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247 – 254: Fairbanks, AK to Whitehorse, YK

Straight after getting back from the Stampede Trail, I spent a while in Fairbanks with some sketchy illness. Water-from-the-river related maybe. Whatever it was, it meant a few days of not going anywhere. Other than recovery on the road being an altogether inconvenience, it wasn’t a big deal because the time could also act as an opportunity to get recharged for the final leg of the journey. Fairbanks is the highest point North on this trip, and the final ‘corner’. It was a weird relief to know this was the last turning point, but still whilst looking over the map I couldn’t help but be hit with a wave of anxiety, which is stupid really after coming this far. The biggest leg is yet to come and it’s a really bloody long way back to the East Coast from Alaska. Obviously it all comes together when you set off, bite size pieces and all that, but regardless there was a wave of intimidation in the air – unparalleled since looking down out of the plane window on the way to start this thing.

247: Fairbanks – Shaw Pond (75 miles)

The ride from Fairbanks followed the Tanana River upstream. Keep going upstream and you don’t have to worry about any other navigation. Simple, if you ignore that following a river upstream inevitably means a lot of hill climbing. The first town you hit is North Pole and it’s not often you find yourself riding down Santa Claus Lane in North Pole. By now the bike started to be getting a bit clunky. It’s gotten easy to spot when certain mechanical problems are imminent, and a skipping chain means a snapped chain is just around the corner. It’s become a twisted challenge now – rather than frustration it’s a game of how long can you make it last? Not very in this case. The repairs have become a game too -how fast can this get sorted? Not very in this case. It was eventually going smoothly though and for the first time, the mountains made an appearance from behind the clouds. Mega.

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Ticked a goal at the end of the evening too which was to find a stealth camp spot near somewhere to swim. There have been places that appear great for swimming but have been glacially-fed / freeze-your-privates-off cold (looking at you, British Columbia). Shaw Pond  was fairly deserted other than a couple of RV’s parked up for the night and deep. And the water was bearable at last.

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250: Delta Jct – Tok Jct (108 miles)

The cycling’s been samey for a while. The odd lake, the occasional roadside moose, but mostly open tundra or tree meadows (a lot of them burnt from the notorious forest fires that hit Alaska each year because of lightning strikes.) Bumped into Javier, a hilarious and infectiously upbeat Argentinian who’s a few days away from finishing an epic 18 month journey from the Ushuaia in South America to the Beaufort Sea in the North of Alaska. From the bottom to the top of the Americas. Hardcore. Clearly 18 months on the road have taken their toll though, because now he wears plastic bags on his feet.

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 251: Tok Jct – Northway Jct (49 miles)

Other than in sections of Texas and Arizona, the actual cycling between towns has been solo. For the most part, other cyclists have been going the other way. That all changed outside of Tok Junction, when in the space of about half an hour, there ended up being 4 riders from 3 separate parties cycling together the same way.

First up there was Busy from Colorado and Michael (blog) from North Carolina, university pals who are on a month long trip that goes Anchorage > Fairbanks > Whitehorse > Juneau. Like any crowd, or sport, or whatever, a minority of the cyclists you meet can be ‘touring snobs’, who judge your gear and route choices and don’t seem much fun. It’s always a million times more enjoyable riding with those who are in it for light-hearted reasons rather than being 100% focused on the act of cycle touring, so I was so glad to hear after a minute of meeting these lot, “Wahey, another member of the say-no-to-spandex team”.

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10 minutes later, there was Wish (or 施暐煦 – his blog here) from Taiwan, who was two days into his trip from Fairbanks to Whitehorse, and then down the West Coast to San Diego. He’d not done a bike trip before and it was easy to relate to his obvious shock of “what am I getting myself into?”. Physically, the first couple of weeks are definitely the sorest, the most intimidating and the time when you learn the most quickly about how it all works.

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252: Northway Jct, AK – Beaver Creek, YK (Canada)

The day started off like most, nothing unusual. Just a gentle ride hoping to get into Canada. It was only 45 miles or so away. A couple of hours and it was the same kind of thing as previous days. A plod on quiet roads through Alaskan tundra. Then it suddenly all went downhill, whilst riding uphill.

There haven’t been any serious prolonged injuries on this entire trip so far. There was a bruised metatarsal in Charleston, SC, but with The Body Rehab’s help, it was fixed in a couple of days. There was a brief 24 hours of knee pain in El Paso, TX, but it was gone quickly. Other than that, nothing. Cut back to the hill climb, and a moment where on a downstroke a tweak shot through my right knee. It was fairly obvious something had happened – pedalling uphill brought on a sharp pain and even walking with the bike was a limpfest. It was clear no more riding was going to happen that afternoon so out went the thumb. A hitchhike to the next town, Beaver Creek, to figure out what to do next.

The first car to pass was the one that stopped, an amazing ratio. They didn’t have any room in the car but were towing a Yamaha in a trailer, which had just about enough spare room to stuff my bike in the back and crawl in amongst the motorbike and the pushbike. In between the departure borders of Alaska and the entry into The Yukon is a kind of no-mans land. You’ve left the US, and are in Canada, but you haven’t been officially stamped in. And the roads are TERRIBLE. Forget paved road, this is a mix of dirt, gravel and sand. The crew in the car didn’t seem to mind, so being in the trailer and bouncing up and down as we hit each pothole was like being on a rollercoaster in a theme park. Loved it.

I was soon at Beaver Creek and ended up setting up a really obvious tent site by the side of the road in between a bunch of statues. When you put up a tent whilst you’re kind of knackered, and then wake up and stumble out of the tent to be greeted by this guy WITH A PICKAXE, it definitely wakes you up fast.

