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!

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