Reflections

“And where we have thought to find an abomination; we shall find a God. And where we have thought to slay another; we shall slay ourselves. And where we thought to travel outward; we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone; we shall be with all the world.”      – Joseph Campbell

When I decided to accept this quest of riding solo to the Arctic Ocean, I really didn’t know exactly what I was signing up for. From the start, I told myself that I am strong and capable and also totally freaked out. I also reminded myself that, “no one is making you do this, Chica.”  With that, I took a deep breath on my first morning, and every morning after that, and said, “Let’s just ride for an hour and see what happens.” By the time the hour was up everyday, I was on-board and totally in my bliss. As you can see, talking to yourself really helps!

And so, over the next two and a half months, I cycled 2,559 miles in silence with music, singing, listening to podcasts, whistling to the bears and having two-way conversations in Spanish.

I have been afraid much of the time, and I have overcome my fear most of the time. I’ve fallen down and gotten back up with more strength and determination than ever.

I have cried from joy, grief, sadness, nostalgia, awe, and excitement.

I have pushed myself further outside the confines of my comfort zone than I’ve ever imagined possible, and slowly, over time, adapted and thrived in this newly expanded universe. I learned to embrace the immense space and silence that an empty road offers and be fully present in the sheer magnitude of grandeur and beauty that surrounded me. 

I have unplugged in order to listen to myself, and I have learned to let go of agendas, time-frames, and outcomes in order to be open to possibly in the moment.

I re-learned that 99.9 percent of humanity is good. The power of connection, is real and both big and small acts and gestures of kindness shift the energy of the planet…or, at least of my world.  

I confirmed that I have an angel that watches over me constantly and is no doubt exhausted at the end of each day from this ridiculously hard job. 

And, I learned that when I want to be I am resilient, persistent, determined, capable, and strong.  And also terrified, uncertain and incompetent.  In short, I am a daily contradiction. 

For the record…I spent almost all my time in Canada. There is one Highway that goes to the Arctic in Alaska called the Dalton Highway and one road in Canada that goes to the Arctic called the Dempster. I rode the Dempster. (Sorry, that was the teacher in me).

A Final Tally… One flat tire, five pounds lost then promptly found, new Jones bars (handle-bars), and Brooks B17 Saddle were awesome (game changers), No accidents, no bear mauling (as I had imagined everyday),

Animal sightings… six black bears, three grizzlies (one right up in my grill), two moose, one lynx, one coyote (the four legged type), a bunch of beavers, swan, bald eagles, humpback whale, orcas, seals, and a boat load of ravens.

Overhead…Aurora borealis – 2X!! and three FULL rainbows!

Food… I eat like a Suma wrestler when I’m biking. Every two hours I eat or I loose my shit. I bring a Jet boil which only boils water, so I eat only what you can boil… coffee, oatmeal, couscous, ramen noodles, instant potatoes, packaged soups, dehydrated stuff, and then of course lots of peanut butter, cheese, salami, convenience store garbage, and chocolate. I occasionally eat out. On this trip the cost of food was outrageous. A hamburger cost $20, actually anything cost $20. Needless to say, a huge part of my budget went to food.

People… You meet the nicest most generous people on a road trip. Unfortunately, I didn’t get everyones photo but here are a few that I did.

This young lady from the Url Mts of Russia tried to upstage me. Yep, she rafted down the Mackenzie River first on an inflatable raft (on the back of her bike) then proceeded to bike the Dempter Hwy after that – all by herself. She is of a different breed. I had half a mind to go get my own raft after seeing her!

And finally, the ferry ride through the inside passage from Haines, Alaska to Bellingham, WA was gorgeous, relaxing, and the perfect end to an amazing journey. The trip is four nights long. If you don’t get a cabin, you get a million star, first-class room on deck.

That’s all folks!

It was great having you along for the ride. Stay tuned to the next adventure somewhere out there in our big green and blue planet earth!

Hugs,

Denise

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Home!

My life-long friend Wendy B had a homecoming for me on Camano Island, the halfway point on the ride home from Bellingham to Seattle. So sweet!!

