto the great Arctic Plains of the Alaska’s North Slope.

The next two days are flat tussock tundra, starkly beautiful, and swelling with my favorite insects. I still see no Bears, but, plenty of Fox and Caribou.  Alas, I spot a herd of Musk Ox, twenty strong, pre-historic, ice age creatures of the North American Arctic; an iconic figure of strength and endurance in this vast, untamed arctic landscape.

The next day, rolling into Deadhorse, it is 28 degrees F, 40 MPH winds, but otherwise uneventful. Deadhorse is the center of North America’s largest oilfield, which stretches for over 70 miles to the west.  After a fitful night’s sleep, I pedal out of town a couple of miles, lay the bike down, and put out my thumb… Later, after no success in hitching a ride, I catch an hour and a half flight to Fairbanks, where in a couple of weeks, my lover, friend, and companion, Angela, is to meet up with me where we will continue the last legs of this journey, together.

These long bicycle trips had, until this point, always been done solo. Angela coming aboard for this adventure was new territory for me. It will be a new and wonderful experience to share this monumental place with her; a tough and beautiful soul, she also shares a desire for all things wild and free, and is a lover of animals, mountains and lakes. She has never been to Alaska, and I will be proud to show her what I know of this endless, magical place. On the late night of August 2nd, Angela, driving my truck up from Bellingham, pulls into Fairbanks, and within 24 hours, we are ready to go; and Angela, now riding the bike that I rode on that first trip back in ’93, is out to prove that old bikes don’t really die. I painted it green some time back, just before giving it to her. She set forth about calling the machine “The Green Bastard”, named after Bubbles’ superhero character in the Canadian TV show, “Trailer Park Boys”, and off we went.

We leave Fairbanks at three in the afternoon on August 4th, and still manage to pedal 34 miles to a nice woods camp in the Nenana Hills. The forest is a splendid place to be as the past two weeks of being in Fairbanks had been wearing thin upon me. After a hearty supper and a victory cocktail, we fall into a deep sleep that only two tired yet happy people can achieve. Pedaling the next few days brings us to Nenana, Healy, and McKinley Park; the third day of which, a car, speeding up behind me, veers onto the shoulder and nearly kills me, inches away from my handlebars. That night at a peaceful lakeside camp just north of Cantwell, we watch as the sun sets behind the western rim and an alpenglow on the opposing peaks highlights a small herd of Dall Sheep, clinging wildly to the upper slopes. After entering the Alaska Range, we sail into Cantwell, beginning of the glorious Denali Highway, and entrance to some of the most fantastic scenery Alaska has to offer.

The Denali Highway, which I had pedaled two years before, was built in 1957 and for many years prior to the Parks Highway’s completion, was the only way to approach Denali National Park, hence it’s name. The road is 135 miles long and connects Cantwell to Paxson; 120 miles of that are dirt and gravel.  The DH, as I call it, traverses the entire Central Alaska Range, crosses uncountable streams and rivers, features tundra, forest, mountains and lakes aplenty. It also has some of the best free range camping anywhere. It is a true mountain paradise. We roll out onto the welcome relief of the gravel and with the exception of the dust from occasional traffic, we sail smoothly along the grandiose Alaska Range, surrounded by tundra, taiga, and wilderness. We spy a two track leading into the forest and think there might be a reward at it’s end. We ride through beautiful forest and brush, spotting a large Bull Caribou along the way. After a mile or so, the forest thins and the road turns downward to gain the roaring river below. Here, at this transition, lie one of the most spectacular camp spots of our lives. It is an open view of all the big peaks of the range; Mt’s Hess, Hayes, Deborah, Geist, Balchen, and Shand. After recently reading David Robert’s “Deborah: A Wilderness Narrative”, I was especially happy to be witnessing this spectacular place again. In from of us are towering peaks encompassing one of the great wilderness regions on the continent. Watching the sun set upon this picture, with it’s hues of red and orange, mixed with the deep blue of the glacial spectacle in front of us, is a sight we will not soon forget.

