We woke to a mix of rain and sleet, but on the bright side I could feel my feet! This was quite a treat after the past few nights, where my feet resembled blocks of ice. I’d also been warm all night which was amazing, so nice not waking up in the middle of the night on the wrong side of chilled. I got up and went in to the building to get some coffees, where I met the other biker. His name was Struan and he was from Victoria, BC, and was riding to Anchorage before heading back down south to visit some friends. We chatted for a while about central and South America, it was so good talking to someone who had actually been there, compared to people who had never been there and were convinced we were going to die! I introduced him to Ed, and we spent some time comparing tents and looking over the bikes, a regular pastime with bikers that have just met.
We all eventually had enough of standing in the rain, and with grumbling stomachs we decided to go to Buckshot Betty’s for something to eat. We had a lovely afternoon, sharing experiences and chatting about all sorts of different subjects; bikes, travel and mechanics, of which the latter I learnt quite a lot! After several hours we decided to head back to the RV park. They had free Wi-Fi there, and while I pottered around on that, Ed and Struan learnt how to edit photos in Photoshop. It’s something I personally don’t like to do, partly from being lazy, and partly because I think that if I don’t tinker with them, it will force me to learn to get it right in the first place! Due to the rain we all decided to stay another night, there was no point getting wet for no reason. We cooked and ate dinner together, chatted some more then all went to bed, hoping for less rain in the morning.
I woke up around 10.45pm and went and got us all tea and coffee. As usual I was hungry, so set to work making some porridge. It was at this point that I got a bit of a shock, as I shook the milk not realising that the lid wasn’t on properly. I was instantly covered.
This was much to Ed’s surprise and amusement, as he’d been facing the other way at the time. He turned round confused and laughing. ‘What the hell happened to you?!’ he said. ‘Milk’, I replied, looking like a three year old at play school. Ed helped mop me up, then I went and had a shower and we packed our stuff up. Struan headed off before we did, so we said goodbye to him before loading the bikes up.
Ed hadn’t eaten, so we went to Buckshot Betty’s for one last time for a quick bite to eat. It was 4pm by the time we went to leave, and just as we set off it started to snow. We were a bit apprehensive about the road, due to roadworks all the trucks that had been coming through had been plastered in thick, sticky mud, I feared we’d end up looking like statues!
Luckily with slower speeds and thin tyres we didn’t get in too much of a mess, and made our way out un-smothered.
The scenery got better as we rode, despite it being cloudy and grey it was still really pretty, and the big mountains to our right looked like Toblerone. Can you imagine a Toblerone that big?! That would be amazing!
We had mountains and hills both sides, with huge rocks along the roadside and the odd bit of muskeg to our right. Ed spotted a little beaver damn which was cool, but there was no sign of the little builders that had created it. That would have made my day.
We did however spot several bald eagles, and I kept thinking that the little round bushes were porcupines, but much to my disappointment they were always just bushes. I got so excited when I saw one on the Dalton highway (a porcupine not a bush), I’d love to see another one, mostly just to show Ed how weird they are! There were still remnants of autumn along the road too, with faded pinks, oranges and yellows, so soft against the grey sky.
Despite being warm for most of the journey, the cold eventually set in to my toes. You’re not even aware you have toes until they get cold, at which point you are then constantly aware that you have them, even when they go numb. Luckily it wasn’t long before we reached destruction bay, and our destination for the day. We warmed ourselves in a restaurant for a few hours, before heading down to the lake to set up camp. It was as good a place as any, and with it being dark and having no headlight, we had no other choice.
I woke up twice in the night. The first time I needed a wee, at which point I discovered it was snowing lightly. The second time however, I woke to find something pressed up against me, and before you say it, it wasn’t Ed. Turned out the snow had got heavier, and it was the weight of all of it on the side of the tent! I must say it appeared to be working as a wonderful insulator, as we were both really warm, however where it had been pressed up against me my sleeping bag was now all wet. Yuck.
