Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Yukon: Larger Than Life!

“Welcome to the Yukon, where the men are men and so are the women!” That was the slogan Barry used to greet me upon arrival at his house in Watson Lake. Let me tell you, I was so happy to arrive, I almost gave them a hug when they opened the door. Actually, I arrived so late Barry, was in bed, and Susan, his wife, was waiting up for me. I had pedaled my longest day to date, on August 19, 207 kilometers (129 miles). What on earth possessed me to have such a long day? Perhaps it was the nice hot shower, good company, a comfy bed, or clean clothes after “roughin' it” for a week on the Stewart-Cassiar highway. I'm not a wimp, although the Spanish sun has lowered my tolerance for the cold. I can hack it in the wilderness and totally fine roughin', but I do love my hosts from time-to-time!
Popcorn, a candy bar, and hot chocolate that was a real treat!

The previous night, I had slept at a rest stop 30 kilometers north of Dease Lake, the last town on the road for the next 235 kilometers. I had placed my food bags in one of the toilet stalls and put a big rock in front of the door and hid my tent behind the information sign. The next morning, I was up pedaling early and luckily avoided the rain all day except for the last 15 miles when a storm dumped down on me at the same time temperatures plummeted. Cold, tired, and running on fumes, I pushed through and arrived at the Alaska Highway junction at 9:30pm, just west of Watson Lake. Since Watson Lake wasn't officially on my route to Alaska and meant a 15 miles detour to the east, I was going to hitchhike into town. Ron was the first Yukoners I met. He was working the gas station/convenience store at the junction and was incredibly thoughtful. He offered me a ride into town when he closed in a half hour and told me to help myself to any food in the store or beverage to warm up. I controlled myself, with a coffee and candy bar, a big treat for me! Ron was the first of the friendly people here in the Yukon.

Services are advertised on the road, but many times you get there and they look like this place, abandoned for years!

Barry and Susan, my Warmshowers hosts, were a friendly Yukon couple. We hit it off immediately due to our similar sense of humor! Which is why I knew Barry didn't intend to offend anyone with his slogan, “...where the men are men and so are the women!” But what exactly did he mean? Yukoners, both men and women, are one with the wolderness. Everyone that lives here seems to be connected to nature in some way or another! The Yukon reminds me of Montana, vast in physical size, yet sparsely populated. There are a total of 30,000 people living in The Yukon, and 25,000 of those people are in Whitehorse, the capital of the province. They boast themselves as coming from the province that is “larger than life!”If you look at land mass, it is roughly the size of . I'd say there are more bears than people inhabiting this province, to tell you the truth!

Moose burgers, who would ever buy beef again?!?!
It's no wonder then that there is such an draw to the outdoors here, you can't help it, it's all around you! Barry and Susan are passionate hunters. They hunt a lot during the winter up on the Artic ocean, which includes driving over frozen rivers and camping out on the frozen sea for days on end (and people think I'm brave for pedaling around the world on my own)! Their freezer is full of last season's game from elk to moose, caribou, and muskox. Boy did I hit the jackpot! I got to try two new meats while staying with them. The first night Barry made us moose burgers, or moose cheeseburgers, rather, that were ever so flavorful. So far, they take the prize as being the most flavorful of the different burgers I've had including elk, bison, and beef! The second night Barry and I combined our efforts in the kitchen to prepare a delicious meal. He used the pressure cooker for the first time to make muskox steak stew with vegetables. We forgot to add the potatoes, so I made some home fries in the oven, taking advantage that I had the oven warmed from the scones I had just baked for dessert.
Ron, preparing the fishing rod, which he of course stores in his truck all the time!

Watson Lake's famous signs.  In the Guinness Book of World Records: Most stolen property!

