With hindsight, perhaps watching the incredible documentary about Timothy Treadwell, Grizzly Man, wasn’t the best introduction to bear country. Treadwell thought he could talk to the bears – and he did for a bit. Then the bears ate him.

The motorcyclist set down his coffee cup and leant back in his chair, a slow smile spreading across his face. “Well, maybe I shouldn’t be tellin you this, but there was a Japanese guy ridin’ through here on a bicycle just like you two. A Grizzly got him – just knocked him off his bike and ate him all up. Good luck to y’all, that’s all I can say.”

It seemed every Alaskan we met had a bear tale to tell. I could never tell if there was a nudge and a wink behind our backs as they watched the naive tourists wriggle in their seats, but it became clear that however much the stories may have been exaggerated, there was a healthy respect for bears in the North. Everyone had their own nugget of advice for us, from the plausible to the hilarious (“Carry a tin of sardines in your pocket to distract a charging bear” was my favourite).

I certainly found it hard not to give in to a little creeping bearanoia. I spent one night frozen rigid in my sleeping bag, as a snorting grizzly prowled outside our tent just centimetres away. It was only the next morning when the ‘grizzly’ was still snorting that I realised it was in fact the toilet pump from a nearby campervan, and I had actually been listening to an elderly American making their 3am trip to the bathroom.

Here’s a selection of some of the bear advice we received, along with our own experiences.

1. Attach bear bells to your bike.

The theory: on a bike you are much stealthier than you would be in a car. By carrying a bear bell, bears will hear you coming and get out of your way.

In reality: We merrily jangled along for weeks sounding like Santa’s sleigh, confident every bear in the vicinity would be hear us coming (maybe that’s why it took us five weeks to see one). Then someone pointed out that bears are actually very curious, and in fact our jaunty bells did a great job of announcing that a very slow moving, nicely wrapped food parcel was on its way. A kind of slow moving ice cream van for bears if you like.

2. Hang all food and anything else with a strong smell up in a tree.

The theory: by hoisting all your food and toiletries high into a tree, no bear will have any reason to come knocking in the night.

In reality: I was by far the most odorous item in our tent, and there was no way I was climbing up a tree for the night. Even hoisting our food proved a serious challenge, as evolution clearly hasn’t selected Alaskan trees based on their food hanging potential. Most spindly Alaskan spruce looked like a bag of crisps might send them keeling over, let alone 10 days of food for two calorie starved cyclists. When we stayed on campsites, we found that stashing our food in the bear-proof rubbish bins was a far easier option.

3. If a bear charges you, don’t run.

The theory: If you are unlucky enough to be charged by a bear, stand your ground – otherwise the bear will get excited and think that it really has stumbled on something worth chasing.

In reality: We read pages of detailed advice on what to do in this situation; so much that we would probably need to ask the bear to stop mid-charge while we checked the manual. While your life flashes before your eyes, you also have to identify what type of bear is heading towards you, and work out what mood it is in. If it’s a ‘defensive charge’, then in theory the bear will either veer off or stop short at the last moment (and I imagine probably stick its tongue out and roll about laughing at the tourist having a coronary). If it’s an aggressive charge, then you’ll know about it. Your options then are to ‘play dead’ if it’s a grizzly, or ‘fight back’  if it’s a black bear. Good luck with that.

4. Carry bear spray.

The theory: Bear spray is the universally acknowledged weapon of choice when it comes to repelling a bear attack (other than a gun that is – and even then a grizzly’s forehead is meant to be so thick that bullets often just bounce off.)

In reality: It certainly makes you feel safer to have some kind of weapon at your disposal, but after reading the small print I’m not so sure. Firstly, if you fire off your bear spray into the wind, then chances are it’s going to disable you far more than the bear. Given that we spent most of our time in Alaska cycling into a headwind, this seems like quite a fundamental flaw. Secondly, I can’t help thinking that if you are lucky enough to hit your target, then a half-blinded bear is probably not going to be in a mood to slope off into the bushes. Chances are that if it was just a ‘defensive’ attack, by now you’ve definitely managed to turn it into an aggressive one.

