Pedalling to Nirvana – part 7.1 (Alaska)

A North American Bicycle Journey

I pedalled my way from Key West, Florida to Tok, Alaska. What I wrote in my journal is what I was thinking and feeling at the time, it’s just a reflection of who I am, my own personal opinions, my own perceptions, and written exactly as I saw the world around me at that particular moment.

Why I did it? That is what most people ask, and you know, it is not a simple answer. One of my thoughts was to really do something with my life and truly live. Experience the world around me before I shuffle off the mortal coil.

The story continues from

Pedalling to Nirvana – part 6 (Yukon)

 

Alaska – Day 142 to day 159 (August 1999) 

 

Entered Alaska via Highway 9- “Top of the World Highway”.

In Alaska this became the Taylor Highway.

Taylor Highway ended at highway 2, which was the “Alaska HIghway”.

I headed west to Tok.

From Tok I took a shuttle to Anchorage and flew home form there.

 

DAY 142 Continued… – August 3, 1999 

Wooo Hooo, I made it to Alaska all by myself from Key West! That gave me a sense of accomplishment. The guy at the border asked me the usual questions only this time he was confused by my voice. I didn’t sound like someone from North Carolina or someone that was born in South Carolina. He was a bit skeptical and I just laughed and told him that I spent a greater part of my life in Indianapolis. The guy was really trying to test me but was kind enough to bring out a big water cooler for me to fill my water bottles.

 

From here it was 4 miles all downhill to a place called Border, Alaska. Riding down the rough dirt road with lots of dips and potholes, my speed picked up quickly. 38.5 mph and I see the road turns sharply to the right. I brake and my rear wheel locks and begins to slide so I let up and keep trying to brake. There is a huge drop off with no guardrail, just straight over the edge as I begin to slide into the curve with my right foot just barely skipping the ground to catch me just in case. Whew, just barely made it through the corner and continued flying downhill. The bumps were sending my BOB trailer bouncing around all over the place behind me. Then my walkman and one pannier takes a flying lesson off my bike as I slam into a giant dip in the road. Retrieving my walkman all scratched up and flung open with the cassette about 30 feet from it, I was surprised to discover that it still works! I re-attached my pannier and continued to Boundary.

 

Boundary consists of one guy that owns a coffee shop and a lady in a gift shop out front. That’s it! I got me an ice cold coke and a muffin, then went down the road near where some RV’s were parked and took my bike back in the brush a bit to camp. Tomorrow is my mom’s birthday and I should be in Chicken, AK to call her.

 

DAY 143 – August 4, 1999 

It’s my mom’s birthday and I’m in the middle of absolutely nowhere!!! They have no phones around here so I will try to get to Chicken early enough to call with the 3 hour difference in time. 

the-road-aheadalIt was a very hot day, 32 degrees Celsius or 90 degrees Fahrenheit, but I just took it easy and really enjoyed the landscape and scenery. At times from a very high point on the road I could barely make out the road way out in the horizon, it looked maybe 30 miles away. It seemed strange to see a spot that will be in my future but I’m not there yet. 
the-scenery-al          

Whenever I stopped, a lot of mosquitoes swarmed me and sometimes while riding, they would go up my nose!!! That sucked!!!

 an-old-gold-dredgeThere was an old gold dredge in a small river bed that I took a break at. 

inside-the-old-gold-dredge

The sun was hot and the cool water and shade felt great. I rode up most hills at 3 mph to take care of my knees, I refuse to ever push my bike up a hill because I wimped out. Only when I had to, like the time my derailluer hanger broke, I had no choice then. There were some great downhills where I picked up some great speeds. On one downhill, I was cruising at 38 mph and a car was trying to pass me. The car was having difficulty because the bumps would cause it to slide sideways some when it went too fast. So this idiot rode right beside me for quite some time when he was going faster than he should have for this road. That was when I ran right into 2 large dips in the road and got a bit airborne. Since the car was beside me I couldn’t swerve, but fortunately I didn’t wipe out and thought it was kinda cool to catch a little air with my BOB trailer!! When I arrived at the south fork river, I found the Pit toilet to be luxury comp

