Aconcagua

Aconcagua is a mountain that has had an important place in my imagination since I was a teen, perhaps as a result of reading Alive, the story of survival in the Andes, in a high school English class.  When I first started dreaming this trip three years ago, I contemplated riding to Aconcagua up as high as the mules go and then climbing to the top.  As I checked further, the prices would put that plan out of reach.  The climbing permit itself is about $1,000, even more if you don’t hire a guide.  Estimates put the total cost of the climb at $5,000.  And although it is not a very technical climb, the conditions on the mountain would be difficult for someone with little climbing experience and even less high altitude experience.  After ruling out a climb of Aconcagua, I looked at other mountains in the Andes.  However, I did still want to cycle as close to Aconcagua as I could.

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My first view of Aconcagua, 200-250 km away.  I would not see it again until I was much closer.

I was eager to finally leave Mendoza.  I had intended to leave a couple of days earlier, but stomach issues had kept me there.  The day started out nice.  The city seemed to go on forever along the road.  Once outside of the city it was vineyards everywhere.

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I was headed up to the reservoir that made all the vineyards possible.  By about 2:00 the grades were more serious and by 3:00 my stomach was doing somersaults.  I was not over whatever I had.  I was drinking water by the liter but was unable to quench my thirst.  At one point someone pulled over to offer me a drink.  I drank a liter of juice but to no affect.  I was so happy to arrive at the reservoir and Potrerillos and find the campground.  An hour later I was feeling much better.

The reservoir was quite low, drained to water all those grapes below.  I was told that it would be full again by the end of February when the grapes would be harvested.

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The next day contrasted greatly.  I was definitely in the mountains now.  As I climbed higher I had to stop around every corner and take pictures.  It was to me an otherworldly landscape.  I had never seen mountains like this before.

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An abandoned railway line ran alongside the road and at times on the other side of the Mendoza river.

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All along the line were abandoned railway buildings.

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After a terrible day of riding I had one of the best days of the trip so far.  I was feeling great and treated to spectacular views.  I was reaching elevations where the heat of the day did not kick you in the gut and the nights were cool.  I rolled into Uspallata, found the tourist info booth, and discovered they had free wifi so I hunkered down there for a while.  Later I found a hotel.

The next day I rolled out Uspallata wondering when and if I would see Aconcagua again. Just as I left town a goat herder was moving his flock alongside the road.  In this dry landscape the only herd animals I had seen were goats.  I was still hoping to see llamas.

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The three goat herding dogs forgot about their duties for a couple of minutes and came to pay me a visit.

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Mendoza River

Mendoza River

The further along I cycled, the more the Mendoza River valley narrowed, the water ran faster, and the grades steepened.  The day before had been marked by a constant low grade climb.  This day had a lot of ups and downs, mostly ups.  Soon the road was hanging precariously on the side of the mountain.

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The first railing either fell off or was knocked off.

Old road

Old road

There was a waterfall there as well.

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I started the day with a nice tail breeze.  But by 35 km in the wind turned around and increased in strength. The next 20 km took 4 hours.  I was exhausted in Punta de Vacas looking for a place to stay.  The was a strange but interesting park for contemplation and meditation.  They rented out cabins for a very reasonable price, but only to people who were there to meditate and contemplate, not to “tourists”.  So I was out of luck.  I met some really great people there who tried to get me in, but the admin would not have it. There was really no place to set up my tent nearby, especially with the winds gusting at 80 or 90 km/h. They told me there was a hostel up the road only five km.  I usually take those estimates with a grain of salt.  I hung out with them for a couple hours hoping that some other solution would materialize.  It didn’t.  By then it was getting dark and one guy offered to drive my gear up while I rode.  So I did that.  The wind was still extremely strong but I did not have all the weight to drag up the hill, and it was indeed only 5 km. I said goodbye to my new friends and that night I stayed at the Mundo Perdido Hostel.  It was housed in abandoned railway buildings.  And the people who ran it were great.

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I still had not seen Aconcagua again and I was starting to get worried that I wouldn’t.  I did not have far to go to get to the park and was assured I could see it from there.  On the way up I passed some of the mules used to ferry supplies up Aconcagua.

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I made my way up to Puente del Inca, one of the most southerly outposts in the Inca empire.  They took advantage of the sulfer hotsprings there.

