Eating and biking our way through the Americas .... and beyond!

Tok to Whitehorse

Kluane Lake

Apart from the seemingly never-ending headwinds, we really enjoyed this section of our tour. I was sad to leave Alaska, with its friendly people and amazing roads. But at the same time, I was excited to be entering a new country – Canada, which I was certain I would fall in love with.

Here is an overview of our trip from Tok to Whitehorse. Its quite detailed for our own records, so feel free to skip ahead to the photos!

Thursday 11th September: Tok to Northway Junction (78km)

We had our latest start ever on the bikes today …. 4pm. We couldn’t decide whether to have a rest day in Tok (as we had chores to do) or whether to ride on, as all the locals were saying that we needed to get out of Alaska as soon as possible as “Winter is coming”.  We ended up doing both.

When we arrived in Anchorage at the end of August, it was light until nearly 10pm, but the days were already getting shorter and just 2 weeks later it was getting dark around 8.30pm. We had 78kms to cycle to Northway Junction, with no other towns in between.  It was a very hilly ride, with 716m of elevation to climb. As the hills kept coming, I worried that we would end up cycling in the dark and that we might run into bears. This motivated me to cycle quickly (to David’s great delight :)). We must have had a slight tailwind, because we churned up the hills relatively easily and made good time to Northway Junction arriving around 8.15pm.  Unfortunately, the one and only campground in town closed at 8pm and they had already turned the water off for the season!!! We camped there anyway, pitching our tent in the dark and eating honey sandwiches and trail mix for dinner. I managed to get half a bottle of water from a nice Canadian couple who were also camping there, but there was no hot shower that night – only baby wipes.

The highlight of the day came shortly after we left Tok when we came across two moose – a female and a calf, grazing on the side of the road. Such a beautiful sight!

Friday 12th September: Northway to Beaver Creek (98km)

This was a big day of cycling, with 894m of climbing, a headwind and a border crossing into Canada. I was feeling pretty drained after our fast paced ride the evening before. I could also feel the fact that we hadn’t had a rest day for nearly a week. Around lunchtime we met up with Babette, the female cyclist from the Netherlands and cycled with her for part of the afternoon.

I was relieved when we finally reached the US border, but we still had to cycle another 30kms or so to reach the Canadian Customs Station. As soon as we crossed into Canada the road conditions worsened and the headwind picked up. We struggled over the uneven “chipseal”, which made me feel even more sluggish on the bike and left me wondering if I had a flat tyre. I realized that we had taken the smooth Alaskan Highway for granted.

After our experience the night before, we were keen to reach Beaver Creek before the campgrounds closed, but we didn’t know how long it would take at the border crossing and we had lost an hour when we crossed the border into Canada. It was 6pm by the time we reached the Canadian Customs Station. Thankfully, there was only 1 car ahead of us and we were soon being interrogated by a rather gruff Canadian border official who wanted to know what we were doing in Canada, how long we intended to be there, and whether we had enough money to support ourselves while in Canada. We told the official that we were cycling to Argentina and hoped to cycle across Canada in 4-6 weeks. David thought this was sufficient information to answer his questions (because if we had enough money to get to Argentina, we surely have enough to get through Canada :)), but the official wasn’t satisfied until I said “Yes, we have sufficient funds”. He then stamped our passports and we were through. 2kms further and we were in Beaver Creek.

We were quoted an exorbitant rate for a night at one of the local motels, so we decided to camp at the Beaver Creek RV Camp ($12) and treated ourselves to dinner at Buckshot Betty’s – salad, pizza and Yukon Gold!

Saturday 13th September: Rest day in Beaver Creek

We had a much needed rest day in Beaver Creek.  A “rest day” means chores: clothes washing, bike maintenance and blog updates. But we also managed to have a nice sleep in and a lazy pancake breakfast at Buckshot Betty’s. :)

Sunday 14th September: Beaver Creek to Lake Creek Campground (approx. 80km)

