Category Archives: Alaska

The Wolf

Due to popular demand, we’ve decided to post a picture of the wolf.  It is pretty disgusting, although, slightly less gory than after it was finally killed.  I personally recommend not enlarging the image, but if curiosity gets the best of you, don’t say I didn’t warn you. 

asfd

 

 

Chicken to Canada, eh?

     Â Â I unfortunately deleted this entry when a militant librarian startled me something fierce with her demands that I get off the computer within 30 seconds that I accidentally deleted the last entry.  So I did my best to recapture it.

 By Jacob

        Our stay in Chicken was ever too short.  The novelty of the “Chicken Poop” outhouse and belligerent “eskimos” had not even begun to wear out when we departed.  Unfortunately, the humble town of Chicken does not sell groceries and oddly enough, will not even sell you an egg, unless you buy it cooked.  We could not afford the luxury of dining out and had to rush on to our next resupply across the border.

      Â Â Â  Equipped with a ration of smoked salmon from a kind RVer, and some dumpstered food kindly “wasted’ by an adventure cycling tour, we ‘hit the road’ with a little extra protein in our lives. 

       Â Â Â  We were greeted by a steep and lengthy uphill and two Holland America tour busses who promptly “left us in the dust”, with a smile and a cheerful wave.  We constantly debate whether or not these  “dustings” are resultling from a wicked sense of humor, or just plain ignorance.  Judging by their cheerful attitude as they zoomed past us at 40 miles an hour, I was inclined to assume the latter.

      Â Â Â Â Â Â Karma seemed to find its way into their lives as we later learned they had gotten a flat tire, and likely had to endure the eccentricities of the Chicken locals longer then they would likely prefer. :) 

       Â Â Â Â Â With no intention of riding through the dust storm I pulled over and attempted to wipe off the earth that seemed to so quickly cake up on my clothes and lungs.  I took the liberty to engage in one of my lengthy stretching sessions that left me horizontally inclined far longer than is athletically useful.  In this time, my fellow riders took to placing a good amount of distance between me.

      Â Â Â Â  We had left a bit later than we should have in order to make it to the border at a comfortable pace and this was becoming increasingly apparent as I did a bit of mindless calculations with my bike computer.  Feeling a bit far behind, I did my best to keep up a solid pace, but couldn’t help to take a few pictures of the river valleys that sent tens of thousands of men packing across the snowcovered Yukon to find that yellow stone. 

      Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â  The sense of urgency was ever present throughout my day as the computer seemed to lash me with an electronic whip.  “Hurry up, or you’ll never make it to the border in time,” it snapped.  I hesitated to explore further some of the interesting sights along the way that grabbed my attention, like the old miner in the river or the ancient dredge.  My conversation was stopped short by the electronic leash that found its way in my consciousness, ever constraining my opportunities for the day.

       Â Â Â  This Cateye Enduro 8 bike computer became an electronic extension of my brain.  Corresponding with the few mile markers that had not been blown to oblivion by the armed country folk goin’ out for a drive, I could sense that I needed to pick up my pace.  I did my best to get those wheels spinning faster and faster.  Only the wind and hills seemed to constantly work against me, stripping me of valuable seconds/minutes of time.

      Â Â Â Â  After a couple hours of grueling self-imposed time trials I still saw no signs of my fellow riders.  I was getting mighty close to the “B-un–ry” (Boundary) as indicated by the bullet ridden sign.  If I kept up my pace I should actually be able to make it there before they closed in 30 minutes, I thought.

      Â Â Â Â Â  I relished the downhill that swept me towards the few buildings that represented the boundary.  I was picturing Goat and Sean waiting there with their feet up, ready with a few notes of sarcasm about what a slacker I was.  And after my solo detour to Northway, Alaska, I had little to respond with.  Especially since my humor was emptied into a huge appetite that has not seen food in 4 or so hours.

      Â Â Â Â Â Â  As I coasted into the Boundary with about 15 minutes to go, I realized that this was actually a little town and not the customs office I desired to cross before 8 pm.   Which was further articulated by a girl standing barefoot in the streets pointing towards a hill, claiming it was 4 miles away. 

      Â Â Â Â Â Â Â I ate my last Snickers for the quick 240 calories I would need to get me to the end of this ever ticking, tocking, timeless clock.  Heaving and panting…practically wheezing, I climbed up the first stretch, imagining it to wind down into a valley where I would catch a nice downhill breeze into the customs office.

      Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â  Only the first stretch happened to expose another painful uphill stretch, which there upon exposed another, and another.  My calculations became more grim and grim as the best I could muster up these mighty hills was about 6 miles per hour, which I could not hold as long as I wished.  Bouncing from 3-6 mph with every ounce of effort being transferred to those precious pedals on my bicycle.  I realized I was losing this uphill battle.

      Â Â Â Â Â Â Â  A few cars whizzed past me, leaving me in the increasingly familiar dust akin to these rural highways.  These cars made it look so easy, practically flying up the hill.  I pathetically hobbled my exhausted self within view of the customs building which stood on top of a might ridgeline.  Enhanced by imagination, this great wall of Canada was a formidable foe. 

      Â Â Â Â Â Â Â I saw one of the speeding motorists let through the green gateway into Canada and gave me a breath of hope.  I began standing and struggling to the top, picturing my friends there trying to convince the customs office to wait just a bit longer to let me through.  I even envisioned them with binoculars watching me suffer my way up this 4 mile hill.  My computer calculations never included this 4 mile finale, in all it’s never-ending splendor. 

     Â Â Â Â Â Â Two more cars whizzed past me as coughed up their trails, cursing the seeming simplicity of their motors.  In the far distance I could see the customs officer closing the gate, blocking access to the car that so kindly offered me the token gift of dust.  I slouched, sat back on my seat, defeated.  Ready to endure the ridicule of my peers for my slacker ways, I continued my ascent in hopes that maybe they would make an exception for the sad cyclist.

      Â Â Â Â Â Â  As I approached the gates blocking access to the car, I saw the driver returning to his ride with a reflected expression of defeat.  A younger French Canadian and his girlfriend were too late to secure access to their homeland this evening and forced to spend another night in the states. 

         “Any luck?” I rhetorically inquired.

          “Ohh…no.   Not tonight. They said I should camp down at Boundary.  Eh…. sorry about the, uh. dust back there.” He responded, slowly and curiously, questioning his command of English at every word. 

