Getting used to wilderness

Getting used to wilderness

Right at the moment when I open my laptop to get started on my new blogpost the emergency alarm rings. My heartbeat trips for a moment while my brain immediately starts working and determining my position. What’s the procedure? Where can I go?
Half a minute at most tell the announcement follows that it’s just a ‘drill’ for the staff. Well, that’s great! Can’t they announce that beforehand?
Had I been a nervous person that could’ve caused me a heart attack.
My heart retrieves it’s natural beat and I can get started on my blogpost, while behind me three men are dressing up in fireproof outfits, including gasmasks and oxygen.
A suitable moment for a drill I guess. An almost empty ferry at the end of the tourist season.

Emergency drill

Emergency drill

I’m on a boat. In Whitehorse I decided to take the ferry from Haines to Prince Rupert instead of biking the Cassiar highway. It was recommended to me by several people because of its amazing scenery, while the Cassiar would be ‘more of the same’. I didn’t like the sum of money I had to lay down for it but after all I’m glad I decided to do it. 40 hours on a boat. Two hours and a night. Yesterday it rained all day and I couldn’t see anything due to the thick fog. Today the weather cleared and ever since early this morning I’ve been watching the many islands going by. We make a few stops on the way and every time a few people get off. This boat rides the ‘Marine highway’. A route from Skagway (Alaska) via Haines (that’s where I got on) and Juneau (Alaska’s capital city) to Prince Rupert (Canada).

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But first let’s go back to the far north of Canada, from where I posted my previous blog. Dawson city!
The morning I got on my bike there it was -10C. De coldest morning I’ve had so far. I dug up my mittens from my panniers and started the ride wearing my down jacket. Which was, as expected, way to hot already after only a few kilometers, but stripping down warm layers before even getting on the bike is a torment I don’t always want to endure.
In the nights the temperature plumps below freezing, but I have enough layers of clothing with me to endure more extreme cold. Even now I make a big leap south with this ferry there’s a big chance that I’ll catch the first snow soon.
On the way from Banff to Vancouver, a road that I’ll cycle in about a month from now, there’s been some snow already.

The ride from Dawson City to Whitehorse (the biggest town in the Yukon) took me five days. Another five days in the wild. Just one village on the way that counted over 100 inhabitants. I can tell that I’m getting used to it. I don’t worry or wonder anymore where I’ll spend the nights or how I’ll find food. I stock up on food and I just bike till I feel it’s been enough for the day and I’ve found a good place to pitch my tent. Sometimes that’s beside a river on the edge of a village, sometimes it’s in forest far away from any civilization and sometimes it’s on a (closed) campsite where I’ll occasionally meet other campers. The days are getting shorter rapidly and after I’ve made a fire, cooked, cleaned the dishes and put my food far away from my tent the sun sets and it’s cooling down. Often I’m in my sleepingbag around 20:30 with my headlight on reading a book. Almost every night of camping in the wild is like that and even so on these night I never think ‘I wish I were somewhere else’ or ‘I wish I wasn’t alone’. On the one side ‘it is what it is’ and on the other side I enjoy it intensely.

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All the trees turn yellow in fall in the north

All the trees turn yellow in fall in the north

Very local rain, luckily not where I am

Very local rain, luckily not where I am

I’m getting used to the wilderness. To the sound of the forest, the squirrels, the moose, the wind in the trees. Even the plashing sound of a bear catching fish in the river I can listen to from my tent feeling relaxed. Knowing that my food is far away from my tent and a bear is not interested in a foodless cyclist in a tent I close my eyes feeling peaceful every night.
On the way to Whitehorse I saw a black bear near the road for the first time. When I noticed him I was already passing him. With his new black shiny fur, he was standing there, about 40 meters from me, watching how I passed by. He spotted me but he didn’t change his behavior (a good sign). I thought it’d be best not to change my behavior either and I (apparently) calmly kept riding past him. When I turned around to see what he was up too he started crossing the road when I had passed him by a broad distance.
What does raise my heartbeat is when in the night car headlights are shining straight at my tent and I hear the engine of a truck right beside me. Something that happens rarely and the times it does there was no need to panic. It was just good people minding their own business.

After almost four months in remote Iceland, Alaska and Canada I can hardly imagine what it’ll be like to cycle down the westcoast of the United States soon (the ‘lower 48’ as they call them here, because it’s the more southern 48 states, but also jokingly referring to them as ‘inferior’ by calling the the ‘lower’). A region where I can find food every day, a place for wildcamping will be harder to find than a campsite and where there’ll be more people than trees.

Not an unusual sight in Yukon this time off the year

Not an unusual sight in Yukon this time off the year

Now that I’ve cycled around here for a couple of months several people recently asked me how I’m liking it all together and if it is what I hoped and aimed for. Also for me that’s something that I every now and then evaluate: ‘is it right?’
YES, it’s right. Though that doesn’t mean that every day is filled with the sunshine and laughter, but that’s also not what I was aiming for. The most important part is how it feels. I wanted to live my life on my bicycle, feel that wherever I go I’m home and that the world is a playground for me to explore. All those things are right.
Fact that I’ve looked forward to it for a year, my ‘goal’ clear in sight, made me very sensitive for the result.

I feel FREE!

