Hooligan

Since I was a teenager, I have been enthralled by the far north. Epic stories of high adventure on Alaska’s queen Denali filled my young mind in the readings of early accounts of her ascent. To me, the very notion of Alaska was something of a mysterious and rare prize that few had conjured the gumption to explore for themselves’s. Of course this was far from the truth… Alaska’s history has unfolded in countless ways, spanning multiple races and generations. From the crossing of the Bering Straights untold thousands years back, to the gold rush bonanzas and oil field exploitations of modern memory, the Alaska frontier has always bee a place of not only fascination, but one of an inexplicable location for far fetched dreams and far fetched exploration. And when I first came here in 2011, having ridden my  bicycle from the “outside” into her glorious womb, I then felt, as I do now, that Alaska and the untold prevailing of the Yukon and Northern B.C., were to beheld as nothing short of treasures. The first time crossing into the Alaskan frontier, I felt I had somehow stumbled across some great and archaic secret: something that the rest of white society had either forgotten, ignored, or simply knew nothing about. To me, it was a sensation of unfounded beauty and treasure. One that I still do not take lightly or for granted to this day.

Alaska is a place of mystery to most; and understandably. The ways of life here are not of the ordinary… even by un-ordinary standards. There exists a faction that demands one’s attention to detail regarding everyday life, to the omnipotent realization that nature is not only your absolute friend, but your foe at times as well. This balance is what defines this place; a place where you must have a kinship with surroundings and be capable of a transformative resolution on a daily basis. In a nutshell, the ebb and flow of the natural world is always at hand, and one must be not only willing, but ecstatic about it’s rapture and grace.

Every year, in the spring, the salt water inlets of Southeast Alaska are coming alive with life. The seasonal shift from a potentially long and harsh winter begin to unfold into something greater. The river’s break up, the ice floats to the sea, and life in the form of all animals and plants begin to explode in a monstrous display of grandeur.

One of the earliest signs of this magnificent occurrence comes in the form of the early spring smelt runs… At first it is the Herring, then a short time passes and the massive swarms of the Hooligan, also known as eulachon or candlefish, called so due to their high oil content, and once dried, can be lit on fire, begin to run into the omnipotent rivers of the upper Lynn Canal: The Chilkoot and the Chilkat. These precious Hooligan fish have been a staple of nutrition, culture, and economics for the native Tlingit nation for untold hundreds of generations. The fish are small, perhaps six inches long or so, and contain within them, essential fatty oils that are not only prized for there taste and nutritional value, but for their ancient economic value among the historic peoples of the Alaska panhandle and the ability to trade these wonderful gifts from nature to the southern Tutchone and Tagish peoples of the southern Yukon. Hence, the trade routes between the Chilkat Valley in modern day Alaska and the broad valleys and lake districts of the southern Yukon and northern B.C. have become known as the historic “Grease Trails” where the Tlingit natives of the coastal valleys of the Lynn Canal traded with northern interior peoples for such commodities as furs and other goods. These fish are regarded as gold by many, and not only signifies the coming of the summer ahead, but also the fact that the life giving runs of Salmon are not far behind. This is a time of celebration and thanks the the Earth that another time has passed and another will ensue.

I begin to hear the birds at first; the ocean Gulls swarming and squawking, then the Eagles, chirping in their usual ways, but at this time of year, it is somehow greater, as if something is about to explode. I hear these sounds early in the spring Alaska mornings as the light from the rising sun shines itself upon the northern landscape and gracing the land with light at about 3:30 am… something is happening. The North is coming alive; the Bears are awakening, and the fish are beginning to run the rivers on their yearly migration to spawn and dye as they have been born to do for untold eons.

This day opens and I head out to the Chilkoot river, the first of this year’s Hooligan run to inspect. Upon pulling into the narrow river valley, I spy hoards of Gulls and Eagles: A sure sign that the run has started. I peer to the river and notice immediately that is is black with fish. Untold thousands of these Hooligans have entered the river from the Sea and are finishing their life cycle in the form of spawning and dying. There are Brown Bear prints about and the entire river corridor is coming alive.