The following morning it is raining; we commit to the mud, and soon the McClaren River Lodge comes around and we drop in for a beer and a snack. We leave the lodge during a brief interlude in the storm, and climb the thousand feet to the summit. We are exhausted and wet, and it’s raining solidly. We ride down the two track of the McClaren Summit trail, and throw down our nylon ghetto onto the soft and sopping tundra and dive into the tent. In the morning, it is still raining, but our spirits are high as we prepare for the last day on the DH. Cool temperatures and more rain bring us to the pavement 20 miles from Paxson and signaling the end of the highway. We stop at the Paxson Lodge for a spell and some dry time; the weather begins to abate, and as we leave, we are granted fine weather for a pedal down the Richardson in search of another fine Alaskan camp.

We awake the following morning to outstanding weather and an early start sends us down the Richardson Highway to the Gulkana river for an afternoon of bathing and river laundry. It feels good to be in the river, the sun overhead and our clothing, now clean, drying on the clothesline I have rigged. Unfortunately, the camp is very moist, and our clothing doesn’t dry till noon the following day, which puts us on the road late. It works for the best, as we roll into a fine camp early in the day. It is extraordinary; consisting of perfect, flat forest right next to a steep 300 foot embankment that drops to the mighty Copper River below; infested with Salmon and running ever so strong. It also sports unobstructed view of Mt’s Sanford, Drum, Wrangell, and the enormous Mt Blackburn, all encased in glacial ice, and piercing the deep blue, cloudless sky. To me, it is a camp to behold. The Wrangell Mountains are a special place to me; They are remote, and, according to some bush pilots’ I spoke with, the most beautiful place in all Alaska

We continue onward, down the Richardson, and turn in on the old Elliott cutoff; a dirt track leading for ten miles, to the hamlet of Kenny Lake, an area of rare Alaskan agriculture featuring, pigs, yaks, chickens, and pastures. We stock up on a thing or two at the tiny store, and continue on, en route to Chitina. We roll on through, eager to get ourselves established onto the dirt and gravel of the McCarthy Road, and away from the troublesome traffic. Crossing the Copper River Bridge, we are greeted with a fine, Alaskan sight; the confluence of the Copper and Chitina River’s, the Chugach Mountains to the south and the Wrangells to the North, and the dip netter’s, still pulling late season Red’s from the icy waters’. I catch fine glimpses of the enormeous Mt Blackburn, at 16,390’, the sixth highest peak in Alaska.

The McCarthy Road is blessed with many small creeks and rivers’, all crystal clears specimens, born of the ice and flowing to the Sea. There are fewer lakes, however. Angela feels at peace when she is swimming in a lake, so we are always keeping our eyes peeled for an opportunity to do so. Further up, Long Lake appears, and Angela declares the place her spiritual home. Unfortunately, we find no spot to camp on it’s shores, but a site within it’s view were to be had, with the best Loon calls I have ever heard. Even Salmon enter the lake to spawn and the resulting Bears can often be seen catching their lunch. The next day was a fine one, with perfect weather and a short pedal to McCarthy, we were rolling through town by noon. About a half mile before reaching the tiny village, one is greeted by a splendid sight; in front of us lie the Kennicott and the Root Glaciers, both giants and flowing from towering peaks. As the rivers of ice rise to it’s birth place above the firn line, an enormous ice fall shows itself, the “Staircase Icefall” as it is known, is a sea of jumbled and towering blocks and seracs, all destined to crumble and become a part of the valley glacier below.

We find McCarthy more than pleasing; a tiny town full of laid back folks, tourists, flight seers, bush pilots, and mountain folk. We buy a few groceries at the unexpected store, and chat with a some folks before departing to find a camp. A local tells us of a trail that leads to the toe of the Kennicott Glacier, and we head out. After getting temporarily lost, we find our way and are rewarded by a great field of gravel, ice, and water. The Kennicott’s tarn, the size of an Alaskan air strip, is under constant barrage from it’s gravel covered ice source just above, and great splashes can be heard every so often. We camp near the shores of the tarn and admire the unbelievable glacial view from our camp. Later, we hike out, away from the tent, to inspect bear prints Angels had spotted earlier.

