After I had asked the noisy neighbour to shut off their generator (which was outside their big RV!), we had a peaceful night, without any bears. Even the wind had stopped and in the morning we had a great view over the Meziadin Lake.
The way to Stewart is only about 65 km and with the sun in our face, it was a pleasant ride. The scenery is very impressive, with huge glaciers hanging on to steep walls. The road itself climbed steep for a while, but leveled out in front of the famous Bear Glacier.
Not only well-known for being one of the most accessible glaciers (the road passes right in front of the lake), but also as a backdrop in the movie Insomnia (with Al Pacino & Robin Williams). Though even in the short period since, it has retreated visibly and for the first time the glacier is no longer touching the lake directly.
The strong headwind was pretty cold and soon we continued our way: downhill! Through beautiful scenery, we freewheeled all the way back to sealevel, the first time since we started at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, a few months before.. Read more
It was time to leave our friend named Alaska and meet another partner for the next few months, named Canada. We had so many good times and many bad times. It is funny how even a fictional line on a map can define a relationship. We felt like we had to say goodbye to family…
We had stayed another day in Tok, it was just too perfect to camp for free, behind a 24/7 gasstation and next to the supermarket. We had to take care of our belongings as there was a group of drunk locals nearby. We have noticed this often lately: small groups of native Americans, who walk or sit around with paperbags or just with a bottle of scotch. It is a sad sight and a result of many bad political decisions in a long row.
We met a few other travelers who stayed the second night on the same camp; a young cyclist from Quebec, who was on his way home and a couple from Argentina (www.amunches.com) who were at the end of their 6 year journey. It was nice for Ivana to speak some Spanish and to drink some mate, but also interesting to see that they were clearly tired. Tired of travelling, tired of telling their story. The next morning they left early, but they had left Ivana some rainpants, though they were not really suitable for cycling as we would find out soon..
We left with dry weather, but quickly the hills and the rain started. Ivana’s pants ripped and one leg came off. We stayed at a very wet campground near a lake that probably was very pretty if you could see it. Only a few days later (fortunately) we read the report of fellow cyclists Tim & Cindie, who had seen a bear while camping here. We had been less ‘bearanoid’ as we had simply not seen any bears in Alaska outside Denali park, which in some ways is more like the Serengeti than the ‘real world’…
The next day we were completely soaked again and Ivana was ready to quit and fly home to sunny Argentina… Just in time we passed a visitor centre for the Tetlin National Wildlife refuge. Two ladies, who lived all their life in the native village of Northway and worked as volunteers, came to the rescue. They gave us tea, let us dry our clothes and even prepared a few delicious sandwiches with salmon. Just before we left, they even gave some chocolate. It is people like these that we will take with us in our heart when leaving Alaska.. Read more
after we woke up in our church, we noticed that it was actually dry! Not only that, but the weather improved during the day. Oh, how life is so much easier with some sun. I know we will curse it later when in the heat of central America, but for now it was very welcome.
We passed quite a few roadhouses and motels, that were either closed for the season or closed altogether. Seems that the combination of higher gas prices (increasing the costs for the generators and heating) and lower number of tourists (also partly because of higher gas prices) already has put many businesses out of business. Still some smaller business like the Cappucino house at the Gakona Junction seemed to survive. Shame that most clients never leave their car and stop to talk with the friendly ladies that run the wildly decorated place. Louise warned us for the many wild bears that were on the coming stretch and showed us some photos of a bear on the side of the road that apparently was not afraid of humans at all, taken a few days before…
We had stopped for some internet at Gakona Roadhouse, a nice historic place in a beautiful setting. It was comfortable to stay there, but the late evening sun convinced us to go a bit further and so we managed to see the beautiful sunsets over the Wrangell-StElias national park, with its 2 dominant peaks (from this side) Mt Drum and Mt Stanford. Read more
We both had a very strong love-hate relationship with the Denali Highway. It is a bit over 200km/130mi long, but 80% of this is unpaved. Sometimes tougher than the Dalton, wilder than the Denali park road, and wetter than the Netherlands :). ladies & gentlemen, we offer you: The Denali Highway in pictures, with some words as well…
It started out ok, with some nice roads from Cantwell, but soon the gravel came back with full force. Ivana had a bad day, so I just stayed away from her; I bit on front or a bit in the back. That is usually the best thing to do, when one of us has an ‘angry day’, when all roads are terrible, the legs won’t work or rain seems to hit you every minute. I was actually enjoying this road a lot.
