Weather or Not
I made a visit to a large grocery store on my way out of Whitehorse, knowing that it would likely be my last chance to visit one for two weeks. I could resupply at general stores in between, but not with as good selection or prices. By the time I made my way up the first hill out of Whitehorse, I regretted buying so much. Can't wait until these come more often and I don't have to carry so much at a time...
As opposed to several days in a row, it was mostly windless and mostly flat! Even a 180 km day didn't seem so bad! Maybe the reasonable conditions helped that much, or maybe I felt better after a mostly good day yesterday, or maybe my legs are just getting used to what I'm putting them through. The threshold for adjusting to this kind of thing is typically 2-3 weeks, and I'm approaching that by now. Getting stronger every day!
Perhaps more importantly, I was able to let my mind wander and have the distance slip by. On none of the days so far have I been so physically exhausted that I almost couldn't make it, but I've certainly been in a bad mood here and there. Getting through the tough times, mentally more than anything else, is paramount to success.
And perhaps just as importantly, my butt wasn't so sore! Seemed like the pavement was a little smoother on average, so maybe that helped. Just about every bit of highway in the Yukon is chip seal, which is the technical term for a road that looks like it was made out of rocks and Elmer's glue. The chip seal hasn't gone away, but the surface is a little less rough. In addition to a better ride, I would swear you get at least 2 km/h for free with no added effort. Any money government saves by using crappy pavement is probably lost by its citizens in poor gas mileage.
Valeria has always given a good ride with a load, and feels almost as good with a load on as without. Only lately, though, have I gotten used to riding with a load. I stand on the pedals more, I don't slow down as much on turns or downhills, and most of all, it just feels like I'm riding a bike, not moving furniture or something.
As usual, I got to town later than I wanted (I have got to get off to earlier starts), but earlier than I expected considering the distance! On extremely late notice, I called a WarmShowers host and asked about staying. During the course of the phone conversation, it went from "We can't host anybody" to "You can pitch a tent," and a little after I got there, "You can sleep in the bedroom in the basement."
Mira is a lovely Swiss woman with two adorable daughters (I'm not always great with kids, but these girls rock). As soon as I got inside the house, I was promptly shown to the table and a hot bowl of homemade chicken soup and a local beer were put in front of me. By the time I finished that, they were replaced by a huge salad and warm, fresh-baked, thick, hearty bread. I know it's "just" bread, but my goodness, this bread! And by the time I finished that, they were replaced with a steak, two cobs of corn, and another beer. Mira had already eaten, but fired up the grill just for me.
Mira's husband was out of town (he's a helicopter pilot), but the two of them are apparently legendary WarmShowers hosts. During the summer they can have as many as 50 cyclists camped out at their house on the lake, presumably because of their location as the only hosts in the middle of nowhere, but I think also because of the reputation of Mira's bread.
Mira and her family live in the Yukon in the summer and Switzerland the rest of the year, largely for the superior skiing. Her six-year-old daughters are already doing black diamonds! I couldn't help but be jealous of their lifestyle, though I might pick somewhere warmer for the winter.
I managed to crack open my second book for the first time. I'm hoping to have it finished by Montana so I can send it home with a few other things. Mira's daughters showed me their beaded necklaces, not too unsimilar from the ones my brother used to make, and gave me one. I was touched, but showed them my dog tag and explained I already have one. They very politely shook my hand good-bye as I left. What perfect ladies!
After a fantastic breakfast (about half of which was a ton of that awesome bread), I set out into a light rain. It was cool out. I put on my thick waterproof gloves, my waterproof shoe covers, my waterproof jacket, my waterproof helmet cover, and left on my water-resistant hiking pants. It's only a light rain, but just in case it gets worse.
I headed back out the 4 km gravel road back to the highway. Mira lives all the way at the end of a road that is, on average, worse than the Dalton Highway. 4 km took at least half an hour. It wasn't any easier now that it was raining.
For the first hour or so, I was hanging in there. A few things were leaking, but not badly. My helmet cover worked exceptionally, only it hangs over the front too much, and you have to lift your head a ton to see straight ahead (this is still a much better setup than any hooded cycling jacket I've seen). I was staying warm enough mostly, though my toes were a little cold. I was hanging in there. Ran into another touring cyclist, a British guy, who was trying to get to Teslin. I guess he does short days or starts really early, because he was almost there! He was using a poncho. I wonder how well those work on a bike.
After about an hour, though, things went south. All my "waterproof" gear soaked through (except the cheap helmet cover, interestingly enough). My water-resistant pants had only lasted five minutes, of course, but I expected nothing less. Why bother calling anything water-resistant if five minutes is all you get?
The temperature dropped. I added another layer. As an old friend of mine once said, it is impossible to be cold, wet, and happy at the same time. One or the other I could've handled, but taking on both wasn't pleasant.
It started sleeting.
Not snow, sleet. Snow is dry. Sleet is just as cold, but melts on impact and keeps you wet. I was more than uncomfortably cold. But my teeth weren't chattering and I wasn't shivering. I tried singing a song to check for signs of hypothermia. Easily done, so I'm OK. My body temperature was fine. I was just miserable.
I thought about making it a much shorter day, but figured I wouldn't find anything but camping before I got into town. Besides, last time I checked the weather, it called for three rainy days in a row. Waiting it out wouldn't help. If a whole team of poorly-outfitted Texas 4,000 riders can do it,I can do it too. If Louise could do it for weeks at a time, I can do it too.
Surprisingly, I made good time. Mostly a flat day, and I also barely ever stopped, because standing still wasn't any more pleasant than riding. 10 km before town, it stopped raining. I found a cheap motel, no running water or electricity, and decided it would be worth $45 to stay inside and hope a few things dry out.
