The Alaska Highway
Built by the Americans during WWII, the Alaska Highway was constructed to connect the Lower 48 to the state of Alaska. Beginning at the junction of several highways in Dawson Creek, it stretches 2,232km northwards until Delta Junction, Alaska. Originally 2,700km long, it has since been improved upon and straightened out. The story goes that during the construction, the engineers were so close of the heels of the surveyors and their First Nations guides, that they sometimes walked in a circle so as to teach the engineers a lesson and encourage them to slow down and stop hounding them.
After a massive day 16, Fedor and I started day 17 with a bit of a sleep-in. Getting up at 8am, I packed up and got everything ready to go. We left the camp at 9am and rode to the border rest stop to cooked a quick breakfast before cycling the last few km to the Alaska Highway junction, where we had to speak with the Conservation officers that were manning the border to discuss our proposed route plan and fill in some paperwork. Although I had been in B.C. for over 3 weeks and others that I had spoken to told me that they were able to enter without restrictions because of extended stays in B.C., we were informed that we must self-isolate and could only go into grocery stores for necessary goods and go to bike shops for service but must otherwise completely keep away from everything. Without much choice of recourse, I decided that it would have to do, as I needed to get my bike serviced.
A couple km later we made a quick stop in Nugget City, which was basically just a restaurant, RV campground and tent camp site, for a quick bite to eat and to recharge devices. After a few minutes, Fedor told me he was going to start riding as he knew I would catch up easily. I left Nugget City at 11am but stopped at the top of the hill when I suddenly got cell reception so that I could call my wife. It took 60km and 3 hours before I could catch up to Fedor. With a massive headwind for the entire day, it was a tough ride and I was able to maintain 20kph.
After a quick lunch, we said our goodbyes and I pushed on ahead. A few hours later, I stopped for a bite to eat but in the rush to get my pants on and protect myself from the mosquitos, I forgot to take the plastic sleeve off my pot and melted it all over the stove, ultimately making me take another 30 minutes to clean off the melted plastic. By the time I got going and started riding again, I saw Fedor about 100 metres up the road. With a storm quickly approaching, we needed to push hard for the next 5km to get to the Continental Divide gas bar and RV park.
Having ridden 120km into a fierce headwind all day, Fedor was pretty beat and decided to only cycle until he could find a nice camp spot. He stopped at Swift River and camped at a nice spot along the river. I decided to take advantage of the nice night and lack of wind to cycle another 60km, making a total of 188km and 1561 metres of elevation for the day. I finished riding at 11 and went to sleep around midnight.
Day 18 was gonna be wicked tough. My plan from the get-go was to make it to Whitehorse by the end of the day. 237km. I wasn’t sure if i could do it, but I was gonna give it a shot. After getting to Whitehorse I would take two days off, service my bike and stock up on groceries.
No sooner did I leave my campground than I came upon a 5km section of pretty fresh chip and tar. The Alaska Highway is notorious for eating up tires, as they use pretty course 3/4 inch gravel. With a rear tire in poor condition, I had to resort to pushing my bike. As the road improved I decided to get on my bike, cross my fingers and hope to not get a flat. I made it through and finished off the first 57km to Teslin, a tiny little town with not much in it. I decided to treat myself to a proper breakfast and charge up some of my stuff. While standing outside the restaurant drinking my coffee, I met RCMP officer Jeff Myke and we got to talking about biking. Turns out he is a pretty avid cyclist. He told me that just after Teslin there is a 14km section of fresh chip and tar and that my rear tire was unlikely to survive it. Luckily, he needed to do a patrol up that way and offered me a ride in the cruiser, ultimately bringing me 65km closer to Whitehorse. Dropping me off at a campground, I had 110km to go.
When I was about 25km from Whitehorse I saw signs that indicated there was a bike race in progress, so I went over to see what was going on. While talking to a few of the riders and Support staff I met Denny, whom had previously ridden across Canada 2 years ago. Having mentioned that I was going to go to the brewery and celebrate reaching my most northern point, he reached into his wallet and gave me 20 bucks so as to welcome me and buy me a couple rounds. What a great way to arrive at a new city. Knowing that Anthony and Lana wouldn’t be home until 10pm, I headed over to the brewery for a pint and some snacks. When I got to Anthony’s at 11pm, there was still light enough for me to set up my stuff in his gazebo, have a shower, a quick sauna and even sit and chat with them before we all went to bed. It was such a great way to finish up the previous 8 days of riding. It was also nice to have a heated cabin and to not sleep half frozen.
After sleeping in a tent for the previous 8 days, it was really nice to wake up in a small cabin, be able to go into a house and drink a proper coffee and have something other than wraps or oatmeal for breakfast. After getting laundry out of the way, I went with the family to town to bring my bike to a bike shop and have them check out my wobbly cassette. Luckily it was a simple fix and they didn’t charge me anything. I managed to find one spare tire at each of the two bike shops in town and then decided to walk back to Anthony and Lana’s, stopping to get groceries and beer along the way.
