The distances between lodges, gas stations and villages here are even greater than in Alaska. When I cycle out of Dawson it says 'next service: 300 km’ (187 mi). Logistically you really have to plan this. This road seems endless. For now, I'll stick to this schedule:
After 24 mi (40 km) lunch
After 41 mi (65 km) small snack
After 52 mi (85 km) evening meal
Between 62 mi (100 km) and 69 mi (110 km) looking for a place to sleep.
Personally, this helps me a lot to divide up the day.
For the first time I get food and drink from people on the road. This is so wonderful to get to experience. Yesterday I was in my last block between 52 and 69 mi (this is also the toughest) when a car stopped. I was given a sports drink and a loud cheer. This moved me and - almost with tears in my eyes - I drank the bottle all at once. I have never experienced such gratitude as I did here.
Canada VS. Alaska
What are the differences at first sight?
- In Canada I can read road signs again, they' re not full of bullet holes anymore.
- In Canada there are no free refills.
- In Canada the distance is in kilometers. So I don't have to convert to miles anymore.
- In Canada (Yukon) there are many more mosquitoes.
What do they have in common?
- The people are super friendly in both Alaska and Canada! These six weeks on the bike have already shown me that there are a huge number of good people in the world.
Canada part 1
Top of the world highway
At home during the preparation I must have thought: the first border crossing must be one to remember. Where all the other cyclists continue along the Alaska Highway, I take the Top of the World Highway in the direction of the border. Five hard days on a bad road and many altitude meters. The view is breathtaking and it really made up for a lot!
I had specified that I would cross the border at 11 am. With 14.5 miles to go I start at 9 am. After the first turn, I see the road going steeply uphill. That same road eventually continues to climb all the way to the border. I arrive at the border at 12:45 pm. Afraid that they would make a problem of this I shuffle in line. It turns out? Everything is arranged in five minutes and then I'm in Canada! But I have learned my lesson; at the next border crossing I'll allow plenty of time.
After a blissful descent I arrive in Dawson City. That is to say - on the west bank. From here you have to take a ferry across the Yukon to get to downtown Dawson. I don't know what it is exactly, but there is a very pleasant atmosphere in this town. The roads are unpaved and everywhere you look you see old buildings. Walking around in Dawson feels like going back in time, so highly recommended!
I have been traveling alone for more than a week now. Every day I try to cycle around 62 miles (100 kilometers). I enjoy making my own decisions: where to eat, when to eat, and until what time I ride. On the bike itself I enjoy the time you have to think. The silence in the evening is very soothing. I can be alone without being lonely, it seems. For the time being this is going well!
The McCarthy Road
A gravel road of 60 miles all the way to McCarthy, that's what we want to do in a single day. We drive through countless potholes and over large rocks to finally arrive at 7 pm. Not a bad ride, right? The road itself was beautiful and despite the tough conditions, enjoying every inch of it.
You do you!
When we are sat on the terrace of the Golden Saloon, it is lovely to see the many authentic and extravagant people. This is really a place for 'free spirits': you can truly be who you want to be here. Nice to see how social and friendly everyone is.
McCarthy has something very romantic with its old creaking buildings and cars from the old days. Here you can sniff the real pioneer atmosphere. McCarthy was well worth the detour!
A few miles beyond McCarthy is Kenicott, a tiny village with the remains of a copper mine dating back to 1912. In the pouring rain (the first since we've been here) we hike to this very mine. On the way, we pass an old cemetery with graves that are over 100 years old!
Kenicott itself is really worthwhile: the old dilapidated mine, the stories around it and the fact that you can admire it all up close. Kenicott is a great example of the determination of the humankind and how we are capable of great things!
Dad would like to fly in a bush plane for once. Since I am on a tight budget this is unfortunately not for me. In the morning, Dad says he'd like to treat me as a last gift for the next two years! 50 minutes we fly over glaciers and see the gigantic expanse of Copper Valley. This is truly a fantastic ending to a very successful detour. McCarthy is truly a must see when in Alaska!
When we arrive at the tunnel I still wish they would let us cycle through. Of course we are not allowed. The alternative? Asking for a ride from someone with a large SUV that can hold two bikes. This is really outside of my comfort zone, but if we want to get to Whittier on time we have to go through that tunnel. The people here are, as they have been throughout the trip, extremely helpful! In less than 10 minutes we are in the back seat of an SUV. So far my first hitchhiking adventure.
The poor men's cruise
We take the ferry to Valdez, a trip of no less than 6 hours. When the smallest space has been used and all the cars just fit into it, we can finally leave. Along the way we see orcas, a whale and dolphins; this is truly fantastic. The ferry sails along small islands and floating ice blocks. A successful rest day and a nice change from cycling.
