Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Day 6 – Tok to Alcan

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Before we left on our trip we had visited many websites and Internet forums trying to find some good information and good advice about the types of distances we'd be able to ride. This was particularly important to us after we had learned that we would need to average 75 miles per day in order to meet our dad in Vancouver when he would arrive. I remember that several people said that it would be impossible for us to average 75 miles a day up in Alaska and Yukon, but the fellow whose blog we had been following said that we definitely could do 75 miles per day, but that we'd be hating life. Well, we had just finished a 90 mile day the day before and we were feeling mighty proud of ourselves. Getting up bright and early we had another 90 mile day ahead of us.

Mark and I didn't want to sleep in too long because we knew that we had a long way to go and we were also looking forward to the sourdough buffet that was advertised on the campground lodge door. We had no idea what a sourdough buffet was, but it sounded good to us, so after we were packed and ready to go, we hopped on over to check out the sourdough buffet. Apparently, for seven dollars we could eat all the sourdough pancakes and biscuits and gravy that we could handle, and for an extra two dollars we could throw in some reindeer sausage or some good old-fashioned bacon for good measure. Good stuff. I think I had several plates of sourdough biscuits and gravy. I recently calculated how many calories we were burning per day, and it averages out to about 11,000! That is like the equivalent of 30 double cheese burgers from McDonalds! No wonder we had superhuman appetites!

I normally was a fan of Red Bull, but up that far North, Red Bull did not come cheap. We were usually looking at about six dollars for a can. (And I'm talking about small cans, not those big double or triple sized ones they have back down South.) Because of this, coffee was quickly becoming my energy drink of choice because it had one distinct advantage—it was free nearly everywhere we went. So, having eaten far too many sourdough pancakes, biscuits and gravy and reindeer sausage links than is healthy for normal human being, and topping it all off with a couple of cups of coffee, Mark and I finally made it back out on the road.

As we made our final preparations to leave, I overheard some RV tourists commenting on Alaska. “It isn’t quite what I expected,” one woman said on the payphone to someone back home with a hint of disappointment in her voice. I thought that summed up Alaska pretty well. It is certainly very different than the way it is depicted in pictures and on television. It can seem desolate and overwhelming, but it is filled with an immense beauty that can only be appreciated by being in the thick of it. “She’ll warm up to it,” I thought with a grin.

Now Tok was an important milestone for us because it meant that we would finally turn that right corner from heading Northeast to finally finally FINALLY heading South towards Tijuana Mexico. As we rode down through Tok, little stores and homes sprouted up around us. (Not many though mind you.) We were focused on that one corner point, heading bravely into the wind.

We had another important milestone that we'd try to reach that day, which was the Canadian border. If all went according to plan we would make it to the Yukon by nightfall, which, of course, up there didn't occur till quite late. Before leaving Tok, we decided to take care of a few things.

We stopped at a local grocery store, which happened to be one of the largest stores we had seen in several hundred miles. It was large enough that we were able to restock on videotapes and look around for some of the hardware that we might be able to use to replace the jury rigged fixes that we had made to my bike. Unfortunately we weren't able to find the size of screw that we needed to reattach my rear rack, so the hardened piece of metal from my bungee cord would have to do till we made it to a better store. We also noticed our bikes were developing lots of creeks and groans so we decided to pick up some grease to try to slick things up and get rid of those squeaks. You can imagine after riding all day long up and down hills and whatnot, the various squeaks and rattles would start to get on your nerves, and they did ours.

The road out of Tok was a long straight stretch. Fortunately we didn't have to worry about any hills in the first little bit. We crossed over the Tok river and all around us were those funny little pine trees again. Though the sun was out and there were very few clouds in the sky, the air was still crisp and had a bite to it, so we both kept our jackets on. After a couple more bridges we found ourselves with some gentle slopes to climb, but they weren't anything too serious and we cranked right up them and right down the other sides. The land stretched out all around us and we were happy to see that there were no major mountain ranges in our near future.

The forests changed again and the pines found themselves equally matched with quaking aspens -- thin and wispy and easy to spot with their light green color against the dark green of the pines. We had reached the summit of one of the longer hills, and we prepared with excitement to cruise down the other side. We picked up speed as we cruised down the curvy slope, but at the bottom we found something we had not expected.

A wall.

A wall of mosquitoes. Before we even knew what was happening we found ourselves in the very center of the thickest cloud of bugs I'd ever seen in my life. I tried desperately not to inhale them but was also dealing with batting them out of my eyes as they kept getting caught in my eyelashes. A few moments later, we made it out of the other side of the cloud and quickly proceeded to ride up the next hill. Mark and I didn't want to stop for fear that they would be following us. We stopped at the crest of the next hill--out of breath--and took a moment to get off of our bikes to catch it. Much to our dismay, however, we soon realized that we had hitchhikers. Mark could see on my back (and I could see on Mark's) that they had somehow found wind shelter and latched onto us, waiting for the perfect moment for us to stop when they could make their strike. Sons of bitches! We frantically brushed the mosquitoes off of each other because we definitely did not want to be covered with itchy bites. We brushed down our bikes as well, hoping to get rid of any stragglers that may have latched on them, and quickly hopped back on and zipped down the other side of the next hill. Fortunately, we didn't have any more mosquito attacks that day.  Some sections of the highway had been cut into the mountains, so we passed between several rocky, and sometimes sandy embankments as we climbed steadily over the next several miles.

