Friday, September 02, 2005
Some Thoughts on Solo Camping Precautions while in Bear Country
Campgrounds with bear lockers are often times hard to get to during a tour; meaning that the distances between campgrounds is either too great to reach in a days ride on a bike or too close together to actually cover any real ground, and usually also spendy—$10 bucks U.S. or Canadian is cash that go into my belly for fuel! So, being the thrifty tourist that I am, I try not to pay to sleep out side and use the money that I have for food and/or the occasional cabin, motel or hostel stay, as well as for any unforeseen emergency situation(s) that may arise. This style of touring forces me to seek out some very remote locations in which to sleep. Because I choose this way of camping I take greater preventative measures to insure a bear free camp.
Bears have an incredibly keen olfactory system. It’s been said that a bear can smell chick-lets in your pocket from over several hundred yards away! And if the wind is blowing in your favor, forget about it! If there is a bear around and it’s standing down wind of you and your walking toward with food then chances are it already knows that you are coming and who knows, it may be curious enough to stick around and see what kind of food you have!
When you are camped out it’s the same deal. Cooking food creates appetizing smells that can attract bears, so common sense dictates that you don’t cook and sleep in the same place. And, logically, you wouldn’t store your food close to where you’d sleep either. There were times, like when I was on the Dalton Highway, when I couldn’t do more than leave my food and other potential bear attractive items on the tundra far away from where I slept, because there weren’t any trees, and hope that there wasn’t a bear around to find it. Now that I am back in a forest type setting I can tree my food and sleep a little easier.
After putting all of my food and any other potential bear attractive items—camp stove and fuel, chain lube, toiletries, etc.—in two dry bags, I take a long piece of climbing rope and tie a rock to one end and throw it high up—at least 20 feet in to the air—and over a tree limb. After a few attempts and with a lot of patience I can usually get it over the desired tree limb. The weight of the rock then brings the rope back down to the ground and I take a carabineer and attach it to the rope and I pull the bags up into the air where they are safe and securely away from any bear paws. Campfires are also a good way to keep away bears but I have heard from hunters and several other Northern folk that it’s not a sure thing and a bear may not be deterred by the sight or smell of a fire if there is the chance at a quick meal. At this time of year bears are trying to fatten up for the long winter sleep. They are consuming an astronomical amount of calories a day. If they can get an easy meal they will take it so if I’m not almost overly careful I may be stranded in the woods with out any food in which to fuel the ride!
Basically, bears are as individual as people are. There are good people and there are bad people, just the same way there timorous bears and there are honorary bears. Most bears aren’t at all interested in you and will leave you alone while you are camped out, but much like people, there are always unfortunately exceptions to that belief. As the saying goes; “it only takes one bad egg to spoil the dozen,” well it only takes one bad bear experinece to ruin your life! The safer you are while in bear country the better your chances are of avoiding an unwanted bear encounter.
I'm in Canada now, eh!
On Friday, August 26 and at mile 2,100 on tour, I entered Canada—and a different time zone (1 hour ahead of Alaska)—at the Beaver Creek Customs check point. It was an incredibly easy entry into the country, contrary to the many different rumors that I heard from others while traveling through Alaska. I registered my gun, paid the $25 (Canadian) registration fee and pedaled into the small town of Beaver Creek, right to “Buck Shot Beatty’s” for a meal to celebrate! I was excited and, because of the stories that I had heard about border complications, relieved to be safely in The Yukon and Canada, so after only 30 some-odd miles I called it a day.
I hung out at the little café, ate, drank coffee and talked with the owner, Carmine, for hours. She shared some great information with me about the upcoming part of the Alaskan Highway to Whitehorse, a little over three hundred miles away, and gave me a good idea of what to expect, where I could re-supply, etc. It was about 7 p.m. when I decided that I should start thinking about a place to sleep for the night. My options were either to set out into the cold night and quickly find a place to camp, or relax and stay warm and sleep inside one of the rental cabins that ‘Buckshot Beatty’ offered. So, with the exchange rate of currency being in America’s favor, I checked into one of Carmine’s nice little cabins for the night. The rate was very affordable ($65/Canadian) and even more so when considering the amount in U.S. dollars (about $55/American). It should be noted that $1 U.S. equals about $0.84 Canadian, so being that American dollars go a bit farther in Canada I said, ‘what the hell, you only live once,’ and stayed in a warm room, took a shower, and lounged on a king size bed watching T.V. for the night! The following morning I ate a huge breakfast, said farewell to Carmine, then set out to begin my first day in the Yukon along the Alaskan Highway.
