Stage 2

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Related Photos The Fairbanks, AK to Beaver Creek, YT Stage (via the Richardson and Alaskan highways) Back


May 28, 2004

The Dalton Highway proved to be a challenging route both to us and to our bike. Three days were spent in Fairbanks, ordering parts and repairing the tandem. In addition, our digital camera stopped taking pictures. We suspect the dusty conditions were a contributing factor. Barb’s Aunt Anne took us to Sam’s Club to get a replacement camera. The night before departing Fairbanks, we had some tough choices. What are the items that we really, really need to take on this trip? The GPS system was taken off the bike (it was a battery eater and the map software we had wouldn’t work until we were in southern Canada); pared down the spare tires and tubes to 2 and 8, respectively; reduced hard-to-find hardware to a small, Ziploc bag. Get the idea as to what we were going through? The stuff we didn’t need was packed into our airline bags. We then shipped the four large bags UPS to Barb’s sister, Susan (who will then forward the necessary bags to Florida when the time comes)

Finally, after resolving the blown disk brake cable, after resolving the noisy bottom bracket, after resolving the broken pawl in the rear hub (new wheel being built back in Michigan), we enjoyed a lunch with the Severns on a gorgeous Friday (which was also our 21st anniversary). Kent, Caleb, Keagon, Aspen and friend Mallory gave us the proper send off with a 1.5 mile bicycle escort. We ventured south 10 miles to North Pole. As in North Pole, Alaska. North Pole is a quaint little town with lots of Christmas themes all around. The post office there gets very busy each December. As the miles flowed by we realized a striking difference in our cycling challenges: there were no climbs (it seemed flatter than Kansas), no dust and no head wind! We were just peddling to our heart’s content! Along the way, we stopped at Knotty Shop where Barb got an ice cream cone and Randall bought a small refrigerator magnet. The magnet was then detached and applied to a spoke on the rear wheel so that Barb’s odometer would read more consistently.

A few miles down the road, we had our first good soaker, cycling through the rain for about ten miles. We reached our destination, Harding Lake, where we took in a beautiful water setting. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes were taking US in as well. Barb’s cousin had access to a cabin on the lake. Her relatives met us there and treated us with grilled burgers (dinner) and pancakes (breakfast) and a nice, firm mattress. We slept so well, we missed the commotion of Clint and Kent bringing two drunks in from a capsized boat.

Miles cycled – 43 miles

May 29, 2004

We were heading for Delta Junction and the Alaskan Highway. How far will we get? We saw some rolling hills and some moderate hills but otherwise things were still flat. We stopped at one lakeside rest stop and by chance, met a coworker of Barb’s relative from Fairbanks. He was excited to see us and wished us well on our trip. Before we reached Delta Junction, were awe-struck by how the pipeline was suspended over the Tanana River. The visitor center in Delta Junction was our first stop as we could not pass up the photo op in front of the “End of the Alaskan Highway” sign. An avid cyclist came over to take our picture and inquired about our trip. At the nearby Roadhouse, we feasted on buffalo burgers and onion rings. The manager of the restaurant mentioned that he had cycled the highway two years earlier and thought it was a nice road to bike. We wasted no time finishing our late afternoon meal as heavy rain clouds were rolling in and we weren’t done cycling yet. We called a B & B 23 miles down on the Alaskan Highway to confirm that they were open. Off we went on a 1400 mile long highway. Seems dauntingly long but we are doing it, one mile at a time, right? Only three miles in, a man walked across the highway to intercept us. We were wondering, what is this? The retiree from Vermont had read about us in the Fairbanks paper and has seen us in town earlier. He wanted to meet us in person. He had questions. We had answers.

As we continued on, we achieved our goal of missing the rain; just a few sprinkles hit us. But the bonus from the front was the incredible tailwind! Traffic was sparse as we saw more ATVs (about 2 dozen) than vehicles. There was an All Terrain Vehicle Jam in town and they were all headed there. One minivan passed us and then turned onto a side road where it stopped. We were wondering, what is this? Out of the van, hopped Barb’s Aunt Anne and Uncle Virgil! They had driven to Delta Junction to visit a friend and thought they would look us up. They were impressed with how far we had gone. We arrived at the Morningstar B & B with our first view of the mountains. The setting there was like a palace with plenty of food and comfort features.

Miles cycled – 78

May 30, 2004

As we start out, it was apparent that we were getting closer and closer to the mountains. We crossed a nice bridge over the Gerstle River. Not a lot of water but the bridge was impressive. As we progressed, we noticed a slight head wind and the flat terrain was changing into moderate hills. We reached Dot Lake where we looked to buy snacks for a lunch. The store had a “Closed on Sundays” sign posted in the window and of course, it was Sunday. Within a couple of minutes, the operator of the store popped out of his residence and asked if we needed anything out of his store. We replied yes! After buying some snacks, we went outside for our lunch and the store operator came out with two chairs for us to sit on. What service!

The traffic seemed heavier today with strings of RVs headed north (RVs make a lot of noise with their tires pounding the pavement and can be heard some distance away, coming or going). At one point where there was a break in traffic, we stopped to rest. With trees on both sides of the road, we heard a lot of bird sounds. The squawking almost sounded like monkeys in a zoo. It must of been some ravens as they’re known to make a variety of noises. We have been eight days on the road now without seeing large animals. This has to be a record of some kind!

As we got farther from civilization, the highway shoulder disappeared at times but the lanes were wide so it was no issue. Some shoulder sections were very rough so we rode on the smoother, worn part of the highway when traffic permitted. The road was in generally good condition with occasional repair patches. At one rest stop, dozens of butterflies were observed gathering on the ground near the highway rumble strips.

