Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Day 8 – “Chainsaw Massacre” Campgound to Burwash Landing

Saturday, May 31 2008

It was kinda nice to be back home—nice warm bed, a fridge full of food, TV, etc. But it just didn’t feel right that I was back home already. It kinda felt like cheating to have stopped at home while I was in the middle of this incredible journey on my bike… Actually, I didn’t recall how I’d gotten home. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I went with it.

When I opened my eyes though, it made a little more sense. I saw the teal-blue walls of my tent, and a big fluffy tuft of hair in my face. Part of me was relieved, and part of me was somewhat disappointed. It meant that we still had a VERY long way to go before we would finally be home. The air was frosty, but we needed to get going so I began the process of waking up Mark:

“Come on, lets get going.”
“…Wakey wakey, eggs and bakey!”
“Ha! Come on, lets go!”

That would usually get his attention, even if he knew it wasn’t true. Just the thought of eggs and bacon was enough to get him to finally wake up, and in a good mood too. I’d have to wake him up that way just about every morning. If that didn’t work, I’d have to resort to tickling.
I wasn’t too excited for this day to come. We knew from our research that this section would have a particularly nasty headwind thanks to a large lake between two mountain ranges. But we'd already been experiencing terrible headwinds! If it was going to be even worse... well if we could just get past the lake, we figured we would finally escape the headwinds, for a while at least.

As we ate some breakfast and packed up camp, I saw a man staring at us over from the lodge. I waved at him, but then he turned and walked away. I hoped it wasn’t to go get his shotgun (or chainsaw) but needless to say, we got packed up really quick after that.
Back out by the highway, we met a guy who had a strange looking contraption on a trailer behind his truck. According to him, it was a rail car that he and his wife were going to ride from Anchorage down through Canada on the railways. “Well that’s one way to do it,” I thought. To each his own!
Well we set off down the road and after a few miles we came upon another campground roadhouse where we could have stayed if we would've known it was there. But we didn't, so we didn't. It was a pretty clear day and the roads seemed to be in better condition than they were the day prior, but we still had plenty of gravelly patches and some dirt sections that were several miles long. It was difficult to ride through especially when it was more powdery dirt because our tires would sink a couple of inches into it. The wind had already picked up, and it made things that much more difficult.

We had found ourselves in a pretty broad valley filled with evergreen trees and surrounded completely by mountains that were topped with snow. Because the campground we had stayed at was not open for the season they didn't have running water yet either. Fortunately, nearby there were several lakes, and eventually there was a rest stop fishing area with a small dock by the lake so we pulled our bikes in there and as Mark cooked some lunch for us, I filtered some water. Filtering water usually takes quite a while especially for two people and for the amount of water that we needed it took about half an hour.
While I filtered the water there were several people driving up to Alaska that had stopped in that same rest stop. We met a few of them, and one pair in particular who were riding motorcycles up there told us about some near misses they just had up the road. It sounded like some of the sections of highway that we had look forward to were going to be pretty rough and we'd run into plenty of washboard and some powder sections that we loved so very very much. On a bicycle it's not usually that big of a problem to have potholes and washboard since we were usually able to maneuver around these obstacles, but on a motorcycle when you're going highway speeds it can be a lot more dangerous and a lot more uncomfortable.
Sure enough once we got back out on the road we ran into some more dirt and gravel roads. We also discovered that the water that we'd filtered tasted pretty nasty. The part of the lake that I had filtered the water from was filled with moss and algae and that's exactly what our water tasted like. Without any other sources of water, we were stuck with it, but we would be sure to filter cleaner sources of water in the future.

The wind died down a bit, but the gravel roads became worse than ever to ride on, and on top of that, it appeared that we were right in the middle of the reconstruction of the road, as large dirt and gravel bearing semi trucks passed us constantly in both directions. We found ourselves sinking deep into the loose powdery road, and we both had a really hard time keeping our bikes upright, and it went on like that for miles. Finally, in the thick of all of the construction, a construction worker nearby said something into his radio, and then flagged us over. He told us that the semi drivers were concerned that it was really not safe for us to be out there bumbling around as they were constantly passing us, so they were sending a pickup truck to take us through the rest of the construction. I had to breath a sigh of relief, because at the rate we were going, it would have taken us about 3 hours to make it through that particular gravel stretch. We went ahead and kept on riding untill the truck met up with us, and when it did, we tossed our bikes in the back of the truck, and hopped in the cab.

It was odd to be in the truck. We'd only been on our bikes for about a week, but it felt very out of place to be moving so quickly. We passed through a lot of construction that I'm glad to have missed, but soon we were out of it, and we were back on the bikes with 33 miles to go before we would reach Burwash Landing.

