We woke up late at Billies; the cool hostel we’d decided to return to after having enjoyed such a lovely stay before. We had a day of catching up with internet related stuff and soon decided to stay another night as we’d never be ready to leave before midnight! Billie kindly did us a deal for 2 nights then we went out in search of some food. Ed has been wanting to try out all the American food he’s seen on TV and films so we decided to sample the culinary delights(?!) of Taco Bell. As we arrived at the ‘restaurant’ we spotted what appeared to be a mental case walking up and down the road shouting with a banner.
We’d just pulled up on the bikes next to his car, which was covered in all sorts of random shit, when he turned and started walking back towards where we were. Not wanting to be apprehended we quickly ran inside and got a window seat to observe from the safety of a building. We ordered and received our ‘food’ which was surprisingly edible however I’m pretty sure it was about as nutritious as a piece of corrugated cardboard dipped in engine oil. I won’t be having it again but I’m sure Ed will happily indulge. As we watched out the window we became increasingly intrigued by what the man was doing and what he was all about. We tried googling some things we’d seen on his car to see if we could work out what he was doing, but we couldn’t find anything.
Our curiosity finally got the better of us, we finished up and were just about to go outside and talk to him when he got in his car and drove off! We were by that time far too intrigued and curious not to find out who he was, so in our wisdom we decided to go and find him. We searched all the car parks high and low but he was no-where to be seen, we were just about to give up and go back when we spotted his truck parked up in the Walmart car park and there he was walking up and down the road shouting and waving his banner about.
We pulled up next to his truck and started looking at all the stuff on it; stickers, posters, lighters, signs.
He spotted us and came walking towards Ed and I who were hoping that he would enlighten us on what he was doing. Half an hour passed and we were none the wiser. In fact we were even more confused after listening to him go on, mainly in rhymes and riddles. It’s hard to explain when you don’t actually understand but it was all to do with the government, terrorism, and world war 3 which had apparently, according to Joe, already started. In brief, he said he was going to send an empty missile but not before dropping leaflets in all different languages with some weed explaining about the missile.
He said that while smoking a joint they would read the letter that would say that they should be thankful it wasn’t a nuclear missile. He continued saying that his ‘lighters are my fighters’ and then continued to burst in to more riddles and rhymes.
That’ll teach us to go and hunt down the mad person. After about 45 minutes we made our excuses and left rather bemused. Who needs TV?! God bless America.
We hung out at Billies the following day, it’s a nice place to chill out and recoup. The hostel computer had been showing signs of struggling and kept whirring so hard that it sounded like it was going to blow. Ed being rather technically able went to investigate and discovered that it was due to the fan being covered in about an inch of dust. He cleared it out, put it back together again and fired it up and it purred like a kitten. Billie was so pleased she gave him $20 to say thank you! We finally packed up the tent about 6pm and Ed went to settle up only to be told by Billie not to worry about it, it was free after fixing her computer. I went to say thank you and said we were sad to leave, it’d been so lovely being there to which she replied ‘We’re sad to see you go, why don’t you stay another night? Won’t cost you anything’. Being so late and still needing to do the shopping we didn’t need much convincing and quickly went and put the tent back up.
It was so kind of her to let us stay for free, Ed offered to look at anything else she might need fixing. I’d decided that I’d had enough of processed food (I never ate it at home) so inspired by a recipe an awesome guy called Greg had posted on my website I found 4 more recipes and wrote down a long list of ingredients that I needed to make them. We went off to the shop and 3 hours later (yes 3 hours!!!) we returned, shattered. Like I’ve said before I’m not the quickest at choosing things and it takes even longer when you’re on a budget but still want good unf*cked about food. Basically everything here has high fructose corn syrup in it, even the bread isn’t safe, and a lot of things have MSG in them, it’s an absolute minefield. And when you’re talking about 2 years on the road it’s important not to let things go and to look after yourself as best you can and eat well, 2 years is a long time polluting your body with crap. Ed’s not quite so concerned, while I was ranting away about all the crap they put in the products he was busy putting 2 packs of pop tarts, 6 packets of MSG laden jerky and a bottle of coke in the trolly. Aaah!