Despite all the above, so far we’ve camped for more than 50 nights in bear country with no problems. In the end we have seen both grizzly and black bears, both magical experiences – but it took us over five weeks to do so. The reality is that, unless you’re really unlucky, bears don’t actively hunt people. Unsurprisingly, they’re far more interested in the feast of salmon and berries on offer than chasing scrawny tourists on bikes.

Coming from England, where animals tend to be cute and cuddly, it’s been at once disconcerting and exhilarating to suddenly find that you’re no longer at the top of the food chain. It re-ignites a primal survival instinct, long suppressed by the ease and comforts of modern life. Back home, you have to actively seek out wilderness, where humans haven’t imposed order over nature in some way. Here in Alaska, surrounded by wilderness, it is the other way round. You are entering the bears’ world, and you play by their rules. It seems it’s only really when humans interfere and break those rules (mentioning no names, Mr Treadwell), that things really go wrong.




The Inside Passage

September 20th, 2011

After weeks of cycling and wilderness and rain, taking ferries along the Inside Passage of SE Alaska offered us a rest and a chance to regroup and take stock of the cycling we had achieved so far. The time on and off the ferry proved to be challenging in its own way – more torrential downpours with a broken tent wasn’t quite the relaxation we had in mind, but it offered a chance to see a beautiful part of Alaska in a way we simply couldn’t have done on the bikes.

A selection below of some of the sights we saw along the way…what we can’t include are pictures of humpback whales – their tail fins disappearing before we even thought about getting the camera out – and pictures of just how heavy the rain got, but believe me, we were wet, seriously wet…those marigold washing up gloves mentioned in the last post did indeed get used and I can highly recommend them to anyone searching for a waterproof solution for their hands!


Hanging right over our campground just outside our first ferry stop of Juneau, the Mendenhall Glacier is an impressive and chilly sight. We know from our maps that we passed by many glaciers as we cycled through Alaska but most were only visible and accessible by air, so it was a treat to have this one so close to our campground…

…even if it was a reminder of just how chilly Alaska can get! 

Our first sighting of a black bear…this young cub had his pick of the Sockeye salmon desperately trying to swim upstream to their final resting place; he did his part to ensure that at least some of them didn’t make it. Shortly after this picture, we watched him bag a monster fish and crunch his way through it. 

Through the rainforest and up a height to view the Mendenhall Glacier, we saw lots of beautiful icy clear waterfalls and dripping moss. 

Getting into the spirit of travel by boat, James and I get all naval….

One of our stops on the ferry was at Sitka, a port occupied at various points in history by the Tlingit natives, the Russians, the British and the Americans. A mish-mash of history is everywhere; Russian street names and graveyards nestle alongside American tourist kitsch. 

Treating ourselves to some local Alaskan fish was a good plan; this hole in the wall café served up the most delicious fish and chips. 

Marking the spot where native Tlingit people fought the Russians for control of Sitka is a beautiful totem park with totem poles dotted amongst the trees from where they were carved…very atmospheric and in fact one of the few places that possibly looked better with a bit of rain.

Looking up at the awesome carvings gives appreciation of how much work Native Americans put into telling their stories through wood.

Next ferry stop was Wrangell, a sleepy town unaffected by cruise ship tourism and totally deserted on a rainy Sunday. Perfect time for us to walk on the beach and catch sight of two bald eagles close up.

Searching for petroglyphs on the beach at Wrangell. 

Ketchikan, our final ferry stop, proved to be the wettest. According to locals, there was record rainfall on precisely the two days we happened to be there. A great excuse to hide in a local pub and play cards then… 

Bikes and cyclists totally dwarfed by one of the colossal cruise ships that we saw along the Inside Passage. Cruise ship tourists are now essential to the survival of these former fishing towns. For us, it was a culture shock to be confronted by all 2000 passengers disembarking in matching jackets with an Alaskan tick list of sights to see in half an hour.

A group of shots from our 36 hour ferry journey between Ketchikan and Bellingham. Sleeping out on deck under the stars, experiencing our first proper sunshine for over three weeks, seeing whales and watching the sun rise were all fantastic highlights of a great trip.

Sun rising as we approach Bellingham and the moon’s still out too. A beautiful end to a great Alaskan adventure. 

Arrival in Bellingham sees the announcement of the winner of the Great Alaskan Beard Competition 2011. Despite my best efforts, James roared to success sporting a fuzzy ginger/brown entry – affectionately known as “The Grizzly”.


