Journal August 1-August 10
Alaska, British Columbia & Yukon Territory
August 1 Haines, AK
In the morning, Kris was waiting at out door with his laptop computer. We managed to load pictures into it from our camera, so you will see some here as soon as he e-mails them to web master Christine. Kris also made us a gift of some very fine nutritional supplements and energy bars that he has found to be useful. We really appreciated this kindness, and we look forward to writing him and learning more from him about Alaska, seamanship, and health.
Docking delays put us ashore at 5:00 AM, already bright twilight here at these latitudes. Saying goodbye to him and Scott, we pedaled ashore and headed toward the Salmon Run campground (on Scott's recommendation). Before we had pedaled two miles, we had an introduction to Alaska's two most famous residents; mosquitoes and bears. The mosquitoes were tolerable, and the bear was a black one that ran across the road at a reasonable distance. Soon we were in a rustic cabin catching up on sleep. By late morning we were on our way into Haines, six miles distant, to shop and eat. There we met Rob Goldberg and Donna Catotti, artists and kindred spirits, and their son Aihan. They all enjoyed a ride around town on the quad, and they filled us in on the road conditions ahead. They also told us about a home schooling family that would be pleased to meet us forty miles up the road.
The health food store provided more interesting people to meet, and we purchased some fresh salmon and headed back to our cabin by the bay. Our neighbors Esther (from London, England) and Anna (from Toronto) shared dinner with us, and we enjoyed immensely talking with Ruth, the proprietor of this campground. Ruth treated us like family and eventually wouldn't charge us for the night's lodging. She and her husband Dana have created a little paradise on Chilcoot bay, with campsites and cabins and a fishing charter service.
August 2 Haines, AK to Haines Borough, AK
Although we rose early, we had so much to do in Haines that we didn't leave this town until 5:00 PM. We were interviewed by the local newspaper, did laundry, received mail, sent mail, shopped, ate, shopped some more, packed and re-packed, and talked to some darn nice Haines residents. When we finally got on the road, it was flat and we had a tailwind that pushed us along the Chilkat River. We discovered that stopping to rest was "feeding the mosquitoes," and some small hills slowed us to below "mosquito escape velocity." Just when a 12-mile construction zone with a sharp gravel surface slowed us down and made us into mosquito food, Gene and Charlie scooped us up in their pickup. They are pile drivers, building a bridge on the highway, finished work for the day. They brought us first to the 33-Mile House where we ate a sandwich, then to the home of Jeff and Adrian Buchart, who were not expecting us but welcomed us immediately anyway. They and their kids Micha, 16, Merrick, 14, and Hannah, 10, have homesteaded here in a tiny cabin for 13 years. Their almost-completed house next door was where we slept, after getting to know each other a bit. Their home schooled kids were a joy to meet, and they shared Alaskan homesteading stories as the 11:00 PM twilight darkened over the nearby mountains.
August 3 Haines Borough (Pleasant Camp), AK to Chilcat Pass, BC
Jeff and Adrian have a classic Alaskan homestead here and it was hard to leave, what with berry picking and sourdough pancakes. We left after noon with full bellies and new friends. Climbing a 3,300 foot pass in 85-degree heat was our next task today, and it turned out to be our last. After chatting with Billy, the border guard at Canadian customs, and enjoying the shade, we used our lowest gear for hours, marveling at the most beautiful snow-capped peaks and huge valleys. An afternoon stop at a clear, cold creek cooled us down; we all took a dip and froze our feet. A few miles further, just before the top of the pass, we camped at a turn-out. By this time we were above the tree line, which is low at this latitude. In the late twilight we ate dinner at 10:30 and were still awake at midnight.
August 4 Chilkat Pass, BC to Million Dollar Falls, YT
This is a stretch of highway 150 miles or so with no towns, services or side roads. We dipped above tree line on the pass and back down to an area of black spruce trees, smaller cousins of the big trees we left behind on the coast. This area is drier and colder than the coastal Haines and Juneau areas, and some of the mountains resemble the desert areas in the west. We saw a healthy looking Grizzly bear about mid-day.
This highway is wide, well graded, and has good shoulders. It was built with national defense in mind during World War II, and it has been improved and maintained in a joint effort with British Columbia, Yukon, Alaska, and the United States. There is little traffic on it, even in high tourist season, right now. Motor homes and campers make up most of the traffic. We were overtaken by a bicycle touring group, traveling in a van with a trailer, just riding a fifty-mile stretch of this glorious highway before being driven to Fairbanks. We enjoyed visiting. Late in the day we were treated to a long downhill stretch which brought us across the border into Yukon Territory, and to the Million Dollar Falls Campground, so named for the gold taken out around the turn of the century. A lovely couple on tour in their camper made us a gift of a large, fresh salmon. Henry and I had a fire going in no time, and another 10:30 PM dinner was enjoyed by all.
August 5 Million Dollar Falls, YT to Kathleen Lake, YT
First, a huge climb, two hours in low gear. Then an hour at a scenic overlook speaking with tourists from Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, California, North Carolina, New York and elsewhere. They all were fascinated, several had seen our picture on TV or in the press, and they gave us food and ice and fresh water and good wishes. On our way again, we rode through some of the most breathtaking scenery, the kind that makes one feel insignificant, so huge is the scale and so grand is the tableau. The St. Elias mountains to the west contain the world's largest glaciers (outside of the Polar Regions) and from our view they are behind large expanses of spruce, alpine tundra, swampy lowlands and green foothills. Wildflowers line the road, and the absence of power lines and the near absence of traffic contribute to the wild feeling.
