Biking Because

"Bikes are the cars of the future" – Sean O'Neill.

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Israel, the contrast.

It’s not too often that anyone crosses the Jordan/Israel land border by bike which made things a little more complicated for me, I suspected as much. Jordanian military wouldn’t let me through until the Israeli side were notified and I was given the green light. How do you ease the tension in a tense situation? In my experience having a bird shit on you while being quizzed by Israeli border security worked a charm, never thought of it as good luck until then. Israel is as you’d expect quite different than Jordan, first impressions were people were not as friendly and things cost twice as much. I crossed into a town called Eilat and had originally planned to ride up to Jerusalem but due to the delay with my bike I needed to condense the route. So I hopped on a bus (didn’t hop) and headed to Haifa in the very north. The revised plan is a shorter ride to Jerusalem from Haifa, through Palestine/West Bank.

Don’t I look happy to see the Baha’i gardens in Haifa.
Pretty sweet beaches and bike lanes in Haifa

I camped in an actual campground just outside Haifa, turns out the Israelis quite fancy a bit of camping. While scouring the area for a good spot to set up the tent I crossed paths with a pretty large black snake and a few lizards, the locals. Next morning I headed off to Jerusalem, the shortest road would take me through the West Bank, from speaking to locals I figured it was safe enough. Riding through Palestine is a pretty surreal experience, there are large fences either side of the road to protect vehicles (and me) from possibly being attacked. You hear about this region so much in the media but when you’re slap bang in the middle of it, hard to explain but personally I felt pretty safe. Every now and then there are little reminders of where you are. There are checkpoints entering and exiting but on the bike all I got was prolonged stares followed by a gesture ushering me through.

A not too subtle warning

Jerusalem is an utterly fascinating city. Where do I start, firstly here’s another solid tip, don’t do what Sean did and rock up on a Saturday, everything is closed.. everything! It’s like rural Ireland on a Sunday in the 80s. I did get to see the old city, you have to cross through towering gates to gain entry. Awaiting you on the other side is a vibrant, bustling bazaar full of mostly Palestinian vendors, not to mention some monumental religious landmarks of serious significance. With Jewish, Muslim and Christian sacred sites so close together comes an odd mix of pilgrims trudging through every corner, snapping photos of every square inch. My religious days are long since gone but it’s easy to get caught up in the history of the place.

Temple Mount at the craic of dawn
Entering Jerusalem
The western wall (wailing wall)
Damascus Gate to the Old City

Next up was the final leg of my journey, 70 or so kilometers to Tel Aviv back through Palestine. Depending on where you get your news from you may believe there’s a danger from Palestinians when if you travel through the West Bank. In my case that danger came in the form of an Israeli driver, who prematurely ended my journey by colliding with my bike and sending me flying through the air, 2 days before an airplane was scheduled to do the same thing. Lucky to walk away with a few cuts and scrapes, he transported me and my broken bike to the next Israeli town outside Palestine, one of the more awkward car rides I’ve had. Onwards and upwards to Tel Aviv.

The aftermath

I spent the next two days in bike-less. Comparing the two cities is like apples and oranges. they feel worlds apart. Jerusalem is conservative, sacred, religious and historic. Tel Aviv is vibrant, modern and liberal, full of hipsters, expensive coffee and bike lanes. All in all Israel was an intriguing experience, if I wasn’t deprived of 5 days due to the delayed arrival of my bike I would have seen more of this alluring country. I feel very privileged to have traversed this part of the world the way that I did, I’d been seduced by the history for many years and have always wanted to experience it. Thanks for reading along!

Sand, Rocks and Bedouins.

Rolling into Petra accompanied by a giddy excitement, an until now latent anticipation that this ancient wonder was going to make every piece of qualifying effort worthwhile. I’d been looking forward to this since daydreaming on the couch in Vancouver, errr Burnaby now I guess. Petra did not disappoint, it’s a wondrous and baffling spectacle. How on earth does this place exist? People spent their whole existence carving and chipping away at these rocks and would never get the reward of seeing the fruits of their collective labour. I walked, bicycle-less for the whole day. The long passageway entrance into the city through a natural split in the rock acts as a sort of drumroll prelude for the city. The sheer effort and the magnitude of effort is the most impressive thing for me. If you stop and think for a second, about the hallowed stones you are walking on it will send your mind into a tailspin, who in history has walked on this very ground, if these stones could speak. There are lots and lots of buildings carved directly from the existing rock. People lived here and some still do, where there is sand, rocks and little else. That is something you can only respect and the Jordanians are more than capable guardians of this snapshot from the past.