I could use some more practice before I rely on fishing for dinner
Barry and Susan were delightful company, with a great sense of humor. An extra day with them was well worth the 207 kilometers I pedaled! I learned a lot about the area that just fascinated me. Their town is so remote they run on a diesel generator. This explains the huge power line construction project I saw along the Stewart-Cassiar which will eventually bring a power station to the area. Recycling here is also limited because it just isn't practical to have trucks traveling thousands of kilometers to recycle certain items like glass. While hanging out with Barry and Susan, Ron from the convenience store came by to check in on me and took me for a tour around town, which included a stop to Watson Lake to fish! Like I said, people love the outdoors so much here, they always carry their fishing gear in their trucks. At any given time they can go catch dinner! I love it! We didn't catch anything, but it sure was fun to cast a rod after so many years.

Barry reading up on how to prepare muskox in the crock pot!

The following day I met Linda, who owns and runs the Rancheria Motel and Restaurant, 120 kilometers west of Watson Lake. It is the only establishment west of Watson Lake open year round for a good 300 kilometers. My intention was to treat myself to a delicious dinner and then head up the road to a rest stop and camp. As it turned out, the restaurant staff saw me sitting on my own and invited me over to their table for cake, celebrating an employee's departure. All of a sudden, I was also being offered a room for the evening because Linda would have nothing of me camping in the wilderness. How could I turn down a warm, free hotel room? I helped out with the dishes at closing, even though they insisted that I sit down, it was just too fun to use their industrial dishwasher!

Linda is another great example of the friendly people here in the Yukon. She had story after story to tell me about the cyclists that pass by here and her kind and generous offerings to them. She's seen cyclist pass by with a foot of snow on the road and tries to rescue and spoil all that come in to her establishment. She's rescued cyclists from the pouring rain, and even run after others, who weren't going to stop. This lady is amazing and has a heart, larger than life! You can tell it's a local place, drawing in truck drivers along the route and locals from the area. She and her staff know what their customers will order before they even open their mouth! My dinner was so delicious, a veggie omelet, that I ordered it again for breakfast the next morning with a side of French toast. I celebrated my one year anniversary on the road at Linda's Rancheria Motel, a unique and memorable experience by far!

Linda with a heart "larger than life!" and myself

Sign me up to clean tables, wash dishes, you name it! I love to help out, haven't had a house or a kitchen for a year plus!

After my first week in one of Canada's most desolate province (least populated province), the slogan I'd use to describe this province is “Welcome to The Yukon, where the people are “friendly, friendlier, and even more friendly!” After Rancheria, I had another big day pedaling to Teslin, where I lucked out with a Warmshowers host. Although they are few and far between up here, if you haven't noticed, it has become a challenge to make it from host to host in a day, even if it means pedaling for 10 hours. There will be plenty of stretches along the road of desolate forests, where I will camp, so why not live it up while I can?

YUM!!!!!  What an idea, substitute French toast for toast!

Paul was my host in Teslin. Originally from the Vancouver and new to the area himself, his Yukon hospitality didn't lack. Paul actually walked down to meet me at the town's bridge, took me to coffee, and then home to get cleaned up and fed. He had just been fishing and fresh salmon was in the fridge. I was overjoyed to prepare it, along with rice and veggies, and local blueberries for dessert. We didn't actually eat until much later talking and talking about anything and everything! I'm always amazed to hear about the life of local people in these small towns. Paul is a nurse, one of two in town at the only clinic in Teslin, make that the only one is a 200 kilometer radius, he does a lot more than any other registered nurse in a big city, including riding in an ambulance at times with patients to Whitehorse, 2 hours away to the closest hospital.

Teslin bridge, not fun to ride over grated metal!
my one year anniversary almost coincided with 30,000km....pretty good timing

Paul motivated me to try to set out for Whitehorse the following day, 180 kilometers away, but I didn't make it. Cinnamon buns, scones, and good old Oregonian company side-tracked me! Other cyclists had told me about two young Oregonian women ahead of me and I had finally met up with them, on more than one occasion. They've been pedaling north from Portland, headed to Alaska, but have a month longer to make the trip. Therefore, we haven't cycle together much, but we always seem to run into each other at local bakeries, no less, trying out the delicious goodies. Pam and Monica are so much fun! We laugh while little pieces of moist baked goods come flying out of our mouths. What can we say, we are all suckers for sweet treats, especially cinnamon buns! Now I'm ahead of them, and like Hansel & Gretel, I'm leaving crumbs for my followers, making note and sharing with them all the spots to hit up the good sweet treats!

