Stage 4

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Related Photos The Whitehorse, YT to Watson Lake, YT Stage (via the Alaskan Highway) Back


June 7, 2004

We got a later start today as we were updating the photos and working on the website text. After breakfast, we went down Main Street to hop onto a path that follows the Yukon River. We followed this path 2 miles east of Whitehorse to check out the fish ladder. This ladder, purported to be the longest in North America, was built to allow the salmon to get upstream to spawn once the hydroelectric plant was built on the Yukon River. The salmon migration doesn’t start until late July so there were no fish to see. The ladder was quite interesting to see and worth going 2 miles out of our way. While there, we met a guy from Newfoundland with a heavy accent. He described his adventure, kayaking 500 miles down the Yukon River. He thought it was wonderful that we “dropped out” to do what we enjoyed while we still could do it.

As we approach our re-entry to the Alaskan Highway, we noticed that they had placed new bike-lane markings on the highway shoulder. It was nearly noon when we got outside of Whitehorse. Along the way, we met a cyclist racing into town. Ten miles outside of town, we stopped to eat a quick lunch. After lunch, we crossed a bridge which took us over the Yukon River for the last time. The river was not as impressive looking as it was140 miles north of Fairbanks, but none the less, we realized that this was our last view of the river on this trip.

We pedaled hard to make it to Jake’s Corner for dinner. Back on the road after dinner, it was 6 PM and we still had Johnson’s Crossing in our sights for a night’s stay. The problem was that we still had 20 some miles to go and about 8 of those miles involved some climbing. The skies looked like they were going to dump a lot a rain on us. For about 15 minutes, we biked through a light shower. The climbing we did was in a valley setting with mountains up close on both sides. So, even though that part of the ride was slow, we had some fantastic views along the way. Finally, the road leveled out and we were flying as fast as our tired legs would take us. When we got within two miles of Johnson’s Crossing, we discovered that it was an 8 percent grade downhill. Great way to end a ride! When we arrived at 9 PM, the sign outside the door said that the office closed at 8 PM. Barb saw someone stirring around and she blurted out, “Is it too late to get a room tonight?” twice. The attendant waved her in and we were all set with a room to avoid a rainy night. The attendant said they had received buckets of rain just a few hours earlier so we were lucky (sometimes late starts do work out).

Miles cycled – 82.9

June 8, 2004

We started the day with cinnamon rolls and orange juice at the motel cafe. We struck up a conversation with a man from Medina, Ohio (near Cleveland) who was traveling the Alaskan Highway by motorcycle. It took a heart attack at age 46 for him to stop and do the things he really enjoyed, so he was supportive of our trip.

As we pull out of the motel location, we turned left and found ourselves immediately facing the long bridge that is associated with the name Johnson’s crossing. The river and its banks are very impressive as we biked up the bridge at a 4 percent grade. There was a flag woman at each end of the bridge as the opposite end was necked down to a single lane for bridge repair. Once over the bridge, we kept our camera pretty busy taking pictures. After the bridge, we have a decent climb to get up out of the river valley.

The Alaskan Highway now followed Teslin Lake for 20 miles (the lake is 70 miles long). The road along the lake went up and down. Though only a 4 to 5% grade, it got to be quite a routine. Up one half mile. Down one half mile. Up one half mile. Down one half mile – on and on for 20 miles! As the hills went away, we had 4 miles of bone jarring, road construction. It wasn’t gravel but payment with loose stone. What a ride!

We had lunch at Mukluk Annie’s who’s specialty was salmon bake. Not being big fish eaters, we got the huge, tasty burgers. While there, we talked with a couple from Colorado who previously lived in Anchorage and have returned to Alaska many times. They were heading north and had seen many bikers south of us (though none on tandems). They commented that the bikers dressed in black looked like bears from a distance. Those in yellow (like our jackets) were recognizable and they would slow down or give them a wider berth than they would for the “bears.” The cook and waitress (both about 20 years old) were intrigued by our trip. The waitress came outside before we left to give us a donation for Habitat for Humanity which was most generous as she was working her way through college. As we stood near our bike, a couple currently from Idaho who have lived several places chatted with us. They talked about our bike gear and how Habitat for Humanity was not a welfare program. They like the requirement that the recipients of the homes work with the volunteers while their home is being built (so called sweat equity). This leads to a greater sense of pride of ownership. We said that biking the Alaskan Highway was our “sweat equity” and by peddling every mile we felt like we “owned” the Alaskan Highway in a way that someone merely driving it could not. They gave us a donation for Habitat, as well.