Climbing out of Valdez
On the ferry we meet Jonas, a Swiss with a pretty impressive cycling resume. He made a bicycle trip of more than two years all over the world. Argentina, Japan and Mexico are some of the countries he cycled through. Now, like us, it's Alaska's turn. We cycle together for a few days and it is nice to be able to share experiences and feelings from being on the bike.
The climb out of Valdez is tough! With a bright sun and temperatures above 25°C, this is hell! How relieved I am to be at the top. I feel my body getting stronger, if we did this climb 4 weeks ago I should have pushed for sure!
We are on our way to the last major highlight of these 6 weeks of Alaska. McCarthy is the next stop: a village that has remained completely frozen in time and this in the middle of the wild wilderness of the largest national park in the United States.
When we go over the remaining details of the trip in Anchorage, we seem to be running out of days. Dad flies back on June 17 and has to be back in Anchorage by the 16th. Because of this we book a bus to Seward, this saves us 3 cycling days.
The first 5 minutes I was in a bad mood, I wanted to travel human powered as much as possible and didn't care for that bus ride at all. But every downside has its upside. Look for the good, remember?
We stood on the top beaming with pride, what an effort but what a beautiful reward! We are gazing at the Harding Icefield, a gigantic ice field that stretches out as far as we can see. The hours leading up to this moment were a real challenge. With snowshoes we hiked up extremely steep hillslopes. By the way, we are all alone on the trail!
Down the slopes we slide! Super fun, until you go too fast and lose control: more than once we end up in the bushes. At 08:15 pm we get back on the parking lot. We will not soon forget the Harding Icefield!
Watch out, tides!
It is still early when the alarm rings, 05:30 am, despite the fact that we are on a trip! Today we have a coast walk on the program. We have to take the tides into account, because only at low tide you can pass.
What a walk! This is truly wild untouched wilderness. As we walk along the beach and get ready to climb back into the forest, we hear a loud splash! We just barely see the fin of a whale go down. A few minutes later the whale jumps out of the water and we have a fantastic view of this colossal creature. Wow, from the beach we are watching a whale! We feel so privileged to be in this nature. It is 08:25 pm when we can return with low tide. As we cycle back to our host, we see another sea otter enjoying the last rays of sunshine in the bay.
For now, Seward is the greatest discovery of Alaska! After these hiking days, I'm looking forward to biking back and starting the last part of Alaska.
Bus 142, the magic bus
Nervously we walk into the campus. When we arrive at the 1st floor I see the bus in the distance. My heart makes a jump! After all these years seeing this bus with my own eyes is unimaginable. In combination with the fatigue of the past few days I react quite emotionally to this encounter. Unfortunately we are not allowed to pass the glass. I send an email to Angela (the supervisor of the project), asking if we can get closer to the bus. Late in the evening when we had given up hope my phone rings: Angela sends that tomorrow at 9am is perfect. A loud cry of joy follows. The next morning we are face to face with the bus. No glass between us this time. 'Can we... Can we go in for a minute?' I ask shyly. 'I thought you were never going to ask,' Angela laughs delightedly! Here we are inside bus 142, staring at the bed and even the mattress where Chris lost his life. There is something sinister about it and at the same time something so insanely beautiful. This day is forever etched in my memory.
Fairbanks is a collection of cluttered, rundown buildings and diners. You name it they got it: McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Subway, KFC, ... All in the same complex! For someone with a difficulty to choose, this must be hell. We soak up the atmosphere of old Fairbanks in Pioneer Park where several old cabins are housed. There is a real pioneer atmosphere here.
After two days you have seen Fairbanks. If you want to try all the fast food chains, you'll probably need much longer.
Shopping for the next 10 days to Anchorage we do in Walmart. The goal? To stay under $3 a day for food. In the cart, out of the cart, dessert or none at all? When I grab some cheese for lunch, I see an armed man standing next to me! Full of disbelief I stare at the man and his gun discreetly. We as Belgians cannot imagine this. That an ordinary citizen goes shopping with his gun. The 'gun culture' here is really something quite special.
During our rest days we stayed with Geoff and Dorothy, two elderly people. I contacted them through Warm Showers, the cycling community par excellence. We came for a flat piece in the garden, but in no time we roll out our mat inside. Geoff wants to bike with us for a bit downtown, we agree enthusiastically. From the first few meters he seems to be riding in turbo! We have to pedal incredibly fast to keep up and that on our rest day!
It's nice to feel the warmth and security of a house for a while.
Dalton Highway part 3
The arctic circle
Excitedly, we stop at a sign that indicates that this is the Arctic Circle. From here on it will become warmer and the cold and frozen tundra will be behind us. We decide to have lunch and here we see our first mosquito! One challenge is over and the next one is already presenting itself.
