We learned our lessons after Whitehorse. Surging through 100 mile days in the mountains, only to need frequent rest days and battle mental and physical fatigue, was not a sustainable way to move south. We adopted the maxim “slow, smooth, and steady”; we have been covering ~100 kilometers each day since Whitehorse and have just left the Alaska Highway forever. Originally a simple WWII supply route, the Alaska Highway taught us a great deal.
Here I will present a few of our new Rules as we have learned them:
1. The difficulty of a ride will be inverse to the beauty of the scenery. The more spectacular mountains around you, the better. The more endless timber-forested hills around you, the worse. The Alaska Highway brought us consecutive days of bone-chilling cold and steady downpours. The scenery from Teslin to the Continental Divide was relatively unremarkable while the climbs and conditions were miserable. The day after, the spectacular valleys east of the Divide made for beautiful and sunny riding.
2. You can only eat so much, and then some more. Sometimes you arrive at dinnertime cold and hungry. Wielding the appetite of a touring cyclist, you know you are capable of devouring 2,000 calories in a sitting like it was a handful of trail mix. Your hosts seem to know this, and because they get some kind of sick satisfaction from this challenge, they do their very best to overfeed you. Tragedy ensues. You find not one, but two or three bowls of delicious Russian borscht in front of you along with sandwiches. And just when you think you’ve vanquished the foe of hunger forever, a surprise attack of cinnamon rolls brings you to your knees. Or perhaps strawberry rhubarb coffee cake; and don’t forget, you have to finish all of the meat loaf and potatoes. Our Wonderful Hosts 1, Bound South 0. Except everyone wins.
3. The generosity and goodness of people rises in proportion to how wet and cold and pitiable you are, with few exceptions. This rule is connected to #2; if you are ever asked, “How can I show love to a touring cyclist?” you can correctly respond, “By feeding them.” But this is about more than that. In innumerable ways, people rise to the occasion in the smallest ways to help you when you need it. You don’t always get what you want, but you get what you need. Sometimes you’re looking for some shelter to set up your tent out of the rain or perhaps a simple furnace to dry out your boots. The little gestures of kindness make all of the difference in the world, no matter where you are.
4. Avoid riding a bicycle through a dark night in the mountains, but if you must, enjoy the ride. Despite our best efforts we sometimes underestimate the terrain and overestimate our abilities. The result is a dreaded late arrival. When one has been pedaling since 9AM, you don’t want to be pedaling after 9PM. Once darkness falls the headlamps come on and the world compresses to the patches of mountain road illuminated by your lights. At first it is terrifying; one might pass by a bull moose or grizzly bear on the side of the road without either realizing it. We yelled out a few songs to warn the wildlife and to lift our spirits. We hurtled through the darkness of the Cassiar as the drizzle turned to snow.
One day off the Alaska, one day on the Cassiar. One day is all it takes to be unforgettable. Winter threatens the northern latitudes and we’re Bound South on the Cassiar as fast as our legs can carry us.