Monday, June 22, 2009

First cycling leg in Alaska

It's now Day 5 of the ride and after almost a full day of recouperating in the sleepy town of Tok (latitude 63ish), I might be recharged sufficiently to head onward towards Haines tomorrow morning. We cycled in from Moon Lake campsite on 1 apple each, thinking the distance was a lot shorter and knowing there would be pancakes at the end. 31km later and totally famished, we headed straight for Fast Eddy's in town to order a massive omelette each which came with a side of 2 huge pancakes. Normally I would have been happy to share but wolfed it all down, surprising Robert and probably everyone else in sight.

Today is the summer solstice, so officially the closest we'll get to a midday sun. It's still bright outside but perhaps more like the first signs of dusk 11.45pm (see photo below of us leaping at midnight). These long days are brilliant for camping - no rush to set up camp before dark or worry about torch batteries going flat. A blindfold is essential, however.

I had no idea of what to expect, landscape-wise, of Alaska. I have vague images from episodes of "Northern Exposure" but these weren't much help. The landscape is beautiful and apart from the odd headwind, surprisingly easy (gentle terrain) for cycling, so far. We've crossed over many wide, braided rivers (stopped at some for a sleep), stopped by a few lakes and found some beautiful campsites, both wild and state-managed. There's plenty of water around but giardia is common, so we've been filtering or boiling. As we've headed further southeast, the hills have turned into beautiful rows of velvety green and chocolate brown mountains with streaks of white snow. There's still hard-packed snow by the roadside in some places and on the river beds, despite the mild (10 to upper 20's celcius).

Forests seem to cover most of this country (or what we can see from the saddle) - pines, aspen and birch of varying heights depending on soil and conditions. Wildflowers in pink, purple, yellow and white blanket the roads sides and are sprinkled in the mossy forest floors. The forests hide much wildlife but so far, we've only seen a few moose (females), loads of noisy squirrels (sound like mini machine guns) and birds.

I'm quite relieved that we haven't yet had a close bear encounter but am keen to see a few from a distance sometime. I wear bells when I venture into the forest to look for firewood or a toilet spot and carry my bear spray (powerful pepper spray) whenever I can. It's at the ready, attached to my front pannier on my bike, when cycling. Robert is carrying an airhorn as an additional deterrent. Precautions of cooking, storing food and sleeping in three different areas are a bit of a hassle but I'm keen to make the extra effort to avoid a nighttime visit by a grizzly bear. Luckily, vegetarian food isn't too pungent so we should be fine.

The roads are surprisingly good here, with a broad sealed verge, perfect for single-file cyclists and often there are long, separate sealed cycle paths. Traffic, from semi-trailers to the mega motorhomes are extremely courteous, passing right to the other side of the road. Even on-coming traffic pulls right over to the road edge. Talking of motorhomes, I have been mildly horrified at the enormity of most of them. Repeatedly, I have been surprised at the steady flow of tourist coaches, only to be reminded that they were all mobile holiday homes for two. These travellers have all the luxuries of home on wheels. I photographed a few this evening in our Tok Tundra RV Camp that if huge to begin with, are enormous in camp mode, with slide-out bays on each side!

Robert is a great travelling companion - mostly jolly, same diet, similar speed and endurance and considerate. We've had two others join us at different times, Argentinean Axel (33) with his massive, tower of a load, and Paul (30) from near Boston with his very neat Bob trailer compactly loaded with an amazing array of gear (including laptop, frisbee, yoyo, gps tracker, solar charger). Both of these guys are heading to Ushuaia on slightly different routes with 20 months and 10.5 months respectively.

Everything is big here - cars, streets, roads, house yards and people.

We've met some interesting characters along the way - lots of slow-talking hairy blokes (Bob at Salcha River campground), beautiful native Alaskans and their very wild children, very fat people (reminds me of Wall-E), drunk bar folk and a very out-of-place but pleasantly familiar health food shop owner (huge contrast from the Tok status quo).

We have 366km under our wheels now and are 1/3 of the way to the ferry which will take us to Juneau, Alaska's capital, in its remote, watery location in the Gastineau Channel. Fortunately Sarah Palin is not in office at the moment, so we won't be seeing her there.

For those who like figures, here is the trip so far (updated on the wetpaint site):
17th June 81km to riverside state campground
18th June - 93km to Delta Junction state campground
19th June - 88.1km to Berry Creek (wild camp)
20th June - 67km to Moon Lake
21st June - 31km to Tok and a bit of a rest day
22nd June - ? to ?....better get riding!

Photo below - setting up to leave Fairbanks

1 comment:

  1. Hi Emma,
    I haven't spoken to you in ages, but am glad that I'm on your "good enough friend to forward blog updates to" list. Your adventure sounds awesome and you writing style is easy and interesting to read. I look forward to your continuing updates.

    Nic Denshire