Whoever says Alaska undoubtedly thinks immediately of the Yukon River. The river moves like an old snake twisting through the wilderness. I am surprised to see that the river is still completely frozen. How freezing cold must it be here in the middle of winter?
If there is one thing I find really hard, it is putting on my frozen shoes in the morning. The cold deprives you of so much, you slowly but surely switch to autopilot. The tent is wet, and so is the sleeping mat, with the result that everything starts to smell. At a time like this you lose a bit of your humanity. I have chosen to do this myself, but living outside 24 hours a day is hard.
Dalton Highway - part 2
Despite the fact that it is arid and the icy winds are never far away, the place is bustling with life. We see an Arctic fox, musk oxes and a lot of caribou. This makes the cold a bit more enjoyable to cycle.
The polar fox was fantastic to see. With his coat as white as snow, he crossed the road in front of us and curiously looked at us. The caribou - or reindeer - are worth stopping for. It is beautiful to see how gracefully they trot across the tundra. I like seeing animals for the first time in real life. Like us, they enjoy the first rays of sunshine on the tundra.
Those cycling the Dalton Highway must cross the Brooks Range. This goes via the Atigun Pass, this was the first real test and man, it was tough. Snow, freezing wind and a road that goes steeply uphill. I have to push the bike a long way up. With tears in my eyes I arrive at the top broken. Never again, I think to myself. It will undoubtedly go better when I have lost my Covid kilos!
When I weighed myself before departure the scale indicated 190 pounds. To be honest, for someone of my height (5.5 feet) this is too much. The last few weeks I indulged in fries, pizza, restaurant visits and way too many soft drinks. Building up spare and enjoying the good life was the idea. It was fun and tasty, for sure! Dragging all that spare weight with me up the hills is less fun.
The first tree, another world
After the descent, we are in another world. No more dry and icy landscape, it has turned into a green and living landscape. After 4 days we see our first tree and out of nowhere the flanks of the surrounding mountains are full. This is cycling through one big postcard. It feels like dreaming with your eyes wide open. But then you see fresh bear tracks on the road and suddenly you're awake pretty quickly. Rivers fed by meltwater on both sides of the road, mountains in the background and the only sign of civilization: the Dalton Highway quietly working its way through all this beautiful natural scenery, ... This is how I had imagined it back home. I regularly have to remind myself that we really are in Alaska. Two little Belgians in this huge wilderness.
Dalton Highway - part 1
Nervous, scared and surprisingly emotional I stare at the sign at the general store. All I must do now is cycle those first few meters, I look around one last time and smile: leaving has never been so hard. Prudhoe Bay is nothing more than sheds and industry. Throughout the year it has no actual permanent residents. ‘You can't live here, only work,' the store owner tells us. We buy far too expensive bear spray, a foghorn and camping gas. The bear spray is supposed to protect us from a bear if it will come too close. Did you know that this only works if the direction of the wind is right? Otherwise, you will blow this cloud of hot peppers in your own face. In addition, we have the foghorn.
The far North
Closer than this I will never get to the North Pole. Nothing grows here and everything is frozen as far as the eye can see. An icy wind and eternal silence are our faithful allies on this untamable tundra.
We are surprised when the track turns out to be a perfectly paved road. The first 60 miles are in perfect condition, then it becomes a rough gravel road. We want to ride an 50 mi a day average and have planned to eat in the evening and then cycle a bit further. That way the smell of cooking isn’t near our camping spot.
Setting up the tent in solid freezing temperatures is no laughing matter. Glove liners off, perform an action, glove liners back on. This happens for a while until our little house is set. The warmth of the sleeping bag feels like heaven! A little much needed security in this still unknown world.
Hey bear, coming through
We are regularly stopped by enthusiastic truck drivers who want to take pictures of us. ‘You guys are the first cyclists this season,' says one of them. According to the other, we are total badasses for doing this in the snow. At a steep slope we are stopped. 'Goddamn, does this have to happen now?’ I yell at my dad. The man lowers the window of his car and tells us that there is a grizzly bear 2 miles down the road. Thanks for stopping, I immediately think while my heart is racing. Exactly where the man described we see a grizzly bear in the distance. What a huge beast and how wonderful to see it in its natural habitat.
It is exhausting and quite different from cycling in, for example, the Ardennes. Out there you try to be as quiet as possible in the hope of seeing some wildlife, here you have to do the opposite and make noise. ‘Hey bear, coming through,' we shout in turns when we enter a bend. Funny that we are speaking English to the bears! You search the area for a large brown moving spot. Believe me, after a while you see bears in everything!