Haines Junction[MAP]

Today was the worst. Colder than buggery again. I woke up to the soft pitter patter of snow falling on my tent and looked out on a world of white. As I was starting to cook my breakfast out in the snow, a very cute German girl invited me to share the tour group’s shelter that they’d set up beside their van. So I had breakfast and coffee with twelve Germans who could barely speak a word of English but were wonderful to offer me all sorts of food.

It snowed quite heavily all morning and when it finally eased up I was left with gusty headwinds for the rest of the day. I had too much time to think today and I spent the time deciding I would give up riding and start hitchhiking south if I had to ride through more than three inches of snow. In the middle of the day, a car pulled up in front of me and a husband and wife got out to greet me. They were from Ontario and said they’d seen me a few days ago. They took a photo of me all rugged up in my rain gear and three pairs of gloves and then offered me all sorts of food, chocolate, apples and even beer. They offered to send an email message to my folks, so I asked them to tell them I was doing fine. “Don’t tell them I’m suffering”.

My only consolation today was that it was only 78 miles to Haines Junction, a relatively short riding day considering I’ve done just over 500 miles in the past five days. It was a long downhill into town, stinging cold, but I camped at a lovely friendly RV park overlooking some magnificent mountains. I headed to the tourist bureau to ask if there were any bike shops in town. There wasn’t, only a guy that fixed bikes in his spare time and he was out somewhere watching a big hockey game that was on. Just as I was walking out, in walked John and Anita , a couple that I’d met at a rest stop on my first day riding out of Fairbanks. They were impressed at the distance I’d covered, as they were expecting to pass me again sometime on the road tomorrow as they headed back north. They told me there was another cyclist about sixty miles ahead of me and then insisted I take any of the food they had in their car. They seemed a little disappointed that they couldn’t do anything more for me.

For the last two nights I have woken up with a numb right hand. I’ve decided I will give up riding and start hitchhiking south if I start crying uncontrollably.



Today was the worst. Colder than buggery again. I had far too much time to think today. What does one think about for ten hours a day and almost six hundred miles of riding in the freezing cold? One feels extreme anger (ANGER!), jealousy (JEALOUSY!) and resentment (RESENTMENT!) at every passing car. I started to wish that I’d had a misspent youth and had learnt to break into and hotwire a car. A car with a good heating system and a coffee cup holder. With a thermos full of hot coffee to last the entire day. A car that does one hundred miles in an hour and a half, not a day. A car with a strong heater blowing right onto my feet. A car that says a big “Fuck you” to headwinds and drizzling rain. Words like “toasty” and “warm” keep running through my mind, and I get angrier and angrier. It seems like I can’t remember the last time I was warm and comfortable. I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold and miserable before in my life. I’m low, real low.My sixth day out of Fairbanks and I’ve had enough. For all the good experiences I’ve had with strangers over the past few days, I’m no longer hoping that another random act of kindness would come from some stranger; I’m expecting it. It seems inevitable every day. Twenty five miles from Whitehorse, the first town in six hundred miles to have fresh fruit and a bicycle repair store, my head is about to burst from crazy thinking and I’m swaying all over the shoulder of the road. I can see there is a huge thunderstorm up ahead but there is no need for me to prepare for it as I have been wearing my rain gear and pants all day for the last six days (maybe this is why I haven’t seen any bears; I considered wiping all my bags under my sweaty armpits everyday, just to keep bears away, I stopped short of urinating on everything). A government vehicle pulls up in front of me and a guy hops out with a chocolate bar which he hands me.

“You’d better get your bike on the back and I’ll give you a lift into town”.

I decided today that accepting a lift is not the same as asking for one and isn’t the same as giving up.

A minute later, the heavens open above us and the pick-up is drenched in a rain that lasts for over an hour. The windscreen wipers struggle to clear the water from the windscreen, the road is just a blur in front of us. Mark is a recent father of two kids and did a whole bunch of bicycle touring around Europe himself when he was younger. He works for the airports up here and said he’s not normally in the habit of picking up strangers. He drops me off at the local campground, doesn’t want anything in return for the huge favour he’s done me but hands me his business card;

“Email me when you’ve finished your trip”.

Instead of setting up my tent in the rain I decide to go look for a bike shop to buy spare spokes, a new tyre and a spare tube. Jared, the bike mechanic at Icyclesport, takes one look at my rear wheel and grimly tells me it’s fucked. The spokes are all so loose that changing one spoke at a time is not going to fix a thing. The only solution is to totally rebuild the wheel. Jared tells me to come by early tomorrow morning so that he can get started.

