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Bike and Bear 3 med students biking 3500 miles, for science! Fri, 15 Aug 2008 05:30:00 +0000 en Glorious Glennallen! Rainbow Buddies comes to a close! Fri, 15 Aug 2008 01:04:12 +0000 Dan Our last, final, day of riding started…of course…in the rain. We left the wonderful Midway Services completely happy, and totally anticipating the glorious finish and meeting Will to go out to McCarthy. The morning was uneventful, and we trudged through pretty crappy weather. About 25 miles in we stopped in at a gas station where I had pizza rolls (yum) and Aaron read the newspaper. Feeling pretty relaxed about our last day, we headed back out. The weather from here took a turn for the sunnier, and pretty soon it was actually warm out. The mood was extremely happy and we were both ecstatic to be nearing the finish line.

Then, out of the blue, my derailleur cable snapped, and got lodged inside my shifter. Crazy. This had never happened to me before, but thankfully I had brought along a dummy shifter. I swapped out the cable and installed the new shifter, and was soon on my way again. This all happened about 12 miles from the end of the last day, crazy!

Ah, glorious Glennallen, home of the Alaska Bible College, and not much else. There is only one radio station, and it is a “spiritual station.” I tell you this because this informs the fact that there is not a single bar in Glennallen. As such, there was nowhere in town to get a celebratory beer to toast the end of a great ride. However, about 5 miles out there was a liquor store, where Aaron and I picked up a beer a piece and smuggled them into town in paper bags.

We arrived into the full splendor of Glennallen, a series of gas stations intercalated with church after church after church. Um, yay!?

The trip finally finished, we pulled into the nearest campground to await getting picked up by Will the next morning. We stayed at Northern Night’s RV campground, which was by all accounts mediocre except for one thing: it was free brownies and ice cream night! That night we had celebratory hamburgers at the finest dining establishment in town: the Tastee Freez, where we had probably the meanest, most disengaged customer service I had ever experienced. Ahh, glorious Glennallen. We also experienced in the grocery store what many have read about but few have seen. The entire store was perfectly faced. Every can was perfectly turned so that its label was facing out, all the fruit was perfectly arranged, and it looked like we were the first people to ever go grocery shopping there. This was one of the many wonders that our final destination, Glennallen, had to offer us!

We decided it would be nice to do some laundry, so we went to the laundromat, where we encountered this hilarious sign:

Apparently they have trouble with people doing their peeing in laundry machines. Glorious Glennallen! Oh, and the change machine was broken, so we had to go from business to business changing our dollars into quarters, which was made difficult by the fact that noone would do it for us! Finally having scrounged up enough quarters, we did our laundry and retired to our tents, exhausted, but soooo glad to be done! Tomorrow we would be on the road with Will, and we were excited to give him crap for making us end our trip in Glennallen!

Oh God, where am I? Fri, 15 Aug 2008 00:40:43 +0000 Dan Today’s ride was fairly uneventful. We started out on a long stretch of level ground that eventually wound its way back into the mountains. With the mountains came the rain. We were riding through moose country, and at one point two of these large animals lumbered out of the woods ahead of us and scampered across. These huge animals were truly magnificent.

The real story of the day happened when we arrived at our destination, a place called Midway Services, which offered free camping, according to the Milepost we had read in Tok. We arrived after a long descent which soaked all our clothes through. As we pulled up, we noted the sign which said closed at 6:00. Drat. It was 6:30, but we saw some people inside, so we decided to knock. Someone opened the door for us, and when we stepped in, we looked around and all we could see were guns, everywhere, and animal heads, everywhere. There was a crowd of randomly assembled people in the room, all sitting around, apparently chatting. Two older guys with beards were sitting by the wall, smoking. One of them turned to us and said “We’ve been expecting you.”

Oh god.

Thinking we had just stepped into Deliverance, Aaron and I started backing up. The man continued, saying, “We saw you coming down the road. We passed you in our truck. We knew you’d stop here.”

Oh god.