I'm a sucker for cinnamon buns, what can I say!

Sweet treat # 2, the scone was WAY better than the cinnamon roll, glad I got to prove that!

No stopping these girls, Pam and Monica LOVE their sweets too!!!
I'm actually glad I fell for the cinnamon buns and scones that afternoon because I didn't make it all the way to Whitehorse and I got to stay with Peter, an avid outdoorsmen and tour cyclist on Marsh Lake, and another friendly Yukon host! He's built an incredible cabin with the lake as his backyard. He has two smaller cabins, where guests usually stay, but since I arrived frozen and wet, it was hard to peel myself away from the woodstove in his house. Again, we talked about our travels and I learned more about the Yukon and all it offers for the outdoors. I slept upstairs in the loft, with the sound of the lake waves crashing against the shore from the wind. I slept so soundly I thought it was about 10 am when I awoke. To my surprise I was just catching the sunrise at 6:30am, tilting my head to the right, to take in the most impressive view of the sun coming up over the lake. I could have rushed and pedaled into Whitehorse that morning, but Peter's house was so peaceful, I spent the entire morning there enjoying the warm sun shining through the bay window in the living room.

My view waking up of Marsh Lake

A luxurious rest stop, a real pit toilet!
French host and chef, Etienne making French onion soup!

My host in Whitehorse was a friend of Barry and Susan's, Etienne, a Frenchman originally from Lyon, who settled down in Whitehorse because of it's unbeatable location. Officially, his two roommates, Amy and Katherine, weren't Yukoners either, but it must be something in the air or the water because they were just as friendly as all the others I've encountered here. I got a cooking class from Etienne, learning how to make French onion soup. I probably would have finished off the entire pot, but my jaw was too busy dropping open, listening in awe to all of them at the dinner table talk about their passion for the outdoors and recent trips. Barry was right indeed, men and women alike are hearty, rugged, and bold outdoorsmen in the Yukon and they had the gear stored in their house to prove it! It was quite a collection, but nothing compared to my hosts the following night at Haines Junction!

Just the ski and snowshoe gear.....
Rain jackets, snow jackets, ski jackets, you name it!
As one of their Warmshower guests put it, “your house is like an REI store!” Rick, was a retired park ranger and Karmen worked as a teacher and the downstairs of their house was filled with tents, backpacks, snowshoes, skis, bikes, name it and they had it! Even though I had arrived late (another long day with headwind) and Karmen had to wake up early for work the following morning, our conversation lasted quite a long time and I enjoyed learning about the area from them as well as the Canadian education system in rural areas. They were my lasts hosts in the Yukon and continued the tradition of genuinely friendly, hospitable Yukoners.

Leaving Haines Junction I encountered another cyclist at the top of a pass, no less.  From Taiwan, headed to Argentina

Views leaving Haines Junction
Kluane Lake
More views of Kluane Lake, it lasted 30 kilometers
Alaska is always in the distance to come!
I've been trying to make my way to Alaska now for quite some time; heading further and further north, deeper into an unspoiled wilderness. Countless times I've found myself marveling at the natural beauty of northern Canada, perplexed by the life and civilization that I continue to encounter. What draws people to this area? What do they do? Where do they grocery shop? Could I survive up here? Those thoughts have all run through my mind as I continue pedaling up north. At first it was just a means to an end, the route to Alaska, but now I see the reality of life and the people up here. The Yukon, like their tourism board boasts, is larger than life! The mountains here make British Columbia and Alberta's Rockies look like foothills and the glaciers in Montana's Glacier National Park seem like ice cubes! Everywhere you look in the Yukon there are mountains!