The way in
The monastery

Wadi Rum was the next on the hit list, as is becoming the norm I was up at 4:30 and on the road around 5am. Had a lot of ground to cover before the sun began its daily hunt for people with my set of vulnerable genetics. Heading into the desert on my bike is a daunting prospect but I had done my research and was prepared. Wadi Rum is the film location of Lawrence of Arabia and the actual backdrop to the true story. The new Dune film was also shot there. I arrived at the gateway to the desert, a small Bedouin town, caked in sand and sweat. I was promptly whisked away in an old jeep to a campsite in the middle of the desert, along the way I was shown carvings in the rocks called petroglyphs made thousands of years ago. Spent the night staring at the stars and fending off mosquitos who as it happens are also on a daily hunt for people but unlike the sun they show no discrimination. The next morning I had arranged transport to a location in the desert where the sand was a little more solid and it was possible to bike. It’s hard to explain the inner peace that a certain kind of isolation can bring you but it does happen. The local people, the bedouins who have been here since forever are the guardians of this gem, they control entry. The vast openness of desert was also something that I had been ogling and googling for months, and I was thrilled to finally experience it.

How’s it going lads
Camera timer is your plus one when you’re traveling alone
Vast open desert

The final bittersweet day I spent in Jordan was in the southernmost town of Aqaba, the ride from my camp in the desert to here was not too long. It’s hot in Aqaba, it’s one of those places where the heat feels abnormal, like permanently standing beside a really hot engine. Just walking a few hundred feet for some lunch feels like a project that needs some planning. Reflecting on my whole experience in Jordan is difficult, the journey started in a very frustrating vein and I’ve tried to not let that bear any influence on my travel through the country and meeting the people. The Jordanians have proved themselves to be an extremely kind and friendly people. It’s almost like a personal mission for them to ensure you have the best experience possible, I felt it and it was genuine.

Ali the Bedouin Jeep pilot
I’m sure the coffee was lovely if it was open!

The lowest I have ever been

It’s a Dead Sea pun people, the lowest place on Earth!

5 long days in Amman and my bike arrived, the box was beat up but the bike was mostly ok. My gear did not follow which forced me to either quit or formulate a plan B, deciding to make hay while the sun shines and plod on. After rummaging around 2 bike shops and 1 hiking store I was able to assemble some gear I could work with. Mostly thanks to Hussam at Bike Rush who rents gear but sold me some valuable pieces of equipment such as a bag for the bike, without which there is no way I could begin. Hussam gave me a ride from Amman to Umm Qais, and the beginning of god knows what!

Yes that’s me gasping for air
Bike repairs in Taibah

Riding through the ancient paths and goat herds was insanely beautiful. Being chased by shepherds dogs not so much. The riding was difficult with some extremely steep uphills that I could barely push the bike up, the mid day heat nearing 40 degrees adding to the mix. I arrived in a small town called Hofa exhausted and collecting 5, yes 5 punctures along the way. I asked a kid for some water and ended up being invited inside for dinner. First night I spent in Taibah, I met a local guy Mohammed, who directed me to a derelict property where I set up for sleep. Day 1 in the bag but definitely gave me pause for thought.

Can’t say enough about Jordanian hospitality

On through Ajloun, up and down the hills culminating in a steep ascent towards the Jordan/Palestinian West Bank border. Each turn revealing more stunning landscape as the Jordan Valley unfolds before my eyes. Straddled by brown desert and imposing mountains is farmland, date farms, banana plantations dot the landscape. It’s not a wealthy region with many migrant workers, and the kids seem to find joy almost oblivious of their situation. I rode by a Palestinian refugee camp, don’t really want to bring politics into the blog but all I’ll say is it’s pretty sad to see and I appreciate all that I have. Choked down a feed fit for a king, a local dish called Mansaf which is eaten with your hands. Set up the tent in the yard of the restaurant and dozed off in lighting speed.

Yes a Camel, biking and seeing Camels is a bit ridiculous
Rollin’ up on the Dead Sea

The heat and humidity is a cruel cocktail, makes my legs and my brain not work too well. It’s far too difficult and dangerous to ride during the day because of this, I just cannot find the air to fill my lungs even on flat terrain. Cousin Grainne is wearing a big I told you so face! The only way to keep going is to rise at 5am and be done riding at 11am. I drank 7 litres of water from Taibah to where I set up the tent in Ma’addi, that’s nuts!