Having kicked it all off I fell back to sleep, until we woke again around 10.30am. I unzipped the inner and was rather amused to discover that the snow had made it’s way in. Where the wind had been whipping round the tent, it was deeper than anywhere else. Hadn’t expected that!
I reluctantly got dressed and ventured out to collect our food we’d hidden, and made some tea before packing up. Our bikes were covered in snow and not wanting to get cold wet hands, I used a spatula to scrape it all off. Everything must have two uses!
We headed back to the restaurant for some lunch, which we were happily eating when a guy came over to our table. He first asked if we were from Europe, and then continued to say, completely seriously, that we should think about selling the little bikes and buy a 4WD to travel in, as it was safer. All I could think was, ‘Are you serious?! Where’s your sense of adventure?!’ We were both amused but thanked him for his concern, and conceded that we would most certainly not consider doing that, and couldn’t think of a worse idea, but thanks all the same.
The forecourt was really icy, and we had no idea how the roads would be. No-one could tell us if they were gritted or salted, so we decided there was only one way to find out; we fuelled up and set off, taking it easy. It was just wet and slush for the first few miles, but that soon turned in to ice, so we had to be careful. The good thing with our bikes though is their thin tyres, which fit perfectly in the tracks of the other cars and trucks, helping us to get some traction. But it wasn’t long before the roads cleared and the snow thinned out on the verges. I stopped to take a photo when Ed spotted some ice spikes on my tyres, they were really cool!
As we continued on the scenery was really pretty, with mountains on one side and a lake on the other.
We were quite happily riding along when about forty miles in to the journey the road conditions started to change, and what was tarmac soon became ice. There was hardly any bare road to ride on, so we just rode slow. At least that way if the back tyre slid out you could roll off the throttle and it’d sort itself out, hopefully. The grader was going back and forth along the straight, so some of the ice was actually quite grippy. The only problem is that you couldn’t tell the difference between the grippy stuff and the slippery stuff, quite an issue when riding on road slicks. We continued on though and Ed began riding in the middle of the road, filming and wobbling about. Just as I thought he was pushing his luck, Ed and ninety went down, full on slow motion. I checked to see that he was OK, which of course he was, and then proceeded to laugh at him while taking photos and video.
He picked the bike up, then messing around sliding on his feet, managed to fall over again, much to my amusement. He keeps telling me to hold the camera still when I film, but how can I when he makes me laugh so much?!
Although Ed was OK, ninety hadn’t been so lucky, the chain had come off and bent the adjuster. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it was cold and windy and a bit of a pain to fix. Snow was being blow across the road and the wind was gusting strong, so using my bike as a windshield Ed straightened it and put it back on. It wasn’t perfect but it’d do the job, which can be said for most things on our motorcycles!
We’d just finished fixing it when the grader came along and stopped to see if we were OK ‘Are you going to be able to make it?!’ he said. ‘I hope so!’ I said with a smile, ‘We’ll be OK’. I then asked him how far it was to Haines Junction, and he said it was about 30kms or so and the road got better in about 5 miles. Sounded good to me! I thanked him then he went on his way, as did we. The road was incredibly icy, however I discovered that if I stayed on the edge I could get enough traction. You just had to make sure that you stayed on the ball and didn’t become complacent, the road and ice could change at any moment. I just stayed relaxed and took it easy, there was no rush. True to his word about 5 miles later the ice thinned and the road cleared, and all that was left was the odd patch of slush. There was even the odd patch of blue sky too, and as the low sun burnt through, it cast a beautiful light across the trees.
We finally made it to Haines Junction around 6.30pm, and went in search of food. One hour, $40, and a lot of Chinese food later, it was time to find somewhere to sleep. As usual the motels were way out of our budget, so we went to the local RV Park. It was $20, which was a bit steep considering there were no showers, but it was an easy option. We could have ridden out of town and found somewhere free, but given that the temperature had dropped and the slush would have frozen, we thought better of it. We’d done enough ice riding for one day, sometimes it’s best to quit while you’re ahead.