A day of hiking is in order and we pedal up the road, past the historic Kennicott Copper Mine, once the largest copper operation in North America. Passing through the mine area, we continue on a deteriorating trail, park the bikes, and continue on foot. Five six or miles up valley, paralleling the Root Glacier we hike, where we find a place that looks reasonable to descend, and down we go, crawling across scree covered ice hills to reach the main body of ice. Angela has never been on a glacier before, and it had been a while since I had last been on one of this size. We step out onto the flat ice, well below the firn line, and small, but open crevasses appear. A giant Moulin is flowing wildly upon the giant’s back and we drink freely from it’s source. We ascend back up the loose scree to the trail and skedattle down valley to our bikes. A quick blast back to McCarthy takes only minutes and soon we are in camp again. That night, very late, I get up and a slight tinge of the Aurora Borealis was beginning to appear. Summer was coming to an end.

The day following is Angela’s birthday, and it is raining badly. We take cover in the local coffee shack and put off getting into the mud till past noon. The day is spent mostly in wet conditions and endless, grinding, mud. This signals the end of my bottom bracket, rear hub, and drivetrain. My bicycle is very tired indeed. The next few days are spent pedaling south on the Richardson Highway, crossing the fantastic Thompson Pass, en route to Valdez, where we catch the ferry to Whittier and pedal to Anchorage. Angela and I say our goodbyes, which is hard since I will not see her again for five months, as I am staying the winter in Alaska. She boards a plane bound for the “outside”, as Alaskans are sometimes fond of calling the lower 48, and I, catching a rare and outstanding view of Denali from The Glenn Highway, shift back into gear, and pedal north, in search of another fine Alaskan camp.

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The Road to McCarthy – aka, “Is It Worth?”

I first fell in love with Alaska when I was 15. Those early high school years were spent dreaming and executing all acts of climbing and mountaineering. I even tried to start a climbing club in high school; not a single taker. Climbing was off the map in the mid eighties, at least among high school students. In the evenings, I would often engage in as much climbing literature as I could stomach; Habeler and Messner’s’ “The Lonely Victory”, Doug Scott’s “Big Wall Climbing” and Art Davidson’s “Minus 148” were books that took me to far away places with far away ideas. It was “Minus 148” that took it’s toll on me and gave me an ironed-in impression of Denali and Alaska. Now, stomping around in this wild place, the memories of that book have come alive and they are hunting me down.

After leaving the Paxson Lodge that rainy afternoon, the Denali Highway still fresh in our hearts, we pedal onward, in search of a flat and comfortable spot to call our own for the night. When I look for a camp, I try as I must to fulfill the rules I have created for myself.  An excellent camp must have at least two or three of the following:  It must be flat, have water nearby, have a view, be protected from the wind, and be as far off the road as possible. A camp spot rarely has all of these attributes, but if there are a couple, then it’s usually deemed acceptable. Angela and I pedal down the Richardson about 15 miles or so and find a fine gravel pit that meets a couple of the criteria and we throw down our scene. A Loon cries out from nearby Paxson Lake, and makes the spot that much better even.

We awake the following morning to outstanding weather and an earlier than usual start sends us 55 miles down the Richardson Highway to the Gulkana river and an early camp for an afternoon of bathing and river laundry. It feels so good to be in the river, the sun overhead and our clothing, now clean, drying on the clothesline I have set up. Unfortunately, the river camp is very moist, and our clothing does not dry till nearly 1 o’clock the following day, which puts us on the road late and provides for a short pedaling day. It all works out for the best, because weeks prior I had scoped out a camp for us when Sven, Bill, and I were on a dip netting mission, out at Chitina. Now, on this afternoon, Angela and I roll into this fine camp. It is extraordinary to say the least; it consists of perfect, flat forest right next to a steep 300 foot cliff/embankment that drops to the mighty Copper River below; infested with Salmon and running strong. It also sports unobstructed view of Mt’s Sanford, Drum, Wrangell, and the enormous Mt Blackburn, all encased in glacial ice, and piercing the deep blue, cloudless sky. To me, it is a camp site to behold.

