Running from the north country
I wake late to rising sunlight on the west side of my tent. That’s odd. Blocked on the east by a camper trailer, my tent glows from light reflected off the windows next door. The mess of early morning RV park noise floods my ears and slowly turns into individual recognizable sounds. Doors close, a diesel engine purrs, and squeaky screw jacks chirp as groups on both sides of me ready for the late morning checkout. I told Sarah yesterday that I wouldn’t wake and strike camp by the posted time; she welcomed me to take as long as I please.
Night robs everything of warmth, and it takes effort to abandon my sleeping bag with the true heat of the day still hours away. I tie cold boots onto my feet and wrap a cold jacket around my back before running off to the bathroom. The room smells of human must and soap with a tinge of arid dirt and wood. I’m told that locals without facilities frequent these washrooms. At a dollar for three minutes in the shower, I’m surprised that anyone can afford to steam a room of this size. Back outside I watch the camp crew winterize the park; Sarah says the forecast predicts snow by the weekend, and I recognize the seriousness of putting miles between me and the north country as quickly as possible. Before I leave, I say goodbye to the camp crew and ask Sarah to pose next to her namesake license plate from Alaska. Concerned that people may take her as a Palin supporter, she hides the “GO” and agrees to pose.
Ben and Matty ride by as I clean breakfast dishes. I jump to the table for a view over the fence in time to see them ride past and turn down Bonanza Creek Road toward Discovery Claim and the dredge. The guttural rumble of Matty’s faux Harley BMW thumps loudly enough to compress my chest. I’m not an hour behind them when I turn my bike down Bonanza Creek. The road of soft gravel and sand follows the creek up the valley. I pass ancient mining relics left behind to oxidize in the elements. Now that the gold they once sought is gone, sluice boxes, dredge parts, and mangled messes of steel simply lay about, their removal or recycling more expensive than their worth. I recall climbing into the abandoned shafts of Snowbird Mine in Hatcher Pass, Alaska with my brother. There, we followed a one-inch diameter stranded steel cable for several thousand feet high into the Talkeetna Mountains. The collapsing mine entrances at the end of the cable were as cluttered with abandoned tools and deteriorating equipment as is this road to Discovery Claim.
A towering beast of a machine appears around a corner. The last working wooden dredge of the Klondike slowly plows its way through the riverbed. The dredge works as a giant processing plant to scree, sift, and process a swath of earth. Workers extract gold and deposit the waste in piles behind the dredge. The process repeats until an entire riverbed looks industrialized and devoid of life.
I stop again when I see Ben and Matty’s bikes parked against the road. Discovery Claim offers a new trail system with information placards about the Klondike Gold Rush and the Bonanza Creek gold discovery story. In a tit-for-tat squabble between prospectors, three won out against one when Robert Henderson’s low-yield discovery on Gold Bottom Creek took a back seat to the rich placard gold discovery on Bonanza (Rabbit) Creek by George Carmack, Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie. The three kept the richness of the find secret from Henderson in retribution for Henderson’s inhospitable and prejudiced treatment of Carmack and his two Indian companions. Ben and Matty appear down one of the trails, and we meet up to talk about gold panning. Matty expresses plans to pan for gold up the road at Claim 6. I follow the guys up the road, eager to watch the rebirth of the gold rush.
The Klondike Visitors Association owns and maintains the claim so that visitors may pan the historic Klondike for free, pursuant to restrictions. A large sign at Claim 6 welcomes us in large print to pan for gold and declares the rules for doing so in small print. No commercial prospectors may pan here. No one may use tools other than hand tools — shovels and pans. Hobbyist prospectors may visit once per season and for no longer than three days in succession. Despite the stringent rules, visitors may pan for free and keep their treasure.
A nice lady traveling from the Dakotas sits with her dogs next to the creek. Her truck looks well traveled, dirty, and full of camping gear. The dogs run about, chasing each other across the creek, through bushes, and around the dusty road. I think the energy and excitement of these two dogs must match the fervor that raged through this region 114 years ago. I picture men and women equipped with the most basic of mountaineering gear trekking through the Yukon wilderness. The 12 kilometers of road that brought me here easily on my bike were 12 kilometers of raw land then. Even more epic are the hundreds of kilometers prospectors traveled from Skagway to Dawson along treacherous rivers just to get to the Klondike.