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It was only another 3 km to the entrance to Aconcagua Provincial park, but a steep climb into headwinds.  There were a couple of people hiking up the road and it took me almost all the way to the park to catch them.   When I got to the park I was told no bikes were allowed and that I would have to leave it with them and continue on foot.  I protested but to no avail.  My original plan had been to ride up as far as I could go.  Instead I hiked up for an hour.  I got lucky in terms of the weather as it was a completely clear day.  Often Aconcagua is covered in clouds.

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Spring fed pond in front of Aconcagua.

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I was told that that glacier hanging on the ledge there is 300 meters thick.

Mules waiting to carry supplies up to the various camps on Aconcagua.

Mules waiting to carry supplies up to the various camps on Aconcagua.

Much like the mules, the rescue helicopter has to wear a head cover when not in service.

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My bike is equipped to ride high into the mountains.  When the grades get too steep, I can ditch the bike and hike with the backpack, but that would have to wait till I am on a mountain with few people.

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I rode back down to a ski resort and had lunch.

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I checked out a hotel there, but the guy in charged seemed like an ass, so I continued on down the road back to the Mundo Perdido Hostel.

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The next day I got up expecting an easy ride back into Uspallata (62 km downhill).  I discovered that headwinds can overpower gravity.  I was happy to get into Uspallata again.

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Hills

When this trip was in the planning stages I poured over satellite and elevation maps.  One of the spots that intrigued me was what looked like an old volcano in the middle of nowhere.  I was finally at this old volcano that looked out of place on the elevation maps. image image The riding that day was quite variegated.  It started with a climb up to the volcano.  I had originally intended to go south around the volcano but changed my mind and went north.  As a result I missed a turn and added on likely 30 km.  On the other side of the volcano I was flying along at 35 km/hr with with a strong tailwind, and all of a sudden the wind does a 180 and it takes me an hour to go the next 7 km (uphill) to El Morro.  I sought cover as a thunder storm went through. A hour later I was back on the road.  Turning right at San Jose de Morro put the wind at my back again, going downhill with another thunder storm chasing me.  I could outrun it if I did not stop.  For the next 30km I could feel the first drops on my back.  Another 10 km I was at Saladillo.  For 40 km I had I had not seen a single car until 500 meters before Saladillo.  A car pulled up beside me and the woman in the passenger seat was holding one of my cycling gloves out the window. They had seen it fall off my bike 200 meters back and picked it up.  I was reminded of the improbability generator In the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy.  They also offered me cold water. When I got to Saladillo, had a decision to make.  I had already travelled over 120 km and it was later afternoon.  I rode through town and found that it offered free camping in the center.  However, I was feeling good and there was a strong tail wind so I decided go for my first and likely last century on the ECR.  But only 5 km down the road there was a sign that read “camping cerbezas”, two of my favorite things. And this was the camp site. image So I pulled in, and was very glad I did.  I paid for my campsite and a beer, and met Lautaro and Melisa and I knew I was in the right place.

Celina, Melisa and Lautaro

Celina, Melisa and Lautaro

In 2009 a flood had washed away the campground and the town was now rebuilding it as a dam had been installed upstream. The campground had only been open for three weeks and they were doing an amazing job getting it up and running. They invited me to have Argentian asado (BBQ) with them.  Lautaro also said that if I stayed the next day he would take me hiking in the nearby hills collecting herbs for mate, which I am starting to develop a taste for.  I figured it would be a great place to ring in the New year. The next next day we went out into the hills and ate berries along the way. image For lunch I ate lizard for the first time.  It is true what they say.   But I could not really enjoy it as I could not get the idea of it out of my head.  Celina rescued a parrot that was in a bad way. image And a bird that they had rescued a month before was back to say hello. image We also saw a poisonous snake.  Not one that kills but you should expect the bite site to swell up like a grapefruit. It moved very fast. image That night I had a strange visitor in my tent.  He really did not want to leave in the morning. imageThe next day was January 1st and I was off to San Luis.  It was tough riding at first, a lot of climbing.  But by the time I hit the town of El Volcan the surroundings were absolutely beautiful. image It was in El Volcan that I first became acquainted with the Goat Head thorn, which would later cause me such frustration.  It was near the shrine above.  I rolled my bike through the weeds and when I came out the other side the tires were covered in them.  I thought that they were not long enough to puncture through but pulled them all out anyway and made my way without another thought.  The road into San Luis was downhill and beautiful.