The next day, this time I return with a bucket, one I have drilled holes in to let the water escape as I scoop the Hooligan. The common method for capturing a harvest of these fantastic creatures is by means of a long handled dip net, but I do not possess one. Instead, my bucket will do… I have not a desire for more than I need, and my needs are small. I dip the bucket into the blackened mass of a million fish, but they scatter as  the motion of the bucket rifles the water. Each scoop manages a few scant Hooligan, but after an hour or so, I have what I need. I thank the Earth for this treasure and I return home with my earnings. After inspection of the harvest, it is revealed that I have taken exactly what I need: enough to fill my little smoker and just a tad bit more for the evening’s supper.

After, I look out over the Chilkat Inlet, the scene of the next Hooligan run in a week or so, and revel at how blessed I am to live in such a world.

 

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The Great Northern Golden Triangle: The Ogre Pulls Off Another One

After getting mentally and physically prepped for the last couple of weeks, I awake one Monday morning and decide that leaving several days early on a ride of the North’s “Golden Triangle” is in order. My boss and co-workers seem to have no issue with the notion, and off I go to take care of last minute details at home.

Some folk’s call the ride in question the ”Alaska Golden Triangle”, which is a misconception since most of the ride occurs in Canada’s Yukon Territory. The route however, starts in Alaska, crosses British Columbia, traverses about 180 miles of the Yukon’s mighty interior, crosses back into B.C., and finally ending in Alaska at Skaguay. The first few miles and the entirety of my first day pedaling consist of the Chilkat and Klehini River corridors through the beautiful Chilkat Valley, ending at the Canadian/ U.S. border and the beginning of the climb up to Haines Summit, more locally known as Chilkat Pass. This Pass separates the interior of Northern B.C. and the Yukon from the coastal and heavily glaciated Chilkat Mountains and Alaska’s ice capped Coast Range, of which temperate and maritime systems exist at their feet. It is in this coastal region that Haines, and my home exist.

Going to bed a bit late and waking casually, I dress in my normal bicycle traveler garb consisting of loose fitting nylon pants, t-shirt, Loose fitting long-sleeve shirt, and lace up cross training footwear. Onto the Ogre, I spin into town to meet with Angela and grab some coffee and breakfast before commencing to the endless highway.

After a casual time at Sarah J’s eatery in Haines, I say goodbye to Angela and begin the flat and pleasant cruise up the highway in hopes of finding a good camp near the border. Hours later, a faint path appears on the river side of the road leading through the Alder thickets and ends abruptly on the Cotton Grass flats above the Klehini River. A great camp with views of the Saksaia Glacier and fine and tasty drinking water direct from the river has me smiling on this first evening of the trip.

Many bicycle travelers it seem have a burning desire, especially in the northern tier, to seek out camping in “official” and pay campgrounds where other people gather. To my thinking, this never really made any sense, not here in the northern wilderness, where some of the best and most plentiful free range camping are to be had for the taking. Why pay to sleep when one can create their own world wherever one wishes? Many claim it is their fear of Bears. After spending more nights out in the Alaskan and Yukon bush than I can count, I believe that the Bears have far more to fear from Humans than the contrary. Of course extreme occurrences can happen, but being smart about the way one camps greatly diminishes these chances. In fact, I believe that having Bear problems are increased in public camping areas where Bears may be conditioned to Humans and their glorious trash. As far as the social thing is concerned, well, to each there own. Camping alone in these wild places allows me breathing room and a purposeful reflection towards the natural world and creates in me a great and humbling respect for it. This is where I can watch the river flow and the Falcon soar; hear the wind blow and smell the sweetness of the North in the air unencumbered by a Human world that tends to feel dominance toward all I see before me. That said, loneliness could from time to time drop in for an unexpected visit. But not tonight.