Just like Janis Joplin said, Me and Abdullah Amin.
Sa’id – bit of a show off
Kerak Castle

Here’s a solid piece of advice if you ever find yourself in the Dead Sea, just float around for a bit, snag your photo and get out. Don’t get fancy and parade your less than average swimming skills because soon as your face hits that death water your lips shrivel up and your eyes sting so much you can barely keep ‘em open, I pretended I was fine as you do. No one told me, so you’re welcome! I’m resting in Al Ayes tonight after coming from Kerak where there is a monstrous Castle from the time of the Crusades. Puncture count: 6.

View from the descent to the Jordan Valley

When life gives you lemons

Touched down safely in Amman 3 days ago, however, my bike and all my gear did not. As a result I’m spinning my virtual and mental wheels floating around the city, stuck in limbo waiting for an update. The airline may have entirely lost one bag which is confusing and would be a big problem for me.

It might sound obvious but Amman is different to what I’m familiar with. At night the city comes to life decorated with bright lights, people and a horde of street cats who behave like they run the place. It’s not easy to look cute while marauding through rubbish bins but they pull it off.

Pet me, I might like it or I might kill you

I managed to catch the Champions league final in a Shisha cafe surrounded by Jordanians, neat experience. If there is a perception you might have of Jordan, suspend that until you see for yourself. The people are ridiculously friendly and love to engage in a bit of harmless banter, take note Vancouver.

Roman Ruins in the Citadel of Amman

I hadn’t figured on being in Amman for more than a day so this sets me back in my planning. It’s also been an eye opener getting out and about in the heat and humidity-less air, you can feel it sucking the water from your skin.

Jordan Flag
Amman art

It has been a couple of days checking out this city that I wouldn’t have had unless circumstance forced me, from that perspective it’s been a neat experience. Not sure what lies ahead if my equipment doesn’t show up.. it would be a major blow to have to quit before I even started, all for something I have no control over. Let’s see.

Amman view

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And now for something completely different

No doubt many of us have been in the same boat, itching to scamper off somewhere and factory reset our brains from what’s kept us in check for what felt like an eternity. Pretty soon I get the scratch that itch. I’m flying into Amman, Jordan to attempt riding a newish bike-packing trail based around the Kings Highway.

Once that’s completed I plan on crossing the border into Israel and riding up hugging the eastern border for a quick dip, err float, in the Dead Sea. From there onto Jerusalem, across to Tel Aviv then back to Vancouver 25 days later.

The new bike and set-up

I spent last wknd on Gabriola Island testing different bike gear and a new set up. It’ll be slightly different than previous trips, this time with mostly bike-packing gear given that I have some desert to cross, the unbelievable Wadi Rum refuge in southern Jordan. Plus I will be carrying far less gear than ever before because I simply don’t have the space. Got myself a very basic, lightweight tent and sleeping pad. The test run was a success and it all worked well thankfully.

Fairly basic sleep system

It’s the night before I leave, and as I finish up the last bits and bobs of preparation I’m feeling a little taste of that nervous excitement. That’s all I have time for I’m afraid, the next update will be on the trail!

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Reflections on the final push: Bittersweet beauty.

Nobody lives in the space between settlements, isolated wilderness stretching from Murghab to Karakul Lake, Tajikistan to Sary-Tash, Kyrgyzstan, the silence broken by an occasional motorbike or 4×4 along almost 250km of the most inhospitable terrain.

Kids in Murghab

There were positives, 1. the road vastly improved from just after the Kyrgyzstan border and 2. we had over 3000m in altitude to shed. At this point the wind decided to end our frayed relationship, turning it’s back on us for the remainder of the trip, canceling out those positives and blowing mightily in our face for the final five days.

Pretty rad switchbacks in Sary-Tash

Salt flats

 

Leaving Murghab knowing Ak-Baital at 4655m was coming occupied front and centre of my thoughts. But truthfully it wasn’t that bad, we stopped to camp a few hundred metres short of the pass and woke up with frozen water bottles.

Next was the final high pass taking us into Kyrgyzstan. The fiercest winds were saved for this pass. Moving at slightly less than 5km/h seemed almost pointless but progress is progress. As we descended down the other side the topography began to change. Suddenly there was grass appearing, fertile land, some wildlife finally and mountains with myriad colours.