I head back towards the campgrounds but on the way I spot another bicycle tourist. It’s a great feeling to know that there is someone just as screwed up as me out there in the world and here I’ve found him, riding down the same street in the opposite direction. Turns out that he’s been the cyclist that’s always been a couple of miles ahead of me for the past few days. Norbert is from Austria and is riding from Anchorage to Denver. His nerves and motivation have also become a bit shattered from the riding so far, so I’ve managed to convince him that riding together for a while might help our collective sanity. At worse, there’ll be someone to whinge and moan to; suffering together has to be better than suffering alone. He’s agreed to delay his departure for a day and recommends a youth hostel for me instead of tenting it in the rain.


Whitehorse (Rest Day)[MAP]

I’m staying at the nicest damn hostel I’ve ever stayed at. It’s called the “Hide on Jeckell”, located as the names suggests, on Jeckell Street in Whitehorse. It’s run by a young German couple who have taken all their good experiences from hostels they’ve stayed at around the world and applied it here. And it works. Free coffee in the morning (great coffee, and free-trade stuff as well), free internet, fantastic kitchen, free bikes for their guests and a great collection of books and biggest selection of board games I’ve ever seen. There’s a bunch of Germans here and Japanese as well, and everyone is very laid back and friendly. A few of the Japanese I met last night knew Mariko and Seiji who I’d met in Fairbanks. One of the Japanese guys told me he’d met some other guys from Perth a few weeks back as he was paddling down the length of the Yukon river in a kayak!

I had trouble sleeping last night. It’s strange to be inside after tenting for the last four months.

This morning I took my bike down to Icyclesport and Jared spends the good part of the morning teaching me as much as he can about what tools and spares to get, and everything about wheel and spoke physics. I even learn to tune spokes with a pitchfork (F#). He tries to convince me about all the good reasons for living in Whitehorse throughout the winter, but fails to convert me. In the end, it turns out that they don’t have the correct length of spokes to rebuild my wheel so I end up buying a new rear wheel plus a tube and new tyre. I cut off all the spokes from the old rim as I figure I may as well get it rebuilt when I’m further south. When I go to pay he discounts everything heavily and doesn’t include labour, even though it is the start of the quiet season and they almost go broke every winter from lack of business.

I’m beginning to think I know the answer to Einstein’s great question:
Is it a friendly universe?


Stealth Camp 62 miles East of Whitehorse[MAP]


Stealth Camp East of Teslin[MAP]

It’s great riding with Norbert, so far we talk a lot and he’s told me all about his riding adventures in Australia and in Europe. He sure does talk a lot for someone whose first language isn’t English. It’s been bloody cold and it snowed several times on us yesterday and today. We complain bitterly about the weather for most of the day and we make up plenty of reasons for quitting and just catching a ride south. Each day when we stop for lunch we have to put on several more layers of clothes, the daytime temperatures rarely get above freezing point. Norbert, who is an Austrian ski instructor when he’s not doing ridiculous things like this, is wearing the same clothes that he skis in. He says he’s never been so cold before in his life.

On the first night we camped in an abandoned gravel pit about fifty metres from the road. We’d been talking about bears a lot and so we cooked our meals about fifty metres away from our tents and then hung our food panniers from a high tree.

Just trying to throw our rope, tied to a rock, over a branch took half an hour. We didn’t have great aim.

All this talk of bears during the evening resulted in my first close bear encounter for the trip. In the middle of the night, I suddenly woke up in shock with a bear’s nose pushing against the fly of my tent, growling deeply. I almost wet my pants in panic and quickly tried to clap my hands and scream to scare it off. Nothing came out except a muffled “mmmmmargh” and I was frozen with terror inside my sleeping bag, the bear just inches away from my face.

“You okay Leon?!”

Suddenly I’m lying awake, really awake. No bear. My voice is back.

“Yeah…just a really bad dream Norbert”


Stealth Camp East of Rancheria[MAP]

Norbert crossing the Continental Divide, Alaskan Highway, Yukon (Day 126)

Norbert crossing the Continental Divide, Alaskan Highway, Yukon (Day 126)

More snow today. Instead of complaining we’re trying to use the “at least” motto. When it’s snowing on us, at least it wasn’t raining. When it starts raining on us, at least we don’t have headwinds. When it’s raining with headwinds, at least there aren’t any mosquitos. I’m thinking if I had the choice, I’d swap the blood suckers for this cold weather in a heartbeat.