Dezadeash Lake provided a great late lunch stop, where we spoke with a group of kayakers departing from a float plane that had just taken them out of the wilderness after a long river trip. The old At Kathleen Lake we camped at a Territorial campground, spoke with the young ranger there, and enjoyed the last of our food. We could have packed more for this stretch, because we ate more than planned.
August 6 Kathleen Lake, YT to Haines Junction, YT.
A late breakfast at a tiny lodge fifteen miles from Haines Junction left us plenty of time to ride into the town by early afternoon. As usual, we spent much of the day talking to people, explaining our trip and trying to make smiles. Haines Junction is a wilderness crossroads, born in the forties as a highway construction camp. Here we join the Alaska Highway, the main route into the 49th State from the lower 48. The town has about 1200 people and a dozen businesses, mostly aimed at the tourists that fill the road from June to August. As we have elsewhere in Yukon, we wonder what it is like living here in the winter. A meal at a nice deli, where we met the proprietors and gave their kids a ride on the Quad, some laundry, a swim in the municipal pool, and a night at a motel took up the rest of our stay in this Yukon town.
August 7 Haines Junction, YT to Sheep Mountain, YT
Finally a cool, cloudy day. We have been cycling in the Yukon's biggest heat wave in years, and the cooler weather was welcome. Two mountain passes started our day, but the climbs were long and gradual, and we met some nice folks on our rest stops. In the late afternoon, with the sun still high in the sky, we descended a long hill to see Kluane Lake (KLOO-wah-nee), the largest lake in the Yukon at fifty miles long. Here our headwind shifted to a tailwind, After seeing no sheep on Sheep Mountain, we ate at a lakeside lodge and stayed as their guests in a big canvas wall tent just feet from the water. After dinner we spoke with our waitress Nettaassia, a part native (they are called First Nation Peoples here) young woman who had grown up in this remote area. We learned that most of the land around this huge lake was either "band" (First Nation) owned or Yukon Territory government land, with a few small mining company leases nearby and a tiny fraction of the shoreline "titled land," or in private ownership. Most of the people in the area, white or First Nation, make a living on the highway crews or in tourism, with unemployment in the winters at about 50%. Most wouldn't leave it for the "outside."
Just as we reached the lake, we found ourselves within fifty feet of a couple of bear cubs. Mama Grizzly raised her head up above the 7-foot high shrubs and looked us in the eye. We kept moving, and she took her cubs the other way, thankfully.
August 8 Sheep Mountain, YT to Kluane Wilderness Village, YT
We followed the shoreline of this lake almost all day, with cool cloudy weather and a tailwind. A tiny town at noon, with 40 year-round residents, was the only civilization we saw, apart from what was brought along by the huge motor homes sharing the highway with us. Kluane Wilderness Village (unincorporated) was really just a store, restaurant, cabins, motel, RV park, campground, and garage, all owned by the same family. The old man gave us a free cabin, and the waitress and cook chipped in to pay our bill at the restaurant. At dinner we met a gold miner and his wife who shared stories from his years of dragging gold out of Burwash Creek, first with pans and shovels and now with huge earth moving equipment, dynamite and rock crushers. He gave me a couple of blasting caps and told me to keep them handy for scaring bears away.
August 9 Kluane Wilderness Village, YT to Pine Valley Lodge, YT
In the morning, posing for pictures for the tourists (Patti says she feels like a bear sometimes when three or four cameras are pointed at us) we met a couple driving a bus (empty) to Whitehorse to pick up some tourists. They let the kids into the bus, and produced a laptop computer which we loaded pictures into for eventual e-mail to Christine and posting on this web site. Nice folks. Later a five-mile stretch of construction, loose gravel and mud on an uphill grade, proved to be a challenge. We rode it, but at great cost; by the top we were exhausted. A few miles down the road, another stretch wore us out. Shortly after a late lunch, we pulled into Pine Valley Lodge, and a wild storm dumped a half-inch of rain in a few minutes. We were happy to be inside talking with the cook and waitress, who offered us a free cabin (since the boss was away in Fairbanks for a few days). We gladly accepted and made an early day of it. When it cleared at 6:30 we realized we could have gone farther, but we enjoyed our rest. A couple of girls from the Netherlands knocked on our cabin door to return Ellie's gloves, which she had left fifty miles back in a lady's room. We talked all evening while the kids slept.
August 10 Pine Valley Lodge, YT to Snag Junction Campground, YT
A day in the Wilderness, traveling up one long hill after another and down the other side, only to cross a creek with a colorful name and start climbing again. Lunches these days are pasta or soup cooked on the stove; we are a long way from fruit and bread. The wild woods and mountains and big rivers are enough to remind us every minute that we are on the most exciting part of our trip. We put on sweaters and windbreakers and hats at rest stops and try to find shelter from the wind. And this is August!
At Snag Junction Campground we find the same Yukon Territorial Government campground amenities as elsewhere: wooden outhouses, neat and clean campsites, bear-proof garbage cans, free firewood, and a beautiful lake, all for $8 Canadian. After cooking and warming by a fire, we put our food in a neighboring camper's bear-proof car (the trees this far north are not tall enough for hanging the food out of bear's reach) and go to bed in the midnight twilight.