Letter from Jerry: 3500 Kilometers into Bike Touring Alaska to D.C.
As I write this, our friend is out on the road somewhere, pedaling steadily eastward. Jerry talked with me before he departed for his big cross-country bike tour, and you can read those thoughts here.
Now that Jerry’s been traveling for a few weeks, I thought it would be great to catch up with him and see how his travels are going. Thanks, Jerry, for sharing your progress with us, both here and through your Instagram (tenmetersfromthehut).
Where have you traveled? Any favorite spots?
It’s been quite the adventure so far. I flew to Fairbanks and then cycled north on the Dalton Highway to Deadhorse, Prudhoe Bay. It took me two days to hitchhike back to Fairbanks.
Since then I’ve been riding south and east into Canada. Right now I’m in Dawson Creek, British Columbia– the start of the Alaska Highway.
The section north of Coldfoot on the Dalton Highway is wild and epic. The tundra stretches forever. I rode the last 250 km on the gravel road through the night, arriving in Deadhorse at 5 a.m.
The sun was ahead of me all night, slightly to the left at first then dipping towards the horizon but never reaching it, and then climbing to the right of me. It was quite something to ride alone in the tundra through a night like that.
The landscapes and skies all the way have been beautiful. I liked Kluane Lake in Yukon, and the high plateau between Haines Junction and Haines, Alaska, was remote and rugged.
Haines itself is an awesome little town. I went sea kayaking for the day and saw seals, porpoises and eagles.
I’ve cycled about 3500 km so far.
What’s life like on the wildlife front? I see you’ve become an expert at hanging your panniers high.
Lots of wildlife, I wasn’t expecting so much! Caribou, moose, grizzly bears, beavers, porcupines, stone sheep, snowshoe hares, black bears, coyotes, bison, so many birds and really interesting insects. Every day is like a day at the zoo.
I’m getting used to the bears but they do make me anxious. I learnt how to hang my food up high in a tree. I carry pepper spray, but one lady explained to me that that’s just seasoning for them.
Sometimes if I know there are bears around I’ll stop and eat my dinner before making camp further down the road, so I won’t have food smells around camp.
The other unwelcome wildlife are the mosquitos. It’s hard keeping hold of your own blood in this place.
Is there anything you packed that you wish you hadn’t, or anything you wish you had taken with you?
I’ve been pretty happy with my two small pannier bags. I’ve used everything I brought and haven’t wanted for anything else.
Sometimes other cyclists see my bags and looking down their noses they ask, “Credit card touring?” I reply enthusiastically, “No no, there’s a tent and sleeping bag and cookstove in there!”
Then they doff their caps as their eyes dart quizzically between their bags and mine. The light bags allow me to ride about 150km a day.
I met one cyclist who said, “Ah, you’re the British guy who’s cycling hundreds of kilometres a day?!” Well, I don’t know about hundreds, but I’ve done a few days over 200km and the lighter bags really help.
What’s come in most handy?
A headnet for the bugs is a very useful thing. Clothing made of merino is very handy for a trip like this.
I also have no regrets over remortgaging my apartment to buy a new pair of Assos shorts.
You mention the two seasons of winter and road construction. What has road work been like and how are you navigating through it?
There are some long sections, like up to 20 and 30km in Yukon. Much of the Alaska Highway is chip seal so it really sucks the forward momentum out of your bike. You get used to it though.
The drivers have been pretty good, I’ll say that. Especially on the Dalton Highway. The truck drivers up there know what it means to be vulnerable and can relate to cyclists.
What about food and refueling? Has that been a concern at all?
This has been a big challenge. Grocery stores can be 500km apart and at first I wasn’t carrying enough food on the bike. I’ve learnt now to eat whatever I can find whenever I find it.
There’s a great cafe and bakery in Haines Junction. I arrived in the evening and had dinner there. Then I camped outside and had a fine breakfast in the morning before setting out for my day.
A couple of tour highlights?
I’ve met many inspiring people along the way. About 85km out of Fairbanks a lady at the side of the road flagged me down. I thought she might be in distress, but she had passed me in her car and was concerned because she said a storm was coming.
She invited me to pitch my tent at her cabin there and made me dinner. I said this was great and I’d never been invited to stay like that. She replied, “Really?? You can’t have been in Alaska that long”. She made me a lovely breakfast, too, and I was on my way.
In northern British Columbia I hung out for an evening with a family from Montreal. The oldest girl is 16, the boy is 15, and the little girl 9. They were heading out for a 800km canoe trip in the Northwest Territories for three weeks.
Two years ago they all cycled from Vancouver to Montreal. The little girl was seven. Papa fixed up an electric bike to help her a bit, and she joined them for part of the journey, from Vancouver to Calgary. I made a post about them on Instagram and friends asked if they were adopting.
I’ve met so many kind and incredible people. They inspire you to be better and do more.
Thank you for the excellent update, Jerry. You are missed in D.C., but we love following along via your photos and notes on your Instagram.