That melancholic, bittersweet feeling. Excited to be finishing and returning to life in Vancouver but also knowing that it means experiencing this incredible beauty will also end.

Lots of Marmots

Crossed paths with two wolves

Colours of Kyrgyzstan

Stu

Kyrgyzstan scenery

 

We arrived in Osh on the final day accompanied by that special and all too rare feeling of accomplishment. Setting a goal like the Pamir highway and experiencing it coming to fruition is a feeling that’s difficult to relay in words. It’s a powerful thing to challenge and push yourself to do things you maybe thought were beyond you.

Arriving a little early we had a few days to spare, hired a driver and spent two days in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Shots from Tashkent

Shots from Tashkent

Shots from Tashkent

Shots from Tashkent

It was great the have Stu, of course we had our ups and downs which comes with living in each other’s shadow for a month. We were able to motivate each other whenever spirits were low, when I was ill he dragged me along and vice versa. Couldn’t have picked a better partner.

Thank you wherever you are for following along with us on this wonderful adventure.

The entrance to Osh – End of the Trip

 

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Impressions from the Roof of the World

Leaving Khorog we said goodbye to the Afghan border as the route took us inland. I knew the next few days were all ascent. We had two full days of climbing, taking us through some small towns. These will be the last communities we see for a while.

 

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Jelondy, Tajikistan

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Rickety Bridge, Tajikistan.

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Roadside Café, Tajikistan.

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Common to see women washing carpets on the road

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Man and his Goat, Jelondy

 

After a stay in the famous hot springs in the small village of Jelondy we tackled the first major pass of the route, 4300m, down the other side to the small isolated settlement of Alichur. Flanked by towering mountains and vast open space . Now we were truly in the Pamirs.

 

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Mountain, Tajikistan.

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Shots from the Pamir

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Shots from the Pamir

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Electricity, drinking water, fresh produce, wifi, anything refrigerated… suspend your expectations for pretty much all the comforts of home. The upper elevations of the Pamir highway is known as the ‘Roof of the World’ for good reason. With the bleak, barren loneliness is a poignantly stoic reminder of the extreme isolation that still exists around us. Chiseled mountains fill the periphery from miles and miles of uninhabited, uninterrupted broken tarmac. It is moving in multiple senses, there’s a legendary wind on this high plateau giving you a sense of vulnerability like a small sailboat on the open water.

 

Kids playing in Murghab

Scenes from Murghab

Painted house in Murghab

Older building in Murghab

The road and the ride to Murghab, the biggest town in the region, was spectacular. The road surface was better than I thought and the wind blew us along… blew and blew. Weaving around potholes and mountains we plodded on. The sun plays a trick at this altitude that can catch out the unwitting. The temperature hovers around 20 degrees, but up so high the sun is much more potent than the temperature suggests. I didn’t realize and combined with a stomach bug, ended up pretty dehydrated and on a drip at the hospital in Murghab. The joy of travel. It was nothing too serious and after a rest day we’re ready to set off and tackle the highest pass of the entire route tomorrow.

 

Got this fella to take a snap with my camera

Next Blog Post: Reflections on the final push: Bittersweet beauty











The Slog to Khorog

Reality sunk in very early as we rode the first few hours outside Dushanbe. Huddled under a lone tree barely big enough to provide enough shade and gasping for air. This was going to be challenging, the shifting terrain and heat up to 39 degrees was overpowering. Over the next days we did acclimatize a little and sat out the most punishing hours in the shade.

On the third day we crested a difficult uphill and were gifted a breathtaking view; mountains bigger than I had ever seen, the Panj river and our first sight of Afghanistan. We would ride parallel to it for the next 450 kms slowly getting closer as the river narrowed.

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First Sight Of Afghanistan

Getting a brief snapshot of the Tajik and Afghan people going about their daily lives was a privilege. The Afghans constructed their communities from an extremely isolated and harsh environment, connected by the most basic paths where the only mode of transport we saw were motorbikes, donkeys or walking.

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Motorbike, Afghanistan

The Tajik children are a breath of fresh air, every village we went through the kids seemed to appear from thin air smiling, laughing and looking for hi-fives. Some were selling fruit. Seeing the kids running from the fields shouting for us to stop and talk for a minute is so touching and heart warming. One night while setting up the tent we were invited into a family’s home for dinner and to spend the night, we sat with the family and learned about life for them. Everything we ate was grown on their land, sustainable and organic.