I woke up around 10.30am to a beautiful sunny day. I hadn’t slept too well though, due to being cold and needing the loo about three times in the night! – insert fact about the cold and needing the loo. Ed was actually awake before me for a change, but he was still in his sleeping bag, struggling to get motivated. We got the fire going and hung out round that for a while, chatting, drinking tea, and watching the squirrels play in the trees. We do like our leisurely starts in the morning, as you’ve probably guessed.
We’d been told the day before that the road to Haines was closed, but after fuelling up and chatting to a local we found out that it was now open, as he’d just driven it himself. Can’t get more up-to-date info than that! A friend of mine had arranged for us to stay with someone he knew in Haines, but despite several emails we hadn’t heard from him. I tried to call but had no joy, and being a perfect day for a ride we decided to go anyway, we’d sort something out either way. The road was perfectly paved, no potholes or bumps, just smooth flat tarmac, asking to be ridden.
Snow covered verges lined the road and mountains towered to our right, while a lake appeared to our left with yet more mountains around it.
The scenery really was beautiful, and got more so as more and more mountains appeared, and we slowly climbed up higher. We pulled in to a lookout to admire the view, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the cool crisp air, while trying not to fall over on the ice.
As we left, Ed thought it would be a good idea to ride over a bank of snow, which entertained me greatly as he got stuck on the top and couldn’t get off. Clever dick.
We continued on, before descending down to Million Dollar falls and back up again, where we were greeted with a stunning view.
It felt like we were riding on top of the world, and soon we were above the timberline and surrounded by snowy mountains and peaks. A strange but awesome feeling.
It was only later that I discovered that we were in fact having a glimpse of the most extensive non-polar Icefield in the world, the Kluane Icefield. That’s pretty cool.
We rode a little further and soon arrived at the summit of Haines Highway, at 1070 metres high. By this time it was pretty chilly, and we both confirmed that our feet were like blocks of ice. We hadn’t had any lunch and we felt it. But we soldiered on, knowing that the only way was down, which meant the temperature in theory should go up. We fuelled up and carried on until we got to some roadworks, where we had to wait for a pilot car. It was there that we got chatting to the lady who was directing traffic, she was really lovely and soon recommended a bar in Haines called the Fog Cutter for a beer. Something she obviously thought we’d be in need of! We thanked her and continued on our way once the pilot car turned up. As we descended down it soon warmed up, as did our toes, and trees reappeared all full and lush.
It looked so beautiful with dense forest both sides of the road, it was so nice to see green again. We soon found ourselves at the border, where our passports and sanity were checked, and we found out the shocking news that our host had been involved in an accident. He had been involved in a boat fire and was in hospital with severe burns, it was terrible news, and explained why he hadn’t been in touch. We decided to drop by his house on the way in to town, to pass on our best wishes and check that he was going to be OK. The lady looking after his house confirmed that he was still in hospital, but that he’d be OK and hopefully released soon. He’d been filling up his boat when a spark ignited the vapours, setting him and his boat on fire. It was an awful accident, but we were relieved to hear that he was going to be OK We decided to go in to town to find somewhere to stay, and continued the beautiful ride into Haines.