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253: Beaver Creek – Whitehorse

Camping with an injury in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere when it’s raining is crap, no two ways about it. I woke up still limping and decided it’d be wise to hole up in the nearest town of any size. That was Whitehorse, so out went the thumb again and an hour later a huge RV pulled over. Valerie and Joni, along with 3 tiny dogs, were driving all the way to Olympia, WA and were going right through Whitehorse. As you’d expect if they were willing to drive a stranger for a few hours, they were both super friendly but their time in Alaska had been enough (the constant summer light plays havoc with your head and quality of sleep) and they were were excited to the lower 48 again.

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254+ Whitehorse

There’s been a heavy stint of constant rain recently. A couple of nights where it was so intense, that in just the time between getting gear out of the panniers and setting up a camp, everything was soaked. Basically like sleeping in a puddle, so they weren’t the best nights and were more quick rest than proper sleep. The first night in Whitehorse was torrential and ended up being one of the bad stealth camp nights, on the concrete behind a DIY store. Honestly if you’re reading this and plan to do a bike trip in the future, don’t think you need to camp behind home repair stores on the concrete. This was just daft planning and a ‘Urghh, I give up’ late night mentality.

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It’s really hard to be psyched when it’s so wet. Riding just isn’t enjoyable, much of your gear gets soaked, and compounded tent life is draining. It doesn’t happen all that much, but I’ve opted for a few-day stint in a Whitehorse motel. It’s a few days holed up with an iced knee, a raised leg, a bunch of ibuprofen as per physio instructions, gear drying in the corner and the sound of rain tapping at the window. Busy and Michael arrived yesterday too on their way to Skagway so it’s been nice to know people in town and feast on pizza. Strangely, all it takes to be motivated sometimes is a decent kip and dry gear. The rain is due to leave, and after a few nights here I’m raring to go again, so hopefully the next blog will be more upbeat. The ever fluctuating highs and lows of road life!

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– – –

247: Fairbanks – Shaw Pond (75 miles)
248: Shaw Pond – Delta Jct (21 miles)
250: Delta Jct – Tok Jct (108 miles)
251: Tok Jct – Northway Jct (49 miles)
252: Northway Jct – Beaver Creek (45m ride / 15m hitchhike split)
253: Beaver Creek – Whitehorse (277 mile hitchhike)



Vague Direction: A 12,000 mile bicycle ride, and the meaning of life.
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14 comments on this post

  1. Bill Maylone says:

    Hey Man, good luck with that noodle knee, hope she springs back to life. pullen’ for ya.

  2. Luis says:

    Rough nights!

  3. Menno Dekhuyzen says:

    Hello Dave,
    I did read about the injury with your knee.
    I hope it Will get well soon!

    I did remember a similair problem with one other worldcyclist, like yourself!

    He changed the hight of his sadle after a bustrip.
    Within a view days. He couldn’t cycle anymore!

    He changed The hight of his sadle to The former position And The problem was gone.
    He finished his trip without any problem!

    Maybe something similair did happen with your bike adjustments?

    I hope my comment Will help you with your problem!

    Get well soon And enjoy cycling again!

    All The best,

    Menno

  4. Dwayne says:

    Dwayne from Giddings Texas, I have been following you!
    Keep Safe!

  5. I just searched Beaver Creek Whitehorse on internet. The town is very beautiful and peaceful.
    i really miss the atmosphere of the country side in US.
    and i hope to go Alaska for fishing someday

  6. Hi Dave,

    Bit of advice please.

    I am about to embark on Phase 2 of my North Sea Cycle Route trip and after Phase 1 am trying to reduce weight of the things I carry. Last time I took an iPad to keep my blog up to date. This time I plan on just having an iPhone 5 to update the blog and do all camera duties, do dedicated camera this time.

    My question is with the limited battery life of an iPhone must mean a constant quest to keep the battery charged; how do you manage with the electronic kit you have whilst on the road?

    Later

    Dave

    • Dave says:

      Hi Dave,

      Know what you mean about reducing weight – every little helps eh.

      Honestly I was concerned about the battery issue before setting off. Especially with numerous tech like cameras, laptop & phone. I have a Goal Zero solar pack which works really well, but I barely use it as there’s so many outlets in North America. It seems like there’s never really more than 100mile gaps in between outlets. That might not be the case on your trip, and if you’re thinking Solar then GZ do some good stuff. Other thing to think of if you’re just taking a phone is a USB dynamo. This way you can charge your phone whilst riding. That would be a good option if you’re going with a minimal approach.

      Exciting stuff – hope it all works out!

  7. Michael says:

    Whattup Dave! Thanks again for your hospitality in Whitehorse. Pizza and a place to crash indoors are 2 of the greatest things for someone on a bike tour.

    That picture of the pickaxe statue by your tent is hilarious. Definitely not something you want to wake up to.

    Hope everything is going well for you on your ride. I am jealous you are still out there gettin’ it.

    -Michael

    • Dave says:

      Hey Michael,

      Just glad the pickaxe guy was a statue and not an angry local.

      Great to meet you both, hope you’re trip pack went ok, and thanks for the bearspray. Not had to use it yet!

  8. Chris Creyke says:

    Good Morning Dave,

    It was lovely to meet you the other day. I hope you enjoyed the caribou meat (a little taste of the North)

    This site is interesting. How I wish to embark on a grand adventure! Good luck on the rest of your journey, and I hope that knee heals up soon!

    Chris

  9. James says:

    Ha Ha only just ‘realised the pickaxe guy was a statue” myself too after reading the comment above. I thought he was beating in stubborn pegs with the thing. lol’s.
    Peace out Homie keep up the good work.
    From a beach in Tonga
    muchos love
    Jimmy Von Landeros

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