The Wrangell Mountains are a special place to me; they are nearly as mighty as the Denali area of the Alaska Range, but are connected to the monster of the St Elias Range further to the east. They are also more remote, and, according to some bush pilots I spoke with, the most beautiful place in all Alaska. That makes it pretty damn special indeed.

We continue onward, down the Richardson, and turn in on the old Elliott cutoff; a dirt track leading, for ten miles, to the hamlet of Kenny Lake, an area of rare Alaskan agriculture featuring pastures, Pigs, Yaks, and Chickens. We stock up on a thing or two here at the tiny store, and continue down the Elliott, enroute to Chitina, one of my favorite spots in Alaska. On the last hill into town, the headwinds are so strong, we must pedal hard to go downhill. We roll on through, eager to get ourselves established onto the dirt and gravel of the McCarthy Road, and away from the troublesome traffic. Crossing the Copper River Bridge, one is greeted with a fine, Alaskan sight; the confluence of the Copper and Chitina River’s, the Chugach Mountains to the south and the Wrangells to the North, and the dip netter’s, still pulling late season Red’s from the icy waters’. True Alaska. We roll across the bridge and turn into the free campground there, the only one we were to stay at on this trip.

Some time back, I had an interest in scoping out the Kuskalana Glacier Trail, aka the Nugget Trail, which lies off of the McCarthy Road to the north and in from the western end by about 15 miles or so. The trail, built by miners near the turn of the century, ends at the Kuskalana Glacier and a tiny cabin there. Angela and I decide to pedal down the side road leading to the trails start and check it out for future adventure, as this time around we were a wee bit shy on time. The trailhead begins about 4 miles back, and requires one to cross Native Land and pay a fee, as we found out. Perhaps another time..  Back out to the McCarthy Road, I catch fine glimpses of the awesome Mt Blackburn, 16,000+’, which I believe is the fourth or fifth highest in Alaska. As we travel the road we are traversing it’s western, southern, and southeastern sides, and every time it appears from the road, it is as if Blackburn herself is mounted to a giant lazy suzan, rotating around me, not the other way around, showing off her  best.

The McCarthy Road seems blessed with many small creeks and rivers’, all crystal clears specimens, born of the ice and flowing to the Sea. There are fewer lakes, however. Angela feels at peace when she is swimming in a lake, so we are always keeping our eyes peeled for an opportunity to do so. We pass Moose Lake and pull in for a spell, but decide to push on to another lake further up called “Long Lake”. The lake turned out to be a little farther than expected, but soon it appeares and Angela declares the place her spiritual home. She fell in love with Long Lake. Unfortunately, we find no spot to camp on it’s shores, but a site within it’s view were to be had; again, with the best Loon calls I have ever heard that evening. Even Salmon enter the lake to spawn and the resulting Bears can often be seen catching their lunch. The next day was a fine one, with perfect weather and a short pedal to McCarthy, we were rolling through town by noon. About a half mile before reaching the tiny village, one is greeted by a mountainous site that can hardly be called simply “a nice view”. That will not do. In front of us lithe Kennicott Glacier and the Root Glacier, both giants and flowing from towering peaks, smaller peaks nearing the flanks of the grand centerpiece of Mt Blackburn. As the ice river rises up to it’s birth place, an enormous ice falls shows itself, the “Staircase Icefall” as it is known is a sea of jumbled and towering blocks and seracs, all destined to crumbled downward and become a pat of the valley glacier below.

We find McCarthy more than pleasing; a tiny little town full of laid back folks, tourists, flight seers, bush pilots, and mountain folk. We buy a few groceries at the happily unexpected grocery, and chat with a few folks before departing to find a camp of our own. A local tells us of a trail that leads to the toe of the Kennicott Glacier.. We head out and after getting temporarily lost, we find our way and are rewarded by a great field of gravel ind ice and water. The Kennicott’s tarn, the size of an Alaskan air strip, is under constant barrage from it’s gravel covered ice source just above, and great splashes can be heard very so often. We camp near the shores of the tarn and admire the unbelievable glacial view from our camp. Later, we hike out, away from the tent, at dusk, to inspect bear prints Angels had spotted earlier.

