Quick update: Prince Rupert, BC to Jasper, Alberta.

Many miles made, the push to Jasper complete. Now in the mountains, though after a few days of rain then a return to sunshine in BC, Alberta welcomes us with a cold, rainy drizzle. But sunny now and hopefully in the days ahead.

ImageRiding with Marc and Noemie (back left/right) and Marten and Doerte (front line).

Off the ferry at Prince Rupert, we were a cycling gang of 5 heading east. Marc and Noemie come from Quebec City, Noemie originally from France, having already ridden across Canada and up to Alaska and now headed south to Argentina, they hit the 10,000km of their ride on this leg of the trip. Marten and Doerte come from Germany on vacation, cycling from Alaska to Calgary. All 5 of us ride together for a few days to Smithers, then Marc, Noemie and I continue on by ourselves, not for wanting to split up, but just because our trip schedules end up being too different, and all 5 of us continuing on together would lead to too many unnecessary sacrifices by all parties. We do many long days, 130-150km/day is the norm, with the national parks at Jasper and Lake Louise our goals to have some rest days at to hike in the mountains.

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Marc with the mountains right before Mount Robson Nat’l Park. We’re in the Rockies now!

Most days are sunny, good for covering distance and morale. We get hit by a few days of rain as we get closer to the Rockies, one we spend solely in the tents reading and relaxing, the next we set out to ride and end up getting rained on during the afternoon into the evening. Marc and Noemie have waterproof shoe covers; I have wet feet. This necessitates some much-needed washing in the next lake we come to on a sunny day- it’s a bad sign when other cyclists start commenting on how badly your socks smell. When we’re really tired/wet/dirty, we joke about how various countries farther south are for sure The Promised Land.

At Mount Robson Nat’l Park, just before Jasper, we take a day off to go on an all-day hike, working some muscles that our bodies aren’t at all used to exercising. The views are worth it, plus the first campground in the park, 8km in, we’re allowed to bike to. Mountain bike territory for sure, the road there is a mostly well-packed dirt road through the park, though plenty of rocks in some places. An opportunity to test out Acero on mountain biking trails fully loaded, and he handles beautifully, though less weight (currently carrying plenty of food and cookies) would be nice. Not too hard of a ride to get to the campground, some steep uphill stretches become nice descents on the way back. After Mount Robson, we’re back on the road to Jasper. A Dutch cyclist joins us at Mount Robson, so now as we’re riding we speak a blend of English (everyone understands)/French (I’m learning some useful phrases)/Spanish (to practice for what’s ahead)/Dutch (why not?)/German (when we need to swear).

ImageFor now, southbound down the Icefields Parkway to Lake Louise, then back to the USA!

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Next up: into BC.

Made it so far from Whitehorse down to Prince Rupert. This included a two-day ride from Whitehorse down to Skagway, then resting in Skagway, hopping over to Haines for a day, and taking a ferry down the Alaska Marine Highway from Haines to Prince Rupert, a 2-day ferry ride. Thoughts from these stretches:

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Riding from Whitehorse to Skagway:

Descent into Skagway: brilliant. Just spend two days first pedaling into fierce, 35km/hr headwinds to get to the top of White Pass. The top of the pass is up in the clouds, constant mist, visibility so poor you can only see 10ft in front of yourself. Scary then, hope for no traffic, put the rain jacket on for visibility and warmth. This is truly a mountain, not like some of the hills before. Eventually come down from the clouds, start to see the landscape all around, bits and pieces at first then it all comes back to life. Hard to believe that the area near the top is part of the same land as the last few weeks, looks completely different. Scraggly clumps of bushes, boulders everywhere, small lakes shining luminescent green. Could be Scotland maybe, but Alaska? Unbelievable. Zoom down the descent, 8 miles to US customs, wait in line, border agent doesn’t believe I biked from above Fairbanks. Others attest later that the agents at this border are notoriously skeptical. The road keeps descending after customs, still a descent but not as long. Skagway definitely a tourist town, worth staying a night if you can find the man in the mountaineering gear store who lets cyclists camp on his lawn, otherwise just hop right on the ferry to Haines, a similar small town but with much fewer cruise ships. Kind of crazy that the US owns a significant chunk of this coast down along the side of British Columbia, which makes no sense geographically. Go a few miles inland from any of the port towns and you’re back in Canada. But good to be back in the US, much cheaper to send post cards.

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Ferry ride from Haines to Prince Rupert:

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Everyone recommends taking the ferry down the Marine Highway for at least a portion, no other way to get to some of the small port towns and ferry is well organized, clean, even has showers. Good way to get to Prince Rupert, town farther south on the coast of British Columbia. And since everyone recommends the ferry, there ends up being plenty of other cyclists on board. Two Germans riding to Calgary are at Haines ferry terminal when I arrive, as are two Quebecois who’ve been riding across Canada and are now turning south, heading to Argentina. We settle into the solarium on the top deck of the boat, our home for the next two days. We claim the reclining chairs where we’ll sleep, under cover and under heat lamps if it gets cold. For the next two days, all we do is eat, nap, read. Resting and building up fuel stores to cross British Columbia. Our next big city goal is Banff, so we’ll start riding together from there. Two Mexican cyclists riding home from Alaska get on the ferry at Juneau, disembark at Ketchikan though, taking another ferry to Prince Rupert the following day, they might catch up to us on the road, though they’re taking a slightly different route and not going all the way to Banff. Looking at dates, I’ll be back in the US around Sept 1, coming into Idaho and Montana then heading south. From a short morning exploration of Prince Rupert, BC looks like a really exciting province. Should be a fun ride.

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Whitehorse; Rest Days.

Just downed a cup of coffee and a white chocolate chip cookie, now just lounging at the bakery. Guy at the table next to me, looks mid- to late-20s, sitting in his chair with ease, has an old paperback book with the cover torn off on the table in front of him. He’s just sitting though, relaxing. Maybe he’s taking a rest day too. Could definitely be traveling, what with the paperback and the way he just sits, watching the town. People around us getting up and moving on with their lives; it’s 6:30, maybe they’re going home to make dinner. It was a short day of riding to get here, Whitehorse, capital of the Yukon. Biggest city around with 30,000 people. Time to rest for a little while.

The next day.

Mountain biking time. Jesse, WarmShowers host, knows the trails around so he and his girlfriend and me go for a ride. Trails are right outside of the city, 10-15 minute bike ride from town and bam, you’re on singletrack. First the trail hugs a sandy, rocky cliff, be careful, mispedal and you’re falling down the side into the river. Rock gardens too, all focus is spent fighting for traction. Then over the bridge to the other side of the canyon, and suddenly the sand and rocks are replaced with dirt and forests. Still singletrack, but the trail is slightly wider, no longer have the fear of falling off the side of a cliff. This is mountain biking, so fun, justifying the suspension fork, though probably ridable with a rigid one. But here can feel the front tire and front suspension squish beneath you as you ride. Sometimes trees pop up on each side of the trail, and the handlebars, wide for comfort and control, barely fit, sometimes necessitating hitting the brakes and easing Acero between the two trees. Other times roots shoot out of the ground, and the water bottles on the fork fly out, trying to defect to Canada I guess. Bottom bracket height takes on meaning here on an actual trail, what with the roots and sudden rocks and all. Got to remember to keep those pedals at 3 and 9 o’clock too or they’ll be skipping off the rocks. All in all, riding for probably one and a half to two hours, stop for ice cream at the end and then head home. Great finish to the day.