Sleeping in Seattle

September 22nd, 2011

A bed. Sunshine. A roof over our heads. A new tent. A new knee (well, a repaired one at least). Mouth-watering food that didn’t start with a ‘p’ (peanut butter, porridge, pasta). Our two and half weeks in Seattle were the perfect city break; a chance to put down roots just briefly, pause and get ourselves set for the next stage of the adventure.

Best of all, it gave us the chance to spend time with my aunty Junie Liz and my cousin Barbara – probably longer than I’ve spent with them in the past 30 years combined. They looked after us like royalty, and it was hard to tear ourselves away.


Here’s just a snapshot:

Barbara oriented us with a fantastic alternative Seattle tour. We took in the Ballard Locks, where boats queued to head back into Lake Union after a day soaking up the sun in the Puget Sound…

…tourist favourite Pike Place Market for some obligatory fish throwing…

…hidden gems like the houseboats on the shores of Lake Union…

…and culminating in a Seattle sunset from up high in St Anne’s.

For once, we’re not begging your food sympathy – thanks to a leaving present from my former workmates at Challenge for Change, we feasted at Chez Shea, a great french brasserie overlooking Pike Place Market. One to be savoured for many months to come.

Across the water to Junie’s beautiful house and garden at Port Orchard – early morning coffee on the deck with a view back across to the city…

…followed by day rides through lush countryside and along the coast.

We stripped down our panniers and spent our final weekend touring the bike-friendly San Juan islands with B. It was bike touring bliss: ferry hopping between islands, great camping, and at the Doe Bay resort even hot tubs to soothe tired legs in the evening.

Having missed Vancouver on the way down, we jumped on a train with our bikes for a flying overnight visit before we headed south – and were not disappointed. City beaches, mountains all around for weekend outdoor escapes…

…plus of course a good network of bike routes – no wonder it keeps topping the polls for being one of the world’s most ‘liveable’ cities.

Thanks to Jess and Robbie for hosting us – and for pointing out where we could find the best Chinese steamed buns in the city!



Food glorious food

October 16th, 2011

Travel along behind James and I for more than a few minutes and you are guaranteed to hear some kind of food-related discussion. We’re burning on average 3,000 calories a day (in addition to the 2-2,500 calories we burn just breathing, existing), and so keeping ourselves topped up and satisfied sometimes feels like a full-time job. For the first time ever, we’re able to eat pretty much what we like without having to guiltily consider the fat content or calorie count; we’re burning it off all the time and we’re constantly hungry.

So, many of our days revolve around acquiring food, or fantasizing about what kind of food we’d like or (and this is the best one) gratefully receiving donated food from fantastically generous people along the road! In honour of those people and the amount of time devoted to thinking about and feasting on various delicious American snacks, this entry tells of our continuing journey south, leaving Seattle and heading down the stunning and deserted Oregon coast, with a foodie’s ravenous eye…


Throughout September, the blackberry bushes of Oregon provided us with delicious after-lunch nibbles. Gorging on the fat ripe berries whilst checking the map to see where to head to next soon became a favourite pastime and it was hard to get back on the bikes again and motivate ourselves to cover the afternoon miles.

Our first rest day out of Seattle having made good progress, was at Ike Kinswa park and although the rains came that didn’t stop us from enjoying blackberry pancakes. Carrying a good stove and a decent selection of pans has been critical to our enjoyment of the trip so far; we both crave a hot meal and hot drinks at the beginning and end of the day. The fact that we can knock up blackberry pancakes in the middle of nowhere makes carrying that extra weight in the panniers so worthwhile! 

Our tent and surrounding campgrounds seem to be host to a wide variety of bugs and creatures, most of whom seem to be after our food. This slug seemed to take a liking to our porridge but was far too slow to beat two hungry cyclists to their big breakfast. 

This fella made his way into our tent and we rescued him before we packed up for the morning. No doubt starving, as we know all caterpillars are, we couldn’t offer him anything from our supplies that would satisfy his appetite and so we transferred him to a tasty looking fern and moved on towards Portland. 

