Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
Since we were driving across the border to the Yukon, there was no Yukon border race.
We knew Whitehorse was about 24 hours of driving away. Rather than drive for 12 hours, spend the night somewhere, then drive another full day again, the team unanimously decided to drive straight through. We left Prince George at about noon and immediately got rained on, though it cleared up a few hours later. I had a spot in the car, while most of the team was crammed in the van. We drove in shifts of three to four hours, and one person’s responsibility was to stay awake with the driver and make sure they were doing alright.
My shift came up at 10:00 PM, and it was still bright outside. Stuffed the cup holders with some spicy trail mix and a Red Bull for fuel when I needed it. Andrew was my co-pilot/DJ for the next few hours, playing me a variety of bizarre dance music the likes of which I’d never heard before. It wasn’t until just before midnight that the sun finally went down, and you could still see some light blue on the horizon when my shift ended at 2:00 AM. Once it was dark though, we started seeing a TON of wildlife on the side of the road, mostly made up of moose and caribou. I never felt that tired during my shift, probably due to sleeping half the time up until then. As a precaution though, I went ahead and finished off the trail mix and Red Bull around 1:00 AM.
When my shift ended at 2:00 AM, we were in front of a natural hot springs. Most of the team decided it would be fun to hop the gate and go for a dip just to get out of the car for a while. A nap sounded better to me. Stretched out as best I could in the back of the car and had a refreshing one-hour nap while the rest of the team was at the hot springs. It must’ve hit the spot, because when they got back, I felt completely re-energized. I wound up being Krista’s co-pilot/DJ using Andrew’s iPod, which took some searching through to find some rock ‘n roll that fit my style.
It was slowly starting to get brighter during Krista’s shift, which started at 3:00 AM. As the sky turned from black to dark blue, the clouds looked black against it. That’s when we noticed a strange lighter blue, almost green shape in the sky. We kept staring at it, wondering why it was lighter than the rest of the sky instead of darker like all the other clouds.
Then it moved.
“HOLY CRAP! THE NORTHERN LIGHTS!” We tried calling someone in the van to tell them, but had no service. We kept watching the shape until it faded away, only to have more appear one at a time in all different directions. Some would fade in and out in one spot, while the better ones would snake across the sky. About ten minutes after we’d first seen them, the van pulled over. Everyone came running out with astonished smiles on their faces. None of us had ever seen the Northern Lights before. We stood outside watching them for ten minutes or so, then piled back in the cars and took off again.
It wasn’t too much longer before the sun came up again. I slept most of the rest of the way. We got to Whitehorse just before noon and found the church that would be our host for the night. The Rockies were apparently staying at another church, so we set up a marker outside of town with a note telling them where we were staying. Some of us crashed after a long night. I went exploring through the town and later went on a short run. During the run, I actually passed a Dairy Queen. I couldn’t believe they had one in the Yukon.
Just as I got back from my run, I noticed most of my teammates piling into the van again. As it turned out, someone had come up with the idea of driving out to meet the Rockies and give them an Arizona greeting (if you don’t know, don’t ask). Naturally, I was more than happy to come along. We drove for quite a while before we found anyone, who turned out to be Paul Waters. We Arizona-ed him, then kept driving to look for more. It was a while longer before we found anyone else. Paul had apparently gotten way in front of the rest of the pack.
We found the rest of the team, Arizona-ing about half of them, and greeting the rest at their last aid station. When we found their aid station, a number of them were hanging out there, and we had a reunion full of plenty of hugs. We hung out at the aid station for a while (you know, like most days) and finally left to return to Whitehorse after the last of the Rockies had arrived.
The Rockies joined us at our church much later that night, and after that, we all went to a bar together. The 42 of us completely took over the bar. There was a DJ there, and whether by coincidence or request, she played “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC. The Texas 4,000 went completely nuts and all of us started dancing on the floor, many of us with drink in hand. A good time was had by all.
Jay had promised to buy a beer for everyone that had beaten him in the Canadian border race, and thus far, he still hadn’t done it. Athan and I finally cornered him about it, since Athan wasn’t 21 yet, and would only be able to legally drink for a couple more days. Now in the Yukon, this would probably be the last place to buy one.
“Alright, you’ve been bothering me about this for weeks now. I’m going to buy you each two pitchers. If you finish them, good for you. If you don’t, you have to pay me back.”
I considered it. The worst-case scenario meant I’d have to pay for all the beer I got. No loss.
