Given its solitary nature, this trip is as much an internal journey within my head as it is physical challenge for my body. Long days alone on the bike provide ample opportunity for introspection. However, a subplot of the story of my trip is to witness a slice of life in the north, meeting people with lives very different from my own. And during this leg of the trip I felt I had reached the north. It hit me particularly when an eight-year-old girl pulled up to a gas station I was stopped at in Pink Mountain, on a snowmobile with her five-year-old brother on the back. She has been driving snowmobiles since she was four.
This part of the world is rich with oil and gas and jobs and money are plentiful. I met a rig worker named John who recently got out of prison and says that he managed to get this job only because he is willing to work over Christmas. He is planning on saving the money from the job to check himself into rehab. Dustin is a first nations youth who is set to turn 20 in a few weeks and on his reserve that means he will receive a $100,000 payout for oil and gas royalties. When I asked him what he planned to do with the money, he answered: “give it to my girlfriend.”
It is also interesting to see the reaction of people to my trip, both good and bad. The overwhelming majority of the reaction has been positive and generous. From people opening up their homes to me, to people stopping on the highway to ask if there is anything I need. (I almost always need something to drink). One of the more interesting gifts I received I found as I reached the top of a hill. I saw two small silver packages at the side of the road standing up in the snow. As I approached I wondered how they ended up there, standing up. I was not sure if they were full or empty. It was not till I had passed them that I realized someone must have left them for me. Thanks anonymous GU donor.
The negative reactions to my presence on the road are most normally seen when vehicles intentionally do not leave much room between themselves and me when there is no oncoming traffic. But at the restaurant at Mile 53, where I was having a hot chocolate I overheard a table of young men talking about me. The word “jackass” was used.
Looking at the maps before leaving Fort St. John, I was unsure what the road ahead might bring. But I was glad to see that they have made improvements to the highway since the picture below was taken.
I knew the gaps between towns and stores would get larger and larger. I prepared myself for days on the bike and in the tent. But lo-and-behold fifty or so kilometers on my way I came upon a nice restaurant with a fire and wifi access. It was too tempting and I stopped to warm up. The battle for kilometers started. Warm fires and food pose a particular challenge to my progress.
I found a nice spot and camped near Pink mountain. When I was setting up camp I noticed some wolf prints in the snow. Interesting but not worrisome.
On day three the winds were fierce. They started at 60km/hr and worked their way up to 90km/hr. I was constantly battling the gusts which pushed me off the road and into the ditch a few times.
I was quite happy when I came across a work camp in Buckinghorse River. I jokingly asked about rates for people biking to the Arctic and got an offer I couldn’t refuse. The folks at the camp went above and beyond. It was a great antidote to a day that had me pretty demoralized.
The next day I planned to get most of the way to Fort Nelson. It was Christmas eve. The weather cooperated and it was a beautiful, dry and completely wind free. After about 120kms I decided I was feeling good enough to make it all the way. I arrived in Fort Nelson to my host Richy and his two basset hounds around 10:30.
Richy invited me along for Christmas dinner with friends (the Vandersteens). I had a great time with great people and great food. I also got to touch base with Michelle and my family later in the evening.
The winter solstice arrived during this leg – which usually means the days will be getting longer. But as I continue Northward I should outpace the increasing daylight. I have enjoyed biking at night; it is quiet and the moonlight has its own particular feel to it. But I have to admit, the novelty of riding in the dark is starting to wear off. I realize I prefer to see the end of the hill ahead and not just 50 feet in front of me.
I’ve had a chance to rest once again and now will head northwest to Watson Lake and Whitehorse. I suspect the gaps will be longer on this route but I’ll be keeping my eyes open for nice camping spots and camps where ever possible. I am particularly looking forward to Liard Hot Springs.