So not only did it take ages to acquire all the ingredients, they also weighed an absolute tonne! I mean it was a weeks worth of food after all. There was so much of it we only just managed to get it back to the hostel where we stashed it in the tent to perform the miracle the next day of fitting it all on to the bikes, I knew it’d be worth it though!
We got up at a reasonable time, had breakfast, showered, used the internet then set about fitting all the food on to the bikes. We eventually managed it but my poor rear rack was being pushed to it’s limits, but I thought at least as each day goes by it’ll get lighter!
Then Ray who lives next door and is always at the hostel came over, he did a little interview with us and took some photos. I then went inside to see Billie, and it was at that point that I discovered that she is an incredibly talented artist. Her paintings were amazing, I could only dream of being able to paint like her. She said she did the landscape ones for selling but what she really enjoyed doing were the portraits.
Her house had so much character, every surface was busy with something; little trinkets, ornaments and paintings among other things, probably each with a history or story. While we were chatting I said that riding around with Ed felt like we were our own little team and she said it reminded her of one anniversary with her late husband. It was winter time and they were at home with their 7 children and her husband said ‘Let’s go out’, she said ‘Where?!’ and he said ‘For a beer!’ They didn’t have any spare money or a way to get in to town but they went out and stood by the side of the road to hitch a lift. Someone eventually drove past them and reversed back, intrigued why the hell they were stood by the side of the road hitching a lift in winter! They gave them a ride in to town where they went and had beers and she said they just had the best time, just the two of them on a little adventure. She said she didn’t remember many anniversaries but she remembers that one. It was really heart warming and made me want to listen to more stories. Billie was really lovely and I’d have liked to have spent more time with her, she was a very interesting lady.
But we had to go as time was getting on and we still had to pick up a few bits before we left town. We said our goodbyes then went to the grocery store and camping store before finally leaving town at about 6pm.
We’d been riding for about an hour and a half when I spotted a place to camp next to a building called ‘The knotty shop’. It was called this because the front of the shop and all the sculptures out the front were made from logs with knots in them. I’d never seen anything like it before. They apparently get spruce and strip it down to the knots when the sap is wet, then polish them up, really cool.
We went inside to check it was ok to camp there and they said no problem, just camp towards the back of the gravel. We started to have a look round the shop, there were lots of trinkets, ornaments, gifts, jewellery, toys, that sort of thing. There were quite a few things made from fur and we found a toy rabbit made from real rabbit which was quite amusing, although not for the rabbit.
There were also lots of furs hung up. Hunting is very normal in Alaska, pretty much everyone does it, so it wasn’t at all shocking to see so many furs and things made out of fur. The majority of the fur we had seen had been a by product of hunting for food, they weren’t hunted for fashion. Everyone we had met that hunted only killed for food and never took more than they needed. You can get 400lbs from a moose which will easily provide a family with meat for the whole winter and save a lot of money. I was surprised to discover that since they started managing hunting the numbers of wildlife has actually increased due to it being more sustainable. It’s still not for me though, despite being a meat eater. We bought some stickers then went to set up camp. Ed put the tent up while I kicked off day 1 of me cooking with a pot of chili con carne and brown rice which went surprisingly well, it was very tasty and neither of us got the shits. Success!
We woke up at a reasonable time, had breakfast then hit the road. We rode down a fairly long highway, past an air force base with a surprising lack of security (you could have stepped over the fence, I’m not entirely sure why they bothered with one) and then past some really nice lakes. We stopped at one to take some photos where we met Bobbi and Steve from Kentucky. They were visiting their nephew who was an arctic survival instructor. It was lovely to chat to them, it’s great meeting people on the road that you probably would never have normally crossed paths with.