We crossed over the Continental Divide today, but it wasn’t very high according to Norbert’s watch; 1040 metres. Only passed one open shop today, at Ranchera. Norbert bought gas for his stove while I went into the restaurant next door to ask if I could fill up my water bottles. The old lady behind the counter, the only person inside, seemed very irritated by my request and grumbled as she led me behind into the kitchen. While I was at the tap, I looked around the kitchen to find the bench filled with about a hundred freshly baked rolls of bread. Also sitting on the bench was an open half bottle of whisky.

I thanked the lady and wandered over to Norbert to tell him what I had seen. Norbert’s been trying to buy bread for the last few days. He walked inside and came back out a few moments later, empty-handed.

“Miserable bitch”, he cursed under is breath.

We camped on a hill just past the Continental Divide. Our tents overlooked a river on the left, beautiful mountains in front, and a clear lake to the right. There’s snow all around the campsite and as the sun dropped over the horizon, the temperature dropped dramatically. My feet are always extremely cold lately, almost sore to the bones. It used to be that they’d warm up at some point during the night. But lately, even with two thick pairs of socks on and the emergency blanket wrapped loosely over my sleeping bag, I’m waking up with my feet already cold.

Norbert with his "Nothing's ever open" look, Alaskan Highway (Day 126)

Norbert with his “Nothing’s ever open” look, Alaskan Highway (Day 126)

Norbert and I, dinner time, Alaskan Highway, Yukon (Day 126)

Norbert and I, dinner time, Alaskan Highway, Yukon (Day 126)

Our campsite just past the Continental Divide, Alaskan Highway (Day 126)

Our campsite just past the Continental Divide, Alaskan Highway (Day 126)

Too cold to take photos, so here's the milepost map I made to get my hopes up that there'd be plenty of places to stop for food, water and a warm shower, Cassiar Highway (Day 127)

Too cold to take photos, so here’s the milepost map I made to get my hopes up that there’d be plenty of places to stop for food, water and a warm shower, Cassiar Highway (Day 127)

Today was a true test of my sanity. We had lots of snow, lots of drizzly rain that soaked me through to the skin, heavy fog and not much to eat. And the test results are positive. I’m bloody mad to be doing this. Why I don’t just stick out my thumb and get a lift, I may never understand.

I had the last of my grits today for breakfast and nothing more to eat until lunchtime, which consisted of a measly two rice cakes with a little peanut butter. I have enough Nutella for one more rice cake, but I figured that if we didn’t find food soon, I could have it for tomorrow’s breakfast. A Snickers bar for afternoon tea. I even considered only eating half of it and saving the rest for later, but once I’d started it, it was impossible to stop myself from finishing it off. Norbert shared his green tea with me today, which he makes in a small thermos in the mornings and at lunchtimes. He goes through a 1kg pack of sugar in less than a week just sweetening it, but it does wonders. Despite the few calories I’m taking in with solid foods, the sugar seems to keep me going.

Food, food, food, food. It was all I could think about, and thinking about food stopped me from thinking about the bloody weather. Before getting to the junction I told Norbert of my plans to ride the 28 mile roundtrip to Watson Lake in case there were no other stores open. Luckily it wasn’t necessary. A small gas station at the Cassiar highway junction was open but with barely any food stock as it was closing in a week’s time. I bought a pack of Pringles, two small tins of salmon and replenished my diminishing snicker bar stockpile. It was hardly the feast I had been hoping for, but at least it would keep me going for another day.

We set off down the Cassiar at about 4pm. It was a roller coaster ride of small hills, blind corners and no shoulder. It didn’t matter a lot, there was no traffic anyway. I feel firmly committed to the insanity of this ride now that we are on the Cassiar. It really feels like we’re in the M.O.F.N..

It is so bloody cold. There was snow everywhere we went today, it was lucky we had not been two days earlier during the snow storm. I tried putting a thick pair of Smartwool socks over my so-called “windproof” Gore-Tex socks but still I had cold, sore, aching feet all day. I squeezed my old wool gloves into my so-called “windproof” gloves and it helped, but several of the fingers in my wool gloves are holey, so my fingers would quickly go numb in those parts. I had my beanie on under my helmet for a while and then the hood of my rain jacket over that. My ears and cheeks stung so bad at one stage that I donned my ski mask. My water bottles were frozen throughout the day, lucky we had Norbert’s tea.

We camped in a car park beside a small lake. With our tiredness and hunger, we couldn’t even be bothered to be discreet about setting our tents up hidden from the road. We stashed our food panniers at the bottom of a rubbish bin about a hundred metres away. It saved us spending the usual fifteen minutes of trying to hang our food from a tall tree branch. It didn’t save me from having to put up with the steady stream of verbal diarrhoea from Norbert though. For someone who’s first language isn’t English, he sure does talk a lot.

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