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Nature Sans Nurture

Whitehorse has embraced us with its warmth and graciousness.  We are “actively resting” which is not a misnomer when one is extremely tired and hungry, or when one is taken into a retirement home and fed delicious moose stew, rhubarb pie, and saskatoon berry desserts.  Nathan made the acquaintance of Father Jim, the priest of the Catholic church in downtown Whitehorse, and before we knew it we had been housed in a home for retired priests and fed like kings.

Lunch stop on top of a lonely old station wagon.

If only Mother Nature was so kind to us.  This present splendor dulls the pain from a week of difficult riding.  The road from Tok has been challenging.  Nathan has struggled with tendonitis in his knee which led to a hitchhike to Whitehorse to rest and recover.  We battled five straight days of 20mph headwinds.  Unrelenting, unforgiving, unbelievable headwinds.  Our “modest” pace of 65 miles per day was made grueling by the uncooperative attitude of Mother Nature.  The wind was so fierce that our bikes would roll to a stop on slight downhills if we ceased to pedal.  To give you an example of a day in the life of Bound South: the winds with steep mountain climbs near Haines Junction meant that we began to ride at 9:30AM, rode hard all day, completed 70 miles by 7:00PM, and finished just in time to devour 2,000 calories at a generous grocery store.

Bridge across Destruction Bay

Our last day of riding was a 100 mile trek from our campsite in Haines Junction to the city center of Whitehorse.  We were so mentally and physically exhausted that the crosswinds seemed like a gift from above.  To be taken in by the community here was a gift from above and this rest is much needed.

EKG of a living day in the Yukon

Ten miles outside of Whitehorse, fierce and cold headwinds appeared.  Once more we found ourselves yelling and laughing out of exasperation and exhaustion-induced euphoria.  I said, “Don’t forget, David, there are thousands of people out there that envy us right now.”  There are certain times when you lose sight of the important things; like when you’re hauling a heavy bike up a steep mountain into a headwind with grizzly bears around.  

The diet of Bound South: bagels, peanut butter, and honey.

We’re riding bicycles from Alaska to Argentina, building a house for Habitat for Humanity, and capturing the essence of this spectacular adventure as we go.  This is not easy, but it is a privilege and a dream and like any difficult and wonderful thing it is worth doing.

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High One Highway

Denali_means_“the high one” in the Alaskan native Athabascan tongue. It refers to Mt. McKinley, the massive peak that tops the Alaska Range in Denali National Park. It is a very fitting name for the Denali Highway, due to its impressive views of the Alaskan wilderness.

Alaska is massive. It’s more than twice the size of Texas and compared to the lower 48, it dwarfs the entire Midwest region (here’s a picture for scale). In addition, the U.S. federal government owns and manages 65% of the state as public land. This means more than half the state is comprised of national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges. Believe me, it’s enormous.

Late evening view from the Denali Highway

We are currently into our second week of riding and we have seen a lot. In relation to the state as a whole, however, we have seen very little. Over the past few days, I’ve begun to comprehend Alaska’s vastness and its seemingly boundless grandeur. Traveling along the Denali Highway, we experienced a small and magnificent part of Alaska’s beauty. We caught glimpses of glaciated mountain ranges and entirely new snowcapped peaks as the old faded from our view behind us. What baffles me still is that we’ve seen only a glimpse of all that is out there. As many Alaskans will tell you, Alaska may truly be “the last frontier” and that is what calls me back to return one day.

The scenery from the Denali Highway was spectacular. We saw wildlife including anxious caribou (hunting season started earlier this week), porcupines, and a black bear (at a distance, thankfully).  On the other hand, the ride itself along the Denali Highway wasn’t nearly as spectacular.

Washboard gravel on the Denali Highway

A majority of the “highway” is gravel. You would think three farmer’s sons from North Dakota would be well accustomed to gravel roads, right? Well, with tractors and pickups, yes. With bikes, maybe not so much. At first, the gravel was manageable. It was well kept and smooth. Later on the road became increasingly extreme alongside the challenging terrain. Large rocks, potholes, mud, and “washboard” gravel soon covered the road as we climbed up and down the mountain passes of the Denali Highway. It was exhausting, both physically and mentally. With no suspension, we feel everything. On top of that, it takes an enormous amount of focus to plot a line down the road and navigate where you think it’s smoothest. Like I said earlier, it was exhausting, so we would rest often.

Finding a spot to rest wasn’t hard. Resisting the urge to snap photos every hundred yards was (sorry bros). We had the road to ourselves, so if we needed to refuel or refill water bottles, we would stop and sit along the roadside or down by a creek (we came across them often). Between meals on the road, which normally consist of bagels with peanut butter and honey, jerky, and cookies, we would occasionally snack on candy bars and trail mix.