Before long, I was in Chicken Alaska. 

downtown-chicken          

Downtown Chicken consists of 3 stores owned by the one couple. There is a gift shop, a saloon, and a cafe’. Inside the cafe’ I met Susan, the owner. She was very nice to me and offered her shower to me. KEWL!!! Looks like I’ll camp here tonight. Unfortunately there are no phones here. Susan said there will be no phones until Tok. Her husband is on their boat in the Caribbean and the only way he could get a message to her was to call the radio station to broadcast it on the air. She didn’t hear it, but someone that did went in and gave her the message. I couldn’t imagine living way out here. But they do close down in September and live on their sailboat in the Caribbean with there 2 children that they homeschool.
Whenever a tour bus would arrive, the old people would scramble out, some with canes. They were on a schedule and had to shop, eat, and do everything they had to in a short time. They usually looked stressed, always impatient and hurrying. What a horrible way to travel!!
inside-the-saloon          

In the saloon a young couple comes in that I recognized from Dawson City, but did not know. There is a traditional thing they do here by hanging anything on the wall people want to sign and hang up. Mostly hats and some shirts, socks, etc. But when someone wants to hang their underwear, they shoot it out of a cannon first. The girl from Dawson took her bra off and it was then packed into the small cannon by the bartender, he’s British by the way. Many people have asked him “which part of Australia are you from?” So he has a note on his hat that says “I’m British, not Australian”. Anyway, he carries the small cannon outside after packing it with powder, bra and tissue. He lights the fuse and then BAM!!!!! The bra goes shooting through the air and lands in a small tree. The braless girl retrieves it and signs it for the wall.
While hanging out outside I met a couple from Canada and decided to ask if they wanted to exchange my Canadian money for any American money they had. I wasn’t thinking when I left Canada about all the coins, banks never exchange coins only paper money. I had $18 in coins. The girl recognized me from Dawson City since she worked at Mme. Zooms and I frequented the place often. Her boyfriend, Riley had only $8 US and I just gave him my $18 CA for it. An excellent deal for him and I didn’t have to worry about it. There was no way I can get rid of it and I don’t plan on going back to Canada anytime soon.
We hung out and talked for awhile until I started getting tired and decided to get some sleep early. My tent was set up in the trees about 100 yards from the cafe’.
today – 40.70 miles
avg. – 7.5 mph
total – 6073

DAY 144 – August 5, 1999 

I got up to see another busload of tourists here in Chicken. After walking into the cafe’, I decided I couldn’t stand being in there. Too many people, too much noise and everyone seemed to be in a hurry and stressed. I walked back out headed for my tent when a lady from a picnic table outside said, “you see many bears?” Crap, one of them is trying to talk to me, NO… go away! She thought I was a local since I appeared from out back and was going back in that direction. I wanted to make up a bunch of stories to tell her like the guy from Steamboat Mountain. But I stopped and just explained that I wasn’t from here and told her about the bears I saw along the Alaska Highway. I was trying to be as polite as possible although I didn’t want to talk to anyone at all.
After the bus was gone, I had my tent packed and I was ready to go. Before leaving, I went inside and had Susan fix me 2 turkey sandwiches for the road. That will be a nice treat for lunch, instead of pulling out my camp stove and fixing something.
i-take-a-break          