Yep, it’s true! I made it back without incident. Now, let me tell you how it all went down…

From Haines Junction, Yukon, Canada, I rode a magical 146 miles to the small port town of Haines, Alaska. I spent three nights, four days on this gorgeous expanse of land because I never wanted it to be over. This corner of the world includes four parks that make up the largest protected landmass ON EARTH! Who knew? I’m telling you it’s spectacular! It’s often referred to as the “Mountain Kingdom of North America.” It includes the continents largest assemblage of glaciers and the greatest collection of peaks above 16,000 ft. Mount St. Elias at 18,008 ft. is the highest peak in Canada and the second highest in the US after the grand master – Denali!

Here are just a few photos that don’t do the scenery justice at all. All taken by my little wimpy outdated iPhone.

Just outside of Haines Junction
These crappy images are my attempt with a tripod.

You might notice one thing missing in all these photos. Yes, that’s right…cars! It was crazy, but there were really very few cars on the road. I could have been riding naked and no one would have known. That was kind of the theme of my entire trip (no, not riding naked!), but I was more surprised about this section. I was told the reason was that it was already September and tourism really dies off towards the end of August. Fantastic!

So the days were still long but not as long as up north. It was now getting dark around 9pm vs midnight. The first night I stayed at Million Dollar camp ground (which was free for me!). No one was there when I rode in then two couples came in and thankfully parked next to me. They had a big campfire and invited me over for a glass of homemade wine!

The second night I slept in the “Green Shack.” There is a long stretch of road with nothing in-between. Apparently, this hut was built to shelter skiers, hikers and bikers alike. I was kind of excited to stay here in the middle-of-nowhere. I stopped around 8pm., made dinner, “washed” up a bit and then hunkered down for the night. When I closed the door it was pitch dark inside something that I wasn’t used to on this trip. There was a window but it was boarded up. I imagined to keep it warmer. A couple days later, I met a guy who had also stayed here and told me a mouse had ran across his face in the night. And, when I mentioned the window being boarded up he said because a grizzly had smashed it in! Ignorance definitely is bliss.

After the little green shack, I joyfully road to the British Colombia/Alaska boarder to the tiny hamlet of 33 mile. Here I rewarded myself with a cold beer and another little shack. The red shack. No mice or rats ran over my face, but again, just a matter of luck.

From here it was a bittersweet downhill cruise into Haines. The journey wasn’t over but the riding pretty much was. I savored every moment of the unlimited space and meditative silence.

And finally, the inevitable happened…

I can’t complain; I had three spectacular days in Haines.

I was lucky to find a little free place to pitch my tent. I had to share it with a few odds and ends, not to mention an “odd” year-around neighbor, but the price was right and the views were first class!

Thanks for taking the time to share in my big adventure! I will have one final post before I wrap it up. Please stay tuned in the following weeks as I post photos on the ride back to Seattle on the Alaska Marine Ferry and share some final reflections on this awesome ride up north.

And, finally, this is what fuels me on the road. Yep, lots of chocolate. Food of the Gods!!

Cheers,

Denise

Chicken or Bust!

I can now check the Dempster off my bucket list, but the adventure continues. After hitching back to Dawson City, I hung out with Linda and Peycho for a couple of days to regroup before starting another segment of the ride.

I got lucky. For the first time, Dawson City had a day for tourists to go pan for gold just like the ole gold rush days (1896-1899). Bonanza! On my third pan, I struck it rich. I found one of the biggest nuggets of the day. Unfortunately, my plans to retire early were dashed when my nugget tipped the scales at only $75. Of course that would only get me through the first year.

Linda and I stayed under the stars with Peycho the first two nights then decided we needed a bit of pampering, so we headed to the hostel across the Yukon River.

Home sweet home! No electricity or running water but at least we didn’t have to pitch our tents.

Morning coffee heated on the wood stove.

The mighty Yukon!

Free ferry service back and forth between the town and hostel 24 hours a day. Across this ferry is also were the Top of the World Highway also begins.

Top-of-the-World-Highway

From Dawson I rode straight uphill to the Top-of-the-World Highway. It’s a 66 mile ride to the most northern boarder between Canada and the US. I was lucky to have the sun on my back the entire day. A couple days after I finished this pass, I met a woman in the campground who asked if I was the woman who got chased by a grizzly riding this pass. What? Are you kidding me? Turns out an RV came along just in time and saved the day. So, ya, shit does happen!

