Our usual late start was followed by breakfast and tea, and the discovery of squirrel poo all over my bike; what is it with my bike and the wildlife?!
Before continuing on down the Alaska highway, Ed decided that he wanted to have one last dip in the hot springs, but I unfortunately had to sit this one out. I’ve got particularly sensitive skin and discovered that getting out of water when it’s -10C and not being able to dry quickly enough, results in rather angry skin. So while Ed played in the water I happily went round taking photos and video, unaware of just how cold my hands were getting.
I’d stupidly not put my gloves on, my hands were warm when we got there, and being in a moist cold environment after about half an hour my fingers were painfully cold. Ed got out around 3pm and I hurriedly went ahead, desperate to get to the bikes to warm my fingers up. My fingertips were numb so Ed gave me his claw gloves to help warm them up, which did the trick but it was an excruciatingly painful process. I had to pace up and down the car park to help take my mind of the pain, and stop feeling so sick; it was horrible. Eventually it was just my fingernails that hurt, and I could finally feel my fingers again and stop panicking, phew! What an idiot. Lesson learnt: When it’s -14C, wear gloves!
It was going to be tight getting to Muncho Lake before dark; it was already 3.45pm when we were ready to leave. It was only forty five miles away and the sky was perfectly clear, so we decided to go for it. The road to Liard was fairly straight so we were surprised to discover that the road to Muncho Lake was so windy. We wound down the side of a mountain and through a valley, before climbing up and being presented with some very beautiful and dramatic scenery. It was stunning. We later confirmed that we both said wow as we came to the top of a hill, surrounded by peaks and a gorgeous sky, slowly changing colours as the sun began to set. I wish I’d stopped to take photos and to really soak it in, but I was aware we were tight on time and short on daylight; I felt like every minute counted. It’s a shame, as to date it’s one of my favourite locations. Another lesson learnt: Make sure you have enough time! I do however have an excuse to go back now…
Dark descended on us and we finally arrived at the Northern Rockies Lodge, much to my numb legs’ delight. My toes were feeling the cold too, and after discovering that it was -17C I wasn’t at all surprised. As soon as we walked through the door we were greeted by a lovely guy called Matt, who quickly brought us some hot coffee and some grapes to nibble on. I was rather concerned that the feeling in my legs wasn’t coming back, but after half an hour of rubbing them and walking around they eventually came back to life. We were both hungry and therefore rather confused when Matt told us that the kitchen wasn’t open yet, ‘But isn’t it like 8pm?!’ I asked. ‘No, it’s only 4.45pm!’ he said. Getting dark so early really messes with your head!
We hung out in the lobby for a while before realising that we needed to find somewhere to sleep; it didn’t look like we could afford to stay, we even joked about sleeping in the outdoor sauna! Luckily Matt came up trumps though, and did us a deal on a ‘budget’ room, which was luxury for us. So after a delicious dinner, cooked by the wonderful Matt, we heading back to our room where we finally had a shower and sprawled out on the beds, thoroughly enjoying our ‘sod the budget’ decision.
I woke up fairly early for me around 8am, but soon fell back to sleep and woke up again when the alarm went off at 10am. Oh well, we’d paid for the room and beds so we may as well get our money’s worth! We eventually got up and headed to the restaurant, where we had a coffee and used the internet, before sharing a lunch and finally getting on our way around 2.30pm.
It was a beautiful sunny day, but as soon as we left the sun disappeared behind a mountain, typical. Steam was coming off the lake as we rode past it and I asked Ed, ‘Is it that warm in there?!’ And he replied ‘No, it’s that cold out here!’ ‘Aah!’
We continued on and came to a fairly sharp bend, where due to a truck coming the other way Ed quickly slowed down. This would normally be fine as I’d slow down too, but my gears wouldn’t go down and being on ice I couldn’t use the brakes. ‘Please go f*cking faster Ed!!’ I shouted to myself. He must have been reading my thoughts, as just as I came dangerously close to him he thankfully accelerated and narrowly avoided me rear ending him. Phew!