After collecting paydirt from across the road, Matty wades toe deep into the creek and spends the better part of an hour sifting through water and rock. His waterproof boots keep out the wet but not the cold. I watch as he shakes the pan, tosses a rock, and collects more water. I can’t tell if he shakes on purpose or of the cold water. He explains how gold panners must rely on patience and persistence to slowly send heavy gold deposits to the bottom of the pan. Rocks and lighter debris rise to the top for easy discarding. Eventually, Matty exits the creek with a near empty pan. A bit of water and a tablespoon of rock dust stare up at us from the table. Sunlight reflects from the shiny edges of rock, but we find no gold despite his efforts. It seems as though we’re a century late for easy pickings. Mark gold panning in the Klondike off the list. What’s next?
The road south is one road. It’s not like we three can take any other road than the one ahead of us. Ben and Matty invite me to ride south with them. The snow in Friday’s forecast encourages me to think of safety as we backtrack Bonanza Creek Road for the highway — not as one or as two but instead as three. These boys must be in a hurry. My speedometer holds steady at 75-mph as we click through the hours to Whitehorse. South of Carmacks, we pass a grassy field and stop to eye the entrance. I confidently point my bike into the ditch and climb the other side onto the field. Ben and Matty look on, skeptical if their street bikes will overcome the terrain. It’s just a drainage swail. I motor back and watch as they each navigate the ditch with the confidence of avid motocross riders. In what must look like a BMW history documentary, I lead the way into the back field standing on the pegs of my R 1200 GS, Ben rides through the weeds on his classy green R 1100 RT, quiet as a bee, and Matty coerces his classic R 80 RT in a trumpeting sound of thunder.
We find camp as the sun and temperature creep below the horizon. This field sits a hundred meters or more from the road noise, buffeted by a tall line of trees. Ankle high weeds cover what looks like a vehicle track. A pile of wood scrap along the edge suggests some kind of use at one time, but nothing permanent marks this property as heavily trafficked. I look around the wooded edge of the field and find a lone headstone marked “Piper.” Impromptu camps like this offer unique amenities that bonafide grounds cannot. Tonight we’ll share a bed with the remains of an unknown man. I glance about camp and realize something. Piper’s headstone faces east — no need to check the compass for sunrise.
Ben and Matty pitch camp together. Not wanting to appear invasive, I set camp across the field and give them their distance. I’m sure we’ll grow closer to each other if we continue riding together, but this truly is like a first date with strangers. What if they snore? I’m told my sleeping pad makes noise if I toss about in the night; that may keep them awake. I watch their routine with fascination. Ben and Matty first unload their bikes. Ties, shock cords, latches, and other unique fasteners come undone in a practiced order. They unload boxes, unfurl bags, and erect matching dome tents side by side. With tents up, they start dinner. Matty preps the meal while Ben boils water for pasta. I see fresh vegetables, spices, and other fanciful food go into a large pot of spaghetti. My meager serving of rice and beans tastes bland compared to the wafting aromas coming from my camp mates.
I catch eyes my way, and so the gear and meal comparison begins. I’m said to have a cavernous palace of a tent considering I’m just one traveler. I explain having outfitted myself for mountaineering and backpacking expeditions in Alaska. What they see before me is gear that works well enough to keep for my tour. The three person Hilleberg tunnel tent packs lightly and offers the perfect accommodations for comfortable roadside living in all weather conditions. Ben and Matty clearly sleep in separate tents, and I joke about the importance of private space. We share awkward looks over quiet cook stoves, or maybe we’re just busy stuffing food into our mouths. Their vegetable melody spaghetti looks amazing. Ben explains the concept of a hardy meal. Boil pasta. Add carrots, peppers, onions, potatoes, and sauce. Eat. I take notes while trying not to cringe at the tasteless calories in my pot.
