Solitude has reigned supreme during the first three weeks of my ride. From the vast wind-swept North Slope to a snowy Brooks Range teeming with wildlife, south to the giant, glaciated peaks of the Alaska Range giving way to broad, braided rivers of silt, this 1,000-mile stretch has offered a peaceful quietness ideal for settling into the rhythms of everyday life on the road.
Upon landing in Tok, 90 miles shy of the Yukon border and serving as the gateway to Alaska on the ALCAN, that tone quickly changed. I ran into seven other adventurous cyclists ready for a day off and eager to ride as a group. Over a shared campfire we hashed plans for the following week that would surely be anything but quiet.
Andy calls Yosemite National Park his home, living just outside of the park and teaching for the Yosemite Institute when not climbing, Telemarking or bike touring. Check him out at: http://lazymanadventures.wordpress.com/
Mario, the 'Grandpa' of the group of four from Guadalajara. His nickname was spot-on. Wise beyond his years, this globetrotter had stories from far and wide.
Lou, the philosopher. Always up for a challenge, this crazy Swiss from Mexico quietly earned Swiss Machine status by charging up a mile-long gravel hill, off route, on a dare. I still owe you a beer, Lou!
Alejandro, contemplating the crushing defeat from the previous night's game of Pente. Don't be fooled by his quiet demeanor, this guy can hammer on a bike!
Lang, always smiling, from Daegu, Korea, has worked as a translator in China and is on his way to Toronto for a year of work and to study English.
One tough dude, Kanetomo, a truck driver from Japan is on a 5-year world tour. Hope to see you down the road!
Enough with the pasta and canned tuna! With Three Bears Grocery in Tok as our last hope for honest shopping for the week we made good use of the grill: marinated steak, sweet potatoes and grilled veggies, washed down with 'Glacier Fresh' Kokanee and gallons of ice cream made for the perfect rest day feast.
One for the road!
It's hard to resist the temptations of town. Fast Eddie's quickly became our favorite hangout in town. We filled up with one final breakfast as we headed into the emptiness of Yukon, stomachs heavy with syrupy, never-over-buttered pancakes.
There's never a dull moment traveling with such a large group. Although our paces differed we often chose to ride together, sharing laughs and stories of home, quickly becoming close friends.
A sunny 4th of July lunch on the porch of the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge visitor center, just shy of the Canadian border. As the lone Americans, Andy and I struck a patriotic chord with our rendition of 'The Star-Spangled Banner.' Little did we know we'd draw a crowd; a standing ovation was in order and with it came leftover pizza from a couple traveling north by RV. Eight hungry cyclists vying for a slice made for quite the sight.
Rising gas prices have kept traffic light this summer. These prices paled in comparison to those just across the border. No complaints from our perch in the saddle.
Long, cold winters wreak havoc on the roads up north. With a short window of warm weather and 24-hours of daylight, it's all hands on deck for road crews during the summer. The first 200 kilometers of road in Canada were under construction and we were "forced" to hop a ride with pilot cars on two occasions.
Finishing the day with a 12-k shuttle!
With stoves blasting away and gear strewn about, the idea of "stealth camping" is lost on a group of eight. Lang adds the perfect touch to his meal under the warm shelter at Lake Creek.
Strength in numbers. Another benefit to group riding is the respect we receive from passing vehicles. Friendly honks and waves greeted us in a way a solo cyclist rarely experiences. Or maybe it's just that friendly Canadian spirit...
The relatively casual riding through the Tanana River valley from Tok into Canada came to an end as we edged closer to the Saint Elias Mountains and battled headwinds into Destruction Bay.
The fierce headwinds were worst along the shores of Kluane Lake. We took to riding in a group, swinging leads at the front and hiding in each others slipstream, when possible. The distracting views of the surrounding snow-capped peaks caused a couple hair-raising fender benders, just to keep things interesting.
I'll take headwinds with blue skies over heavy clouds any day. With the exception of a couple overnight showers the sun found its way through the clouds each day.
Climbing out of the lake before descending to Haines Junction on our last day as a group of eight.
Mario says "thumbs up" to the 10-kilometer descent ahead.
And the descent continues.
Moth balls to keep bears away at night? If I had a nickel for every story or warning of lions, tigers and bears (oh my!) I've heard in the last month.... Pablo was a believer, though. And who am I to argue; we made it out alive after he littered our camp with them on the bear-friendly trail along the Dezadeash RIver.
No farewell is complete without a push-up pyramid -- but not recommended for large groups! LTD!
After a week of amazing fun my group shrank from eight-large to two, as Andy and I weren't done exploring Alaska. We headed south on the Haines Highway while the other six continued east on the ALCAN towards Whitehorse.
Aside from the usual mid-morning armada of migratory RVs, we had the road to ourselves. The 150 miles from Haines Jct, YT, through a slice of British Columbia and back into Alaska is --by far -- the most scenic stretch of road riding I've encountered in North America. Our first day on the Haines Highway was without a cloud. We were greeted by stunning scenery at every turn, eagerly charging over each pass to see what the next valley revealed.
With 80 miles remaining to the coast, a marine layer crept in overnight blanketing the peaks of Three Guardsmen Pass.
A dedicated Telemark skier, Andy was lost in imaginary free-heeled turns from the porch of this ski hut/cyclist shelter along the Haines.
One final climb before zipping back into Alaska.
The REAL reason for riding the Haines Highway to SE Alaska: Mosey's Cantina in Haines, AK, hands down the best Mexican food in all of Alaska.
Gone was the cloudy weather from earlier in the day. Clear blue skies are a rare sight in SE Alaska and we celebrated with pints on the Fast Ferry to Skagway!
What does it mean!?!
Andy and I finished this stretch in Skagway, AK, at the end of the northern most fjord on the Inside Passage. We were quickly welcomed in by the tight-knit outdoor community and didn’t want to leave.
But as the bittersweet ‘Shooting Star Syndrome’ would have it, Andy was bound for Whitehorse and the road south. He took off the following afternoon and I’ve since made my way to Juneau for a few more days off with old friends.