Well, the fact that I’m sitting here typing this means that Aaron and I aren’t in the Alaskan bush somewhere in many pieces. It turns out that we had arrived at the friendliest, most hospitable place we had encountered in the entire trip. Jay (the man who talked to us first) and Debbie run a place called Midway Services, and seeing that we were wet and tired, they offered us their guest cabin for the night, free of charge! Jay had actually picked up two belgian hitchhikers, Bjorn and Lizalotte, who were the other people in the room, and along the way, saw us and forecasted that we would be stopping at their place, as many cyclists had done before. They let us get any food that we needed, and gave us warm showers and access to their laundry after hours. Best of all, we stayed under a roof that night!

We spent the next couple hours sitting around the shop with Jay and Debbie as Jay told us stories of his ‘other’ job, which was…hunting grizzly bears!!! He told us story after story of fighting off wolves, getting stomped by moose, and how to hunt down the great grizzly. COOLEST GUY EVER.

The belgians got there first, and got first pick at the free accomodations. Jay and Debbie offered them an old abandoned school bus (circa Into the Wild) that they had converted into a very livable little space, full with stove and beds.

Best of all, it was heated (which our cabin was not). The belgians invited us in and shared some of their wine with us over dinner. Full of food and stories, Aaron and I retired back to our cabin and slept really well that night. This was by far the coolest trail magic we had received yet, and we went to bed filled with stories of grizzly hunting and belgian hitchhiking.

We were really excited too, since tomorrow was our last day (ever?) of riding! We were arriving in Glennallen, FINALLY!

The Ride from Hell. No wait, can you square hell? Thu, 14 Aug 2008 23:56:41 +0000 Dan Today was by far the toughest riding I had ever done in my entire life, and Aaron and I unanimously agree that this was the hardest day of the entire trip. When we woke up, it was pouring buckets, the type of rain that soaks you within seconds. What’s more, it was really cold, down in the forties all day long.

Apparently, this road has claimed some lives

The rain continued to pour down on us as we trudged the 88 miles from Border City to Tok. We hadn’t had a decent meal in days, and the road (if you can call it that) was a giant, wet, muddy minefield of potholes and washout. There was nothing in between and nowhere to stop except one sad gas station called Naabia Niigh where we had, you guessed it, microwave chicken tenders. To make matters worse, Aaron’s front derailleur failed and he had to retighten his cable using his leatherman midway.

The road was so bad in some sections that they had to take us across in pilot cars. We welcomed these rides, as they took us off those terrible roads and out of the cold. Here we met one of the more interesting characters of the trip. We had been warned by the german tourist of a few days ago of a “bad man” who was supposedly quite surly. When we arrived at the construction zone, out of the car stepped a large, disheveled man. After getting into the pilot truck with him, he immediately began talking during which he used the explicative beginning with ‘f’ more times than Aaron and I had heard in our lifetimes. Aaron, trying to lighten the mood, offered our driver a beer to drive us all the way to Tok. He replied with, “You’ll $*%&ing have to give me $*%&ing more than that. I’ll get $*%&ing fired and $*%&ing have to scrap $*%&ing to $*%&ing live. You’d better $*%&ing give me more $*%&ing like $15,000.” At some point the conversation got ridiculous, and “bad man” started cursing about the rain and his vegetable garden. “MY $*%&ing GARDEN!!!!” AAAHHH get us out of this car!!!!!!

We were dropped off in what looked like a warzone of mud and road. As we rode by, we could see people in RV’s snapping photos of the “mountain biking” road cyclists. We got drenched in mud and rain, and pulled up to the next pilot car stretch. Here we met a Native American Bernie, who was, in contrast to the “bad man,” quite friendly and talked to us for about an hour about hunting caribou and working up on the North Slope by the Arctic Circle. He inspired us with an unforgettable piece of advice his grandfather had told him as a young boy. “Fight the weather.”

Determined to fight the weather, but not that much, we hopped into the next pilot car. The driver of this car was a really nice girl who was a stark contrast to angry big man. She offered Aaron candy while he sat in the warm cab and I sat outside in the pickup bed. (I actually chose to sit there to take some pictures).

The next 30 miles were a tortuous grind up and down many hills and we finished off our ride into Tok with a long 12 mile uphill into a headwind. Hardest. Day. Ever.

