Monday, July 28, 2008
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Putting a Foot in my Mouth
Friday, July 25, 2008
The Dempster Day 4 - July 17, 2008
Start: Engineer Creek Campground
Finish: Klondike River Lodge / Dempster Mile 0
Riding Time: 12 hours
I'd never ridden 194kms before, let alone over two passes on a gravel road, and with fatigued legs and 50 pounds of gear in tow. But, hey, I had nothing else planned for the day, so I gave it a shot.
The ascents were not as severe as those I covered on day 3 and the road was like pavement in some areas. I stopped to take a picture at the top of the first pass (which was called Windy Pass, though it was not as windy as the pass I had encountered on day 2). A swiss couple, Morlene and Philip, offered me coffee. They recently quit their jobs and sold their house to travel for a year. Sounded like a fun time.
I passed the 100km to go mark and recall thinking 'woohoo, only 100km to go'. I felt good, but I was looking forward to the prospect of finishing the Dempster in 4 days, which was becoming increasingly possible by the pedal stroke. My recognition of the milestone was more a function of that enthusiasm than a countdown.
My mental playlist for the day was comprised exclusively of the Ghostbusters theme song. That song packs a surprising amount of punch, even after 12 hours on repeat. I regard endurance cycling as therapeutic and interpreted the simplification of my mental playlist as an indication that my treatment was complete.
The scenery was unreal. The Tombstone Campground was nice enough to make me consider extending my trip so that I could spend a night there, but there were some particularly sinister looking clouds approaching from the south and I wasn't prepared to test my luck on a muddy road and meager food rations.
I decided to lay the hammer down and discovered that, given enough time and fatigue, 'forever pace' and 'hammer pace' merge. I carried on at the same pace. I ran out of water and was helped out by a nice couple from Kamloops, Cliff and Jennifer. At the 6km to go mark, the gravel turned to pavement. Sweet Jesus that felt nice. I actually felt emotional when my tires rolled on to the pavement.
I checked in at the first hotel I came to and was told that they were full and that the restaurant had closed five minutes ago. My utter disappointment and desperation must have shown as the hotel receptionist proceeded to show me the tuna sandwiches that were for sale in the cooler and to ask me if I would consider an overflow bunk room. I didn't know what that was, but it sounded like it was inside, so I jumped at the opportunity. I now have a better sense for how people live at the work camps near Fort McMurray.
I went to the lounge for a celebratory beer. There was a man in the corner finishing a 'cigarette' with some friends. They invited me over and I passively participated in the local banter until I was ready to crash.
It poured rain all night and I was glad that I had chosen to finish it off today. Cycling the Dempster in the rain would not be fun.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
The Dempster Day 3 - July 16, 2008
Start: Eagle Plains
Finish: Engineer Creek Campground
Riding Time: around 12 hours
As I was gearing up to leave in the morning, I encountered a german cyclist, Thomas, who was headed in the opposite direction. He had ridden from Engineer Creek the day prior and described the journey as very challenging. I (foolishly) inferred that this would mean it would be a relatively easy day for me. With this in mind and, since day 4 would be my longest day (at 194km) and cross two passes, I decicded to treat today as a 'recovery day'.
40kms into the ride I was bagged and already doing the mental countdown. 136kms to go. 135kms to go. The last 135kms were a bit of a grind.
My pace was so sluggish that a gang of black flies was able to follow me for several kms. I coud see them in my shadow - I looked like Linus from the Peanuts cartoons as they orbited around me. Occassionally, one would mistake my butt for a buffet, giving me an incentive to pick up the pace.
...dunh dunh dunh, another one bites the dust...
Thankfully, the scenery was unbelievable. Riding along Ogilve Ridge, I could hardly believe my eyes. I never knew that there were so many shades of green. It was like a rainbow. As the sun peaked through the scattering of clouds, sections of the valley were illuminated, revealing yet more of the spectrum of green that coloured the landscape.
...here comes the sun, da da da da...
The final stretch of the day was a smooth road that led gently up a river valley. I think this would commonly be described as a false flat; however, when you have 500kms in your legs and 50 pounds of gear on your bike, there is no such thing.