            “Don’t worry about, become rather fond of the taste, really.” I joked.

           His girlfiend, who was a bit shy and even more uncertain of her ability to communicate in English offered in jest, “well..maybe you could sneak on through with your bicycle.”

           Her boyfriend added with a smile, “they have guns, and dogs.”

          “Ya’ll didn’t happen to see any cyclists up there at the customs office did you?”  I questioned, still unaware of the possibility that I had somehow passed them en route.

          “Oh yeah.  I saw two of them, about 8 miles back,” he directed his comment towards his girlfriend for some verification.

          “Aha…they are the slackers.” I thought to myself. 

          Â Â Â Â Â My defeat quickly transformed into a victory and my mood was raised.  After chatting with the couple a bit longer about our travels, I retired to the vista point a half-mile back, welcoming you to Alaska where I would camp.

       Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â There was another poor soul who has had the worst luck on his solo vacation.  Charged with many troubles and too much time travelling by himself, he was more than eager to share his recent experiences.  3 flat tires in the past two weeks on top of a transmission job left this poor guy ready to end his vacation early and get back to work down in Oceanside, CA. 

       Â Â Â Â Â Â Â After about an hour and a half, the “slackers” arrived after gingerly taking their time exploring all the things I wished I had time for.  It was a very friendly atmosphere at the vista that night, united by our procrastination we felt a sense of comraderie for all having missed the ‘ship into canada’.  Food was passed around, (which generally vanished by the time it crossed our paths), as we cheerfully shared our travelling experiences.

       Â Â Â Â Â Â Â  We could see for miles and miles up there that night.  I spent a couple hours picking blueberries as I watched the sun set and a rather large storm developing just east of us.  After devouring the 4 liter pot of rice/beans complete with the smoked salmon given to us by the RVer, we set up our tent and went to sleep.  The couple from Quebec chose to sleep in their car, as did the guy from Oceanside who somehow managed to stay the night in the cab of his truck, unable to snuggle with the piles of junk he kept in the back.  

       Â Â Â Â Â After a decadent morning of sunshine (helped dry off our gear) and wild blueberry laden oats we were about ready to go on our way.  We were briefly delayed by a swiss couple travelling to Denali on bikes, wearing heavy mountaineering shoes, for their “walking trip” in Denali.  The interaction was shortened by an inability to communicate effectively, but it was positive to see other cyclists out here on the Top of the World, highway.

         “A long bike ride, eh?” greeted the customs officer.

         “Whooh….you really gotta work to get into Canada, that was quite a hill.” I responded.

          An older man nearby working on a truck cheerfully exclaimed, “Ahh…don’t worry. It’s all downhill after this.”

          Absolutely doubting his claims, I still relished the thought and appreciated his good natured comment.

         “I imagine you probably don’t have any cigarettes, eh? or else you wouldn’t have made it up that hill.  But I have to ask if you are carrying any cigarettes?” She asked, seemingly trying to add a little character to the textbook nature of our interaction.

          Satisfied with our negative response, she continued onto the next item on her agenda. 

           “Soo…uhh..  Are you carrying any firearms?  Rifle, bullets, bear spray?” She asked, seeming to recognize the absurd nature of the checklist, clearly not designed for the international bicycle traffic.

             Afraid to get our 50 dollar bear spray canisters taken, we declined.  And she pressed further.

             “Let me repeat, are you carrying any bear spray? There are sure a lot bears up in these parts, eh?” Stunned by our lack of preparation for such a lengthy wilderness escapade.

      Satisfied with our carefree, ignorant responses, she moved onto the next agenda item.  She asked us about our jobs and how much money we had.  Frustrated by the lack of supporting evidence she harbored the issue a bit further.  We claimed we could show her online (which was currently out of order as the satellite was being repaired a dozen yards away), but riding our bikes back to Tok, was surely out of the question.  Seeing the limited opportunities she moved past that.

             “Well…okay.  I just need your passports and driver’s license so we can scan them.  Ohh, yeah..  and if you need me to fill up your water bottles, there will be no opportunities until you get to Dawson City.” She concluded.

      Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â  We handed her our water bottles and waited for our passports to get stamped.  We waited, a bit curious about how they would scan them without any internet/phone connection.  She promptly returned with our passports and Dromedary Bags filled with water and officially welcomed us to Canada.

              “Hope you enjoy your stay.  A beautiful ride, eh?” She commented as we reflected on the prominence of “eh?” following their sentences.  I likened it to the Southern California speech, where like preceeds much of what is said. 

             Â Â Â Â Â And off we were, Dawson City bound, via the Top of the World highway……..

Sequestered Good Ole’ Boys

By Sean

It had been a challenge to the nerves the night before. From the time I stopped twenty four miles past the junction for Chicken, I waited twenty minutes for Goat to arrive; over an hour for our clogged stove to heat up the water for lunch -which transitioned into dinner- and then three hours more for the sun to dissolve into the perpetual dusk and realize the riding had been completed for the day. Certainly Goat and I were worried about Jacob -and we had not thought of the fact that he might be running out of water. We flagged down several cars and asked the drivers, “Have you seen any other cyclists out?” Two trucks stopped to say they hadn’t seen a single thing on the highway. One S.U.V. ignored my desperate hand gestures and sped right past. It occurred to us that Jacob may have acknowledged the ‘Canadian Border’ sign as destined path and mistakenly followed the road to Haines. As far fetched as that seemed to us, it was even more difficult to believe that he would have attempted to backtrack and catch up with us in the course of one night. We were deliberating whether we should hitch-hike back to toward the junction and try to steer Jacob in the right direction. His sudden arrival in the middle of the night confused my dream riddled mind; surely it was a band of rambunctious red-necks bored to hell in Chicken and informed by one of’em truckers I flagged down that this group of outsiders camped by the road were down a man and easy pickings. Then I saw Jacob with his haggard features and his floundering dismount and his ferocious appetite as he consumed the cold remains of lunch –rice stained blood red from boiled beets. I sighed with a bit of relief, and realizing that the cold wind had driven the mosquitoes to their cowering solitude felt content that there was one less torment Jacob would have to endure on this day. After considering the possible consequences of one man being separated from the group, I felt that this had been a sobering experience, one that demands contemplation of the ethics of bike nomadism. Later on in Dawson city, three Australian drinking companions responded a bit outraged to the Jacob’s story. The eldest reprimanded our carelessness; “how could you leave each other alone, you’re like brothers now, you depend on one anotherâ€�. The younger Ausie suggested we each keep a walkie-talkie handy so that we could easily reach out and “tell the dumb bastard that he’s headed the wrong wayâ€�.