Chicken

Chicken proved to be a little slice of heaven, or rather a big slice. I indulged in a few slices of wood-oven baked pizza, blueberry pie with ice-cream, a huge chocolate chip cookie plus an enormous cinnamon roll and to top it all off, a beer on tap. Sick! And, then to help burn if off, I did a little pole dance in the Chicken Salon. An Aussie hanging out asked if I wanted to “blow my panties up” in this little contraption made and patented in Chicken. The remaining panties are then hung from the ceiling of the bar along with hundreds of other obscure items. I told him that I’d love to, but then I’d have to come back and retrieve them in the morning as they were my last clean pair. In the end, I decided against it.

This delicious cinnamon roll was a gift for the hard work of biking to Chicken. I kind of wish she gifted it before the cookie and pie, but, nevertheless, I was grateful!

Best Little saloon in Alaska!

Crazy!!

Tok

Linda and I rode together to Tok where we hung out for two nights in the Arctic Tent before continuing the journey. Josh, our dorm mate from Florida treated us to a royal b-b-que. Delicious!

The road to Tok. A freakin hilly mofo ride.

This arctic tent was like an ice-box! Way colder than just being outside.

Our friend Josh with a sweet southern drawl.

The ride goes on! I’ll keep you updated as temperatures plummet at night here in Alaska and Canada.

Final destination Haines, Alaska then on the Alaska Marine Highway ferry to Bellingham- a five day, four night ride through the inside passage. A good way to reflect and decompress before hitting the ground running once again.

Cheers!

Denise

The Dempster!

During the entire ride on the Cassiar and also heading west on the Alaska Highway from Lake Watson to Whitehorse, I kept asking all the bikers that I’d come across riding south if there were any bikers heading north. All of them told me there is a Canadian about two days ahead and a “crazy” Bulgarian about a day ahead. I knew that I probably wouldn’t catch up with the Canadian, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to catch up with the Bulgarian.

As I approached the visitor center in Dawson, a bike overly loaded was leaning against the building. I saw it and instantly knew who it belonged to. I went in and walked straight over to the man hunched over his phone checking messages. Are you the Bulgarian bike rider, I asked. He seemed confused but said, “Yes.” The rest, you will see, is history!

Me, Rene and Peycho heading out of Dawson on a rainy day.

Another biker, Rene from Germany, rolled up to the visitor center as well but he was only going to the junction to the Dempster then heading south. We decided to ride together and stay the first night in the abandoned house- protected from the rain- and start the Dempster the following day. And so begins the Adventure…

So, the boys rode with a rack of beer between them and managed to find a fifth of unopened Vodka in the abandoned house. What luck! That, coupled with a couple grams of pot (legal in the Yukon) and a pack of cigarettes “we” were good to go! Of course all of that was polished off before we even began the ride the next day.

During the ride to the junction, it was obvious that I was a much faster rider – not because I’m all that but because Mr. Bulgaria was virtually carrying his house. After a couple of hours of riding together, we decided to split up and then meet back up at the end of the day to camp. And so this was the basically pattern. I did have to wild camp one night on my own. I rode from 10am to 10pm that day. If a griz was going to maul me to death, I wanted to be in REM sleep.

Designated camp grounds usually have an enclosed space with a wood stove.

Eagle Plains and beyond…

For virtually my entire ride, everyone told me that I’d better hurry because “Winter is coming!” You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought. It’s only mid-August for Gods sake. Now I know that when people in the know tell you what’s going on, believe them!

I rode into Eagle Plains on the first full day of rain. Luckily, the amazing woman in charge of the Highway on this section of the Dempster allowed us to sleep in the garage under shelter. From there on out, because of the harsh conditions, Peycho and I rode together. We holed up in another abandoned house on a lake for almost a full day waiting for the rain to stop. As it turns out, this “crazy” Bulgarian is indeed different, but in a very eccentric and endearing way. He follows his own rules and lives on the fringe without hurting anyone. I learned more about the history and politics of the Serbian people and their surrounding neighbors than I’d even imagined on this trip. Who knew that I’d be downloading a book about the Ottoman Empire on this trip!

Inuvik

We finally made it to Inuvik. The Mackenzie ferry stopped running because of high winds. Luckily, they made an emergency run about two hours after we got there so we were lucky to jump aboard and make it to the other side to continue the ride to the end.