I noticed a small brown animal a short distance up the road. It waddled across to the side of the road and I stopped the bike. Was it a bear cub? Phew, nope. Just a porcupine.
The road was like swiss cheese in areas, pocked with long strings of potholes. With 5kms to go, I slammed through a pothole my bike began to wobble. My first guess was that I'd busted a spoke but, upon inspection, I determined that one of my couplers had come loose. Close call. That's the first time I've had that happen. I guess riding out of the saddle with panniers on these rough roads creates higher than normal torsional force.
When I arrived at Engineer Creek campground, there were two other campsites occupied, including one with a touring bike. I walked over to say hi. When dogs meet, they check out each others butts. When cyclists meet, they check out each others bikes.
-ooh, a Surly Big Dummy, very cool
- running wide schwalbe marathons, I could use some of those on my bike
- that seat looks comfy
- dude, is that an I <heart> BOWNESS water bottle??!
His name was Vic and he was from Calgary too! Vic's journey started two days ago and he was heading north. He showed me a stylized elevation profile that he's picked up at the info centre in Dawson City. I appreciate that it is difficult to capture 736km of detail on 8 inches of paper, but this was missing a lot of details that a cyclist would consider critical. It was like a driver had skectched out approximately what he thought the road was like, a week after driving the road. Any experienced cyclist knows that a drivers description should be taken with a grain of salt. For example, when a driver says 'it's pretty flat', don't be surprised if your granny gear is working over time.
I cleaned up in the creek and soaked my muscles in the cold water that was flowing past. There, I met a girl named Georgia from Whitehorse. She kindly lent me her water filter, which enabled me to turn the opaque brown water into a more palettable tea colour. Mmmm, looking forward to consuming six litres of that tomorrow.
I fell asleep under the midnight sun without delay. Tomorrow was going to be a big one.
The Dempster Day 2 - July 15, 2008
Start: Fort McPherson
Finish: Eagle Plains
Distance: 181 km
Riding Time: 14.5 hours
I arrived at the Peel River ferry crossing, 11 kms from Fort McPherson, in time for the first ferry of the day (9:00am). I was the only one there and they made a special trip just for me. The crew was very friendly and seemed excited to see a cyclist. One took a picture of me with my bike and another chatted with me through the loud speaker that they use to communicate with cars. It was funny.
The road after the river was rolly, but gradually ascended. My skinny tires struggled with the loose gravel, convincing me that wider tires would be more suitable. Unfortunately, the nearest bike shop was 1,000 kms away. Not that it mattered, my bike frame wouldn't accommodate anything wider than 28mm.
...<i>At first I was afraid, I was petrified</i>...
I came upon some road construction, and was generously offered a ride to the end of the 15km construction zone by one of the workers. I declined. About 500m later, when I was pushing my bike up a steem incline into a head wind on what felt like beach sand, I sort of wished thought maybe I'd made the wrong decision. The track that I left behind me as my tires sunk into the inch or two of sand looked like soundwaves weaving in and out of each other. I pushed my bike for over an hour.
...<i>kept thinking I could never live without you by my side</i>...
One of my tricks to manage long distance rides is to say "I'll <take a break / eat / drink> in <5 kms / at the top of the hill>". My attempt to appropriately calibrate these road-riding rules of thumb to pedaling/pushing-up-a-steep-pass-on-a-gravel-road was not successful. I knew I would pay for that tomorrow.
...<i>It took all the strength I had not just to fall apart</i>...
The reward that came with the hills and wind was a notable improvement in the scenery. Notwithstanding the fact that thsese are two of a cyclists greatest challenges, the tradeoff was well worth it. After 850m of NET elevation gain and a lot of pushing my bike, I reached the NWT/Yukon border, which was at the top of Wright Pass. If I could have named it myself, I would have called it windy pass. Though I'm sure it is not cake walk to do it in the other direction, the advantage today was definitely with the northbound traveller.
...<i>I used to cry, and now I hold my head up high</i>...
The descent into the Yukon was slow on account of the loose ball-bearing-like gravel that coated the road. I recalculated my expected arrival time into Eagle Plains to take into account the slow progress moving up Wright Pass. It was now looking like a midnight arrival, rather than the 7:00pm that I'd hoped for.