Warning Landmines, Tajikistan

I’m currently sitting in Khorog, over 600kms into the trip and it’s been a real eye-opener. The takeaways so far; gruelling heat, stunning scenery and kind, warm people. A few rest days are almost at an end and tomorrow we begin the steep rise into the Pamirs. It’s an exciting and daunting prospect that I can’t wait to face.

Afghan Community on the right of the River Panj

Footbridge into Afghanistan

 

Next Blog Post: Impressions from The Roof Of the World

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Planning the Pamir

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On the 19th of August 2019 the adventure begins. Via Hong Kong and Kazakhstan we arrive in unembellished, no-frills Tajikistan, the fruit of months of planning and preparation. The majestic and celebrated, the grueling and colossal, almighty Pamirs are the destination. The Pamir Highway is the second highest road in the world, encompassing high passes over 4600m (15000ft) and cutting through the Pamir mountain range. We have 25 days to finish the roughly 1400km trek.

Myself and Stu began planning for this trip about 4 months ago. He convinced me I should ride it and then I in turn convinced him to come with me, a whole pile of convincing. I was initially spooked by the idea of riding the Afghan border for such a long distance given all the negative press and fear mongering about the region. But after researching the route I came to the conclusion that it was a bit unjust and decided the take the plunge, life’s too short.

passes

Next up, restocking/upgrading my gear, now I love a good bargain which I inherited from my mother, but this is not the occasion for deals and not the time to pinch pennies. Therefore I will be declaring bankruptcy on my return to Canada, due in large part to the cost of good equipment. I will wait months for the sleeping bag I want to drop in price by $30 and conversely drop $100 in the pub on a whim, this is the multifaceted and elastic nature of being Irish.

The route planning was not that easy, the distance we can cover daily is ambiguous, the food we can eat is a mystery, the frequency of towns or villages with supplies is unknown. This route has been travelled by cyclists and is a destination for adventure tourists so there is a decent amount of information available, but there is a wide variation of what to expect from food to weather to road conditions. So we’ve had to plan for it all as best we can while riding unsupported.

The time to leave is drawing near, the excitement is beginning to creep into my brain and with the excitement comes nerves, at this point (actually for a couple of weeks) I just want to hit the road and be in it already.

I will try to keep you updated as best I can along the way, you can also sign up with the blue button on the bottom of the page and you’ll get an email when the blog is updated. There’s an expression in Ireland ‘go n-éirí an bóthar leat’ for good luck, meaning ‘may the road rise up to meet you’, well the road will definitely rise up and hopefully drop off again at some point.

Next Blog Post: The Slog To Khorog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over, for now…

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Beginning the Dalton Highway, Alaska

Being able to ride the entire Sea to Sky highway on a bicycle is a privilege, the road is nothing short of a scenic paradise. Anyone who lives in Vancouver has probably driven to Whistler, but if you haven’t continued past Whistler, on through Pemberton and up to at least Lillooet you are missing something really special. It’s a totally separate microclimate within the same relatively small region. From Cache Creek to just south of Lillooet is dry, desert-like landscape complete with cougars, rattlesnakes and very little rain. Small pockets of cultivated green pastures seem out of place and stand out literally, like an oasis in the desert.

Sea to Sky

North of Lillooet

North of Lillooet

North of Lillooet

The highway approaches Lillooet from the north, high above the town with a great view of the valley below. I camped in Seton Lake campground, just south of Lillooet. Close by is a park with breathtaking views of the lake itself. The terrain through the mountains and into Pemberton is winding steep climbs followed by huge downhills. Clocked 72km/h on one of those descents, not bad for a fully loaded steel touring bike. The road was quiet compared with the previous weeks, mostly tourist traffic. Trying to get to Vancouver before some predicted heavy rain, maybe I wasn’t as aware of my surroundings as usual but the journey from Pemberton to Vancouver was fairly uneventful. I arrived back in Vancouver accompanied by my own private internal fanfare, the best kind. I decided I should probably digest what I’ve experienced on this trip and condense it into some tangible conclusions.