At breakfast the next morning, we realized that it was a Friday, a sure sign that the world famous bar in Chicken would be flourishing in a drunken ecstasy with all walks of life -from miners, RVers, to lost and resentful tourists- colliding in explosive interactions. The forty remaining miles proved to be mellow and we arrived in Chicken well before nightfall. Our eyes, lackluster from floating over endless expanses of Northern White Spruce, were naturally drawn to an oddly shaped edifice near the banks of Old Chicken Creek; it was an ancient river dredge. Instantly upon finding the dredge, we spotted nearly a dozen cyclists; their tents pitched and cloths hung up to evaporate the days sweat. It appeared at first as though every one of the riders on this Adventure Cycling tour was over forty. Instead of encountering the ancient white bearded miners of Chicken as had been anticipated, we came across these old guys mashing a trail that we would soon be riding in reverse. We talked to them about gear and the conditions of Canadian roads as we knifed off the caps to the last of the beer bought in Tok. One man nearly discouraged our spirits when he spoke of treacherous terrain, endless hills, and nearly no stores to buy supplies. Then another man, late in his forties bearing thick smoky sideburns reassured us, “don’t heed too much of this talk of hardship, it is just an exercise in asserting one’s macho manlinessâ€�. There was one German woman on the trip who set up her tent a few paces distant from everyone else, as she reasoned “The older men snore loudly and plus they wake up early. How am I to manage getting myself up at their hour when they make it so hard to fall asleep!”
Surprisingly, the leader of the tour was youngest of all in his mid-twenties, and yet he expressed the difficulty in keeping up with the oldest man of seventy –an ex marathon runner and the strongest cyclist in the group. Being the greasy, unkempt cheapskates that we are, we just stared dumbfounded at spotless tents, clean shaven faces, and just the overall tight organization of the whole package. We were devoted to a different set of priorities, ones that may not have been internalized as rational concepts yet, but ones that nonetheless were functioning to keep us motivated, driven, wild creatures of the road. Encouraged by the dimming sun light and the chill breeze, we went to check out the bar scene.
Bar in Chicken translates to tiny shack outlined with neon light advertisements of bud and Coolers light, fit snug between a gift store and a narrow chicken coop that holds the town mascot. Inside lies a claustrophobic environment; a ceiling significantly lowered by the presence of hundreds of baseball caps and burnt braziers and underwear tacked haphazardly in multiple layers, a billiards table that demands play with a half cue in absence of any elbow room, a record machine, and a half dozen chain smoking locals. To our amazement they carried the strong dark ale of San Diego, Arrogant Bastard. Goat and Jacob ordered the last two of these treasures, while I managed to get talked into ordering a strong porter tasting strongly of smoked salmon. The locals were taking whisky shots, and playing some game involving push ups the gist of which I failed to understand. Suddenly a small kid stumbled into the room followed by an old man floundering even more severely. A young woman set her glass down and morosely swiveled toward the two; “Thanks, thanks a lot dad for bringing my kid into the bar�. The bar tender, a thin honest man inevitably dedicated to maintaining a swinging atmosphere tried to calm her, “Hey, as long as they can walk, their allowed in the bar no problem.� He hesitates and scratches his chin momentarily and continues, “Actually just the other day we had a woman in here breast feeding her child�. No one seemed amused by his comments, the frustrated woman took her kid and left her drink unfinished. The elder man took her place at the bar and enjoyed some attention from an acquaintance. Outside, the German woman was trying to get the café chef to cook up a salmon feast. He was evading his post to smoke and take a hike, and ultimately the task had to be taken up by the eternal bar tender. Certainly he was a dynamo of energy, running back and forth from the grill, to the kitchen, back to the bar to match a giant –whom he referred to as ‘Eskimo’- in shots and at one point to the gift shop.
The ‘Eskimo’ became thoroughly lacerated by the drink, he could barely explain the essence of his labor, only repeating “I take big problems, and I make them smaller� gesturing furiously with his hands as a vice like contraption. The touring group leader and I could only fathom that he was a heavy machine operator, as we listened to him complain of his bosses and comrades taunting him on to do nearly impossible feats of strength and endurance. He was eventually herded into the cab of his friend/co-worker’s pick-up truck and we were deprived of his company the rest of the night.
Near the evening’s decay, we were treated to the Chicken community fireworks display. This involved cannon and gunpowder, and usually the underwear of a willing female, but no provocative article could be produced. Toilet paper served the alternative, a male teenager packing a mortar full of it with a stick. A loud explosion and fluttering confetti filled the air. It was carnivaleque, and I wished that I had been able to contribute to the festivities with dangerous thoughts and circus stunts. The mortar’s report failed to wake ‘Eskimo’ who was sleeping soundly five feet away from the detonation.
The next morning, over a cup of horrible coffee, I heard about a guy known only as Chicken Dick. He died of prostate cancer only three days before our arrival. He had spent most of the summer working the café and bar scene and than one day on the tip of a hat, picked up and went to Maine where he had relations. “He woke up one morning convinced that he would die that very day, and ordered his last meal of spinach, boiled potatoes, and Spam,� the manager lady recited as she filled up a bucket to water plants and cursed the lack of a garden hose. “That was his favorite. He even bought me a pair of Spam earrings once. He’d frequently get a hold of the companies’ accessory catalogue and order weird shit.� She somehow had a premonition of his eminent departure and intrigued a famous portrait artist to travel to Chicken and make a sketch of Dick. “The painter was thoroughly taken with Dick’s endearing qualities, and gave us the sketch portrait for free. She usually charges some two thousand dollars�. I studied Dick’s features for a while, It seemed that he would have made an excellent time machine, and I wondered if I would have been able to meet him had I not blown a fork and had to vacation in Fairbanks for six days.
One man approached me out of curiosity as I struggled to patch a pinched inertube outside the café doorstep. He had been contracted by the air force to install a radar tower on top of Taylor Mountain –same name as the highway we had been on since Tok. This project was supposed to allow the air-base to keep track of planes as they engage in supersonic speed excersizes. The military does more supersonic flight training in Alaska then anywhere else in the world –So I’ve been told.