Unable to find a campground around Castle Rock in Oregon, we stopped to ask a local resident for advice. Instead of directing us to the nearest field or motel, Nancy offered her beautiful garden for us to camp in and then stocked us up with delicious organic veggies from her garden before we left the next day. Thank you Nancy, a true food legend! 

Next stop on the way to Portland was the uninspiring Columbia City where we ended up camped in an uncomfortable strip of land at the city park. Things improved however when the local Parks’ Committee stopped by with extra cup-cakes left over from their evening meeting, and fed them to us hungry looking cyclists. We were cooking up pasta at one of their picnic tables but once the obligatory pasta was consumed, the cup-cakes were launched upon with a frenzy that others might consider embarrassing. 

Our ‘rest days’ mostly consist of sleeping and eating; twice a week we try and stop for a while and let our legs recover and take on board more calories. It was no different in Portland. Having been wonderfully hosted through Warm Showers by Julia and Bob and fed on local salmon and delicious corn on the cob, we ventured into downtown Portland and just happened to stumble across an ice cream shop, crying out for our custom. We happily indulged, and this sundae lasted all of about 90 seconds between us… 

Having left Portland, we headed towards the coast and our first sight of the Pacific Ocean ‘proper’. On the way, we stopped at Gales Creek to ask for water and the owner of a tree nursery said we could camp by their creek at the bottom of the property. Our own private dinner spot, complete with babbling water, wading birds and a little beach for our tent to nestle in….delicious. 

Dragging ourselves away from Gales Creek, we did a gruelling 4 mile climb over the Coastal Range and sped 30 miles downhill to Tillamook. Known locally for its thriving dairy industry, we checked out the ice cream to make sure all the hype was true. Sure enough, the mint-choc-chip was a hit! 

Rare activity on a rest day saw us take a walk along the Three Capes to Cape Lookout. On the windiest day for months, we braved the cliff tops to see the stunning ocean and walked about five miles…burning more calories than we could afford and perfecting the windswept hairdo look we’ve kept all along the Oregon coast, we headed back to the campground for yet another pasta feast. 

Generosity on the roadside is a wonderful thing. Mark & Peggy had recently just finished cycling the same route that we were pedalling and were headed home to California but every time they saw cyclists like us, they stopped their car to donate leftover bananas and cookies. Free cookies by the side of the road taste so very delicious. 

We carry supplies to make our own sandwiches at lunchtime which means we can wait until we see the perfect spot before stopping to eat. It doesn’t always work and sometimes we end up stopping in the forecourt of garages or by the side of the road as the hunger takes over, but on this particular day it was a deserted beach with beautiful sunshine and crashing waves. The humble cheese and tomato sandwich tasted better with a view like this one. 

Many of the campgrounds we have stayed at along the coast are just a stone’s throw from the beach so we’ve loved packing the stove and food into a bag and taking it right onto the sand to cook and enjoy the sunset, like this one at the aptly named Beachside Campground just outside Yachats in Oregon. 

Making it to church in Bandon proved to be a worthwhile experience. Meeting Catholics from another community was great and then over coffee afterwards, Ernie and his family got chatting to us about our trip. Insisting to add something to our cycling experience, Ernie, who runs a store locally, wrote us a coupon for a 6 pack of beer which we duly went to collect. The sign as you leave the car park at church seemed fitting especially when fuelled by free alcohol! 

We’ve shared many a meal, can of lager, dash of Sailor Jerry rum with this man, Mike. Hiking down the west coast towards San Francisco and hopefully passage on a boat to Argentina to see his wife Agustina, our paths with Mike have crossed a few times. We’ve been enjoying his company, talking around fires and eating and drinking together. Here, he and James compare their epic beards whilst I can only witness in despair. 

We aren’t usually capable of achieving much before the morning dose of porridge and peanut butter sandwiches and the ever essential cup of strong black coffee, but on this particular morning we went to the stunning beach at Humbug Mountain to see the sun rise over black sand and driftwood before breakfast. Seen through sleepy eyes but awesome nevertheless. 