When we arrived in the town of Teslin, we got a few groceries at the local store. While leaving, we met a bike touring couple from Vancouver heading north (we regret we didn’t get a photo of them). They had sold their assets and started biking in April. That turned out to be a bit too early as they hit snow and had to wait 3 weeks since they were not equipped to bike in those conditions. They joined the Alaskan Highway in Fort St. John and were headed to Valdez. They were planning to take a ferry back to Vancouver, then relocate in Kingston, Ontario. They told us that the campground we intended to stay in that night was closed and that there were no grocery stores until Watson Lake. Hearing that, we went back to the local grocery store and got 4 boxes of macaroni and cheese for extra insurance.

Just as you’re leaving Teslin, you go over a long bridge which crosses the Nisutlin River. We have crossed long bridges before but this was the first one to have a grated decking. Hmmm? Would our tires going to hold up, going over this grid of quarter inch steel? We made it across without issue as Randall was worried about possible tire damage and Barb was worried about how she could see through the bridge. After the bridge, came a long, difficult climb. Then, a shower arrived, followed by rain.

When we arrived at the Dawson Peaks Resort for dinner, we noticed our front fender was rattling because a screw came out. We had a replacement screw, so we fixed it and went in for a bite to eat. When we set out again, the rain was as persistent as ever. Almost immediately, we noticed that the front derailleur was not responding and we were stuck in third gear. A crucial screw had fallen out (one of the two pivoting screws). As Randall searched for a substitute in his miscellaneous hardware collection, the rain increased. We had no replacement screw on board so we biked the two miles back to Dawson Peaks as there were no services for another 60 miles ahead. As Barb setup for a room that night, the owner, Dave, took Randall to his shop to check for a possible replacement screw. Again, nothing was found. He suggested that a bike shop in Whitehorse (now 120 miles away) could put a replacement screw or derailleur on the Greyhound bus which arrives Teslin around 3:30 PM on its daily trip to Dawson Creek. Randall called one shop but they didn’t deal with the high end Shimano component we needed. The shop owner suggested another store which unfortunately was already closed for the day so we had to wait to address this issue in the morning.

Miles cycled – 41.4

June 9, 2004

Randall got a hold of the bike shop in Whitehorse when they opened at 10:00 a.m. and Dev cheerfully assisted us by delivering a new derailleur (screws not sold separately) to the Greyhound Bus station by 11:00. Now we waited until the bus would arrive in Teslin at 3:30 p.m. Meanwhile, we continued to type our story into the laptop and checked the tightness on all the other screws on the bike (like closing the barn door after the horse got out, eh?). The rain continued throughout the morning and into the early afternoon so it was nice to be inside. Suppose we picked a good day to have equipment problems!

Dave and Carolyn, the owners and operators of the Dawson Peaks Resort were most helpful assisting us in contacting the bike shops and arranging the bus transportation. Dave came to Teslin to be the school principle 30 years ago. Carolyn was an investment banker. They started their business with a restaurant in a 14′ by 32′ canvas tent and two Coleman stoves using water they hauled up from the lake. The resort now has cabins by the lake, motel rooms and an RV campground in addition to the restaurant and gift shop. Dave, Carolyn, their resort and famous rhubarb pie are featured in the novel “Dead North” by Alaskan mystery writer Sue Henry. Dave loaned us his truck to drive the seven miles into Teslin and the Greyhound Bus station. In exchange for borrowing Dave’s pickup, we went to the Teslin dump and unloaded a load of trash. It was quite a novelty for city folk to drop bags into a burning pit amidst the ravens and gulls. The electric fence surrounding the dump helps to keep the bears away. The bus with our package arrived on schedule. The station clerk said “if that doesn’t fix your problem, let me know. I’m going to Whitehorse tomorrow.”