It was another hot day like the previous days. I stopped after riding about 25 miles and decided to eat my lunch and just relax. It was probably about 30 minutes of relaxation when a van pulls off the road with a canoe strapped to the roof. Out jumps a dog with its owners. They waved and said hello, I got up from where I was sitting, I had been leaning against my bike that was lying on its side, and walked over to say hi. Their names were Magnus, Astrid and their dog Mika. Both of them are from Switzerland and came here for a vacation to do a lot of hiking in the wilderness. They got the dog while they were here and unfortunately Denali National Park wouldn’t let them hike and camp there with their dog, but Kluane NP in Canada would. Anyway we talked for about 2 hours and Astrid shared some of her bicycle touring stories around New Zealand with a BOB trailer. She said that she wished she had more photos of it and asked if I wanted a photo of me riding. I said sure and she used my camera to take my photo.
This is incredibly cool to meet so many kind people! How can I really go back to the real world?! And why should I even consider Prudhoe Bay when my best times now are interacting with people? I’ve had enough alone time on desolate roads and I’d prefer meeting people like this instead of spending all that time on a long desolate road up to Prudhoe Bay. Maybe I will just go to Vancouver Island and visit those other friends I have made along the way that gave me their addresses there.
I continued on and decided I will get to Tok and definitely end my journey there. Susan was skeptical that I could make the 76 miles from Chicken to Tok with a loaded bike. She only knew of one German guy that road that distance in these long steep hills. Even with my 2.5-hour break I knew I could make it there no problem tonight.
the-landscape         

After riding just over 40 miles, I was zoomin’ on a downhill…. 35..36..37 ..38 … 39 ..40 41mph!!!! yes!!!! 41mph on a rough dirt road “Banzai!” I was flying down and approached the bottom when I saw something in my peripheral vision. I don’t look around too much when I’m flying downhill. I have to pay attention to every detail of the road and prepare for the road surface ahead. I took a quick glance and noticed another cyclist sitting on the ground in an open area near the road. I hit my brakes and my back tire begins to skid as I slide to a stop. The guy looked up and smiled at my antics as I rode up to greet him. His name was Bruce and this is his first ride too. After talking for a while, I decided that if this is definitely going to be the end of my ride, I should stop and spend one more night on the road before going to Tok.
bruce-and-i-preparing-dinner          

Bruce told me a story about 2 kids that just graduated high school and had planned a year to ride their bikes from Prudhoe Bay to the tip of South America. On the morning of the third day along the Dalton Highway, one of them says, “that’s it, I’ve had enough” and quits. The other one continued and Bruce met him on the road… hmmm I think it was near Tok. Anyway, I couldn’t believe someone would give up so easily after a year of planning and only 2 days of riding, then hitch a ride with a truck. So the young guy is now solo to ride through Central and South America. That seems a bit too dangerous in some of those places with political unrest, especially for an American. Most of the foreigners I have met on my journey have told me the attitudes of most countries towards Americans. It is always better to lie and say you are Canadian to people you meet in other countries, then you will get treated better.
Today – 41.89
 Total – 6114

DAY 145 – August 6, 1999 

what-a-messI woke up early but just laid there on the ground in my sleeping bag. This may be my last morning to wake up in the sun with the fresh air. hmmmmm… Just like that Chemical Brothers song – Let Forever Be, “How does it feel like to wake up in the sun…..” YES it feels great :)       

bruce-bike-and-bob-trailer          

After a couple of hours I made some of my instant coffee and added several large scoops of hot chocolate to it mmmmmmm a mocha!!! Bruce soon got up and he told me about a guy that would mix cereal, powdered skim milk, instant coffee and water in a bowl and eat it. Just combine everything at once to make it quick and easy to eat and get the caffeine. Hey that sounds like a great idea :) We talked for a while and then I was off riding at 11:40 am.
cool-mountain-shadesThe mountains were very scenic in the distance with different shades of a cool bluish gray. When I reached Tetlin Jct., I saw something a bit different on the hillside by the road. there has been a LOT of writing along the hillsides with rocks. But someone decided to decorate with modern art. 
appliance-art          