Leaving San Luis the next day I decided to take the old road rather than the highway.  It was a little more wild than I expected, a pleasant surprise.  I woke up with a tickle in my throat and the hope that it would not develop into more.image image image image The old road ended and I was back on the highway, or more precisely on the gravel shoulder of the busy highway. Just outside a town my back tire was flat.  I patched the tube and as I was about to put my gear back on the bike, I realized the front was flat too.  I thought it a good opportunity to turn the tires around as the treads on the traffic side were worn.  I made my way into town and discovered that there was a campground.

The next morning I awoke to a flat front tire, a full blown sore throat and dulled enthusiasm for the Argentinian practice of friends sharing glasses, bottles and mate straws.  The day turned out to be one of the more difficult.  And about 30 km into the ride I noticed the rear tire was going flat.  I pulled over and the front was flat as well.  I had to put four patches on the the rear tube and I stopped counting at six holes in the front before I replaced the tube itself (Goat Heads).  I took the old highway as it reappeared, but now there were a few vehicles.  I tried to stay away from the edge of the road so as to avoid any Goat Heads.  I was intent on a hotel at the end of the day as I was covered in salt and dirt.  I found one, but when I went to look at the room I discovered it was the type of place where I would feel more dirty after a shower.

I continued to the next town 13 km down the road asked about a hotel, got directions but could not find it and was chased by every dog that I encountered along the way.  I got back on the highway and pulled into a gas station and asked about setting up my tent there.  The cashier said it was no problem.  So I settled in, had some food, used the wifi until 11:00.  When I went to set up my tent someone else came along and said I could not.  I had camped at a number of gas stations before so I found this unusual.  So I was about to get on the bike and ride the two km back to town and try to find the hotel again.  But the front tire was extremely low on air, so I was walking.  I found the hotel but it was full, so I went looking for a park.  It was Saturday night and the whole town was out on the streets.  I found a quiet park and set up my tent against a playground so that I could lock my bike up and have the tent door facing the bike.  I was just about to crawl in the tent at 1:00 am when a bunch of screaming kids came to play on the playground.  That afternoon siesta keeps people up late.  The kids left at 2:00 and I could finally sleep. image I got up and fixed the flat.  I had only 80 km to go to get to Mendoza, but decided that I would split it into two days so that I could try to do some work on the blog and have a couple of easier days.  Not  long into the ride, Aconcagua came into sight in the distance.  I was still 200-250 km away. image I was about 20 km in when I saw a sign that said there was a shop just off the highway.  I pulled off to get something cold to drink.  It was a shop run out of a house in a vineyard.  They had a table around the side of the house.  I sat in the shade and got talking to the family.  Eventually they invited me to stay the night.  I decided I would have some more Argentinian experiences rather than write about them.  And I got my longed for shower.

Walter and family

Walter and family

Vineyard

Vineyard

The next day I rode into Mendoza with one flat along the way.  My first priority in Mendoza was to find something to put in the tires to stop the flats.  The third store I saw on the way into town was called San Luis Goma (rubber).  I went in.  If it is made of rubber you can find it in this store. I found this. image

Mendoza

Mendoza

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Pampas

Some touring cyclists consider flat prairie landscapes to be boring.  Not me.  I love days in the saddle where I am in the same gear turning the same cadence all day long.  You can get lost in your thoughts.  So although the main thrust of this trip is riding in the Andes, I had been relishing the thought of crossing the Argentinian Pampas to get there.

The Pampas

The Pampas

I left Rosario on Christmas Eve and was not sure what to expect in terms of being able to get food and water, or a place to stay.  I found a hotel that was open and decided not to get up too early in case there was nothing open till later in the day.  It turned out that the gas stations opened at 7:00 so I could have got my morning coffee earlier.  I was only on the road an hour when a couple pulled over ahead of me to offer me Christmas lunch at their home 20 km up the road.  They drew me a map and a little over an hour later I was there.

Folks Who Fed Me Christmas Lunch

Folks Who Fed Me Christmas Lunch

Three hours after that I was back on the road thoroughly stuffed with great food. The next day was hot and humid.  By 3:00 I found myself lying under a tree at the side of the road wondering how I could possibly continue.  Ten minutes later I felt a cool breeze.  I looked back and a thunder storm was on its way.  Ten minutes after that the temperature had dropped ten degrees and I was trying to outpace the storm to the next town.  I made it to the next town and planned on waiting out the storm, but it went on and on, so eventually I got a hotel.