After one pitcher, it was clear I wouldn’t be able to finish another. I found Jay and told him not to buy a second pitcher. He agreed, and said not to worry about paying for the first, since I was responsible enough to call it off. Athan went for it on the second one. His night didn’t end as well.
When we left, I took two steps outside the bar, when – WHUMP! – something hit me in the stomach. Instinctively, I put my hands out to catch it. I looked down. Someone had shoved their clothes and shoes against me, then ran off back to the church. No way was I not joining in.
We had yet another day off in Whitehorse after that one. Wasn’t much to do. I finished my second book of the summer in the morning, ten days before the end of the ride. Later I joined a few people looking for somewhere good for lunch. After plenty of walking, we found two Tex-Mex places and turned down both. One claimed to be the only authentic Tex-Mex food in the Yukon, yet didn’t serve free chips ‘n salsa. Take it from a Texan, it’s not Tex-Mex unless you get chips ‘n salsa. We wound up going to a Chinese buffet, as the group I was with seems to go to all the time.
I went for another run in the afternoon and took a quick trip to the library to keep in touch with the folks back home. Then just kinda hung around back at the church. After dinner, the Sierras went over to the Rockies church, had a joint jam session with their instruments (Tony is a talent on piano), and watched “Waiting” after that. Unfortunately, some of the Rockies started playing “the game” from the movie after seeing it. We should’ve known.
The following morning would be our first joint ride since ATLAS, which I didn’t get to ride in anyway, making it the first time I would get to ride with half the team. Since the Rockies church was on the way out of town, the Sierras rode over there in the morning to have dedications there. Once we arrived, it seemed like a lot of waiting before we did anything. Dedications were more or less normal, with the exception of the haka performed by the Rockies and led by Jeff Gillette. If you don’t know what a haka is, it’s sort of a tribal chant performed by rugby teams before matches, originally done by the New Zealand team. I liked it!
I had wanted to ride with some of the Rockies since I hadn’t gotten to all summer. After hearing that they actually kept moving during the day and sometimes even skipped aid stations, I wanted to ride like the Rockies too. I heard Jeff mentioning the “Crazy Train” right after the haka, so I asked him about it. He mentioned that he, Jason, and a few others were going to pace line all day and only stop at every other aid station, trying to make good time on a 90-mile day. I was in.
The Crazy Train set off after most people already had, keeping a steady pace at a good clip. As we passed other riders, we told them to climb aboard. Soon enough, there were about 20 people in our pace line, with the original Crazy Train leading it. I got to talking with some of the Rockies as we pedaled, mostly talking about how things had been done on each route. The Rockies had apparently nicknamed me “TurboRob” during the summer when I wasn’t even there. I wasn’t too upset about that.
The time came for me to pull the pace line. I had felt like I wasn’t trying very hard at the pace set by those in front of me, so when I came to the front, I turned it up a little. After five or ten minutes, I noticed no one had said anything to me for a while. I turned around and noticed that the rest of the pace line was about half a mile back, so I went slow for a bit to let them catch up.
“Easy there, dude” said Nathan as he caught up to me. “We’re not all turbocharged like you.”
So I took it easy and pulled the line for a few more miles, then moved to my place in the back. As we came up to the first aid station, the original members of the Crazy Train agreed that we’d only stay for about five minutes and not bother taking our equipment off (many of the Rockies still used Camelbaks). We wound up staying put for at least 20 minutes. While there though, I was able to get acquainted with a few of the biking dance moves the Rockies had invented over the summer.
The Crazy Train finally departed again, keeping a moderate pace in the face of a headwind. After ten miles or so, the pace line broke up and we wound up spending more time side-by-side just talking (there were hardly any cars in the Yukon). We rolled the last ten miles of that stretch nice and easy, swapping stories from each other’s routes. It sounded like the Rockies had a good time that summer.
After the aid station, the next 20 miles were more of the same. Easy pace, several abreast, taking it easy and telling stories. I can’t say it wasn’t fun to talk to those three about some of the crazy things they’d done that summer, but I started to get bored and wanted to open it up. More talking could come once we’d finished riding. Once at the mile 60 aid station, I took a short one and took off solo, holding a solid pace for the last 30 miles, mostly riding by myself. As I pedaled through the evergreens, testing my limits ever so slightly with rarely another soul in sight, I grinned. Then I realized that from the description of the Rockies route given to me by the Crazy Train, had I been on their route, I probably could’ve ridden like that every day.
