Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Day 9 –Burwash Landing to Kloo Lake

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Whoever told us that it would be windy by Kluane Lake wasn’t kidding. In the morning as we packed our things, the wind wasn’t yet blowing with full force, but it was licking at the lake, upsetting its surface and sending small waves into the North-Western shore. It was cold too -- Cold enough that we were wearing our wool mittens.  We had pretty much blown our food budget on the $15 burgers the night before, and the store at Burwash Landing didn’t have much in the way of sustainable food, so we ate the last of what we had on hand, which wasn’t much at all. They warned us at the lodge that there weren't any grocery stores untill Haines Juction, but we knew to take that with a grain of salt. Destruction Bay was coming up, and roadhouses like that usually had the kind of food we needed. We made sure to grab a map from the pamphlet rack in the lobby since the GPS wasn’t being too much help, then we hit the road.

Down the road just a bit we saw a small round owl perched in one of the dead trees to our right. Apparently the dead woods were not void of all life. It was comforting to see, but perhaps it was a bad omen of what our day had in store…

The paved roads quickly turned to loose gravel, and it had more traffic than we were used to. When semis would pass us, they had enough brains to give us plenty of room, and enough courtesy to slow down so we weren’t sprayed by the loose gravel, but the goddamned average joe’s in their pickup trucks and RV’s didn’t seem to know or care that when they zipped past us that they were giving us a face-full of marble sized rocks. When these ass-hats passed us, it hurt like hell. We tried to signal to oncoming vehicles to slow down, but they just zipped on past at full speed throwing gravel up at us. We had to time it just right to cover our faces with an arm or turn our heads away from the road when they’d pass in order to prevent losing an eye or busting out our teeth. It pisses me off just thinking about it! We were also choking on the huge dust clouds that followed each vehicle, but we could deal with that.  Dust to the face? Who cares. Rocks to the face?  You've got an angry Jake.

THEN the wind started to REALLY blow on top of it all. It was time to put the music back on, so out came the MP3 players.

On one particularly mushy section of soft dirt and gravel, my bike sunk in so deep that it came to a dead stop, and I just sort of tipped over and fell sprawled out in the dust. I wasn’t going fast enough to actually get hurt, but since Mark was only half paying attention, it looked like I had totally ate crap on the road, so he jumped off of his bike in a panic asking if I was okay. I just laughed and dusted myself off, but after looking at my bike, I noticed that the grip-shift broke away from my handlebars, and I stopped laughing. A broken shifter means I’d be stuck in one gear until I could get it fixed. I fiddled with it for a bit, and I was able to get it jury-rigged back to the handlebars using a zip-tie and I got it to work correctly, but it was disheartening that my bike was becoming more and more just a mass of jury-rigged bike parts, and we'd only been on the road for just over a week.

Several miles down the road we came to Destruction Bay—another lakeside roadhouse community, but it was much larger than Burwash Landing with what looked like a few hundred hotel rooms available. They also had a much better store for re -stocking supplies, and since we were practically out of food, we did some shopping.

As was typical, we went strait for the sweets to satisfy our 11,000 calorie diet, which was particularly more amusing to us since we were in Canada, and there were all sorts of brands and labels that were unknown to us. Twizzler’s licorice for example looked TOTALLY different than what we were used to, and there is a no-name brand who’s actual name is “No Name Brand.” We got a kick out of all of it. After filling our arms with candy, I told Mark, “Okay, we have enough snacks, we need to get some real food, like…” and I looked around for some real, sustainable food, but I was quickly distracted by a big pack of Peanut Butter Oreos, and exclaimed “Oreos!” Thus, "We need to get some real food, like... Oreos!" Mark and I busted up laughing.

(To this very day, Mark and I STILL refer to Oreos as “Real Food,” especially since they really were a MAJOR part of our daily diet after that--when we could get them.)

We did end up getting sandwich stuff, a few cans of ‘pork and beans,’ and whatever else we could get that was individually packaged and would last a few days without refrigeration. It was a small store, but we had a lot more choice than we had been used to over the past few days. We ate a full meal consisting of energy drinks, licorice, Oreos, and cheese sticks before we set off again into the wind.

Immediately before Destruction Bay the gravel ended and the highway met pavement again, making the riding a little easier, but the wind was still making the ride grueling. According to Wikipedia, the name Destruction Bay “is derived from the wind blowing down structures erected by the military during highway construction in 1942-43.” I’d certainly believe it, but the wind became much worse as we proceeded South. The hours dragged by as we followed the Western shoreline of the Kluane on our left, and a rocky, ice-capped mountain range belonging to Kluane Canadian National Park Reserve to our right, home of the tallest mountain in Canada.
The sky was a milky gray from all of the dust and water being blown into the air by the raging winds. Further South we could see where it may have been coming from as thick plumes of dust wafted above the lake from the mouth of a canyon where the wind appeared to be the strongest. Out towards the middle of the lake, great sheets of ice left over from the winter were being blown steadily to the North despite their enormous mass, and we rode onward.