It was nice to be away from the main traffic again. almost no people live here, rental cars are not allowed to drive these roads and trucks have nowhere to go to here, so all cars you see are travellers or hunters. All of them wave back when we wave at them and many stop for a chat. The landscape is simply stunning: from high mountains (even though most were hidden in thick, rainy clouds) to taiga forests and age -old glaciers. We cycled through valleys, crossed big rivers, saw al kinds of wildlife and met friendly people. We got rained upon, almost froze our hands and feet, downhilled in the dark and found cyclists’ heaven, all in a few days. Almost too much to process. Pictures do not do justice, but I will share a few, together with some short stories from the road: Read more
August 2: Resting, Denali info & Huskies
We woke up late, still exhausted from the previous 2 days. It was nice to relax again, while catching up on some work, emails and laundry. In the afternoon we checked out the visitor centres at the beginning of the only road into the park. The Denali park road (not to be confused with the Denali Highway, which we will cycle the next week), is a dead-end road that goes on for about 90 miles. It is forbidden for regular vehicles (cars, RV’s) after mile 15, but cyclists are allowed, as long as they pay the park fees. There are special camper buses that can take two bicycles as well as a lot of backpackers and it is actually cheaper to take that bus to the end of the road than a regular tourbus.
We decided that we would catch the Camper Bus into the park and then cycle back down the road. There are two options to camp along the road: you can reserve a paid spot on one of the 3 or 4 official campsites or you can go ‘backcountry camping’: The wilderness areas next to the road is divided into different sections and you can get a free permit to hike and camp in one of the sections, as long as there are still spaces, as they limit the impact on nature.
This is a great way to see the park, you can meet bears and caribou on every corner. The sections where there are known families of wildlife, like bears with cubs or a fox-den, are closed off for camping and hiking. We reserved the bus out and two sectors for backcountry camping, so we could stay in the park for 3 days.
July 24 – July 29: resting & recovering in Fairbanks
We spent almost a week in Fairbanks, relaxing and catching up on resting, washing, shopping & working. Besides the overwhelming abundance of We were pleasantly surprised food-wise on two occasions. First the day after we arrived at Ericka’s place, they celebrated Miles’ b-day and we were invited to share the pizza, coke and pie and meet some of their family.
The next day we went out to see a bit more of Fairbanks and we cycled around the town visiting some places along the way like the lovely Farmer’s market, selling extremely expensive but . There were no video camera batteries for my camcorder anywhere in the city, so not sure if and what I can film before the next big city, which is Vancouver, 4000km away…
At the end of the day we visited the Pioneer Park, a place for tourists and locals to hang out. It is a bit corny, but they preserved and moved some of the oldest houses of Fairbanks here. We noticed a lot of people eating and unconsciously followed them to the source. We ended up at a set of tables, covered with fresh fruit, salad, chocolate cake, chips and meat. Besides it were a few large containers filled with cans of soft drinks, it was biketravellers’ heaven.
21st July, a long and tough B-day party!
I went to sleep at the Arctic circle age 37 and woke up being 38, great place for a b-day. The road that Ivana had spotted had a name, which is always bad news. It was called the ‘Beaver Slide’ which could be pleasant in different contexts, but in our case it meant 3km of steep uphill cycling at a 10% grade. The asphalt had ended, so we were back on mud and gravel and the returning rain made it even more difficult.