We arrived in Tok completely exhausted and beaten down. We had heard for several days and from several people of an establishment called “Fast Eddies,” and that this was supposedly the best place for food in town. We had actually heard about Fast Eddie’s for days preceding, and from several people. After picking up a hotel room as a reward for the hardest day of biking ever, we ran over to Fast Eddies and quickly (and sort of disgustingly) devoured the largest pizza they had between the two of us in something like 10 minutes.

Tok, a highway junction town, to two hungry beaten cyclists, was a magical paradise. (Laughing, Will assured me, several days later, that Tok is actually a total dump, and that he was amused that our standards were so incredibly low.) Well it didn’t seem like one at the time: there were several choices for eating, many motels, and gasp, a grocery store!!! We still maintain, Tok was a magic wonderland.

Beautiful, wonderful, Tok

Alaska!!! …again Thu, 14 Aug 2008 23:20:12 +0000 Dan Any day that you wake up and it’s below zero is gonna be rough. It’s even rougher when you’re in a tent and have to then go biking in the misty rain. Well today’s ride was extra sweet in this regard, and we rode through this final portion of the Yukon past more closed service stops. We stopped at one point where we met a lady driving to Fairbanks, and she taught us this nifty Alaska term that we would later throw around to sound cool. When you see fresh snow on the mountain tops (which there definitely was, even though it was JULY for God’s sake), this is called “termination dust” - which heralds the coming of winter. JULY. -shakes head- At least there were pretty duckies.

We rode hard this morning, anticipating our arrival in Beaver Creek, which claimed to have services. We were getting desperate with food, and I had a final blowout of a peanut butter jerky sandwich to hold me over until Beaver Creek, where we expected the roads to be paved with pizzas. Well, gastronomic epicenter Beaver Creek was not. In fact, all the restaurants in town were closed, and the only option for food was two EXTREMELY overpriced gas stations where we could load up on chips and peanut butter at a hefty 7 dollars per jar. OK, so forget the peanut butter, but those chips didn’t quite hit the spot. At the next gas station in town, the only food option was what looked like what happened if you barfed out a pizza and then put it under a heat lamp for several weeks. When two starving cycle tourists look at your food and say “No way in hell I would eat that,” you know your food is bad.

We left Beaver Creek without a warm meal, and having only eaten pretzels and soda. We curled back into our hungry shells and awaited the day when we could eat again.

The final leg into Alaska was a no-man’s land between the two borders. Aaron will narrate to you the striking difference between the two lands:

Finally, the skies parted, and we reached it: Alaska! …again. This time it was sunny where we arrived and Aaron and I celebrated the completion of our goal …again.

As we rode across the border, we ran into some motorcyclists who happened to be from Pittsburgh. We then rode on a few miles to a gas station called Border City, where we were shocked to hear that their grill shut down at 5 o clock. We had microwaved chicken tenders, and explored the nearby Scotty Creek Campground, which was basically a surly guy in a gas station that clearly had nothing to do all day. He made up a price for camping, and we turned it down and opted for staying at Border City, where we could at least get showers for the same price. Once showered, we tried to post on the blog, but the employees were extremely obnoxious, especially this one dude, Jeremy, who was tremendously douchy and a jerk to some of the customers. We heard the ride the next day was gonna be really tough owing to massive road construction, so we jet out of there early and tried to catch some shut-eye before hell-day.

Sorry! The Yukon Is Closed. Please Come Again! Thu, 14 Aug 2008 22:52:28 +0000 Dan When we woke up, Bob and Kathy invited us in again for coffee, and soon afterwards we were off.  Earlier I mentioned that they had given us soup, and that this was crucial.  Well today, we discovered that all of the services we were planning on utilizing were shut down.  I’m not talking like one or two places.  I mean like 10-15 places on this long lonely stretch of highway were completely closed.  We must have passed about 8 cafe’s on this day without a single sign of human life other than the abandoned buildings.  We met a german tourist going the other direction who essentially told us as much, and that we would have to prepare for several days of eating out of our bags.