Finally we neared the South end of the lake, the wind howling in our faces. Unfortunately, our MP3 players' batteries died, so we lost our only way of distracting ourselves from the adverse conditions as the wind muffled our voices and hearing so conversation was impossible. We stopped to rest, and take in the view. We could see that once we rounded the South end of the lake, the wind would finally be to our backs—but we’d have to ride through the wind and dust raging across the highway. We found a slight break from the wind, and it was interesting to us that the plants seemed to grow just fine here where they looked weak and disheveled out in the wind. There was also a small cabin protected from the elements a few hundred feet off of the highway, so Mark went to investigate before we saddled back up.

We rounded the mountain, and we were hit with a wall of wind like I have never experienced. No plants grew here where the wind was the strongest coming from the mouth of this canyon that I could now see was a long and narrow glacier bed. We had trouble keeping enough speed to even keep the bikes upright, and only just barely moving. When I stopped to take some video of these mighty winds, my bike—weighed down with 90 lbs. of equipment—was blown over like a card-house, and nearly rolled over. If my helmet wasn’t strapped to my head it would have blown away.

This was it! The highway crossed through the channel of wind, and then it would turn us around to have these mighty winds to our backs! Mark and I had a sudden boost of adrenaline, and we pedaled into the eye of the storm. BAM! The wind hit us like a overloaded semi! It ripped dust and debris across the highway in angery blasts making it hard to see. We had to lean our bikes into the wind in order to remain upright, but even then, sudden gusts would cause us to struggle to regain ballance, but we didn't care, because soon we'd have it to our backs.  We gave it one final push, and we made it through to the other side, sheltered from the wind by the mountains.

It was great to finally be free of the headwinds! Looking at the maps, we figured we'd have it to our backs the rest of the day from the direction it had been blowing, so that put us in a pretty good mood. As we rounded the lake, we saw a massive heap of ice along the Southern shore, and we took a break to check it out. The heap was made up of millions of small flakes of ice that appeared to have washed in from the melting ice still out on the lake. They somehow had bunched up into a long floating mass like a frozen pier out onto the lake. The ice crystals were beautiful as the sun refracted through them causing them to sparkle, and it was nice to take in the moment, now safe from the wind. At the same time, it was another reminder that it was still a cold season, and that we needed to find a place to camp before the sun went down.
The road began to climb up out of the basin, slow and steady. Before long, we had left Kluane Lake far below us, but the road continued to climb. And then the wind started blowing against us again. It had caught up to us after all, and it slowed us back down to a crawl. We still had a long way to go after having only gone only about 40 miles the entire day, and the hours were crawling by. I distictly remember the thought going through my head: "It would take no less than a cool $million to get me to do this again..."
Time dragged by. The days didn't seem like they could get any more difficult. But somehow they did. If it wasn't the hills, then it was the wind. If it wasn't that, it was freezing rain, or it was the complete lack of food and water, or drivers kicking up gravel in my face. Or, like that day, it was a combination of everything with the volume turned WAY up till I had to just get off of my bike and SCREAM. It was bull crap! We couldn't possibly make it to Vancouver in time if the days just kept getting harder and harder all the time! Yeah, you've got to expect some wind now and again, but this was rediculous! It was nothing but hills and headwinds for the past few days strait, and there was no end to it in sight! If I had any brains at all I would have stuck out my thumb and hitched a ride back to Utah.
But I wanted it too bad. I said I was going to do it, and dammit I was going to do it! But how could I if things kept getting harder? I stood out in the middle of the highway having just yelled my guts out looking around at the trees and grass swaying in the cold wind with the mountains still looming before us, uncaring and unwavering at my outburst. Could it just be that we had some rotten luck? If the winds had been this bad for other people who had ridden the route, wouldn't I have heard about it durring my research? I didn't remember reading about this in the "brochure." Would anyone in their right mind head into these hellish headwinds knowingly? No way.

I don't know if there is a God, but I was looking for someone to take my rage out on. I'd done everything I could--given it my all--so someone had to take the blame for my woes. I'd HAD it. There were no prayers to be had asking to make things easier. I turned my face to the wind and sneered at it as if seeing it personified. "What? You think this is gonna stop me!? You think some measly wind is gonna stop ME!? BRING IT ON! LETS SEE WHAT YOU'VE GOT!" And I promptly dropped my biker shorts to show the wind where the good Lord split me.