A day off of the bikes is in order and we decide to ride up the road 4 miles to the historic Kennicott Copper Mine, once the largest copper mining operation in North America. After passing through the mine area, we continue on a deterorating trail that soon requires the the bikes be parked behind a boulder and on foot we continue. We hike four, five six miles? up the valley, paralleling the Root Glacier, and high above it’s flanks. Eventually, we find a place that looks reasonable to descend, and down we go; crawling across the gravel covered ice hills to reach the main body of ice. Angela has never been on a glacier before, and it had been a while since I had last been on one this size. We cross out onto the flat ice, well below the firn line, and small, but open crevasses appear. A giant Mullion, the central body of exposed glacial water, is flowing wildly upon the giants back and we drink freely from it’s source. We ascend back up the loose scree to the trail and skedattle down valley to our bikes. A fast blast back to McCarthy takes only minutes and soon we are in camp once again. Our “rest” day consisted of riding ten or twelve miles and hike maybe thirteen or fourteen; we are spent. That night, very late, I got up and a bare twinge of the Aurora Borealis was beginning to appear. Summer was coming to an end.

The day following was Angela’s birthday, and it was raining badly. We take cover in the local coffee and burrito house and put off getting into the mud till past noon. The day was spent mostly in soaking wet conditions and endless amounts of mud. This signaled the impending end to my bottom bracket, rear hub, and drivetrain. We manage the day however; in the late afternoon, when we are ready to camp, an RV with two Europeans pull up and ask us about the road conditions to McCarthy. I tell them that the road is fine and they should have no problems with the road surface. As we were about to push on, the driver asks “Is it worth? I assumed that he meant is it worth the drive to visit a place such as McCarthy; I was taken aback and did not know what to say. Every where in Alaska (except Wasilla) “Is worth” in my opinion. The question of worth versus value is a question that I am constantly on the lookout for; everyones values are different, it seems. So that said, if one values what a place like McCarthy has to offer, then certainly “it is worth”. So I tell him: ‘ Look, if you are looking for 5 star accommodations, fine dining, a nightclub to attend to, or a theater, or a McDonalds, or a Walmart, then it is “not worth”, BUT, if you are looking to witness and experience some of the finest mountain scenery to be found on the planet, and have a great appreciation of all things wild and free, then sir, I promise you “It IS worth”!

The next morning we were back on pavement and headed back out to the Richardson Highway, in search of the next “worthy” wilderness.

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The Denali Highway

After nearly a month of work in Fairbanks since returning from the Arctic, Angela and I decide that the best thing to do is for her to pick up my truck from my buddy Pat’s in Bellingham, and drive the damn thing to Alaska. This would accomplish two things; get her here and get my truck here, effectively getting two birds stoned at once. She navigates the truck through B.C., up the Cassiar Highway, and onto the Alcan for a 4 day trip to Fairbanks. One night around 1:00 am, Angela pulls up, wide eyed and exhibiting the thousand yard stare from many hours behind the windshield. We spend the next day and a half getting her bike prepped and our proverbial shit together, and together is comes. We leave Fairbanks at around 3 in the afternoon on August 4th, and still manage to pedal 34 miles to a nice woods camp in the Nenana Hills, including a stop at Skinny Dicks roadhouse for a beer and a laugh. The forest is a splendid place to be as the past weeks of being in Fairbanks had been wearing thin upon me. After hearty supper and a victory cocktail, we fall into a deep sleep that only two tired yet happy people can achieve. Pedaling the next couple of day brings us to Nenana, Healy, and McKinley Park; the third day of which, a car, speeding up behind me, veers onto the shoulder and nearly creams me, inches away from my handlebars.  That night at a sweet lakeside camp just north of Cantwell, we watch as the sun sets behind the western rim and an alpenglow on the opposing peaks highlights a small herd of magnificent Dall Sheep, clinging wildly to the upper slopes. After entering the Alaska Range proper we finally sail into Cantwell, western end of the glorious Denali Highway, and an entrance into some of the most fantastic splendor and scenery Alaska has to offer.