A refrigerator, an oven with the door open and a large reflector in it, a bathroom sink and a toilet where all carefully placed and propped up on the hillside(refer to photo)
Arriving in Tok, I stopped at the visitor center and met Guro outside sitting at a picnic table. There were 2 VERY large backpacks resting on the table and I knew she was on a serious journey. We talked for a few minutes and she briefly told me about her and her boyfriends journey. Both of them are from Norway and flew into Miami. They have been travelling across the US and climbing all the highest peaks and went to climb McKinley form base to peak. WOW, that is the highest climb in the world. McKinley is the tallest mountain in the world from base to peak. about 18000 feet exposed and Everest is about 10,000 feet base to peak. Well the weather wasn’t in their favor being this late in the year so they may try again next year.
After talking to Guro, I went into the visitor center and got ferry info to get to Vancouver Island, internet access, and motels around. All Alaska Gifts had internet access and the Tok Saveway motel was the cheapest motel around. I planned on checking into a cheap motel and organize my stuff while I make my final decision as to what to do.
The cheapest room they had was $38.00 and had no phone or TV and that was fine by me. I didn’t need a phone or a TV.
today – 40.62
avg – 8.5 mph
total 6155

DAY 146 – August 7, 1999 

OK lets just make this brief.
writing-in-my-journalI’ve been spending some time yesterday evening and today at the 
all-alaska-giftsAll Alaska Gifts checking e-mail and stuff. Today I got to meet Frank, he’s an artist that sells his work there. He brought in a sculpture of a stone sheep that had incredible detail to it. While talking to him and questioning his art, I discovered that the foundry where the casting are done is located in Kalispell, Montana. Cool, I’ve been there ;) Frank was a great person to talk to and find out a bit about his artwork. 
tok         

The piece he brought in has a price tag on it of $4,200.00!
yada yada yada 
I decided to go to Anchorage via shuttle service to get my camera repaired and then hop the shuttle back here to continue on. If I decide to continue on that is. The few days in Anchorage having my camera repaired will be enough time to make my final decision.
a) go home
b) go to Prudhoe Bay
c) go bike around Vancouver and surrounding islands and meet friends
OK so tomorrow the shuttle will leave at 2:30 PM and thrust me into a new adventure into Anchorage.

DAY 147 – August 8, 1999 

martin-and-me          

While awaiting the shuttle today, I biked around a bit to keep my legs moving. When I headed back to the visitor center this morning, I met Martin, a very tall Swiss guy. We talked about our rides and when he found out I left Key West on March 15 and was headed to Prudhoe Bay, he said “I leave Miami on same day and I hear about you for a long time.” Martin strongly encouraged me to go to Vancouver Island and said that he wouldn’t go to Prudhoe Bay, “not worth it, nothing to see.” On his bike, he had a giant bottle cage that housed 2 liter bottles. He said that he keeps 2 liter cokes there, as that is what he mainly drinks. There is a smaller 22 oz water bottle that he keeps for water. Martin soon left and headed south towards Anchorage.
guro-and-terje

 

Later I met Guro again and her boyfriend Terje(pronounced Tah dia). We discussed our journeys and Terje shared many of his mountain climbing experiences with me. He made an assault up Mont Blanc from the base in just 14 hours. We also talked about some of the attitudes of other climbers and reaching the top no matter what the cost, even the life of another. Many climbers will just leave their team mate behind and continue on leaving them to die in the snow. Terje had told me about when he found a climber lying in the snow that was left behind to die. He helped him up and walked the guy back to his camp and saved his life. Well we traded many interesting stories and both of them invited me and anyone I want to bring with me to visit them in Norway. I too gave them my info and invited them to visit me sometime.

By 2:30 PM I found myself in an 11 passenger van on my way to Anchorage. The lady beside me asked about my bicycle and my ride. She too had been on several rides and looked to be now in her 60’s. Her name was Barbara and we talked for a long time trading stories and discussed some of the exact same books both of us had read. She was very excited to have met me and told me so, and I too was excited to have met her. After about 2 hours into the ride, the bus driver seemed to be looking very tired with eyes barely open. The van drifted into the middle a bit and then the lady right behind him smacked the back of his seat with a book and said “get back over, you’re driving down the middle!” He didn’t say anything and just kept driving. we soon had a break to eat at a small cafe’. Thirty minutes and we had to be done and back on the bus…oh! I’ve become one of them! hoping off a bus and in a hurry. Having to rush like a tourist. Well at least it is only for this 7 hour ride. 

