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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Paxson, Alaska to Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada

Once we said our goodbye's to Chris and Joe at Tangle Lakes we continued East for the remaining 20 miles of the Denali Highway. Joe left right before us but we realized about 2 hours later that we never saw or heard Chris pass us with his loud diesel pick up truck (which I learned that he actually won with a $100 raffle ticket). He later emailed us that his battery had died because he left the dome light on all weekend and had to wait hours for a jump. The remainder of the Denali Highway is an amazing stretch of road with beautiful scenery in every direction. After about 10 miles of climbing we could see a massive glacier directly ahead of us. This is the first glacier that we have seen in Alaska and needless to say it was an incredible sight. Once we finished the Denali we headed south on the Richardson Highway for about a day and a half until we got to the Tok Cutoff.

The Tok Cutoff (130 mile stretch from Gakona to Tok) turned out to be a very interesting and eventful little trip. About 15 miles passed Gakona we met a couple (Diana and Jon) that had traveled across the US and Canada from upstate New York to Alaska on their motorcycles. She states on her blog, “I just raised four kids and two step-kids -- PHEW! -- and I am about to live in an empty nest. So, to celebrate the next part of my life, I am taking off on a motorcycle with my husband on his motorcycle from New York all the way to Alaska!” Diana is an author that has also written articles for the New York Times and when we asked her husband what her books are about he answered, “You know...Women stuff.” She actually mentions our ride and cause in her blog which as you can imagine is written just a tad bit better than ours. She is the mom who took off on her motorcycle and coincidentally you can find her blog at After getting an excellent report on the road conditions ahead from Diana and Jon we said farewell and pushed forward.
That night we made it to Slana and stopped in the general store for supplies and to do a much needed and far overdue load of laundry. We asked the owner if there were any good spots to camp nearby and she kindly suggested the lawn on the side of the store. She said we could stay for free and she would inform her tenants that rent the house behind the store. We graciously accepted this offer and sat down to wait for our clothes to dry. As we were waiting a local man came in to buy some smokes and to tell the owner that he just caught a couple tourists gearing up to fish the creek running through his property. He said he approached them and asked them what the hell they were doing to which they replied that the fishing book they had purchased said they could fish this creek. His response was that even if Fish and Game would not show up to give them a ticket, that does not mean that he would not go get his 12 gauge and shoot them if they did not leave “his” creek. Seth and I quickly decided that we had done plenty of fishing over the past week and that it was probably in our best interest to take a day off as to not overextend ourselves so early in the trip. After our clothes were dry the store owner locked up and headed for the night. As we were folding our clothes (stuffing them in our bags) at a lunch table on the side lawn we noticed that the man who had been telling the story about threatening the fishermen was still hanging out behind the store. We soon realized that he was the tenant that lived out back and also realized that the owner never informed him that we would be camping in his back yard. About 10 minutes later we saw him approaching us in his ATV drinking from a bottle of wine with an axe strapped across the front rack. When he got to where we were setting up camp he reached into a grocery bag and grabbed 4 beers which he threw over to us and said, “Figured you boys could use a few beers.” Turns out he spent a good amount of time traveling in South America and informed us of some great spots that we should visit. After a couple beers he offered us some food and let us know that we are more than welcome to fish his creek, and if we needed anything at all we could come knock on his door. He even came back and brought us 2 more beers before we went to bed. I am not exactly sure why he was so incredibly kind to us just hours after threatening a group of tourists with lethal force, but I think it has something to do with the amount of street credit that Seth's enormous red beard has given us throughout Alaska.

