Sunday, June 10, 2012

Day 10 - Kloo Lake to Champagne... Kind Of

June 2, 2008
We were beginning to wise up a bit regarding the wind.  The pattern we noticed was that the winds ceased at night, and started up again around 10 A.M..  As it so happened, our morning was wind free as we quickly broke down camp--but just as we had hypothesised, the wind picked up just as we were hitting the road around 10:00.  It was a familiar foe that we were beginning to love to hate.

We noticed large sections of tall, dry grasses helplessly matted down flat, defenseless against the steady currents of wind trampling it down like an endless stampede of Yukon Caribou.  We had been there, but we weren't going to let it get us down anymore. 

The big stop of the day that we were looking forward to was the town of Haines Junction which rested at the bottom of a long descent, but first we had to finish the continuing climb we had started out of Kluane Lake.  At the slow speeds we maintained going up the gentle slope, and with my new found strength in accepting the inevitable wind, I was able to focus more on just taking in my surroundings. 

The sky was much clearer than it had been over the past several days, and the air warmer--and it carried a sweet scent.  Most of the local vegetation we had seen consisted of various greenery, but I noticed a distinct difference:  Bright blue, violet, and small white flowers blossomed out in the open with the tall grasses where they were free from the dark shadows cast beneath the pines.   It was finally starting to feel more like summer as we had steadily progressed towards our final destination at the US/Mexico border.  We still had a very long way to travel, but I felt content at the thought rather than overwhelmed.

After about 10 km (a little more than 6 miles) we finally crested the top and picked up speed as we coasted down the other side.  The winding nature of the road weaving down shallow canyons lined with more and more deciduous forest seemed to baffle the wind a little bit--enough that we were able to mostly coast on the steeper parts.  It would be another 12.5 miles into town.

We saw a haggard looking cyclist heading in the opposite direction.  As was typical, our conversation only lasted as long as we were within earshot of each other.

"Hey, where are you riding up from?"

He definitely looked like it.  He was lean and strong, his skin had been deeply tanned, and his hairs on his arms and legs bleached white in the sun.  I wondered how long he had been riding.  He was riding alone, and I wondered to myself if a solo ride of that length would even be any fun.  I decided I was very glad that Mark, my brother, was there to share the adventure.  Half the fun was just getting into one pickle after another and being able to laugh about it with him.  When there wasn't constant wind, we would just talk and talk for hours.  When we ran out of real things to talk about, we'd switch into these different character voices and entertain ourselves that way.  Also, there was always a little bit of competition between us that kept prodding us onward.

"Are you tired yet?"
"Hmm... Not really."
"Yeah, me neither..."

Haines Junction "Traffic Enforcement"
We rolled into Haines Junction ready for some food and rest.  It wasn't much, but it was the biggest town we had seen since Tok, so we were excited to have a fully stocked grocery store--rustic as it may have been.  Most of our electronics were just at the verge of dying, if not already dead, so we were on the lookout for a good place to re-juice.   The Brunton Solaris Foldable Solar Array (12 Watt) was great when we didn't have any other option, but it only put out enough power to charge one thing at a time, so it was often tricky to keep everything charged.  A picnic table out in front of the grocery store near some power outlets was the perfect spot for us to commandeer for a few hours, and as usual, we took turns to watch the bikes and charge up batteries while the other did grocery shopping.  We made quite a long break of it as our electronics charged. 
While we waited, we asked for some directions to the post office. Since we didn't know exactly what to expect that far North, we ended up with a lot of things that were just taking up precious space in our panniers and not doing much else to aide us.  Two boxes later and a few pounds lighter, (almost all of it was my stuff) we were back on the road, headed North out of Haines Junction.

We had lost about 2 hours, so we picked up the pace.  I mistakenly thought the wind had died down for the day, but as soon as we made the bend heading East again and came up onto the bench, we were back in the thick of it... but something was different.  Mark's face suddenly lit up. It took me a second to realize that the wind was actually a tailwind that was helping push us along!  Yahoo!  With that, the miles seemed to fly by.  The sun cast a warm golden glow over the tall grass and forest as the road stretched out far ahead of us with very little variation for about 15 miles.

We weren't really sure where we would stay for the night, as there wasn't really a predetermined stop so we stopped when we came to a turnout for the historic Canyon Creek Bridge to have some food and evaluate our options.  The maps showed a location called "Champagne," but after talking to some of the locals, it sounded like there weren't any campgrounds for us to stay in, and it also sounded like the cut-off road was not paved.  The guy we were talking to told us that there was actually a bike route that we had missed out of Haines Junction, but we didn't feel too bad because a lot of it wasn't paved either.  With no paved roads and no campground, it didn't seem to make much sense to take the cutoff route, so in favor of making good mileage, the new plan was to bypass the Champagne cutoff road and camp off the highway in the woods as soon as we found a good spot.

After 21 miles of rolling hills, we had reached our quota for the day of about 63 miles.  (I always kept track of what daily average we had to maintain in order to reach Vancouver on time to meet up with our dad.)  We found a clearing just off the highway with a patch of trees for some cover, and made camp there around 8:00pm--the earliest we had stopped riding on the whole trip.  We were still a little spooked about bear and moose, especially since we weren't camping in an area that was established as being inhabited by people.  With no man-made structures to exploit as our food storage bin, we rigged up our bear bag in the trees, and set our tent in the open so we could have a clear view of any wildlife that might wander into our neighborhood, and we made a small fire as an additional precaution to help deter unwanted furry visitors.

Because we stopped much earlier than usual, we had some extra time to just relax and settle in, and we planned to be up earlier too to avoid a few hours of potential wind.  We relaxed around our little fire for a bit as we filled our bellies with food, and then we crawled into our tent and drifted off to sleep.

Route - 59.2 Miles in 10 hours

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