Back at the resort, we completed the repair to the derailleur and changed the rear tire since it showed more wear than expected as some threads were starting to appear. We wondered if the short life was from road construction or from the grated bridge decking. With only 700 miles on the tire, we would need around 8 more tires during the course of this tour just to keep the rear wheel spinning. We called Barb’s sister Susan for replacement tires and other supplies to be sent to Fort Nelson nearly 500 miles away. Then we turned in for the night to be ready for an early departure and productive day ahead.

June 10, 2004

Our start was much chillier than expected. The sky had cleared and the temperature was a cool 40 degrees F. We had a 7 to 10 mph headwind and the initial downhill made it feel even colder. We saw RVs being driven by men wearing short sleeves. Barb queried, “Don’t they know it cold outside?” Randall replied that being in a RV is a lot like being in a living room, very removed from the outside elements. We had dressed in just shorts, tights, shirts and a wool sweater under our jackets as that worked well in the past. After 10 miles, the cycling wasn’t warming us up enough so we stopped to put on wool pants, wool stocking caps and an additional pair of socks. Randall also took time to adjust the front derailleur as it was not going into first gear easily.

After a few miles, we were greeted by a “Welcome to British Columbia” sign, one of seven border crossings between Yukon and BC on the Alaskan Highway. This particular jaunt to the south was 42 miles long before we curved back north to Yukon. We had a 2 mile section of road construction while in BC.

Right after crossing back into Yukon, we stopped for lunch at the Swift River Lodge. The cook asked where we started and where were we headed. He knew that the Arctic Circle was at 66 degree latitude. He guessed that Key West was at about 20 degrees since he knew Jamaica was at 18. We didn’t know, but a later check of our North American map put it at about 25 degrees. Still, we were impressed that here in this remote area, a short order cook knew more about geography than most of the people we worked with in Michigan. The owner of the Lodge gave us a idea of the amount of climbing left before Watson Lake. We knew that gas was high in Canada but we were startled when the owner mentioned that the last customer to come through bought gas, a meal and some souvenirs and was put out $150. Glad we’re pedaling.

The lunch break was over and it was raining. We crossed a river and began a long, long climb. There wasn’t much of a shoulder so we were at the mercy of the drivers to give us a wide berth and most did. Reaching the top of this hill, we rested and took photos as we wanted to remember the challenge of the rain and the hill. With just a little more climbing, we crossed the Continental Divide (one side drains to the east and ends up in the Arctic Ocean, the other side drains to the west and ends up in the Pacific Ocean). We stopped for a snack at the lodge just past the Divide as the rain began to clear. We meet two different couples who spend most of their time in RVs traveling North America. One even gave us their card which listed their occupation as nomads. The operator of the lodge said we sure picked the tough way to see the Yukon. He also said that around here they call bicyclists “meals on wheels for bears.” He wasn’t through having fun yet and he told a couple of motorcyclists who stopped there that at least their bikes had motors. The bikers however said they were impressed with our biking the Alaskan Highway even without knowing the full distance we planned to cover.

At around 5 pm, we cheered for ourselves as we reached 1000 total miles of biking and the halfway point of the Alaskan Highway. Something nice to reflect on now that the rain seemed to be behind us. Looking forward to our second 1,000 milestone!

We stopped at the Rancheria Lodge for the night and got a room since we are trying to cover a greater distance today and tomorrow. The operator was an interesting lady whose grandfather came to the area during the Klondike Gold rush and lost all his money. There were no phones available here. There was satellite TV. However all the TVs were on the same feed so all the rooms and the lounge got the same channel. We asked if the Piston’s game was being broadcast and they set it up for us while we ate in the lounge which had a wood fire for heat and numerous stuffed animals and hides. Basketball is not very popular here in the north, but the operator had heard of Kobe Bryant. Hockey is the game of choice. Barb asked her “What’s the Cup doing in Florida?” She quickly responded “Exactly! But I heard the whole team is from Canada.” (For those who did not understand this, ask a hockey fan.) She kept coming back into the lounge asking if the game was over yet. At the beginning of the 4th quarter, the Pistons were in control and the other guests were complaining so we relinquished the channel selection. We picked up cinnamon rolls and orange juice for breakfast in our room as the “24 hour” restaurant closed between midnight and 7:00 a.m. due to staffing issues.