We then continued on our way, the road was fairly average but it passed through some nice scenery and we stopped by all the visitor signs which taught us about all the gold rushes they’d had in the area. ‘If only we could find a shiny nugget!’ we thought. Unfortunately the only nuggets we could find had been deposited by passing wildlife. We stopped in Delta Junction to get some fuel and Ed located 2 bolts for his foot pegs that had shaken out. Just as we were leaving Ed suddenly pulled over. I pulled up along side him to see what was wrong when he said ‘Can we have another moments silence please, for another piece of my shoe lace’. It made me laugh, the silly sod had got it caught in the chain for the fourth time!
We carried on and went down a really long straight road that was very windy. I’m not sure if it was nature or Ed’s contribution that was making the most wind, I’m guessing the latter.
As we continued riding, mountains dusted with snow started appearing in the distance and the road sides were lined with the colours of autumn; Reds, oranges and yellows.
We went past the pipeline again and found out what the bits of metal sticking up do – They remove heat so the pipe doesn’t melt the permafrost, every day’s a school day!
As we were riding along we spotted an animal on the side of the road down a hill. We stopped and admired it and took some photos not actually knowing what it was. A car then pulled over on the other side of the road and a guy got out with a long black thing, we thought ‘Is he gonna shoot it?!’ We thought this because every time on the Dalton Highway, when we saw an animal in the distance and a truck pulled up, it was because the animal was about to get it. Luckily in this instance it wasn’t the case. He was going to shoot it but just with his camera and a ridiculously massive lens. I also found out while taking photos that it was a moose!
We carried on and were treated to some gorgeous scenery, snow topped mountains and a river.
It was at this point that we decided to do some off-roading.
What started out as gravel and grass soon turned to ruts which I found rather hard to ride on. I fell off multiple times and ended up walking flintstones style just to stay upright. It was very funny though, we got lots of laughs albeit at my expense, always pleased to be of service.
And I would like to add no injuries. You see that’s the beauty of a C90, you never have far to fall! Well as long as you haven’t just crashed on the edge of a cliff, that is.
We finally made it off the ruts and to a gravel pit where Ed managed to run over his own front mud guard and I discovered I’d squashed the bread. He hadn’t bolted his mud guard on when we assembled the bikes in Anchorage, this led to the mud guard being bit by the tyre, fired out like a missile and him running over it. As for the bread, I’d been storing it in my jacket as I’d run out of room on the bike. Whilst I’d discovered that bread in a brown paper bag makes a fantastic wind stopper and insulator, I at that point also discovered that it doesn’t survive superman style off’s very well. It’d got squashed like a pancake.
Ed then started to do some filming of his late mud guard when next thing you know…
I’d somehow managed to drop the bike again. This time I wasn’t even moving, in fact I wasn’t even on it!
It was fairly flat and out of the way with a cracking view and no insects! Well apart from some crickets but they were no bother. We were losing light so I cracked on with making the dinner and Ed went to collect some water before putting up the tent. I made a veg and tuna pasta bake which was delicious and we had squashed garlic bread saturated in garlic and butter, lovely stuff! The only problem was I’d cooked very close to the tent, which in my defense wasn’t actually up when I started cooking and in Ed’s defense was only where I’d told him to put it. You should never cook close to your tent or so we’re told as it can attract wildlife, especially bears. Not only had the lovely smell of food been wafting in to the tent, but I’d also covered myself in bear bait in the form of tuna in my hair and food down my trousers. Needless to say that I was a bit more concerned about bears that night. We’d just got in to our sleeping bags when we heard what we thought was an owl, second time round we realised it was actually a wolf… eek! My senses were hightened, I could hear every twig snap and leaf fall, i swear I could’ve heard an ants tiny footsteps had there been any! I woke up multiple times thinking I could hear something but nothing came, while I was awake anyway…
I woke up to a beautiful view out of the tent in the morning, it was a lovely sight to wake up to. The cloud soon came and covered the top of the mountain so Ed happily got up and provided me with an alternative view.
