07.15.2002-08.02.2002       Fairbanks, AK to Watson Lake, YT
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After a few days of rest in Fairbanks I sluggishly returned to the road. I was not excited about the next several hundred miles. Apart from the North Pole(the commercial incarnation, that is) there didnít appear to be much of interest until I was well into the Yukon. This proved true but there were other changes occurring that made my travels easier. With every day I moved further from the Arctic Circle and further from the summer solstice. I had ridden most of the leg from Prudhoe Bay in a near zombie state, the ever-present sun hampering my efforts at sleep. As I made my way south from Fairbanks dusk finally returned and I started sleeping though the night again. Another welcomed change was the decline in the mosquito population. My mosquito head net lost its prized position atop my handlebar bag and was relegated to one of my saddlebags, slowly making its way down to the bottom along with my cold-weather cycling clothing. Whereas earlier in the trip I rode until late in the day, having only a lonely, mosquito-infested pull-out to retire to, I now had developed camp sites at which I could stay, where a mere application of DEET kept the mosquitoes away while I sat at my picnic table cooking dinner, reading, writing or conversing with fellow campers. The last several days in Alaska were fairly indistinguishable to me: flat to rolling terrain, regular headwinds, hot sun and unspectacular scenery. I was anxious to leave Alaska. I had spent five weeks there and pedaled over 1500 miles. I felt I had done that grand state justice and was looking forward to experiencing what the Yukon had to offer.

Little changed in the riding conditions as I crossed into Canada but prices dropped and people seemed friendlier. I had been cursing the sun for several days so when the clouds appeared and the rain began to fall on my third day in Canada I was not unhappy. In addition to cooling things down the rain had the added benefit of settling the dust in the lengthy construction zones I had been encountering. The only drawback to the weather system was it had moved in just as the scenery was making a return to the dramatic. As I rode through the Kluane Lake region I didnít see the beautifully colored lake accompanied by views of some of Canadaís highest peaks. I saw a gray lake with mountains covered in mist and clouds. When I arrived in Haines Junction the weather cleared and I was grateful. I had planned to take a day off to hike in Kluane National Park and knew my motivation would not stand up against the rain. I had not done as much hiking on the trip as I had hoped to and didnít want to miss out on the Yukonís premier hiking park. On my day off I cycled south of town and hiked along the slopes of the mountains that serve as the backdrop to Haines Junction. It felt good to use some different muscles in my legs but after nine miles I was definitely feeling sore. The next day, as I rode from Haines Junction to Whitehorse, I encountered an Italian cyclist doing my route in reverse. I had heard through the grapevine that he was near and hoped that I would meet him and his traveling companion, a dog. He had been on the road for nineteen months and I could sense his anticipation, just several weeks from his destination. He had picked the dog up as a pup in Peru. I wondered how the dog would adjust to a more sedentary life after the trip was over, whether the trailer that had carried him so far would serve as his bed in his future home.

I took two days off in Whitehorse, one for pure R&R and one for taking care of the usual tasks that accumulate between towns. Whitehorse is the capital of the Yukon and with 22,000 residents contains nearly two-thirds of the territoryís population. It was the first town of any size I had experienced in Canada and I found it instantly likeable. It felt both like a frontier town and a city. What I liked best though was that drivers respected pedestrians. They didnít drive 60 M.P.H. down residential streets like they did in Alaskan towns. The ride through Miles Canyon provided a nice exit from Whitehorse. That night I stayed at a particularly picturesque campground at Squanga Lake. The only drawback to the campground was the aggressive ground squirrel population. Obviously they had been hand-fed by too many tourists and had lost all sense of fear in the presence of humans. While I was cooking dinner they would constantly hop on my table and go after any morsels of food. Once, I left the table for no more than a minute, only to find a squirrel dragging my bag of cookies across the dirt as I returned. This annoyed me. I put all the food I was not currently eating in my backpack. One particularly brave squirrel then went after my backpack. I picked up a stick to shoo him away while I tried to finish eating dinner. He kept returning and eventually started gnawing at the bag. This angered me. The next time he returned and starting gnawing I took a swing at the bag, hoping the impact of the stick against the bag would send him flying and make him think twice about returning to the task. But my aim wasnít too good and I got more than backpack in that swing, I got me some squirrel skull. Shortly after another squirrel, perhaps his mate, stopped by the corpse to mourn his death. I felt bad. Ground squirrels are pretty stupid so I didnít think the presence of one of their fallen brethren would deter them from future attempts at infiltrating my food stores. However, for the rest of the night they stayed clear of my campsite. I felt better.

As I continued on towards Watson Lake the temperatures dropped and the headwinds picked up. When I started hearing reports of freezing temperatures I was grateful I hadn't sent any of my cold weather clothing home. The winds gusted as I approached the Continental Divide and I hoped the winds might start flowing east at that point as the rivers would. But this did not happen so I plodded on. Watson Lake would be the furthest east I would travel on the Alcan. I would ply south on the lesser-traveled Cassiar Highway.

DistanceElevation GainFlat Tires
Leg903 mi/1453 km35090 ft/11512 m1
Trip2241 mi/3606 km20 mi/32 km1
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