I eventually landed into Anchorage at 10pm and was met by my incredible couchsurfng host ‘Dan’. He had come to pick me up from the airport and maybe unknowingly to him at the time, set the theme for this post that people are inherently awesome.
Dan was incredible as a host. He was a wealth of knowledge, offered help whenever I needed and brought dinner to the table both the nights I stayed with him. I was truly spoilt and it was such a blessing as I started where I left off in the UK, manically busy getting last minute things organised. The weather had not been as kind as I’d hoped, with snow there to greet me the minute I landed (one Fairbanks resident told me they normally didn’t get snow on the ground until Halloween). Hopes of an Arctic Circle start were dashed and on the Friday, I set about Plan B and headed east from Anchorage along the Glen Highway.
From a cycling point of view Day 1 was a disaster. My ‘bullet proof’ tyres didn’t live up to reputation and I had a flat 2 hours in (although in their defence, they can’t compensate for the moronic move of riding over a nail). Not the end of the world, but what came next eventually wrote off my day. Whilst cutting some cable ties to get to my pump, I slipped on the ice and gave myself a nasty cut on the end of my thumb. An added inconvenience, but I planned on having both problems patched up and to carry on with my journey. The only problem that I was to learn is that the end of your thumb has a significant amount of nerve endings. I could not stop the thing from bleeding once I took the pressure off. An hour later and with the bleeding still not able to stop, I’ve had to come to the realisation I needed a doctor to patch it up (not an easy thing to come to terms with when knowing how expensive American healthcare is). At that time, out popped the amazing Lynn Swanson on an afternoon run (I was only just outside of Anchorage at this point. She arranged for her equally amazing mother, Carole McDonald, to drive me the short distance to the local clinic where for the not so steep total of $200 (could have been worse in the States) they patched me up in no time at all. I was eager to get back out on my bike and crack on with the miles, but the clinic wanted to see me the following morning, just to check that thumb was on the mend. Again, Lynn and Carole to the rescue. Lynn offered to let me stay with their family for night and in the mean time, Carole drove me to Lynn’s husbands bar (former NHL Edmonton Oilers star Brian Swanson) where I was treated to dinner and a few beers from Brian’s fantastic home brewery. After an exceptionally comfortable night where I was fed again, clothes washed and treated to incredible company, I left the next morning after a quick visit to the doctors and started back on my way east. One day in and a bad start turned into one of the nicest memories I’ve ever had. I hope to see my Alaskan family again one day and return the kindness they showed me.
The next day was fairly uneventful. Just over 70 miles on the road and my first night camping in the wilderness of Alaska. I’ve come across bears in the wild before, but never on my own, so it’s safe to say I take camping out there very seriously. Everything is done by the book. Dinner is cooked a mile upwind of where I camp, food is cached in a tree 300 yards or more from where I’m sleeping, bear spray is carried at all times and I’m meticulous with where I choose to bed down for the night. Any hint of tracks, scat or food sources for bears and I move on to the next spot. That first night was a sleepless one however, as I woke to every snapping branch and crunching leaf. The next morning, as has occurred since with all the others. the tent is brought down hastily in the dark,whilst I’m constantly scanning the bush for signs of wildlife. I’ve got use to the routine now, but its safe to say the nerves haven’t completely gone away.
I carried on up the Glen, past the stunning Manatuska Glacier (I had to google it as the clouds came in whilst I rode past) and up over the Eureka Pass (over 30 miles of solid climbing through the mountains). The next two days were lonely ones, out in the middle of the vast expense of Alaskan wilderness. Incredibly beautiful although at times terrifyingly lonely. The nights were cold and frosty but the weather was kind to me in the day, with blue skies and a stunning backdrop to cycle against. It took me 4 days to cover the near 300 miles for Tok, the last town before I reached the Canadian border. Tired and cold, I found a hostel for the night and enjoyed some comfort before the long journey to the border.
The ride to the border is 92 miles of constant hill climbs over the beautiful Tutsin National Park. I rolled into the last stop before the border at 7pm, cold, tired and hungry. Border City Lodge has just been taken over by a father and son team and the reception I was given will live long in my memory. I politely declined a room as I couldn’t afford one. but was offered instead some floor space out back which would be warmer than a night in the tent. I snapped up the offer and enjoyed a burger with some great company from Carlos and his Dad, who also treated me to a few beers. When 10 pm rolled around, we went outside and were greeted to the most stunning Northern Lights display. Always a dream of mine to see them, they did not disappoint, with dancing waves of green light illuminating the starry sky, set against the rolling snowy peaks in the background. It was truly breath taking moment and one I will remember for life time. Back inside for the night and I was upgraded to a room that hadn’t been cleaned from the night before…a complete luxury for a person who’s been living out of a tent. The next morning after a big breakfast to see me on my way, Carlos’s Dad tells me the food is a donation to the cause and also sorted out something for the road. Amazing people with such warm hearts, they also offered me a job should I ever find myself in Alaska again. Couldn’t recommend them enough if ever you’re in the area, you’ll find yourself with a room for the night and fantastic company.
I set off to ride the 23 miles of no mans land between Alaska to the Canadian border and head into the little know vast expense of The Yukon. I left behind memories of a picture perfect land with mind blowingly large expanses of untouched wilderness. Almost daunting at times, it truly is one of the naturally blessed wonders of the world. It’s filled with people with huge hearts and in the small time I’ve spent there, I’ve been blessed to meet some of the nicest people I’ve ever come across on my travels. Thank you to all who made my experience such an amazing one.
Alaska was for me the absolute definition of daunting wilderness…that is until I reached The Yukon. I’ve spent 4 days riding through this sparse and at times scary (although still stunning) landscape. I’ve arrived in Whitehorse to an equally wonderful example of how awesome people are…but I will save those stories for the next post. I’ve ridden well over 600 miles now and the knees and body are aching.
Please keep spreading the word and sharing these posts. It’s for a truly worthy cause and donations are climbing. We are almost at 40% of the total now with many more months to come. I’ve got the hardest and most dangerous two weeks of the whole journey starting tomorrow, traversing the enormous territory of British Columbia. Please keep my spirits high and lift that total higher and I promise I will keep my legs moving.