He then noticed some guys in a digger over the other side of the gravel pit causing him to quickly hide his dangly bits and dart back in to the tent, much to my amusement!
I got up to go and collect our stuff we’d stashed and as I walked through the grasses it was like loads of little mouse traps going off everywhere, crickets flying in all directions! I tried to capture it but they were too quick for me, pinging off before I’d even had a chance to press the button.
We packed up and got on our way. Luckily for me there were no more ruts and we rode over a stream and up a hill back on to the road. The scenery was beautiful, more mountains everywhere and glaciers appeared in the distance.
As we were riding we stopped by a monument and met a guy who was cycling, he’d been all over the place. Much respect to him, people think it’s amazing that we’re travelling on such little bikes but travelling on a pushbike is a whole other level! We chatted to him for a bit but I was getting harassed by loads of midges and it started raining so we made a move.
We stopped in Paxton where we thought we could get fuel but the gas station and lodge had closed down. It was quite funny at first, all the pumps dismantled and lying on the ground but then we got chatting to the owner and then it wasn’t so funny. He’d apparently sold it about 6-7 years ago so he could retire. He’d sold it to a family who were supposed to be paying in yearly installments but they’d missed a few and by the time he’d got round to going back there it had been trashed and wasn’t even functioning as a gas station or lodge any more. He said he didn’t bother taking them to court. He was now hoping someone else would buy it as he said he was too old to renovate and run it. It was terribly sad but I must say things didn’t quite add up. Why you would let someone get behind on so many yearly installments and not check up on them when you only live 60 miles away? Very strange but still sad whatever actually happened. It was a perfect place for a lodge and was probably brilliant in it’s day.
Just as we were leaving a couple rode past on a BMW, also looking for fuel. They’d just come off the Denali Highway and ridden past the gas station there thinking they could get it here. The nearest other place was back in the wrong direction about 10 miles away, he wasn’t sure he could make it but had no choice and off they went, fingers crossed. At least we knew we could get fuel 18 miles away down the Denali Highway which is where we were headed. A few miles down the highway Ed spotted an older couple picking berries on the side of the road and decided to stop to see if they could give us some pointers. They were called Danny and Caroline and were on holiday from Wasilla. We got chatting to them and Caroline pointed out all the different berries; blueberries, crowberries, cranberries, there were so many! She then proceeded to give us a big punnet of blueberries she’d picked, it was so kind of her. I felt bad taking their blueberries but then she pointed out she had another 7 full punnets in the van!
They told us just to be careful of the bears, they are particularly partial to blueberries, in fact they eat so many their poos are blue! Danny then pointed out that all the bushes covering the mountain over the road were blueberry bushes, they were literally everywhere. We thanked them and then continued on, although not before scoffing some blueberries from the punnet she’d given us. They were a little sharp but still tasty. As we carried on riding the scenery was lovely, really vast with soft autumnal colours, with lakes and mountains everywhere.
We made it to the gas station and discovered that it was also an Inn, being chilly and hungry we decided to treat ourselves to some hot food and a little break. It had also just started to rain so that was an extra excuse if ever we needed one. We sat down and two older guys came in and we started chatting. Their names were Neil and Dave and they were there to hunt caribou. They said they only wanted two, one each to last them the winter. Neil was awaiting a hip replacement so they said they didn’t venture too far off the road these days, they wait for the caribou to come to them! But apparently because of the warmer weather the caribou were migrating later than usual, a bad thing for them hunting but a good thing for us, a run in with a caribou or 5 could be fatal! They got up to pay for their meal and before we knew what was going on the waitress picked up our bill and Neil and Dave paid for ours too! It was so sweet of them. We chatted to them outside for a while, looking at the bikes. Neil had about 9 bikes himself. We then wished them well and they went off continuing their search for caribou.