It was raining again. Most things had dried out, but not my gloves, possibly the most important thing. They're great in the cold and the wind, but useless in even light rain. I think I'll survive through Nortb America, but when I get to Texas, I think I'll swap them for a pair of waterproof (really) mittens I left behind. With great effort, I pulled my soggy gloves on my hands and headed out.
I wish I could've kept my lights on for safety the past couple days, but my dynamo hub system failed by the end of the Dalton Highway. My local bike shop had ordered about the most expensive lights possible without bothering to ask or even tell me (one of many things they flubbed), and what turned out to be a $700+ system lasted less than a week. Good job, guys. Next chance I get to go to a bike shop, I'm having it all stripped off and I'm going with a $50 set of clip-on lights that run on AA batteries. More reliable at <10% of the price.
It was slightly warmer, and the rain was maybe a touch lighter. It took longer for most things to soak through, and my jacket never quite did. No sleet either. In short, I was less miserable. Still a little miserable though.
When I heard birds singing, I got mad at them. How can they be cheerfully singing in weather like this? They deserve to be as miserable as I am.
As usual, I stopped and took a photo at the border sign when I crossed into British Columbia, for good this time. I couldn't help but note the tagline of the province: The Best Place On Earth. Yeah, shut off the rain, get 15 degrees C warmer, and we'll talk. The fact that you can be cold in June is pretty bad. The fact that you can be cold in June while wearing three layers and exercising is ridiculous.
Not much later, I saw my first bear of the ride. A black bear, just hanging out on the side of the highway. Black bears are generally the shyest and least aggressive, but I still didn't want to take the chance that a bicycle would make it scared or trigger a chase response. So hit my brakes and did what I've been told to do if you see a bear while hiking.
"Hello, Mr. Bear! Here I am, no threat, just saying hello!" I announced my presence loudly, but without shouting. Its response was to take a couple steps closer to the woods, then turn and looked at me again.
"You seem pretty mellow. Do you mind if I take a picture of you?" It turned its head away from me. Yeah, this bear is pretty chill. I snapped a couple photos, thanked the bear for his cooperation, and pedaled off.
Luckily, the rain stopped a little earlier than it did yesterday, so a few things managed to dry out while riding. Not the gloves, of course. I eventually felt confident enough to put my cutoff gloves on, and that was an improvement. The feeling slowly returned to my hands as the cold moisture dried off of them.
For whatever reason, the last 40 km or so just seemed to take forever. It wasn't too difficult, I don't think I was moving that slowly, it was just a drag. 20 km from the end, the lightest of sprinkles started up, and only 3 km from Jade City, it started in earnest. If only I'd been 20 minutes faster, I could've gotten a tent up before the rain started! ARG!
Jade City appeared to have one place of business: a trading post that either closes before 8:00 or is out of business. I'd been hoping I'd find another cheap hotel like the night before. Across the street from the store was a church the size of a bedroom. I looked around. No one in sight. I tried the door. Unlocked. I wheeled Valeria inside and laid out my sleeping bag. I might be trespassing in a legal sense, but I've always felt that the church is God's house, and he'd be OK with me crashing at his place.
Changing my morning routine with my phone and putting it in a more waterproof location made me forget to record GPS data on both the rainy days. D'oh! I'll have to come up with a rainy day routine where I remember to do that. I'm not exactly trying to break any records though, so the data isn't that important. But I like having a record for myself.
When I woke up the next morning, none of the stuff I had laid out was dry. None of it even appeared any drier at all.
When I stepped outside, I figured out why. It was cold! It was cold inside the church too, but perhaps just a little warmer. I should've used the heater inside the church, not that it was too cold inside my sleeping bag, but just for the extra ability to dry things out.
I put my wet stuff on - again - and headed out into another cold Canadian morning. It wasn't raining like the last two days, in fact, the sun was out! But my goodness, cold!
I quickly began hating downhills because the cold air would blow on my wet gloves even harder. My feet were only a little drier, as my shoes had never fully dried either, and I quickly felt icy pain in my toes. I looked to my left and saw a lake partially frozen. So it got that cold last night.
About every 5 km I had to pull over and do something to my hands and feet to warm them up. At one point, I stopped, took off my gloves and everything on my feet, and laid everything out in the sun to dry. I sat with my hands in my armpits and my feet tucked under my legs and just waited on the side of the road for half an hour. I wasn't any warmer afterwards, but a few things were drier, so we were starting to turn the tide.
All these delays in the early going of what was supposed to be a short day into Dease Lake, where I was hoping to arrive early. I don't think I've arrived as early as I wanted once since Coldfoot. Unbelievable to think that one of my best days was on the Dalton Highway!
I'd been looking forward to Dease Lake at least since Whitehorse, if not before, because of all the stories I'd heard from the Texas 4,000 Rockies riders. When I got there, Mama Z's was closed and no one would allow me to sleep on any floors, neither of the churches in town nor the youth center. A few people in town told me I could camp by the lake, but as long as I was just camping wherever, I might as well get a few more km in and make what would be a long day tomorrow a little shorter.
I understand that when you ask people for help, sometimes the answer will be "No." But to think that Jason, Travis, and Oliver showed up unannounced, found a place to stay for three days, ate for free, and even got jobs in Dease Lake, and I had a very different experience, that got me kinda down. I bought a maple cake thing from the general store, ate it on the front steps, and headed out to tack on another 20 km.
I'm glad I did - the next day turned out to be not just long, but very tough, and those 20 km were all uphill. If I'd had to start out the long haul like that...