Riding the rollercoaster

August 16th, 2011

The last few days have been a pretty miserable merry-go-round of soaking wet cycle rides, freezing cold campgrounds and knee worries. Puncturing through the doom and gloom though, have been reminders of why we set out to do this trip in the first place; our first sighting of a grizzly bear, our first 1000 miles clocked up on the cycle computers, the amazing generosity of Warm Showers hosts and the people we’ve met on campgrounds, and most recently the bliss of an unexpected warm cyclists’ cabin.

Every day, and sometimes hour by hour, it feels like we’re on a rollercoaster. Emotionally and physically, the riding takes you by surprise, one minute moaning about the driving rain and the arduous uphills, the very next rejoicing as the sun peeks out and gasping at the mountain pass you’ve just ascended. The day we saw our grizzly a perfect example of how grumpiness can become glee in a few short minutes. The night before, tucked away in the warmth of the tent, knowing that rain was forecast, we set about trying to improve our “waterproof” gloves, that are not in the least bit waterproof, in the hope that if we could avoid getting cold wet hands, we might be able to cycle for longer the next day. Using bin bags and duct tape, we made a stunning DIY pair of glove covers for both of us.

The rain did indeed come, sheets of icy daggers, sapping the mental and physical will to carry on. The glove covers just about kept the worst of the wet out and feeling pretty weary we did push on, knowing that our ferry destination of Haines was waiting just 100 miles away and to stop and camp again in the rain would only be more painful. Then, just as the day was coming to an end, in a moment when the clouds had briefly cleared, we spotted a power-house of a bear, galloping around in some berry bushes about 20m from the road. Breathless, scared and thrilled, we watched him as we cycled past (unable to stop and get the camera out, our hands still bound in the bin bags and duct tape) feeling grateful that he wasn’t actually any closer. Buzzing from the thrill of seeing our first bear in five weeks, the day’s ride all of a sudden felt worthwhile. Then it just got better and better, just a few miles down the road, we found a free cyclists’ cabin complete with wood stove and bunk beds – it felt too good to be true.

Now back in Alaska, we have made it to Haines and our planned ferry trip down the Inside Passage means a chance to rest, relax and hopefully exchange the bear spotting for whale spotting. Alaska, and then the Yukon Territory and British Columbia in Canada have humbled us in many ways. The enormous skies, the endlessly long straight roads, the wilderness, the generosity of people we have met on the road, have made us feel small and reminded us to appreciate everything we see and experience, however that rollercoaster ride might present itself.


It may have taken five weeks to finally see one, but looking after ourselves in Grizzly Country has been a full-time job, hanging food in trees, cooking food well away from camp, carrying bear spray. It seems apt then that the wheels on our bikes are called “Grizzlies”.

Much of our ride between Paxson and Delta Junction followed the intimidating Alaska Pipeline. The pipeline moves 1.5 million barrels of oil a day 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay within the Arctic Circle right across the state and down to Valdez for shipping. However ugly it might be, income from the pipeline subsidises the state and gives Alaska much of its wealth. 

The grey clouds gathering here turned into an almighty hailstorm shortly after this was taken. Not a pleasant way to end the day’s ride but then meeting Phil and Erin at a wild campground who offered us glasses of wine and the chance to stand at their campfire turned the day’s fortunes around.

Many Alaskans go out and shoot a moose once a year, using the meat to stock their freezer for the winter ahead. A fellow camper, carrying some of his moose sausages (made by a Polish butcher with added cheese and jalapenos) generously gave us four to try. James can barely contain his excitement and the sausages definitely lived up to expectations. 

An old knee injury of James’ flares up; another worrying few days in the middle of nowhere, at an Alaskan crossroads called Tok Junction, waiting to see if it is safe to cycle on. A depressing strip of bad motels and abandoned businesses didn’t inspire us to stay too long here. We moved gently on, with the knee still twinging, and no doubt needing professional diagnosis and treatment once we reach Seattle. 

At a campsite just outside Tok we were bowled over by generosity. Firstly from Charne & Tony on the road with their camper Daisy. They kept us going with hot chocolate and tea, and then Rod and Rosemary who looked after us with Bacardi & Coke. The generosity of other campers has been amazing and there have been many others since; thanks guys, you’re keeping us going! 