We made our way to the Fog Cutter bar and went in and sat down. It was at that point that we met Leo and Cathy, who very kindly bought us a beer. They were on holiday from Vancouver, and had hired an RV for a week. We chatted for a while until we eventually got on to the subject of where we were staying. ‘Nowhere yet’, I said. ‘I know just the place!’ said Leo, ‘It’s called the Gathering Place and run by a man called Frank’. Before we knew it Leo had called Frank up and had arranged for us to stay, and at $15 a night we decided we couldn’t go too wrong. Leo and Cathy then gave us their contact details and left, and we finished our beers and followed the directions to our new home for the night, about nine miles away. The Gathering Place was like a bunkhouse/lodge, all open plan with around eight bunk beds on the left and a small kitchen. The other half was full of all their stuff, as they were actually closed for the season. It was a huge space, and because of that it was noticeably chilly! I started cooking while Ed tried to make a fire, which was easier said than done. All the wood was green, which meant having a fire was near impossible. But give him his dues he wouldn’t accept defeat, and soldiered on until he’d dried out enough wood to get a fire going. It wasn’t worth all the hard work though, it may have looked like a fire but it certainly didn’t feel like one. The owner Frank then came and introduced himself, he was an older chap and very nice. He apologised about the wood, it was all next year’s stuff, but said he could sort out a heater for us if we wanted. Frank then left, and we had some dinner huddled around the fire. Ed then decided to have a shower, which would have been fine had the hot water not cut out half way through, ‘Aaah!’ I heard from the bathroom, the poor bugger. He came out shivering but luckily we found some towels to warm him up.
After that we decided to go to bed, which was more to do with us being cold than tired. We found an extra blanket to keep as warm then finally fell asleep.
We woke up around 10.30am after a surprisingly warm nights sleep; looked like the extra blanket did it’s job, Ed was even sweating at one point! It was still cold in the lodge so I made some tea and breakfast to help get us going, and we milled around and chatted for a bit. I was just doing the washing up when the water cut out, and Frank soon appeared to fix it. Ed went and helped and got the boiler going, and we soon had hot water again. We then decided to head in to town to investigate the place, but I soon discovered that my bike wouldn’t start.
The lodge was up a fairly steep drive, so Ed suggested bump starting it. He didn’t realise however that I’d never bump started a vehicle before, and didn’t give me any instruction on how to do it. Before he knew it I was rapidly accelerating down the hill in neutral, jumping up and down on the kickstart wondering why it wouldn’t work. After gathering a fair bit of speed and an equal amount of confusion, I suddenly looked up to discover I was about to hit a massive puddle; which not having time to hit the brakes I flew through at full speed, getting soaked in the process. Ed found this very funny, and after he’d finally stopped laughing he asked me what the hell I was doing. ‘I was bump starting it!’ I said. You don’t use the kickstart you put it in to gear!’ ‘Oh’.
On the way in to town Ed spotted a black stick poking out of the water, which suddenly disappeared. We couldn’t work out what it was until a police car drove past, and stopped to tell us it was an Orca whale! We spotted it again in the distance, so rode on to see if we could get a closer look. We finally caught up with it and got some photos, admiring how cool it was in the process.
It’s amazing how far they get on one breath; before we knew it it was gone. We spent the rest of the afternoon riding around town, where we went to the thrift store and the post office, and dropped by the hardware store to get some pipe for our tripod; we never use it as it’s a pain in the arse to get to, with a pipe we have no excuse! Soon we were hungry so ended up in the Bamboo house, another place the flag lady had recommended. There we had a pretty good meal, drank a pint and watched a film, before the open mic night started and we watched a bit of that before finally heading back to the lodge.
Now what was supposed to be a couple of nights in Haines, soon turned in two weeks. I had my blog to write and Ed has his video update to do, and we both agreed that Haines was a nice place to stop.
It had everything we needed; nice scenery, swimming pool for me and shops for food, the only thing we didn’t have however was warmth. We weren’t being productive in the bunkhouse, it was too cold to type and we spent most of our time milling around aimlessly not actually doing anything. After three nights we decided we had to leave, but then came a fortunate twist of fate. We discovered that Frank and his wife Cherie were going away, leaving their cabin available. After a chat we came to a deal, where we could afford to rent their cabin for a week. Ed helped Frank get the place ready for them to leave, and once they’d left we moved in and set to work getting our stuff done.
It was in a gorgeous spot overlooking the water, and we’d often see eagles soaring past the window and sea lions bobbing up and down.
It was the perfect place to stop, catch up and recoup. It’s also where I ended up spending my 30th birthday; with a Guinness, a curry and a film. Not quite ‘Afternoon tea’ at the Fairmont, but it was lovely all the same.