We slept outside of the community center for 3 nights. Every morning the First Nations janitor would leave the front door slightly ajar so we could come in and use the restroom and showers. A true gem of a person!

Tuktoyatuk

Dang, because of snow, mud and freezing rain, we couldn’t ride to Tuktoyakuk. So, we did the next best thing and hitched a ride. I also met up with my friend Linda from Seattle who was also in Inuvik and the three of us got a ride together with the same family.

Back to Dawson

All three of us were lucky to hitch a ride back to Dawson the following day…two loaded bikes plus three people PLUS all of their stuff! Unbelievable. It took us a full day to get back to Eagle Plains – the half way point. It was now snowing and the roads were a foot of slippery mud. A semi jackknifed closing the north bound route and there was a critical accident that briefly closed the south bound traffic in the morning. A huge group of travelers were now stuck in Eagle Plains and who knew for how long! Folks cooked together outside, people shared their food with us and invited us for beers, heck- the family even offered Linda and I the extra bed- AND, we shamelessly took it! It was a true moment of community and solidarity that none of us will soon forget!

And, finally, the road was opened south and we all made it back to Dawson city safe and sound.

The Dempster was epic! There are other stories that I would love to share with you over a glass of wine or a cold beer or just a good cup of strong coffee, but until then the journey continues. Each segment is equally magical and challenging and pushes me to a new normal. Stay tuned for the next installment as soon as I get back into WiFi land. I can’t wait to tell you what happens next!

Thanks for participating in my journey from afar. It’s comforting knowing friends and family are out there rooting for me!

Hugs,

Denise

Bears, Rain and Serial Killers…Oh My!

I left Prince Rupert the moment the sun came out and rode 95miles to Terrace. Suddenly, my whole mind-set changed as I rode through gorgeous scenery on a good road with a wide shoulder and few cars. This is what’s it’s all about I thought as I left the rain behind, at least for a day.

The Skeena River. The longest undimmed River in North America.

In Terrace I had a Warmshowers host who said that they would be on vacation but she told me to find the hidden key and stay as long as I’d like! Crazy, right! This was a life saver for me. I washed clothes, cooked food, slept late and escaped two days of lightening and thunder storms. But that’s just the start…at the same time, I found out from two Seattle friends that there had been three murders (an Aussie and US couple and a man from Dease Lake – a town I would ride through in 3 days) and two missing youth on the exact same highway that I was about to start riding up the next day!

Everyone told me that this has never before happened in British Columbia. All of a sudden the bear threat slide down a notch and serial killer rose to first place. No worries, I registered with the police then took off on a side route to Nass Camp that would link up to Highway 37 – the Cassiar Highway.

The route along Highway 113 to Nass camp

Another fantastic ride! The plan was to camp here and then ride Cranberry Junction to 37 the next day. The problem is that the weather begins to change and huge rain clouds move in. The campground looks completely destroyed from the previous two nights of windstorms and there is no one around. To further freak me out, I hear from locals that Cranberry Junction, which is just an old logging road, is impassible by car because of all the fallen trees and branches and if I ride, I’ll be the only one there. Oh hell no! In my head, this is where the killer has escaped to. Now, I’m super creeped out and just want to be back in that warm, safe, cozy Warmshowers house back in Terrace.

Just when I start to panic, a single woman drives up with her dog in a small car and a canoe and a huge storage rack on top of the car. She comes over and says she’s also creeped out. I tell her we have a warm house in Terrace if we can rig my bike on top of her car. Just then a fellow drives up and the three of us go to work to make this happen. Success! We finally make it back at 10:30 pm exhausted!

Kam from Whitehorse comes to my rescue!

Now, word on the street is that the two missing teens are actually the killers! There are lots of rumors and speculation, but I say screw it and head out anyway. I have to get north and the clock is ticking.

As soon as I start riding again my fears almost completely evaporate. Over the next seven days I bike everyday anywhere from 5 to 7 hours a day ( which translates to 50-70 or so miles a day give or take) completely by myself with the occasional passing car. I try to camp around people but the days are mine!