A clear sky follows us to bed. The temperature plummets, and I quit all attempts to write. Hours of sleep consume me in a crazy circus of midnight halucinations. Loud trucks roar by on the road in reality but I dream of jetliners flying low and scooping passengers in nets to conserve fuel. I wake from the altered reality to a blanket of cold smothering me in my sleep. In just seconds, the blurry outlines of my tent return to shapes I recognize. It’s strange how images and sounds affect my dreams. Even the cold turns against me in my sleep. Wide awake, I unzip the bag and move to get the day going. The cushy mounds of grass beneath my tent make ripples in the groundcloth. Specs of light shine from the dark plastic like snow capped mountains. I brace myself against a mound only to hear it rupture beneath my weight in a sound of crinkled paper. I cringe at the truth dancing about the back of my mind. I know this sound. I know the sound of cold. My slow exhale turns to steam, and I suddenly realize just how devoid of heat the world is outside my sleeping bag. I shove icy fingers back into the weakening warmth of my cocoon and curse the day. Where is the rising sun?
Ben makes a noise I dare not describe. I reach to unzip the door for a view but find one handed zipper operation an impossibility with this tent. I get to the second flap after a vigorous exercise in dexterity inching zippers open with two fingers whilst holding the tent taut with two others on the same hand. Ben explodes from his tent in full sprint. He runs lap after lap around camp with white clouds of air puffing from his face like a steam engine. I hear more sounds of cold as his boots stomp frozen grass. Icy weeds crack under pressure and ground moss crackles with the noise of breaking glass on Ben’s second lap. With one more deep breath and a body-wide cringe to hold in as much heat as possible, I manage to jump into very cold clothes without freezing important body parts. I join Ben with a lap around camp to recoup lost BTUs. We neither see nor hear noises of life from Matty’s tent until a ball of fiery sun sneaks past a mountain and pours golden yellow heat into the valley.
Ben finishes his jog and walks over with a defeated look of consternation. I watch as he turns a bottle of ice around in his hands. Knowing full well he needs water for breakfast, I can’t help but laugh. Winter caught us with our pants down this morning. Not one of us expected subfreezing temperatures last night. I grab the water jug from my bike, hoping for the best. It rattles with chunks of ice but feels mostly liquid. I offer Ben the water he needs for porridge with a cocky grin but secretly sigh relief that I too won’t be eating dry oats for breakfast.
Even as the sun turns the ice of the night into a barely defrosted morning, I fear the worst for our bikes. I used 10-weight oil for my last oil change in anticipation of cold starts, but betting on a cold start at this temperature looks like a sure loss. I turn the key and wipe frost from the instrument cluster. The sluggish LCD flashes an ice warning in slow motion. I nod my head to good fortune when I find neutral and crank the engine. It turns over and starts without coercion. My short victory dance encourages Ben and Matty to enter the competition. I hear a slow start from Ben’s newer RT as the battery sends its workforce of depressed electrons into movement. Just before they give up, the bike putters to life and bellows a cloud of steam into the sky.
Matty takes an earful of jeering from Ben before he walks over to his bike. I don’t know what to expect. The sound I hear as he clicks the starter makes me cringe. Every toothed gear grinds freely against its neighbor and screams metal-on-metal death for a full revolution. We only hope the starter broke the frozen gearbox free of its seizure and hasn’t stripped its insides too. Matty tries again but finds his fuel lines frozen. We finish packing camp and jump on our bikes ready to leave before he tries one last time. We all scream success as Matty’s faithful ride finds its breath and trumpets alive. We motor a little more confidently and with an air of adventure about us through the ditch and onto the dry road.
Today we ride as three and put winter to our backs. A quarter mile from camp, we run square into that winter. Blotchy piles of wet snow drip heavily from struggling tree branches. The ground looks of a low budget Christmas movie, covered too thinly to mean business but thickly enough to hurry us along. Fields show a mix of brown and white. The mountains on either side of the road rise to the sky in colors of green and brown before meeting a thick blanket of snowy white at some imaginary demarcation of winter. With these sights and more, we climb the hills between valleys and cover the distance to Whitehorse with haste.