...<i>Did you think I'd just crumble? Did you think I'd just down and die?</i>...
I pressed on and the quality of the road gradually improved, as did the scenery. Just as I forced the last few drops of water from my bottle, a swiss tourist named Reto rolled up behind me and asked if I needed anything. Yay! He filled both of my water bottles and I learned that he's here on a two month holiday and his girlfriend in Calgary in a few weeks. I ran across Reto a short while later, at the Arctic Circle and learned that he was heading to Eagle Plains as well. We agreed to enjoy a beer together later if I made it before closing. I celebrated my arrival at the Arctic Circle by pounding back a can of Coke that I'd been saving as some late-day-rocket-fuel. That high fructose corn syrup tastes so good when it hits your lips.
...<i>Oh no, not I. I will survive</i>...
The kitchen was closed by the time I rolled in to Eagle Plains (pop. 8, seriously!), and I had to raid my food stash for dinner, taking away the cushion I had on my food rations for the next two days. Given that there would be no services whatsoever for the next 370kms, this further invested me in a four day itinerary.
Fortunately, the lounge was still open, thanks to the time zone line I crossed at the Yukon border, enabling me to enjoy a beer in the company of my new friend, Reto. I know that beer isn't a recovery drink, but that frosty bottle sure felt nice on my tender palms.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
The Dempster Day 1 - July 14, 2008
End: Fort McPherson
Distance: 186 kilometres
Time: around 10 hours
The dogs at the mushers lodge were stirred by something and started barking at 5:00am, biving me an earlier start than I'd planned. By 5:30am I was on the road. Not knowing what the roads would be like or what kind of speed I could maintain, I welcomed the early start.
It was foggy and cool, bordering on cold. I quickly realized that I had left my gloves at home. I winced at the thought of how my hands would feel after hanging on to my handle bars for the next 736kms of gravel road.
Almost two hours passed before I saw a car. After that, they were still sparse - maybe 45 minutes between cars, on average. The loose gravel on the road had arranged itself into between 0 and 4 tracks of variable riding quality, separated by thick ridges of gravel. The light traffic meant that I could spend most of my riding time in the middle of the road, where the best tracks could generally be found. From time to time, I'd have to make room for a vehicle, which involved skidding through a ridge or two of gravel. It didn't take long to get pretty good at this.
I was banging out the kilometres so fast that I wondered if my bike computer was accurate. At one point, it occurred to me that, at this pace, I could probably ride the whole Dempster highway in four days - if the good weather held. This would enable me to carry less supplies - which would mean travelling lighter and faster. It would also mean that I might get away with camping only one night. I enjoy camping, but I was nervous about the bears. You won't find 'outdoors skills' on my resume, and I'm not convinced that badass excell skills are going to be particularly helpful in the event of a bear encounter.
The landscape was predominantly trees along the road that took me south to the Mackenzie River ferry crossing, near Tsiigehtchic (pronounced just like it looks), which is a Gwich'in community of about 190. One of the crew on the ferry offered me coffee, which was a real treat.
Pit stops were quick on account of mosquitos that were very quick to pick up my trail. Although I had brought my ipod in anticipation of having difficulty dealing with the solitude, I found that it was unnecessary. My brain generated its own meditative playlist of music, memories, musings, and observations.
...drive on, don't mean nothin'
...holy crap, was that a fox?
...my children love me but they don't understand
...flashback of listening to the fox and the hound with my sister
....and I got a woman who knows her man
...drive on, don't mean nothin', drive on
I arrived in Fort McPherson (pop. 900) earlier than I'd expected and lined up a hotel room. There's only one hotel in town and it appears that they fully understand the price elasticity of consumer demand for hotel rooms at this location on the highway - where there are no alternatives for 180 kms in either direction.
The restaurant was closed, so I rushed to the grocery store to grab some dinner and stock up for the rest of the journey down the Dempster. No more groceries for another 550kms. I treated myself to some expensive nectarines. My suspicion that this was somewhat of a luxury item in these parts was confirmed when the cashier held the bag up and asked "pears?"
