(June 1&2 – written by Dave)
Two days in one blog…
First, on yesterday – the short story is that we rode the entire 100 miles between Haines Junction and Whitehorse. We really did not intend to ride this far but that’s how it worked out.
Chris, Nancy and I had a cozy night in the family tent at the hostel in Haines Junction – it really is a great spot and we would highly recommend it. Despite being in a tent, it was quite warm with the heater on – so much so that Nancy turned it off in the middle of the night. When we woke in the morning the rain on the tent sounded a bit ominous. We delayed a bit and finally walked over to the bakery to meet Mark. No one was moving very fast – expect perhaps for Mark who got stuck into the complimentary coffee in his hotel room. He was raring to go, half way through a plate of day old cinnamon rolls that he’d purchased by the time the rest of us joined him. The rest of us, who’d seen the forecast calling for the rain to stop around 11AM, were moving much slower, hoping for truth in the forecast.
Eventually, after Mark (and I) finished our delicious day old treat plates (and the others finished their more normal sized brekkies), we made our way to Haines Junction Visitor Center – Tachäl Dhäl. They had some great information about the geology of the region and the First Nation peoples that reside in the area. We thought we’d been travelling through big mountains, only to learn that the big mountains we’d been seeing actually block the view of Mount Logan, the tallest mountain in Canada (second tallest in North America, after Denali) – which is surrounded by the largest non-polar icefield in the world and 17 of Canada’s tallest peaks. It was very impressive but we had to imagine the mountains out the big picture windows as all we could see was clouds and drizzle.
We managed to pull ourselves away from the center about 10:45 – a very late start for our crew. It was still raining so Chris, Nancy and I were moving slowly. Mark, with the bit between his teeth, clearly was on a mission and shot off up the road. We caught Mark at each of the three agreed rest stops – each of which he had to wait longer for us. At the third one, near the end of our planned day, Mark said he was going to try to make a big day of it and shoot for Whitehorse. Little did we know at that time that we’d all end up doing this by the day’s end.
The views of the day were pretty dismal until late in the afternoon. The photo below is of our first rest stop, looking back to the beautiful mountains surrounding Haines Junction – yup Mark had the right idea about putting one’s head down. We know based on what we learned at the visitor center that there were mountains to see if the clouds hadn’t been there. Thankfully the rain stopped around noon and even better, while still grey, we had tailwinds –which make everything on a bike brighter.
We originally planned on stopping for a bush camp around the 90k mark. The area around the rest area there was not overly conducive to camping so after Mark left to continue the trek into Whitehorse the three of us decided to ride the winds “a bit” down the road until we got tired and found a decent place to camp. Nothing really turned up and then power lines started to appear – meaning more folks living there and fewer places to pull off. We also started to see evidence of farmed fields – something we hadn’t seen so far on this trip as it had been all scrub forests since Alaska.
We eventually made it to a 16k road construction area we’d heard about from a few travellers. After covering roughly half of the works, we came upon a flagger and were told we’d have to load the bikes on the pilot car. We learned that Mark had made the earlier cycle and that the foreman was in the process of securing the site for the day. He wasn’t too excited about being interrupted to ferry 3 bikes across the construction and suggested that if we waited 15 minutes he’d have the job shut down and we wouldn’t have to dismantle our bikes. Sold, we decided a break was in order. Better yet, the foreman told us of a gravel pit about 5 miles up the road where we could camp.
We were thorough entertained by the “lollipop” girl at the stop. For non-Aussie readers, in Australia we sometimes refer to flaggers as lollipop girl or boy – the stop/slow sign resembling a lolly pop. Not only entertained, we were well fed, as she had us eat a big container of strawberries that her parents had given her for lunch. She was a little silly and we’re not sure how many accidents she actually caused, but she was fun and photos were soon being taken. She told us there were lots of bears around the area but that we should be fine provided we were “bear aware.” In particular, she told us, with a straight face, that it was best to try to not smell too much – something that was probably beyond us after having ridden for over 75 miles already.
When we finally made it through the construction and to the gravel pit, it didn’t look very nice. After some back and forth, we voted unanimously to try pushing for Whitehorse. Chris broke out the caffeine-infused gels that he’d been carrying since Fairbanks, we each took a hit and then we just put our heads down. It was a bit of a slog but we got to within a few miles of Whitehorse without too much trouble.
No one, and in particular Chris and Nancy, were in the mood to wander so I did the right thing and ducked into a servo for directions to the campground we were looking for. The nice woman manning the register told me to ride around town and come in the back side – less traffic, fewer turns. This turned out to be a great idea but my travelling companions were not impressed as we made our way around the airport and airport runway. I couldn’t help but think “how long does a runway have to be for big jet airlines to land”, but didn’t mention this for fear of a revolt. I kept my head down and pretended not to hear Chris and Nancy behind me asking “is this right” several times. The last 2 miles were a ripper downhill where I heard several shouts to the effect “this better be right as we are not riding back up this” – I kept one eye on my mirror, one on the road ahead. So long as I was moving forward and not dropping anyone, I knew we’d be ok. I just had to ignore the chatter behind me. Eventually, we made it to camp at 8pm – good thing about the long daylight hours. And really good thing about tailwinds!
Nancy and Chris both inhaled bags of some kind of potato chips from the camp kiosk as soon as we arrived. At this point, both them were reduced to something closer to mumbling, as apposed to actually being able to speak — but we made it. Everyone was really tired but very proud to have ridden the whole way in one day – and to get the tents up just as a rain shower came through.
We’d hauled a loaf of jalapeño cheese bread and a block cheese from Hanes Junction – with a plan for a nice wild camp tasty dinner. Never mind, they still combined into fantastic toasted cheese sandwiches under a campground awning as the rain bucketed down. After devouring the entire loaf and downing a final cup of hot tea it was pushing midnight and called time on a hard, but rewarding day.
It rained on and off overnight but stopped by the time we woke up. Packing up was wet, but not too bad because we knew we were headed for a hotel. (Editor’s note – thankfully we woke to Chris tapping on the tent, offering to go get coffees from the campground kiosk – no alarm clock!)
We learned this morning that Mark had made it to Whitehorse safely as well. We met up for brunch and later, a celebratory dinner. We spent the rest of the day getting a phone sim for Canada and unpacking everything to figure out what we can do to make our loads lighter. Hopefully we have gotten through the coldest of the weather expected until we get back to Oregon and we took a hard look at what we haven’t used in the last two weeks to figure out what we could send back. We need the weight and storage capacity for the next leg as we head out into more remote areas. We now have a big pile of things for Chris to take back to Oregon for us. Of course, we now have to carry all of the food that Chris was carrying, including a very heavy bag of oatmeal that Chris has carried for 400+ miles! We were trying to make sure we had enough food so that Chris did not go hungry but we had many more opportunities for roadhouse breakfasts than we anticipated so perhaps we overpacked a bit – sorry Chris! (Editor’s note – we may need to do another weigh-in just to make sure Dave’s bike is carrying more weight than mine, now that we don’t have Chris to be our Sherpa.)
This ends the first leg of our trip. It’s been great having the boys along with us. They are both pretty good sports and didn’t seem to mind being blog fodder too much. Nancy and I will be resupplying and resting a few days here, doing some sightseeing in Whitehorse and eating some good food before continuing south on Monday morning. We are ensconced in the Best Western, with 8 pillows and two beds to choose from – wish me luck pulling Nancy from here on schedule. (Editor’s note – it is very nice…)