Day 20 started with me prepping my bike in the morning, packing up my bike as much as possible, before hitting the trails with Anthony and Lana in the afternoon. I was lucky to have them lend me a fat bike so that I could join them on this little jaunt. After a couple hours of riding, we went back to their house and awaited the arrival of Fedor. When Fedor arrived we went to a the Woodcutter’s Brewery for some food and drink. I originally planned to only rest two days, but the weather forecast for Sunday was calling for rain and a pretty strong headwind. In the end I decided to take an extra day off and help Anthony work on his backyard walkway and enjoy my time with this fantastic host family. All-in-all, a fantastic 3-day rest and I was looking forward to getting back on the bike and crushing some miles.
Day 22 of the Bikepacking Canada Adventure took me out of Whitehorse and back to Teslin. However, because Fedor spoke so highly of Carcross, I decided to do a detour and check it out on the way. This would add 38km to the ride, but I figured it was worth it. And it was. One thing of note that is pretty amazing is that in Carcross there is the most northern desert in the world. Even with the headwind which lasted all morning, it eventually turned into a beautiful tailwind.
Leaving Carcross, I could see dark clouds rolling it and by the time I reached Jake’s Corner, I was getting pretty wet. Luckily a quick water and snack break and the rain finished and I could get back on my way. My original goal was to get 50km past Teslin, but with the detour to Carcross, I decided to call it a day just a couple kilometers before Teslin, almost immediately after the 14km gravel section, which had me to riding at a snail’s pace.
Overall I rode 235km and climbed something like 1450m. I had a decent camping spot about 75m away from the highway and didn’t get eaten by a bear. My goal for the next day was to get as close as possible to Watson Lake, 260km away. Little did I know, I would pass it.
Day 23 started just north of Teslin. After waking up I rode into town and bought a coffee at the Trading Post and made some oatmeal for breakfast. As you leave Teslin, there is a pretty big climb out of town, which seems to be the standard start to most of my days. It’s a gruelling way to wake the legs up.
I cycled about 50km before reaching the fresh chip and tar, which they happened to be sweeping. This resulted in a huge dust cloud that was all but impossible to cycle through. Luckily the girl driving the escort vehicle let me throw my bike in the back and to give me a ride. Under normal circumstances this is such a natural thing to do, but because of Covid, it becomes logistically more difficult and takes time for her to call and check with bosses, etc.
About 30km past the chip and tar I heard a truck pull up beside me on the road. It was Jim and Jill, whom I had met the previous day at Johnson’s Crossing. They asked how I was doing and knowing they were going to the Cassiar Highway, I asked them if I could get a ride to Nugget City, which is just a couple of kilometers before it. After some careful consideration, they agreed. They weren’t really concerned about Covid, but more about the possibilities of something dangerous happening. Just last year an Australian and American were killed on the Alaska Highway. Luckily for me they agreed to take me, helping me save about 160km of riding. We had a great drive and conversation and I was fortunate that they also fed me a sandwich, watermelon and tea which was really nice.
From Nugget City I cycled the last 22km to Watson Lake where I had dinner and took some pictures of the sign post forest before riding 40km farther out of the city before setting up camp for the night. On this particular occasion I chose just about the worst place to camp as there were so many mosquitos that I couldn’t even get into my tent without letting in a dozen of them. I eventually killed all of them and managed to sleep.
Day 24 took me 222km from about 25km east of Watson Lake, all the way to Muncho Lake. Definitely a tough day on the bike but very worthwhile and fun.
I got started much later than usual and didn’t even get up until 8:15. Damn lazy. After about 25km I arrived at Lower Post, a gas station where I could get a proper coffee and cook up some of my own oatmeal for breakfast, while chatting with the owners. It was interesting to learn that they were originally from Florida, and had bought the gas station and restaurant in 1984. They told me that as I got closer to Muncho Lake I would see bison herds and caribou. If not for Covid, I would have been able to stop at the Liard River Hot Springs, which only costs $5 per day. Unfortunately it was closed, so I pushed on towards Muncho Lake. Leaving Liard and heading through the pass provided me some of the most breathtaking views I would have had yet along the Alaska Highway. I also saw my first bison of the trip, or, more like 5 solo bison, and 2 herds. Pretty awesome creatures. Although the day was physically tough with something like 1850m of climbing, the constant views helped me forget about my legs. I reached Muncho Lake at about 8pm and needing water I pulled into the Muncho Lake RV Park. It was unfortunately full for the day, but after a quick chat with one of the campers, he told me I should just pitch my tent in the field and then come over for a couple beers. After setting up camp and eating a quick dinner, I headed over to meet Frank and his family.