I remember a quiet city of few amenities nestled alongside the Yukon River, but Whitehorse welcomes us with the full fervor of city life. Traffic snakes from stoplight to stoplight, around corners, and into parking lots. Lights flash colors as people walk between cafes, shops, and restaurants. One block more, and the scene simply repeats — more people and more shops. I try comparing this to memories of ten years ago when I last visited the Yukon, except this city looks monstrous compared to the Whitehorse of before.
Ben and Matty direct me to free parking on a side street. We leave the bikes and walk east along another very busy street to a cafe. Aside from offering great coffee and good eats, the cafe reconnects me to my friends and family. I post updates to my wall and send emails to the parents. I warn of the road ahead and that I don’t expect to find Internet again for several days. Matty looks at weather while I devour another cookie. We’ve yet to clear the Yukon, and all of British Columbia lies ahead of us with winter warnings strewn about. Our saving grace is the Cassiar Highway; it takes the most direct route south on the map. However, we still must cross Continental Divide, and Whitehorse expects snow tonight. I clean cookie crumbs from my plate and eye the guys. I know what they think. We’re not out of the freezer yet.
Ben and Matty call part orders into BMW before we leave. New tires, fork seals, and more will meet us in Seattle. From here, Washington seems so far away to me. Ben unfolds the map of British Columbia while I take a final drink of coffee. The next major stopping point en route to Seattle is Prince George. I plan to head west to Vancouver while Ben and Matty head east to Jasper and Banff national parks. So far away. We don’t count miles or kilometers to Prince George; we count days. Five days — if we’re lucky.
We duck into a sports shop on the walk back to the bikes. Matty threatens to lose his fingers if he doesn’t find warmer gloves. I forget that Ben and I take our bikes’ heated hand grips for granted. Matty suffers the days with cold wind beating against the tops of his hands, unblocked due to a broken fairing. The insides fare no better against cold steel and rubber. The sports shop reminds me of an REI but with French translations on all of the product packaging. Canada is bilingual at the federal level. Imagine yourself as a package designer knowing that your entire message must fit and look appealing on both sides of a box in two different languages. Fonts and character strings that fit perfectly in English overrun invisible graphic design boundaries on the other side in French. Everything looks a mess, but I don’t read French and can’t verify my suspicions. I do imagine the frustration graphic designers must face when translations just don’t mesh.
The heat inside the store sets alarm bells off inside my head. Still dressed from head to toe in cold weather gear, I escape to the cool temperature outside and wait for the guys to finish shopping. I come face to face with a clean but odd looking fellow. He hunches slightly at the back and wears his hair long, black, and straight. It parts around a solid looking face and deep cut eyes. Large black pupils stare blankly at me for several seconds, and I suddenly feel very uncomfortable caught in our silence. Neither of us speaks; we just stare at one another. I feel lost searching for a recognizable sign of communication in his face and gestures. My stumble against the edge of unease screams loudly even in my silence. I try feigning confidence by saying hello, but seconds more pass with the man gazing heavily into my eyes as if ignorant of my attempts to communicate goodwill. He finally breaks his silence and humphs a response that sounds like “hey” before turning off and walking away with his friend. I sigh a breath of relief and vow to temper my quest to interact with locals.
We finish an overextended afternoon in Whitehorse at the grocery where I learn a humbling lesson in the use of coin operated shopping carts. The store encourages customers to return carts to the entrance by charging a quarter deposit at the time of use. Put a quarter in the lock, turn the key, and the cart comes loose. Unbeknownst to me, returning the cart ejects the quarter. I all but beg a lady to give me her cart — and thus her quarter deposit — only to get this lesson from Ben and Matty on my return. I spend the remainder of the day feeling terribly sorry and regretful for having stolen the lady’s quarter. I vow not to profit from the deal and instead pay it forward by leaving the cart unlocked for another patron. But my nearly returned spirits fall even further as a store attendant walks past, locks the cart, and pockets the prize.