We then decided as we’d got a free meal that we’d treat ourselves to a slice of fruit pie, it was so good! As I was settling up I asked if we could buy some sugar to sweeten up the blueberries we had, and the manager kindly gave me a little pot for free. By the time we’d finished our pie and fuelled the bikes up, the rain had passed and the sun had come out, with bigger patches of blue sky appearing. Perfect. The Denali Highway was so pretty and the arrival of sunshine really brought it to life. Shortly after the Inn the road turned to gravel and dirt which I actually prefer to road, but we could have done with a few less potholes! Normally it’s ok if you ride slowly, you can easily dodge them but when there are so many it get’s a bit trickier. Quite a few times I got the line wrong and smashed in to some big ones and by some miracle managed not to burst a tube. You can jump over them too if your reactions are quick enough, like you’re on a horse! It’s actually quite fun if you get it right, you soon know if you don’t.
We rode for quite some time but about 50 miles in we decided to look for somewhere to camp. We spotted a few good places but they were either already taken, had too many insects or just weren’t quite nice enough and didn’t feel right. When looking for a place to wild camp you get a feeling, it either feels right or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t then we never stop, we keep looking until we find a spot that feels just right. A bit like Goldilocks and the porridge, but hopefully with a few less bears. We eventually found the perfect spot, it was a big area just off the road but hidden. There was a stream nearby so we had plenty of water and there was also a fire pit. Luckily there was wood already in it so Ed dried it out and lit a fire. It was at this point that we discovered, rather dramatically, that our exped airbed inflator makes a rather good firestarter!
It was nice to have a fire, one of my favourite things is sitting round a campfire watching the flames. I wrote my journal and had a cuppa until it got dark and chilly then I retreated to the tent.
We woke to the sound of rain, lots and lots of it. We both decided without even needing to say anything that we were staying put if it continued, which it did. In fact it got progressively worse as the day went on. There was no point riding in it, you’d be soaked in a matter of minutes and wouldn’t be able to see any of the scenery which was being hidden by low dark clouds. I managed to drag myself out of my warm dry pit and went and retrieved our stuff we’d stashed in the bushes. We then did what I guess every British adventure motorcyclist would do if they got rained in. We drank tea, watched Blackadder and made jam! And no that’s not a euphemism. I’d only used a handful of blueberries to make my porridge and had nearly a whole punnet left over. I had the sugar the lady at the Inn had given me so I mixed them together, boiled the shit out of them and somehow ended up with tent made wild blueberry jam, it was delicious! I served it to Ed on lightly toasted tortillas, he loved it.
The rest of the day was spent chatting about all sorts of stuff, I caught up on my journal and Ed tried to teach me some electronics. My brain wouldn’t engage though, I didn’t really get it and just got frustrated and annoyed. I had a little sulk then decided to make myself feel better by making dinner. Unfortunately it didn’t quite go to plan and what was supposed to be corned beef stew soon became corned beef stodge. What I thought was the American equivalent of an oxo cube turned out to be flavourless dust, but despite the lack of stock/gravy it actually tasted alright. While Ed was eating he commented that the CERN laboratory in Switzerland could stop their search for dark matter, because I’d just created the densest substance known to man. I think that was a compliment.
He wasn’t wrong though, you could have laid bricks with the stuff, there were absolutely no gaps in it and you definitely knew you’d eaten!
It was bugging me that I hadn’t understood what Ed was trying to teach me earlier in the day so once he was asleep I looked at the notes and worked it all out in my head, suddenly it just clicked and I understood it. Phew, I’m not stupid after all! Sometimes my brain just doesn’t engage and when it comes to understanding and learning things sometimes I work better alone. We have to remember that we all work differently, it’s just about learning what works for you.
I was hoping to wake up to blue sky and sun but no such luck, although the rain had eased off enough for us to pack up all our stuff and get back on the road. We started riding and made our way to the other side of the mountain, I thought sods law it’s probably been dry and sunny the other side! Luckily it looked like it had been raining there too. The ridiculous amount of potholes continued and some parts of the road resembled Swiss cheese!