The next morning Seth went ahead as I had to make a bunch of phone calls to deal with a landlord that is trying to evict me from a house I no longer live in. Once all that was settled I got back on the road to put in another 60 miles or so towards Tok. It was a beautiful sunny day and I was about 20 miles into my ride listening to music when I heard a truck coming up behind me going much faster than most passing traffic (which is usually about one car every 10 minutes or so). I heard someone yelling and from the corner of my eye I saw the passenger hanging outside the window hurling something in my direction. A full beer whizzed past my head and exploded on the rocks to my right. The car sped off while the passenger continued to yell obscenities. When I later met up with Seth he told me that he had also been yelled at by someone in a white pickup truck but did not have the pleasure of receiving the cold beer shower. He also informed me of a half hour argument he had gotten into with the bartender at a roadside bar and motel called Mentatsta Lodge. As Seth was far ahead of me he decided to stop into the bar to ask the bartender what kind of services we could expect for the rest of the highway to Tok. When the bartender saw the “No Pebble Mine” on Seth's shirt sleeve the fight was on. The argument started by the bartender calling Seth a hypocrite (because our bikes are made of steel) and na├»ve for thinking that there is anything he can do to stop the mine. He also told Seth to take his “liberal shit” back to San Francisco. I do not have the time to debate the bartender's comments at this time but please refer to my next post which will cover these points and many more. After seeing that he was not going to have a civilized debate with this gentlemen, Seth decided to move on. When leaving, the bartender asked him if he was heading south through the Yukon and BC. Seth informed him that we were in fact heading South, to which he replied, “My condolences.”
About 5 miles past Mentasta Lodge, I finally spotted Seth about 1 mile ahead of me so I decided to skip stopping for lunch and started pushing to catch up. It took me about 5 miles to catch him and just in time to hit a 2 mile stretch of road with freshly laid tar to repair all the cracks in the road. After completing this stretch we had to stop and pick tar out of our tires for the next hour as we could barely ride with the all the buildup.
When cleaning his rear tire Seth noticed that his rear wheel was wobbling and had to remove the wheel to temporarily fix the problem. We knew we must monitor the problem closely as the next bike shop with a mechanic and the tools needed to fix the hub was over 300 miles away. We completed a long 70 mile day and camped at a beautiful spot along the Little Tok River.

The next day we had a short 30 mile day into Tok where we had a package waiting for us at the post office. Included in the package was my camera that Cannon replaced because of water damage, some freeze dried food, beef jerky, more Gu2o (Electrolyte Replacement Mix) and a memory stick with 12 audio books. A HUGE thank you goes out to Angie for the beef jerky and to Helen for the audiobooks. As we are on the road cycling for about 5-8 hours a day we can go through a book every 2 days or so. We have both found that a day of climbing is much more enjoyable with a good story in the background. Seth also wanted me to make sure to plug Angie's hair studio, Focus Hair Studio, on Sacramento Street in San Francisco. However, for Angie's sake, it is important to note that she is not responsible for Seth's current hair style. As always we would also like to thank our wonderful mother for sending us all of these supplies and her continued help from home.

After packing our new supplies we found a restaurant with internet and an all you can eat salad bar which sustained serious casualties from our visit. While eating desert a girl (Elizabeth from Belgium) pulled up on a touring bike that we saw earlier in town and she joined us to use the internet. She informed us of a great place that she and the guy she was riding with, Stephen, had found to camp for free and said we could follow her there. As we were planning on spending $10 to camp at the RV park in town we happily agreed to follow her to the site. We decided we better leave the diner as soon as possible when a disgruntled construction worker and his buddy, who were the only other people in the restaurant, started getting belligerent on a variety of issues that he apparently felt very strongly about. He started by telling his friend, who never said a single word the entire time we were there, that he just got back from the doctor and found out that his hand had been broker for 2 weeks. He also stated that he had 2 cracked ribs, a bad knee, herniated disk in his back, and had recently driven a nail through his hand with a nail gun but all in all he exlaimed “I'm feelin pretty good.” He then started going off on how angry he was with the law and that he wished someone would just walk up to him and try to hit him with a baseball bat. Raising the bar even further, he challenged anybody in town to try to stab or shoot him. He then went on about how the USA is the best damn country in the world and that all the people from New Zealand and Venezuela (pronounced Venzuela) should stay in their own goddamn countries. I find it fascinating that he chose these two countries as posing the biggest threat to US immigration problems. At one point he went outside to his truck which was parked directly in front of our window at the diner. He had an enormous dog tied down in the bed of his truck and a lever action rifle hanging on a gun rack in his rear window. Considering we were the only other people in sight we thought it best to evacuate the premises as quickly as possible when he started betting his buddy how long it would take for him to “Cut down the entire town.”