As I rode through the Pampas it seemed like every kilometer or so there was a shrine to an Argentinian folk saint (not recognized by the Catholic Church yet) named Gauchito Gil.  Legend has it that he was tired of fighting brother against brother in the Argentinian civil war so he deserted and became a Robin Hood type figure. He is said to have the power to heal the sick, so people pray to him for ill friends and relatives.  The shrines are often very different from one another, some more elaborate than others.  Many are covered in plastic bottles of water or other beverage left as an offering  I found this one to be more Interesting than the others.

Shrine to Gauchito Gil

Shrine to Gauchito Gil

December 28th turned out to be a red letter day for what I have come to know as characteristic Argentinian hospitality.  In the morning I pulled into a town and a cyclist pulled up next to me.  I asked where I could buy a large bottle of water to fill up my bottles.  He offers to show me the way.  Then when we are there, he pays for the water and the snacks I was buying.  His house is a few blocks away so he takes me there for some cold water, and I meet some of his family. image

In the afternoon I pull up to a fruit stand and the guy just gives me the fruit.  Late in the afternoon in am riding through Rio Cuarto in a neighbourhood that looks a little sketchy and I guy with his two kids on a scooter pulls up beside me.  After I answer the usual questions about where I am going and where I am from, he asks if I would like a cold drink.  I say yes.  He tells me there is a service station ahead and to wait there for him while he goes home and gets it.  He shows up at the service station with two frozen yogurts and two frozen bottles of water, which are my favorite cause it means I can have cold water for hours to come. That day turns out to be the longest in kilometres to that point (125).  I camp near a gas station that night. The next day is hot and I make it as far as Achiras and decide to pack it in. It is a nice looking town.

Unknown Gaucho at Entrance to Achiras

Unknown Gaucho at Entrance to Achiras

image That night I was glad to be In a hotel as there was a fairly severe thunderstorm which knocked out all the power.  Upon reaching Achiras I was out of the Pampas and into the hills.  Although there are a number of similarities between the Argentinian Pampas as Canadian prairies (they are both dead flat), there are some important differences.  Instead of chasing gophers off the shoulders of roads, you chase iguanas.  And the iguanas are huge and super fast.  There are also a lot of herds of horses which result in a equine olfactory delight.

On My Own

The day after I said farewell to my mom at the airport, I once again headed north out of Buenos Aires.  I was expecting to be able to put in some big kilometre days.  I soon disabused myself of that notion when my ambition came face to face with heat and fat tires. At the end of the second day when I was looking for a place to stay, I spotted a sign for a hotel.  The sign showed 5 different room rates from Regular at 125 pesos to Presidential at 350 pesos (10 to 29 USD).  Those looked like good prices so I went further on.  I found out later that it was a drive thru and I was supposed to talk in an intercom.  Eventually I found myself in the laundry building for the hotel.  I thought it odd that a small hotel would have such extensive laundry facilities.  There I found someone and he explained that people did not stay overnight in the hotel but that it was an hourly hotel.  I told him I understood but he insisted on miming what people did in the hotel. I found another hotel that did have rooms you could stay in overnight.  The next morning I woke to a severe thunderstorm and strong winds so I spent the day in the hotel.  But the following morning was cool and cloudy.  I only got 200 meters when I got hit in the leg by a rock from a car.  At first I was not sure if it was thrown or came off the wheel.  But after thinking about it for a while I concluded that it must have come off the wheel based on where it hit my leg. image It also hit the iPod in my pocket and now I can’t turn it on or off.  So I make sure I use it everyday so it does not shut itself off. At this point the service road beside the freeway ended so I was forced to ride on the shoulder of the freeway, which was fine other than…. image That at night I camped at the back of a gas station and had a great view of the sunset from my tent door. image The next day I rode to Rosario and got my first flat of the trip. image The main reason I had decided to go to Rosario was because I had an invitation from a fellow cycle-tourist who I knew from Facebook.  The instant I met him at the gas station where we agreed to meet, I liked him.  Marcelo and his girlfriend Patricia had been running all over town getting ready to become cycle-nomads.  They had sold all their possessions that did not fit in their panniers and were to leave four days after my arrival.  They have no plans to ever return to Rosario and are going to ride all over the Americas. image I accepted their invitation to stay a day and we rode all over town finding last minute items for their trip.

Cycling to the Sky

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I have let this blog get too far behind and now am trying to play catch up.  I am currently crossing Argentina on my bike, a Surly ECR gravel touring bike.  I am planning to ride my bike to high elevations in the Andes, hence Cycling to the Sky.  First up, once I cross the country, is Aconcagua.

Packing for the trip was,  as usual, a mad rush and I did not get to say a proper goodbye to everyone. I was up late the night before putting everything together.