Having shopped for enough food to last us the ten days between Tok and the next stop, the question is “where on earth to put it all?”…panniers bulging, we could barely move the bikes but there was no doubt we’d eat it all. 

We most definitely had to rely on our own food supply with no services for hundreds of miles; so many of the places we saw on the Alcan (the Alaska-Canada Highway) had been boarded up and abandoned due to lack of business… 

…or so we thought! We stumbled across a creperie and bakery, run by a French couple, 60 miles from anywhere in either direction. Like a mirage in the desert, we could hardly believe our luck. 

Some fellow bikers stopped to enjoy the delicious French fare too, although it looked like they might have been well stocked up with moose meat too? 

Typical of the amazing scenery we have seen in our first 1000 miles; Edith Creek is just one of hundreds of creeks we’ve passed over. They provide our drinking water too so we’re delighted when they’re as clear and beautiful as this one. 

We entered Canada in Yukon Territory. An unsealed road in many places led to a few days of very dusty riding. 

It’s a long time between showers so braving the chilly lake at Snag Junction campground made for a refreshing wash. 

You meet all kinds of campers but this guy was a favourite; this shy husky came and sat with us for a while as were preparing dinner; unfortunately it turns out that our spaghetti is not to his taste. 

A beautiful campground at the stunning Kluane Lake and free beers from two generous fellow campers…what more could a cyclist ask for?

Two nights with Tristan and Avalon at Haines Junction were just what we needed after cycling for ten days through the wilderness. Thanks to Warm Showers, we found great hosts with hens in the garden (fresh eggs!) and a bed for the first time in four weeks… 

…and we were also introduced to the Village Bakery where Avalon works, which unquestionably makes the finest cookies we’ve eaten in a long time; all the fuel we need to get us back in the saddle and on to Haines. 

Bad weather makes for creative evening entertainment as we try to fashion waterproof covers for our useless gloves. On the list for the next supermarket we visit: washing up gloves. Not as fashionable as these cutting edge designs but hopefully the most waterproof things we can get to protect our hands. 

Thanks to a fellow cyclist who stopped on the road a couple of days before to tell us about this place, at the end of a really hard day’s ride, we found a free, empty, warm cabin with dry wood for a fire and a bed to sleep on. The log book on the table tells of many other cyclists who have stopped here and found it a haven of comfort and warmth on long rides; we added our grateful thanks to the book before heading off to Haines. 

The previous day spent mostly slogging uphill in the pouring rain, we were rewarded with a cloudy but stunning 12 mile descent to the US border and back into Alaska. Reaching speeds of nearly 40mph it got pretty chilly but it was great to see the computer knocking off the miles into Haines so quickly. 

At the end of this first leg, we find ourselves on a cyclists and walkers only campsite in Haines, with beautiful scenery and the prospect of time off the bikes, with a relaxing ferry trip down the Inside Passage…


19 Responses to “Riding the rollercoaster”

  1. Sam Wyld Says:

    Wow, dudes. Reminds me of a tweet I saw yesterday, from ‘Grizzly Adams’… “On way to yours – running a bit late – bear with me”. What a way with words and pictures you both have. Amazed, surprised, delighted and proud of your progress! What an utterly incredible experience. I’m doing a knee-dance for you xxx


  2. Laura Bowery Says:

    My goodness! Sounds like your adventure has become even more incredible. Love the photos and really enjoy reading about your journey. Can’t wait for the next installment. Lots of love (plus warmth and dryness) to you both!

    Laura, Paul and Isabella xxx


  3. steph nelson Says:

    This makes for an inspiring read as i sit at my computer studying in Gateshead. Keep going guys, enough excitement here for a lifetime xxx


  4. Mum and Dad Says:

    Hello Sweeties! This is fantastic. Well done both of you! Mick is here with us and has just read this – he is well impressed. Lovely pictures but quite a lot of wet weather. Hope it picks up for you while you are whale watching. James, make the most of the rest time and get that knee better. Love you both so much and very proud of your achievement so far.