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Seton Lake

Firstly from my limited exposure, doing solo travel of this nature has reminded me of one thing: that people are inherently good. I experienced enough acts of kindness to absolutely reinforce that statement. I’ll jot down a few examples. Setting up camp in Mt Shadow park, the owner offered me a cabin for nothing. A bear had been around all day and he didn’t want me sleeping outside. People I didn’t know welcomed me into their houses. Strangers I met along the road offered me meals, water, cooking fuel, beer, fruit, etc. …. I was often offered lifts, tempting as it was I never accepted. The second blatantly apparent observation is not so positive. The total distance tracked from my bike GPS was 4561Km (about 2800 miles). I witnessed more traffic and development than I’d ever imagined, the impact of human activities on almost every inch of the most remote piece of wilderness is disturbing. The scale at which mining, logging and construction is progressing in northern BC is staggering. I won’t get into a rant about pipelines, cars, pollution, etc. What I will say is that change is going to happen for better or worse. And much thanks to anyone who took the time to read this. Here are some photos…….

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Bridge over a creek, BC

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Sea to Sky Hwy, BC.

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Chilcotin sky, BC.

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The Dalton Hwy, Alaska

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Lillooet, BC

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Alaskan Hwy, Yukon

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Tetlin Refuge, Alaska

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Gas Station outside Tok, Akaska

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Cassiar Hwy, BC.

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The Christians, Everywhere.

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Cassiar Hwy, BC.

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Crystal clear lake, BC.

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The Hazelton Ranges, BC.

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Dalton Highway, Alaska

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????, ????

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Meziadin Lake, BC.

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Kluane, Yukon.

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Atigun Pass, Alaska

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Dot Lake, Alaska

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Sandhill Cranes near Anchorage, Alaska

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Coastal Mountains, BC

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Delta Junction, Alaska

The Road Well Travelled

The Yellowhead Highway or Hwy 16 is the main artery from coastal Prince Rupert to central Prince George. Known locally as the Highway of Tears for its haunting past. Over the past number of years many local, predominantly native women have disappeared while hitch hiking along the road. Its hard to put into words the eerie feeling you get, there’s a tangible cloud of tragedy or loss that hangs in the air. Its pretty striking the number of memorials and crosses dotted along the roadside.

Sign On the Road

Sign On the Road

An array of huge mountains towering to the south welcomes you onto the Yellowhead, the Rocher Déboulé Range. The largest of which is …. Brian Boru Peak. I did a double take at the map, but sure enough there it was. A mountain in central British Columbia named after the most notorious High King of Ireland and like myself a Clareman.

Brian Boru Peak

Brian Boru Peak

Its big farm country here. I’m noticing for the first time isolated farm houses and fencing around fields, not the norm up until this point. Huge logging trucks roll by, a couple every hour. Massive machinery is transported north for mining operations on the Cassiar and further north. Industry is booming and that’s very evident. On through the Hazeltons and towards Smithers where I stayed for a few days. It’s a picturesque place with a smart, rustic downtown. Really liked this little town. I stayed with a doctor who is about the leave the profession and embark on a bike adventure of his own which will last a couple of years. We connected via the bike touring equivalent of couchsurfing.com.

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Farm country

Prince George, what can I say. Industry pumps a layer of pollution which sits just above the city clearly visible from my approach. Not much in the way of cafes or bars, its a busy town where people in their spare time seem to prefer an escape to the country. Stayed with my buddy Sean, I was glad of the comforts of home for a few days. The route out of town is the Cariboo Hwy, a straight shot from Prince George to Cache Creek.

Strange cloud over the Cariboo/Chilcotin

Strange cloud over the Cariboo/Chilcotin

From here down its all about big highways and big trucks, not conducive or designed for riding a bike and the wildlife is noticeable by its absence. This stretch of the trip is one which is very much touched by the industrial arm of humans. Next is the Sea to Sky Highway where I’ll welcome narrow roads, significantly less traffic and the route to Vancouver …. nearing the end.

Alone on the Cassiar

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Entering BC

Unbeknownst to me, turning off the Alaskan and onto the Cassiar Highway would hold a future of mixed fortunes. Testing my limits and pushing me to the point of almost throwing in the towel. While I was happy to be back in BC, the weather took a terrible twist. It rained, it rained so much that I’d willingly have swapped it for the worst of the west coast of Ireland and that’s a statement worth analyzing. The wind pushed against me, the climbs became struggles. Progress sputtered and stagnated. I was constantly miserable, cold and wet. The routine was biking wet, setting up my tent wet, taking it down wet, cooking in the rain. I wasn’t covering nearly enough distance. Then Mt Doom, the pinnacle of misery, the shit-sprinkles on top of the shit-cake….my airpad burst, now I was sleeping on the floor of a cold, wet tent. You’re getting it, misery.

