Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Night and Day Difference

Alas, ALASKA!!!!

It's amazing how things can change just like that,.....with the turn of a pedal. I had made it to Alaska, finally! After seeing signs for the last frontier three weeks on end, some 2,000km (1,200mi.) later, after listening to 6 audiobooks, approximately 50 podcasts, countless replays of the “Pedal Power” playlist on my ipod, and doing lots of humming and silent meditation, I had arrived!!! I had built up the 49th state so much the arrival was climatic and emotional!

One more hour of daylight to pedal!

No people running this border!

Not even the countless motorhomes I saw high tailing it south could discourage me from arriving to Alaska. Everyone who asked me where I was going was adament on laughing while saying “You're headed north? You are awfully late!” Thanks for the motivation! Obviously I ignored them, semdom do I take people with motors seriously! When I reached the historical marker at the border, I was alone, and took my time getting just the right pictures with the signs and making a few videos. What a great feeling of accomplishment! I had arrived!! Scenery wise, things looked the same in Alaska as they did the Yukon, so if it hadn't been for the fresh stretch of tarmac (I warmly welcomed after Yukon's beat up roads) and the signs that read, “Welcome to Alaska,” and “Entering Alaska Time Zone” I would have never known I had crossed the border. Oh, there is of course an border crossing with US Customs, unlike Hyder, AK. I had all the right answers for the customs officer and didn't even have to lie about having fresh fruits and veggies because I hadn't seen any of those commodities since Whitehorse!

Cars must laugh when they have to wait for a bicycle to go across the border!

After so much build up and soooo many kilometers, I had reached the last of my far fetched destinations before heading south to Oregon. I was motivated and excited to be in Alaska; the homestretch of my trip, well almost! I was headed to Homer via Valdez, but Tok was my destination for that day. I had already pedaled 20 miles and had 80 miles before arriving in Tok, another big day indeed! I had gained an hour of light with the time difference and again there was “nothing” on the road to distract me. I had the whole day ahead of me to pedal! I'll admit that I had heard of an RV park in Tok with a famous “all-you-can-eat” pancake breakfast, which of course is enough to motivate me to pedal any distance! I crossed the border feeling like I was on top of the world, literally, but unfortunately it only went downhill from there, well, everything except the road!

Fall has arrived in  The Yukon and Alaska

This is the reason why you head north when everyone else is going south!

Head wind? What's this? Hills? Where did they come from? I had pedaled with a tail wind basically since I left Watson Lake. Of course you never notice a tail wind because you just don't hear anything. With a tail wind and minor downhill grade, you pedal like a rock star! But today I was differently not going to feel like a rock star! After a year on the road, I'm still not sure if headwind is worse than rain, but let's just say that if there is one thing I hate, it is a head wind, and of course a “false flat”. There is nothing that demoralizes a rider carrying 100 pounds than the continual deception of a climb, that although it looks as though it is flat or even downhill, goes up and up! I was in for a challenge with the terrain, and it looked as though it was relentless all the way to Tok. Looking on the bright side, the temperature didn't bother me because I was working up quite a sweat, and the rain seemed to hold off.

The scenery was pretty, but it is hard to appreciate with the howling wind

I say it is better than the colors in New England with the green mixed in

I was making incredibly slow progress and could hardly hear myself think with all the wind. I did the math and realized it was going to be 10:30 pm before I hit Tok. I could do it, but I was loosing motivation, I couldn't cope! It was just too frustrating to cycle in these conditions. At my last pit stop, a gas station and convenience store 50 miles from Tok, I made sure to eat a warm meal in case I didn't make it to Tok. I asked if there was a campground or a cafe along the road, but they told me there was nothing, not even at the junction town that appeared on my map. Normal people would have probably stopped there, where I could have camped, taken a hot shower, and even washed laundry, but I decided to continue pedaling, there was a wee bit of hope left inside me that I could make it to Tok.