There were some other people we had to pick up down the road whose car had broken down. Upon arriving at the Grizzly Store, we saw a couple with 2 small children and LOTS of luggage. There was one empty bench seat and it didn’t look like enough room for their stuff. The lady in the front seat had a little bit of an attitude and said that “they’re not fitting on here!” Geez what a remark to say when a family is stranded way out here. They managed to get all there luggage in and the four of them occupied the seat in the back. I turned to talk to them since I was directly in front of them. I asked about their misfortune and about their vacation. Both of them were pleasant and we had a great conversation. After I told them about what I was doing and my escape from healthcare, I found out that he is a doctor and she is a nurse. They own 3 clinics in Michigan. 

By now I am trying hard to not feel sick. The frost heaves in the road this guy kept flying over had been making me feel naeuseous for a while. And with has very bad driving, all over the road speeding while half asleep…. AHHHHHHHHHH I’m feeling “domed” someone please smash my head in with a rock and put me out of my misery.

Soon, my conversation with Ray and Nora was shattered by the sound of “BAM” and breaking glass up front. I turned to see the drivers side door glass falling down and the side view mirror smashed against it while a large 1 ton pickup drove inches by our window. The lady behind the driver immediately slammed her book against the back of his seat and was furious with him for crossing the center line. She accused him of crossing over, smashing side view mirrors with the other guy and was afraid he would kill us all with his driving. The rest of the van was very quiet, no one spoke a word, an awkward silence as the two of them began to argue and he threatened to make her get out and walk. Constant arguing back and forth, both of them had to have the last word in. I thought “come on lady, give it a rest”.

The driver of the other truck walked up and also accused our driver of crossing the center line. He said that his window was also smashed by his side view mirror. After about 25 minutes of waiting for them to exchange insurance information, we were back on the road. And the driver is still driving a little crazy with his blurry bloodshot eyes. This ride seems like it is NEVER going to end!

Continuing on to Anchorage, we continued our discussions and Barbara soon joined in too. Nora was VERY funny and made some jokes about me on this journey. By the end of the evening I had a definite job offer to come work with them and they wanted me to continue with them to Homer. I really wanted to go with them as they caught a taxi to pick up their rental car. But I had to stay behind to get my camera repaired. They are a very fun couple and I know I would’ve had a blast staying with them on their vacation. They told me that if I don’t come to work with them to at least come visit and gave me their address and phone number. WOW I’m sure glad I decided to catch the shuttle to Anchorage and that they had the unfortunate luck of having their car break down.

They drove away in the taxi and it was if some really good friends I’ve known for a long time were leaving. I rode to the Inlet Inn across the street and got a motel room for $75.00, the cheapest in town. The hostel was full and I reserved the next 2 nights there.

DAY 148 – August 9, 1999 

Checked out of the hotel

Took camera to Camera Service Center.

I was there last year and had met John. He was still working there and remembered me. We talked a bit and I was informed that since they are the only repair place in town, it might be a few days before they can get to it.

I went and had my film developed.

Checked into hostel and went through the photos I had developed.

Met a teacher that has a one day layover in plane flights on his way out to west Alaska, way out there away from the rest of the world. I tried to sleep in the top bunk. A very noisy guy in the bottom bunk below me had crazy dreams as he kept tossing and kicking the wall and making all kinds of moaning sounds. Weird! … I hated this, couldn’t sleep, I’d rather pay extra to stay in a motel where I could get some sleep. I just hoped the other guys in the room didn’t think it was I making all those weird sounds while dreaming. In the morning I planned on checking out and getting a refund and go somewhere where I could sleep. I did better sleeping in the ditch along the road in the Yukon.

DAY 149 – August 10, 1999

I went to the front desk and asked for refund for tonight’s stay. After I explained that I couldn’t sleep last night etc.… The girl had an attitude and said I needed to give 24-hour advance notice. But geez I just checked in last night and paid in advance for 2 days, how could I know yesterday morning (24 hours ago) that it was going to be like this. She was a hmmmm….. not a nice person, and would not give me a refund and said it was policy to give 24-hour notice. I asked to speak to the manager or someone in charge because this was crazy. She said, “OK but it won’t do any good. He’ll just tell you the same thing”, as she walked away smugly. The manager came out, and after I explained my situation, he refunded the money that I had paid in advance for tonight, and I was on my way.

