Thursday, September 23, 2010

Macgyvering our Way South on the Alaska Highway: Fairbanks to Yukon border (16th-21st July '10)

Finally left Fairbanks, a couple of kilos heavier (too much pie) and with some additions to our packing, a tarp and binoculars, given to us by our very generous friends. The tarp has been endlessly useful, not only has it been great to keep us dry while in camp, but it also keeps Jules busy for hours figuring the best way to put it up. Equally the binos have also become her property, I had actually wanted them for birdwatching.. but she finds them highly entertaining and most of the time when we have stopped by the side of the road I turn around to see her scanning the horizon with the binos. I'm not sure that she is actually checking out the scenery ... probably more likely trying to find any sign of a pub... but they have kept her amused. She will also pull them out to identify bears that she spots in the distance (which usually turn out to be dogs or letterboxes). 

One thing about travelling by bicycle, particularly in remote areas, is that you end up learning to make do with what you have. I learnt this cycling through SE Asia, where, even if you were in a town, everything would get fixed with some wire and a couple of cable ties by a small old lady who ran the local bike shop. Jules and I are pretty good at Macgyvering. We may not always know what we are doing but leave us alone for long enough with a rock, a large stick and some string and we will have set up a complicated pulley system and erected a number of small unidentifiable structures (either that or we will have hit ourselves in the head with the rock and got the string tangled up in a tree). Actually Jules is the more talented Macgyverer, I tend to get frustrated and throw things (and I throw like a girl) so most of the complicated engineering is left to her.
Anyway, back to our departure from Fairbanks.. We did not get very far before we reached the North Pole and I discovered my geography knowledge was highly inaccurate. The North Pole is not actually located on sea ice in the middle of Arctic waters, but a small town on the side of the Richardson Highway dominated by a large statue of Santa Claus and filled with tour buses. Jules and I did the whole touristy thing here, we went to Santas' House, visited with his reindeer and even bought a tree ornament from the kitsch shop (not a very practical thing to buy while cycling... but how can you resist a moose dressed up as an angel!)
We were travelling the Richardson Highway out of Fairbanks, which then turned into the Alaskan Highway, constructed in an amazing effort during World War II. Most of the cycling this week was fairly easy, good roads, at least one place to stop for baked goods/ice-cream everyday (a priority), nice campsites spaced not too far apart and not too many large hills. We had one very long day, where we cycled around 145kms, mostly with a head wind and with absolutely nowhere to buy any form of iced bun. It was our hardest day too date and we were feeling pretty knackered by the time we rocked into a small B&B in a fairly remote location. It was only a small place which mainly hosted workers, there were a bunch of geologists staying at the time, but we knew we could pitch a tent on the lawn. The German owner had just finished serving dinner to the workers when we arrived and she offered for us to finish off whatever was left of the buffet for $5 each. Oh my god.. we had died and gone to cyclists' heaven!! She showed us the table filled with every kind of delicious carb and protein you could imagine. We completely stuffed ourselves with a couple of helpings of everything that was left and then with good German hospitality she forced a couple of servings of the desert buffet upon us too. We then waddled out to the grass, pitched our tent and contemplated the sweetness of life from under the shadow of the mountain behind and our massive bellies in front.
We actually had some amazing feasts along this part of the trip (and no my camp cooking is not included in that description). The day following the $5eatenoughtofeedasmallarmy feast we did a short day into the crossroads town of Tok, famous for something along the lines of “More RVs washed than any other place in the world” (yep we knew we were in for a thrill!). We stayed on the edge of the town airport, at a small campsite where we were the only guests. The owner had some relatives from Belarus visiting that had only just arrived and they invited us to their Russian bbq feast. Later we sat around the campsite with them eating chocolate and baked goods (while the owner told gruesome bear attack stories.. again, not helpful to us!!).
One of the things that has been hard to get used to in Alaska (besides the constant fear of being eaten alive by a bear) is the daylight during the summer. When we were in the Fairbanks area (the furthest north we got) the sun didn't set until around 11pm, and even then it never really got dark, only a dim twilight, until the sun popped back up only a few hours later. Jules and I found it hard to force ourselves to go to bed while we were still feeling sunshine on our faces, so we ended up staying up late and then kept waking up during the night thinking it was the morning and we had slept in. It did make things easier cycling though, because we never had to worry about getting into camp late or trying to set up the tent in the dark etc.
Along the Alaskan Highway we managed to see a lot of moose, a few mum's with their gangly bubs, a bull-moose that wandered through the picnic area where we were having breaky one morning and another that was standing on the edge of the trees watching us as we cycled pass. One afternoon I was riding blissfully along listening to my music when I suddenly realised there was a big moose standing right in front of me! I almost fell off my bike in fright but luckily managed to steer to the other side of the road (where Jules already was – she had been trying to yell at me from behind but I couldn't hear her over my music). Thankfully the moose found the sight of a unwashed Aussie on a bike bearing down on him, with her drying undies flapping on her fluoro yellow panniers, as unsettling as I found him and he took off into the trees.
The last night we spent in this part of Alaska was in the Tetlin Wildlife Sanctuary, a huge expanse of lakes and forest, populated only by wildlife. We had a campsite right on the lake, and nearby were three other cyclists. This was unusual because we had only run into a couple of other cyclists so far, and they had all been going in the opposite direction to us (no coincidence I'm sure). We had dinner with Juergen, Simon and Laura and shared stories of the road and the food that we had eaten (cyclists love to talk about food.. almost as much as we like to eat it).

The next day we all headed into Canada. Yukon Ho!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the excellent and potentially life saving tip - I'll be sure to keep my undies on the outside of my pack if I'm ever in moose country. The cyclists invade Kalamunda every weekend and feast at the local patisserie. I always thought they came for the ride but now it's clear to me that they came for the PASTRIES. Ride on chix.