Reaching the Robertson River bridge, we soon discovered that the bridge was under construction and that traffic was restricted to a single lane which was controlled with traffic lights. Once the light turned green, we pedaled onto the bridge and viewed a very unique river crossing. There was water flowing through a huge bed of ice/snow. We later read that the ice was glacier ice.

Randall dealt with a couple of minor equipment issues halfway through the day. The disk brake pads were not quite centered and needed to be adjusted. The rear fender had a loose connection as the retaining nut was lost. Of all of the specialty hardware brought along, this nut was not included. So, a strip of duct tape worked well to snug up the connection.

After crossing a second river, the Yerrick, the terrain flattened out for the last twenty miles but we were challenged with a moderate head wind. We arrived in Tok for our day’s finish. Not a very big town but it was nice to see some services. We stopped to buy groceries (for next day’s lunch) and then set up camp at a RV campground. Because our day was extended to reach Tok, we skipped meal preparation and ate at a nearby restaurant.

Miles cycled – 87

May 31, 2004

After finishing breakfast in Tok, we set out on a stretch that had one known service area so we would be counting on the groceries we picked up yesterday. Outside of Tok, we crossed the Tanana River which is quite impressive. We found ourselves taking more frequent breaks as the flat roads were long gone. We were either climbing or descending. And it seemed like we were mostly climbing.

We have settled into a consistent routine with our rests. We watched the odometer for five mile intervals and as we reached that fifth mile, we’d seek a wide place in road, a turnout or a side road for a safe rest stop. We rested whether we felt tired or not. When climbing hills and mountains, that routine changed with rests every 1 to 2 miles on 5 to 7 percent grade. If the grade was 7 percent or greater, we might rest at half mile intervals. Generally, on a climb, there was a point where the slope became less severe and we targeted those locations for rest stops. The reason for this was that we won’t have such a steep launch (a tricky maneuver on a tandem loaded for touring).

We encountered road construction (pavement turned to gravel) in the early afternoon. This segment was only a mile long but it was at the worst possible place, a 6 to 7 percent grade hill (and up, of course). We crawled up that hill at 3.5 to 4 mph and at the top, we took a rest. There’s another plus about the rest stops. Whether you have gone five miles or one mile, the scenery changes and it’s there, waiting for you to absorb and take pictures.

Reaching the one, available service area, Northway Junction, we stopped to pick up food for dinner and breakfast. We also picked up a gallon of water so we wouldn’t have to filter water later. Departing, we headed for our night’s stay, Lakeview Campground. Just a mile down the road, we encountered a steep, 8 percent grade hill that was about a fifth of a mile long. This climb required a rest before even starting. Given our experience with steep hills, the concern wasn’t how much exertion it will take but will the tandem survive? It survived.

As we rolled into camp, we saw that this setting was special. The lake view was outstanding with the mountains on the horizon. This was a free campground with outhouses but no potable water. After setting up the tent, we feasted on beef stew, macaroni and cheese and apples. As we have for many nights, we had to sleep “with the lights on” as even though the sun set at 10 to 11 pm, it never really gets dark this close to the start of summer.

Miles cycled – 55

June 1, 2004

It was Tuesday and we were SO close to Canada now. We broke camp by 8 AM and set out for another day of climbing. The climbing wasn’t as bad as the nagging head wind which never seemed to go away. Just before reaching the Tetlin National Wildlife Reserve Visitor Center, we had our first significant long climb since leaving Fairbanks. We pedaled up the 2.5 mile incline with one rest stop. At the visitor center, there was no food available. There was suppose to be water available but it had not yet been tested and approved for drinking this early in the season. Since there were services available three miles down hill, we were able to restock later. The visitor center was staffed by two Alaskan natives from Northway. While at the center, we talked to a motorcyclist who saw us days earlier on the highway near Delta Junction. He had traveled the Dalton and Alaskan Highways many times on a motorbike and talked about all of the large critters he had seen. We still haven’t seen any critters!

Advancing to the gas and food stop three miles down hill, we picked up food for lunch (and possibly dinner in case we didn’t make it to Beaver Creek). Leaving the parking lot, we spotted another man and woman cycling team pedaling north on two single bikes. They seemed to be in a hurry so we gave them a big wave. They probably already knew they had a three mile hill to climb!

As we reached the USA Canadian border, the terrain started to flatten out but that luxury was negated with a considerable 15 to 20 mph head wind. Welcome to windy Canada! Just before crossing the border, we passed by the US customs station. A mile later and we were officially crossing into Canada with a colorful “Welcome to Yukon” sign and a “Welcome to Canada” sign that advised those lead footed Americans that 90 kph is NOT 90 mph.

Just 21 miles away from Beaver Creek, we continued into the relentless head winds and traversed a very rough portion of pavement. Rests were more and more frequent. Reaching a rest stop with an outhouse, we stopped to deposit our trash into a bear-proof trash receptacle. As we biked out of the parking area, a lady driver shouted out to us, “Be safe in Jesus name!”

We reached the Canadian customs station at about 5 PM. The lady agent there asked for our passports and the usual questions. Asked if we had any knives, we noted our Swiss Army knife and she said they considered that a tool. She was OK with our bear mace, too. She didn’t ask how many days we would be staying in Canada which was a break for us as we had no idea what that answer was! We would have to say that she was the most pleasant agent we have met at border crossings.

Arriving in Beaver Creek just a couple of miles later, it was nice to see a town, albeit a small one. The town bills itself as the westernmost community in Canada. There is not a lot to do around there so satellite TV is very popular. Banking and postal services are only available on alternate days. We checked into one of the three available hotels, bought some groceries, ate at the restaurant, did some laundry. It was time to rest for another day of riding.

Miles cycled – 54

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