So there I was, mooning the wind.

I know that sounds pretty rediculous, but there I was nonetheless with my butt-cheeks out flapping in the Canadian wind, red, white, black and blue like a flag claiming a new land. What exactly was I thinking when I up and decided to ride my bike from Anchorage down to Tijuana Mexico? I mean seriously, I had just undergone major knee surgery just a year prior, and then I went and made hamburger out of my shoulder, but then there I was, in the middle of the Yukon, crippled, yelling and shaking my fist and the wind, finally bearing my blessed behind in a final expression of disgust.
Meanwhile, Mark, my 15 year old brother, watched from the side of the road–too tired (and too amused just watching me) to participate with my colorful display out in the middle of the desolate Canadian highway. How had he been roped into this mess? Oh, thats right. I booked his ticket up to Anchorage without much more discussion than, “Hey! You wanna ride bikes with me from Anchorage down to Mexico?” So if he died out there, his blood was on my hands. Dad would be PISSED.
Wait, HE was the one to blame! My dad wass the REAL reason I was in this mess. He was going to meet us in Vancouver to join us the rest of the way to Mexico… He’s the one who booked his ticket into Vancouver only 32 days after we would fly into Anchorage, thus making me and Mark I have to average 75 miles per day to meet up with him! 75 miles per day!? Through THIS terrain!? You’ve gotta be nuts! That is the same pace as the Panamerican Highway World record holders for speed! We aren’t atheletes! I was a cripple, and my brother was the official token “fat kid” at his school! And somehow we’d found ourselves in the middle of the last great American frontier, completely unsupported, on our bikes.
After a week of brutal headwinds through the Alaskan and Canadian rockies, with freezing rain and miles of gravel roads, I couldn’t see how we could possibly make it to Vancouver in time.
So there I was in the middle of the Yukon.
With my 15 year old brother.
With two bikes full of camp-gear.
Mooning the wind.
And I was having the time of my life.

I felt alive. I caught the fire, and Mark caught it too. We hopped on our bikes and pedaled like never before. The wind gusted hard in our faces and I laughed with fiery glee, and pedaled faster. "You aren't gonna get me down." Now every gust of wind was only adding fuel to my fire. If every day was going to get harder, then I was going to fight back more fiercely. The elements had created a monster, and they were going to have to work overtime to stop me.
The rest of the day was still a miserable grind up the rolling slope till we made it to camp... but I had learned to enjoy it in a twisted, masochistic kind of way. To me, the harder things got, the more triumphant I felt after facing them. It was not so much pleasure in the pain itself, but pleasure in knowing that I would overcome it, or die trying, and grow stronger from it. I knew before the trip, but I understood better after that to expect the unexpected, and know that it all was going to be extremely hard to deal with--but probably not impossible.
Since we were no-where near civilization and the sun would soon be setting, we set up camp in a small rest stop on the side of the highway near Kloo Lake. It looked like a good fishing spot with the rest stop right next to a large crystal clear stream that flowed out from a thicket that slowly blended into the woods several hundred yards off towards the Southern mountains. Glancing at the map, the stream continued on till it reached Kloo lake about a mile North. There were various trails leading off into the thicket. Looked like bear country to me, and Mark thought so too.

I set up the tent, and then got out my backpacker's fishing pole that I had thrown in at the last minute. After only a few casts, I had a bite! I reeled it in eagerly, and pulled up... a freak of nature! I found out later that it is called an "arctic greyling," but it was the wierdest river fish I had ever seen. It basically looked like an ordinary trout... except that it had a huge unproportional dorsal fin, and big corn-on-the -cob looking scales. Well I yelled over to Mark to start a fire for us, and I got it all cleaned and ready to cook. It tasted pretty much like ordinary trout... that was cooked right in the coals of a fire ha ha. Well, Mark wanted to have a go at it, so he cast a few. He got a bite! But as he reeled it it, the line snapped, and we lost the only decent lure that I had brought with me.

Ah well. We really didn't have much time to fish out there anyway.

Route: 58 miles over 12 hours

1 comment:

  1. This was one of my favorite chapters. It seems like it just keeps getting worse. As the dad, I'm glad we didn't have these details while it was happening.

    I lol'd at the dad would be pissed comment followed by blame. In my defense, when I booked the ticket I didn't exspect the boys to make it to Vancouver in 32 days. I figured I would get there ahead of them.

    Kick back and sight see and then start at a leisure pace down the coast. I exspected that they would catch me soon enough.

    And I half exspected that they would see how crazy it was a catch a bus, a motorhome or something. I was mighty surprised when they showed up the day after I flew in.


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