Stage 3

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Related Photos The Beaver Creek, YT to Whitehorse, YT Stage (via the Alaskan Highway) Back


June 2, 2004

It was cool (low 40’s F) when we started biking. We came upon six short segments of gravel road (more road construction) for a total of 2.3 miles. The ride started out mostly flat, but started getting hilly after a third of the distance. Reaching the White River basin area, we were treated to scenic views. Since we were going 30 mph at the time, Barb shot several photos on the fly (Randall gets to enjoy the scenery more thoroughly through the slide show!).

One possible lunch stop just past the White River was not open for business despite having a very large ad in the Milepost Guidebook. But we had provisions with us, so we stopped along the road and ate our apples, chips, peanuts and cookies. A few miles later we came upon a gas station / convenience store which was mentioned in the Milepost as “closed in 2003, current status unknown” but it was obviously open. The small building had a garden to one side and a sign which read “one old grouch and one cute chick live here.” An older couple ran the business in the summers. They spent the winters in their RV in New Mexico or Arizona. They recently acquired a dog named Buddy who had been abused by his previous owner. The dog had fully recovered emotionally as he was quite friendly and active, sniffing our shoes and trying to get us to play with him. We showed them what was noted in the Milepost about their business status. They said they were indeed open last year, but since they didn’t buy an ad in the guidebook, the editors didn’t acknowledge them. We asked about the status of a bakery, soup and sandwich shop a few miles down the road where we had planned to eat. They were friends with the woman who ran that place and called her to confirm that the restaurant was opened. We later stopped there to enjoy a delicious bowl of soup. It was a convenient stop as we still had a long way to our target campsite.

Before leaving the aforementioned gas station, we noticed a photo of a man with a big black bear he had recently killed. They said that bear was killed near there and that they have seen many bears in the area. Later that day, we noticed a RV parked at the opposite side of the road ahead of us. We looked closely at that area as this could mean an animal sighting. Sure enough, there was a black bear grazing on berries along the shoulder of the road. As we approached, the driver of the vehicle was pointing towards the bear, uncertain if we were aware of his presence. We stayed on our side of the road while we passed (stopping to take photos didn’t seem like a smart thing to do). The bear briefly looked up, but he was more interested in the berries than us. Our first bear sighting and we didn’t need the bear mace spray!

We had a long, long climb of about 3 miles about 7 miles from camp. The view towards the summit was gorgeous and the descent wasn’t too bad either. We just love it when we end a day with 4 miles of downhill! The other nice thing about that kind of arrival is that you most surely have to climb back up the next day and what better time to climb than when it’s cold in the morning.

We arrived at our campsite, Kluane Wilderness Village at 7:30. After setting up our tent and preparing our sleeping bags and air mattresses, we ate the sandwiches we purchased at the bakery/sandwich shop. Still hungry, we ate more at the campground cafe. We showered and washed our bike shorts and shirts at the same time. We put the bike clothes back on to dry and went to bed. They were still a bit damp in the morning but at least they more fresh.

Miles cycled – 83 (11.5 mph average)

June 3, 2004

We started the day with a moderate, sustained climb in cool temperatures and a 15 mph headwind. We reached a gravel section of road which was reconstructed the previous year. It was time to take 10 pounds of pressure out of each of the three tires (to reduce chance of tire or rim damage). We heard that after rebuilding the roads in gravel, the construction crews wait 10 months to let everything settle before paving that section. The 4.6 miles of gravel was dustier than the Dalton Highway and the drivers were not as aware of the risks of flying rocks as few would slow down or give us a wide berth (unlike the mostly professional truck drivers that use the Dalton Highway who gave us very wide berths and half speed drive-bys). With each vehicle that met or passed us, we lowered our heads to reduce the chances that a flying rock would hit our face.

We had our second large critter sighting today!! A moose (no antlers so probably a female) was to the right side of road and as we approached, it darted across the road several hundred feet in front of us. It stopped briefly a couple of times to look back at us as it appeared to be frightened by our presence (doesn’t see many tandems?).

Burwash Landing Resort was a nice lunch stop for us. As we dined, we enjoyed the gorgeous views of Kluane Lake. There, we met a mother and her son that were traveling in their SUV. The mom was a longtime Fairbanks resident so we had a few stories to exchange. Destruction Bay was our next stop where we picked up a few groceries. Food was not going to be available until we reached Haines Junction, still another day away.