Slowly, we moved to higher ground, and as we did the scenery changed. The trees were further away from the highway. The area just seemed like it was a bit dried out. From the side of the road, a little grey coyote scampered up to greet us. He licked his chops hungrily as we stopped to snap some photos, but he sat patiently waiting for food that would never come. For one thing, we simply didn’t have any to spare, and for another thing, feeding wildlife can be hazardous to a species because they can learn to depend on humans for food. We set off again down the road, but the coyote decided it was going to follow us, which he did for about two miles. Eventually the little guy got tired of waiting for food and he went on his way.

Throughout the day we were mostly climbing, but we had a few good sections of downhill as well. We were surrounded by magnificent vistas of monolithic mountains in the distance beneath vanilla clouds. Occasionally we would pass by pristine streams and lakes that reflected the sky in their glassy surfaces, but sure enough, as we drew ever nearer to Kluane Lake, the wind began to blow again. It started softly at first, but before long it was pretty unbearable.

We normally liked to talk to each other while we were riding, but we couldn't even hear each other so we ended up busting out our MP3 players and listening to music as we pressed onward up the slopes. The music kept us distracted from the constant grind, and gave us a much needed morale boost which kept us going, each jamming out to our own grooves.
Now and again we would see signs advertising visitor areas, but without fail, every one of them was closed. We figured we had enough food and water to make it to Burwash Landing, but it was still somewhat disheartening to see. It was like riding through forgotten ghost towns providing a constant reminder to us that we were definitely in the frontier.

The climbs became more gentle, but the winds grew more fierce as we made our way to the top. All day the sky had seemed unable to make up its mind to be cloudy or blue, but now it was a beautiful picturesque blend of deep blue sky and lavender clouds. That time of the day when the sun was out, it would shine beautiful and golden all around us, highlighting the amber colors of the landscape. Although the winds were still wailing, with our music playing and the beautiful views the time passed with ease.

Finally we were able to see the lake down below us to the South-East. All through the valley on the West shore of the lake there was a vast forest of dead gray trees. It looked like there had maybe been a massive fire or even a giant flood or something. Either way, there wasn’t a whole lot of life left in the supposedly once-flourishing forest.

We descended into Burwash Landing—a roadhouse community on the shores of Kluane Lake that looked like it belonged in a Spaghetti Western. It was a bit different from the roadhouses we encountered in Alaska—there were a lot more guests staying. Mark and I were pretty hungry, and we didn’t want to leave our bikes un-attended with more people around than we were used to, so we thought it was appropriate to wheel our bikes into the lobby with us. The lobby was outfitted with snack foods and souvenirs behind the old counter, and the main space of the room was taken up with tables for the restaurant. A waitress looked at us and our bikes and then said, “Uh, I don’t think you can have those in here.” A large woman, apparently the owner, came out from the kitchen, and scowled at us before telling us to get our bikes OUT. I was both embarrassed, and a little confused. It was as if we had rolled our bikes into Buckingham Palace even though it was just a crumby little roadhouse restaurant! Mark and I quickly learned that the Northern Canadians, whether of French, Swedish, English, or Native descent had a distinct taste for proper(ish) English manners. We were definitely in a new land that had some different customs and new definitions of what was acceptable and what was not. We took our bikes back outside and locked them up to a wooden railing where it looked like we would've tied up horses, and then went went back in where we were greeted a little more warmly. It was clear that we would need to be careful to be mindful of what our new hosts would consider to be impolite. As we looked over the menu, the matron made an off hand comment about it being rude to wear a hat at the table. Oops. We were going to have to REALLY be on our toes here. She didn’t sound cold towards us though—she could see that we were trying.

Best Soy Burger I've Ever Had

It was getting pretty close to about 10 o'clock at night so the restaurant was getting ready to close, but they said we still had time to order. A cook who looked like a Native Canadian version of Groucho Marx enthusiastically recommended their double cheeseburger. The dish would cost $15 Canadian, but we had worked up a serious appetite in the wind, so we gratefully took his recommendation. These were serious business cheeseburgers. They were massive and delicious. After we had finished, the Groucho Marx looking guy came back from the kitchen to ask us excitedly how we liked the burgers. We agreed they were fantastic then he exclaimed that the burgers were made of soy. “Damn!” I thought. I never would have guessed it. “Best soy burger I've ever had!”

As long as we didn't have our bikes in the dining room or wear our hats at the table, everyone seemed to be pleasant enough, and as it turned out we didn't have to pay to camp there. However we did have to pay for showers, which cost about $3 Canadian a piece—worth it though to refresh.

Direct from the Journal:

Route - 76 Miles in aprox. 10 hours


  1. well it looks like i'm all caught up, and now i'm bummed out that I can't continue :/

    but i know you're busy and have a life :P

    I'm excited for the next posting..CANT WAIT :)

    good luck with all your projects!

  2. I'm glad you included the dream and they part about the people getting on you for wearing a hat in the resturant and bringing the bikes inside.

    It gave us kind of a glimps into the difference in the people and customs that you encountered along the way.


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