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Sniffing my food

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Staring me down, look closely you can see Salmon in the river

The good news is I’m still going and here’s why. Whenever I felt at my most miserable something beautiful would always reveal itself, reminding me of what I was doing and where I was, re-energizing me to keep trudging on. The first; as I struggled into a cold, hard headwind I noticed something up ahead but I couldn’t make out what. As I got closer it became clear, a Lynx and 3 cubs ambled across the road, something that is extremely rare to see. It made me smile and inspired me for the rest of the day. The second; so my airpad burst, I was camping in Kinaskan Provincial park and the weather was awful. I casually mentioned to the park operator about my airpad. She turned up 10 minutes later with a therm-a-rest airpad for me, said I could keep it and didn’t charge me for camping either…energy levels rising.

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Good Hope Lake

I woke up the next morning to clearing skies and the sun which I hadn’t seen for a week. In the next 3 days things picked up rapidly. I was riding my bike on an isolated stretch of the Cassiar and I noticed something up ahead. A black Bear, shit! I stood tall on my bike and kind of yelled at him. He looked at me, sized me up and sauntered off the road. This happened again about 5 miles later. The next day, I was on the side of the road cooking some lunch, looking around I saw a Bear coming my way. Luckily he veered into the bushes and I didn’t see him again.

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Good Hope Lake

I camped in Meziadin Provincial park for a night, beautiful setting. The next day I was leaving and noticed some people gathered by a creek about a mile down the road. Leaning my bike against the rail I took a look. Incredibly, a Grizzly was in the stream about 15ft below intensely focused on catching the spawning Salmon. He could so easily have just come up the embankment and eaten any of us I thought. He must have been reading my mind because that’s exactly what he did. He got between the people and their cars then casually strolled over to my bike of all things…I pictured him tearing my gear to shreds and having a field day on my food stash. Not today, he turned around and went back to fishing.

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Black Bear on the road

I’m in a place called Kitwanga now and as the Cassiar comes to an end I’ve had time to think, it was an experience I’ll remember for some time. Next up is the Yellowhead, the Highway Of Tears.

Meet the Alaskan Highway

Taking me from Fairbanks to Whitehorse, the Alaska highway is steeped in history. It fed the area with hordes of people desperate to strike it rich during and after the gold rush. The landscape along the highway is varied, it moves between dry almost desert to huge treed mountains to enormous bare mountains. The Tanana river valley has some stark viewing, thousands of half dying trees line the muddy flats of this basin. I believe something in the soil leaves the trees this way.

greyish, limbless trees of Tanana Valley

grey limbless trees in Tanana Valley

Crossing from the US into Canada at Beaver Creek I felt more at ease somehow. Maybe I won’t see a man casually stroll into a grocery store with a gun and holster hanging off his hip (3 bears grocery, Tok) or maybe its comfort in the knowledge that if anything happens to me, I’m covered! The two biggest changes on entering Canada, no cell phone reception and back to gravel roads. Kluane national park in the Yukon is simply riveting, with more stunning scenery than I had realized. I was in awe passing through Kluane with my mouth agape most of the time. Bugs..I swallowed lots.

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Kluane National Park

Being on a bike you notice the wind, up here it seems to change direction multiple times every day. I suspect all the massive mountains have a huge impact on wind patterns.The route is mostly flat with some minor climbing, but after the Dalton I’m very much ready. Kluane seems little known with not much in the way of facilities. The St Elias range is breathtaking, lake Kluane and its eye grabbing backdrop is no runner up.

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Mt Logan is Canada’s biggest

As for wildlife on the Alaska highway, I’ve seen some. One campground I was to stay at outside Destruction Bay was closed to tent camping because of aggressive bears in the area. A mother grizzly bear with a cub crossed the road in front of me, I’ve seen Moose, some turned and ran others stared me down. Also beavers, sandhill cranes, eagles, ospreys, trumpeter swans and ground squirrels. When you are up close with a large wild animal pretty much the last thing on your mind is getting a photo.

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Moose cow and calf

For now I’m going to rest up in Whitehorse and in a few days I should be back in BC on the Cassiar highway.