Our trusty travel companion, Skippy

We would also snack on blueberries, or rather gorge ourselves with them. Blueberries were so thick in spots, it was hard to stop. It’s prime blueberry season according to the locals, and we aren’t complaining.

Blueberries!

The ride so far has been challenging. Long, cold, and sometimes wet days have come and gone. We’re meeting new people every day; with towns few and far between, you would be surprised at the number of kind, generous, and encouraging people we meet each day. I’m thankful for the journey thus far and I look forward to each new day.

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Here’s a video from our last morning on the Denali Highway. Fighting the gnats, we attempt to recount our time on the highway.

Bound South – Denali Reflections from Bound South on Vimeo.

Audioblog

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Every night, the three of us sit down, turn on a voice recorder, and just talk.  We discuss what happened that day, how we felt, who we met, what we ate, and share a few laughs.  For us, it serves to capture the memories and moments that might become lost in between the intervals of writing and WiFi access.  For you, it might be an entertaining look into each day of ours, as well as an opportunity to hear us speak directly about what we are experiencing on the road.  When possible, we will include these audioblog files with our future writings.  Enjoy!

Future uploads can be found here.

The slideshow above is a view of our travels along the Denali Highway.

Milestones & Kindness

Since before this trip began, all of us had our milestones to look forward to: the first day of riding, the day we reach the Rockies, the day we reach the ocean, the day we reach Argentina.  Add to that the day we build a house with Habitat in North Dakota.  Yet I had my own personal milestone that was a little less inspiring: I was waiting for our first healthy dose of misery.

Breaks were short during a tough ride to Cantwell.

This might seem like a strange and negative milestone but it is important.  Anyone who has taken a journey with a group knows that nothing binds you together quite like adversity.  I remember during the summer of 2008 with Bike and Build when our negative milestone arrived inside Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  We went camping for the first time in the great outdoors, unaware that a severe thunderstorm was about to wreak havoc on our ramshackle campsite at 2AM.  By the next morning, we had taken refuge inside of a cinder-block latrine and barely slept while a park ranger recovered some of our belongings that had been blown three miles away in the storm winds.  We were exhausted, terrified, and sleep-deprived, but Hurricane Teddy became a legendary and happy memory that brought us closer together in retrospect.

On Saturday, we got cozy with misery.  We rode our bikes 100 miles from Trapper’s Creek (just above sea level on a flat valley) to Cantwell, AK in the mountains of Denali.  We had planned an early start for a long day of riding, but a missed alarm meant that we weren’t on the road till noon.  With serious mountain climbing and heavy touring bicycles, it took all of our strength to maintain a 10mph pace when we included rest stops and refueling.  We climbed close to 8000 vertical feet over the course of the day.  It was raining and in the low 40s.  Cold set in if we stopped.  My hands were so cold that I could barely open the Snickers bars necessary to my suffering, and I struggled hopelessly while the wrapper mocked me with its “Fun Size” designation.  There was nothing fun about those Snickers bars.  Pure life-saving necessity was their redemption.  We pushed on and on through the mountains with the mile markers passing by far too slowly.  There was no civilization between Trappers Creek and Cantwell.  We were tired, hungry, wet, and cold.  We had no choice but to make it to Cantwell where we heard of a lodge that could hopefully feed us and take us in.

Rest Day = Best Day.

We arrived in Cantwell at 11PM at night, just as daylight was failing.  We turned onto the Denali Highway and after a mile and a cruel little climb we arrived at the Cantwell Lodge which had transitioned into a bar with country music and lots of drinking and smoking.  We walked inside with our riding spandex and rain gear, chilled to the bone, white as ghosts.  We ordered food for six. After we demolished the best double cheese burger, mountain of potato salad, and spicy wing basket in Alaska, we passed out in a discounted double bunk room.

Bound South's best friend.

We woke up for church on Sunday morning.  We has passed Cantwell Bible Church on the way to the Lodge and took a guess on start time of the service.  We were ten minutes late in keeping with a proud Berg tradition.  Within their congregation of twenty we were a spectacle.  A couple in the church offered to take us in for the remaining duration of our rest day.  Rest was much needed after the century into Cantwell and we were treated to uncommon kindness.  Our hosts were superhuman.  While we passed out for an afternoon nap, they went for a vigorous mountain hike.  They have a team of more than a dozen sled dogs that are full of joy and vigor.  Bob, originally a farmkid from Nebraska, has climbed the Seven Summits and is a tremendous role model in is community.  His wife Janie is an accomplished veterinarian, spectacular cook, and nonchalantly describes her adventures mushing a dog sled through the Denali Wilderness in -40 degree temperatures for fun.