Right after the Destruction Bay stop was yet more construction. We came to a halt next to the flag lady to get the scoop on what was ahead. After she told us we were crazy to be riding from Alaska to Florida, she indicated that we had a couple of kilometers of roadwork. It turned out to be 6.9 miles! She also said that after this section, we would not have any more construction on the Alaskan Highway (stay turned to see if this was true). The first stage of this construction adventure saw 3 miles of very wet gravel surfaces. We were able to bike on the far right, soft shoulder to miss most of the mud. We went about 4 to 4.5 mph steadily. Every 7 to 10 minutes, a pilot pickup would lead a single string of 3 to 8 vehicles through the construction. This traffic was not threatening to us but we think the motorists were startled to see a bike advancing through all this. After 2 miles we found a dry spot near a driveway to stand and rest a bit. A construction supervisor walked over to talk to us. The supervisor thought that it was great that we were taking this trip and stated that he sees a number of cyclists on this highway each year. He also said that the chip paving ahead would be far enough along that we shouldn’t have any trouble biking on it. At the next stage, a second flag lady was concerned that it was not safe for us during the chip paving stage. She radioed and we waited. She radioed and we waited. We told her we were going ahead and she stated “you’re doing this at your own risk.” The tricky part of this segment was the excess of chips to navigate, trying to advance without the tires being grabbed too much. There was very little exposed oil fortunately there was so no issue there. When we arrived where the heavy equipment was working, the workers all smiled, gave us big waves and wished us well on our trip, as we were careful to stay out of their way.

At the end of the active construction area, the gravel road smoothed out rather nice and since we were going down a long hill, the conditions were such that we coasted down the hill at 25 mph and right by the third flag woman and a line of 9 vehicles waiting to go the other direction. There’s no stopping us now! A mile down, we found a safe place to stop and pulled over so we could put 10 pounds of pressure back into the tires. We were keeping a watchful eye out for bears as we were still along Kluane Lake and it is known as a popular place for bears to feed. We closed the day with a stop at Cottonwood RV Campground (stopping 10 miles earlier than planned as the construction and head wind were a bit much).

Cottonwood offered a very scenic campsite. We were right on the lake with snow covered mountains to the south and east. The operator stated that were no bear sightings yet in that area and we felt a little better about settling in with several RVs. Randall cooked macaroni and cheese and chicken noodle soup while Barb set up the sleeping bags and air mattresses. The lake water was glassy calm as we went to bed. By 1 AM, gentle waves could be heard.

Miles cycled – 50

June 4, 2004

It was not as cold in the morning as we expected. The wind was calm as we advanced down the curving road that goes around the end of the lake. We stopped at the Sheep Mountain Visitor Center where we saw Dall Sheep through the telescope. The visible side of the mountain was their winter home and they were moving to the lusher, backside for the summer. Consequently, the sheep we saw were right at the peak of the mountain. Also, at this stop we met two couples from British Columbia who donated to Habitat and gave us oranges and apples (better than the ones we’d seen in the stores). One said “Good luck” and started to his vehicle and then stopped, turned and said “for this kind of trip, good luck isn’t enough – God bless.” It seems that we have advanced far enough into our tour that locals and tourists are expressing more amazement and enthusiasm where in the past, we were just a curiosity.

A couple on an ATV came up from behind us, driving in the ATV/snowmobile path along the highway. They stopped to collect something (firewood perhaps) and we passed them. Later they caught up to us again. They would smile but didn’t say anything to us. Eventually, they turned in to a rest stop where another vehicle was parked and we didn’t see them after that.

The weather continued to be calm. Later, the wind picked up at the first of two mountain passes, both at about 3,300 feet elevation. Between the two mountain passes, we lunched on apples, peanuts and cookies on the side of the highway, waving at passing vehicles. Barb usually waves at all the RVs going north as we are biking. Every since we got our first tandem in 1998, Barb has been waving from the tandem to bystanders and oncoming traffic (waving is easier for the rider not doing the steering). Tandeming is a lot of fun for the two of us and we want people to know that we are indeed having fun. Most of the time they wave back (once we even got three hands waving from two people – which is the most you would want as the fourth hand needs to be on the steering wheel). Sometimes they even honk. Randall will wave if they honk; otherwise, he focuses on keeping the bike upright. Sometimes they just stare at us like the couple in the painting, American Gothic, in disbelief of what they are seeing.

We conquered the second mountain pass after two more rest stops. The road looked like it was going right into the mountain. It seemed like we were almost at the top, but no, still more climbing lay ahead. Finally, the last summit of the day was reached. Hurray! There was some snow on the ground not far from us and the nearby mountains were covered with snow. Nice feeling to be on the top. The road then wound downhill for 6 miles after the second pass (what better way to end the day). Since there were few vehicles going our way, we could take the whole lane and we coasted consistently at 28 to 33 mph. This took us into Haines Junction. We opted for a hotel and phone assess so we could catch up on email. We had 72 new emails with over half of that being spam. We really enjoy hearing from everyone. We worked a bit on updating photos and text but uploading to website will come at a later stop.

