Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Day 7 – Yukon Border to “Chainsaw Massacre” Campground

Friday, May 30, 2008

By morning the rain had cleared up and we had a bright clear sky, so as we packed our things I charged another batch of batteries, and we set some of our things out to dry in the sun.

At the roadhouse gift shop, we had a chance to check our email, and we bought Alaska decals to put on our bikes like badges of honor. It had taken about a week, and the Alaskan highways had proven to be a worthy challenge that had broken us in more than enough. My whole body ached from the previous day of riding, but it was time to head back out on the road. We called home from the roadhouse payphone, then set out to cross the Canadian border.

The roads were much rougher than they had been for the past week, (except, perhaps, for the sections coming up over Eureka.) Rather than smooth pavement, we encountered rough gravel-top tarmac. It definitely felt as though we had moved into a different locale. In no time, we crossed into Canada--and without much fanfare.

A large sign with a Canadian Mounty greeted us along with a sign marking the actual border, and another noting that speed limits were now posted in Kilometers rather than miles. There wasn’t much more than that—and the roads became even rougher as we moved into the Pacific time zone. They didn’t look like they would be getting much better either. In fact, after a few miles, the pavement ended and we had nothing but loose gravel to ride on. Although we were technically riding mountain bikes, we had replaced the rough tires with slicks, and slick tires on loose gravel do NOT work very well at all. Aside from being uncomfortable to ride on, it slowed us down and took more energy to travel over, especially with the rolling hills we were riding through. Fortunately, the gravel ended after a few miles, but we knew that it would be back...

We came to an area where, to our left, there was a boggy looking marsh blotted with soggy looking grass and a few trees that appeared to be drowning, and to our right a clear meandering river which flowed in a deep-set bed among the evergreens. A few flowers sprouted up here and there, and though it was the end of May, it still looked like just the beginnings of spring. When the river bent close to the highway to pass beneith it, we stopped and walked down to the rocky banks, passing a sign noting the river as “Snag Creek.” The water was fairly shallow and clear, but it had a distinct green-blue hue. On the opposite bank, hearty evergreens sprouted upward. We hadn’t seen much more of the “drunken trees” of Alaska since Tok, and I wondered if I’d ever see them again—but these were close. They could have passed as the Drunken Trees’ stronger, more sober cousins.

The highway stretched far ahead of us, taking us through some long, wooded corridors, then finally we made it to Beaver Creek, and the actual port of entry into Canada where we had to hop off of our bikes. I figured that the border guards had to have seen plenty of cyclists passing through over the years, but they still looked at us like we were the strangest things they’d ever seen.

“So… what is the reason for your visit?”
“Sort of just… passing through. We are headed to Tijuana Mexico.”
“Uh huh.”
“And you guys are…?”
“Brothers. Mark is only 15.”
“You realize you’ve got a long way to go, right?”
“Yeah. Yeah, we know.”

The officer eyeballed the big knife Mark was carrying, making me a little nervous because I knew from previous experience that Canadian customs typically doesn’t allow knifes into the country. But instead of commenting on the knife, she asked if we were carrying bear mace. I hesitated, not knowing if they were going to confiscate it, but then showed her where I had it stored. She nodded in approval, and commented that it was important that we always have it available in the backwoods of Canada. They checked our IDs and then sent us on our way into town. Painless enough!

Mark and I were pretty hungry, and we wanted some serious grub, so we stopped at the first restaurant we came to and each ordered a big old plate of lasagna and chatted with the locals. Since this was our first encounter with the Northern Canadians, we were fascinated by them, and they were fascinated with us. We ended up spending way more time chit chatting than we could really afford, and after exchanging some US dollars for some Canadian cash, we saddled back up.

Heading out of town the road was relatively flat and strait, but before long we started a very long ascent, and the wind started to blow against us, making us strain. The wind continued to pick up strength, and the ride became a miserable grind. Even as we crested the top, the wind pounded against us slowing us to a crawl. It was becoming so incredibly frustrating to me that we couldn’t seem to catch a break from the wind. Normally the downhill stretches allowed us to make up precious time, but we had to keep pedaling just to keep our bike moving! I had hoped that we would escape the wind in Canada, but wind knows no bounds.

We hadn’t picked an endpoint for the day, and it was especially hard to pick a spot to stop since the GPS was no longer a reliable source to gauge distance, so we’d stop somewhere as soon as we had reached our mileage goal. We had been told that we should find a handful of campgrounds that were either closed till the tourist season, or closed for good, and I figured we wouldn’t have a problem staying at one of them if we could make it before dark, which was quickly approaching.

It grew colder, but the wind let up a bit. Clouds had rolled in overhead as we had been climbing, but it made for a beautiful view after we had finally started to descend. The light that made it through the clouds on the horizon scattered into beautiful pink, purple, and orange hues. Mark and I stopped on a bridge traversing a broad river that flowed out to a grand floodplain, blotted with spots of water that had been trapped since the previous high-water as the river branched out randomly across the gravely bed. The view seemed to make all of our trouble worth the effort. All around the bridge were what appeared to be swallows of some kind—hundreds of them flying in unison, swooping up and around probably through a cloud of flying insects.  We just sat and watched them for quite a while, mesmerized, until we realized that we should find a place to stay before it got much darker.

We saw a sign advertising a campground up ahead and as expected, it had not yet opened for the season. The entrance blocked with 50 gallon drums so no cars could pull in, but a bike could easily slip in un-noticed... I figured they wouldn’t mind if we stayed there overnight, but Mark was a bit wary. The campground, surrounded by canyon walls, was flat and covered with lawn. Trees stood out here and there, and around the campsites were vintage Army vehicles of every kind. To me it looked like a nice little place to stay, but to Mark, it looked like something out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. We also noticed there was a newer pickup truck parked at the camp lodge, and there was smoke coming from the chimney. Although I wasn’t creeped out by the place like Mark was, I didn’t exactly feel like knocking on the door to ask if we could stay the night.

We picked a nice little campsite— far away from the lodge—and set up camp. We had some dinner, and then hid the food bag in the cab of the old 1940’s Ford-looking Army truck, and called it a night. The air was getting pretty frosty, so we hunkered down in our sleeping bags, and drifted off to sleep.

Route - 61 Miles in aprox. 10 hours

1 comment:

  1. I would have been weirded out by that campground too. Just too many scary movies that have old trucks ect. Thinking of Jeepers Creepers, I hate that show.


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