With our thin tyres we nipped in between them but as we’d discovered previously if you got the line wrong you’d often be stuck and just have to smash through them and hope for the best. It’s worked so far! The road was densely tree lined for some time then opened up to to big plains and mountains.
We carried on along the road and came across a random cafe called ‘The Sluice Box. We didn’t even know it was there, it wasn’t on the map. Nice to have these little surprises though. We decided to treat ourselves to a coffee seeing as we were passing, it’d be rude not to wouldn’t it?!
It was a shame the weather was so crap, it was depriving us of some potentially stunning views but having ridden part of the road in good weather we could at least imagine what it would look like.
The road was mainly gravel, the gravel turned in to dirt and then the dirt turned in to a horrible bumpy mess, all rutty and rocky. It really wasn’t that nice to ride especially as there were no nice views to look at. Although if there had been nice views I’d have only got distracted and fallen off. Every cloud?!
Just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse it then turned in to loads of rocks on dirt, it was like riding on marbles. We wobbled all over the place not able to go that fast otherwise we’d be thrown off. It was ok though, at least it made it more interesting and gave us something to do other than look at grey clouds!
By this time it’d started to rain again and Ed was getting covered in shit due to his front mud guard now being cracked and in his front basket. Poor ninety was also suffering, she’d started spluttering as the air filter was no longer protected, not only was there no front mud guard but we’d forgotten to put the protective socks back on them when we’d rebuilt them. D’oh!
But it wasn’t long before we were at the end of the Denali Highway and back on to tarmac. We fuelled up then headed north again to Denali National Park. I’d wanted to ride in to the park but after some research we discovered you could only ride up to mile 15. If you wanted to go any further up the 92 mile road then you had to take a tour or shuttle bus or do it under human power. We didn’t really want to do it any of those ways but we didn’t want to miss it either. After much deliberation and speaking to quite a few people who had been there, done a tour and loved it, we decided to go for it.
We arrived where all the gift shops and eateries were, hungry and in need of warmth. We ended up in in the Denali Salmon bake restaurant which if you want an honest opinion was absolute crap. Cold food and shit service followed by poor excuses. Don’t bother. When you’re on a budget and don’t get to eat out that often, you look forward to a good meal and it’s disappointing when it’s bad. I refused to pay the full bill and after telling them so, they gave me a small discount. We stayed in there for a while and abused the internet to get our money’s worth. While I was busy updating my journal, Ed popped outside to get something. He came back in and said ‘Have you been looking out of the window the last few minutes?’ ‘No, why’s that?’ I replied. ‘Oh, because I just dropped your bike! I was trying to move mine and wondered why it wouldn’t budge, I pulled really hard and yours fell over, then I realised they were locked together!
Once we’d finished up and made our way outside, a guy from Ecuador came up to talk to us. He’d seen the bikes and wanted to know if we’d be going there. We said we would be to which he replied ‘You must stay with me and I’ll arrange a party!’, who could refuse such an offer?! He was great, I love meeting people like him on the road, so happy and full of life. We took his details and a photo then he went on his merry way, smiling and waving.
We fired up the bikes and noticed Ed’s ninety was producing rather a lot of smoke. We suspected busted piston rings but couldn’t do anything about it there, we had a spare bottle of oil if she started getting thirsty and it was getting late so we thought we’d better find somewhere to camp. Just as we were about to pull out I noticed that not only did I not have a rear light but my front light had gone as well! Not being able to see or be seen we couldn’t venture too far and decided to camp in a proper campsite at the start of the Denali park road. It wasn’t free but at least it was close to everything, and being close meant there was less chance of me getting hit by a car while trying to get there in the dark with no lights.
We arrived at the campsite and found a nice little spot labelled C which meant it was the cheapest. It was a walk-in site only so we hid the bikes behind the tent just in case there was a jobsworth doing the rounds. I’d initially been planning for us to do a tour the following day but having just looked at the forecast and seeing 80% chance of rain I made the executive decision to wait another day. That’s the beauty of having no itinerary or limited timescale, you can wait for weather or anything else for that matter!