We followed Elizabeth to the secret camping spot which turned out to be a dilapidated and abandoned high school which had been partially demolished and all the windows and doors had been boarded up.
Her and Stephen had found a way in earlier and when we returned Stephen was fast asleep in the corner of one of the class rooms. It was very dark inside but we could see that the floors were covered in broken glass and there was a very strong scent of mold in the air. The scene was something directly out of a horror film and I remembered asking myself why the hell were we going sleep inside of this disastrous building? Considering how tired we were and that we were not in the mood to duel our friend from the diner, we conceded to our surroundings and and tried to get some sleep. I remember Seth telling me the next morning that he would have spent much more than $10 to sleep anywhere other than that school. Neither Seth nor I got more than a couple hours of sleep and as the sun began to rise we could see that the walls were covered in black mold and that we were sleeping next to the old chemistry lab. We quickly packed up and thanked Elizabeth and Stephen for sharing their camp spot with and started heading South for the Canadian border.

About 30 miles outside of Tok we hit a strong headwind and got slammed by rain showers. As we approached the Nenana River crossing we saw that traffic had stopped abruptly as a small prop plan had to emergency land on the highway. The plane had hit the two lane highway and bounced off the road landing upside down in a ditch alongside the forest line. Incredibly the pilot walked away from the crash unharmed but the plane itself looked pretty beat up.

A day later or so we made it to the Canadian border where the customs agent was not going to let Seth pass without some serious interrogation. The agent must have seen Seth's long hair, huge beard, and mobile home sized bike and thought that he was hopping the border for Canada's excellent welfare programs and universal health care. Among many other questions he asked Seth how he planned on supporting himself financially while in Canada. Seth answered that his bank account would be supporting him and the agent asked exactly how much money he had and to produce statements for all of his savings and checking accounts. You know our economy is in the shitter when you have this much trouble trying to LEAVE the US! Seth eventually talked his way passed the border inspection and I followed with ease by simply saying, “I'm with him.”

We were quickly greeted by a French couple at the tourist attraction down the road where they have the line with Alaska on one and side and Canada on the other. They offered us a couple of Busch's and a diet coke which we happily accepted. They have been traveling around the US and Canada for 3 years in an RV that they purchased in Louisiana. They had been EVERYWHERE and they said that their favorite place was actually Louisiana because of its strong Cajun influence. They said that it is the one place that they could dance every night and dance “close” like the French and not all “proper like” the Americans do.

We made it to Beaver Creek, Yukon by evening and decided to grab a burger in town before finishing the final 15 miles where we planned to camp at a small lake. To our joy, a couple in the diner told us that they just spotted two large blonde grizzlies at the lake we planned to camp at.

The wife then proceeded to inform us that they had traveled through Central and South America on a tour bus and that she did not care for the time they had spent there. Her favorite story was about a young girl that was begging her for money and trying to sell her some small trinkets which she said that she did not buy. She was explaining how satisfied she was that she had not given the girl any money as she saw her talking on a Blackberry as they were pulling away. She enlightened us that the whole poverty thing in Central and South America is more a facade because in reality they all have blackberries that they use when you are not looking.
The next day we hit some mild headwinds but made it to the Donjeck River by early evening. We could see that the Donjeck must be an enormous river in the Spring during high water but there were huge areas of dried river bed while we were there.

That night the mild headwind turned into 70MPH gusts that caused huge dust clouds around our tent. Not taking the wind into account I had pitched my tent in what turned out to be a natural wind tunnel while Seth had sought the shelter of the trees about 50 yards away. He said at one point during the night he looked over and could not even see my tent in the dust storm which was doubled over on top of me for the most of the night. These winds lasted the next 2 days without any relief and we struggled immensely to make it the full 60 miles per day that we had planned. Fortunately we met a guy named Kjell who is cycling from Anchorage to Southern California right up the hill from the Donjeck River who we invited to fall in line with us as we took turns drafting off one another in 1 mile increments. We were all nearly knocked off our bikes multiple times when the wind would shift from what seemed to be a perfect headwind to a powerful crosswind. Kjell was just discharged from the Army where he was a Captain and was in charge of a unit of very skilled mechanics that could fix any equipment that the army used. He was stationed in Achorage for the last 3 years and also was deployed to Iraq for a year. We had an excellent time with Kjell who brought some great energy to the trip and has an inspiring passion for all types of cycling. The day that we had the worst headwinds Kjell had stopped about 10 miles from our destination to grab a few beers and candy bars. He asked me to leave a rock on the road or some sort of marker wherever we decided to camp. Once we found a spot that was not visible to the road I constructed a massive stone arrow pointing towards where we had pitched out tents. I thought that he would either see my arrow while riding or would kill himself by blowing out his tires on it. Either way he would find us. When he arrived I asked him if he liked my artwork on the road and he informed me that he had not even seen it. We asked him how he had found us as we had intentionally set camp out of view of the road. He simply answered, “Come on man, I was in the Army.” We parted ways with Kjell right before Haines Junction as he had planned to get to Whitehorse a day ahead of us.