The Arctic and Me

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    (Warning : this is going to sound melodramatic but I’m sensitive so shut up)

     One of the most grueling journeys I have or will ever undertake. It’s remarkable how windburn, sunburn, exhaustion, torrential rain, snow, sub zero temps, freezing fog, unrelenting biting insects  and 500 miles of climb after unforgiving climb (27,000ft) can all make you quickly forget about bears and wolves. Have mercy on the ill prepared, I was not one of them. Thanks to my mosquito suit I only got about 50 bites, there is just no escape. You had me question my sanity and my decision to come here many times.

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Those black dots are Musk Ox

     Prudhoe bay is a fly in/ fly out oil field on the Arctic ocean. It is a desolate barren place with freezing fog and bitterly cold winds, it resembles what I imagine the surface of the moon to be like. But…. there is also incredible beauty here. The vast open expanse of the Arctic tundra is an awesome sight to behold. Atigun pass and the Brooks range are spectacular and awe inspiring. North of the Brooks is Arctic tundra as far as the eye can see and almost magically once over the pass is the beginning of forest. The slow trickle of sparsely growing trees pockmarked here and there quickly flows into a full forest.

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Atigun Pass

     There is a discernible difference in the wildlife from other places that I have been, it must be from the little exposure they have to people. I got to within 15ft of a bear and he didnt seem to know what I was. I saw herds of migrating caribou being stalked by hunters , even got chased by one (not a hunter). I also saw Musk Ox.

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     Once over the Brooks the climbs become more and more arduous. Common tactics such as switchbacks and winding roads around mountains are not employed here, straight up and over. The Dalton “Highway” (mostly gravel/dirt road) was built as the most direct route from Fairbanks to Prudhoe. It’s featured on the TV show Ice Truckers.

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     Trundling down the final descent, with my hands clamped on both brake levers as usual I did not feel as though I had just conquered something, but more a feeling of respect, of thanks, for letting me pass through because you could have shut me down at any time..

I’m in Fairbanks now for a day or two of rest, bike repairs and to get new panniers. The old ones were chewed up on the road. Then on to Whitehorse.

On the Remote Boat

I’m writing this update from the house of some Anchorage biker enthusiasts who put me up for a few days. Great folks who couldn’t do enough. Soooo, the ferry ride from Bellingham to Whittier was epic. There were cabins but a few people including myself camped on the top of the ferry deck in a solarium. 5 days later I’d seen pods of Killer whales, dolphins, majestic scenery, tiny native villages tucked under daunting mountains and a rare gathering of about 30 Humpback whales in their feeding ground. image The most dramatic was saved for the last day. So every port I took my bike from the car deck and biked into the nearest town or just to stretch my legs. We arrived in a small native town of Yakutat at 5am and I was ready to get off. The Captain announced "We are requesting no one disembark, there are two injured Grizzly Bears on the beach…." Holy Shit!! So I went to have a look. There was a guy on the beach with a gun trained on the treeline. We watched… and watched… nothing, couldn’t see any sign of a bear. People started to head back to sleep. Then all of a sudden… BANG.. BANG… 2 shots rang out. I saw this medium sized grizzly bolt from the treeline to the water and start to swim. Incredibly he seemed uninjured and continued to swim across the bay, easily a couple of miles. It was crazy. image On to Whittier where I get off. Cold, rain and ominous grey skies greeted me. Plus an impassible tunnel for bikers. I got a spin to the other side, the skies were clear and the views were amazeballs. Biked the beautiful 90km+ to Anchorage. For directions, garmin bike computers suck balls. Anchorage is cool. It is plopped in the middle of wilderness, Bear bins and Moose in the city center.

Today I’m flying to Prudhoe bay and the trip will start in earnest.

 

A blog is born

So I’ve started a blog and I’ll try my best to keep it updated with the intermittent internet I’ll be getting. I’m leaving for Alaska in one week, the realisation of months of planning. Ferry from Bellingham to Anchorage, flight from Anchorage to Prudhoe Bay….check and check. I was having a conversation with the booking agent on the phone yesterday about Prudhoe Bay, “oh my gosh, isn’t that the time of year the bears are fattening up for winter?”. I got a little bit nervous so I asked her where she was based and she replied Phoenix. Hah, bingo, what would she know about Alaska. Only she lived there for 6 years, check mate!
I was biking from downtown Seattle to Ballard yesterday and my chain snapped, thank god!! Why? Cause it didn’t happen in the middle of the Dalton Highway 2 weeks later. Lots of work still to do. But for this weekend its Timber Music festival. Right now I’m sitting in Ballard Coffee House with this

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