From August 24 2009

9 Bears to Vancouver

On June 27th we headed out of Anchorage and started our 2400 mile bicycle
adventure to Vancouver. I say "adventure" because thats what it was! I
thought I was mentally prepared but soon found out that the mile after after day...week after week pedalling through the beautiful but vast
countryside soon tested my soul. I related it to my prior experience in
Patagonia, South America which was my most trying experience so far. Why was
this leg of our trip so interesting and challenging for us? Read on.

As we left Anchorage we were met instantly with great hospitality at a remote
Service Station. We had planned to stop there for a lunch break. Ward had
noticed the river that ran by and inquired about fishing. "Yes, great fishing,"
was the reply. So Ward went and
made a few casts for arctic grayling. The fish weren't biting in the heat of
the day. When we returned to the Station some of the guys asked if they could
take Ward out fishing later that afternoon. The owner (originally from the
lower 48) offered us a night in his
retrofitted school bus (free of charge) and even said, "if they don't catch fish
we have halibut in the freezer that we will grill for supper." Wow, and we only
stopped for a lunch break. That night he shared stories of life in northern
Alaska. Its much different than in Iowa. He appeared to be the leader in the
area and people looked up to him. He told how close knit the people are and
that if there is a trouble maker in the area they run him/her out of town and
even burn them out if needed. He also told how the government had tried to
limit the hunting in the park that was in that area, the land that the locals
have hunted for years for sustainable living. After the third time the ranger
station was burnt down they decided not to pass the restriction. Yes, Alaska
could be its own country and some
people from the lower 48 treat it that way. We were told that tourists come up
and ask some really stupid questions such as: How do you say "milk" up here?
What is your currency? Do these people know where Sarah Palen is from?

We headed farther north up to Tok, Alaska which intersects with the Alcan Hwy.
The landscape was so beautiful with lakes sporadically placed and tall green
pines in the forground against the mountains (some snow capped). We were
mesmerized by the beauty. We would keep saying to each other, "pinch yourself,
we're in the Yukon". At the beginning the hours, the days, were going by
quickly. However, after a few weeks it was getting more challenging. The
landscape was getting monotonous to us. Many of the towns were roughly 300 miles
apart and the days were hitting highs in the 90-100 degree range. We increased
our mileage per day to 80-100 miles so that we would reach "civilization"
sooner. This meant...showers, groceries, laundry and even a beer. Over 60% of
the lodges and stores were closed along the Alaskan Highway (unless you were in
a town) so we found it almost impossible to even buy bread. Thank goodness
there were RVs out there that always had bread to spare. We were forced to
camp in the wild most of the nights which helped the pocket book but not the
mind or hygiene. It wasn't unusual to go 4 days without a shower. When we
cooked we had to be very careful and make sure that we were at least 100ft from
our tent. We also had to hang our food and not use deodorant or toothpaste at
night since bears really like it (I guess). I didn't want to try it and wake up
to a bear liplocked to me. We never had problems with actual bears bothering us
at night but our minds played havoc with us. I am a light sleeper and I hear
every twig break around me. There were many nights I layed awake envisioning
what was out there while Ward snored on. One night we both awoke to something
large rubbing against our tent. It sniffed, made many noises, lapped up
water...we were convinced it was a bear! It stayed for hours. The next day we
found out it was a big stray dog. Now, you might be laughing but...we met
another cyclist that camped there 2 nights earlier and heard the same animal and
thought it was a mountian lion and actually signalled for 911. So, it all seems
very real at the time.

One thing that Patagonia didn't offer was the wildlife aspect. All day, every
day you had to be on your guard and observe the ditches in front of you and
listen carefully. I was petrified of this leg because of the danger that the
wildlife could bring. What if a bear
thought we were prey as we biked past? What do you do? Everyone we asked had a
different answer. We ended up encountering many bears along the route, 9 in
total. Luckily without incident. We did see one on the side of the road as
road kill. You don't see that very often. We rode by many bison that were on
the opposite shoulder of the road. We were very intimidated by their big bodies
and HUGE heads and rode slowly and talked to them the whole time as they stared
us down. Later we found out that the bison can be very dangerous and had even
thrown a motocycle across the road. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. We also saw
many moose, dahl sheep and caribou along the road. One caribou tried to play
chicken with me. It ran up the road right at me. I guess I ended up being the
chicken. Never a dull moment...not when you are in a zoo with no fences.

Not only did we see wildlife on the road but also other cyclists. Tim and Adam
were 2 younger guys that started in Anchorage with a goal to bike to the tip of
South America. They are raising money for autism. We also met John from Great
Britain. He started in
Prudhoe Bay which is the most northern road in North America. We rode with
these guys for a while until we had to part ways.

We were then faced with another challenge, the forest fires. Luckily our
friends in Vancouver (whom we met in Vietnam) kept us abreast of the situation.
The forest fires had closed the roads that we were going to take and had even
evacuated a town. We decided to take the route through the Fraser Canyon. We
still had some smoke from the 700+ forest fires that were burning a few days
earlier (now down to about 200, per ranger station) which gave us headaches,
watery eyes and sore throats. When we left Cache Creek to bike through the
canyon we entered desert conditions with temps that hit 106 degrees. By the end
of the canyon we were in a rain forest with temps in the 60s and 70s.

We spent 2 days visiting Dave and Alice, our friends in Vancouver. Dave is also
a bicyclist and envyed what we were doing. He and Alice decided that they
wanted to spoil us crazy and that's what they did! They definitely gave us a 5
star hospitality experience. It was hard to go back to our tent and camping
stove. After sharing stories with them they are also thinking of hitting the
road on bike!

HITTING the Lower 48! It was sad to end our foreign experience but we sure
enjoyed entering the Lower 48 United States! Wow, we're back home! We loved
the immediate reduced cost of food. We went crazy the first time we hit the
grocery store. Sometimes we forget we're going to have to carry this on our
bikes. We visited family and friends as we headed down through Seattle and
Portland. Among them were Chris and Adrianne (nephews/nieces of Ward's cousin
Russ), Cindy and Jerry Klein (cousin of Jacky's) and Dick and Barb Freudenthal
(uncle/aunt of Jacky's).

Now we are cycling the coast of Oregon. The rugged and rocky ocean side is
breathtaking. The air is clean....Life is Good!

Ward's version. I agree with most everything that Jacky said. I found the
Yukon and British Columbia also a bit boring and dangerous, but you just have to
kick your mind into a different gear and get the distance covered. Jacky one
day was so focused on a
conversation with Adam as we were riding that she almost road into a bear. I
was yelling at her to stop and she just talking. I saved her life that day.

John, the Englishman we road with for three weeks, gave a good perspective on
nothern Dalton highway riding. There was also a bit more security with more
people in camp.

It is great to be in the lower 48 states because of the better food prices and
lower camping fees. We can make budget now.

Until next time...
Ward and Jacky

Jacky and Ward Budweg
PO Box 133, Decorah, IA 52101