Bad decision. Occasionally I have a few of these. It was getting dark and cold, and I was out of gas! I started looking for places to pull over on the road, but there weren't any rest stops, no litter stops with bear bins, so I pedaled to the road junction where they might have an old abandoned gas station or cafe. The road junction was my saving grace. It was about 9pm and a rain or sleet storm was looming and there were several abandoned buildings scattered where I could take shelter and not have to pack up my tent wet in the morning. I was 15 miles from Tok, which was doable bright and early, still in time for the pancake breakfast. I choose an old garage, a ways back from the road with the door opened. There wasn't anything but an old beat-up pick-up inside all the doors opened and a fruit stand sign. One of the garage doors was open so I went in, closed it, and shut up the other door with the fruit stand sign thinking this would keep me protected from bears, although I hadn't seen signs of them in the area for weeks!

I thought this would be the perfect place to camp.....
I set up my tent, gave myself a quick washing with baby wipes, and got cozy in my sleeping bag. I needed to sleep, I was exhausted! I went to bed listening to the sound of the wind howl outside and rain pelt down. If I was lucky, it would stop by morning time. That was the last thought on my mind until at some time in the middle of the night I heard a loud, BOOM! It sounded like the wind had blown down the fruit sign blocking the door, I convinced myself that was all it had been, eager to continue sleeping. Shortly after I heard another sound, the garage door, being pushed open. This time, the wind wasn't responsible. My heart started to pound faster than it had even on the hardest days on my bike! What was that? Who was that? Stay calm I thought, you need to sleep. I was a bit disoriented and didn't know what was going on, but decided to pop my head out of the tent and shout. The garage door was up, the mop, that had been on the floor placed nicely against the wall and there was a truck with it's red lights pulling away. No way! How did someone find me? How did they know I was here? Did they see me? Did they take anything off my bike? I was scared, startled, and unsettled. But thankfully I was so tired and knew that I needed my sleep, so eventually I was able to convince myself whoever had come was “innocent” and didn't take anything so I went back to bed again.

The early bird only catches cold here in Alaska pedaling at the crack of dawn, not a wise decision!

Sunrise just outside of Tok, AK 30F (-1C)

I managed to sleep until the wee hours of the morning when I awoke to confirm that the garage door was still open and that what had happened wasn't just a dream. I've never packed up my gear faster than I did that morning and was on my bike at 6am, pedaling as fast I could to Tok. The sun wasn't out, temperatures were below freezing and my confidence was all shook up. Whoever had come last night could have done anything to me and no one would have ever known.....Reality sunk in. What the hell am I doing up here in Alaska? I'm not prepared for this? I don't have what it takes to survive out here in the cold wet weather. Services are limited, I still have a good 600 miles to pedal to the ferry......

Tillamook yogurt in Alaska, now that was treat and so were the 2 donuts I ate in the back of the supermarket!

Along with the temperatures, I had hit an an all time low! I'm always positive, optimistic, try not to over think situations, and just pedal. Up until now, that had gotten me through 4 continents and 26 countries, but now I was starting to doubt my ability to take on Alaska. I needed some comfort, some reassurance.....Fresh fruit, donuts, warm coffee, that helped. I sat in the back of the supermarket charging my appliances contemplating my options. Just then, after not having cell service for about a week, three of my teaching partners from Barcelona Skyped me. The timing of their call was critical, it helped distract me. They were all together in Barcelona for a baby shower and wanted to know where I was. They laughed when I showed them the storage room and the apple fritters I was devouring! After we hung up, I decided to call my sister, another great distraction. She and I have such different lives right now, it makes for a great source of entertainment just to hear about her weekly activities with her husband and kids.

To put a picture with the voice that said, "But you CAN'T Aunt Melissa......and little brother Peter protesting the picture

This picture is worth 1,000 km of pedaled roads!  My daily kph goes up when I look at this picture! Can't wait to meet my new nephew Owen
I can confide in her and know she won't freak out. I told her I was having a tough morning, which is when she put my niece, Gwyneth, on the phone. She couldn't stop talking about the bear postcard I had recently sent. Then I heard Jenny in the background coach her to say, “tell Aunt Melissa she can do it!” Gwyneth has a mind of her own and obviously the bear really impacted her because she kept repeating, “But she CAN'T do it! She can't!” At my end of the phone, my jaw dropped!  That is NOT what I wanted to hear, but then again those were words of encouragement coming out of the mouth of a 6 year old,....I had to laugh. Kids, they tell you the truth and Gwyneth was right in one regard.  Alaska was going to be the most challenging part of my trip.  After a few good hours to regroup my thoughts, do a bit more research for the upcoming days, and finishing up my conversation with my sister, I was determined Alaska was not going to get the best of me!

