So Thursday was the big day. We woke up in Carcross at 7 knowing that we were about 50 miles from Alaska. And this time it was for real, not like when we were 40 miles away from Hyder a week and a half ago. Despite the cloudy skies, we were excited to grab a big breakfast at the local cafe (the only restaurant in town) and bike to Skagway. We walked into the cafe at around 8:10 after breaking camp only to be shouted at by the waitress, cook, and only employee for arriving before the grill was warm. I guess they don’t turn it on until the first customers walk in.
By the time we finished breakfast and biked out of town, the headwinds were blowing and the clouds were starting to contemplate the rain that would fall continously on us for the next couple days. We struggled along some difficult road, full of ups and downs on our way up towards Fraser, the last town on the Canadian side of the border. Somewhere along the way it started pouring and the three of us retreated into the shells of silence and irritability we had developed over the last few days. We were on our 17th straight day of biking, almost all of it in foul conditions, and only the knowledge that good beer awaited us in Skagway kept our legs moving against the deep exhaustion in the damp and cold.
A few miles before Fraser the scenery changed remarkably. Gone were the proud evergreens and spruce that had lined our path for hundreds of miles, replaced by barren rock, lychen, and the occasional, scraggly, stunted, 5 foot tall pine tree bent low by the wind. We were surrounded by thousands of small lakes and ponds, some crystal clear and obviously formed by the interminable rain and others the bright chalky blue of glacial melt water. It was beautiful in it’s desolation and despite it’s barrenness, a welcome change from the forests we’d been staring at for weeks.
As we passed Fraser and the Canadian Customs post, the road began again to climb and we soon found ourselves among the clouds, literally. Visibility was limited to 10 feet in front or behind us, and I let myself fall back from Dan and Aaron to fully experience the silence and solitude, broken every few minutes by a passing tour bus. Soon we had climbed the last mile or so of the pass (but not before Aaron and I had to change into new pairs of socks to stave off frostbite) and found ourselves face to face with a sign we had pedaled over 2800 miles to see, “Welcome to Alaska.” But before we could get to it, we had to wait in line.
Two tour buses pulled into the turnout as we were pedaling up and just under a hundred warm, dry, well-rested cruise passengers filed out, all intent on getting pictures of themselves with the sign they had so eagerly anticipated on their 20 minute drive up from port. We waited patiently, and after 20 minutes of shivering finally got our turn, but before we could all three get photos, one last woman descended the bus and commanded us to move our bikes out of her shot. Aaron nearly throttled her.
But he kept his cool and we headed down the 15 mile descent out of the clouds, and into Skagway, collecting our train-shaped passport stamp at customs along the way. And soon we had made it. After weeks of riding, we had made Alaska.