Miles cycled – 50 miles

June 5, 2004

To start the morning, we ate in the continental breakfast room at the hotel. With all the German speaking tourists there, we felt like WE were the foreigners (which of course we were for the next few weeks). There was a direct flight from Frankfort to Whitehorse on Thursdays so many Germans vacation in this area. Some rent RVs and others join up with tour groups.

We had a later start at 9:15 as we took extra time to check out the general store. Like other general stores we’ve seen in Canadian small towns, this store had a little bit of everything: groceries, hardware, drug store items. They had some dehydrated meals on hand but we were still good with our two day supply on board.

Heading north out of Haines Junction (seems like the wrong direction doesn’t it) we hit a busy construction zone just outside of town. The flag woman steered us to what she called the “bike path” along the side of the road. Couldn’t fool us, our alternate path was the rough ATV trail (also used by snowmobiles in the winter). For two miles, we biked along this bumpy route at 4 to 5 mph. One hump in the road had such a pointed peak, our long bike would have bottomed out on the timing chain. So we got off and lifted the bike across. A short 40 foot hill was so steep, out rear tire was spinning on the gravel, so we got off the bike and walked it up. What an adventure!

After the 2 mile detour, we tried to rejoin the highway. The flag woman there was concerned about the large trucks going through. However, we talked her into allowing us to ride on the highway since we were now beyond the pilot car section where only one lane of traffic was allowed to travel at a time.

The road was generally flat to begin with and we even had a light tailwind. We stopped for lunch on the side of the existing highway next to construction on a new, improved highway section. We watched the big earthmoving equipment build up and level off the new highway surface. The new road will have a more consistent grade (reducing peaks and valleys) than the existing highway. Future cyclists biking on the Alaskan Highway will have it a bit easier going than we did on this stretch. Looking back towards Haines Junction, it appeared to be snowing in the mountains near Haines Junction. It looked like rain ahead of us so we zipped on our jacket sleeves and put on our rain booties before resuming cycling. We did get a gentle rain for about 10 miles but it was warm enough not to chill us.

We rode through an area which had been repopulated with elk, but did not see any about. Also, there was suppose to be bison in the area. Again, none were visible. We rode through several miles of the Takhini River Valley which burned in 1958 (the first year the Alaskan Highway was opened to civilians). More than 1.5 million acres of forest land burned that year due to campfires. Burnt trees were still visible, but many healthy, younger evergreens were filling in the area.

The plan for the day was to bike to a bed & breakfast 75 miles from Haines Junction and then continue to Whitehorse the next day. That fell through when upon arrival, we found that the place was closed while the operator was vacationing in Germany (we didn’t call ahead since it was listed as being open year round). We could have set up camp most anywhere but chose to bike the additional 23 miles into Whitehorse. We had 6.5 miles of gravel roads to navigate (road construction again). While the last 23 miles were pretty hilly, we were surprised that we averaged 12 mph with the adverse conditions and the length of ride. One big positive for today’s ride was that we had no strong headwind for the first time in a week! We arrived in Whitehorse at 8 pm. We turn onto a street called Two Mile Hill to coast into town. As we approached 25 mph a half block onto this street, there was a sign that stated “No Bikes Allowed on Street.” There was no stopping us now! After settling into the hotel and showering, we walked 8 blocks to a KFC for dinner. We did not have tired legs but decided that Sunday would be an off day so that the web site can be updated.

Miles cycled – 97.6

June 6, 2004

We enjoyed a Sunday without touring (although, we did bike to a nearby A & W Restaurant, Wal-Mart and car wash). We walked to church at the Sacred Heart Cathedral, just one block from our hotel. After the service, we talked to the young priest and told him of our trip in progress. He thought what we were doing sounded like quite an adventure, but difficult. When we told him we were riding a tandem, he joked “That’s worse. That requires teamwork; teamwork sucks.” He said he would check out our website and send us encouraging email.

We ate breakfast and shopped for camping supplies before returning to the hotel. Barb did laundry while Randall edited and downloaded photos. Then we rode to a self serve car wash to give the bike a thorough cleaning to remove the construction dirt. In the evening, we watched the Pistons beat the Lakers and called Barb’s parents with the latest updates.

Miles cycled – 4.0

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