The ride out of Whitehorse puts us eastward on the Alaska Highway for a short while. We ride for British Columbia and a direct route south to Prince George along the Cassiar Highway. Where the Alaska Highway continues east and eventually south to Dawson Creek, the Cassiar dodges mountains along the west side of B.C. in an almost due south route out of the north country. Ahead of Teslin Lake and another stop for fuel, rain and darkness fall upon us. We roll into the fuel station and pay outrageous money for petrol. Free coffee, hot chocolate, and a dry place to stand inside the station make up for the gouging at the pump. While Ben and Matty discuss our accommodations for the evening, I strain to recall memories of camping here ten years ago. My mom, dad, brother, grandmother and I were parked next to the then owners of a building supply company in Wasilla. An older couple introduced me to their poorly behaved grandson as if I was charged with fixing him. Though we were taking our time traveling the Canadian Rockies, we only stayed in Teslin one night. By morning, our neighbors were gone. I never saw the family in Wasilla, but their property along the Parks Highway now features a giant Lowes store. Maybe being poorly behaved with money isn’t so bad a life if it means traveling Canada with your family.
Beating rain and a chilly wind persuade us to check the price of a hotel room, but our budgets won’t accommodate even a three-way split of $130. We agree to ride on and find camp outside town. Matty turns down a slippery double-track ATV trail only to climb a steep and narrowing path to a flat that just isn’t. We try again down a gravel road but find a private residence nestled against the lake. We’ve used the last minutes of light in the day and are still without a place to sleep. Moreover, Matty’s pipeless engine threatens to wake the entire province. I tiptoe my bike around obstacles in the drive and motor back to the road. Poor conditions turn worse as we turn down a grassy trail and follow an overhead power line. Large trucks pound the road not fifty yards through the trees, but I’m happy to be off the bike and moments away from a dry tent. This will do. Pegs bend against unseen rocks beneath the grass, sending me to scavenge rocks. Sometimes I wish for a self standing tent.
Rain continues its incessant deluge from the sky and covers everything in a mess of wetness. Ben and Matty cook dinner, fully drenched and seemingly mindless of the misery I witness from within the vestibule of my tent. I eat leftovers from last night’s dinner. Cold beans and rice taste as terrible cold as when hot, so I ditch all effort to eat, hold strong to lunch, and scramble into bed. Sleep comes after shouting goodnight to the guys. They’ve somehow managed to make, eat, and clean up dinner despite the rain. My breathing slows to a nice rhythm matching the timely drip of water from the overhead line. Drops fall with precision to my tent in solid thumps against the fabric. In my dreams, the big hand on my watch swings madly several times around the face before the metronomic dripping stops.
When rain no longer pelts my tent, I open my ears to the discreet noise of a sifter and my eyes to morning’s dull light. Even the sound of the road enters my ears muffled and without last night’s distinct clarity of wet pavement. Everything is quiet and less precise. The fabric of my tent looks heavy, draped deeply between poles as if not guyed on either end. Patches of darkness sluff from the walls in heaps and with the sound of broom bristles against plastic. Fear and reality collide as I eek the first view of what stands to be a miserable day from the door of my tent. A thickening layer of snow covers the ground and surrounding trees. I watch as heavy flakes fall and cling to every inch of my bike. The winter we tried so hard to outrun is here, calling our bluff and forcing us to stare in its face and show our cards.
I watch Ben romp off to the road with his camera. He returns with the first sign of good news — the road looks dry and passable by bike. It unfortunately starts a hundred yards away down this miserably slick and wet dirt trail of grass and snow before us. Moreover, I find my missing riding gloves soaking wet beneath my bike. This day just gets worse. We cram dry breakfast granola down our throats while packing wet equipment. Where I cursed my tent’s design last night, I praise good design today. I unclip the inner tent and pack it away for dry keeping in my duffel. If my hands must be wet and cold today, my body will be dry and warm tonight when I unpack the sopping wet mess of the outer tent and clip-in a dry and clean inner. After the fastest camp strike of my journey to date, we mount the bikes and stare down the trail. Take it slowly, I say. Matty paddles with his legs and feathers the clutch behind me. A rut takes my front tire by surprise and sends me to my side not half way to the road. It’s a light fall to the right, but my ego takes a hit. Matty helps me right the bike in time to see Ben sideways back at camp.