“Ohh�, began the manager lady having listened in on the man’s story taking on the skeptical tone, “I heard the construction on Taylor was for missile defense system.�

The man laughed and reassured her, “No, most certainly not.�
“Well, how much could this radar tower cost?�
“Oh, it’s not that expensive.�
“So like a hundred million?�
The radar man chuckles again and throws his head back to emphasize the absurdity of the declaration. “No, certainly not in that range.�

His partner looked ready to get back on track and they debated whether to get beer to take on the run. Then the radar man cried urgently to me, “hey, watch out that bird don’t steal your stuff.� I had been spaced out, gazing in disbelief at another hole that appeared right next to the one that I had just patched, and suddenly this gargantuan Raven had swooped down and was inspecting my scattered belongings for a an item of intrigue. The radar men departed, I couldn’t tell if with beer or not. Then a trade-marked hunter rolls up on a six wheel buggy cart; patchy stuble covering chin and cheek, cheap sunglasses and a fishing cap shadow the face complete. His vehicle towed a wagon filled with firewood, a rifle was strapped to the front of the cart, a gas can and a chain saw fixed on the back. My tourist sense nearly forced my hand to grab the camera and snap a shot of this dude, but I just sat in the dust. A few moments later I listened candidly while he smoked Marlboros and chatted with the chicken regulars, reflecting on chronic back pain and chastising chiropractors for offering quick fixes that needed to be upgraded a month later. His command of the subject of Chinese medicine impressed a few, and valued acupuncture, which in his experience lasted much longer than anything conventional medicine could offer.
A three legged husky named tucker stumbles about in front of the bar. Out of a Ford mini-van steps a heavy set miner lugging around an empty jerry can. He asked for water. The manager lady, always mortgage weary gives him the run around, tells him the tap’s for cooking that they have to dredge it out the stream themselves, and finally allows him access so long as he doesn’t make it a habit. I feel glued to the spot, tempted to remain in a perpetual state of repairing the same flat –grooming all those puzzling C-shaped micro-fissures-in order to be in contact with the natural flow of the diverse mix of folks coming and going on the Taylor Highway and colliding in explosive interaction at this little town of Chicken.

The Wrong Turn

By Jacob

       Just outside of Tok, we departed from a lovely man-made swamp that we affectionately called home.  After a brief warm up ride, we began our ritual stretching.  For Sean, that generally means endless situps and pushups.  For me, it largely entails any stretches that involve lying on my back.  And for Goat, well..  he just stands around waiting for us.        

      Sean was eager to turn the globe under his wheels and rolled away.  I was not “stretched” out enough and wanted to enjoy the sun on my face.  Goat departed and I went over to chat it up with an RVer.  I asked him about Chicken, and he had never heard of it.  Curiously, he peered at his map and could not find anything.  We talked about destinations and routes for a bit, and he realized he was completely lost.       

       He insisted that he had already passed Tok Junction and I insisted that he hadn’t, because I passed the Jct. the day before on my bike and he was heading the opposite direction we were.  After spinning his map around a couple of times, I wasn’t so sure where I was.  In attempts to regain my sense of direction I rode away.        

       I was eager to catch up with my fellow riders and tell them what a ridiculous RVer I had encountered.  I couldn’t believe how lost the guy was.  There are so few roads in Alaska you’d think you would know whether you passed the only Jct. or sign of civilization in 150 miles?        

    I see the Tetlin Jct. which is to take me to Canada and the Top of the World Highway.  Just off the road was half a dozen run down cabins with some open doors exposing their antique features while the top of the hill hosted a run down cafe intertwined with a series of heavy machinery and shacks.   Optimistically, I had hoped to see their bikes outside of the Cafe where they would be sipping on a cup of amazing coffee.      

     No sign of them.  I look up to see a sign pointing left to Eagle, and straight for Canada.  I looked left to see a steep hill, rising a couple of miles from the Jct. My legs recoiled at the thought of that turn and I thought to myself, good thing I’m not headed to Eagle.  And rode towards Canada while thinking that I couldn’t wait until I caught up with them to tell them about the ridiculous RVer.      

    Hills unfolded before me, as if they were a large blanket being dusted off in the air.  Huge snow-capped mountains humbly towered in the distance over the Tetlin Wildlife Refuge which offered a mighty vista of swamplands and forests.  Coasting over the hills, I was greeted by sand dunes accented by rock messages which generally broadcast the love of somebody with a good amount of time on their hands.  The dunes were created from volcanic ash by a volcano during a significant tectonic shift and really seemed out of place in the geography we were becoming so familiar with.      

     I began to pick up my pace, eager to catch them and force them to break for lunch.  Time swept by as my bicycle became more and more eager to arrive at a destination to rest.  After about four hours, my thoughts were bound by irritation.  “How can these guys ride without eating?”  “Limited calories can only get me so far.”     

     I began to crave the bacon and eggs I had in my dry sack.  After about 4-5 hours of riding, I reached a small community which boasted one service station and a bar.  The first services I’ve seen since Tok.  The service station was closed and I ventured up the hill to the bar to see if I might find their bikes there.  This community seemed to match the description of Chicken and so it seemed like maybe I had passed them up while they were having lunch.    

     I entered the bar to meet four curious, but friendly faces wondering what my story was.  Unprepared for the awkward social interaction that was about to ensue, I hurried to the bathroom and filled up my Camelback.  I got a glass of water from the bar-tender and sat next to a weathered old man with a giant smile.  I asked him if he’d seen two other cyclists coming through.    

     No positive identification.  So I began to wonder where I was.  Hoping to elude the fact that I was lost.  I asked them about Chicken.  Their response, ruptured with laughter, said that it was about 50 miles back the direction I came from. They quickly put my comments together and realized I had made a 50 mile detour from my intended destination.    

    They were stunned that I could miss that turn.  They asked me how I didn’t see the sign that pointed to Dawson City?  I thought back to the cabins and the junction, and wondered myself.  I could have sworn there was no sign.  I hesitated to believe them, hoping they were trying to play a cruel trick on a tired cyclist.  After a bit of coaxing they convinced me that I had gone the wrong way and need to head back to milepost 1302 and turn right where a big sign will say Dawson City, turn right.    