We totally should have gotten way more food at Haines Junction!  We started rationing our pop-tarts, and measuring out half-spoonfuls of peanut butter to hopefully last all the way to our next grocery store several days down the road in Tok.   At this point, the next cafe was in Beaver Creek, near the end of the next day.  (We would later find that this one was closed too).  One of the closed places along the way was this creepy abandoned “Moose Turd” yard, which are apparently wooden sculptures that are made of a type of wood that looks like it has tumors.  We walked up to the workshop, which looked like something out of the movie Seven, and found its ceiling to be covered with post-it notes of people who had stopped by.

What’s more, there were these extremely creepy sculptures which certainly were bizarre and even more scary in the context of an abandoned place.

On the up side, the weather was actually sunny, and we had a nice tailwind carrying us past all these closed down places.  We finished the 83 mile day off at another primitive campground, the Lake Creek Government Camp, complete with murky, chunk-filled water.  If we didn’t have Giardiasis by now, we must have guts o’ steel.  After talking to some locals, it becomes apparent the reason for all the closings.  Electricity out in the wilderness costs as much as 75 cents/kWhr.   With the decrease in RV traffic, the substantial cost of operation has forced most of these businesses to close, much to the chagrin of these two hungry cyclists.

Either way, it was a pretty good day of riding, and we are one day closer to finishing!

An 81, no 95, no 110 Mile Great, no Terrible, no Great Day Thu, 14 Aug 2008 22:19:07 +0000 Dan Today we had a lovely 81 95 110 mile day over no one two passes. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

The day started with a sketchy water collection at Million Dollar Falls (if you know that this stream is teeming with giardia, please don’t tell us). Taking our first sheepish sips, we could only think of what the next 6 days would hold, where we would either be fine or have explosive diarrhea. We shall see!

We proceeded along a beautifully smooth new paved road and were riding in the sunshine again. A black bear was eating by the side of the road and was totally unresponsive to our calls and the songs we sang at him.

Then, all of a sudden, we saw a pack of people on long roller blades riding in a line out literally in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the Yukon. It turns out this was the Yukon National Cross-Country Ski Team, and they were out practicing on the newly paved road. Talking to them later, they pronounced us “hardcore,” but ’scuse me, who’re the ones roller-blading in the middle of nowhere? That, my friends, is hardcore!

As they passed us one by one, each of the team of about 15 warned us, in succession, of a gigantic grizzly bear around the corner. Aaron and I eagerly rode around, hoping to see the first grizzly of the trip. To our dismay, a team of german what looked like telescopers had already arrived on the scene, whipping out their telephone pole sized camera lenses and scaring away (or potentially poking) any wildlife for miles. Disappointed, Aaron and I rode on. Fortunately the scenery was breathtaking. At one point, in an attempt to take a picture Aaron dismounted, and tripped over his top tube. His bike fell to the ground, landing on his mirror, breaking it completely off. This was merely the beginning of this stellar day.

Staum thankfully left us his notepad, which contained all the towns and services along the way. These generally helped us out immensely, but for whatever reason, his mileages were about 15 miles off this time. We pulled into Haines Junction and ate at the bakery while consulting our maps. As it dawned on us we had many more miles on the day than we had anticipated, we readied ourselves for another 95 mile day. To make matters worse, there were two passes in the way.

Here we made some decisions that would haunt us later. We chose not to fill up completely on food at the junction supermarket, since on our maps and by all accounts there were plenty of services on the road ahead. (It turned out there wasn’t another place to get food for about 300 miles.) We also chose to head to our intended campground at around mile 95, Kluane Base Camp, without calling first.

As we took off from Haines, a nice tail-wind carried us over the passes and at one point we also took off our layers and rode in purely shorts…and sweat! WOAH! The riding was spectacular, with stunning mountain peaks that kept us company all the way to Kluane Lake. Along the way, we hit 3000 miles on the trip odometer. Singing at the top of our lungs to celebrate, we were in high spirits as we descended into Kluane lake, taking a dirt road a couple km off the road towards Kluane Base Camp.

