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8 August - 1 September 2014

Before heading out from Fairbanks I discovered having fairly limited motivation for the long ride south to 'the lower 48 (states)". First of all there was no end destination/goal; it felt more like finishing this Summer's trip before heading to Australia (which is why I initially planned to bike north having Alaska as the "prize"). Also I was somewhat concerned about the weather particularly the wind - many people had told me it would be an easy ride south as the wind is always from the north in the Summer, however riding around Alaska most winds came from the south and east which was precisely where I was heading. The roads would be fairly desolate so there would be limited social interaction which is a very important part of my travelling and finally I never got in shape this Summer because I stayed with so many people along the way; nevertheless I had lost most of the excess body fat I had gained before starting in San Francisco which would make the ride more difficult. However, there was no way around going so I decided to focus on the positive things - primarily the wildlife encounters and a chance to get back in shape... 

This first leg south from Fairbanks to Smithers in British Columbia (BC) ended up being 3 weeks and around 2,250k (1,400 miles) bringing the total distance this Summer up to 6,150k or 3,900 miles).

Instead of commenting everything on the trip in timely order I have written some relevant topics – the pictures shown are in line with the trip timeline however they are not representative of the trip. Despite the mostly bad weather the majority of the photos depict good weather and the same goes for the hills; most photos were taken downhill because it's where I got the views.   

Trip description
From Fairbanks I headed southeast on highway 2 towards the Canadian border. There were a couple of decent hills but mostly it was gradual (rolling) uphill - the big challenge was the headwind. There was some construction along the way (and a couple of short stretches I had to go with a pilot car) but in general the most annoying part was the bad pavement which was stones/rubble to be driven down by the vehicles; that of course doesn't happen on the shoulder so I often rode on the road despite the busy traffic. I guess it wasn't too bad - actually a lot like I expected all the roads in Alaska to be like; I'd just been spoiled having better quality than expected during my first months in Alaska. When I crossed the Canadian border (highway 1) there were long stretches of even worse pavement and not least construction - not much fun on a heavily loaded bike but at least they watered the roads to minimise dust.

At a hilltop before Haines Junction I met fellow biker Andy from New Zealand deciding to wildcamp the same place as I'd already put up my tent. We had good conversations and ended up biking together for a couple of weeks until Smithers. He had much less weight than me (both him and his luggage) so he was faster uphill while I was faster downhill and on the flatter parts - and as we most often waited for each other we ended up doing shorter, daily distances than we could have done individually (on average 100-110k or 63-70 miles a day). However, neither of us were in a hurry and we enjoyed each others company on this desolate stretch of road - also sharing our misery in the bad weather.

We stocked up for 2 weeks in Whitehorse and continued east until we reached highway 37 The Cassiar and went south. I had gotten mixed information about the road quality e.g. everything from 2k to 200k (1 to 130 miles) of gravel - it turned out to be around 25k just before and after Dease Lake; not very pleasant but nothing compared to the construction stretches on the Alaskan highway. I had also been told that the road would be very quiet e.g. up to 3-4 hours between vehicles which turned out to be false. It was less busy than the Alaskan highway but still fairly busy - sometimes 10 minutes between vehicles but other times 10 vehicles at the same time... One of my main reasons for doing this long ride was to see wildlife and I was very optimistic based on people's stories especially about seeing a lot of black bears e.g. 9 and 14 at the same time. Again it was disappointing as we only encountered 3 black bears in 725k (450 miles) but then I was fortunate to see a big grey wolf; my first ever in the wild. The nature was fairly similar most of the way – endless forests; countless lakes, rivers and creeks; numerous mountains and valleys – nice without being breathtaking and over time quite monotonous. An then another great disappointment; about 200k (130 miles) of the last 250k (160 miles) a huge powerline was under construction just next to the road - one of the biggest symbols of civilisation and not really what I wanted to experience in the "wilderness".

In Smithers I visited my friend Dan that I met in Belize some years ago. I stayed at his parents' (Orvy and Cornelia) diary farm and seeing him again was like meeting an old friend. However, he was fairly busy and also had to go Texas after some days so I ended up spending most of my time with his parents. Incredibly friendly, hospitable and generous - we had countless interesting conversations and they were kind to take me everywhere they went: to Twin Falls, berry picking, family reunions and birthday parties. Besides spending a lot of time updating my website it quickly became my afternoon task to drive the cows into the stable for milking - great fun using an ATV. I also have to praise Cornelia's cooking - very delicious and plentiful so I re-gained some weight before heading out on the next leg.

Weather
In general the first week offered good weather while the last two weeks were pretty miserable with only one good day and some sunny hours here and there - otherwise mostly overcast and rain. However, many days the weather changed a lot and quickly - from heavy rain to sunshine and back to rain in 15 minutes was not unusual. Day temperatures were typically around 10-15C (50-60F) when overcast and just above 20C (70F) when sunny. Pleasant conditions for biking but a pity with the limited views as many people had told me the Cassier would be a beautiful ride. Mornings and evenings were cool and a few nights the temperature was around freezing though I was never cold in my sleeping bag. Interesting to observe how much shorter the days got along the way - the double effect of travelling south and getting into Fall... 