    It was about 9:30 about time to get some sleep.  I frantically boarded my bicycle and sped away, while thinking how ironic it was that I was so eager to tell my friends about the “stupid” RVer.  I wished there was an excuse to cover up my stupidity.  I wanted to fabricate a story that I could defer my mistake on.  Maybe I could say that an RVer pointed me in the wrong direction?    

    I couldn’t help but laugh about it and ride as hard as possible back to where I came from.  I felt adequately famished without eating for the past 5 hours.  I realized that I did not have a lighter or matches, and that I was running low on water.  I began to think of how many opportunities I had to access both, and the lack of opportunity I will have now.  It’s amazing how poorly your brain can function when you’re exhausted.    

    As my pace slowed to a grueling 4-5 mph up the hills I realized I needed some food.  I quickly devoured my entire supply of snacks and food that required no cooking.  I was still terribly hungry.  I began to explore my options.  I was left with one option for some real nutrition. Eggs.    

    My excitement about eggs has gone unabated since we got plastic egg containers in Fairbanks.  I had joked with the others that we should eat them raw.  Goat claimed it was big in the late seventies.  Sean and I questioned his casual knowledge of such, with him being born in the early 80’s.  I seemed to recall having seen the fearless Governator drinking raw eggs and even smiling.  Either way, the raw egg dare had loomed over our heads for a while.    

    Obviously, raw eggs do not sound very tasty.  And after having consumed one myself, I can with absolute certainty. They taste much worse than you would imagine.  A combination of the texture and aftertaste left my gut retching.  I had opened my shiny yellow container baring half a dozen succulent fetal chickens encased in an oval white shell.    

    One had cracked and had to be eaten first.  With thoughts of salmonella smearing around the glossy surface I quickly cracked the egg and raced to savor the complete contents.  I managed to get it all in my mouth, but like a dog chasing a cat, you don’t know what to do once you catch it.  My mind made it clear that I need to swallow this capsule of nutrition.  My body made it clear that this even would not go down without a fight.  During this extended battle of mind and body, I was able to savor the delicate flavors of the embryo.     

    Forunately, or unfortunately, my mind had conquered and the egg was sliding down my throat, instantly depositing itself in my stomach.  In shock, my body resisted a bit more.  Having dry heaved a few times, I managed to keep it down.  I chased it with water and bread hoped I would never have to do that again.  I wanted to be able to say that it wasn’t that bad afterwards, but to be honest.  It was that bad.     

     Eggs are the cheapest single food source of complete protein, contain about 60 calories each as well as a multitude of other vitamins/minerals, including vitamin D.  While they have a large amount of cholesterol, there was televised advertisements freeing them from list of undesirable foods when it was discovered that your body actually does not absorb that much cholesterol.     

     Eggs have brought considerable joy to our culinary experiences which had previously consisted of mostly dried foods.  I wiped away the experience with the perceived health benefits of eggs and continued on my journey to correct my stupid mistake.    

    I knew that there were three potential paths in my future.  1. They would have gone back to the junction and waited for me there. (Highly unlikely).  2. They would have stopped for lunch about 3-4 hours up towards Chicken. (likely). and 3. They would have continued all the way to Chicken and waited for me there.  My hopes rested with an ascending priority as the sun went down and my legs fatigued.    

      By the time I could see a star or two I had made it back to the junction, considerably faster because the way backed lacked the headwind I experienced earlier.  With no sign of them at the junction I noticed my clock said 11:30 and my body said it was time to sleep.  I had about a liter of water left and began ascending the hill I had obnoxiously avoided earlier.  Half way up I saw a sign that said Chicken 67 miles away.    

     If the news at the bar was bad, this was worse.  They had lead me to believe Chicken was another 10 past the junction.  I was desparately hoping for option number 2 as the hill I ascended appear to have no end.  The precious water I pretended to conserve had evaporated into my body by the end of the hill and in the twilight I could see an expanse of hills, one after another.  AFTER ANOTHER.    

     I hate riding my bike at night for a variety of reasons. 1. Drunks, 2. Guns, 3. Wild animals, 4. Same as reason number 1.    Fortunately, the roads were abandoned at these late hours, and I didn’t have to worry about problems 1 & 2 and could focus on the reason number 3 with more concentration.  I imagined what a delectable morsel I would look like to a roadside bear as I meandered up these hills at a steady 3-4 tired miles per hour.    

      The fact that there were no services for the next 67 miles did disturb me in my dehydrated exhaustion.  After reaching the top of one particularly long drawn out hill spreading 3 miles out I began to feel a bit of despair.  Ascending the hill I felt caloric deficient and was losing will power and morale.  I knew that the only solution was to slide another egg or two down my throat.    

     With about as much success as my first attempt I managed to boost my willpower by two eggs worth.  The clock was approaching 2 AM and I began to realize that it may not be physically possible for my body to carry me all the way to Chicken that night which would top my mileage off at around 140 or so, much further than I have ever though of again, especially with a loaded bike, tons of hills, and sleep/calorie deprivation.    

     After about three hours of riding past that junction I knew that if didn’t see them within the next thirty minutes, I would have to somehow get all the way to Chicken.  The details of that would have to be worked out at a later date, because I was convinced that I would be passing out on the roadside with my shoes on very shortly.    

     I slowly rolled along scanning the roadside for any reflective hope of my bicycle companions.  And at the top of one neverending hill I could see them.  There was practically an etheral glow basquing them on the roadside.  At this point, I was delirious with exhaustion, and hallucinations were not beyond my realm of reality.  I rode closer and practically had to poke at them with a stick to believe that I had finally found them.     

     I belligerently woke them up, bombarding them with questions.  Why are you guys asleep??  We gotta make to Chicken.  etc.  They just laughed and told me there was some food left on the pot.  I devoured it and a huge quantity of water.  Too tired to stretch my limbs, I branched out over the dirt and fell asleep.    

Update from the lovely town of TOK

So we finaly escaped Fairbanks’s clutches, but now without a prolonged visit to the brand new fire station.  We didt get to slide down either of the newly polished fire poles, but had a great time talking to the fire fighters and eating dinner.  We have been spinning across the flat lands on roads as straight as an arrow.

There is almost no traffic, but it is starting to get dark at night so we are trying to adjust to a more normal schedule. We are currently in the town of TOK, about a 100 miles from the canadian border, so we will be in another country in just a couple days. We have a contact at Dawson (near the border) so until then….