Free to do or leave and to go where I want and when I want to go. I bike when I want to bike, as long or short as I want. I respond to anything that crosses my path or draws my attention. I won’t set any records and neither will I impress people with my average speed. And even though that has never been my goal, I have to remind myself every now and then that it really doesn’t matter.
My only goal is ‘happiness’ and everything I do is a brick to build that; lots of cycling, meeting people, days of relaxing, taking a boat ride, camping.
That everything is about my own ‘happiness’ may sound egocentric. But that happiness also depends on my interaction with other people; making a cake for my hosts, contact with my family and friends, inspire or entertain people with my blog, raise awareness about suicide. All those things I take on with both hands, which makes that even though I’m travelling I’m sometimes short on time to get everything done that I want to do, or should do (like bike maintenance and stretching) to be able to keep doing what I want to do.

Steve, owner of the Braeburn lodge, just offered me a shower in the middle of a bikeway. Accepted of course!

Steve, owner of the Braeburn lodge, just offered me a shower in the middle of a bikeway. Accepted of course!

As you might’ve sensed before, the ‘destination’ is not all I hoped it’d be. I always thought that nature was the most important ingredient in my travels, people and culture would come next. But now I’m in north America I feel what it’s like to travel in a places that lacks culture. There’s the history and culture of the native people, but they live secluded in villages not on the road system and away from the western civilization.
Like with many things that are always there ‘culture’ had become natural to me and I didn’t miss it until now it’s not there. Though I have to say that with getting to Canada, things seem to be looking up.
I can long back for the churches in France, the cobblestone alleys in Italy, the countryside of Switzerland, the pole houses of Laos, the temples of Thailand, the chapatti of Malaysia, even the hardness of the Chinese and the disgusting fermented horse milk of Kyrgyzstan.
The amazing experience of travelling and getting comfortable in the wilderness make up enough for the lack of culture though.

Wilderness between Haines Junction and Haines

Wilderness between Haines Junction and Haines

Camping at beautiful Fox lake

Camping at beautiful Fox lake

..on a closed down campsite under a shelter

..on a closed down campsite under a shelter

From Whitehorse I biked through Haines Junction to Haines. That second part was supposed to have some amazing scenery. One of the most beautiful roads of Alaska and west Canada, I’d been told. The first two days were very beautiful indeed. The second day I knew exactly how far I’d ride, to KM 127. A fellow cyclist told me that there was a uninhabited cabin there that was left there to make a haven for (stranded) travelers. From the moment I left Haines Junction I’d hardly seen any cultivation but at KM 127 it was there indeed, in the ‘middle of nowhere’, a cabin, impossible to miss. An old small cabin with a view on the glacier. Inside was a guestbook with mostly thank you notes from cyclists. The furniture was old a partly broken but even so it made a little palace for that evening.

My own cabin for the night

My own cabin for the night

Old but great

Old but great

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The third day started in a thick layer of fog with no more view then about 20 meters. The full morning and a part of the afternoon I biked in that thick fog, while the beautiful mountains and glaciers passed by me unseen. The knowledge that there were many bears active in that region at the time make me a bit uncomfortable and I once more let my ‘bearbell’ ring out loud on my handlebar bag. After a pass of over 1000m I descended out of the fog, towards the Canadian-Alaskan border.

Very foggy on the road

Very foggy on the road

A little bit of a view on a mountain

A little bit of a view on a mountain

So now I’m on a ferry. Too bad it started raining again this afternoon and fog is blocking the view again. Nonetheless it was a beautiful ride. The amount of houses on the shores of the islands surprised me. Islands that are only served by ferries every now and then and of which the people for transport mainly depend on their own boats and water planes. The number of people who want to live far away from the cultivated, ‘civilized’ world and seek their refuge on an island of the Alaskan coast is many times higher than I expected.
Tonight at 2:15 we arrive in Prince Rupert. I would’ve preferred to spend another night on the boat instead of go looking for a campspot at 2:15 in the night in a ‘city’. But ‘it is what it is’. No sunshine and laughter for just a moment but (with retroactivity) a little sacrifice to make this boat ride possible.

Stop in Ketchikan on the way to Prince Rupert

Stop in Ketchikan on the way to Prince Rupert

A boat like ours

A boat like ours

From Prince Rupert my ride starts on the Yellowhead highway towards the Canadian rockies. I’m looking forward to reaching Jasper and riding the ‘famous’ Icefields Parkway from there, a road that is known as (maybe even) the most beautiful road of Canada. Ik expect that after that I’ll slowly be getting ready to leave the wilderness behind a bit and enter a bit of civilization.

Now I’m writing you anyway. Like I’ve mentioned in this blog, one of the things I do while on the road is raise awareness about suicide. In Alaska I’ve learned how the subject is approached there. I’ve written an article about it that you can find here.

Also I want to thank you for the reactions on my blog! I really enjoy reading your reactions on my experiences and reports.

Alright, now it’s time to catch a few hours of rest before I leave this boat and enter Britisch Columbia. Starting in the city of rain(bows)!
Prince Rupert get 2,5 meter of rain each year! Two out of three days it rains. And the forecast for the next few…it’s not good. I’m getting my rain gear out!

Well, a new province full of surprises and new adventures!