Monday, September 24, 2007

Days 11 - 13: The Alaska Highway

Day 11: 398 mi to Fort Nelson, YT

Well, I got off to a late start today. The oil change mentioned at the end of the last long update took a little longer than anticipated. Oil change in high winds? Not so much fun. Oil was everywhere. So it was a short day, heading west to Dawson Creek, mile 0 of the Alaskan Highway, and then riding up to Fort Nelson.

The Alaskan Highway is long. 1,500 odd miles from Dawson Creek, BC, through the Yukon Territories, and finally into Alaska. You can see on my GPS in the upper-right corner the distance to the next turn: 1,408 km. Long.

The ride to Fort Nelson was distinguished by some snow. Fortunately it was still a bit too warm for it to stick to the road, so it just made for some nice scenery.

Day 12: 748 mi through the Canadian Rockies to just past Whitehorse, YT

It was a veritable wildlife safari! In the eastern foothills, this little guy bounded across the road. Unfortunately he was faster than my camera, so you'll have to take my word that this is a black bear cub. Super cute. I honked my horn a couple times hoping he'd look up, but no luck. So I moved on before momma bear decided to check out what all the commotion was about.

Then there were some deer. No pictures. You know what deer look like.

Then I came across this maintenance crew trimming the grass alongside the highway.

And like any good government employees, plenty of them were just lazing about, not doing much of anything.

Or taking their good old time, probably laughing among themselves about making you wait.

In the Rocky Mountain passes of BC, there were caribou and moose everywhere! Sorry, no pics: they move much more quickly than the buffalo. Plus, those passes were generally narrow, windy, and steep single lanes in each direction. With big trucks. And a little slush accumulation. In short, not ideal for stopping for photographs.

The grass in the high plains is maintained by a different crew.


Then at the end of the day, there were elk west of Whitehorse. Lots and lots of elk.

Including some big elk.

I saw a few groups, which appeared to comprise some females, some youngsters, and a big bull. The females and calves would retreat when I stopped for pictures, but the bull would hold its ground until they were all safe in the cover of the woods. Women and children first. The bull in the above pic is doing just that: staring me down after his harem and litter left the roadside.

Oh yeah, and there were some mountains!

And rivers.

(why are they such a striking blue?)

And rapids.

(The above is a short side trip down to Whirlpool Canyon. I figured with a name like that I couldn't go wrong.)

And then things flattened out, and I figured I was through the Rockies. Much to my relief, given the slushy snow in the pass I'd ridden through. Eh. Wrong. After entering the Yukon ...

... I found that the mountains just go on ...

... and on ...

... and on.

(I am writing this in my tent about 50 miles north of the Arctic Circle -- more on that later -- and the mountains still roll on and on, one impassible wall of rock after another. I love it.)

Oh! and there was a gian signpost forest somewhere in the middle of the high plains.
I guess you have to keep yourself occupied somehow during the long winters.

Makes you wonder: what the hell is in Vincennes, Indiana?

At sunset, as I rode out of Whitehorse, I noticed a sun dog to the right of the sun.

These are formed by the refraction of sunlight by ice crystals in the upper atmosphere. I have only seen them once or twice before in the southern latitudes, but I presume they are more common up here. Here's a larger pic that shows its position relative to the setting sun.

It was a full day.

Day 13: 520 mi to Fairbanks

Here's who I woke up to the next morning.

Her foot was cold and she snored loudly throughout the night (not to mention that there were trucks flying by, as I was just camped in a rest area alongside the highway). Still, I slept well and woke up with a greater sense of contentment than I had felt in a long, long time.

That morning's ride was one of the best I've ever taken. The walls of mountains continued, now interspersed with long, narrow lakes, no doubt carved by glaciers. (Most of them ran roughly north-south, strong evidence for this.) I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscapes that I stopped taking pictures. Sorry. There was absolutely no way to capture it.

Here are the two I did take. I'm approaching Kluane Lake. It's still morning, no later than 8:30 am.

Looking at the way the clouds rolled over the mountain, you can't help but think of waves breaking against a rocky shore. Just breathtaking.

I took a side trip down a dirt road I took to get closer to the lake's edge.

That side trip wound up getting much gnarlier, fording a couple streams and crossing a rather deep drainage ditch. A good shot of off-road adrenaline, accompanied by more amazing scenery.

Farther north, I saw plenty of these:

Bumps in the road due to ice heaves. Great fun, actually. Unfortunately, at this point it was raining, and I discovered that my boots were no longer waterproof.

Cold and wet, I finally came to the border of Alaska. My first view of it, rising above the fog and clouds:

Apparently Alaska has also adopted the "impenetrable walls of rock" decorating scheme. Fine by me.

Not long after, I was there:

I chatted with a couple truckers at the border, and they took my picture.

Stopping for gas shortly after the crossing -- ah, paying the low US gas prices again is so nice, even on a motorcycle -- I ran into a couple who were doing an Alaska-Canada trip on bicycles.

Great people. I didn't take a picture, but they volunteered that I could crash at their place north of Anchorage, so perhaps I'll run into them again.

And then it was a couple final hours to Fairbanks! Checked into a hotel, scheduled a tire change for the next morning, and fell quite soundly asleep.

>>>NEXT: Days 14 - 17: North of the Arctic Circle


Anonymous said...

There really are no words to 'comment' on how amazing everything seems to be on your journey. Can't wait to keep reading about the days to come...


Anonymous said...

Jake, Thanks for this, it's inspiring and as I am about to take this trip it is terrific to see your pics!

I will also encourage you to get you electrical issues addressed and go for a ride.

Take the Labrador Highway all the way up, it's all gravel you know...

On the way, go here:

Take some or find a hot chick to hang out with there. It's fantastic. Like nothing you have seen, in the most surprising place. come on, you're on the east coast!