I said my goodbyes in Fort Nelson after a few days with some great people.
The weather had taken a turn for the colder since arriving in Fort Nelson.
Thirty kilometers into the ride the road split into two. My road would would take me to Whitehorse, the other turned north toward oil and gas country. I took the road less traveled and less “looked after”: bare pavement was replaced by icy patches and I felt more alone with the much reduced traffic. I also started the slow climb to Steamboat. I was leaving the foothills behind and heading back into the Rockies. That night I found a spot to camp in the woods, which was harder than before as there was a lot more snow and the trees were closer together.
The next day I headed towards Steamboat mountain. I was sure that I was at the top four or five times before I actually was. The weather was nice, providing the opportunity to take some short breaks basking in the sun (an opportunity that has been all to rare on this trip).
When I finally reached to top, I pulled into the brake check area and asked a truck driver if he had any water that he could give me. Sure enough my thermoses were filled and I was ready to coast down from the pass. The weather (temperature) does interesting stuff in this area. Instead of getting colder as you climb, it warms up. On either side of Steamboat the temperature was -15 to -20, whereas at the top it was -5. I was told by locals that this is normal (always warmer at the top). The raising temps and the steep inclines meant I was wet when I got to the top and as a result, cold during the descent.
A couple of hours after dark I was at Tetsa River Services: a camp ground with cabins but mostly just gas in the winter. I asked the owner, Ben, about a place to stay. He immediately went and turned on the heat in a cabin, cooked me dinner (mmm ribs), then made me breakfast in the morning, and gave me one of his world famous cinnamon buns (I had heard about them a few times earlier on the road from various people). One of the many benefits of cycle touring is that you can enjoy billion calorie treats with no regrets. He would not accept any money for the above, including three root beers and a bag of chips.
The next day I was on my way up to Summit Pass, which at 1,267 meters, is the highest point on the Alaska highway. Summit is meant to be easier than than Steamboat, but with a monster headwind it wasn’t. During my many shorts breaks I headed into the bush to get out of the wind.
I was most decidedly back in the Rocky Mountains. However, they look quite different than when I emerged from them heading out of Jasper. Not sure if it is the northern latitudes or simply a lack of a medium to grow in on these mountains, but few trees grow above a certain level on the mountains here. And some have geometric lines that look suspiciously like the hands of people were involved (did the ancient Egyptians get this far north?).
The descent from Summit was nice. After the initial steep inclines it leveled out to a slow decline over many kilometers.
I spent that night at Toad River Lodge, home to a massive hat collection nailed to the ceiling. The sign reads: “hat count: 8075”.
The next day I started out with the ambitious plan that I would ring in the new year relaxing in the Liard River hot springs. Headwinds and lots of hills derailed those plans.
It was not till New Year’s day that I was in Liard. When I got there it was dark and there were only three other people at the springs: the guys from the band that played the New Year’s bash the night before. I was hesitant to get in as it would mean getting my swim trunks wet and then having to figure out how to dry them at -20. So ‘au naturel’ was the solution. I think it was as nice alternative to the traditional new years polar bear swim. The guys offered beer and the water felt divine after days of biking.
The next morning the guys from the band were back and I set up for another day in Liard before heading back on the road toward Watson Lake.