Replacement Parts and Tools

Replacement Parts and Tools

Camping Gear

Camping Gear

 

My flight would take me through Toronto, where I met up with my mom, and we continued on together to Buenos Aires.  First we spent a number of days exploring the city.

Park in Buenos Aires

Park in Buenos Aires

After five days days we got on our bikes and headed north.  We had originally planned to go south but heard that the neighbourhoods to the south were rough.  Riding for most of the day we were still not out of the city.

the sprawling city of Buenos Aires

the sprawling city of Buenos Aires

When we found ourselves in Tigre we decided that it was a great place to stop.  Its name came from all the jaguars that were in the area when Europeans first came (they mistook them for tigers).

Tigre

Tigre

The next day we finally made our way out of the city and got to see some countryside.  And in a few days we were in a beautiful old Gaucho town called San Antonio de Areco.

Hotel in San Antonio de Areco

Hotel in San Antonio de Areco

The next day we headed back towards BA, it was hot, we had headwinds, and the traffic was terrible on a road with no shoulders.  After 8 km mom wanted to try our luck at hitch-biking.  I was skeptical and thought it would be better to slowly make our way along than stand with our thumbs out at the side of the road all day.  But we decided to give it a try.  We waited for vehicles that would be big enough to fit the bikes.  The first was a van and the guy pulled over to apologize that back of the van was full and therefore he had no room for our bikes.  The second was a mini van and it pulled over and we loaded it up.  They were going 35 kilometres ahead to do some Christmas shopping.  When they found out that we were trying to get to Buenos Aires they chose a mall 20 further than they had planned.  They also refused to accept any money for the tolls past where they had planned to go.  It was the first taste of the Argentinian hospitality I have come to know well since.  That day we rode the rest of the way to Buenos Aires.  And the next few days did some more walking around the city.

Recoleta Cemetary

Recoleta Cemetary

 

 

Door to a Crypt in Recoletta Cemetary

Door to a Crypt in Recoletta Cemetary

On December 17th I took mom to the airport and she was off, reluctantly, back to winter in Canada.

 

Jake’s

The White Pass had been weighing heavy on my mind ever since I decided to take ferries to Skagway. The day I decided to leave Skagway there were headwinds gusting to 60 km/h. So when Nick offered to drive me up to the top of the pass, I said yes. I ended my trip last year at Jake’s corner, 80 km short of Whitehorse and that is where my trip needed to begin anew. I was not against taking rides to get there.

Nick and Buddy. My ride up to the top of the White Pass.

Nick and Buddy. My ride up to the top of the White Pass.

The scenery on the way up to the pass was spectacular.

The Sawtooths

The Sawtooths

The sun was shining bright and the pass had an otherworldly feel to it, completely white, its name apropos.

P1010488 Despite the extremely strong winds on the way up (I got out a couple of times to take pictures and was nearly blown away), at the pass and beyond it was dead calm and the temperature was a relatively mild -20. I looked forward to a nice downhill ride into Carcross (short for Caribou Crossing I later learned).

P1010534 At the border they were a little surprised to see me coming over the horizon. The Canada Customs officer said that until a week before she had never seen a cyclist come through in the winter, and now she had seen two. A week earlier a Japanese cyclist had been through on his way to Whitehorse.

While I was riding down from the pass someone had driven up from Whitehorse to take advantage of the beautiful sunshine to get some pictures. Unbeknownst to me at the time, he also managed to shoot a couple of me cycling down from the pass. All the great pictures he shot that day can be found at Explore North.

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Coming down from the White Pass

Coming down from the White Pass

The downhill parts of the ride turned out to be pleasant, but the flats and uphill bits proved hard to turn the cranks. As the sun ever so slowly descended towards the horizon (it was barely above it to begin with), the tops of the mountains were illuminated in fuchsia.

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And the moon rose.

Sunset moon rise

Sunset moon rise

Descending from the pass that old weather phenomenon, temperature inversion, where the temps are higher at higher elevations on a mountain was alive and well: the further I got down the hill the the colder it became. I got a little frost nip on my back as the layers would part when I leaned over on the bike and a wee little raw purple spot on my nose. Neither were serious but both were a concern. I needed to figure out a way to cover my back. There was also one point that I thought that the cold radiating through the seat might have caused a little frost nip on my nether regions (fortunately it did not).