We carried on round the lake and ended up nestled in the mountains in a valley. It soon turned cloudy and grey and was noticeably chilly, and continued to be so for a while. Just as I thought there would be no reprise we came round a corner and to the foot of a hill, over the brow of which was perfectly clear. It was really rather magical. It was so nice to be out of the cloud, it can be quite oppressive at times.
I decided to stop and put Ed’s Snugpak coat on as I was feeling rather chilled, and my fingers were cold too so I put the claw gloves on to warm them up; I didn’t want a re-enactment of Liard! I’d also been struggling with the pin lock on my visor; it wasn’t sealing properly and was icing up. I couldn’t get to the ice to clear it off so Ed took it out for me to see if that helped. It didn’t. As soon as I breathed the visor would fog up and instantly freeze, thus resulting in me seeing absolutely feck all. I tried to clear it off but my gloves were too big and it would just happen again as soon as I exhaled another breath. As we continued on I soon discovered that if I left a little vent open cold air could get in and stop the warm moist air before it hit the visor, the downside of this however is that the cold air coming in would also freeze my eyeballs and give me brain freeze, like when you drink a slush puppy too fast; not a pleasant experience.
After that the best solution I could come up with was to keep the vent closed and breathe less. This went well for the first ten seconds until I suddenly panicked that I hadn’t breathed enough and took in a big breathe and let out an even bigger one, instantly icing up my visor. Bollocks. In the end I had to resort to frozen eyeballs and occasionally clearing a small area with the claw, which I had to tip my head right back to see out of. Living the dream.
We kept riding and the light began dropping, quickly as it tends to do around this time of year. We rode past a few herds of Caribou with their fluffy white tails standing out against the dark backdrop, and eventually made it to Toad river around 5pm. My body was fine but my legs and toes were pretty cold, unsurprising seeing at it was now -19C! My legs looked like I had sunburn when I took my trousers off, all the blood trapped on the surface to keep the tissue alive. The lodge was really cool as the entire ceiling was covered in hats, it reminded me of a few places in Australia that had a similar thing, just with underwear.
We had a few cups of tea to warm us up then had some food to finish the job. Due to our tent self combusting we asked if they had any outbuildings we could use but they didn’t, so we stayed in the restaurant until around 7pm before heading out to put the tent up. We played tent roulette with the poles but amazingly non of them snapped, and we failed to get any pegs in to the rock solid ground. This resulted in the tent looking pathetically small inside, but it’d still do the job. I was quite happy camping in -20C but I wasn’t looking forward to waking up in the morning with wet sides and a wet sleeping bag. Urgh. It took us a while to put the tent up as Ed had to fix a previous break, and of course he felt the need to see if his tongue would stick to one of the tent poles, which of course it did. Some people never learn!
We went back in to the lodge around 8pm to have a warm up and use the Wi-Fi, when one of the ladies who worked there came up to us and said ‘There’s been a good samaritan, the owner has said you can have room number 10’. Amazing!! I was really ready to camp so this was a lovely surprise, like waking up to go to work then being told that you can have a lie-in, which by the way never happened but this felt like what I imagine that would feel like. Awesome. We immediately went and took the tent down, and packed all our gear up and moved in to our room; lovely stuff. I was also pleased as it would give my skin a chance to recover, it was in quite a bad way so I smothered on loads of cream and gave Ed quite a fright…
We got up around 10am, packed everything up and loaded it on to the bikes. Next stop was tea and coffee, so we went back in to the lodge where we sat down and one of the girls came out and said ‘Would you like some breakfast? Someone’s sponsored you’. ‘Really?!’ We couldn’t believe it, it was so kind and generous. I had perfectly cooked poached eggs with bacon and hashbrowns, and delicious homemade wholemeal bread as toast which really hit the spot. We got talking to the waitress and found out that she was called Laila and was from the Philippines, she was so sweet and lovely. While we were eating our breakfast she came over and said ‘Would you like me to make you some lunch to take with you?’ We couldn’t believe it again. ‘Thank you so much, that would be amazing!’ Layla then came out of the kitchen five minutes later with two brown paper bags; brown bread sandwich for me, white bread sandwich for Ed. What a sweetheart. We also discovered that all the other girls working there were from the Philippines, and rounded them all up for a photo as they’d been so lovely while we’d been there.
