The Almost-Alaska Trip
A funny beginning to this trip for me: I had a lot of hesitation beforehand, I’d even be so bold as to call it a lack of enthusiasm about going, which is completely unlike me when it comes to leaving on adventures. Once I recognized this foreboding feeling, I waited. And waited. Then finally it dissipated and on the morning of August 19, ready and excited, Mike and I leave for Alaska. We spend two sunny and hot days enjoying the traffic-free roads and surprisingly empty campgrounds. Look at us: we are so clever, leaving after the summer crowds. No mosquitoes. No traffic jams. No full campgrounds. It’s heaven!
On the evening of Day #2, rain starts. On the morning of Day #3, rain continues. Temperatures drop 30 degrees. Now the traffic free roads and empty campgrounds start to make sense: everybody is getting the heck OUT of Alaska! Southbound bikers share reports of unexpected early onset of winter in the Great North — snow on mountain tops, freezing temperatures, daily rain for the past two weeks, and a forecast for similar calamities with no end in sight.
Time for pause: how bad do we want to ride 6000 miles to see nothing? It turns out the answer is “not THAT bad”. How does the saying go? Only fools don’t change their minds. Right. Let’s change our minds then: let’s postpone Alaska and agree to leave Seattle no later than early August next time … like everybody else. We will make it a point to enjoy the crowds. Promised. For now, we will focus on the Yukon, and, amongst other worthy goals, we’ll ride the Dempster Highway, a 600 miles dirt road to Inuyik, north of the Arctic Circle. With total renewed excitement, we brave the many storms that stand in our way to Whitehorse, only to find out that the same weather pattern has obliterated the Yukon from the visible world.
In Watson Lake, we have to make our final decision: either 971 miles Northwest to Dawson City, the beginning of the Dempster or 1489 miles East to Jasper. The 14 day forecast says “rain and cold everywhere. Sun in Jasper”. With hindsight, we couldn’t help but notice that we traveled 2331 miles to cover the 563 miles distance that separates Seattle from Jasper! So we spend the next five days riding 1489 miles in the rain and cold temps to find out that … the forecast had changed. I’m actually surprised that we were surprised!!! On our fist morning in Jasper we wake up to snow on all the mountains surrounding us. And wouldn’t you know it: patterns of white snow and dark rocks do make for a true experience of endless beauty … based on the peek-a-boo view that we see through the holes in the fog anyway.
Two days in Jasper. We found the bakery and it’s hard to leave our cozy surrounding but after having tasted pretty much all of their delicacies, we have to accept that for once, the weather man is serious: the rain is here to stay, and snow may even reach the lower elevation, our elevation that is. So, given we are no fools, we make a final change of plan: let’s go home. Our motto by now has become: “Only a few more storms to cross”, in case we still wondered about our gear, which has performed stunningly so far. We’ve stayed dry and warm, whether in our tent (I changed my mind about the Redverz tent) or on our bikes. On our last morning, we hear the sun will be back all over British Columbia, Alberta, the Yukon and Washington as soon as we get home.
I bet it will be beautiful all of September in Alaska too.
The great thing about this trip is, we left plenty to go back for! And we did have a great time. We laughed a lot, we ate well, we became pros at setting up and taking down camp in the rain, while still keeping the moisture outside.
There is another profound aspect that came as a bit of a surprise and required a little time for us to understand. Once we decided to postpone Alaska, we became essentially goal-less, and as such, we started hanging out with no clear idea of what we were supposed to do exactly. We have a habit of riding about 300 miles a day. But if we have nowhere to go, is that still important? And
if we have nowhere to go, should we just go home? Is it okay to relax, ride only 150 miles, and “achieve” very little? As an adventurer, aren’t we supposed to blaze through the world, no matter what, sword in hand and throttle in the other, busying ourselves with discovering things, creating new friendships,
learning about local cultures? Finally it dawned on us: we are simply experiencing what it is like to actually “be on the road” for the long run — months, years, decades. Not everything is exciting all the time. Life on the road sometimes resembles life at home: with its ups and downs, uneventful moments, repetitions.