After being towards the back of the pack for most of the first 60 miles, I was the first to arrive at Haines Junction. That’s what only two quick aid stations will do for you. I tried to imagine making all four of them short, or skipping one altogether. I’d probably arrive by noon, hours before anyone else. Getting there so early would make me bored out of my mind sitting inside and waiting for my teammates to arrive, or even for the van to arrive so I could shower (there was probably someone still sleeping in it 50 miles back). Knowing that, I decided to take off down a road I knew we wouldn’t be using the next day and take a few pictures while I waited. I wound up rolling an extra ten miles just to make it a century.
We were staying in a rec center that night, and the owners were kind enough to let us go to the pool for free. Not only that, but we had hot showers. Athan and I both had a milkshake at a place called “Frosty Freeze,” nailing down the milkshake requirement for the Yukon. That night I had a good conversation with Lily, who agreed to drive the Alaskan Border Race in my place since she had a bad knee. For the first time, all 42 of us tried sleeping in the same place. Floor space was at a premium.
Aside from the conversation with Lily, I felt lonelier that night than I had all summer thus far, possibly with the exception of our second day off in Whitehorse. It might seem strange to some people, but I feel at my loneliest when I’m surrounded by people. When I’m on my own, it’s solitude, independence. When there are people around, sometimes I don’t know how to fit in, and I feel left out. Just sitting by myself when there are plenty of people to talk to, but I don’t know what to say, and no one approaches me first, makes me feel more alone than anything I’ve done on my own.
The next morning, less than a mile from our start, we would see our first sign that read “Anchorage.” It was a good feeling to know that the end was in sight. During the first stretch, I realized that with 80 miles on the day, we would have only as many aid stations as we had cars. That meant I wouldn’t have to wait at aid stations for the next car to catch up. I grinned. Today would be a good day.
For the first 30 miles or so, I was well on my way to making good time and spending most of the day alone. As I approached a lake though, the pavement abruptly ended and a few cars had been stopped by a woman in an orange vest and a hard hat. I pulled up to her to ask what was going on. Apparently the road was being re-paved and there wouldn’t be any pavement for a few miles. She told me that I could wait a few minutes for the pilot car and head through myself, or I could wait for the rest of the team and all go through together. Since I was the first there, it might be a while before the rest of the team got through. The thought of not having to wait was tempting since I’d been looking forward to that for a while, but I decided to wait for the team.
It was a good thing I did. Once more riders started arriving, we kept hearing later and later times announced for when we would be let through. I wound up having to wait there for about three hours. I wasn’t happy. With little else to do, I took a nap.
After a long wait, we were led through by a pilot car. The crappiness of the road was of Nutty Brown proportions and we had to stay on it for a long time. I was nervous that my stock tire was about to give. As we went though, the Rockies told us that wasn’t nearly the worst road they’d been on. Hard to imagine.
We spent all that time hugging the shore of a large, blue lake that would’ve been nice to look at if I didn’t have my head down watching all the softball-sized rocks I was dodging. A few teammates determined it absolutely necessary to mention every single rock they passed, though we passed about one per second. It didn’t take me long to figure out that there were basically rocks everywhere and I better look out for them myself. The pilot car made repeated stops as it led us through, making me even less happy about how long the process was taking.
We were finally set free and had a nice, long flat to start the next part of the ride. After spending so long not moving or hardly moving, I was ready to burst. Most of the team formed a massive pace line, but with all that frustration built up, I blew past them. A tail wind picked up, growing stronger as the day went on, until by the end it felt like I was sailing. With the exception of spending some time pedaling slow next to Ky as he went for his walk, I did most of the day at my kind of pace.
Burwash Landing Resort could be better described as a campsite than a resort. It sat next to a very large lake, which I was worried at first would be a breeding ground for mosquitoes. The wind kept getting stronger even after I got there though, until the lake was covered with whitecaps and half of our tents were having trouble staying vertical. The wind got bitterly cold that night, so I spent a lot of time inside the small diner/gift shop on the campgrounds. There wasn’t much else to do anyway.
That night Dan took me aside for a minute and told me that he and Paul had decided the Sierras wouldn’t participate in the Alaskan Border Race. The idea was that we had gotten there as a team and we should ride across the border together. He let me know that I was welcome to make my own decision though, since the Rockies were still racing.