This was one of my favourite days of cycling – the hills were ablaze with yellow foliage and we cycled past some gorgeous lakes, in particular Pickhandle Lake.  We started relatively early – around 9.30am – as we had been warned about the construction near Beaver Creek and the general bad state of the roads between Beaver Creek and Whitehorse.  We reached the construction zone about 5kms out of town. The gravel road wasn’t nearly as bad as I had imagined and was quite easy (and fun) to cycle over, although when cars passed we were engulfed in clouds of dust. After about 30kms, we came across a sign indicating that we should wait for a “pilot car”.  We didn’t think it would be operating on Sunday, so we cycled past. We cycled for approximately 5km, when a grumpy lady drove past and told us to stay where we were as we couldn’t cycle through the construction area ahead. We thought this was a bit ridiculous, as the conditions weren’t that bad, but we dutifully waited for her colleague to come and pick us up. We had to load our bikes into the back of the truck and were driven 8kms through the heart of the construction area. It would have been tricky cycling amongst all the heavy machinery, so I was happy for the ride and a break from the saddle. Once back on the bike the road conditions improved somewhat, although it was patchy at times and there were stretches of gravel.

This section of the Yukon felt very remote. We often went for an hour or so without seeing any cars and we didn’t see any other cyclists. Several times we saw advertisements for “Services”, private campgrounds and road houses, but they were already closed for the season.  It made us worry about how we would be able to find sufficient food and water for the trip.

Around 4pm were reached Lake Creek Campground, one of the Canadian Provincial Campgrounds.  Nestled beside a river, it is a lovely place to camp, with free firewood and clean toilets, although there wasn’t any potable water. Some friendly neighbouring campers took pity on us and gave us some of their water, but it wasn’t enough for cooking and another day of cycling, so we had to cart water from the river and sterilize it (as all of the rivers and ponds in Canada and Alaska are full of giardia).  We sterilized an extra litre for some other campers who were travelling “light” and had left their pump and water treatment gear at home – we have received so much kindness on the trip already, it was nice to be able to pay it back a little! :)

Monday 15th September: Lake Creek Campground to Destruction Bay (110km)

This was an absolute shocker of a day on the bike. Except for about 8kms when we changed direction to cycle towards Burwash Landing, we cycled all day into a crazy headwind. The road conditions were fine; the road was undulating, with a relatively easy gradient, but the headwind was intense. I felt as though someone was pulling me back all the time and I was fighting for each pedal stroke, even going downhill.  We worked as a team for the first 80kms or so, taking turns in front every 2kms. It was tough going, but I enjoyed the challenge. Around the 80km mark, I felt the wind change and we enjoyed a cracking tailwind into Burwash Landing. It is amazing how wind can affect your mood while cycling.  The tailwind really lifted my spirits and I optimistically hoped that it would carry us all the way to Destruction Bay. Wishful thinking. The headwind returned with a vengeance for the last 20kms – definitely over 30 knots – nearly knocking me off my bike at times. David had more energy than me and pushed on ahead. I plodded on, fighting to stay upright on my bike and trying to distract myself unsuccessfully with the scenery. I felt totally drained by the time we made it to Destruction Bay. We weren’t able to camp in Destruction Bay and had to take a room at the Talbot Arms Motel … I couldn’t have been happier! :)

When we pulled up outside the Motel, people in the restaurant started pointing and waiving.  We later discovered that they had seen us struggling on the road to Destruction Bay. David went into the Motel to inquire about a room.  I stood outside minding the bikes, when a friendly face popped through one of the Motel windows.  It was Damian, an American who was also cycling from Alaska to Argentina. I was so excited to meet someone cycling to Alaska, especially this late in the year, that I instantly felt more energized. We chatted for a bit and then met up over dinner (very well-earned yam fries with chipotle mayo for entre, with the usual pasta and burgers for main, washed down with some ice cold Yukon Gold ales :)), swapping stories and proposed bike routes and agreed to ride together the next day to Haines Junction.

Tuesday 16th September: Destruction Bay to Haines Junction (106km)

The headwind into Destruction Bay was apparently a daily occurrence, but according to the locals it didn’t pick up until around 10am. This was all the encouragement we needed to make an early start. We were up at 6.30am and on the bikes at 8.15am … a record for us on this trip. We headed out of Destruction Bay with a slight headwind, but it soon died down to nothing. Yeah for us! Damian had been told that the next 60kms was serious grizzly bear country, as the bears tend to congregate around Kluane Lake. We were on high alert, happy to ride as a group with my irritating bear bell ringing constantly. But, we didn’t see a single bear.

