5,163 km - 7,724 km
Having been out of cellular service for a few days now we haven't had the chance to keep you, our faithful followers, up to date. Here is the much anticipated next chapter in the Alaskentina adventure.
After a much needed maintenance day in Fairbanks including a load of laundry, a rinse of our riding gear, a real mattress and a warm shower we were ready to put some miles between us and Deadhorse.
On our way into the a local diner for breakfast, we chatted to some very nice Americans. After a brief description of our trip and the cause, one of them put $20 in our hands before we could say no to help with breakfast. A very kind gesture indeed, and much appreciated.
We made our way towards Denali National Park intending to lay our eyes on the tallest peak in North America. Denali, formally known as Mount McKinley, is known for being one of the most isolated peaks in the world and has claimed the lives of many who have attempted to conquer it.
When we saw Denali on the map it didn't cross our minds that it may be harder to see in real life. We turned up Denali Road and rode for about eight miles before we saw a cluster of people peering through binoculars into the distance at what appeared to be pretty average sized peaks. We pulled over and, after picking up Ben's bike that tipped over and almost took out a fellow Denali onlooker, discovered the big rock was hidden behind a wall of clouds. A charming couple from Pennsylvania told us this was fairly common as the mountain is obscured from view two out of three days during the summer months. They offered their fancy Swarovski binoculars to us, ensuring of course that they were properly tethered to our wrist with the trusty lanyard, and tried to explain which shades of white were mountains and which were clouds. After a while, we lost hope and figured that we would have to come back later in our lives to see this majestic mountain. We decided to cut our losses and hopped on our bikes, when all of a sudden there was a brief flurry of activity and the Denali enthusiasts hurried for their binos to catch a glimpse of the emerging peak. There it was. A very real sense of urgency remained, and we were quickly invited to peak through the Swarovskis, and given what seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime pass on the wrist lanyard rule. The mountain, although still partially obscured, was much higher and more powerful than expected. The entire summit was revealed and it became clear to us why summiting this mountain is such a feat.
We left Denali behind us, continuing into a chilly night along the Denali Highway. We are learning that the term 'Highway' is used loosely in this part of the world, because like the Dalton and the Robert Campbell, this was little more than a dirt road. We enjoyed the beauty of riding through the lush valleys south of the Alaska Range and ended the day at a remote campsite on the Brushkana River with soft sounds of rushing glacier water lulling our tired bodies to sleep.
The sleep lasted well into the morning and we polished off a dozen eggs and a pack of bacon before we set off on the day. As much as we enjoyed dodging potholes and greasing around the gravelly corners of the Denali Highway, it was nice to return to pavement and take the turns with a bit more speed on our way back to Tok, where we had stopped briefly on our way north only six days before.
At one point along the way, we decided to only fill up part way as the gas prices were high and we would be in Tok soon enough. Well, we ended up a bit tight for fuel and rode for about 30 minutes at 75kph to conserve fuel until we came across an unmarked gas station where we made sure to fill them up right to the brim! Lesson learned.
We camped for the night down an unnamed gravel road east of Tok not far from the Tanana River. As much as we have enjoyed the freedom of having light late into the night without need for a headlamp to set up camp, we are noticing the days shorten as we continue southwards. The newly discovered darkness has been refreshing and has helped improve the quality of our sleeps in the translucent tents.
The following morning we were set to return to Canada after our brief Alaskan stint. After a couple hours we were back to the land of kilometres, litres, faded road paint, and unlocked fuel pumps. Home sweet home. We enjoyed a big lunch just past the border and soon enough the Canadian customs officer wandered in to pick up lunch for his team.
As we approached Destruction Bay, named after the heavy winds that destroyed many of the buildings as the town was being built, it is not surprising that the wind arrived in full force. It was relentless in pushing us to the side during a long stretch of loose gravel, slapping us with heavy dust for a good 30km.
The wind eventually subdued and as we approached Whitehorse we were on the lookout for a secret campsite up an 'old dirt road' that 'Shelley from the Yukon', who had sent us down the Robert Campbell Highway to Faro, had also pointed out to us on the map back in Fort Nelson on July 15th. Well, there were a lot of 'old roads' in the area and none jumped out at us. Before we knew it we were 50km from Whitehorse and decided to push on to the city where we would be changing our oil the next day.
The hostel we had chosen was full, and the motels were more expensive than we were comfortable with so we camped in a campground on the east side of town.