Oh, I was racing. In fact, with Dan and Paul not racing, I actually stood a chance at winning. I smiled at the thought of going down in Texas 4,000 history as one of the winners of the Alaskan Border Race.
The next morning was especially cold. I put on what small amount of warm weather gear I had and headed out. Once again, the day would have as many aid stations as support vehicles, so I knew I should be able to hold whatever pace I wanted that day. Didn’t spend much time at aid stations and had a largely uneventful day spent alone. I figured most of the team would be hours behind me, especially the usual folks at the very back. Late in the ride though, I was shocked to see Hap and Andrew, both famous for their lengthy aid stations. They must’ve spent only a few minutes at aid stations like I had, and they were holding a good pace! It took some effort for me just to keep up.
We arrived at our destination about a dozen miles short of what the estimated mileage had been. Seemed kinda strange. Only a few minutes after we pulled in, one of our drivers came by and told us that we’d be going down the road a little farther, about another dozen miles to a different campground. We really didn’t mind. It would’ve otherwise been a short day, and doing more miles now just means we’re that much closer to Anchorage.
For the last dozen miles, Hap and Andrew were really pedaling. Once again, I had to put out some good effort just to hold their pace. I was curious what had gotten into them. I later found out from Hap that he, Andrew, and Dan had been hearing a lot from the Rockies about how slow they were and wanted to show that how fast he went didn’t have any bearing on anyone else.
I can’t speak for the whole team, but thanks to no one holding up the support vehicles, that night was the first in a long time that I got a shower before dinner. And instead of calling them slow, the Rockies started calling them lazy. Hap and Andrew then started planning to see how long they could stretch out the next day, which was only 35 miles.
That night was mostly spent hanging around the campgrounds, which had a big fire going. A few of us went over and sat on some logs around it, roasting a few marshmallows and just chilling out. We met a few Dutch guys who were there on vacation, as well as a guy who had spent over a year driving across the country (and now Canada) with his dog. The Rockies, jealous of the crossed fish heads and deer skull on the Sierra van, bought some moose antlers and attached them to the front of their van. I’d call them out for unoriginality if it didn’t look completely awesome. Nice relaxing evening, though I was starting to wish I hadn’t finished my book so fast.
I awoke the next morning knowing that it was to be my last full day in Canada and the great Alaskan Border Race was looming ahead the next day. With that in mind, I made an effort to get moving in the morning so I could leave as soon as dedications were finished. A few people had the idea of hanging around at the campsite for an hour or two before leaving that morning. I didn’t even stay long enough to find out what they decided. I wanted to finish this ride early so I’d have even longer to recover afterward and be fresh for the race tomorrow.
For the first few weeks of the summer, I would ride at a pace that made me feel like I was running. After a few of my teammates started complaining, I slowed that down to a light jog, which I kept for most of the summer. Today I was walking. Stayed in low gears all day and pedaled lightly. Somehow though, I wound up being the first one to the only aid station of the day. I guess most folks had decided to stay at the campsite.
Mione was running the lone aid station. I was happy about that. For whatever reason, her aid stations were always the best. While I munched on a Clif Bar and wondered where my teammates were, she asked, “So what’s your next challenge?” I smiled. I was glad I had left a reputation of embracing challenges, even amongst a group of people that decided to ride a bike to Alaska. I told her that I’d be running three marathons in the winter, training would start as soon as I got back to Texas, and if things went well, I’d be running another one in Boston in the Spring.
A few riders showed up, meaning it was time for me to leave. Finished out the day as I’d started it, moving at a pace that let me breathe through my nose. Still wound up being one of the first to our campsite. Once again had very little to do. After most of the team had arrived, it started raining and didn’t stop all night. For that reason, I spent a lot of time inside the convenience store on our campgrounds.
Since we were close to the USA border, a few of us decided to make a run for the border to buy cheaper beer, then bring it back to have a drink on our last night in Canada. Andrew was driving the car when they were stopped at the border.
“Passport, please. You are a US citizen?”
“What is the purpose of your visit?”
“B-double-E-double-R-U-N, BEER RUNNN!!!”
Without blinking, the guy told him where the nearest convenience store was and how much they were allowed to bring back. I’m guessing this happens often.
A lot of us decided to blow the last of our Canadian money on junk food. Quite a few more decided to get drunk and shoot off fireworks in celebration of going back to the USA the next day. Not I. I had a race the next day. I had my dinner and went to bed early, though had trouble sleeping through the angelic singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that was coming from the celebration nearby.
from Texas 4,000