When we arrived, it looked like a ghost-campsite. There were signs all along the way down the hill saying “Open” and “Tent Camping,” but when we knocked on the door, a guy came out in his sweatpants and told us that they were no longer allowing tent camping (we would find out why later) and to stay we’d have to pay around 50-60 bucks. Screw that! We turned around, disappointed. I was particularly in a bad mood, since I was both hungry and totally ready to stop riding for the day.

When we reached the road again, we stopped to eat. After our meal, my heart sank as I realized that instead of having two sandals strapped to the top of my bags, there was only one lonely sandal on my bike. I had lost a shoe. It could have happened anywhere, and having already biked almost a hundred miles that day, I was in no mood to retrace my steps and try to find it. Thankfully Aaron kept his spirits up, and within an hour or so, I was back to enjoying the beautiful scenery of Kluane Lake. We criss crossed the lake on a long bridge and finally arrived at our destination, clocking in the day at about 110 miles. We pulled into a really nice campsite called Cottonwood RV Park, with a great view of the lake and a really well-taken-care-of campground.

Tent camping was “at your own risk,” because Kluane Lake is apparently a grizzly bear epicenter. The day before we had spoken to a motorist who had seen “a million brown bear” up around this area. There had been some bear-tent incidents, so places like Kluane Base Camp had decided to prohibit tent camping. Thankfully Cottonwood still allowed tent camping, but there was no shortage of signs that warned against bears.

When we pulled up to camp, we said hi to a couple who were walking around the lake area. Then, as we were setting up camp, one of the two, Bob, came up to us and said “I know you guys are tough, but how about having a beer?” With that, he invited us into he and his wife’s fifth wheel. Aaron and I could barely hide our excitement, having had a particularly trying day. Bob and Kathy were amazing to us, they gave us beers, made us soup, and we talked for several hours. I had never been inside a fifth wheel before. (A fifth wheel is one of those huge RV trailers that trails behind a big pickup. Inside, it was like stepping into someone’s home. There was wood cabinetry everywhere, a couch, kitchen, two lazy-boys, and a separate bedroom. It was HUGE. It was hard to imagine that all of that was in there looking at it from the outside.

Bob and Kathy were so generous, and it turns out their son Arend was also a bicycle tourist and he had told them of stories of kind people along the way. They gave us soup, which saved us some food from our panniers (we didn’t realize at this point how crucial this was). Warm from the cold by soup and beer, we retired to our tents tired but happy. Thank you Bob and Kathy!

Do you BELIEEEEEVE in life after Staum? The adventures of Rainbow Buddies! Thu, 14 Aug 2008 21:14:47 +0000 Dan Welcome to the spin-off of the hit series “Bike and Bear!” The characters have changed a little bit, but the mission remains the same: bike bike bike bike bike bike bike bike bike bike. This part of the ride is dedicated to our friend and navigator, Matt Staum. We missed you during this part, and wish you could have been with us!

Aaron and I woke up that morning to something novel: sunshine! Hardly believing our eyes, we peered around the same city streets which were transformed from gloomy and dark corridors into bright, sparkling roads. Most striking, however, were the many mountain peaks that we had missed through the clouds that surrounded the harbor of Haines. That night we had stayed in a B&B if not purely for romantic reasons, but mainly to celebrate our arrival into Alaska.

We made our way down to breakfast and got to talking with a couple from Juneau who were in town to visit the State Fair. They were pretty cool and told us of their van adventures exploring the state, including our final destination, McCarthy. They warned us of the treacherous road leading to the town, and we parted ways.

Staum had been our primary logistics guy. Now, the Rainbow buddies had to learn how to read maps again and plan distances, instead of relying on the Staumer for information regarding the route. Welcome to life after Staum.

Back on the road, Aaron and I were treated to the shining sun and gorgeous views of a coastal plain surrounded by amazing snow-capped peaks. Truly this was some of the most beautiful scenery of the entire ride thus far - we rode for miles in the sun and were truly amazed by the difference a sunny day can make. Along the way we stopped at the Eagle preserve, where we stumbled upon tons of these amazing birds, two directly above us perched in trees and that swooped down showing their huge wingspans when we approached. We spotted a cinnamon Black bear along the side of the road, which scampered off into the woods as we approached. So cool!