Kluane Lake is absolutely stunning – a real feast for the eyes. We made good progress around the lake, stopping frequently to take pictures. The road wound around the lake and then started to climb up into the Kluane Mountain Ranges. We had three big-ish climbs, lots of rolling hills and the best 16km downhill into Haines Junction. The scenery was amazing – clear blue sky, yellow and green foliage on the trees and lovely blue lakes. I really enjoyed this day of cycling. At times there was a slight headwind, but nothing in comparison to the previous day. It was also really fun to ride with Damian and we chatted a lot on our frequent stops.

Damian took the lead on the 16km downhill and caught a glimpse of a grizzly bear on the side of the road before it disappeared into the trees (unfortunately, it was long gone by the time David and I arrived). Damian hailed down a car to drive beside us along this stretch in case it reappeared, which it didn’t.

Damian was having knee trouble so decided to spend the night in one of the local motels, while we decided to camp at the Kluane RV Campground. We had a lovely campsite, but the facilities (toilets and showers) were very dirty and the man on reception forgot to mention that you need to pay 25c for each minute of hot water in the shower.  This would have been ok if he had told us at reception – but we only had 2 quarters and it was a long walk back to reception, so our showers were very short that day!

We had burgers for dinner at Frosty’s with Damian that night. He had been told that there was snow on the Alaska Highway further down and so he was headed to Haines to catch the ferry to Prince Rupert. We contemplated getting the ferry too, but we had a date with Kim in Whitehorse and we weren’t ready to give up on our original plan to bike the whole Alaska Highway just yet.

Wednesday 17th September: Haines Junction to Wolf Ridge B&B (118km)

It is 154kms between Haines Junction and Whitehorse, with no real options for camping along the way, unless you are prepared to cycle 25km off the Alaska Highway to a campground and then 25km back to the highway the next morning. We weren’t up for that. We started a bit late (as usual) and planned to wild camp at the Takhini Burn Rest Area (91kms from Haines Junction).  A number of the rest areas that we had seen along the Alaska Highway were located a little bit off the highway and were often somewhat sheltered and elevated.  But not this one. It was right beside the highway and completely open. It was about 5.30pm when we arrived. We didn’t really want to ride much further, but we didn’t feel comfortable camping there, especially when we saw the toilet wall which read “Beware the man who comes with his pants down and his wallet open”. Awesome. Not. So, we pushed on.

We checked our travel guide (“The Milepost”) and there were cabins in 27kms, but we weren’t sure if they would still be open.  Worse case, we planned to keep cycling to Whitehorse, where we could hopefully find a motel on the outskirts of town. My back was starting to ache. I rode in front and set myself the goal of cycling 10kms every half hour. Thankfully, we had a slight tailwind to help us, but there were also stretches of construction zones, with rough dirt roads, which slowed our progress.  We reached Wolf Ridge B&B Log Cabins around 7pm and luckily for us, they were still open for the season! The cabins were run by Heidi Hoffman, a delightful German artist who moved to the Yukon many years ago. She was about to close for the season, but was happy for us to stay in the small cabin for the night, especially when she discovered that David was also originally from Germany! The little cabin was well equipped and had a rustic charm. Heidi was a wonderful host, who hugged us both warmly when we left the following morning! :) We could have easily stayed longer and highly recommend Heidi’s cabins to anyone cycling to Whitehorse from Haines Junction.

Thursday 18th September: Wolf Ridge B&B to Whitehorse (36kms)

It was only about 36kms from Wolf Ridge B&B to Whitehorse. Perhaps because it was only meant to be a short day of cycling, the miles seemed to drag.  We were pedaling into a headwind and came across some more gravel construction zones. I was relieved when we finally saw the sign for Whitehorse, but it was still a couple of kilometers further to downtown.  My heart sank when I saw the sign to “Two Mile Hill” Road. I wasn’t sure if I still had it in me to climb another two miles into the headwind! But thankfully, it was a two mile downhill for us (with a headwind!).

After the remoteness of the Yukon, I found Whitehorse to be quite a busy little city and the drivers were certainly less patient with cyclists, as city drivers tend to be. We made it to Downtown Whitehorse around lunchtime, got ourselves settled in at Kim’s house and then amused ourselves shopping until Kim finished work. After a few refreshing ales at one of the local pubs, we made our way to Klondike Rib and Salmon for some tasty salmon and more ales to celebrate reaching Whitehorse!