I got up early and rode to the Wilderness access centre to book the tour and pay for the campsite. The tour was already expensive but when I enquired at the booking desk it was even more than I thought! She said the price and I took a gulp and said that we couldn’t really afford $128 each. Luckily she was honest and instead of convincing me to book the tour she told me not to bother and just take the shuttle bus for a fraction of the cost. She said it’s not narrated but the driver will give you information and answer any questions you have along the way. Perfect! So I got 2 nights camping, entry to the park and shuttle for both of us for less than a tour for one of us would have cost. That’s more like it! I rode back to the tent and gave Ed the good news, of course he was still in bed! Once he was up we went and explored a steep track I’d seen behind our tent and were greeted with this lovely surprise.
After a little play we decided to go and find somewhere to hang out for the day. It was evident poor little ninety was really suffering. It was quite embarrassing riding around such a beautiful area with a cloud of pollution behind us! I normally ride behind but soon took the lead after discovering quite quickly that it makes you feel rather sick!
We went and hung out at the coffee shop for the rest of the day to catch up on emails and internet stuff although we spent most of our time talking to people who came and sat next to us. The weather was crap so it was a nice warm place to be, I was very pleased we’d held off doing the bus trip. We left about 6.30pm, went and grabbed some food for dinner and lunch then headed to the mercantile to enquire about showers. They were $4.50 each and not having had one for about 4 days we agreed they were worth every cent. We bought some tokens and went back out to the bikes to go and collect our wash stuff, when a Canadian couple on pushbikes started talking to us. Their names were Ghislain and Ellen and they’d seen us ride past them on the Denali Highway. We said we’d be riding through Canada but we had no idea what route, we didn’t have a clue about the roads there. They’d been enquiring about a camp site but the whole site was full. Ghislain then said if we were still around we should split a site but I said we were leaving tomorrow. Then he said ‘How about tonight? And we can tell you all about Canada’. Sounded like a good plan to me! They also offered chocolate brownies so we were double sold. It was nice to help them out, so many people had done the same for us, we know what it’s like to have no-where to stay. I just wish I’d thought about it myself, I don’t know why I didn’t. Probably too excited about the prospect of having a shower. So we led them to our site and they put their tent up, cooked brownies as promised and told us all about Western Canada. It was lovely to spend the evening with them. We hit the sack just after midnight as we had an early start the next morning which we knew would be a shock to the system!
The alarm went off and I reluctantly got out of bed, Ed wouldn’t move so I let down his airbed. I’ve discovered if I pull the deflate plug on his Exped it goes down almost immediately, becoming very uncomfortable and forcing him to get up. Works particularly well on rocks or stones. I know, I know, I’m cruel. It’s quite funny though. We quickly packed everything up and went over to the Wilderness access centre where we arrived bang on time at 8.45am. We wrestled all our stuff in to the lockers and got on the second bus.
We got going and entered the park. The driver was giving us information and facts about it and all the other passengers were chattering amongst themselves, it was then that it suddenly dawned on me; If you’ve been riding around on a motorbike, being on a bus is dull. I felt completely detached from the outside, separated from it by glass and a metal box. Despite being surrounded by natural beauty I felt no awe, no emotions, no feelings, the only thing I did feel was slightly bored. It felt like I was watching a 360 degree television.
I soon became amused by the whole thing. If someone spotted an animal the bus would stop and everyone would rush over to whatever side it was on and take a photo or just watch it, but there was no time to do both as before you know it it’s 3, 2, 1 and you’re off! And I admit I did get up and take photos but it all just seemed a bit weird. I found myself laughing whenever it happened. And I fully understand that we were on the shuttle bus which is why they had to keep moving, on a tour bus you would no doubt stop for longer but you’re still on a bus with 40 other tourists staring out of the window, for me it still wouldn’t feel quite right.