Miles cycled – 82.4

June 11, 2004

This day started our overcast with gradual rolling hills. With a 7:00 AM start, we were hoping to see some critters, but no such luck. Five miles into the ride, the mountains closed in on us on both sides as we biked through a narrow valley for 15 miles. After crossing the Rancheria River, we stopped at a rest stop. Three fifth-wheelers traveling together pull in from the other direction. When the driver of the first vehicle learned about the extent of our trip, he got back into his vehicle and radioed to the other two in the group (even though they were all parked in a line a few feet apart) to give them the scoop. So we had some curious tourists (not enthusiastic, just curious). Leaving the rest stop, our climbing began.

We climbed one mile up and then descended one mile down. Again, we climbed one mile up and then descended one mile down. This went on and on for 14 miles and with a headwind, no less. Finally we reached the Nugget City Restaurant and Bakery and had a late lunch. Before entering the restaurant, we met Mary, who was from Colorado and was cycling by herself. She started in Washington State and was headed to Anchorage. She had been traveling 100 miles a day as the campgrounds were spaced that far apart. She had seen several bears and had even been chased by a moose, but she thought that with our long bike and trailer, a moose would find us more intimidating. We were quite impressed with the distance she was covering despite her having a favorable tailwind.

The sign in the restaurant read “Please be patient as we are short staffed and the cook is working long hours to keep you fed and happy.” As it was past the noon rush, she was able to chat a bit with us. She said that many people are not prepared for the isolation and remoteness of working on the Alaskan Highway. People who are not comfortable being by themselves don’t do well. She even made access to the internet a condition of her employment, but with the long hours, she probably does not spend much time online. She did, however, eagerly accept one of our cards listing our website address.

After leaving the restaurant, we crossed paths with Conrad, a touring cyclist from Germany. He had biked all over the world and was currently heading from Calgary to Fairbanks. He had posted a sign from his hometown at the Watson Lake Signpost Forest we would see later.

After a long, fast descent, we crossed the Upper Liard River which is quite large. We stopped to photograph the bridge and river. Randall walked onto the grated pedestrian walkway and he could see straight down to the water about 80 feet below. Barb declined to take in the view as she does not like to walk on surfaces she can see through. After the river, Watson Lake welcomed us with a nice 6% grade, 1.7 mile long hill. After this climb, the highway shoulder disappeared and the road was very narrow. Luckily there was little traffic so people could get around us as we crawled up a second, half mile hill. At one point, when cars were in both lanes, the opposing traffic drove with their passenger side wheels on the shoulder and honked at the oncoming car behind us, letting them know they had room to pass our tandem. We appreciate their making us feel at home!

Arriving into town in our favorite mode (downhill) we saw the SIGNS. Incredible! Long strings of posts were filled top to bottom with expensive road signs from nearly every imaginable city and country. Signpost Forest was an appropriate name. Over the years, the town got a reputation for providing a place for you to post your favorite sign from back home. Given the professional quality of the signs, we assumed that some of the signs were stolen from their original location. Thankfully, not many towns have this kind of display as there would be no signs left to tell us which way to go. Once you see the Sign Forrest, you are exasperated.

We checked into a hotel as this would be our last phone (and email) access for 330 miles (Fort Nelson). While Randall worked on the computer, Barb walked to the nearby Laundromat. While washing our bike clothes, she met a couple from north of Flint, Michigan. The woman had traveled the Alaskan Highway in 1976 and the Sign Forrest was just a single row then. They said that the signs now number 51,000!

Miles cycled – 74.4

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