Already sweating and wet inside and out, I recommend we walk each other one by one to the road. Ben paddles with his feet as Matty and I hold the bike steady on either side. His watermelon of a rear tire slips in the grass but miraculously finds traction against an occasional spit of gravel. We hope for the best through the mud puddle near the end and roar in a cheer of success once Ben climbs the steep slope to the road. One down, two to go. We glance back only to have our success stripped from us. While helping Ben, Matty’s bike lost its footing and fell from the side stand. It now sits sideways against the ground spewing petrol from the carbs, threatening to delay us further. Matty makes a mad dash to the bike’s rescue but finds he can’t reach the second fuel valve. The smell of gasoline hits my nose as I arrive to help lift. My boots slip against the earth trying to find traction to lift the bike; my hands search in vain for a sturdy hold of the frame, but all I find are shock cords and loose bits. I grab at solid metal in time to grunt and growl the bike to an upright position with Ben to my opposite and Matty quick on the second valve.
I watch Matty cheer when the bike starts. Ben and I steady the rear tire as he takes his turn to the road. Matty paddles past the slick grass, wades the mud, and climbs the hill like a pro. During my turn, I heed my lesson from before and keep the tires out of the ruts. Finding no trouble with traction, I keep a steady throttle and drag the rear brake. Knobby tires hold firm even to wet grass and mud as I clear the final obstacle and join the other bikes. We made it, and it’s only taken us two hours to go 300 feet. I feel exhausted and ready for a nap but can’t help looking for damage. The falls were simple tip overs and should loosen mirrors at the worst. Matty’s bike took the most damage to an already broken fairing and mirror support. His windshield flaps loosely and looks ready to fall to pieces with the rest of his bike. After a quick look through the toolbox, Matty surprises me again by improvising an intricate system of zip ties to fasten windshield, fairing, and a completely detached mirror support into a messy heap of broken fiberglass and plastic strong enough to withstand the wind.
His success is our success, but I still feel uncertain and weary of the road before us. Ben rides point and leads us to a potential obstacle I’m sure we each secretly fear. What does snow at this elevation mean for the high mountain pass we must yet climb at Continental Divide? The ride is cold. My hands burn against the grips, and I can’t tell if they burn of cold or heat. By Swift River, our extremities feel of ice and stay bent and curled as they were still attached to bike controls. We jump in place to force blood to our feet. Matty swings his arms about like a windmill. Ben wraps his hands around the exposed heads on Matty’s bike. The three of us run circles in the parking lot, not giving a care to how ridiculous we look to passing cars.
At Continental Divide, we find a working restroom and the generous hospitality of Jerry. He offers hot coffee and a place by a roaring woodstove. Ben’s feet look miserable. His socks leave wet footprints on the wood floor, and I watch as a stream of water pours from his boots. Matty’s hands look blue even in the dim light of the room. My fingers barely bend as I try to recover feeling to my hands. Jerry must think us fools to ride in this weather. The truth is that we have no choice — ride or else be stuck in the storm brewing behind us. Winter threatens us every day now, and we find ourselves relying on the generous hospitality of others for tiny bits of comfort. Whether he expects us to patronize his store or not, Jerry gives us the warmth and spirit we need to continue our ride without asking for a dime. We’re something of a highlight amid this fading tourist season — three blokes on three unlikely bikes traveling the Yukon with winter nipping at our heels. Jerry sits at his laptop while we inch closer and closer to the stove. His dog watches on, and we listen intently to Jerry’s version of the weather ahead. In short, heading south on the Cassiar will give us the warmest ride out of Canada. Ben’s feet turn from blue to pink; our socks finally quit steaming against the stove. We can’t thank Jerry enough for his kindness when we leave. I shake his hand and wish him the best for the winter. Outside, I put my hands into dry gloves and look forward to riding for the first time today.