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When the sun had pretty well set and I was about halfway to Carcross, someone pulled over to ask if I needed anything and if I needed a ride. We quickly got the gear off the dummy and into the truck and tied the Dummy to the roof. The Dummy was relegated to the roof twice in one day. By the time we got to Carcross it was -37 and I was shivering. I called my host, Laura, from a gas station and was soon warming up in the shower. That night I had a feisty little sleeping companion.

Grizzly the attack kitten

Grizzly the attack kitten

The next day I added a sweater to the layering and I tied a shirt around my waist to hang down under my pants. It served the purpose of covering my back and added a couple of layers between me and my seat. I put on a second pair of underwear as well and I exchanged my neck warmer for a full balaclava. I got a late start and resolved to hitch-bike to Jake’s corner. I was about 8 km down the road when Shane pulled over to offer a ride. I had told the gas station attendant in Carcross that I was looked for a ride to Jake’s and Shane answered the call.

Shane

Shane

Shane spent the entire time telling me how I was going to die on the Dempster Highway. He definitely had me scared by the time we reached Jake’s. The taxidermied polar bear with the big teeth in the restaurant did nothing to allay my fears. Standing right beneath it, the top of my head was well below its shoulders.

Polar bear I had finally reached my ending point from last winter’s ride. I tried to dry my things on the radiator while I had my second dinner there (the food is quite good). I noticed that they had taken down the racist joke about immigrants from the bulletin board. Things were looking up. Once I had eaten and dried off a little, I made my way to John and Susan’s at Marsh Lake, who I had stayed with last winter.

It was -37 into a head wind and the crank was extremely hard to turn. Despite the the temperature, I was overdressed and sweating profusely, but I only had 23 km to get to the Judas Creek subdivision. I kept thinking that I would be appropriate to be listening to Judas Priest on the iPod, but alas I did not have any.

P1010583 That night I had a good conversation with Susan and a friend she had over. I meet so many interesting and generous people cycling in the winter.

The next morning I set out with only 70 km to get to Whitehorse and a warm bed, but overnight the north breeze had turned into a strong north wind, a head wind. I took one sweater out of my layering and set out. Before I even got back to the highway, one of the brackets holding the front rack broke on the corrugated road. I took off the pannier on that side and strapped it to the back and continued on.

Front rack bracket

Front rack bracket

The temperature was again in the -30’s and with the wind chill said to be the equivalent of -43. I wondered what my speed, especially on the down hill parts, would add to the wind chill rating. The riding was extremely frustrating as I was making very little progress while working hard. My bike computer does not work in those temps so I had little idea how far I was actually getting. I constantly overestimated the distance, and every road sign with the distance to Whitehorse was a major disappointment. I think that I yelled at every sign that I passed, calling it a bloody liar.

On the upside, Murray Lundberg, the guy who had taken pictures of me near the White Pass two days earlier came out to take some more pictures. When travelling alone it is hard to get pictures of me on the bike and to have a professional photographer take some is a real treat.

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380669_10151345937205605_1016456982_n Someone else stopped to offer assistance and I got some water and talked to him for a few minutes.

My frustration with my lack of progress boiled over and I pushed harder trying to make up distance. But that meant that I was wet from sweat. At one point my shirt froze to my belly. Every stop to grab a drink or bite to eat would quickly result in shivers, even if less than a few minutes. The net result is that I do not stop until the hunger and thirst seriously hamper my progress, and I can no longer stand it. It is a bit of a vicious circle. I have resolved to be patient and try to slow down no matter the conditions, to take my time, even if it results in extremely slow progress. I also need to wear less clothing, essentially so that I am cold all the time on the bike and don’t sweat as much. It is a disheartening thought.

As I got closer to Whitehorse I was also getting a few leg cramps so would often jump off the bike to do a bit of stretching and then jump back on or walk the bike for a while. I wondered if the cramps were somehow the result of being a little dehydrated.

I had heard that there was a gas station and restaurant a ways out of Whitehorse, so when I saw the lights where Highway 2 meets the Alaska highway I expected somewhere to stop, eat and warm up. What better place to put a gas station than the intersection of two major highways? As I got closer I realized the lights were for a semi-enclosed kiosk with post boxes inside. I needed to stop and eat something even though I dreaded the shivers. I did pull in and someone from a house nearby had seen me and came out to ask if I wanted to warm up. Thank god. I went in, ate some of my own food, some of theirs and drank lots of their tea. They had a pug dog that had just given birth a few days prior.

Three-day-old Pug puppies.

Three-day-old Pug puppies.