Day 25 of the Bikepacking Canada Adventure took me from Muncho Lake to the summit of Steamboat. With lots of climbing I reached the highest elevation of the whole trip. 1299m above sea level!
The day started with an easy 10km along the lake before a pretty intense climb of 350m over the next 10km. This was going to be one of those days where I stop for a lot of Pepsi and meet lots of locals. With a total elevation of 1950m and only 180km, it was one of the tougher rides thus far. It also provided some awesome vistas and tons of wildlife.
The day started with me seeing two moose on the side of the road and went on with me seeing 2 caribou, a ton of mountain goats, and some stone sheep. It was really amazing to see and witness how fast mountain goats are able to run down nearly vertical cliffs. I reached the top of Steamboat around 6pm, where I met two young van travellers that offered to cook me up a grilled cheese sandwich. How could I say no. Apparently it was the second time in two days they had seen me and they thought I needed more sustenance. I decided not to descend too far down the mountain, so that I could start the day with a beautiful downhill. I found an old campsite and RV park that was shut down and went around the gate and set up my camp spot on a magnificent lookout and completely to myself. On the road just outside the campsite, I met an American guy travelling to Alaska. He offered to refill my water bottles and gave me some apples. Made for a great snack as it’s not too often I eat fruit on this trip.
Bunking down for the night, I was able to cook dinner and chill out without any mosquitos bothering me. Before bed I listened to a podcast and did some blogging.
I woke up way up the mountain near the top of Steamboat. Because of the high elevation, I was able to eat breakfast and have coffee without being eaten alive by mosquitos. The first time I can remember in such a long, long time. By 7am I was on my bike heading down the mountain. It was pretty cold and I had bundled myself up in my limited clothing. It was totally worth the early start and during the entire 10km downhill and the next 37km, not a single vehicle came from behind and passed me. 47km! I couldn’t believe it. During the last 33km into Fort Nelson the temperature was picking up and so was the traffic. I rolled into Fort Nelson at 10:15 and went to Tim Hortons to have some food and recharge all my batteries and devices. I didn’t get out of Fort Nelson until nearly 2pm.
Rolling out of town, it was ridiculously hot. Fortunately I saw a lake near the road and decided to go take a quick swim and rinse. Shortly after leaving the lake I saw a sign that said no service for the next 175km. I knew I was in for a tough day. After about 80km, I was running out of water and decided to hold up my water bottle while an RV passed in the opposite direction. Luckily, it worked and they stopped and filled all my bottles.
A few kilometres down the road I saw a truck had stopped on the side of the road and the driver had gotten out and taken some more water bottles out for me. After a quick talk with him, he offered me a 300km rode to Fort St. John. After a bit of thinking I decided to take him up on his offer, knowing I would need to skip some cycling if I was to make it back to Ontario by the 15th of August, as I had promised my wife. We were able to fit my bike in the back seat of his quad-cab truck. All I had to do was take off the front wheel. During the next three hours, Pete and I had some great discussions about travel, music, life, etc. Pete was awesome and even bought me Burger King and let me sleep on the sofa. Getting up in the morning I made coffee and we watched some hockey before I hit the road.
Day 27 had me waking up on Pete’s couch at around 8am. After breakfast and coffee it was time to get on the road. Starting at 9:30am was not the plan, but I knew it was 57km to Dawson’s Creek, mile 0 of the Alaska highway. As soon as I left Taylor, I had to climb, climb, and climb some more out of the valley across the Peace River. The ride to Dawson Creek was tough, but luckily I knew that this was slowly getting towards the end of my climbing days. Near one if the passes I saw an accident up ahead and later learned that a deer ran out into the road in front of a motorbike. The roads were blocked to traffic and everyone was waiting for the police and ambulance. Fortunately for me I was able to just go around the accident and keep pushing forward. At a rest stop at the top of the climb, I met a guy named Greg that wanted to look at my bike and chat about touring. I told him about the podcast and we’ve kept in touch up till now.
When I got to Dawson Creek after what seemed like a ridiculously long day, but in reality only 57km, I stopped for some Subway lunch and also bought junk food at Dollar Tree. Leaving Dawson Creek, I made my way towards the Alberta border. As I was still in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, there was still a lot of climbing to be done. I reached Grand Prairie at around 9pm and since it was a nice night decided to have a quick coffee break and to push on for a few more hours. In the end, I rode 249km and finished up my day in DeBolt, Alberta, having climbed 1640m and spent 11 hours in the saddle. I put my tent up along the tree-line at the side of the highway next to a bunch of screeching owls. This was now officially my longest ever single day of riding.
Now that I’m back on the Yellowhead Highway, you’ll need to go to PART 6 to keep reading.