It’s been ages since I last updated and so much has happened that I hardly know where to begin. I think a person grows at an accelerated rate on the road, and when I think back at me cursing the sky, shivering in Glenallen, it seems like a different life in someone else’s sweater.
The road from Glenallen to Tok was mostly flat, and since the weather was cool, I covered about 200 miles in only two days. There were some breathtaking spots along the way, though the one that sticks out most in my mind is an enormous valley near Mentasta that was so wonderfully silent that even my soft whistle rang off the mountain walls.
I got lost in the echo, imagining what I’d be doing at that moment if I hadn’t got on a bus back in June, and I felt so very fortunate.
In Tok I again stayed with the Marshall clan at their newly opened campground. This time I slept in a converted military tent that was referred to, rather optimistically, as a hostel. Still, it was two dollars cheaper than a camp site and the cot was a nice change after sleeping on rocks and branches for so long.
Joining me in the tent for the evening was a woman named Justy, who was on the lam from Californian authorities for, “Every charge they could think of.”
I didn’t care much about her rap sheet. Instead, my lasting memory of her is that she snored like a buzz saw and scared the devil out of me the next day when I found her wandering around the Tok city limits. I don’t know if she was on drugs or just taking a piss, and I didn’t stop to ask.
I breezed down the highway with thoughts of the Canadian border bouncing around my head. What I didn’t realize was that American and Canadian customs aren’t in the same spot on the Alaska Highway.
Exhausted and dizzy, I creaked my way to the border around 9 p.m. and was greeted, not by a border guard, but by a big green sign that said, “Canadian Customs – 20 miles.” So I biked 20 more miles in the dark, finally arriving at the guard station at 11.
And there I stood until 11:20 while mosquitoes sucked every drop of energy from my legs. The guards were busy tearing apart a U-Haul and I guess I slipped between the cracks. The bugs were so bad that I slapped one leg and then the other, back and forth without bothering to look down.
For all of that, I was really hoping for some intense light-in-your-eyes interrogation from the guard, like the kind you’d see on a 70’s crime show. What I got was:
“Do you have any firearms or explosives?”
“Did you buy anything from the Duty Free store?”
“What’s a Duty Free store?”
“Have a nice trip, sir.”
After customs, it was only a few kilometres to Beaver Creek, where I found a random picnic table and set about making my supper. As I boiled my rice, a squeaky shadow emerged from nowhere and I jumped with fright.
I was face to face with a four-year-old on training wheels.
He pedaled right up to my toes, tilted his head to mine and asked, “Hey, what’s your name?”
I said my name was Mike.
“Did you know my name’s Tucker?”
I said I didn’t, but my words fell on deaf ears. Tucker was busy inspecting my bike, climbing on the picnic table, asking what I was making for supper, if I liked rice, what colour of rice I ate, how many times I stirred my rice, etc. etc.
As we discussed the finer points of my diet, his father came along with his older son. After I explained my trip to them, he introduced himself as the head chef at the local hotel and gently hinted that the evening’s leftovers might be more appetizing than my boiled rice and lentils.
Five minutes later, I was sitting in a staff mess hall, glugging down glasses of milk and eating chicken fingers, breaded fish and vegetable stir fry.
The trio told me I was camping behind the hotel, and since I didn’t have the energy to argue, I fell asleep on a soft field of moss 30 meters from the parking lot. I slept like the dead.
My rest didn’t matter much, though, because the next day was unkind. It was hot, hilly and there was a gritty headwind knocking me around on every pedal stroke.
I went all of 20 km before I realized I was having no fun whatsoever. I slipped into a territorial campground and sat by the lake, picking gunk out of my eyes and banging my socks together like two dusty chalk brushes.
That was the end of the line for me. I took off my helmet, grabbed my cook pot and headed into the bush to pick blueberries. Picking (or perhaps eating) berries always seems to cheer me up, and on that day I was in serious need of purple fingers.
When I returned to the shore, blueberries in tow, I met a German couple – he fishing without success and she hand-washing laundry – and also a wiry Irish fellow named Barry. He was cycling from Anchorage to San Francisco before setting off for Australia and southeast Asia.
We talked for awhile and since he had no water filter, I offered him some purifying drops that I’d never used. Barry invited me to share his camp site and a half bladder of red wine that some other campers had given him the night before.
The treat was finished in short order and we sat there looking at each other until he suggested we go back to Beaver Creek to buy more wine.
So we did. We biked over the highway that had frayed my body so completely, and then made our way back to the campground – two fools with cheap wine in double-bagged plastic.
We stayed up until three in the morning talking about little things, stupid things that only two people living on a bike could really understand. I fell asleep with my shoes as a pillow and a huge grin on my face.
The next morning I left in a great mood, and thank goodness. Any sour thoughts I had would have pickled in the incredible heat that glared over everything for the next several days.
The closer I got to Whitehorse, the further the mercury rose, until finally, near Kluane Lake, it inched over 40°C. All I could do was hide in the shadow of a rest stop outhouse and wait for the sun to slide behind the mountains.
The rides to Haines Junction and even Whitehorse were kind of a blur. I was strung out from the heat and the grime of the road, and by the time I arrived in the capital, all I could do was sit on a gas station parking meridian and suck on a Slurpee. Watermelon. Mmm mmm.
In Whitehorse, I stayed with a CouchSurfing host who took me out to catch the final show of a band called The Whiskey Dicks. They blasted Celtic rock in a sticky, seedy bar so hot you could barely breathe. Everyone in the place was dancing like mad, covered in sweat and booze and smiles, and if you stopped for a moment to take it all in, you’d swear it was beautiful.
At that same bar, I met a lady from Teslin who asked me to drop in to the town’s Visitor’s Centre when I passed through. It took me two days of cycling through smoke so thick it seemed like a dream, but I made it to the reception building yesterday and met up with Bev. We talked for a bit, but she had to go back to work so she invited to come to her place for dinner later that night.
And what a night! Before I could even sit down I had a bowl of moose stew in one hand and a Budweiser in the other. We sat on her back deck for hours and hours watching the full moon peek over the hills and make its sleepy arc across the waters of Teslin Lake.
When I finally closed my eyes, my stomach ached from laughing so much. I fell asleep in love with everything, and nothing in particular.
That brings me here, to this moment. Thanks to Bev and her Tlingit hospitality, I’m stocked with a ton of fruit and dried salmon for my journey. Today I hope to make it to Swift River, then it’s off to the Cassiar Highway Junction and south, into British Columbia . . .