And don’t get me wrong, tours and buses have their place and for some people they’re the ideal and sometimes the only way to get around, I get that. I’ve just learnt that they’re not for me. I love being on my bike where my senses are alive, where I’m more aware of my surroundings, I’m part of them and not just passing through enclosed in a protective box. I’m also lucky enough to have my freedom and I enjoy it. I love having the freedom to stop where I like, when I like, with who I like. On that bus I learnt that once you’ve experienced that freedom, especially the freedom on a bike, nothing else quite cuts it.
We had a few toilet stops on our way then finally made it to our destination, Eilson. There we were presented with a perfectly clear and stunning view of MtMckinley.
We did a small loop and found a nice spot for a bite of lunch, Ed then decided to go back to the visitor centre. I was fine about this as I wanted a bit of time alone. For some reason when it comes to really admiring and soaking up a view I prefer to be alone, I get more out of it, feel more connected. I think it has something to do with unwanted distractions, they can take away from the moment. If you’re alone you don’t have to worry if the other person you’re with is enjoying themselves or if they’ve had enough or got bored. I find people give off a negative energy when they’re bored, yet another unwanted distraction. There were people everywhere so I walked down a track and round a bend and found a little spot where I couldn’t hear anyone talking. The visitor centre was still visible behind me but not being able to hear anyone made it easy for me to pretend it wasn’t there. I sat and I stared. It was stunning.
I was in awe of the natural beauty around me, Mckinley was magical, hypnotising and mesmerising. I felt completely the opposite of how I felt on the bus, I felt the cool air in my lungs, the warm sun on my face and the full power of natural beauty within me. For that peaceful 10 minutes I was completely and utterly content, it felt so good to be alive, everything was perfect. I’d look around soaking it all in then close my eyes feeling the sun on my face, opening them again with a smile.
I didn’t want to leave, knowing moments like this are rare I was savouring it and the feelings it evoked within me, taking deep breaths in and holding on to them before slowly breathing out, it was pure soul food. Even now just thinking about it, the feelings I had then come back. It was the same when I hiked up Snowdon in Wales on my own one morning. It was a perfect day and when I got to the summit no-one else was there. I sat on the top and had exactly the same experience of complete happiness and contentment. I didn’t want it to end then either. But like on Snowdon it came to an end when I finally heard a voice. It’s weird for some reason it changes everything, it’s not just you and nature anymore, that special bubble has been burst. Not quite ready to leave or for the moment to end, and not wanting to hear people’s voices, I put my earphones in and played a song on my i-pod called ‘One’ by Shapeshifter. I know it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but for me it’s one of the few songs that can enhance a moment and not distract from it. ‘Wish you were here’ by Pink Floyd is another one.I put it on and I was back in the zone, completely content and completely happy back in my bubble of bliss.
***Must be listened to with earphones or a good sound system, no tinny speakers allowed!***
The song came to an end and I decided it was time to head back. I walked up the track and got back on to the walking loop when I walked past an American couple. The guy said ‘What’s down there?’ To which I replied ‘Complete contentment. You can’t see anyone or hear anyone, it’s amazing. It’s just you and the mountain’. ‘Er, well that’s kinda neat I guess’ he replied. I just smiled and said ‘Yeah, it’s kinda neat’. I carried on walking and glanced behind me, amused to see them walk past my track and keep walking round the well trodden route full of other tourists. I guess some people just appreciate some things more than others, each to their own. I mean when I got back to the visitor centre I found Ed asleep in the corner!
We waited for the next available bus then made our way back as time was getting on. We stopped off at one place where we got to play with some antlers and saw Ghislain and Ellen again!
We also saw a bear on the way back which was cool, along with some moose and caribou. I actually enjoyed the bus journey back a bit more, but I think that’s because I was still revelling in my special moment. And because of that special moment, the bus was completely worth every dollar and minute that I had to spend on it and I don’t regret doing it. However given the choice, it’s motorbike all the way. I certainly won’t be getting on another bus in a hurry, unless it’s open top, has no windows and no-one else on it.