We find fuel at Junction 37. The toothless attendant takes our money and then warns of the terrible road ahead. She describes the Cassiar as a mess of gravel and holes — the worst road in B.C. she says. I drop the air pressure in my tires in fear of the worst, and we set off thankful to be riding south but concerned for the conditions ahead. I mention to the guys that a great road east may be faster than a crap road south, but we press on nonetheless. I recall Ben and Matty telling of the wildfire that raged this road on their trip north. They insist riding it now that the fire is out. As we ride along, a strong smell of smoke lingers. The fall colors of leaves and ground cover quickly turn black the further we drive. Black poles of trees jet skyward from the ground. Branches devoid of life reach out in all directions for support, but neighboring trees look just as destitute and uncertain of life.
Rain quickly turns to snow as we climb the first pass. Our speed slows to a crawl, and we fight for visibility amid the conditions. I take to wiping my visor every hundred yards just to see ahead. My windscreen collects ice and snow; my dry gloves feel just as miserable and cold as they did this morning. Today takes the prize as the worst day of riding yet. Surprisingly, the road quality improves despite the deteriorating weather. Swaths of new tarmac stand bold and black against the winding terrain. We hold a steady speed over the second pass until the sky quits spitting snow and rain altogether. And then all at once, the sky opens to a ceiling of clouds holding level over a beautiful valley of fall colored foliage. In the distance, I see Dease Lake and blue sky. Not able to speak through my helmet or past the music in Ben’s ears, I point to the sky in a declaration of excitement. I want to see sun before the day ends! I will stand in the sun before the day ends!
As if waiting for my arrival, a lone patch of brilliantly warm light cuts sharply into the parking lot of the petrol station at Dease Lake. I jump from my bike and follow Matty into the first direct sunlight to touch my face in two days. A surge of heat overcomes me, and I just smile. We shop for dinner inside before looking ahead on the map and GPS for a suitable camp. We find tundra and rocky alpine grasslands past Dease Lake. A setting sun colors the sky in oranges, yellows, and pinks as I lead the way over a steep ridge and into the valley below. We cross the grated bridge of the Stikine River and fall in love with a camp on its south bank. The dirt path leads us steeply down from the road to a flat near the water’s edge and under a sign declaring this area the “Grand Canyon of the Stikine.”
We’re all three smiles and excitement for the success of the day and the reward of this site. A brilliantly bright moon replaces the sun as we set camp for the night. I report to the guys my success in keeping a dry inner tent but trail off rather quickly when I catch a death stare from Ben. His tent indeed looks wet — inside and out. Matty’s does too. We eat dinner together and share stories of our lives growing up. Ben tells of the United Kingdom, and I hear great things of Australia. Both guys have spent years abroad and away from their homes. I get to know Ben, Matty, and how they set about this trip. They speak highly of our initial run-in at Deadhorse, the excitement of our quick reunion in Dawson City, and how pleased they are to ride with me now. I find myself growing more attached to Ben, Matty, and not riding alone. My evenings seem more lively, and I find enough solitude during the day to own my own thoughts and pursue the personal growth I seek.
Tonight, I think we solidify a lasting friendship. We’ve endured and overcame the challenges of the Yukon. We wrestled our bikes from the grip of winter and set a solid course through the beautiful British Columbia. The days ahead will ferry us through wilderness none of us has seen before, and I’m very happy to say that we will ride on as three. For now, I can’t imagine a better place to be or better people to be with. I smile to myself, close my eyes, and dream of the north country. Jack London endured the better part of a year in harsher conditions yet. He set about the Yukon in search of gold but found experience and inspiration instead. Like Jack, I’m thankful for these opportunities to see and feel life through new perspectives. Even fatigue robs me of my dreams as I take another deep breath and exhale an entire day of stress. I try to relive our escape from the north, but a quiet void overcomes my mind and worn body, sending me into a deep and pleasant sleep.