Excavating my spine from the throes of a masochistic streak

 

         I should have known better than to use an air fork. Fox’s Float suspension shock seemed so scientifically precise on the outside, and so tastefully detailed -that is before I ripped the logo stickers off. Purchasing the Float fork heavily discounted at second hand sympathy price was a consumer’s dream. Now I am left high and dry in the wilderness  without any tide of conciliatory fluff to tread. Alas my revered product broke its seals and decompressed without the slightest provocation on my part. On the second day of biking from Deadhorse I heard a gush of air let loose and a long hissing squeal like complicated expulsion of flatulence or perhaps my tire leaking air. I suspected at any moment I would be forced to throw my bike to the ground in irritation and repair a flat. no no, nothing that simplistic would dampen my enthusiastic greeting of the trail. The air seals broke on the fork. My handle bars were lowered significantly -some four inches or so-, and my posture would be soon bear some considerable pressure on my wrists.  After a few days of riding on my ridiculous ‘low rider’ I encountered a numbing sensation in the two outer fingers of each hand. A nerve was being pinched, abused, or damaged, and while in the deep meditative state of riding it has been difficult to not think about losing these valuable assets. I’m a goddamn piano player after all, and six fingers in all will just not cut it for busting out a good waltz.

        I’ll try to cut the drama here and focus on more positive things about the trail… like the wild berries. The raspberries and blueberries bushes -often planted by the transportation/ public relation section of the oil companies to garnish propagandist information posts at roadside rest areas for tourists- are bountiful, refreshing, and highly addictive. Also on the good side of the road, pain saving remedies from the bike mechanic Goat. His suggestions for replacing my expensive Thompson stem with modest looking -higher angled- stem  has certainly helped. The good people at the UCSC bike coop -and ultimately Kyle from the T.P.- have helped in offering me replacement forks. I am full of gratitude.
           I have enjoyed very much walking into tourist trap truck-stop rip off cafes after sleeping on cardboard beds strewn about mosquito infested marsh, and not caring that I smell like a goat -no offense to Goat. Fond memories spread their warm arms over me as I recall the Yukon River restaurant; sitting drinking coffee and spreading dozens of tiny ‘land o’lake’ butter packets and strawberry jam tabs on my rye toast and topping off with a good helping of honey from the communal decanter. A teenage girl sitting at a table across from me gags and buries her nose deep into an ice cream bowl after viewing my condiment heavy sandwich.  Calorie loading has become an art form. One must evade certain honorable distractions like worrying about conflict between Lebanon and Israel, how not to be caught swiping the communal honey pot, and to be careful not to drink too much coffee -the steady road to dehydration- in order to keep the body loaded with adequate fuel.  
            The day we departed Yukon river we unknowingly drove headlong into a steady set of steep hills. I remember darting ahead of the others like a madman that day -I really have no language to explain my actions sometimes. about twelve miles into the great hilly climb session, I was halted from going further by a big armed  woman of short stature whose lively character and crude gestures could describe those of a pirate. She bellowed that she alone made decisions and that she would not allow me or any other biker to pass through a construction zone. The zone, she asserted, was twelve miles long -really it was five. as I gazed longingly at those steep torturous hills before me and then with loathing at my captor I fell into a submissive sort of depression. That was until a trucker from behind booed the construction lady’s tyranny and told  me to take off while she was in her unawares. Indeed, at that moment she was staring disdainfully at some crows that were gawking and playing around the dangerous pits of rubble -they had been blasting the sides of the road with dynamite to widen and make the precious highway a more comfortable ride for those brazen teamsters- and she shouted as if to perpetuate the rumble of combustion “who feeds these birds; they should all be shot”. A trucker explained that he sometimes offers a crumb of bread to them. The announcement set off the feisty temper of the construction workerly who shook her fist and declared him part of the problem.  At that distraction I was pushing off and starting down the hill bypassing the good lady’s authority. but she yelled at me and said, “Oh no you’re not! There’s heavy machinery down that way. we’re putting your bike in that back of the pilot car, and that’ll be here in a few minutes”.  Goat and Jacob arrived, and they tried their powers of persuasion to no avail. We were helped by some musculars loading our heavy loads into the flatbed pilot car. Our driver chatted with the other construction workers over the two-way radio. She told us we’d be the talk of the town… sure enough we hear some guy babble “twelve miles between here and Terra Del fuego ain’t’ gonna hurt’em” -I insist it was only five. Before she let us off on the other side of the hill she apologized for the inconvenience to eh… whoever.. certainly it seemed that all the workers were on break anyways. In this way we were cheated out of those precious five miles. Who knows how many more equipment failures, wildlife encounters, personal revelations would surface by now had we took the time to cycle that treacherous terrain. I for one will struggle to the bitter end next time, and not just for the sake of argument.

  

goat’s take on things

    Leaving town was exceedingly hectic. Due to my lack of chronological sense and some miscommunications, most of the equipment l ordered for the trip (including my frame) arrived the day of departure. Thanks to the skill and care on the part of our local UPS driver everything did arrive, even though packages were shipped to 4 different addresses and no one was there to sign at any of them. FEDEX on the other hand, made things as difficult as possible, and their customer service was unhelpful to boot.  I ended up begging a ride to Watsonville (from our good friend Alissa) early on the 11th (d-day) to pick up my frame – leaving about 4 hours to paint, assemble, disassemble, and pack my bike (as well as the rest of my gear which was arriving throught the day). Somehow (with the help of my Jenny friend) everything was in boxes by 2:00 when Moranis arrived to drive me to the airport. My flights were uneventful and the layovers long. In Fairbanks l got to contend with carpet shampooing rather than vacuums (lucky me). Throughout the 5 flights and airports no one ever questioned my lack of foot wear! (though the woman at the Deadhorse airport told me that l was the first person ever to fly in without shoes). l missed out on the stuffed animals in Fairbanks, but was rewarded with beautiful views of the ice sheets arround Barrow and glaciers in the southeast.    

    After arrival in Deadhorse l built my bike and waited all day for the evening flight to come in, erroneously thinking Jacob and Sean were on it. When they weren’t, l toured the industrial waste of a modern day boom town – all corregated steel and abandoned machinery. I happened upon a “fun run” in which no one seemed to be running but a sizeable portion (all young male) of the population was participating. Then l settled down under the midnight sun next to the town generator for the night. The next morning Jacob and Sean arrived, and having comandeered the majority of space in the airport, built our bikes, and wandered arround like a herd of turtles, we found the right road out of town (with only one road it was harder than one might think).    

