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Posts from the ‘Yukon Territory’ Category

Away From Alaska

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:

Riding into the storm.

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. 

The Continental Divide Lodge saved us from the storm and inundated us with borscht, sandwiches, and more.

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.

Teslin Bridge in the Yukon.

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.

Mud Lake in British Columbia before night falls.

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.

This present autumn is fleeing the mountains.

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.

What We’ve Been Reading

In our travels thus far, we’ve had much time at the end of our days without the distractions of phone or internet. So, we play cards regularly, be it hearts or cribbage; we sing church hymns or ’90s pop anthems or whatever comes to mind; and we read.  We would like to recommend our current reading list to you.

On our drive up to Alaska, I read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. In the fantasy novel, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, a child, is Earth’s last hope in defeating an alien world threat. Utilitarian ideals abound in the novel and are ultimately challenged by Ender’s experiences. That, in addition to values of love and friendship, combine to make this a gripping novel.

I am currently reading On the Road by Jack Kerouac. It follows Jack on his quest for meaning and identity across North America in the late 1940s and early 50s. It’s a novel full of surprising and powerful on-the-road experiences. “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”

Nathan is reading Growth of the Soil by Knut Hamsun.  It’s the story of a Norwegian man named Isak who ventures out to find a homestead in the wild and raise his family.  So far it is a testament to the cooperation of man and earth through his hard work and available resources. “Many things he had thought of doing. But hard as he worked, unreasonably hard–what did it help against time? Time–it was the time that was too short.”

Isaiah has read Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom, a convicting jeremiad of the modern university and the liberal arts.   Bloom writes that, “Education in our times must try to find whatever there is in students that might yearn for completion, and to reconstruct the learning that would enable them autonomously to seek that completion.”  As it stands now,”There is no vision…of what an educated human being is. The student gets no intimation that great mysteries might be revealed to him, that new and higher motives of action might be discovered within him, that a different and more human way of life can be harmoniously constructed by what he is going to learn.”

Isaiah is finishing Blank Slate by Steven Pinker, a convicting exploration of the sciences of human nature.  If you are interested in social and evolutionary psychology, behavioral genetics, and the social sciences you will find this book incredibly rewarding.  It will inform your worldview.

Why We Ride

We were given a very special gift before we left for Alaska: Nooks.  We have at our fingertips a small and simple gateway into the endless world of literature and ideas.  It fits into pockets that books simply cannot.  I do miss the pleasantries of an archaic, physical page turn; yet I find myself hopelessly content with this device that eliminates all of the material distractions from reading.  Minimalist high technology has let me dive into Tolstoy, Bloom, and Sun Tzu.  I’m currently wading through Blank Slate by Steven Pinker, a real intellectual game changer in understanding neuroscience, psychology, human nature, and social science.  

Pinker writes about proximate and ultimate causes.  Why am I hungry right now?  The proximate cause is my active hypothalamus signaling hormones to me that I could demolish a tub of ice cream.  The ultimate cause is that the human body is evolved to seek out scarce food resources and enjoy eating them to survive.  My need for ice cream isn’t actually life threatening.  Yet the ultimate cause is still manifest in the proximate.  Proximate ice cream is a wonderful thing but it is not as profound as the ultimate system of which it is a part.

I think of every day on our bicycles like a big tub of ice cream.  Except you lose weight, increase your hunger, and regret eating so much ice cream every day.  The proximate cause can seem silly.  We are going to this campground or that town (why not something closer?).  Sometimes it is less silly, like when we must reach a certain water source or escape a very certain grizzly bear.  The proximate envelops the breathtaking peaks of Denali and the miserable windy days outside of Haines Junction.  Proximate causes have us climb dozens of mountains, capture hundreds of photos, eat thousands of calories, and move with great intention between lonely old places that we might never see again.

There is a greater ultimate cause that we are about.  It does not take away from the magnificence of the proximate.  It is the raison d’être.  We’re riding our bikes to build a home with Habitat for Humanity.  Every photo, story, person, and mile between here and Ushuaia is proximate joy.  To build a Habitat home in eastern North Dakota is an ultimate necessity.

This is our dream and our vision.  We will pedal across these proximate Americas and attempt to capture their stories and blessings.  That journey will come to an end in Argentina while the ultimate work will remain at home.  If we are successful in our fundraising, we will return home to North Dakota and volunteer to help build a Bound South house.  Our Pan-American bicycle expedition can build windows into the manifold wonders of the world and the walls of a single-family Habitat house.  Please help us make a difference.


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.