We arrived in Haines Junction and hit the general store for supplies and a cold drink. Once we were all stocked up we headed over to the liquor store to grab a few beers before heading out of town to camp (In Canada you must buy booze from the state run liquor stores or out sale from bars). Unfortunately, it turns out that it was Monday and the liquor store was closed on Mondays. I say “that it turned out it was Monday,” because most of the time we have no clue what day of the week it is. We decided instead to grab a few beers at a bar down the street then headed towards Pine Lake. When we were about half way there we saw a white pickup truck pull over that was heading the opposite direction and a guy running across the street towards us holding up 2 beers. He said they were his last 2 beers but it looked like we could use them more than he could. He also told us where he had just dropped off a couple from New Zealand up the road at the lake. He said that they were hitchhiking from Destruction Bay and I knew we had passed them earlier that morning. I had thought of the last time a guy in a white pickup truck had offered me a beer and I was relieved that these were being handed to me and not thrown at my head. We found the couple at the lake which turned out to be an incredible camping spot with a beautiful backdrop. The couple, Dave and his soon to be wife, have a 6 month work visa and are hitching around Canada and Alaska before they start work. They were both very interested in our cause and were involved in some environmental causes of their own as well. We are hoping they can meet us in Seattle for the Bumpershoot Festival in September.

The next day we put in another 70 miles and were just 25 miles from Whitehorse but decided to camp at a bridge on the Takhini River so we would not have to pay to camp within the city limits. It turned out to be a great spot as the heat had reached close to 100 degrees and the river was deep enough to go swimming. After swimming we both passed out in the shade under the bridge for a couple hours. We were awoken by multiple cars of teenagers that immediately turned away when they saw that we had already set camp. It appeared that we had set camp in the high school kids local drinking spot. Our deepest apologies to hooligans of suburban Whitehorse.
The next day we arrived in Whitehorse and our first stop was Wal-Mart to resupply where we ran into Kjell. He told us that he had gotten a motel room and that we could crash with him that night so we followed him back and dropped off our gear then headed out for some R&R. Spirits are still very high and our next big destination is Smithers where we hope we are not too early for the steelhead run.

Posted By Parker Berling


Stephen Mull said...

Another great report. Rock!

Jesi said...

Hey there:

I want to thank you guys for what your are doing. I am behind you and this cause 100%. I too want to find a way to raise awareness about the Pebble Mine atrocity. I was raised in AK, but live in Seattle now, and very few people down here know what is going on up there on Bristol Bay. So far, I am just running my mouth to anyone who will listen, but I plan to become a bit more organized soon. I am passing on the news of your journey as well...
I'm sorry to hear that my home state has such manners problems (seriously, throwing beer?), but of course there are a good deal of people who deeply appreciate what you're doing.

Best of luck to you,

Ben said...

Wow, some one called Seth Liberal! That was a great update, love the stories and pics.

Cob said...

Jesus Schmash! Thanks for the tall update. Continuing to send good vibes. Taker easy.


Liana said...

I can't get enough of the blog. Keep 'em coming...

Sternicus said...

Fantastic tales and photos Berlings! I wish i was with y'all, stuffing myself and turning over the pedals. Every mile i dont feel like pushing it on my training rides, I think of you two and then it all becomes easy! Cant wait till you get far enough south for me to tag along! Cheers (Kokanee Glacier is delish)
Watson Lake, UK has some fun peeps in it. they showed me a great time!

Brian said...

Hey Seth and Parker,
I just caught up on your blog entries and I'm glad to hear that you're having a great trip. We're in Brainerd, MN, about 350 miles into our trip down the Mississippi. So far the upper stretches have been gorgeous but it seems pretty mellow compared to yours...we've only had one experience with belligerent drunkenness but even they were kind enough to hand us some Busch Lites rather than throw them at us.
In any case, on long days on the water it's inspirational to be able to think of you guys and the solidarity among those concerned about our watersheds.

Keep at it,
What About Blue?

Sean said...

Great blog fellas! How do you manage to bike 60 miles after stopping at a bar? Well done.

Safe travels.


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