What you should expect from a long bicycle journey
Bicycle touring for a sustained period of time is a…
There’s been a lot of road days and momentum since the last trip update, so here’s some highlights from the last 15 days on the road.
It took about 4 days of being holed up in Whitehorse, focusing on RICE (or more specifically RI). But it worked! Seemed like my knee might be okay again. I was pretty keen that the first day leaving Whitehorse was a light one. Not too much strain and just a test more than anything else. Well that plan was quickly demolished – leaving Whitehorse involves climbing a massively steep hill for a couple of miles. Pedalling started as being cautious – push hard with the left, and quickly spin round with the right – but when it was obvious that the knee issues weren’t a problem, that soon became pushing hard on both legs. It’s an amazing day to be on the road and it was great to be moving. HOT. The mosquitos seem to have changed to dense clouds of midges but move fast enough and they’re not a problem.
261: Nr Jakes Corner
Woke up in a rest stop near Jakes Corner, the tent getting blasted by the sun. Take yesterdays heat and multiply it. Hottest day so far and it’s barely 9am. Woke up to a water bottle that had leaked, and there was nothing for another 70km, so I waited for just a few minutes until a couple of German tourists pulled in to the rest stop in a ginormous RV stocked with plenty of water. Haben sie wasser? Take that GCSE German. Can’t remember being so delighted to see refrigerated water.
Ride went well. Bursts of wind made for quick patches of cool instant relief. I’ve started using milepost.com, which is a really awesome resource and comes in handy on these remote stretches of roads. Mainly for telling you when gas stations etc are located, but also it tells you about what significance some of the landmarks along the way have. Today involved crossing the Teslin River Bridge, which turns out to be the third longest spanning bridge on the highway. Crossing that river soon led to a stretch of road that traversed the side of Teslin Lake. Kinda reminded me of that phrase ‘Water water everywhere but not a drop to drink’. I had loads of drinking water but by now it was as though it’d been in the microwave – so cycling past this lake brought obvious thoughts – jumping in it. For ages there was nowhere to get close to the water, until a curve in the road brought firsts sight of a pebble beach and a track to the water. Three hours of escaping the midday heat was amazing.
265: Watson Lake
The most unusual day for a while. So it’s been blisteringly hot for a long stretch – since Whitehorse. The blue skies have shown no signs of changing. I left Watson Lake in the morning and the bike was playing up – nothing new there. This time the chain was skipping like a mad person. Think it’s a worn out cassette. Every half stroke and skip, skip, skip. Some adjustments later and three gears were okay. 3 out of 27 isn’t great, but there was enough range in those three gears to cover up, down and flat. Just like a fancy fixie really. In hindsight I’ve been totally naive about this highway when it comes to mechanical stuff – there are no bikeshops. Get a broken bike out here and unless you can fix / bodge it yourself – you won’t have a rideable bike. This is the only section of road where I would recommend carrying ample spares – a tyre, 3-4 tubes, loads of patch kits, a chain, spokes. Oops.
Ignoring the sudden lack of gears, soon outside Watson Lake is this place called ‘Lucky Lake’ – I wasn’t aware of it, but the sign posts said that it was a ‘recreational community water park’. Well it was hot – so any excuse really. WOAH. This was probably the nicest swimming spot so far. Sandy beach next to a warm and clear lake – with a floating platform about 50 metres out. Lucky. I swam out and dived around a bit, in the scorching sun. An hour or so later, the rumbles began. Big roars of thunder. I hadn’t even noticed but looking up now the sky was DARK. You know just before it storms sometimes it gets weirdly cold? That was happening. There were a few other parties there too – young families on vacation – and all of a sudden after the first roar, everyone was quick to pack up their things and leave in a hurry. I did the same but rather than having an RV to retreat to, figured I’d try to just pedal on before the looming rain began. That was a mistake.
Less than a kilometer away from ‘Lucky’, the sky opened. And I really mean opened – like nothing I’ve ever witnessed before. First started the rain. A few heavy drops on my shoulder initially teased. Then a raging downpour of the biggest rain imaginable. There really was nowhere to hide, so it was mostly a case of hood up, head down, try and get somewhere where there was some kind of shelter. And then the rain turned to MARBLE sized hail. Big chunks of ice falling out of the sky. After about a minute the road was covered – just minutes ago the surface was dry. Now it was white with these blocks of hail covering everything in sight. It was the kind of hail that is amusingly painful – imagine someone constantly prodding you, or someone shooting paintballs at you and you’d be close. And then the lightning started to happen. It happened in Louisiana too – being on the road in the pouring rain whilst there’s lightning. Every time it’s quite a scary experience. About 50 metres to each side of the road is dense forest, but that leaves a 100 metre section of openness in between the trees. A wet human being on a metal bike in that openness probably isn’t a great idea. Your heartbeat definitely gets faster. And then, as though a sign, there was a, erm, sign. Rest stop 1km ahead. A rest stop can sometimes mean just a gravel turnout (i.e. not much better than where I was), but sometimes it can mean a proper reststop with restroom buildings. YES. Two tiny concrete washrooms just about big enough to cram a bike into. And an escape from the craziness outside. (There’s video footage of this happening which I’ll try to edit together soon.)
267: Laird Hot Springs
Go here. Honestly, if you’re in the area, do it. It’s a bizarre paradise. You arrive and it just looks like an RV park & campsite in the sticks. And then you see the start of the boardwalk. A 5 minute walk later and the boardwalk opens onto a tropical blue pool, with steam floating off the surface. Put your toe in initially and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the other visitors had special heat resistant skin or something, because it does initially feel as though you’re stepping into a kettle. I had a great time here, one of the best days for a long time. There were a bunch of ace characters at the first pool. The second deeper pool was closed off because a griz had booked it out.
By chance I met Kelen and Yeren from Madrid who had been teaching in Canada for 2 years and were taking one last road trip vacation before heading back to Spain again. It’s easy to see a place and meet people and talk about how friendly and ‘nice’ everyone is, but being honest, the last few towns haven’t been like that – maybe there’s something in the water but in Watson Lake for example, there was about 2 nice people, and the rest that I had dealings with were the opposite of that. Kelen and Yeren had similar experiences in Watson Lake too – a local vs tourist thing maybe. They were super cool and had similar interests, so it was fun just to hang out.
From Laird Hotsprings there has been more mechanical issues including a split rear tyre, bursting tubes (valves ripping right off) and more – it’s been a bit of an epic being on the road over the last fortnight, a fun one mind, but finally in Fort Nelson there was a (semi)bikeshop so maybe the mechanical issues will stay quiet for a while. I’ve never done anything that destroys gear as much as cycle touring – my advice if you’re ever thinking about doing this is to get rugged and decent gear, strength over weight for sure, especially bike parts because it’s hard to avoid putting every single part through a ton of abuse and you need stuff that can stand up to it.
Results of the comp are in. Congrats to Kevin (US), Bastab (India) and Nigel (UK) who won Premium accounts, and Shannon, Keith and Tim who won some funky new T-shirts. Thanks to the wonderful Dora – mayor of Cape Charles, VA & Misslette The Singing Cowgirl from Texas for taking the time to choose.