Except for a couple of days it was headwinds the whole way - especially the first 1,350k (850 miles) on the Alaskan highway to the start of the Cassiar offered headwinds between strong and fierce. On 37 the winds were generally less fierce and changed more and we even had an occasional tailwind...

Wildlife

Wildlife was fairly diverse but far from as abundant as expected - everybody I met had seen countless black bears on the Cassiar. Along the way I experienced a moose and calf, elks, river otters, red foxes, porcupines, lots of squirrels and chipmunks, three black bears and a grey wolf. Most of the birds were ravens and crows but I also saw a number of eagles (and heard even more) and some trumpeter swans...

One big advantage of the wind was the limited number of mosquitoes and other bugs. Especially when biking uphill they always try to get into eyes, nose and ears which is annoying as it is a difficult time to "defend" myself.... 

Sleeping and people
In this remote and desolate part of the world it's easy to find a place to pitch the tent - the challenge is to find a nice spot by a lake or creek; preferably a bit open to minimise the number of mosquitoes but still "protected" from the highway. Because of the vast lands and few people who live in this region as well as being two people I didn't pursue staying with people; except for a few times when a shower was long overdue and there was a chance at the end of the day. One time I got us a motel room and another time we stayed at a campground - both times for free so there are still very friendly, generous and hospitable people on my way...

The same goes for the drivers - though nobody will condescend themselves to breaking for a bicyclist most people go around with decent space. However, as always there are some people with inferiority problems that come very close despite having 2 lanes. Some bicyclists ride with a rear mirror - I don't want to know...

Equipment
I had checked and tuned my bike in Fairbanks and found it should be able to do the trip south - and the bike turned out very reliable despite the often very bad roads. I only had one problem on the second day out of Fairbanks where I broke a spoke in the morning. After 65k (40 miles) I got to small town Delta Junction where I changed the spoke and got air at a gas station (I can't get enough tire pressure with my small hand pump); however after 100 meters another spoke next to the new one broke - not happy! I changed the spoke and decided to adjust the tension on the rim a little - with the heavy luggage it's always a bit risky but there seemed to be no other way; and luckily it worked fine. Incredibly no flat tires despite the gravel and bad pavement - contrary to me Andy had many punctures but he also bought his tires in the US while mine were from Europe (in the US things are made to break). A big challenge was my bottom bracket (crank bearings) - it made constant squeeking noises and worse I had to use much more energy than usual so I guessed it needed to be changed (the same feeling as last year when change was long overdue). I wanted to look at it in Smithers but had forgotten it was sealed and I didn't want to break the seal in case I was mistaken (e.g. I was in bad shape). So I decided to try and finish this year's trip in North America with them...

I continued to have problems with the tent zippers which is no good travelling where there are many mosquitoes. I hope they at least last the rest of the Summer and maybe even until Adelaide in Australia - time will tell...    

Food and health
My food on the road is as always pretty boring - usually a big coffee and oatmeal with some chocolate for breakfast, bread and ham/cheese for lunch and pasta with soup flavour for dinner - besides that typically soft drinks and chocolate for energy mainly late in the day. On this leg shops were very limited and it was necessary to stock up for long stretches of 1-2 weeks. I decided to make a few changes to my diet as ham only lasts about 4-5 days despite the cool weather and bread take up too much space to carry for weeks. A new thing was mashed potatoes - not particularly delicious (though it helps with different spices) but it only takes water and lasts forever - also it doesn't weigh much but it takes up a lot of room. Soft drinks were out of the question so I bought flavour for the water as well as peanuts and a lot of chocolate. And talking about water it was a scarce resource unless taken from a creek - we usually got water once a day which for me meant carrying 7.5 liters (2 gallons).

Andy and I had a good influence on each other food-wise. I bought less than I otherwise would have and he bought more and we both ended up with very little left arriving in Smithers. Also I got some inspiration for my next leg - maybe some spaghetti, sausages and pasta sauce just for the change. However, Andy's craving for greasy snacks and fast food at any given opportunity will not influence my diet..

As always when there are bears in the area I hang my food high up between two trees. However, my couchsurfing friend Gavin in Anchorage had told me that I would encounter areas where the trees were very low and therefore useless, so I took his advice and acquired a bear electric fence. As it turned out there were only a few times when I couldn't get the food in the trees so hindsight it was an unnecessary investment and load of luggage to carry. But now that I had it anyway we used it to put around Andy's bike including his foodbags...

Despite the heavily loaded bike, the constant rolling hills and the strong headwinds I had little problems with my left knee - only one of the last days it bothered me a bit after a bad night's sleep. Otherwise no health problems....

 
 
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