We actually only saw the owners briefly, so passed on our thanks to the girls before fuelling up and heading off, but not before getting some pictures with the fun boards outside and discovering that our cable lock was frozen…
It was a beautiful sunny day and we hit the road around 1.30pm, and soon found ourselves riding in a valley with mountains both sides and trees lining the roads. Even though the road looked icy and snowy there was really good traction, and at one point the ice and snow completely disappeared; there wasn’t even any on the verges. We got bathed in golden sunlight as we rode, but I was soon cursing it as the road changed direction and I got completely blinded. I couldn’t see a thing. It was a case of squint, ride, and hope for the best. Luckily we changed direction so I could see again, but it didn’t last long as the temperature dropped and my visor iced up again. Brilliant.
We rode round the side of a mountain then hit a straight, where we saw a black thing in the distance. As we got closer we discovered that it was a little black fox, but it quickly disappeared in to the forest before we could get a closer look. It wasn’t long before we reached the summit, which to be honest didn’t really seem that high. I think it’s because we were surrounded by mountains and didn’t have the vast views like we had on the Haines Highway; there is nothing to signal that you’re actually high up. It was also noticeably warmer, which came as quite a surprise.
We continued on and before we knew it we arrived at Tetsa River Services; home of the ‘world famous cinnamon bun’.
It didn’t look open at first but we rode in and soon spotted an open sign. We got off the bikes and went inside, where we were greeted by a chap with a big beard. He made us a pot of tea and then unleashed disappointment as he said that he was out of cinnamon buns; the owners made them and they were away on holiday. Sad times. We were rather looking forward to one of those as well. He was looking after the place for them and when I asked where he normally lived he simply said ‘the bush’. OK… We told him that we were going to stay and that we’d be camping, and he pointed us in the direction of the wooden picnic shelter. I was half hoping that he’d offer us one of the empty cabins to sleep in, but it soon became apparent that that wasn’t going to happen. Camping it is then. He had to go and cut some wood so we were evicted from the lodge and decided to have a walk round the property, with the owners little dog in tow. We were walking through the snow towards a wire fence when I spotted what I thought was a bear; I nearly sh*it myself. I then realised that it was actually a massive dog and felt a bit silly. Although in my defense it was probably the same if not more dangerous than a bear, it was pretty mean. It’s owner Reg then turned up for a chat, and we got talking about the dog which was half wolf. He said that it had bitten his wife a couple of times, and I was rather concerned when the reply to my question ‘But it stops when you tell it to doesn’t it?’ was ‘Sometimes’. Errr.
We went back and toasted our chicken sandwiches that Layla had made us, in loads of butter, and the bearded fellow eventually turned up again so we went back in to the lodge for a warm up and a few cups of coffee. He closed up at 6pm, so we were soon back out in the cold again and decided it was time to get the airbeds and sleeping bags out. Just as we were doing so the owners little dog ran past with something in its mouth. On closer inspection we discovered that it was our frozen block of butter! The little sod. I decided not to retrieve it, I’m not a fan of dog slobber on my food, he can keep it.
