Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Its Breezey Up Here: Yukon Border – Haines, Alaska (21st - 27th July 2010)

Well Canada didn't exactly welcome us back with open arms... As we got close to the Yukon border the highway went from nice smooth bitumen to just plain dirt, with some rain thrown in, so it was actually more of a mud slide. However, at least on the US side the Americans acted like they were doing something about it, by having a semblance of roadworks about (which of course just meant more dirt and big trucks). Across the border in the Yukon the road was just terrible.. corrugated gravel broken up with some mud patches. We didn't realise we were in Canada for a while, because once we went through the US border the Canadian border crossing wasn't for another 30kms, a strange kind of no-man's land filled with lakes and Trumpeter Swans. We found ourselves in a thunderstorm in the middle of this no-man's land, so we were pretty muddy and tired by the time we were officially in Canada. Jules had her first major tanty at the top of a particularly nasty, gravelly hill and said all sorts of unrepeatable things about Canadian roads... but she thoroughly perked up when we found free coffee and lots of yummy pastries at a small town over the border (mm butter tarts.. see good things happen in Canada Jules).

We had been warned about the first couple hundred kilometres of Yukon roads but we found once past the gravel/dirt patches they weren't too bad – terrible for cars because they were full of frost-heaves and potholes but for us on the bikes we could just go round them... it meant the the person in front would yell “bump” and swerve wildly and hope that the person behind wasn't too close and would have time to throw Betty/Norma to one side and thus avoid landing in a hole big enough to swallow us whole.
Jurgen rode with us the first couple of days in the Yukon, it was great to have company and we spent the time nattering away as we rode (lucky the roads weren't too busy). The first campsite we shared with Jurgen he disappeared for a while and then came back flourishing cold beers!! We don't know how he managed to find beers in a remote lake campsite in the middle of the Yukon wilderness but we were stoked. Good old German ingenuity!
The Yukon was just stunning – one of my favourite places so far, so much space and forest, just lots of picturesque lakes and the contrasting White and Black Spruces scattered across the landscape. We mainly cycled through valleys surrounded by mountains with alpine meadows perched atop, and in the distance we could see the larger snow-capped St Elias range with spectacular glaciers hanging off the slopes like icicles.
There were a few small towns or roadhouses along the way but most were deserted and derelict. One morning Jurgen's guidebook (that had seen better days I think) had promised us a cafe down the road so we spent the morning getting excited for coffee and pastries; however when we turned up it had shut down. We were a sad sight – standing disconsolate on the side of the road staring at the closed sign, wringing our hands and muttering to ourselves. A little later that day we were lunching next to a lake when some car-tourists turned up and we plied them with questions.. in particular how far to the next roadhouse (our hopes had been raised for pastries) - “hmm I'm not sure about that but I do know there is a bakery about 40kms down the road” - We thought they were playing a mean practical joke..for why would there be a bakery in the middle of nowhere? but sure enough when we arrived a French couple were running a newly opened bakery churning out all sorts of buttery deliciousness.
The day that we had to part ways with Jurgen we did a long day (155 kms) and camped by Kluane Lake. We treated ourselves to a dinner at the lodge at Burwash Landing surrounded by imposing stuffed animals staring nonchalantly at us from the walls. The following day we cycled along the lake but struggled with super-strong headwinds. We were not even helped by our two breakies. We were cycling only around 12 km/hr and did only 40 km the whole day! This disheartening day was helped somewhat by the beautiful scenery of the lake that we were cycling next to, and our campsite right on its shores. Our second day riding on the lake was still extremely windy, it seemed like every way the road curved the wind still hit us full in the face, almost pushing us off our bikes at one point.
We arrived in Haines Junction after a couple of hard days battling the wind and found an amazing bakery to drag our wind-battered bodies into. However, we were horrified when a tour bus turned up full of very rude people, who kept pushing in front of me in the line at the bakery... I wanted to warn them that we had had some hard days out with no shops or bakeries and to get between me and sweet things was something that they did not want to risk!
While we were in the small grocery store at Haines Junction we meet up with a lady in a RV (motorhome) that we had been chatting with a week or so ago. She was stoked to see us and gave us big hugs. Ah its a nice small town feeling up in the north and we often met up with people we had seen earlier. Once a car pulled to the side of the road with the people inside very excited as we had been on the ferry with them and they had been wondering how we had been going. Its nice to feel like we have friends on the road!
We had a strange meeting with one man.. we were sitting on the side of the road in the gravel, overlooking a lake but with our helmets still on (we often forget to take them off and wander around shops/camp etc with them on - stylin'). A car did a big u-turn, then stopped and the man driving asked if he could take a picture of us. He took a bunch of photos of us picnicing and then took off again.. very odd. We're hoping our pictures won't appear on some sort of fetish website for those people that like 'Girls wearing Helmets picnicing in Gravel'.
From Haines Junction we left the Alaskan Highway and headed off down the smaller Haines Highway toward South East Alaska, still with the wind against us. We spent a couple of days cycling the highway and on our second afternoon we reached the high sections of the mountains that we had to cross. We cycled through the alpine meadows, my favourite type of scenery with open grassy meadows, wet bogs and fringing mountains. However the high sections of the mountain were also extremely windy so we were very happy when we reached a cabin some Spanish cyclists had told us about. It was a little cabin tucked into the low shrubby vegetation at the base of a mountain, used by hikers and cyclists and we were very happy not to battle the wind to erect the tent! There were already two Spanish hitchhikers in the cabin when we arrived and much later two German cyclists turned up so it was a cozy night watching, through the cabin's windows, the wind blast the mountains outside - feeling good to be inside and warm!
We woke up very early the next morning in an attempt to beat the wind going over the pass. Had breakfast #1 at 5.30am and then headed off. It was so beautiful in the early morning light and quiet, the stillness was divine and we could appreciate the beauty of the alpine meadows bathed in fog. We had our second breaky in a little clearing next to the road an hour or so into our ride.  With no traffic at all we felt like we owned the road. It was breathtaking. I was all out of my usual repertoire of adjectives and Jules, who is usually not so verbose at scenic views - compared to the superlatives she directs at beer or good food, was also raving on about the views! We then had the most joyous descent from the mountains, 18kms of downhill, alongside snow-capped mountains and the occasional fingerling glaciers, as we sped back into Alaska. At 10.30am, we hit our first cafe since Haines Junction and celebrated with our third breaky of the morning. This was definitely our favourite day on the road (and not just because we got three breakfasts!). 
It was made all the better by arriving at the delightful town of Haines.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a big fan of two breakfasts!! And if that includes coffee and pastry, then life is indeed good. Sounds great so far girls. I'll be searching for those pics online - hahahahaha!!