You only talk for a couple of minutes to other cyclists on the road, but in that short time, your feel like you've found a lifelong friend after many years of separation

The road out of Tok, mountains galore!

I started pedaling on the road towards Anchorage.  I was basically alone, very few cars, but within minutes came across another cyclist. He was the Chinese cyclist I was expecting to see at some point.  My hosts had told me about him way back in Haines Junction.  Yung brightened my spirits even more telling me about his past few days.  He had been cycling all around the world and was on the last leg of his trip, Alaska to Argentina. Yung told me he had started camping in people's yards since the cold weather set in and campgrounds were closing.  He had a great story about shooting guns with the people he stayed with that past night and kept saying, "in America many guns!".   Yung, just wait until you get to Arizona!  I set off to pedal even more refreshed and optimistic!

Fresh snow dusted all the mountain tops

The road had quite a bit of downhill which is why I made great time that day, and I had a tail wind

The map shows a lake or two, but really they are everywhere!
The scenery changed drastically and all of a sudden I was in the middle of mountains, surrounding me in every possible direction. There were glaciers, lakes, rivers, peaks lost in the top of clouds, and no rain! I had made a little pact with mother nature when I hit bottom and she was listening! I was entertained by the scenery and making such good time, I arrived at the campground where I planned on staying so early I decided to keep rolling. This time, I made a rule, come 8 pm start looking for a mailbox and house to take refuge. The next town of Chistochina was way too far,...or wasn't it?!?! I was so motivated it's like I had never hit bottom that same morning, in fact, I was so motivated that I ended up arriving in Chistochina, 105 miles from where I started pedaling that morning at 6am!

Fall and winter battling it out for a more dominant presence

Another massive river with mountains in the background
The sun going down shortly before arriving in Chistochina

I spotted the lodge because of the huge bon fire on the front lawn. Judy approached me and I asked her if I could hide my tent behind her lodge. I knew there was a lodge in Chistochina, what I didn't know was that they allowed camping in their front yard. She told me I could camp there and had the option of having her amazing breakfast the next morning, plus there was unlimited hot water! I was so delighted to head this that that I gave her what she later described as the “most heart-filled hug she'd received in a long time!” I had hit the jack pot too because there was another French cyclist, Tomás, camping AND they were having a huge BBQ which I was invited to join. I had delightful company that night and learned a lot about the local Alaskan way of life.

The Red Eagle Lodge.....a huge bon fire, delicious food and wonderful company

Here I was roasting hot dogs indulging in fresh veggies, baked beans, roasting marshmallows to make s'mores, topping it all off with delicious homemade carrot cake, my favorite with chunky grated carrots, nuts, and raisins! Judy said the magic words, “I don't want any left overs!” and abided going back for second thirds, and fourths. I finally had to stop when I sat down to roast my last marshmallow and all of a sudden my top pant button popped. I had reached my limit, that or I needed to change into my stretchy leggings!

Judy, the owner of The Red Lodge and Tomás the French cyclist

What a difference between the night and day upon arriving in Alaska. I had gone from hitting an all time low of my trip, my confidence had been completely shaken, doubting my ability to cycle the Alaskan frontier as winter approaches to feeling like nothing could stop me in just 24 hours! I even got my delicious pancake breakfast, one day late, but it was well worth the wait. They stacked them high on both my plate and Tomás'. In fact, I needed a few hours to digest before riding, so I decided to hang out and keep cozy inside using the internet in the meantime.

The s'mores took priority over the hot shower....
Judy preparing an amazing breakfast the next morning to help get some "meat on my bones" as they all say!
Tomás and I posing with the advertisement for the Red Eagle Lodge at the Glenallen visitor center.  We LOVED this place!
Mother Nature is keeping her end of the deal and I'm holding mine. I don't mind the cold, the rain doesn't bother me that much, but the combination of the two, camping in the wilderness is not particularly my favorite way to spend a night. It looks as though my itinerary brings me through the next several days with “good” weather and I can't complain. I'm prepared now, both mentally and physically, for whatever comes my way in the last frontier!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like true adventure in AK! I'd really like to know who came and opened the garage in the middle of the night. Do you think they noticed that you had shut the door? I had a night like that in FL. It is a very strange feeling to be genuinely confused about reality and a dream.