With our beds set up on the floor of the shelter (we didn’t bother with the tent) we went to take some photos of the stars. This was soon brought to an abrupt end when Ed said, ‘I can hear something. Something’s walking around us’. Of course being me I instantly panicked. I would just like to point out though that I never used to be this nervous, it’s definitely come on with age, along with motion sickness and claustrophobia, of which the latter I mainly get when I flip down my helmet or get stuck in my sleeping bag when the baffles are done up tightly. Yes, I’m an odd creature. Ed went off to get his bear spray with me in tow; I didn’t want to be left on my own in the dark with some random creature. We went back to where the tripod was and then discovered that the noise was in fact a flag flapping in the wind. Idiots. I do have to say though it did sound exactly like something walking through the snow, and even though I then knew that it was the flag, every time it made I noise I still thought that is was something walking around us. And that’s probably the most stupid thing I’ve been scared of to date: A flapping flag. So with nerves fully reinstated, we finally got in to our sleeping bags with the outside temperature sitting at a chilly -25C.
I couldn’t get to sleep for hours, which wasn’t really a problem seeing as we went to bed at 8pm. This was due to a combination of 1) Caffeine; I knew I shouldn’t have had that coffee. 2) Thinking that a rogue grizzly was going to find us, or something equally as hungry. 3) Needing the toilets three times, due to too many cups of coffee, and finally 4) Being a bit chilled at times due to not enough food. My feet were cold as ice but not numb, and as I slept mainly in the fetal position, every time I stretched out it was like plunging my feet in to an icy cold bucket of water; no heat had reached the bottom of my sleeping bag. At least when I needed a wee it took my mind off random creatures finding us, and when I did think I could hear something a wave of fear would wash over me which was actually quite warming. Every cloud. I don’t know what was wrong with me, I kept getting scared and let my imagination run away with itself. Moonlight came in under the walls of the shelter and I kept expecting a big dark shadow to pass across it…
I eventually got off to sleep, but woke again needing the toilet for the second time. The last time I needed to go I got out of my sleeping bag and lost lots of heat, something I couldn’t afford to do again. I lay there thinking. I then had a brain wave; I had my she-wee and an empty drinking bottle, that’d do! What then happened resulted in me being very happy with myself. I nearly woke Ed up to tell him, but then realised that he probably wouldn’t appreciate his girlfriend waking him up to tell him that she’d managed to go to the toilet without having to get out of her sleeping bag, and that she was very happy about it. Of course I needed the loo again a few hours later (damn coffee) but luckily I had enough space left in the bottle… just.
We woke up when the generator kicked in around 8am. I was pleased I’d survived the night, at one point I remember thinking, ‘I can’t wait to wake up in the morning in one piece!’ And thankfully there I was, awake in the morning; my sleeping bag may be covered in ice and my water bottle may be full of piss, but I’m most definitely in one piece.
We finally surfaced at 9am as we knew the shop would be open and hot coffee would be on offer. We sat and drank a cup while we dried our boot liners on the stove top, but neither of us could get our feet warm so we decided food was the answer. We had some frozen sausages, a frozen onion, a frozen tin of peas, some frozen milk, some potato flakes and some gravy powder; bangers and mash it is then!
Now what should normally be a simple meal to prepare soon turned in to absolute chaos. We had to boil the sausages then fry them, we couldn’t cut the onion so gave that a miss, the milk was frozen so we had to use hot sausage juice to try and defrost it, and we eventually gave up on the peas. The dog had also run off with the butter but luckily we found some in the bottom of Ed’s top box, along with a frozen tampon, some brake shoes and some actual shoes… Oh and I melted yet more holes in my nice Rab gloves. I’d always wanted ones with touch screen ability; be careful what you wish for.
The mash turned out surprisingly well but the gravy was quite interesting, however after adding some more sausage juice, boiling the shit out of it, and breaking up the lumps, it was actually quite good. We spooned the putty like potato and crispy sausages in to our little tubs, and poured the gravy over it which instantly overflowed.
It didn’t look that nice but it tasted good, and left us full with the knowledge that we’d be warm for the next few hours of riding. We then tidied up the explosion of mash and gravy, well covered it in snow, and packed all our stuff up before going inside the lodge for one last warm up before setting off.