  5. Gina Says:

    Hi guys
    just to let you know that I am following your journey
    you are both so brave and actually so descriptive you make me want to be there! and that’s saying something
    bless you both, take care of each other and huge hugs and love to you both
    I will look forward to the next instalment
    Gina xxxx


  6. Margy Says:

    Hi Both,how wonderful your pictures are, but even better the fantastic way you write, it all becomes so frighteninly real to me,
    Despite all the hardships; cold,wet, tiredness etc you are really having a wonderful time I think.We all miss you both and pray for your safety as you go!
    Our holiday in Italy is fast approaching and I think we are all in desparate need of some time out!! Trish is not so good after her accident,and all the rest of us caught Tony’s sickness bug! It is over 2 weeks since I had it and am only just feeling ok!! so 2 weeks in the sun is definitely what we need!!
    Been to Foxton Locks today with Helen & Katie and all the girls and Dean,had a lovely day with lots of fun!! Danielle gets her “AS” results tomorrow so is a bit on edge!
    God bless you both & keep safe, lots of love Margyxx


  7. Nikky Smith Says:

    Hi guys!
    Lovely reading about your adventure – no matter what you thought, could anything prepare you mentally for the highs or the lows?! Majorly impressed, could never do anything like it so very interested to read your accounts of these wild remote places.
    So amazed and heartened by the people who are topping up your blood sugars and liver levels on the way – hoorah for random strangers sharing stuff with nothing but ‘aw shucks’ and appreciation in return! (dazzling company too of course, dazzling ;-) )
    Keep it up and enjoy the rest – easy James! hope the knee’s ok!!!
    Massive respec’ and love
    Nikky and Mick xxx


  8. Nikky Smith Says:

    ps. Will chuckle many times a day thinking of you riding in rubber gloves! genius tho! whatever works!! xxx


  9. Chris Ells Says:

    Another fantastic blog guys!


  10. Edmundo Says:

    James, what is going on with that highly questionable beard? Were it not for the lack of elligible bachelors as crazy as you two fools I’ve no doubt Sarah would have ditched you miles ago. I’d keep an eye on her if you find yourself in the company of any clean shaven types, particularly if they have beer.
    Anyway I’m still not impressed, canadian wilderness, grizzly bears, yaddayaddayadda. See one you’ve seen em all. Much rather be here. Why just yesterday I saw a magpie on my way into work. Ha! And today I rode a boris bike in, just to mix it up. Oh yeah, we’re having quite a time…

    PS Ibiza amazing, me and Sebastian are getting a place out there for next summer. Year of fun 2!


  11. Dinah Says:

    Wow – what more can I say. Reading your blogs are not only enjoyable but also educational, so hurry on up with the next one. James I hope your knee is better soon and that you both find a more waterproof solution to your glove problems. Big hugs xxxxx


  12. Mark webb Says:

    HI Sarah, and James, Sounds and looks amazing… sooo jealous! James hope your knees get their act together soon and that pesky rain stops – they will and it will.


  13. Penny Pulfrey Says:

    What an amazing adventure, really inspiring… I think a book in being created! Thanks for sharing I have been smiling about your made up gloves all day at work :-) take care of yourselves…. Looking forward to the next chapter Love Pen x


  14. Charlotte Lowry Says:

    Awesome! xx


  15. Chris Pountney Says:

    Hey! Where are you guys? ! Whats happened to the blog? I hope your knee is alright James. It was great to meet you in Bellingham . I am in Forks now, I went to Port Angeles and took the ferry back to Vancouver for a few days. Heading south now, hopefully I’ll see you on the road somewhere?!


  16. Kim Says:

    Different kind of “cycle challenge” hey James? Fascinating reading and great pics too. Hope the injuries get sorted and the weather better, although sounds like it’s the people you meet that make the difference. Ride safe, both of you. Kim


  17. Dinah Says:

    Wow, I am loving your updates. I know some times when hunger and tidness take hold it must be so difficult to continue, but your stories, photos and challenges are inspiring.

    Im now back at work (it doesnt feel like I’ve ever been away)and life it just ticking by nicely. Rose is becoming more lovely by the day – however, right now she is trying to help me type this message to you, which is not overly helpful.

    Love to you both. Happy eating.

    Dinah, Simon and Rose xxx


  18. Alison Lilley Says:

    This is an awesome adventure! First chance I’ve had to really read through it. Absolutely love the arty photos. Whenever it hurts just remember that the pain will fade over time & you’ll be left with the happy memories & great friendships around the world.
    Alison :)


  19. K & M Says:

    Those are caribou antlers!! (Yummy meat too)


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