Another dozen eggs came and went the next morning, as well as an expired frozen pack of ten dollar bacon that we bought at a gas station in Destruction Bay the day before. We packed up camp and stopped by the local shop for a new odometer cable for Ben's bike. The KLR is the only bike in the trio capable of tracking mileage and the odometer cable had snapped when the bike fell over at the Denali lookout. Once the new cable was installed, we bought some oil and Ryan at Jiffy Lube was happy to let us use the shop and some supplies to change our oil. He was very friendly and keen to help us out in any way he could. These are the kind of people you hope to meet on trips like this and we slipped him $20 for his efforts. We also got chatting to a very nice group of Americans from Johnson City on their way to the lower 48 who gave us $20 for gas. Karma moves quickly sometimes... Pizza Hut was calling our names from across the parking lot, and soon we had filled our bellies on the $12 lunch buffet and made our way towards Teslin for the night.
We arrived early enough to put our feet up and enjoy a nice fire and some tasty dehydrated meals before having a good night's rest. Friday saw us ride through some chilly rain and eventually turn on to the beautiful Stewart-Cassiar Highway. We stopped in the cool little mining town of Jade, BC where 90% of the world's Jade is produced. The pretty green stone makes for beautiful jewellery and ornaments but we didn't buy anything on this visit.
We were lucky to meet Tina and Thomas from New Zealand who have spent the last two and half years travelling North and South America on their old BMW motorcycles. They provided invaluable advice to us regarding routes, border crossings, and methods for crossing the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia.
In the morning we said farewell to Tina and Thomas and continued our journey south. 50km into the day we had a problem: Tym's bike blew the same bearing Dom's had on the Dalton a week ago exactly. This time, however, there was no replacement part and no quick fix.
Tina and Thomas emerged a short while later and tried their best to help but their spare bearing wasn't quite the right fit. They were very kind and left wishing they could have seen Tym get back on two wheels.
As we were hours from any cell service, we used our satellite texter to contact Dom's girlfriend Marie back in Ontario. She was soon on the hunt for a replacement bearing in our area. Amazingly, she found one a mere 600km away and called the shop owner who, without hesitation, gave the spare part to a fellow biker who was heading our way. Only one catch: he wouldn't be in our area until about 2PM the next day.
We decided we would try to flag down a truck, get Tym's bike hauled down further south and intercept the needed piece at an agreed upon location with the mystery delivery man. All this hinged on contacting this mystery man, if not we ran the risk of travelling south while he passed us travelling north with our very important bike part!
Before long the man was contacted via the satellite communicator and the plan was in full swing. As Tym rode in the pickup, Ben and Dom continued down the Stewart-Cassiar highway, slightly rushed for time as they needed to make it almost 500km to Kitwanga, BC, pick up the part, fix the bike and find somewhere to sleep - and it was already well into the afternoon.
In a way the time crunch was a shame as we were too busy riding to capitalize on the picture perfect scenery. But it also provided an escape from the camera which never captures the true power of any view anyway. Instead you will have to take our word for it.
Riding along the windy road we experienced tight corners around large outcrops of heavy rock, and at times we were seemingly within arms reach of the rivers, streams and lakes whose paths we shared through the Cassiar mountains. These mountains were magnificent, at first emerging blue-grey from the horizon over the tired pavement, then coming into focus as the tall forest-green walls gave way to the jagged peaks dotted with snow and ice, breaking through the low lying clouds as they reached for the sky above. Alongside the bikes rushed lush ditches of mottled greens, punctuated by pockets of purple wild flowers that covered wide swaths of the roadside. The deep yellow and bright white petals of shorter plants seemed to mirror the lines on the pavement, almost signifying a seamless transition between road and wilderness. At times the tall forest all but encompassed the road, as if we were riding through a long corridor of wavering green. Though the weather was calm, above in the treetops there must have been a firm breeze as fading green leaves and the first touches of yellow fluttered to the ground in front of us, only to be kicked up by the speeding rubber by our feet. Our pace was aggressive but our hearts were at peace and the partially obscured sun cast light perfectly on the dancing leaves and rugged peaks for a brief moment in every turn. The day had had its challenges, but none of that mattered while the road swept us up in its charm. Along the way we saw at least four black bears, two of which were on their hind legs play fighting on the shoulder of the road. Beautiful British Columbia.
We soon made it to the Petro-Canada where Tym and his bearing were waiting for us. The piece fit and Tym was back on the road after we all enjoyed a much deserved ice cream.
Last night we shared a fire with some nice girls on a road trip from Alaska to California. The people we meet continue to be a highlight of this adventure.
The next couple days will see us work our way towards Vancouver for a big reset before reaching the U.S. mainland in about a week's time.
Thank you to everyone reading these posts, and we will try to update the blog a bit more often as we re-enter land with more regular cell coverage. Until next time!