The morning sees rain pattering the rain fly of the tent and I must say I dread it, since today is a big climb up to Chilkat Pass, where I am hoping to spend more than a day hiking and bagging a peak or two if the weather cooperates, But, cooperating it is not and I pack up my little world and spin the mile up the road to the Canadian Customs gate and soon I am climbing upward into the big grind known as “Marinka’s Hill”, the primary climb up to the pass. The rain shows no sign of letting up and I don rain gear and continue, sweating as much on the inside of the clothing as the rain on the opposite. As the storm intensifies, I realize there will be no hanging around and leisurely climbing mountains, but instead, waiting the fury out tent bound. Just past Three Guardsmen Lake, in a low hollow just before the main summit, I pitch my tent and dive in. For the next 18 hours I read, eat, drink a beer or two, and sleep. The following morning the rain is continuing, but I must go on and the tent is put away wet and the pedaling continues. At the pass proper, the rain stops, clouds open, and glorious sunshine reveals itself, if only for a few minutes. Then it begins again. But heavier this time. Soon torrential downfalls of drops appear, and for a moment, even the roadway ahead is barely visible to my eyes. Although a part of the journey, especially in the North, rain can make the difference between pure suffering and pure bliss on a bicycle voyage.

Later, after the rain lets up, I cross the Yukon’s Takhanne River and set up a pleasant camp next to the water and bathe my foul clothing and myself. Snacking on my supper that evening, I watch a Hawk harass the Swallows at the entrance to their mud nests burrowed deep into the ancient riverbank. Clouds gather and then part again while the sun peeks in to cast great and colorful splashes of yellow and orange against the rocky mountainsides before me. Patches of deep blue sky swirl around the sun/cloud union like a predator in pursuit. At midnight, a Loon cries out from somewhere nearby, and the only thing stirring now is the soft and occasional breeze gently touching the tops of the Spruce and Aspen stands situated nearby camp.

To my ears, the call of the Loon is one of the most enjoyable and haunting sounds coming from the forest and lakes. It is nearly as engaging as the sound of the Wolf howling in the dark of night. And as I pedaled the next morning up a monstrous Yukon hill, one of the biggest of the trip, the Loons were creating a symphony of joyous monotony pushing me upward and over that mound and deeper into the great Yukon interior I love so much. I meet a 64 year old French man on a decrepit bicycle, heavily loaded and carrying an axe for which to chop twigs for his home made hobo stove. He has spent a great deal of his life traveling by bicycle in various parts of the planet, and travel in these parts is not alien to him. Later in the day, I take a side trip to the ancient native village of Klukshu. A side trip of about a half mile leads to the small but Salmon heavy Klukshu River, where native people have been harvesting Chinook, Sockeye, and Coho Salmon for millennia. I arrive at the bank of the tiny river; a Sockeye splashes about as it sees me, there is not a soul around but the fish and myself, lest a Bear hidden in the forest nearby. The village is deserted. There is something going on here that is unexplainable; there is an ancient sensation that I am somehow connected to that feels both like sadness and deep connected love. The air feels thick with history and community. Tears swell my eyes as I sit next to the river; this strange place I have never been feels like home. It is strange indeed. If there is such a thing as past lives, then I’m certain I was a Native North American. I pedal onward and past the equally haunting and beautiful Kathleen Lake and the beginning of the colorful and rugged Kluane Range, forefront to the overwhelmingly enormous St Elias Range and Mt Logan. Home to the second tallest peak in North America and some of the biggest and expansive ice fields and glaciers on Earth. The Yukon is a mind-blowing place indeed. Soon I am rolling into Haines Junction for a meal and some re-supply on food and luxuries.

Now I am into the thick of things. The Alaska Highway is traffic heavy compared to the mellow Haines Highway, where trucks shipping supplies from Canada to Alaska whiz by at maximum speed and clueless tourons barely in control of bloated recreational homes-on-wheels as big as my house meander down the pavement, gawking at the scenery and not watching the road, too lazy or disinterested to actually stop and explore beyond their steering wheel, most of these southern travelers never really see much at all.

The pedaling is flat and windless; miles fly by. The Ogre slithers along in silence. The endless boreal forest of the interior swallows me up and I am one with it. Arctic Ground Squirrels scurry in and out of the roadway as if attempting to throw themselves under passing vehicles. I often hear bicycle travelers complain about the sometimes endless and monotonous stretches of Alaska and the Yukon’s boreal timberland, saying that it is a dread to ride through it. Beats riding through most anywhere down south if you ask me. I connect with this forest; to me, this boreal play land is an endless supply of tranquility, animals, lakes, rivers, muskeg, swamp, taiga, streams, and beauty. There is a living breathing force here that cannot be ignored. To me, there is nothing monotonous about it. Riding through endless highway traffic and Human civilization is monotonous, dangerous, and disturbing-nowhere to camp either.