The sights along the road are very familiar through out the 300+ mile/480+ kilometer ride over the Al-Can and along the Shakwak Trench. From beginning to end of the Kluane Wildlife Sanctuary, over the White River and between the Kluane and Ruby Ranges, past Kluane Lake all of the way to Haines Junction and then along the Dezadeash and Takini Rivers into Whitehorse the landscape is spectacular and commands your attention. The terrain is similar, if not exactly like the topography in AK; rolling tundra, tall jagged mountains—some with recent snow capping their tops—and large groups of spruce and pine trees as well as birch trees that are starting to already change color. The weather is also like Alaska at this time of year; cool, mostly over-cast days and cold, dark nights with periods of chilly rain during the day or at night that lingers way too long for my liking. The wildlife is also the same as what you’ll find in Alaska, although there are elk in the southern parts of the Yukon. Already I have seen a couple of bears while riding the Al-Can and given the vastness of the land I’m sure that it won’t be the last time! About the only difference between Alaska and the Yukon that I can see at this point is that The Yukon is a lot less populated than Alaska and pretty damn big to boot! Oh yeah, and Canada also uses kilometers opposed to miles to measure distances.
The high price of gas combined with the end of the tourist season has kept the Alaskan Highway free from any real traffic. Some RV’s and local traffic pass by infrequently but most of the time the highway seems empty and void of activity. At times I have found myself wondering if there are any people using the highway other than me and the few truckers that pass occasionally in either direction. At night the lonely feeling grows and you get this deep, lasting impression that you are the only one traveling through this incredibly vast and somewhat intimidating wilderness! And, if the immensity of the territory wasn’t enough, there are still people that swear that there are ‘Yetis’ or ‘Sasquatches’ that roam The Yukon looking for bicycle tourists to feed on! (O.K., that last part I made up, but seriously some people still believe in ‘Big Foot’ up here.) The distances between the towns also are great. About 50 miles separate most places, which is a lot like Alaska and not at all unusual, and the road so far is very easy; lot’s of gently sloping climbs join together complimentary down hills that roll out into curving turns scattered among long stretches of flat, seemingly never-ending pieces of road that points straight for miles on end!
Yes folks, riding through Canada has been great hitherto! The people are as friendly as you’ll find anywhere up north, the scenery is gorgeous, and the weather is pleasant for the most part. About the only thing about the ride that has been difficult so far is the re-appearance of my old arch-nemesis the head-wind! That blasted, invisible element that only blows in your favor in one of four different directions and can ruin a beautiful sunny day has made several days on the bike incredibly difficult and add minutes if not hours to your over all days goal! In an instant the wind can slow a quick pace to a crawl and make riding completely unappetizing and finding a place to stop and camp delicious! Now, I know what some of you are thinking: “but Jason, I thought that you wanted the wind in order to keep the mosquitoes and other bugs out off of you?” Well, there was a time when that was the case, diligent observer, but the cold nights have produced much frost and killed most of the dirty little buggers, so now me and the wind are once again at war!
Thursday, September 01, 2005
Out of Alaska
After leaving Tok Thursday (08/25) morning I pedaled towards the Alaskan/Canadian Border with the intent to get close to the boundary and camp one last time in "The Great Land" before entering The Yukon. It’s about 110 miles to the Canadian Customs from Tok and after almost 80 miles I found a terrific place to spend the night and prepare for the long lonely ride that lies ahead. I spent 87 days touring Alaska and now I have to get a move on in order to make it through Canada and back into the states before winter hits. The time that I have spent in the state of Alaska ranks up there with some of the most fun and exciting experiences of my entire life! The people that I have met and the places that I have been to have made this tour, as well as the past few years, a truly amazing experience that I will treasure for the rest of my life. I know that the journey is far from over and I know that there are plenty of new, fun and exciting experiences waiting for me as I make my way through North America towards Mexico and then through Central and South America, but Alaska will always remain special (insert: heavy sigh). Alright-already, enough with the sentimental, melancholy sap! On with the adventure, right?! O.K. then...
I made it to Whitehorse, about 350 miles or 560 kilometers—distances are measured in kilometers in Canada, eh!—yesterday (08/31) and plan on taking some time off of the bike to sight-see, update the web-site and re-supply before starting off again. Well, that’s it for now. I’m going start up-loading this blog and then finish the story for the next up-date! Talk to you-all then!