I stopped at the downtown deli for breakfast, and looked in the classified ads in the “dogs” section. Nothing there really, so I thought I’d check animal control or the humane society. I really wanted to find a dog to rescue from being put to sleep. And definitely stay away from “puppy mills”.

Leaving the café, I got into a conversation with an artist that was across the street. After about 30 minutes of conversation, the artist invited me to stay at his place. Cool, I thought. He said that he’d be home at 6:30pm and I could call to get directions then.

I rode around town on my bike and went to REI, bike shops, and had a late afternoon lunch at some organic vegetarian place, forgot the name but the food was excellent.

Met a girl there that attempted a climb up Mt. McKinley with a group of females, the Denali Divas. They attempted a very difficult base to peak assault on the mountain, something very few do. Most fly in to base camp at about 10,000 feet (I think?). Anyway, the base adds something like 8,000 or so feet to the climb and is VERY difficult, very few attempt this. And there is a very difficult river crossing to get to the base. The McKinley River is a total of about 1 mile wide and at times, over waist deep.

They have a website of their climbing experience. (This was the same assault that Terje’ and Guro had attempted)

http://www.alaskagold.com/denalidivas/

I went to the the artists’ place in the evening and met a young artist, Lucas and his girlfriend Alison, that were there discussing commercial art with “the artist”. Apparently, “The artist” is a mentor for Lucas.

Later, “the artist” and I talked about my ride. He told me about all of his hikes through the Brooks Range, which is an area I will pass through if I decide to go to Prudhoe Bay. He showed me the fragments of a mastodon tusk that was found up in the arctic where I would be riding. “These are over 10,000 years old. They are older than man or any religion…… Religions pale to this”, he said boldly and brashly in his semi-drunken state. While I held the pieces I thought about 10,000 years ago, and realized I am holding something that was on a living creature that was so long ago that I couldn’t comprehend that amount of time, or a world without humans living on it. After telling him about my course in Human Skeletal Analysis and how I studied bone fragments from a dig site dated at 650 BC, he decided to give me a small fragment of the mastodon tusk. He stepped outside with a hammer in one hand and the tusk fragment in the other. Holding the tusk in his left hand he slammed the hammer down one the end of it, creating about 4 small fragments. He held up the pieces and looked at the shapes and studied them for a minute. Deciding to give me a larger piece, he repeats the ritual of slamming the hammer down against it on the concrete. Then he went ahead and gave me all of it. This was one of 2 pieces he had and he gave me one of them, which is now in several smaller fragments. WOW, what a gift! This is something that is far more valuable than money to me.

Come to find out that the artist is currently separated from his wife and is in the middle of a divorce right now. Most of the conversations this evening seemed intense, as the artist can be very intense. He takes any conversation and turns it into a very deep intense conversation and gets very philosophical. Everything I said, he challenged and delved into each little aspect of a statement and analyzed it so critically and in soooo much detail. Man I thought I was a deep thinker and a philosopher at times, but this guy takes it waaaaaaaaaay to the extreme. And the language he chooses to use, it’s constantly “f” you or “f” that.

After mentioning my need to go back and rewrite most of my journal entries, he looked at me and said F@&K YOU! Wow that caught me off guard when he said it so loudly and in my face. He then said “F@&k you for wanting to rewrite it, F@&k you…. Who are you to go back and sanatize it? To write it once and not touch it, you are somebody, to go back and sanatize it you are a nobody”. I went on to explain that I really just needed to fix typos and add the stuff in my original notes that never made it on the net. “Well that’s cool….that’s cool” he said in a calmer voice.

 

The story continues in:

 

Pedalling to Nirvana – part 7.2 (Alaska)

 

    

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