* Pictures online for this Part of the trip in the Gallery
section of this Web siteFairbanks, Alaska to Skagway, Alaska (Via Canada's Yukon and BC)
It was tough leaving Fairbanks after our trip up the Salcha River, an Alaska experience that will be very tough to top. We got back on our bikes and headed to town to reload on supplies before continuing on South. We ventured in to Wal-Mart, a sur-real experience on its own, but after 450 miles on a bike and in a tent, it was a bit overwhelming. On the flipside, it was one place that had everything we needed. The road out of Fairbanks was our first bit of riding along a four lane divided highway. To say the least, we were very pleased when we passed through North Pole, Alaska and the site of the world's largest Santa brought us less traffic and two lanes again. Our first night out of Fairbanks was a good one, we ended up at Birch Lake and set up camp in our first state campground - picnic tables, fire pit, well water and some grass. This was a very welcome change from the roadside (or whatever looks like a good place for a tent) camping that we have become accustom to. The following morning, we woke up to a moose wandering through our campsite as Gregg spooked it out of the bushes while he was watering the flowers outside our tent.
We hit Delta Junction, the beginning of the Alaska highway and made a left towards Tok, which marked the beginning of un-charted territory for Gregg. Two years earlier, on his other Alaska bike tour, he went right towards Valdez. As we continued South, we were greeted by some weather that we never envisioned encountering on this stage of the trip, the heat. Temperatures soared to the mid-90s and smoke from nearby fires filled the valley that we were riding through. Water became an issue for the first time as the majority of the rivers we passed were too silty to filter. We adjusted our riding schedule to early starts, big afternoon breaks to cool off and twilight rides when the sun was lower on the horizon. Some of the mosquitoes seemed to be on the same schedule as well, making some of the climbs a balancing act of slapping off hungry bugs and keeping the bike upright. We hit a low point our trip thus far at a crusty RV Park in Northway, Alaska. The mosquitoes were so bad that we retreated to the tent and settled for a dinner of apple sauce and beef jerky. However, the trips low quickly turned to a high as the next day we rode to the Tetlin Wilderness Preserve and spent a night on a ridge over-looking a river filled valley set against some snow-peaked mountains.
As we crossed into Canada, entering the Yukon territory, we celebrated our first successful border crossing with a big lunch at Buckshot Betty's in Beaver Creek. Continuing down the road, we met two French cyclists and a Canadian that were inching their way on bikes up from Mexico. They convinced us to change our route and detour back to Alaska to Haines and then take a ferry over to Skagway. They also told us of a small cabin that we could stay at near the summit on the way to Haines. Shortly thereafter we met a team of German cyclists that were attempting our same trip in record-breaking fashion, 35 days from Alaska to Argentina riding as a relay team in 2 hour intervals. They had six support vehicles and two media vehicles covering their journey. We wish them the best of luck.
We reached Kluane Lake, the Yukon's largest lake, on Brooks' birthday and pulled off at Burwash Landing for a birthday Molson. We had decided to stop for one and then continue on another 25 miles down the road, but ended up meeting a couple from Eugene, Oregon (Dave & Arlene) wearing duck gear. One beer turned into several beers and we ended up pitching the tent outside the bar for the night. Not a bad way for Brooks to spend his 29th birthday. We spent the following day relaxing on the shores of Kluane Lake, soaking up some sun and fishing. That evening, we scampered to fix a quick dinner as the wind picked up and flashes of lightning brought us some amazing surround sound as the thunder bounced off the surrounding peaks. We holed up in the tent and waited out the first huge storm of the trip. The rest proved worthy as we had three big riding days left to get us to Haines.
We passed through Haines Junction and found a place to camp at Kathleen Lake, home of the Kokanee Salmon. A strand of Sockeye salmon that has never returned to sea, since the Lowell glacier blocked its drainage to the Pacific. The ice has been gone for 150 years, but still they remain in the lake, completely adapted to fresh water. We climbed towards Chilkat Pass on one of our hardest climbing days - 10,000ft of total elevation into a 25 mph headwind. As we neared the pass in the rain and wind, out of energy and out of water, the little survival shack that the French cyclists had told us about appeared. Looking more like an outhouse, Gregg skeptically opened the door and turned to all smiles as he saw two cots and a small wood burning stove. After reading years worth of log book entries, we never did find out why this shack was where it was, but we did thumb through some pretty amazing tales of all the cyclists that have stayed there from year to year, all of whom found out about the place from word of mouth. Hard to explain how a 8x12 shack can provide for one of the most amazing nights of our trip, but it did...
Over the pass, we were greeted with an 18km downhill through the rain and fog. With visibility at about 15 feet, it provided for a ride that was both white-knuckling and spectacular. Back in Alaska, the weather turned sunny again and we followed the Chilkat River through the valley of the eagles. The Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve is home to so many eagles that Gregg and I stopped pointing them out to one another. Once in Haines, our rest days were in full swing. We went King Salmon fishing, managing to be the only two people all summer to get skunked in Mud Bay, but still fully enjoyed every second on the boat and off the bikes. We took the ferry to Skagway, a town that has their population go from 800 to 7000 each day as cruise ships offload passengers to the historic mining community.
Special thanks to the Dave and Arlene for the birthday beers, food supply, and RV conversation. Also to the 3 northbound cyclists that suggested the ride to Haines and location of the survival shack.
Stage 1, Part 2 Miles: 670
Total Trip Miles: 1,182.8
Total Elevation Gain: 40,033 feet
Total Ride Time: 56hr 05 min
Flat Tires: Brooks 1, Gregg - 0Sponsored by:
Co-Motion Cycles, Schwalbe North America, Rudy Project, Outdoor Research, eRoi, ThinkHost, ZUM, Bay Club, Canright Interactive, R Bar, IBEX, Lombardi Sports, Jaunt