Adventures in Alaska
Cycling into Anchorage, Alaska and heading towards the ocean I could barely believe the first leg of our journey had so quickly come and passed. Touching the Pacific Ocean, pedalling 4500 kilometres to get there, felt a bit surreal and came with an abundance of joy, struggles and new experiences.
After leaving Dawson we rode the Top of the World Highway to America's northern most border crossing in Poker Creek, Alaska. The steady climb towards the border felt like being in an entirely different country and afforded us the most spectacular views as we rode over mountain passes and travelled along stunning ridge lines. Brandon was in his glory, being completely mesmerized by the views and scenery. I had a bit of a tougher time up the pass, feeling pain in my right knee and physically more exhausted by the climb. Coming up to the border was harder than I had anticipated, but utterly breathtaking nonetheless.
After reaching the peak of our climb, I joked with Brandon that "I only cried twice" on the way up. As we laughed and celebrated we revealed in the captivating landscapes from the Top of the World, where the views and skies were ceaseless. After passing through the border customs, we enjoyed the ride towards the tiny hamlet of Chicken, Alaska.
We were happy to come across such a crazy, little community on the 4th of July, as we partied and celebrated Independence Day with fellow cyclists, travellers, locals, gold miners and old, quirky Alaskans. The night was spent sharing travel stories, drinking Alaskan beers, sharing our experiences with two wonderful cyclists and hanging out in 'downtown' Chicken, which consisted of a joined cafe, tavern and gift shop.
Coming into Tok the following day, we were well aware of the long stretch of highway we needed to ride into Anchorage. We weren't particularly excited for the endless tarmac and having to miss out on more sought after alternative routes, however, after my accident we had lost two weeks from our trip as I recovered. While we may have felt rushed pedalling through Alaska, I also felt very grateful the severity of my accident was not any worse. I was reminded to make the most out of these experiences, be present, and truly enjoy the short amount of time we were given.
Following the Glenn highway we came across an Australian cyclists heading east. He told us about a 'magic bus' that Jay and Debbie, two local Alaskans, happily opened up for travelling cyclists solely by word of mouth. Coming by their lodge along the highway that evening, it almost felt as if they were expecting us. Their warm Alaskan hospitality radiated through as they showed us the big old school bus, offered us $1 beers and went so far as to give us "keys to the kingdom" (aka their shop) incase we wanted to buy anything after hours. We pedalled on early the following morning having gratefully come across such a hidden gem and wonderful people.
The next two days along the highway we enjoyed friendly waves and shared excitement from passing cyclists taking part in the Fireweed 400, a massive road bike race taking place. Coming into the town of Glennallen, a group of cyclists taking part in the relay stopped along and began chatting with us about our bikes. Within moments, we met an incredible and infectiously positive spirit named Sharon. In a moments time, she had offered us a place to stay in Anchorage when we would arrive a couple days later. Heading towards Anchorage, we were in a bit of a bind having to box our bikes, find a place to store them for 48 hours to fly to Kelowna for a family wedding, fly back to Anchorage, pick up the bikes and set off on our flight to Kamchatka, Russia. We felt relieved to have a place good base while in the city, but also didn’t want to impose. Sharon was more than thrilled to host us, along with her husband Tom. We had yet to know of the wonderfully positive impact they would have on us during our stay.
After exchanging contact information, Brandon and I rode well into the evening to make some distance with threats of a huge storm the following day. The evening ride was hot and long amongst the lingering northern sun. Hours later, completely exhausted, we were found along the roadside using chocolate bars as spoons into a jar of peanut butter for an extra boost of energy. Late into the night having exceeded our intended distance for the day by an extra 50 kilometres we set up camp, made our dinner and dozed off into a deep sleep.
A five a.m. wake up call was set in anticipation to reach Matanuska Glacier before the looming storm reached its climax. Making some distance in the morning, we felt hopeful of arriving to camp early. It only seemed fitting that four flat tires later we were set back hours and in the thick of a brutal down pour, with 50 kilometres to go. With a storm as severe as this one, we probably would have waited it out, however, needing to reach Anchorage in good time, we pressed on. Stopping quick to grab a coffee and warm up in a roadside cafe, we continued the remaining 20 kilometres. We spent the evening taking refuge in our tent and trying to shake ourselves of the deep, wet chill that went right to the bones.
The next day gifted us with sun and gorgeous views as we rode along the shoulder-less highway section down to Palmer. Riding down through the canyon and along the river valley felt like a shame as we needed to pay more attention of not being blown off the road from traffic and no shoulder, then the stunning landscapes that presented themselves. With a few stops along the way to appreciate the beauty, we continued on to Palmer where I was able to reconnect with my friend Kate, who I met at a trail running retreat in Costa Rica this past December. Riding down to her lovely house nestled right in the mountains, we were greeting by Kate and her husband Lance.
It was incredible to link up again as we recalled chatting in Costa Rica about Brandon and I visiting when we would bike to Alaska. It felt crazy to actually be at that point and back with Kate. The evening was spent catching up, sharing stories and being washed over with inspiration from the humble, kind and adventurous couple. The next morning she also took Brandon and I out for a short hike up the Butte to witness incredible views of the surrounding mountain ranges and the town below. During the quick morning walk, Brandon and I became full of excitement to get on top of more peaks while we take a two week break from the bikes in Kamchatka.
After departing Palmer and saying goodbye to Kate, we rode the last stretch to Anchorage and towards the Pacific Ocean. It felt pretty unbelievable to have come to that point. After two months and 4500 kilometres on our bikes, we rode the distance from Calgary to Anchorage and complete the first leg of this journey.
Coming off the seawall we rode across the city to be greeting with open arms and a big smile by Sharon, her husband Tom and their adorable, playful golden retriever, Zihna. The whole circumstance of running into Sharon and spending time with them felt surreal. It truly ended up being one of those encounters and experiences that you know was just meant to happen. We joked about becoming their “Canadian children”, but it really did feel as if we were being welcomed home by such loving parents. I felt constant inspiration and admiration for Sharon and Tom at their passions in life, travel experiences, open minds and insight, nurturing nature, and all their help while we were in Anchorage.
With a couple days in the city we filled our time working on the bikes, gaining greater insight from a friendly and incredibly knowledgable bike mechanic, cleaning and organizing our gear, checking out the local bike trails and hanging out with Sharon, Tom and Zihna. With most things sorted out, Brandon and I hopped on a plane, flying back to Kelowna for Brandon’s cousins wedding. After being on the road for two months, it was wonderful to see the family again, hang out and celebrate the marriage of such incredible and deeply loved people.
Four a.m. the morning after the wedding, lacking any real sleep, we flew back to Anchorage in time to catch our flight to Kamchatka. Spending one last night with Sharon and Tom in town, I felt overcome with gratitude for the instant connection that grew from our time with them. In less than a week of knowing them, I was astonished by how hard it was saying goodbye. However, I don’t doubt in my mind that one way or another, we will all meet again.
As I sit in the airport with Brandon, waiting to board our flight, I can’t even begin to imagine what will come next. We are both so excited to be travelling abroad again! While we have been to so many new and amazing places in the past two months, the sense of travel hasn’t fully set in, as so much of it has felt familiar, being in our own country. It is so exciting to be heading somewhere with a new and different culture from our own. While on the Kamchatka Peninsula, we will be taking a break from our bikes, taking full advantage of the endless hiking, natural hot springs and new cultural experiences. After two weeks time we will take one more quick flight to Magadan continuing to ride from the far eastern coast of Russia.
I am opening myself up fully to all the wild and wonderful experiences that are on there way!