    We had a quick toast to our quixotic quest and started riding, even though it was 8 or so in the evening (who could tell in the light drizzle and 24 hour sun). That night, as most to follow, we camped on an access road to the pipeline, the industrial worm which was to be our constant companion for the next 500 miles, camping on roads being necessary to avoid sinking into the marshy muck of summer-time tundra.    

     

    It’s a bizzare and Martian landscape, flat and bepuddled as far as the eye can see, then rising up quickly into impressive mountain ranges which test out strength and endurance. We have been averaging about 50 miles a day, though we are not really sure, because our bike computers are set in kilometers, and the pipeline mile posts seem designed to dupe the bears, counting in Alice in Wonderland fashion. Our rests are long and our mealtimes slow as we are all feeling the personalized aches and pains of adjusting to our new life purpose. Despite, or more likely because of, Sean’s grueling pace, his Achilles tendon aches, and his hands go numb.  Jacob’s wrists and knees are the thorn in his side, the leftovers of various injuries and surgeries. My knees alternated sore spots daily, but all in all, we are feeling great and quickly adjusting to the pace and lifestyle.    

    Riding daily through such beautiful, unusual, and untouched country is an indescribable treat, and my body and mind quickly enter a zone, where bike riding is comfortable, automatic, and the mind is free to wander and look arround. In general the road is quite pleasant, and the truckers and their oversize loads break the revery much less frequently than one might imagine (this road having been created exclusively for them). They are in general quite courteous, pulling over and slowing down, so as to keep from showering us with rocks.    

    We are now happily and comfortably on holiday in Fairbanks, hoping to resume our journey on Saturday.

Adventures in Alaska

Perspectives of Jacob:        

 

        After meeting up with Sean in Seattle, we flew to Fairbanks arriving with weery red eyes at the bright Alaskan hour of about 3 AM. It was our first exposure to the sun masquerading as the moon.  We observed the wild beasts frozen in time behind their glass containers.  Grizzly bears, polar bears, wolves, and what seemed the most fearsome of all; the Alaskan Brown bear (arguably the largest carnivore). We passed out on the floor while waiting for our next flight as vacuums zoomed inches around us.    

         We took the time to check out the local paper to discover that a wolf had attacked a school teacher visiting the arctic circle along the Haul Road we would be travelling.  The article was filled with your trypical advice about holding your ground when a wolf/bear approaches you.  I took a moment to stand in front of the Alaskan Brown Bear frozen on it’s hindquarters with it’s powerful claws ready to attack and wielding a vicious smile.  It seemed almost humurous to sit there and watch this 9 foot bear growling at you.  Running seemed like a good idea to me.  Fortunately, I had purchased some bear repellent in hopes that it might give me those extra ounces of courage to remain standing.     

       

        Arriving in an airport named Deadhorse, offered less than a reassuring ring as we stepped out into the wind swept airstrip.  I was nervous that my bike would have been damaged en route.  It was the longest I’ve been without my bike in a long time, and was eager to be re-acquainted with my good two-wheeled friend and travelling companion.    

        Goat was waiting there with his bike all rigged up and ready to go.  After exploding our boxes and it’s contents across the entire baggage claim area, we began assembling these machines that are supposed to carry us around 20,000 miles.  Multiple oil-workers asked us questions with an overtone that implied explicitly that we must be crazy.  Considering our near future, it was difficult to argue.    

       

       We learned that the Arctic Ocean was protected by the oil companies and that if we wanted to go within any distance of it, we would either have to sail a boat there or pay for a tour, escorted by a security guard armed with armed with information designed to alter your previous conceived notions that the oil pipeline was bad for the environment.  The former was a ridiculous notion, and the latter still cost 35 dollars, almost a week’s worth of food.  So we began our journey.       

       We explored Prudhoe Bay enough to discover that we did not want to be there and after a bit of pathetic navigational challenges, we found ourselves on the Dalton Highway bound for Fairbanks.  Encouraged by the sign that said that our next services were 240 miles away we began moving.  Thought to ourselves that the mosquitoes sure aren’t that bad and fortunately the rain is light and sporadic.      

     

       Hunger took us as we began wasting away those precious calories riding through the wind and set down to make some food when we discovered that Goat did not bring a valuable piece of the stove.  We quickly learned why the natives used oil for a fuel, because the arctic tundra sure didn’t have any wood to burn.  Fortunately, the river carried some sticks down and with the help of a little unleaded fuel we were able to get the fire started.  Not to mention the lower half of my shirt and shorts.  🙂     

      

       The ride was rather flat and we were doing our best to adjust to the rigors of riding a rig weighing above 125 pounds.  Beat at the end of the day, we were nervous about the 5,000 foot Antigun Pass into the Brooks Range.  It seemed that the closer we got, the longer our rests became.  We adjusted quickly to the endless sunshine which allowed us to ride at our leisure and more importantly rest at our leisure, which at times occupied a good 17 hours before we found ourselves back on the bikes.     

      

       The mosquitoes found us quickly on our trip, and were remarkably large.  They could penetrate most anything I wore and I had flashbacks of the movie Jumanji where giant mosquitoes could puncture car roofs.  I quickly became accustomed to wearing my mosquito netting at night.  By the morning time, they would alll congregate at the top of our tent, and I could only help but believe that every single one of those mosquitoes was resting because they had a satisfying meal.      

     

Mosquites

    

        I have a journal that I attempt to write in every night, but find that I’m generally too tired to offer anything useful.  And as I browse through it, I also realize that the handwriting is so poor what has been written needs to be translated.  One of the most exciting things about this trip so far is the general sense of adventure the flows in and out of our endless days.  There are huge passes that people warn us about, challenges like starting a fire in the wet arctic to be able to eat, or being cautious of the wildlife that presents itself as a real danger.  So far every day has offered new and exciting challenges and obstacles.  The Dalton Road has proven to afford infinite variations of quality as if the road itself had an identity criss.  From thick mud, slopping up our drive train (giving up my shifters to ghosts who never seem to agree with my choice of gear ratios, to smooth dry pavement, or sharp bumpy rocks and hills that seem to ascend into the sky.    