I stayed way too long, partially hoping the wind would die down as darkness set in and partially because I just did not want to get back out there and continue my struggle against the wind. Eventually, I forced myself to go back out and found that if anything the wind had picked up, but was heartened by the fact that I was fully fed, watered and somewhat dry.

About 2 km down the road a guy with what I mistook for a South African accent pulled over to talk. He said that he had a house a kilometer down the road and asked if I wanted to stay there for the night. Without any hesitation, I said yes. I was only 16 km from Whitehorse but I had had enough. He slowly, very slowly drove down the highway while I followed behind until we reached his house.

He and his wife were actually from New Zealand but moved to Canada over 30 years previous so maybe I can be forgiven for mistaking the accent for South African. I never told him I first thought he was South African. We talked and laughed late into the night and they turned out to be really fantastic people.

The next day there was still a head wind but it was significantly less than the day before. With only 16 km to Whitehorse and fresh legs, the ride was fairly pleasant. I rode straight to the bike store (Icycle Sport) as the Dummy was in serious need of some attention. All that water from the ride up Vancouver Island (it rained every day) did some damage that did not become apparent until the extreme cold. I had had to take apart the derailleur in Skagway to get the pulley wheels unseized.

I can’t think of anywhere better, maybe in the entire world, to get advice on extreme winter cycling than at Icycle. They have the extreme winter temps, and Whitehorse is the type of community where all sorts of people ride in those extreme conditions. There are also a number of snow bike races. People race fat tire bikes on trails where they normally hold dog sled races. Jonah, the manager at Icycle, did a lot of work on the bike and charged only for basic maintenance. The main thing that needed work was the bottom bracket. When he took it out it was clear that water had gotten into it. Likely the culprit behind the slow turning cranks.

Water in Bottom Bracket

Water in Bottom Bracket

He replaced the BB and used winter synthetic motor oil (0 W40) instead of grease. When I rode the bike to my hosts, Karl and Holly’s, the next day the cranks turned so much easier in the cold temps. By reducing the effort required to turn the cranks, I hoped that this would go some way towards decreasing my sweating on the bike. I also replaced the chain with one that I had with me, or 1 1/2 to be precise.

The first night I was in town, Holly and Karl took me out cross country skiing with some of their friends. Fortunately, Karl has the same size feet as I do and had extra boots and skis.

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Whitehorse is such an active community. Most people I met had been on long bicycle tours in different parts of the world. Lots of others have done long traverses of nearby glaciers. I was just excited to see a glacier on this trip. Karl and Holly were in the throes (maps covering the floor) of planning a 12 day traverse of the Juneau glacier for early April. During the Christmas break they were off to Juneau to do some reconnaissance on the route off the glacier. What might be considered exceptional in other places is pretty common place around here.

I procrastinated as long as I could in Whitehorse hoping for the forecasted better weather that kept getting pushed further and further out. It has been one of the coldest winters in a long time in the Yukon. While I was in Whitehorse, some of the places I would be travelling through in the near future were reaching temperatures that gave them the distinction as the coldest places on the planet at those moments. The temperature in Dawson City, for example, reached a bone chilling -49 while I was in Whitehorse, and stayed that way for a few days. Brrr.

In fact, my route north takes me through the coldest part of Canada in winter. The all time record lows in Canada are in this area. Anywhere north and/or east of there may have lower average temperatures but does not have the extreme cold temps. It has something to do with the river valleys in the mountains and trapping the cold. Paradoxically, the same areas have the extreme high northern temperatures in the summer, except they are not as extreme. Needless to say, I was praying the weather would break.

Alaska

Boarding the ferry in Port Hardy marked the end of phase one of my journey.  Three ferries were to take me the bulk of the distance north to pick up where my trip left off last year.

Northern Expedition

Northern Expedition

The Northern Expedition ranks as the finest ferry that I have been on, more luxury hotel than ship. I wondered if it was commissioned to replace the ill-fated Queen of the North, which lies at the bottom of the Inside Passage, the victim of a late night tryst between the two people who were tasked with navigation, or at least that is the speculation (the two did not cooperate with the investigation and had been lovers in the past).