I can't figure out if it is autumn or winter,......what happened to summer in August?
Fresh snow capped mountains
I was astonished to see the first fresh snow of the season dot a few mountains. I realized however, these were just foothills in comparison to the mountains I found the further up the road that are dusted in snow, like powder sugar on top of French toast. The mountains here are “larger than life”. They are huge rugged peaks protruding from the ground, like a natural walled barrier that protects me in all directions. I feel minute and insignificant in comparison. The colors of the deciduous trees in the forests and covering the foothills already resemble those at the start of fall. Leaves are vibrant yellow, even orange and it's the end of August, not September! I've never seen fall colors in August! While the temperatures drop drastically, I can't complain. Tourists are headed south to avoid the cold yet I feel privileged pedaling north, observing the larger than life scenery at it's prime, spoiled by a culture whose heart and soul is equally as large!

Motorhome after motorhome heading south!  They are ever so friendly and wave and honk, keeps me entertained!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Tribute to Tour Cyclists: 365 Days on the Road

Arriving into Teslin Lake, Canada on day 365

Today, I can officially say, I feel like a tour cyclist! A year has passed since I left Barcelona, I'm just shy of 30,000 kilometers pedaled, and I'm on the way to Alaska?!?! It wasn't on my original itinerary, but then again what is predictable on this trip anyway. I've been on the road for 365 days yet no two have ever been the same! I've adopted the lifestyle of a cycling nomad, riding my bike all day; continuously for days on end. I sleep in a new “bed” almost every night, meet and talk with a handful of random strangers daily, and cherish my current surroundings and the moment!

The breakfast of champions to celebrate a special occasion
Tour cyclists, that's our official name, we are an unusual breed. Some travelers wouldn't attempt to cover the distance we do by car, let alone a push bike! We don't need anything fancy, but occasionally we do feel entitled, treating ourselves to little “perks” and find ways to pamper ourselves. We start almost every sentence or thought with, “I just cycled 50, 80, 100 miles, I want, I need, I deserve.........”. After six to eight hours in the saddle, you can justify anything and everything without feeling any shame or guilt! Guilt is a relative word that doesn't seem to weigh heavily on my mind nor influence my decisions. Likewise, shame, doesn't exist either.

Tour cyclists, we have so much fun at our road side encounters

And we come in all different shapes and sizes with all different looking set-ups on our bikes!

On my first tour, four years ago, I met Mark on the Oregon-Washington border, another tour cyclist who was traveling cross country. He introduced me to the term “No Shame!” which today, has become my motto on the road! Behavior that would be appalling, outlandish, or simply just simply odd in everyday life becomes a common occurrence and habit when tour cycling. There is no need to explain or justify our behavior, we are entitled to act this way, we've earned it!

After a year on the road, here is my list of “No Shame” behaviors and habits. You might be horrified as you read, but for those of you who have done any tour cycling or traveled for an extended period of time, I'm sure you can relate and empathize. It's a jungle out there and you do what you have to in order to survive!

You know you are a tour cyclist when (you)……

Frantically enter an establishment, with one thing on your mind, besides food, that is. Where is the closest electrical socket to charge all my technology?

YUM! In Canada the maple flavor baked beans are delish!
Baked beans is a gourmet meal!

Find yourself bringing your whole toiletry bag into a restroom to freshen up in the morning. Brushing your teeth, washing your face, putting on deodorant or lathering up in lotion in a restroom is much more spacious than in your tent!

Shocking! No comment, I'm hopeful they will disappear!

Have tan lines that resemble a flag; stripes and weird splotches everywhere!

Dessert #2 after 2 scones

Dessert # 1, then came the birthday cake, my lucky day!
 Dessert is comprised of many courses, just like dinner!

We becomes VERY anti-social when there is free wifi!

Enter a town, turn on the wireless option on your phone and pedal around in front of all the restaurants and hotels looking for a free connection.

All-you-can-eat-buffet, plate #4, and still going strong!
Have NO self control when it comes to food and portion sizes. A 1,5L container of ice cream becomes a single serving, blocks of cheese disappeared in a flash, and the slab of meat you just ate for dinner could have fed a small family for a week!

Find yourself hovering around the free samples at a grocery store like people around a fire pit on a cold winter night. Samples are like an all-you-can-eat-buffet, especially when they are left unattended!

