Monday, July 28, 2014

Tam's Journal, July 24-27

July 24: In the morning, we wake up in the bus, eat more than our fill of chocolate chip pancakes, do laundry, and clean up as best as we can.  Afterwards we both spend time talking to Jay and his wife, Debbie, along with their friend Bob, who lives down the road.
They're a wonderful resource of entertaining stories and advice.  It's 3:15 when we finally set off.  We wind up and down over gradual hills with lakes, clear streams, and rounded green mountains that break up the spruce-birch forest.  Around Tok the road flattens out, and it's like a runway. The good road, an amazing tailwind, and pancake fuel make the ride go by quickly.  When we arrive in Tok, I can't believe we've gone 60 miles.

July 25: We wake up and bike 1.8 miles back the way we came, to Sourdough Campground.  We can't pass up all-you-can-eat pancakes for $10!  Together we consume a total of 45 good ol' sourdough pancakes.  The lady working there also makes us veggie sausage and hot chocolate.  While we're eating, we meet three guys from New Zealand: Sam, Sam, and Cam.  They've been driving around having adventures in an old green van with a lego man as mascot on the front.
We share stories over breakfast and talk a bit of politics with the pancake chef.  All of this amounts to a true, sourdough, Alaskan roadhouse breakfast, the perfect way to say goodbye to this fascinating state.  Afterwards we go food shopping and fly out of town propelled by yet another tailwind.  About 57 miles up the road, we stop at a free campground in the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge.  The campsite is beautiful, and just when we thought our night couldn't get any better, we have the pleasure to meet some other travelers down by the lake.  Two are cyclists on a round-the-world trip, and two are from Switzerland exploring Canada and Alaska in a van.  As we talk, we are entertained by a mother duck and her twenty adorable ducklings out on the lake.

July 26: At 8:40 or so, we meet our new biking friends Billy and Nolwenn for breakfast by the lake.  We share with them the last of our pancakes, and they share Japanese Green Tea and oatmeal with fresh raspberries.  It's a delicious way to start the day.  It's already 10:30 or so when we begin to ride.  Our road takes us through more spruce forest and lots of hills.  The clouds are hanging low, so there's not much to see besides the occasional lake.  Our first bit of civilization is the Tetlin NWR Visitor Center.  We find it thoughtfully designed, just like the campsites and displays also associated with the park.  We fill up water and eat lunch. Just seven miles up the road, we reach the Alaska-Canada border.  Only U.S. Customs is here.  They have a huge building with a yard for the dogs, and the road passing through is watched by large, gray cameras from every angle.  There's no Canadian Customs here.  It's 20 miles down the road, just outside the town of Beaver Creek.  Those 20 miles are on bumpy chipseal, but the road flattens out quite a bit, and the sun finally comes out through the clouds.  On the way, we see multiple cool birds and meet two cyclists on a tandem bike.  They have plans to travel up to Deadhorse, where we started.
At the Canadian border crossing is a large, red maple leaf and a small, brown building.  I'm sure there are cameras, but they aren't large enough for me to notice them.  A nice guy checks out our passports and asks a few questions.  In a couple minutes, we're through.
Once in Beaver Creek, we make a couple of stops.  #1 to purchase and eat an amazing peanut butter cookie, #2 to purchase a grapefruit, and #3 to get a map and information on the road from the visitor's center. We decide to head to the first campground, 10 miles out of town.  At this point, we've been warned multiple times about the construction on this road, and we're not sure to expect.  What we find is a combination of gravel, mud, and rocks, but for the most part it's not too bad, and we make fairly good time.  At the end of the day, we're both happy to find a cute campsite with a big picnic table and a view of the lake.

July 27: When we emerge from our tent, the sky is cloudy but there's no rain. Yay!  We ride for a bit on bumpy gravel then get to a section where we must ride in a pilot car for 3 km or so.  After this, there's only a bit more gravel, then we hit chipseal.  Never have I been so happy to ride on chipseal.  We ride through more forests and lakes.  In one of these lakes, we see two regal trumpeter swans and three of their gray, fuzzy cygnets.  It's a treat to see them so close.  Cruising along, we notice two cyclists coming up behind us.  It's Chris and Berel, both studying medicine in Germany and biking around Alaska and Canada on their holiday.  They're friendly guys, and talking with them makes the miles fly by.  When they stop at an RV campground to get coffee, we keep riding.  For lunch, we stop at a "rest area," really a pullout with a bathroom and a small deck over a lake with some info boards on it.  The boards explain how this valley is, and has been for years, an important migration corridor for birds and other wildlife.  Even ancient tribes in the region used this corridor between the mountains to travel.  Now we are too!  After lunch, we start talking to a young couple from France who have been driving around Alaska.  They share water and cookies with us!  Back on the road, their red van passes us and stops.  We think they might be waiting to say something to us, but then we realize that there's a mama black bear and her two adorable cubs on the other side of the road.  I'm apprehensive about being so close, but the mama bear ignores us as we bike slowly past.  On a road with very little traffic, suddenly there are several cars and multiple RVs all stopped to take pictures.  Down the road, the construction we thought was over, isn't.  I'm convinced we are riding Canada's version of the Dalton Highway.  Even though the road isn't great, we make good time due to a generous tailwind (we've been so lucky with these recently!) When it gets late, we set up camp in an open yard next to a ramshackle auto shop.  Its owner looks like he's lived here for 50 years and hasn't showered once, but says that it's fine for us to stay here for the night.

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