This journey is as much as about the people we meet as the places we see.  We have been so blessed and now we press eastward, leaving behind the challenges and rare comforts of Cantwell to ride the remote gravel passes of the Denali Highway.  The most desolate wilderness of our trip lies between us and Whitehorse.

A Single Step

We recently met a rather gregarious man in the parking lot of a nondescript gas station just outside Houston, AK.  After warning us of the dangers of grizzly bears and Mexico, he quoted to us that, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  He asked us where that phrase originated; I hazarded a guess of Confucius.  He scoffed at both our educational credentials and our knowledge of history and informed us that it was actually Marco Polo.  Now in Trapper Creek, Google tells me that it was actually Laozi, the mystic philosopher of ancient China.  Wherever you are, gregarious man with the ice cream and the pickup truck, take note.

Last sunset in Anchorage.

This journey of many thousand miles has begun.  We’re on the long road to Argentina and enjoying experiencing all that it offers.  Our loaded bicycles weigh over a hundred pounds and we carry every single gulp of water, repair tool, change of clothing, computer, and piece of food that we need to keep going.  It is a beautiful, harsh, surprising, and challenging life of transience.  We revel in our intimacy with the landscape and the communities we pass through: kind retirees from Texas who share a few camping supplies with us, a man in an RV who stores our bear bags overnight, or another group of continental bicyclists on their way home.  Yet every morning is a leavetaking as we must leave to see a new mountain on the horizon.

The first flat tire of the trip.

We are in Trappers Creek staring ahead at miles of austerity.  Rain is forecast incessantly and temperatures will fall as we cross the most remote terrain between us and Whitehorse.  The anxiety and exhaustion we feel is shot through with boundless hope.  At the beginning and the ending of each day, we have one another and a shared vision and the capability to see it come to fruition.

After a duel of wits, Nathan let me take back a move and his charity cost him victory.

I can’t know what mile 1,000 or 10,000 will be like until I get there.  I do know that day two feels right and that there is no place else I would rather be.  Whatever you are doing, wherever you are, I hope that you feel the same.

Leavetakings in Anchorage

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We set out for Alaska four days ago. Last night, we finally arrived at our Aunt and Uncle’s house in Eagle River, AK, just outside of Anchorage. They have been great to us – each of us have our own bed, we have plenty of room to work on our bikes in their garage (away from the rain, too), and the food has been delicious (spaghetti dinner tonight!).

Before leaving home, we had a media-filled morning – family photos in the morning, video interview with WDAZ, and an interview with the Grand Forks Herald all made for an eventful morning (follow the links for the full stories). Here’s an excerpt from the Herald story:

“The thing we’re looking forward to, too, is not only Argentina, but to be able to come back home and be able to start a build project with Habitat, with money we raised, and be able to work on that house and maybe see that completed,” Isaiah said.

“That would be a really cool vision for this trip — to come full circle, from starting the first day of biking to all the way when that house is completed. That’s the dream, so we hope that it can come true.”

We’re thankful for all the support from back home and for arriving here safely. It was a drive full of interesting Canadian citizens, both human and not.  We also met up with 350South, a pair of cyclists who have mutually (and jokingly) agreed to become the nemeses of Bound South.  We look forward to slashing their tires and spreading false propaganda about them on the way to Argentina.  In all seriousness, we look forward to meeting up with them later along our journey.

We spent the earlier portion of today working on bikes and connecting with friends and family. Now, we’re onto some shopping in Anchorage.  REI, here we come.

Respite in British Columbia

We thought we could do a 40-hour-driving-marathon to Alaska.  It turns out we couldn’t.  I’ll accept the blame; many days of limited sleep leading up to our departure caught up with me and I’m now battling a nasty cold as we drive north.  We stopped last night at a Super 8 and are all feeling a little better after a night of sleep.  We’ve got 27 hours on the road completed.  We’ve got 21 to go!

We want to wish a special happy birthday to Donald Boisvert of Grande Prairie, Alberta.  A local man with a great wit and a hearty laugh, he found us attempting (unsuccessfully) to take a dignified photo in front of the GIANT statue of a beaver in Beaverlodge, Alberta.  He took a photo with us and chatted with us for a good while.  He had extensive knowledge of the area, local businesses, and a variety of famous Canadians, of whom Justin Bieber is our personal favorite, of course.

The road beckons, and we haven’t even started riding yet.  Time to get to it.