We stopped for lunch at 33-mile Hut, a cafe 33 miles from Haines. Here we enjoyed two delicious barbecue hamburgers and went on our way. Leaving the comfortable restaurant we began to notice the skies ahead darkening and that all-too-familiar chilly breeze hitting our chests and chilling us to the core. In short, it smelled of Canada. Sure enough, we were fast approaching the US/Canadian border, once again reacquainting ourselves with wild, wet, and miserable British Columbia.

True to form, BC greeted us with a 15 mile 7-8% grade climb in the pouring rain up Chilkat Pass. Covering our shortsleeves with raingear, we slowly trudged uphill for several painful hours up to 1076 m having started around sea-level. At the summit, we were greeted with a driving cross-wind that was perhaps the coldest of the entire trip, invoking that deep body shiver that was actually a bit scary. We sought shelter on the non-wind side of a highway maintenance shed and threw on every single piece of clothing we had in our bags. Once again mildly comfortable, we began riding again and finally caught a break: the road turned, transforming that driving cross-wind into a driving tail wind! We were now coasting easily up hills and flying down hill. As a sign of better things ahead, a great large rainbow appeared to our right, criss-crossing the wide valley. We were once again Rainbow buddies!!!

And finally, as we were nearing the end of this day, we saw it: the Leaving British Columbia sign. Throughout this trip we had been in BC for over half of the total time riding, having entered and left four times! We danced a little dance around the sign and said good riddens (forever?)

We finished the day in the Yukon at 95 miles and set up camp in the Million Dollar Falls Yukon Government Campground. We had dinner next to the waterfall and went to sleep, weary from the long day, but totally happy to be out of British Columbia.

McCarthy Days, Anchorage Nights Fri, 08 Aug 2008 19:20:16 +0000 Dan Hi Bike and Bear followers,

Aaron and I are currently in Anchorage, Alaska, well rested and feeling great.  We met Pitt med’s own Will in Glennallen on the 2nd and he took us out to his and his sister’s hand-built cabins (bad-ass, huh?) in McCarthy Alaska. We spent several amazing days relaxing and exploring the beautiful wilderness of Wrangell National Park, a park so wild that you have to fly in to your backpacking destinations and bushwhack your own trail!  We walked on glaciers, hiked, and took a plane ride and saw all the land from a mile high.  Perhaps the best, however, was sitting on the porch, sipping a Red Stripe, reading and taking in the beautiful landscape.

Will’s sister’s cabin in the Wrangells

It was awesome to see Will in his natural Alaskan habitat.  Cutting down trees, building houses, gutting fish - these were some of the man-tivities we participated in during our stay here.  Many many thanks go out to Will and Thea for graciously putting us up for this week.  It was so fun to see their life out here, which is incredibly rich and amazing.

Aaron brushes his teeth with little Noah

We’re about to leave Anchorage for the Kenai Peninsula. We’re planning a 3-day sea kayaking trip on the Kachemak Bay’s Sadie Cove, and will be hopefully out camping and cooking mussels on the beach by tomorrow night. When we get back we’re gonna post about the ride from Haines to our glorious (not really, and you’ll see why) finish in Glennallen.

Root Glacier

Pittsburgh in a week!!!

New Photos! Tue, 05 Aug 2008 02:58:16 +0000 Matt It took long enough, but I finally got back to a computer to post the last batch of pictures I took on the trip. I know Dan and Aaron have more that they’re gonna want to put up, but I don’t know when they’re going to be able to tear themselves away from fishing the Copper River to get them up. In the meantime, enjoy.

Boya Lake Sunset 4

Border City Wed, 30 Jul 2008 06:06:11 +0000 Dan We are currently in Border City, a few miles west of the Alaska border, and once again in the glorious United States. I’m sitting in a cafe surrounded by screaming children and an employee that I can only describe as “disenthused,” so I’m gonna keep this quick.

The last few days have been a whirlwind of biking: since we thought Matt’s schedule was too weak (just kidding), we decided to bike hard and we’re actually now a day ahead of schedule!

When we’re in an environment more conducive to writing, we’ll write a more detailed post. We’re feeling great, and the weather has been much more friendly to us. We’re done in a few days!!!