At last we made it to the final junction that would send us to the Yukon border, and we stopped at a little general store to pick up supplies to last us the next few days. It was then that I noticed that right next to the Alaska Tesoro gas station, there was a burned down Texaco. Normally I wouldn’t have thought much of it, but we saw the same thing in Tok earlier that day, and the same thing in Glenallen a few days earlier. Mark and I wondered if it was just a coincidence, but it was quickly forgotten as we started scoping out the food.

The sky had turned gray, and we were beginning to feel quite exhausted. We didn’t even have the energy to turn around and pick up Mark’s unopened energy drink that had fallen off of his bike—I could only watch over my shoulder as it disappeared behind us into the distance. We gave the lost soldier a moment of silence.

Up ahead of us we spotted something in the middle of the road—a dead hawk. It looked like a car or semi must have hit it in mid-air. Welcoming the break, we hopped off our bikes to take a closer look. We prodded it a little and noticed that it was still warm. It must have been a fairly recent kill. I picked it up to look at it. It was a beautiful bird--it was a shame that it was dead. A thought suddenly occurred to me. “Mark, I think we could eat this.” Mark rolled his eyes at me, but I kept looking the hawk over. I mean, how often to you get a chance to eat a rare bird? I knew how to clean and cook birds, and it seemed crazy not to just go for it. As I thought more and more about it, the better it sounded to me, but Mark provided the voice of reason, pointing out that if it wasn’t as fresh as it seemed and it ended up making us sick, we’d be in serious trouble considering that we hadn’t seen a hospital or even a small medical clinic since we left Anchorage. He made a good point, and I decided that I couldn’t put our journey at risk by making a careless mistake. Instead of eating it, though, I decided to cut off its foot and keep it as a memento. It turned out to be easier said than done. Even though we had a big K-Bar combat knife with us, we didn't wanna use that to cut off its foot because we used that for all of our food. So instead, I just tried to remove it with my bare hands. That sucker did not want to come off. I bent it and twisted it and twirled it around, but it kept hanging on by a couple of threads of sinew till finally I was holding it by the leg and whipping it around and around out in the middle of the road until the hawk finally broke free of its foot and flew off into the trees. It wasn't exactly the proper burial I had imagined for it but I wasn't about to go tromping off into the woods to go find it. I put the foot into a little plastic baggy and tucked that away into my things. Mark and I both wondered what kind of a reaction we'd get if we were searched going through border-customs, and they found a hawk’s foot in our things... I decided to tuck it in a little deeper.

The miles began to really drag, and time seemed to be moving in slow motion. The Alaska Highway curved around the many rolling hillsides and continued taking us upwards. It seemed like every time I checked the GPS it kept saying we had 10 miles left... 10 miles left... 10 miles left... About ten minutes later, I checked it again… 11 miles left… wait, WHAT!? I stopped my bike right there because this was making me angry. I took a closer look at the GPS to try and figure out what was going on. I soon came to realize that this particular section of the Alaska Highway was not mapped very well on the GPS. I checked to make sure my maps were loaded correctly, but something was wrong. The more detailed maps I had installed were no longer showing up on the GPS, and therefore, we did not have an accurate reading of the distance to our next stop. This would be a major setback if we couldn’t accurately estimate our distances for the day. I fiddled with it for a while but I couldn’t get the maps to load. We’d have to rely on printed maps from there on out. The map we currently had on hand was not the most detailed, so we’d have to find some better maps later.

The air became chilled, and small raindrops began to sprinkle down on us. Finally after what seemed like an eternity of riding on an endless loop of cold rolling hills, we made it to a very new looking “log cabin lodge” type roadhouse with a large RV campground in the back. This was the "community" known as Alcan, only two miles from the border. Even though we hadn’t quite reached the border, we decided this was where we would spend the night. They had a small grassy area in the back for tents, right next to what appeared to be a scrap yard with lots of old cars, tires, and miscellaneous machine parts. There was already a tent set up there with a young couple who was starting a fire to roast hot dogs. As the darkness fell, we exchanged a few stories and they shared their hot dogs, but as the rain began to pour down harder, I crawled into our tent, and got into my sleeping bag...which I discovered was soaked! There was a massive puddle inside the tent right under my stuff! Normally my tent is pretty good at keeping the water out, and it wasn’t even raining that hard. Then I found the culprit—my Camel Bak had completely emptied through the mouthpiece. That was 72 oz. of water that had pooled up under my sleeping bag, and the last time I ever kept my Camel Bak inside my tent.  I dug out my camp towel and mopped it all up. Luckily it didn’t get any of Mark’s stuff wet, but I’d have to let my bag dry out a little before I could sleep in it, so I trudged off through the rain to the showers.


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2 comments:

  1. So Awesome Jake! Loved the wall of mosquitos and the hitch hiking ones.

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  2. Haha, I found those wording errors you mentioned. They were pretty obvious editing mistakes that I somehow missed when I was going over the original audio transcription haha. I THINK I've got them all fixed... but I only kinda skimmed the last half, so there might be some more there. :P

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