Never under-estimate the hungry animals of the woods! At Humbug Mountain we were two very distressed cyclists when we found that overnight a raccoon had nibbled his way right through the pannier we keep our lunch things in. The bag was actually empty at the time but the hungry little critter could obviously smell the bananas, crisps and other goodies we usually keep in there and thought he’d try his luck. Needless to say, we’ve learned our lesson about where we store our bags at night and the pannier’s been fixed with duct tape… 

We reach the end of the Oregon coast at Brookings where one of many supermarkets proudly displays their pumpkin stock outside. Mountains of these beautiful orange squash look so tempting and we’ve been told unequivocally by locals that we must try pumpkin pie at this time of year. You don’t need to tell us twice to eat something delicious and now it’s at the top of the list of foods to try before the end of the month. These pumpkins will probably end up just being carved out to hold candles at Halloween, but for two cyclists obsessed with filling their stomachs, they represent the mouth-watering endless choice of ways to top up those burned calories…so it’s on into California and amongst other things, we’ve heard the burgers are really very good…. 


Riding the Redwood Coast

October 22nd, 2011


Crossing into California, we turned briefly inland to visit Jedediah Smith State Park, a stunning area of old growth Redwood forest.

The size of these trees, up to 370 feet is incredible, but for me it was their age that was the most awe inspiring – some of them have been standing in the same spot for the last 2,200 years.

Straight out of Crescent City California, we present Mike Redbeard and the Redwoods. Inspired by the location, our new hitcher friend Mike finally overcame his nerves to serenade us with his mandolin. Buen viaje y hasta Patagonia che…

Unfortunately we couldn’t fit Mike in a pannier (the beard was just too big), but this little guy got a free ride down the road – in stark contrast to Bedders’ nemesis…

…the banana slug – a killer combination of overipe banana and super size slug rolled into one. The Redwoods were literally crawling with them. Sensing Bedders’ fear, they targeted her mercilessly – crawling across the tent, onto clothes and best of all, into her shoe one night while she was asleep. Rather the slug than me…

The US and Americans continue to both delight and bemuse me, often at the same time. Why waste time visiting some of the last surviving Redwood forest in the world when 300 slot machines await at “Elk Valley”? (apparently it’s where all the Elk go for their poker fix)

At Prairie Creek we took a welcome detour off the 101 onto a great network of abandoned roads which ran along the clifftops with waves crashing below…

..before turning onto some great singletrack which cut down through giant stands of Redwoods, over fallen trees and across streams…

…before finally emerging onto deserted dunes at Carruthers Cove. We pitched our tent for the night in the dunes and in the morning had breakfast on the beach, watching seals just offshore and a flock of pelicans diving for their morning fish. An amazing spot.

“This county used to thrive on fishing and logging…now it’s all gone to pot”. Cannabis production is now the mainstay of the economy in northern California, and we hit the so called ‘Emerald Triangle’ at harvest time. Sleepy Arcata was definitely the first place I’ve ever been to where the smell of weed hangs over the town like a haze. We had a great stay thanks to Robert, Marissa and Sean, who cooked us up a feast and gave good tips for the road ahead – thanks guys!

Back into the Redwoods, we rode the 32 mile Avenue of the Giants, stunning in the early morning light. However, this preserved ‘beauty strip’ of forest for tourists, just a few hundred metres wide in places, highlighted for me how little actually remains. Only 4% of the North Coast’s original two million acres of Redwoods is left today.

Finally we left the logging trucks and RVs of Highway 101 behind, and emerged into the sunshine and mist of beautiful Highway 1, which would lead us all the way down to San Francisco.

Another great camping spot at Mackerricher State Park and yet another stunning Pacific sunset.

Lunch stop at the lighthouse at Point Cabrillo, just north of Mendocino

Highway 1 is a rollercoaster of a road: tiptoe your way along the cliff tops, plunge down into steep gorges, keep your speed through the tight switchbacks, and sweat your way back up to the cliff tops – then repeat all day. Awesome fun…

…but all very calorie consuming of course – cue a milkshake stop (note very serious milkshake face)…

…to celebrate 2,500 miles pedalled from Anchorage – spelled out in our daily lunch regime.

San Francisco didn’t disappoint with an eerily foggy crossing of the Golden Gate Bridge and an amazing welcome from Liz, our hostess with the mostest. We’re here for a while and looking forward to the arrival of our London Support Crew for a low mileage week of ‘R&R ’ and social re-integration. The vineyards of the Sonoma Valley and the Santa Cruz coast are beckoning – time for some drinking, cycling, wineries and… err did I mention drinking?