The climate and terrain is changing rapidly from a wet mountain environment, to an almost desert like boreal landscape that reminds me somewhat of western Colorado. A several mile gravel section of road appears near the Native village of Champagne, and I unknowingly watch as the last stream goes past and some 25 miles later, I am running low on water. At the 61 mile mark for the day, I emerge on the banks of Stoney Creek; a crystal clear mountain stream perfect for both drinking and bathing, and with an endless supply of ripened Raspberries growing adjacent to it’s flanks. I call this lovely place home for the evening and settle in with a sizeable grin adoring my mug, all the while snacking on raspberries for dessert.

In Whitehorse, I’m tossed into a world I have not seen in a long time. Since moving to Haines nearly three years ago, I have not left at all, except to go see an orthopedic last year when I broke my ankle at work. Haines is a quiet little Alaskan town; very little commotion at all. Whitehorse on the other hand, although quite tame by modern city standards, was abrupt, fast, and in my face a bit. I actually like Whitehorse. It is a small city of about 40,000 souls, with tons of mountain bike and hiking trails, the glorious Yukon River, and surrounded by endless wilderness. But on this day, to me here and now, I just wanted to get through it and back to my forest. Pedaling through town finds me along the Yukon River and past the hydro power dam and on the shores of Schwatka Lake, a Human made reservoir with float planes and powerboats here and there, but still a beautiful and serene place to be camped. That night, I awake about 1:00 am and noticed the first star in the northern sky since late April. Summer is slowly closing down and the days are getting a hair shorter each cycle. Before you know it, there will be some of the white stuff back on the ground, the tourists will be back in Florida, Texas and all parts south, and the Bears will be heading to their high country denning grounds to await the next round of Salmon entering the rivers in May.

Heading south on the Klondike Highway in the morning, I pedal all the way to Spirit Lake and devour a breakfast there before spinning down into Carcross (Caribou Crossing) and the beginning of what is known as the “southern lakes region” of the Yukon. In this part of the Province, there are many, many extremely long, deep, cold water lakes; meltwater remnants of the massive glaciers that covered this part of the Yukon a millennia ago. These lakes are a thing of beauty to say the least. Encased in wilderness, and rising from them mighty mountain ranges so remote, few have seen their endless and omnipotent shores outside of a powerboat. Soon, I can see the coastal mountains rising from the horizon and the beginnings of small yet prominent glaciers adorning their sides. The road now traverses the Windy Arm of Tagish Lake and around the bulk of Tutshi Lake, where this highway begins to tilt upward a bit, and the Yukon/B.C. border comes and goes. More climbing in the distance I can see, for White Pass is ahead, separating Canada from Alaska and the end of my Journey at Skaguay.

Finding no outstanding place to camp, I reluctantly pedal mile after mile, passing mediocre spots hoping the Golden Camp Spot will appear. After 76 long and exhausting miles, the fabled glory camp does not appear, and I throw down my nylon ghetto onto a deserted gravel pit and enjoy myself regardless, happy to be off the bike once and for all for the day.

Up bright and early the following morning I am sore, and there are rapidly moving clouds and wind coming through, but I feel good. It is only about 20 miles to White Pass from here according to my calculations. The road turns gently and ever so slightly upward from here and the landscape changes once again from the sub-alpine boreal forest to the higher and more colorful alpine arena of tundra, swiftly moving streams, and low lying brush and stunted Pine and Spruce. The route follows a glorious emerald river, adorned with many rapids and small waterfalls. A Bald Eagle soars overhead, and a Gull meanders behind, perhaps hoping to reap any benefits the Baldy might conjure. The wind picks up and it is a struggle to keep the Ogre upright on the hills. At timberline, the first of many low lying alpine lakes appear, and the stiff breeze grows fierce. Glaciers show themselves briefly during interludes in the cloud cover and before long they disappear once again into the thick alpine mist. Near the pass, I clamber over granite boulders to get a good look at Summit Lake and onslaught of the storm; wind and whitecaps embellish the lakes surface. A Gull scares up and hovers over me, squawking loudly that I must leave. She must be protecting a nest. I wish her well and skedaddle back to the bike and finish the last bit of the climb to the pass. At the top, a great and magnificent alpine meadow sits below and decorated with a mighty waterfall, so picturesque it is difficult to believe it real. At the pass, the weather is foul, and thoughts of espresso and a hot meal entice me. I peer at the highway ahead and it is a steep downhill for 14 miles to the sea. I had ridden up this massive hill back in 2013 when I rode from Skaguay to Deadhorse to Valdez, so I had gained a healthy respect for it’s magnitude. After tossing on my jacket and sporting hat and gloves, I fly downward and into the fantastic canyon, past more waterfalls and jagged peaks and soon there is no more. A gigantic cruise ship appears a half mile off; perched in the waters of the upper Lynn Canal, it’s passengers flooding the streets of Alaska’s biggest tourist attraction. I meander through the insanely crowded streets attempting not to hit or be hit by those not paying attention, which are many. It is a shock to the senses again. Haines will feel quiet and pristine compared to this insane asylum. Later, after a meal and some casual town observation, I board the marine vessel Le Conte for an hour ride down the canal to Haines, where a six mile ride from the ferry terminal deposits me back at my quiet little crib.