Bikers

Until about day four on the Cassiar, I had not run into a single bike tourer and then I started to see one or two people a day heading south. So far, six weeks into my trip, I still haven’t found a single person riding north. I guess the universe wants me to do this along. We’ll see!

Biker from France with his DIY bear horn

German family cycling from Whitehorse to Vancover.

North Americans

A French couple driving the America’s in their 1948 Citroen.

A German cycling Alaska to Argentina.

A Brazilian couple (of Chinese descent) riding up from Brazil.

Steve from New Zealand who rode down the Dempster.

Adam from England riding Alaska to Argentina after a year on the rode. I follow him on Instagram. When he rode up to me I said, “Hi Adam!” I think he was a bit surprised, as was I!

The Scot on the road for two years said this has been the most remote and isolated part of his trip.

People and connections

At the end of the day, it’s the people you meet that really make the trip. We are wired for connection and that becomes clear when you are on your own. Someone everyday has helped me out, motivated me or inspired me with their kindness. In fact, that’s the only reason that I am here. Everyone has been concerned for my safety if not because of murders on the loose or threatening bears then just plain old incessant rain. It really does take a village.

Allen, the maintenance guy drove me down to Stewart/Hyder for the day.

This great family from Terrace donated their tarp for the night. Priceless!

This lady let me hang out all night in the trucker cafe. I was almost an employee before I left.

This nice man (overalls) gave me a lift to my campsite after a long days ride. I was too lazy to ride the final 20 miles after already putting in 70 miles.

These two supervised the fixing of my first flat tire on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.

The French family I camped with one night. We had so much fun!

The Alaska Highway

And so, the killers escaped to Manitoba, and I made it to Watson Lake and the Alaska Highway.

Whitehorse

I’m now in Whitehorse gearing up for the second and more remote part of my trip, the 450 mile Dempster Highway. Heading up to Dawson City tomorrow where I will get my head around this ride before taking off either alone or accompanied by another biker on the 10th of August.

En Fin (Finally)

I have been so hungry at times that roadkill starts to look good. I’ve been so sweaty and stinky that I couldn’t sleep because of my own stench. I have had whole conversations with myself out loud in Spanish with just the bears as my witness, and I’ve cried for miles on end for what might have been but never was. And yet, I wouldn’t trade a single moment of this glorious ride for all the gold in Dawson City. I call this “cycle therapy.”

Haida Gwaii (formally Queen Charlotte Island)

I spent eight days on the gorgeous island of Haida Gwaii and all but one was rainy. One day it poured for about 12 hours straight. I lost it! I wanted to go home. I told myself as soon as it lightens up I’ll take that road everyone talks about then I’ll call it a rap. Of course, at the end of your rope, just as you’re completely losing your shit, is where the magic begins! At least that’s how it works for me.

A

A nice lady invited me to stay in her studio, a Cuban guy sailing from Alaska with a French family invited me to coffee and surprised me with a few chocolate bars. How did he know that I love chocolate! I went to a community bike fix program started by a teacher and Warmshowers host. I learned a ton about Haida culture and customs. I leaned that entertainment on a Friday night entails going around to the various bonfire parties. If they don’t know who you are, they ask who your mother is since it’s a matriarchal society.

By the eighth day the sun came out and I didn’t want to leave. Part of the reason I didn’t want to leave is because the “vacation ” part of my trip would be over when I left the island. Now the games will begin!

I took the seven hour ferry ride back to Prince Rupert last night which got me into town at 6am. Tomorrow there is sun in the forecast, so I’ll leave. There is rain and thunder predicted the rest of the week.

On the islands the fog horn went in my front pouch.

On this next leg of the trip, I’ll still be in British Columbia. In fact B.C. is so big that you can fit California, Washington, Oregon and a little bit of New England inside her massive boarders. It’s as wide as Texas with only two highways heading north. I’ll be on the Cassier Highway otherwise known as “Bear Ally.” Not to worry, I know exactly what to do if I see a bear, scream and run!!

She-RA jumped ship…now I have the mighty eagle feather to protect me!

I’ll be following the Skeena River up from Pr. Rupert the first day. Apparently, it’s the longest un-dammed river in North America. Who knew? I imagine it will be about two weeks until I’m able to post again. By then I should be in Whitehorse.

Feel free to keep sending good vibes…I receive the positive energy even without WiFi.

Love,

Denise