As we moved along the Grenville Channel, the narrowest section of the Inside Passage, we collected more and more seagulls, along with a smattering of other birds. So narrow is the Channel that you feel like you can reach out the window and touch the branches of the trees on the steep bank.  It seemed like the gulls were guiding us through the fog at the narrowest and most precarious section of the Passage. Perhaps their motivations were more selfish, hoping for a free meal off the side of the boat, unable to tell the difference between ferries and fishing vessels.  In any case, it was a real treat to watch the seagull ballet through the window of the ship, against the mirror-like, placid waters of the passage.  Once the passage widened again, having safely guided us through, the gulls relieved themselves of their duties, convincing me that their motives were indeed altruistic.

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In the end, 23 hours on the ferry just did not seem enough.  That would be remedied on the next voyage from Prince Rupert to Juneau, a milk run stopping at every town along the way, backtracking to do so.  The trip was to take 48 hours to go roughly the same distance. The Taku felt more like a ship than a luxury hotel.    The first part of the voyage was exposed to the ocean, high winds and some very rough seas.  Having never been out on the ocean itself away from the protection of inlets and islands, I was quite surprised how the swells were able to throw such a large vessel around. The seas were such that the boat had to travel in a zigzag pattern, perpendicular to the waves.  Every zig and zag made the ship heave from side to side, and me wring my hands over what might be happening to the Dummy on the vehicle deck below.

Beehive Island

Beehive Island

We had a three hour stop in Sitka, which was the Russian Capital of Alaska before it was sold to the US and it retains some of its Russian flavour.  One guy I met from there on the ferry described it as having 8,000 people, 16,000 cars and a total of 14 miles of road and the only way out with your car is by ferry.

We pulled into Juneau at shortly after 2 am and I had nowhere to go until breakfast at my hosts.  Fortunately the ferry had a 4 hour layover before it headed on.  So I just went back to sleep.  I woke up an hour before the ferry was set to depart again, went down to collect my bike in the utility area, and was happy to discover that it was still standing and looked like it had remained so for the entire journey.  I loaded up the bike and slowly made my way into town (the ferry docks a good 15 km from Juneau).

I pulled into my hosts’ drive way and was soon enjoying a delicious breakfast.  When I had originally planned this trip travelling on ferries to Skagway, I had hoped to perhaps see glaciers that flowed to the ocean, like I had seen in pictures of Alaska.  When I got on the boat and looked at the maps, there were indeed glaciers flowing into the ocean in the area, but we would not be passing any on our voyage.  So when they suggested a hike to the Mendenhall Glacier, I jumped at the opportunity.

Mendenhall Glacier, flowing out at a speed of approximately 1 meter per day, yet continually retreating back into the mountains.

Mendenhall Glacier, flowing out at a speed of approximately 1 meter per day, yet continually retreating back into the mountains.

When the Discovery Center was built in 1958 the glacier was a stone’s throw away.  Now it is a couple of kilometers.  I hiked as close as I could get to the glacier without crossing the frozen lake.  As much as I wanted to get a closer look, I was not willing to take a chance on the lake ice, especially given that a large piece of ice could come off the glacier at any time, causing a potentially ice breaking wave to cross the lake.

The next morning I was up at 4:00 to catch yet another ferry to Skagway.  After a short stopover in Haines we pulled into Skagway shortly after 1:00.  Skagway is a neat little town that survives the year from the tourist trade in the summer.  It sees over a million visitors in the summer, the vast majority on cruise ships. It has approximately 300 permanent residents.  I like touristy places in the off season.

The entire facade of this building is covered in small sticks.

The entire facade of this building is covered in small sticks.

Every spring they use this to clear the snow off the tracks up to the White Pass.  The town is told when it is happening and invited to go watch.

Every spring they use this to clear the snow off the tracks up to the White Pass. The town is told when it is happening and invited to go watch.

After meandering through town checking out the sights, I made my way to my host’s place. Initially I had planned to leave the next morning.  But that night a large dump of snow meant the White Pass would be virtually impassable by bike and prone to avalanches (the promise of the Yuletide Ball that evening also made the decision to stay easier). Nick proved to be an amazing host, touring me around the town and surrounding area and giving me all sorts of information.

Nick at home at home. The "Vortex" as Micelle aptly called it.

Nick at home, at home. The “Vortex” as Michelle aptly called it.

Skagway from above

Skagway from above

The end of North America's longest fjord

The end of North America’s longest fjord

After the Yuletide Ball and then a stop at the Station bar, Sunday was a write off.  The next morning I went to leave and a number of things were seized on the bike (all the water and perhaps salt and then low temps).  So makeshift repairs were in order.

Both pulley wheels from the rear derailleur were seized.

Both pulley wheels from the rear derailleur were seized.

I finally got out of Alaska on Tuesday morning.