The rain and hills did not stop all day but still we were in a good mood. Just when we thought we had enough hills, we entered the area which was called ‘The Rollercoaster’ and it deserved its name. We had been warned beforehand by some people as the big trucks cannot slow down on these hills and cannot avoid us well. In order to get up the next hill, they have to go full speed down, else they will not make it.
Well, on a fully loaded bike you cannot go down at full speed as you will break it, so we usually start braking at about 50km (30mi)/hrs speeds when on the mud and gravel as there are potholes everywhere. This means that we cannot make it back uphill, and many times we had to get off the bike and push it up.
Just when I was pushing my bike on part of the Rollercoaster, called the Sand Hill, I noticed something moving on the side of the road and I stopped pushing. A large dark brown shape swiftly crossed the muddy road, some 20 meters/70 feet in front of us. Read more
After all the planning, we were anxious to get on the plane. Romke again suffered sleep deprivation because of our trip and woke up with us and took our bikes and all bags to Schiphol airport at 5 in the morning. It was raining cats and dogs (or lions and hyenas as we use to say in Tanzania, but that is a different post about our preparations that we still have to write
We had booked with Condor airlines, but the first leg (Amsterdam to Frankfurt) is executed by Lufthansa. It was a messy check-in, but while we were busy preparing our bikes for the transport, we were pleasantly surprised to meet up with our friend Bas. He works on a project at the airport, heard we were leaving and came in a few hours early to boost our sense of humour as always
Condor had been nice to us by allowing extra luggage, free transportation of our bicycles and the lowest ticket price.
One of the best things they offer is cheap international one way tickets. somehow all major airlines charge more for a one way ticket than a return ?!? Anyway, as we try to minimize our flying because of environmental impact, we were also happy to find out that Condor flies directly from Europe to Canada/Alaska instead of going through major hubs in the lower 48. This makes the trip shorter and therefore cleaner.
The Lufthansa part was great, the check-in easy and the on board service friendly. We could check our luggage all the way through to Fairbanks, so at the huge -and customer unfriendly- Frankfurt airport, all we had to do is get new boarding passes for the 2nd flight. Well, it turned out that is was lucky that we had a 3 hour lay-over, as we needed it between walking from one end to another and queuing up at Condor..
The flight itself was basic, no personalized TV, but I can live with that in exchange for a few hundred euros saved. Besides, we crashed (no pun intended) in our seats the moment we sat down and only woke up for drinks and meals… The food was nice and the views (perfectly announced by the friendly pilot when applicable) were outstanding, seeing the Norwegian coastline, Jan Mayen island & volcano, Greenland and Northern Canada, before we stopped for a while in Whitehorse, Canada. Another hour later we touched down in Fairbanks, Alaska, just a few degrees south of the polar circle.
We were delighted to see that not only our bikes, but also our bags made it. Less happy I was when I noticed that some baggage handler along the way had roughly turned my front wheel in such a rough manner that it had scratched my frame and destroyed my front light. Immigration was very friendly here and very interested in our trip and gave us no trouble.
While we were reorganizing our gear and fixing our bikes a huge rainshower passed and Ivana and I looked at each other with a frightened look and started looking for our Vertical raingear. Our bikes were heavy and we were both grumpy, until we saw the campy roadsign that welcomed us.
We had been in contact with Ericka *& Miles through the excellent Couchsurfing community, offering hospitality between/to travellers. Her house was easy to find and we were welcomed to our own room where the packages I had ordered were already waiting: a new lens for my camera, some memory cards, a new stove and a big box from Big Agnes/Honey Stinger with our new tent and a lot of energy gels and bars.
Ericka let us call to Matt at the Northern Alaska Tour company and we were pleased to hear that one of their vans was leaving the next morning, and they were offering us free seats for us and our bikes and gear, all the way to Deadhorse! This is the name of the community near Prudhoe Bay, close to the Arctic ocean as we could get and the start of the Dalton Highway. This was perfect!