I saw another rider. He wasn't particularly chatty, but I determined that he was i) from Germany, ii) moving in the same direction, and iii) taken two days to get to this piont.
Friday, July 18, 2008
the dempster (abridged)
3 times across the continental divide
through two mountain ranges
across the arctic circle
self supported on a road bike
on a gravel road
with no gloves (oops!)
unabridged version to follow.
Monday, July 14, 2008
I grabbed coffee at the local coffee shop. It opens at noon and is self serve. I thought it was a good example of how things operate here. Many of the stores are open until midnight. I think it is just part of the lifestyle here.
Walking around town, I noticed that there were shortcuts to get just about everywhere. This was made possible by the above ground sewage and water system, beside which there was typically an informal foot-beaten path. I suppose in the winter, when it gets really cold, walking an extra block to get around a property line moves from being polite to being stupid.The hotel that I'm staying at is owned by a really friendly couple, Judy and Olav. Olav is from Norway. Judy guides sledding tours and breeds dogs - beautiful, well-tempered and well-trained dogs with white fur and blue eyes. She gave me a tour of the kennel, which has 30 dogs, including 4 puppies that are six weeks old. The puppies were just learning to bark and sounded more like birds than dogs.
Olav and Judy rode the Dempster on their bicycles with their teenaged sons almost 20 years ago. They gave me some helpful tips about surviving the ride, which I will start tomorrow. Looks like the weather should be good to start. I'm nervous, but I think it will be fine. I just need to get riding already!
Sunday, July 13, 2008
tuktoyaktuk trip part 2
we boated up to tuktoyaktuk, which was about a half hour away. along the way we saw beluga whales. we also saw some pingos, which look like volcanos sort of, but are actually mounds of permafrost formed by hydrostatic pressure. they grow over time with the freezing and thawing that occurs as the seasons change.
in tuk, one of the locals gave us an outstanding tour of the town, including a visit to a local carver and a tour of the community freezer. the latter sounds like it would not be incredibly interesting, but it was the unexpected highlight. dug 30 feet below the permafrost, there is a system of storage rooms for community members to store their meat. i had never realized what permafrost looked like, but we got to see a fairly extensive cross section of the stuff as we descended down into the freezer. its basically dirty ice, not the frosty soil that i had somehow envisioned. i now have a much deeper appreciation for the challenges of building up here. the freezer has been around for about 70 years. that this place even exists is beyond belief. i am totally amazed.
on the way back we stopped at a somewhat random beach and hiked up a hill for a great view of the delta. there were wolf prints along the shore. i would have figured they were bear prints based on the size and depth. must have been one big wolf! we did some target practice. i'm not big on guns, but i am sort of intrigued now.
we arrived back in inuvik after midnight and i checked in to my hotel, which was a dog mushers lodge just out of town. i decided that i would not start my cycling trip the next morning. although this would now put me 2 days behind my initially envisioned departure time, i was looking forward to sleeping in and to checking out inuvik and the great northern arts festival the next morning.
into a different time continuum
i cut the conversation short to make sure i was not holding up the group for our 8:00pm departure, but i was quickly reminded that schedules operate a bit differently here. by 10:00pm we were finally ready to go. we stopped at the gas station to fill the boat - almost $600 worth - and headed out.
the boat is a 22foot ocean craft with a 250 horse power motor. for someone like me, that means it goes fast and can accommodate 10 people and their camping gear - if you are creative, which we were. we cruised up the mackenzie, watching the trees grow gradually shorter and sparser, until there were no more. we saw an eagle. the shores are lined with driftwood, making them very pretty. navigating the channel took some skill and attention because it is very shallow in places and unpredictable from year to year as the river pushes the sediment and logs out during breakup. we hit a few sandbars, which i'm sure wasn't pleasant for the owner of the boat, but was interesting for me.
i spent most of my time talking to a girl named teresa and her dad. teresa is from viking alberta originally, but has been working at the youth centre in inuvik for the last year. she previously has lived and worked in india, salt spring island and morley. her dad has come up here to visit. he's in to birds like my brother in law, todd. he knows all the different species and carries a book an binoculars wherever he goes. it definitely added to the tour for me because i probably wouldn't have noticed the variety of birds or the significance of some of them had it not been for the enthusiasm with which he pointed them out.
