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The beginnings of Alaska and thoughts on motivation

Just thinking out loud about motivation and scribbling it down whilst sat on the ferry, back in the USA’s 49th state. At the moment I’m making my way up to a port near Anchorage (just below Denali National Park), on the Alaska Marine Highway. A journey north into the heart of the land of the midnight sun.

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It’s a pretty indirect journey spread over two weeks of travel. I set off from Prince Rupert last week, the ferry then pulled into Wrangell, where I’ve spent the last four days battling the mosquitos. Now it’s a 3 hour journey to Petersburg, then Juneau, and finally Whittier in 10 days time, which marks the next section of the route – the longest one of all – from Alaska across Canada. It’s odd how such seemingly meaningless corners on an map can have such personal meanings.

Looking out from the railings is a thrilling sight. In between small towns, signs of human activity is non-existent, it’s just shimmering green water and dense forest as far as you can see. I’ve yet to see them, but there’s orcas in the drink and grizzlies amongst the trees. It’s an inspiring place to just look upon, reflect on the last several months, and look to the near-future knowing that this is the land that so many adventurous tales have been set in, and it’s clear to see why.

Motivation. When I was nearing the end of the East coast leg, and then again on the Southern states leg, on the hard days, knowing that I’d cycled the whole way meant it was easy to overcome any motivational struggles, because there was a rationale that went something like, ‘Well you’ve come this far, what’s another few days / miles / state lines?’. But on the West Coast leg, taking the bus ride from Northern California to Seattle was like an instant break, and I didn’t feel as attached to it.

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I’m still totally focused on making this a project about the people along the way, and stopping in certain places when it seems right. Otherwise there’s little difference between rocking the exercise bike whilst typing ‘road sign’ into Google. Alaska is one of the places I’ve been most excited about all along, so I’m definitely going to spend time to soak it in, and have a few plans that if they come off will make for interesting and unusual experiences.

But, I know that everything will seem disconnected if the final stretch isn’t done by human power. That may seem a bit ridiculous, and that it really shouldn’t matter, even a contradiction when there’s been writing about constant movement being tough, but there’s a snowball effect attached to de-motivation and it’s something I’m keen to avoid on the biggest stretch of all. Just showing up, getting on with it, and creating a flow does a lot for your psyche, but when that synthesis breaks your motivation can soon follow.

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People keep talking about the prairies in Canada, and how tough they are mentally, even when driving across them. There’s stories of people looking at a mountain in the distance and just driving for days without it getting any bigger. Driving, and being driven crazy by the endless and beautiful-at-first-but-soon-monotonous surroundings. Another cyclist I met in BC couldn’t hack it and jumped on a bus to ‘end the torture inside his head.’ Strong words that can drum up dread in anyone’s moments of insecurity or self-doubt.

There’ll surely be mind-games. You can take your ‘days in a car’ and convert it to ‘weeks on a bike’. But nothing with worth comes easily does it?

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11 comments on this post

  1. […] We’ve just seen this blog about cycling through Alaska – Cycle Touring in Alaska, the mental side to bicycle touring. Read entire story here. […]

  2. Helen m says:

    Well your comments gave put my proposed c2c cycle in its place …. Loving the blog… Stay safe

    • Dave says:

      Hi Helen, exciting that you’re going to be doing the c2c, which way will you be going, W-E or E-W? Good luck!

  3. Bill says:

    Greetings; When the pedal strokes become laborious and the scenery doesn’t seem to change and the temperatures are hovering in the 90’s and oceans of sweat saturate your being inside and out and and and the “hot” boredom is relentlessly ransacking your
    ever so cumbersome awareness, to the point where you wanna get off the bike, kneel down in the middle of the road and smash your forehead onto a very hard surface but instead of doing that you suddenly realize that during your last out breath it seemed like
    your being went out with it. wait! what was that? am I cracking up? yup! I cracked up when I decided to do this trip and now it’s just
    more of the same cracked upness and with this realization I can smile again and experience that refeshing “cool” boredom. I mean
    after all, would I really want to be on a air conditoned bus, sitting next to this adorable sweetie pie whose resting her hand on my thigh and looking up at me with those big brown eyes. my awareness returns to the next pedal stroke!!!

  4. Gary says:

    Hi Dave, in your experience whats the ratio for car/bike time? What i mean is say a car travels for an hour, how long would be a rough time on a loaded touring bike to do the same distance? thanks!

    • Dave says:

      Hi Gary, tough to say accurately – it totally depends on the terrain and how psyched you are to put in a big day, but I’d say on average, a 1.30-2 hour car ride probably comes in somewhere near a (big) full day in the saddle.

  5. Dave Haas says:

    HI,
    I’ve enjoyed your trip from the beginning, having done the East Coast and Southern Tier to Houston Texas. Now that you are headed to Alaska I have a question that maybe you could respond to if you have a little extra time. I’ve often thought a neat trip would be to “ferry hop” up the BC coast to Alaska stopping at the towns the ferry stops at and maybe staying a day and riding inland as far as the roads let you go. I’ve also heard people set up tents on the ferries on overnight trips. From your perspective would it be a worthwhile adventure.

    Dave Haas
    Lancaster NH

    • Dave says:

      Hi Dave,

      There’s a sun deck on the ferries (the bit under the roof in the second image in the above post), where you’re able to pitch a tent. There’s also a bunch of sun lounger chairs so just a sleeping bag would be OK if you wanted to sleep outside. Maybe it’s not peak season yet or something, but the ferries I’ve been on were hardly full – there’s whole rooms with recliner chairs that are empty, so it depends on how keen you are to stay outside. The staff are totally relaxed about it and will let you kip anywhere basically. The real long trip is Juneau to Whitter (it’s something like 1 day and 18 hours on the ferry), so maybe that will result in pitching a tent.

      In terms of whether it would be a worthwhile adventure – totally. It’s an amazing part of the world, and it’s noticeably ‘wilder’ than anywhere else on the trip so far (including inland BC). There’s a bunch of wildlife here and epic scenery. One thing though, in regards to cycling, is that there’s a lot of RV’s on the ferry. The small towns haven’t been an issue in terms of traffic so far, but they’re going somewhere, and I’ve heard a lot of cyclists talking about the roads being harrowing and busy in the busy-season tourist traps.

      Cheers!

  6. David Haas says:

    Thanks for all the information. I’m going to look into it for next summer

    Dave Haas

  7. ron kotyk says:

    Dave, as old time Alaskans like to say,”I’m very glad yo met me!”. Really I get the Bipolar analogy about periods in our lives. Start or restart your conversations with your creator on your journey and your travels will take on a whole new dimention in my opinion. It was very good visiting with you on your way to the Auke Bay Ferry terminal in Juneau . I hope you got your flat fixed and have a wounderful time. Be safe on your journey., Ron Kotyk Juneau
    Anchorage and
    Wasilla Alaska PS Check out Off the Chain bike coop in Anchorage or their website.

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