Ericka helped enormously by driving us from one store to another to get some last minute supplies lie some spare inner tubes, dinner and breakfast and bearspray! (As I mentioned in my first post, they did not have after-bear..).
Fairbanks is 10 hours later than Amsterdam, so our day was already 34 hours long. We were tired after all the lack of sleep but as we would leave in a few hours, time to sort our stuff again: what would we not need the first 2 weeks? Mistakes can be fatal for us or our bikes on one of the roughest roads imaginable…
It was time to say goodbye to Wiseman and 8-Ball, even though we could have stayed much longer. He asked us not to tell everybody he was such a nice guy, but we said that we could not do this.
Just when we were cycling out of town, we heard an engine behind us and 8-ball appeared on a small 4×4 vehicle that every Alaskan seems to have nowadays. 8-ball stopped besides me.
‘I forgot my manners. As you were going to Coldfoot for some lunch, I just thought, maybe I can make you some soup! Do you want some?’
The we did something that biketravellers normally never do: we turned him down.
‘Thanks for the offer 8-ball, much appreciated, but you already have done so much for us. We have to go.’
And off we went. The road was not as bad as we had left it 2 days before and soon we arrived in Coldfoot, the leftover from the Pipeline and mining town. Now it is mainly a truckstop, serving Alaskan-sized portions of food. as mentioned, most cyclist do not have epiphanies when cycling. The only deep thoughts that cross our minds are usually either:
- When can we eat again? I am hungry..
- Damn, that wind is again slowing me down, when will we get tailwind?!? Is that another rain cloud up there?
- Should we stop for lunch now and push another mile or two?
- 20 miles cycled today, so that is 32km, so almost 11km per hour. Seems it is time to stop for a snack, but maybe then it will take too long until dinner..
As you can see, the thoughts of a biketraveller are mostly about basic subjects: food and cycling, distance and weather. Ivana and I both admitted to eachother that we increased our speed when approaching Coldfoot, making non-stop calculations: ‘Coldfoot is at Mile 175, this is Mile 171, so 4 miles, that is 6.4km. We go 13km per hour now, so almost 30 minutes to lunch. Oh no, uphill, 40 minutes to lunch. Great going down again, only 10 minutes to lunch now.’
Suddenly we both realised independently a horrible possibility: what if the other cyclist had come to Coldfoot before us and had already bought al the snickers bars!?! Read more
As the other cyclists were sound asleep and they would be faster, Ivana & I left before them. We were greeted by a very strong headwind, which promised not much good for the next 30 miles up to the pass. Fortunately it was still dry most of the time and further relief was brought by some friendly people on the road.
When I stopped to wait for Ivana, I met a few women, who worked at the Toolik Lake research center. They were intrigued by our trip and even more by the Solar Supra solarpanel I had on the back (which charges even when in cloudy conditions). They took some photos, to share with their class and treated us on some homemade cookies, yummm…
Just down the road I noticed two huge 4×4 vehicles coming our way. What struck me were not the many different stickers, but the Argentina- Alaska notice and I stopped them. It appeared to be the family of Hugo, which I will introduce in a separate post. we are starting to meet so many nice persons, that I am going to start a different category: 1000 Americans. Not sure if we will get to write about 1000 different people during this trip, but we will definitely meet them. For now let me just say that they gave what we needed most: a cup of coffee for Ivana and a Twix, Oreo cookies and some other treats for both of us!
No more excuses now, we had to get up to the infamous Atigun Pass in order to cross the Brooks Range and the roads started to climb into the clouds. The rain came back as well and the final hours up to the pass were quite gruesome, chilling us to the bone.
The last section was so steep that Ivana and I both had to walk for a bit. I arrived first on the pass, but as it is not a touristy road, there was no sign, no shelter & no place to hide from the storm. But luckily, a truck was parked and I could shelter behind, waiting for Ivana to appear from the mist. Ok, into the wind and downhill! Read more