The Denali Highway was built in 1957 and for many years prior to the George Parks Highway’s completion, was the only way to approach the areas of Denali National Park, hence it’s name. The road is 135 miles long and connects Cantwell to Paxson; 120 miles of that are dirt and gravel. To me, the DH, as I like to call it, is representative of the greatness that Alaska has to offer. Yes, that is saying something in a place that has greatness writ large across nearly every available foot of land spanning it’s monstrous heft. The DH traverses the entire Central Alaska Range, in all it’s glory, crosses uncountable streams and rivers, features tundra, forest, mountains and lakes galore. It also features some of the best free range camping anywhere I have ever seen. It is truly a mountain paradise.

We roll out onto the welcome relief of the gravel surface of the DH and, short of the dust from occasional traffic, sailed smoothly along the grandiose Alaska Range Central; surrounded by tundra, taiga, and wilderness. Dall Sheep and Caribou season starts in a couple of days and unlike the time I was here before, in 2011, the DH has more people roaming around, hunters in particular.  We spy a two track leading into the forest and decide that there might be a reward at it’s end. We ride through beautiful forest and brush, spotting a large Bull Caribou along the way. After about a mile or so, the forest thins and the road turns downward to gain the roaring river below. But here, at this transition, lies one of the most spectacular camp spots of my life. It is an open view of all the big peaks of the range; Mt’s Hess, Hayes, Deborah, Geist, Balchen, and Shand. After recently reading Robert’s “Deborah: A Wilderness Narrative”, I was exited even more to once again be witnessing this spectacular place. In front of us was endless tundra and forest and river and towering peaks, encompassing one of the greatest wilderness regions on the continent. Watching the sun set upon this picture, with it’s hues of red and orange, mixed with the deep blue of the glacial spectacle in front of us, was a sight I will not soon forget.

The last time I was on the DH, I had found a camp , just west of the airstrip of the Gracious House, located atop a hill, overlooking the braided and surrealistic Susitna River, and it’s mother source, the Susitna Glacier. I had spent 2 days camped here prior, shooting time-lapse and photos and generally freaking out on how this place blew my mind. Angela and I hike up to the old camp for a looksie and a breather; and the view is as grand as my memory had served. We were looking to gain some mileage that day and decide to push on; we are rewarded later with a nice forest camp that is secluded from the road and offers a nice ridge top for an after supper hike before bed.

The following morning it is raining, the first of this leg of our journey. We pack it in and commit to the rain and the mud, and soon McClaren River Lodge comes ’round and we drop in for a beer and a cheeseburger. Back in 2011, when I was here before, I had ducked into the Lodge from a viscous rainstorm coming over McClaren Summit, and today was no exception. We leave the lodge during a brief interlude in the water’s descent, and climb the 1000′ up to the summit. We are exhausted and wet, and it is raining solidly. We ride down the two track of the McClaren Summit trail, and throw down our nylon ghetto onto the soft and sopping tundra and dive into the tent. In the morning, it is still raining, but our spirits are high as we prepare for the last day on the DH. Cool temps and more rain bring us to the beginning of the pavement 20 miles from Paxson and signaling the end of the highway. Again, we stop at the Paxson Lodge for a treat. The weather begins to abate, and as we leave, we are granted fine weather for a pedal down the Richardson Highway in search of another fine Alaskan camp.

But that is another story…

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Into the Yukon

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.

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Skagway

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A Favorable Landscape

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.

 Haines Area_1 Lynn Canal Area Lynn Canal Area_1 Lynn Canal Area_2 Haines Area M_V Columbia_9 Mendenhall Glacier and Juneua Juneau Icefields Area Juneau Icefields Area_1 Juneau Icefields Area_2 Petersburg III Petersburg II Petersburg IV M_V Columbia_31 M_V Columbia_3 Forest of the Wrangel Narrows Tiny Houses near Petersburg M_V Columbia_25 M_V Columbia_26 Petersburg Ketchikan Water Pigs Ketchikan Loading Docks M_V Columbia_14 M_V Columbia_21 M_V Columbia_22 M_V Columbia_16 M_V Columbia_17 M_V Columbia_18 M_V Columbia_19 Boat Station 1 M_V Columbia_11 M_V Columbia_1 M_V Columbia_12 M_V Columbia_13 M_V Columbia_15