And when there is a fire, it totally beats a hand drier!
Use a hand drier in the bathroom as a hair dryer, clothes dryer, and even a heater. A line might start to form behind you but, your underwear isn't quite dry yet.

Find yourself in the most random places taking a break and having a coffee, as long as your warm and dry!

Taking a break hanging out in a bait and tackle store next to the guns?!?! It was the only available counter space! 

Arrive at the check out line in a grocery store and half the things you are buying have been eaten. The clerk gives you a funny look as she scans, to imply imply, “You really ate all that while you were in the store shopping?”. Yes, get over it!

I slept under Rob and Lynne's awning for 3 nights in Tasmania, we just kept running into each other....

Keep running into the same people on a 200 mile stretch of road. By the third or fourth encounter, it's like you are old time friends, you go way back!

I've been running into Monica and Pam from Portland, Oregon for the last week on the Alaska Highway

You haven't ordered anything at the restaurant for hours, but you are still waiting for your photos to upload so you aren't going to budge!

Feel as though there in incest among your hosts. They ALL seem to know each other, at least in a 200 mile radius.
Bathroom is locked, I've stripped down, and ready to go!

Have perfected the art of a sponge bath in a public restroom. You seek out single stall restrooms that can be locked and in10 minutes tops you walk out dressed in a new outfit, wet hair, and even freshly shaved legs!

Wake up in the middle of the night and you can’t remember where you are….Australia, New Zealand, Cambodia?!?!? Am I sleeping in a tent, bed, on the floor? Where is the bathroom and how do I get there?

Scavenge for random stuff along the highway. So far I've found to 2 iphones (locked), an ipad (smashed), one wallet (mailed and returned), 3 candy bars (eaten, yummy!!), and a camping towel (by far the best find of them all)!
Score, free peanut butter, jam, and honey samples!
Find you find little packets of jam, honey, and peanut butter stashed anywhere and everywhere in your bags. Wow, did I really steal that many?

Have experienced a peanut butter overdose. You are so sick of peanut butter you can't even snatch any more free samples when they are sitting in front of you on the table at a restaurant.

Jump for joy when restrooms have luxurious soaps, lotions, or even hand sanitizers. Fill'er up!

Free McDonald's WIFI: Everyone does it! I learned this in my first week of my trip with Viçens in France.  

Let out a huge sigh of relief when you see the golden arches in the distance as you roll into a new town. Not that I'm actually going to order anything at McDonalds, but I can easily spend a couple of hours using their free wifi.

Your helmet becomes a second skin, always attached to your head....why bother taking it off, it's just going to go back on again!

Now you see them.....

.......Now you don't!

Your toiletry bag doubles in size magically when you spend the night in an “upscale hotel”. You jump for joy if they have mini-mouthwash containers and name brand conditioner for curly-haired people like myself is a luxury item!

Never trust a car driver when you ask, “What is the road like?” When they say flat, they really mean hilly!

Start talking to cows and sheep on the road, they seem to always appreciate your presence.

Enter a supermarket and make a B-line for the “Special Discount Bin” Donuts, day-old bread, and overripe fruit and produce are a true treasure!

Can do everything including shaving your legs in a timed four minute shower fed by a dollar coin.

At the visitor center again, getting my free maps!

You'd think it were the Mona Lisa......

Find yourself sitting in front of a map, the same one you've been starring at for the last week, and still there are new roads to marvel at and distances to be calculated!

Become obsessed watching the little blue dot move on the GPS map tracking your progress. Haven't I pedaled farther than that?

You've got all the specials at the local supermarket memorized. Grapes are on sale this week at Coles for $1,50/kg. but watermelon at Whoolworth’s is 48 cents/kg.....dilemma!

Find random strangers giving you stuff free from food, water, clothes, even treating you to meals or putting you up in a hotel!

Hiding my tent behind the information sign at a rest stop
Paying for a place to put your tent feels like a total crime! After all, it is just a little piece of land....I'd rather spend that money on food, it's much more worthwhile!

The list goes on and on.......