         

       The Antigun Pass was our first real test, (a 5,000 foot pass).  Upon approaching it, you begin to see the contours of the moutain, which host the road that couldn’t possibly be used for trucker’s, etc.  Unfortunately, we quickly discovered that was in fact the road we needed to pass.  After about an hour we were at the top, quickly enjoying our accomplishment and view as we became eager to descend from the windy cold summit we were on.    

       

       Descending the pass was our first taste of the blessings of downhill, an exhilerating rush after the painful, slow ordeal of ascending miles of uphill.  We stopped to view the hilarious tourist trap claiming to be the furthest Northern Spruce on the Alaskan Pipeline.  Always eager for a photo-op, we stopped to enjoy the splendors of the tourist attraction.  The tree had been chopped down, and somehow through the magic of duct tape, they were able to fix it with a generous application surrounding the trunk’s wound.  A priceless moment captured on the digital camera we were pretending to know how to use.    

       

       Soon after, Mike came up on an old Schwinn bike he was mighty proud of toting a BOB (Beast of Burden) trailer.  An animated character who quickly managed to elevate our moods which had been sluggish after the exhausting rainy day.  He had great travel stories and exposed a piece of the bike touring community that we were, by default, a part of.  He handed us stickers that had his website on there, www.mikelikebike.com.  Which was a trip, because I had been to that website when I was planning our adventure.     

       

       Shortly after seeing mike, a BMW GS1200 motorcycle stopped and an eccentric longhair named Randy got off.  From what we gathered, he was a self-employed computer programmer who was taking an extra long vacation, leaving behind his wife, kids and all responsibilities.  He was full of life and stories of his bar-room belligerence en route.    

       

       Found ourselves in the town of Coldfoot, the first place offering well needed services, since our “planning” had necessarily been inadequate to prepare for the amount of food three hunger cyclists could consume.  After getting a trucker’s special of biscuits and gravy, eggs, pancakes, coffee and some grocery rations to extend our culinary comforts we were on our way.    

       

       After a long day of riding up hills that seemed to match the Antigun Pass; we were looking forward to camping at the nearby Arctic Circle.  Something about the imaginary line seemed to be worth our time.   As we were slowly rising in elevation along  another  hill, promising to expose a new horizon and the site of our home; a truck had slowed to tell us that they just reported seeing the wolf a mere 100 yds from the arctic circle.  Great, we could camp on this steep hillside or keep going past the campground.       

Wolf Warning

 

  

       With no sightings of the wolf, we began the final leg of our day.  Only to quickly see that if we wanted to sleep in peace that night, we were going to have to climb up a hill of unnatural proportions.  I had joked about the Antigun Pass having a sign that pointed straigh up and lead you to a hill that did precisely the same.  But this was Beaver’s Slide, and like a roller coaster, or water slide, at the top, you can not see the bottom or the grade. It just dips down instantly.  Approximately 3-4 miles long, with the last 2 miles becoming a steady 9% grade of rocky dirt road.  To all of you in Santa Cruz, it was about as steep as Miramar Rd. but a good 2 miles longer.  We zig-zagged to taper the grade, and after a grueling hour + we were at the top.  Pictures offered a pathetic portrayal of the road.  In a delirious punch-drunk type of state, we managed to make a fire (only with the help of petro-chemicals would this have been possible) cook our food and pass out.    

     

Reindeer

 

       

       Miraculously, my legs still seemed to function the next day and I had been able to keep a good pace.  Saw a Reindeer (Caribou) in the purple hills, passed finger rock (40 foot rock sticking out of the earth like a finger) and hillsides of fireweeds that covered the earth in a crimson red as if to extend the reflection of the fire that had preceeded it.       

     

       I was riding at about 30-35 kilometers/an hour (yes, kilometers.  I have not been able to figure out my bike computer and so it remains to show me distance/speed in kilometers).  I had looked back to see a trucker I wanted to leave room for on the road and kept my pace.  I veered to the right of the road and checked on the trucker which was still a good distance away and as I was turning back around I thought I saw an animal.  Potentially, a hallucination cooked up from exhaustion and twilight, I turned back around to see that there was really a wolf chasing after me.  After muttering some frightful profanities, I stood up and picked up the pace.  I knew in my mind that running was the last thing that you are supposed to do.  I quickly let that ridiculous notion evaporate from my mind as I pictured the wolf in full stride, as if I was watching a nature show capturing the slow-motion chase and kill of some predator on the plains of Africa.    

    
   

       It was clear to me that the wolf was going to catch me, and I began fumbling for the bear repellent in my handlebar bag, riding as hard as I could, all the while so as to buy some time.  I always imagined being able to act with a little more precision in times of dire need, but found myself struggling to operate the bike at the speed and handling the spray.  Eventually, I managed to get it out, but saw that the wolf was now within 10-15 feet and I haven’t taken off the safety.  I imagined if I stopped, the wolf would complete the chase with a flying leap to grab my throat.  I finished taking off the safety and saw the trucker driving behind me swerve and hit the wolf, and quickly pulling to the left to avoid hitting a very appreciative me.  I waved a thankful wave, a couple of them as if I was honoring this trucker who seemed to step in as my guardian angel.  He did not slow down a bit, just kept on going.    

       

       I veered back around to see that the wolf was hardly lifeless.  Breathing hard and wimpering in pain.  Its eyeball had departed its socket exposing a small strand of flesh keeping it intact.  There was a large wound on its head dripping blood, thickened as if it were magma flowing from a volcano slowed by time.  In an attempt to end this beast’s suffering I tried to smash it’s skull with a rock, but was amazed by its resillience.  It had been hit by a speeding trucker and a huge rock and was more than alive.  It seemed safely subdued and so I grabbed it by the scruff of it’s neck and began the difficult process of slicing its throat.  By then, my comrades had appeared in dismay of the scene.  To see me holding a bloody knife with a dying wolf at my feet did not readily resonate with their current paradigm of our trip (nor did it connect with mine).  After more than a comfortable share of cutting, the wolf was ending its stay in this world.    

         

       Thoroughly freaked out, we began riding again.  I observed the roadside with a bit more interest and pedaled at a considerably quicker adrenaline induced pace.  There was also some comfort in the belief that the wolf that had haunted our dreams and those of tourists on the Dalton was no longer in service.    

          

       After endless sunset vistas and a plethora of horizons we have found ourselves in Fairbanks, enjoying the comforts of food that does not originate as a dried powder.  We have been living like kings in the generous and hospitable hands of Sue and George Rainier (Our good friend Conor’s parents).