I went back to my bicycle for a personal mission. My divorce had been final almost exactly five years ago (May 4th, 1992). I had with me the 'temporary' engagement ring. This was a ring I had made by epoxy-ing a 741 Op Amp to a silver band. It had been the place holder until we selected a real ring together. I had actually made two copies and believe we both ended up with one after the divorce. I tossed mine out onto a passing ice floe. It started its journey, drifting downstream towards the Yukon River, never to be seen again. I paused briefly, reflecting on the symbolism, and then walked back to start my trip.
The temperature of 37 degrees was above the historical average. I cycled along Airport Way, one of the major thoroughfares in Fairbanks. Unfortunately it had "No Bicycling" signs. I disobeyed them for some distance and also used frontage roads. A brief McDonald's breakfast before heading out of town.
Terrain around Fairbanks was wooded and flat. Deciduous trees had not yet sprouted leaves. The divided highway had an ample shoulder as I cycled out of town. Skies were overcast and there was a very light headwind. I was finally underway!
I stopped briefly in North Pole, Alaska at a supermarket. Folks would spot my loaded bicycle and ask how far I was going. North Pole had a giant Santa Claus and Christmas store. Eight miles past North Pole, Eielson Air Force Base with aircraft practicing landings. A brief rain shower at North Pole, but sunny by Eielson. Road continued almost flat to Salcha where I ate lunch.
Bicycled to Midway Lodge in Salcha to end the day. It was only 2pm, but the next motel was ~50 miles away. I could have done it, but it didn't make sense to tire out on the first day of the trip.
My cycle computer was having difficulty registering miles. Sigh. I was luckily able to use the mileposts along the side of the road. It felt good to be cycling again. No real soreness from the day before, but then I'd been careful not to push it too much. As I went along, it gradually became more overcast.
Off to the south, the mountains of the Alaska Range loomed up. They were snow covered, with summits hidden by clouds. The river occasionally threaded itself across the wide channel. Not all of the side channels were thawed yet. Eight miles down the highway, Birch Lake was also still frozen.
My mind was still churning through work stuff and other things from home. I've found from previous trips that it takes several days to reach "flow" where I'm completely relaxed and my mind works on simpler things. In many ways this was a mental trip as well as physical.
Simple gentle wilderness following the road along. There was a moderate amount of traffic, but otherwise no signs of humans. Also not too many signs of wildlife. Mile twenty-two saw a considerable hill to climb. Slowly grind in low gears. After thirty miles it got flatter again.
At mile forty-two, there was a bridge across the Tanana. Immediately next to the bridge, the Alaska Pipeline crossed on its own bridge. The pipeline was dramatic, although smaller than I'd imagined. I stopped at the first store for a coke and a candy bar. I then cycled the remaining eight miles to Delta Junction. Delta had one of everything: one grocery store, one pizza place, etc. I visited both the grocery and the pizza place.
I also stopped in at the official visitor center at the end of the Alaska Highway. Milepost 1422. After spending some time in town, I made my way out for ten miles to the Cherokee Lodge. I wanted to get myself set to take off the next morning and hopefully make it to Tok.
The rooms in the Cherokee were too small to accept a bicycle. I was able to stash it in a closet with the water heater. In the evening, the lodge hosted the prom from the nearby high school. I found the contrast between the rustic lodge and prom dresses/tuxedos somewhat amusing
The day itself started with me helping to take down crepe paper and balloons while waiting for breakfast. Prom dinner must have gone well. I also helped clear out some lingering tinsel from Christmas decorations.
First sixteen miles were newly resurfaced. There was an adequate four foot shoulder. I was excited and making reasonable time. The rain started slowly just some light drops. Miles 16 through 28 were still the old road, with much smaller shoulders. The route was reasonable flat, although did go up and down some gentle rises. I saw a moose slowly amble across the road.
The route was very rustic. Only sign of civilization was the road itself. Even here there was some litter beside the road :-(. The low clouds left just a hint of the bases of dramatic snow-covered peaks that must have lined the road. The Johnson River and other rivers were still frozen. The ice had almost a blue sheen to it. Breakup was happening later for these rivers. The road started to roll more at mile thirty five or so, and I was starting to look forward to Dot Lake for a stop.
As I got closer to Dot Lake, I started thinking harder about stopping. The rain was now harder and colder. My feet were numb and I was concerned about electronics on board. I decided I would take an extended lunch at Dot Lake and then see about going further. I was definitely ready to stop when Dot Lake rolled around at mile fifty-one.
Cafe closed on Sundays! I reached into my pack to get my backup peanut butter and crackers. It was cold and rainy. The wind was starting to blow. I was cold. I luckily found a spot out of the wind to eat my lunch. After lunch I decided I'd seek out the motel.
I knocked on the door. A three-year old answered. "Is your mother home?" "Yes". Pause. Pause. Oops, realizing I needed to ask more open-ended questions, I asked "Can you please get her". Another long pause. The woman politely explained the motel was still closed for the season. I had little choice but either to camp or to continue to Tok.
Like a sign, the sun almost poked out. There was a slight tailwind. I hopped on the bicycle and reluctantly continued. Rain continued off and on for the next thirty miles. The road went through some rolling terrain. There continued to be hints of dramatic scenery behind the clouds. I switched into count-down-the-miles mode. Luckily I was still making good time. I didn't become much colder, and my feet even became less numb.
Last fifteen miles were a joy. The hills stopped and the roads leveled. There was a light tailwind. The rain stopped. I could see my shadow for the first time. I switched into higher gear and pedaled along. Shortly past four, I made it to Tok. Not a bad time overall. I was hungry and went out to town to forage.
Ate breakfast at Fast Eddies before heading down the road. The first ten miles were fairly flat, but after that the road started going through rolling hills. Slowly up the side of a hill and then a descent. It continued this way for most of the rest of the day.
At mile twelve was Tetlin Junction and the side road shown by the picture. This was a gravel (mud?) road that led 165 miles around to Dawson Creek. Looked like a real adventure to try some time, although at this point the customs station was not yet open. A friendly, but wary dog followed me around for a bit as I paused for a break.
The route continued along the still-frozen Tanana River. It would periodically depart to climb one of the banks and then descend several miles later. I was in ok shape, so was doing fine climbing. It did get a bit tiresome though. About six miles from Northway Junction, the surface got worse, "chip seal". This surfacing was more obnoxious to cycle on than pure pavement.
Reached Northway Junction shortly before noon. Making good time. Dropped in on the restaurant that was filling with locals. Folks in general were pretty friendly, these folks included.
After lunch, continued on the chip seal road. Luckily, about eight miles out of town it switched to normal pavement. Over one of the ridges, I encountered a couple from Texas who had stopped. They were impressed with the bike trip, asking lots of questions. Also along the route was soft sand, which folks had decided to adorn with rocks to spell out words. The picture at right is a bit difficult to read (click on it for full size). It read, "Julia will you marry me". No response from Julia though.
About fifteen miles out it started raining pretty hard. I was still feeling strong, but this sure was obnoxious. I bore down and made it to the Boundary Lodge right around 4pm. This spot was 4.5 miles from the border and last chance to mail US postcards. I wrote a dozen of them to send out.