(June 8 – written by Dave)
Day four of the Headwind Highway is complete. And yes, in case you hadn’t guessed it, we had headwinds again today. We made a short day of it as we are not planning on reaching Watson Lake until Friday – we have our first Warmshowers host lined up there and didn’t want to be a day early. Not that we could have ridden that far – winds on the nose are wearing on the nerves.
The day started well enough with oatmeal at the campground. We probably would have liked to join them in the cafe for brekkie but Chris carried all this oatmeal from Tok to Whitehorse and I’m tired of carrying it myself – so oatmeal it was. The folks at the Rancheria roadhouse are all really great – very friendly and go out of their way to help travellers. We certainly would give a big thumbs up to any cyclists going through. Interestingly, they generate their own power off of a hydro plant the owner built up the road a kilometre or two, capturing water coming down off the mountain in one of the many creeks. That provides them with free power for almost 10 months of the year. Everyone else in the area must run generators, which is one of the reasons many of the roadhouses eventually shut down – it’s just too expensive.
We stopped at the cafe for a water top up and tried to buy some sort of baked treat for the road. Unfortunately there were no muffins or cinnamon rolls (I think the baker has been away for a couple of days), the only thing they had were a couple of packets of homemade cookies in a basket labelled banana chocolate chip. I was quite excited by the prospect of the cookies but they turned out to be your basic Anzac biscuit – not that we mind Anzac biscuit, we were just looking forward to chocolate when we stopped for morning tea a little later. While in the cafe, we got a few more bear stories to put us on guard for the ride. We heard that there was a mother with two cubs anywhere from 1k to 10k up the road and even overheard a trucker say he saw “16 bears” – not sure where or over what period of time but we were on keen alert as we hit the bikes.
Pretty much as soon as we hit the pavement we were met with our friend the headwind. I’ll stop talking about it now as there is not much more to say. While it was hard work, at least the scenery nice. I stopped for quite a few photos, all the while Nancy was not letting me get very far from her – she was on bear duty extreme. I’m happy to report that no bears were seen all day! (Editor’s note – you are supposed to make noise so that you don’t startle the bears if you come upon one but I really need to come up with some more songs to sing out loud as my repertoire is very limited. Dave thinks the noise of the bikes is enough but I am not buying it).
We heard from our highway friend Jon yesterday that there was a “very dusty” 12k section of highway where his crew had finished rocking. We think they are coming back for more oil and gravel, but for now, it was dusty, rocky and kept us completely focused. There was not too much traffic and most folks slowed down for us to reduce the dust. It never got to the choking stage and perhaps we actually can thank the headwind for one thing – it blew the dust away quickly.
We met a fellow cyclist, riding motorbike this trip, at the rest stop right at the end of the gravel. His name was Larry and he used to work for the US Cycling Association. He was with them during the Sydney Olympics – so we had a lot to talk about. It was a nice visit and gave us energy to push on after the wind and dust (oops, did I mention the wind again J) Sorry, no photo of Larry but I’m sure that I can find him via google once we get internet.
It was only 21k from the rest stop to the campground. We didn’t say much riding this section, just heads down, get’er done cycling. We arrived to find another fantastic Yukon Provincial Campground at Big Creek. It was only just past 1PM – Nancy likes these more civilized days (I do as well). We snuck down to the creek – really a river in my book – and took very cold skinny dip showers. Neither of us was overly interested in a soak, given the water temp but it did a lot to refresh us. It was a bit of a battle between us and the mosquitoes, with much hopping around, so I am sure we would have been a sight had anyone come down to the creek for a view.
We filtered water, did some bike chores, relaxed and enjoyed a peaceful afternoon at the park. I was getting ready to cook dinner and got the great idea that I could use the camp woodstove like a did a few nights ago. In no time, I had the stove cranking and dinner simmering. It is hard to think that it was only 3 nights ago at about the same latitude that we were huddled around the stove to get warm. Today it may have broken 80 (at least 75) and neither of us were overly excited about hanging out near the stove. At least we didn’t have to burn any more of the fuel – yes, the fuel that Chris carried from Fairbanks to Whitehorse!
So tomorrow, we are headed for Watson Lake. It’s been on our “mental map” for some time and feels like an exciting milestone. It will make the end of our time on the Alcan. We turn south from Watson Lake on the Cassiar Highway – actually it’s a bit of an in-and-out, as the junction to the Cassiar Highway is about 22k from Watson Lake, but we need to go in and resupply for the next stage. We’ve heard “there are hundreds of bears” on the Cassiar – just kidding on that last point, but frequent sightings are reported so we’ll stay vigilant but not scared. As the John Howard government said, “be alert, but not alarmed.”