All in all, I had ridden most of this trip previously: the Alaska Highway portion back in 2011 when riding from Moab to Fairbanks, and the Klondike Highway/White Pass section in 2013 on the way to the arctic. Only the Home stretch of the Haines Highway over Chilkat Pass were new, but it is an outstanding pedal through some of the most beautiful countryside the North has to offer. I may even ride it again. Complete with a side trip to Klukshu, some exploring of random dirt roads in the forest and the pedaling in Whitehorse and looking for camp spots, I had pedaled about 385 miles over eight days. I can’t think of any reason why one would attempt to do it any faster; there would be too much to be missed, and in my opinion, far less enjoyable. These trips are not a race folks; they are to be felt and appreciated.

The Ogre pulls off another one.

 

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Klehini River Camp
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Stormbound
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Chilkat Pass Climb
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Haines Summit AKA Chilkat Pass
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Stickered Sign
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Alpine Tundra Landscape
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The Green Hut Emergency Shelter Near The Pass
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White Spruce And B.C. Glacier
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Norther British Columbia
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Takhanne River Yukon
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Takhanne Camp
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Apen Stands
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Entering The Native Village Of Klukshu
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Moose Antlers And Satellite Dish
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Cabin and Fish Drying Hut
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Cache and Fish Hut
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Aspen Groves
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Mountains Near Kathleen Lake
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Kluane
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The New Grocery Store In Haines Junction
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Alaska Highway Gravel Near Champagne
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Takhini River Area Yukon Interior
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Good Snacks
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Wild Rasberries At Stoney Creek
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Takhini Bridge Graffiti
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Love These!
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Carcross
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Tagish Lake
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Historic Abandoned Mining Structure Along Windy Arm
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Summit Lake
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Summit Creek
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White Pass Area
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Looking Down From White Pass
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White Pass
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Moore Creek Near Skaguay

 

 

 

Spontaneity

One of the key players from my “new” life in Alaska as a home owner has been largely absent these past two years. It is something that sparks my soul and makes precious life even more so. It is something to maintain a youthful and vibrant self and outlook. It is spontaneity. Seems these last many, many months, every move in my life needs to be planned, calculated, examined, and inspected, largely taking any playfulness out of it. Spontaneity is what makes trips and adventures youthful and fun.

Spontaneity is what I crave. Adventure is what I crave.

I wake up Monday morning, 4 days before my planned departure date for my two week bike ride into the Yukon. I am not feeling it; I want to go now. I dress for work as usual, but hope that my employer Dave and the rest of the crew will see fit to set me free upon myself so I may leave right away. Everyone at work gives me the thumbs up, wishes me well, and I drive home casually with a grin on my face to pack the bike, smoke some Salmon, shop for supplies, and relax a bit.

The next morning I awake and am totally ready: everything is in order, Angela is coming by at 8 for some coffee and I will hit the road. It is raining a bit, but hey, it’s Alaska in the summer, that’s what is does here! I’ll be out of range for the next couple of weeks; when I return, I’ll do a full write up and photo share here on JRB.

Stay tuned!!

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.

The Cassiar

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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..?”

-Metallica

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