we arrived at a place called whitefish around 1:30am and set up a fire to start cooking dinner. whitefish is a small island located approximately where the mackenzie delta transitions into the beaufort sea. the family of three of the inuvaluit people on the boat has set up a whaling camp at whitefish. they have whaled in this area for almost 20 years. the camp consists of a handful of wood platform/frame structures that have a canvas cover over top. looks like there are two other families with camps in eyesight. we noticed one of the people at the other camps was up and walking around. my first reaction was that it was strange for this person to be walking around at this time, but then i realized that time takes on a new meaning when you are camping in 24 hour daylight.
up the shore from our camp was the remains of a beluga whale that had been caught. it was decomposing, but you could see that part of the head had been removed. turns out that the lady at the camp next to us monitors the whaling season and sends the jaw bone of each of the whales that is caught into the government for analysis. incidentally, each family is entitled to catch one whale and that is enough beluga meat/fat to keep them happy for a year.
i'm normally a good 4 hours into my r.e.m. by 1:30am, but i decided to make an exception. plus, with it being light out, tricking my body wasn't too difficult. the guys went hunting for the best 'gandalf stick'. we stayed up until 5:00 or 6:00am i think. i dont know, i dont wear a watch and the sun certainly wasn't helpful in ascertaining the time. the initial plan had been to head back to inuvik in the morning, but, as my head hit the pillow, i sensed that our plans might have changed a bit.
Friday, July 11, 2008
off the grid
waiting in line to check in at the airport a lady ran into my heel with her cart. it hurt and started to bleed. i am not exactly a morning person and this didn't help my mood.
flight made two stops - edmonton and norman wells - before reaching inuvik. it occurred to me that i dont think i've ever been north of edmonton. the landscape sure changes as you move north. very pretty around norman wells and up to inuvik.
arrived at the inuvik airport. tiny little thing. the only smaller airport i've been to was that one in chile that was heated by a pot belly stove. this place is pretty isolated.
to my surprise, kyle (the guy that is going to take me to tuktoyaktuk tonight) had hooked me up with a ride in to town. one of his friends was picking up another buddy there and agreed to pick me up along the way. it was a little thing, but really turned around my attitude about this trip. listening to them catch up on local drama, ultimate fighting championships and stuff like that.
i was dropped off at kyles office, which is also a tourist office, a local telephone office and a tanning salon. i put my bike together and packed my gear and tested it out as people walked in and out for their tanning sessions. even though there is 24 hours of daylight right now, this seems to be a good business. i chatted a bit with josh, a local pilot from nova scotia that moved up here in january for work. crystal joined after her lunch break. she's from las vegas. interesting mix of people here.
i walked around town and picked up some supplies. i was hit by some candy thrown by a man who dressed as a fish and was walking behind a slow moving fire truck that was blaring its siren. turns out it is oceans day and i was just in time for the parade. it looked as though the whole community got involved - decorating cars and boats and dressing up in accordance with the aquatic theme of the parade. the road was not closed for the parade, which made for a bit of mayhem as they threw candy to the kids, who then dashed out into the middle of the road to grab it.
today is also the first day of the great norther arts festival, which means there are a lot of native artists in town and there should be an opportunity to see some cool stuff once the festivities kick off.
tonight we boat to tuktoyaktuk in kyle's new boat. it just arrived yesterday. i'll be the first 'customer' to go on a boat tour with him as he's just starting up the business, but there seems to be a larger group that is going as well. we'll camp at the beach up there. i'll see how it goes, but this is the sort of thing that you cant pay for - a chance to hang out with locals on the shore of the arctic ocean.
i do not have cell phone or email access up here. i'm using kyle's computer. not sure when i will be in touch again, but will post as soon as i have internet access again.
Friday, July 4, 2008
How to Have a Successful Career in Your Spare Time: Lesson 6
As an added bonus, this little trick helps me consistently get to work on time - nothing can stand in beteen Tori and her next meal.