27 May – 12 June, 2016 – After exactly one month on the American continent we had reached the US-Canadian border. Actually we got to the US border post, a tiny building where they didn’t even want to see our passports nor stamp us out of the US. Our visa questions remained unanswered in the expected unfriendly tone of two customs officers. We moved on dissatisfied as we didn’t know for how long we could re-enter the US at a later point. Here they told us, that our time in Canada would be deducted from our allowed six months. They also told us, that we could only enter the US once per year on our visas. This was now the third time we heard something completely different and each time we got the information from customs officials. We continued cycling for another 25km before we reached the Canadian border post. A very friendly customs officers asked us the usual questions – how much money do you have? What are you doing for a living? Are you planning to commit a crime? Are you carrying any weapons? – we got our stamps and entered our 32nd country by bike.
By now we still hadn’t spotted any bears, but as we had entered the most remote area of our journey we knew it would happen soon. We always had to carry food for several days, as we couldn’t get any proper information if there was a shop at the next gas station or not. Often we had to cycle for hundreds of kilometres through the wilderness without passing any settlements. In this Northern part of Canada the pristine landscape was gorgeous. Snow-capped mountains, lots of spring flowers along the road, vast forests, roaring rivers and lots of bears and other wildlife roaming around. In fact once we saw eight bears in just one day. Far too many for my taste, but still an unforgettable experience. They look so peaceful and friendly when grazing right next to the road in the lush green grass. More than once we got upset about tourists leaving their vehicles and getting as close as possible to the big beasts for a photo. These animals are dangerous and we were reminded of that every day when passing them on our bikes – the bears would focus on us until we were out of sight. Some tourists even blamed us for shying them away, and yes, they sometimes would run into the forest when we came around a corner but often stopped at a safe distance and stood on their hind feet to be able to better see us. We just couldn’t believe the stupidity of these people.
Unfortunately we weren’t really lucky with the weather this time. We had rain most of the days, sometimes only a few showers per day and sometimes rain for hours. On top we struggled very often against a strong headwind, making our experience less enjoyable than we had hoped for. Very unfriendly Canadians along the route added to our misery. Service was poor and the few businesses along the Alaska Highway somehow also didn’t really bother. We understand that doing business is very hard as the season is short and most Americans taking this route to get to Alaska or the other way around travel in their huge RVs (Recreational Vehicles) only stepping out of their vehicles to get fuel. And if I write huge I actually mean gigantic in terms of size. These RVs are the size of a touring coach and behind them they are often pulling a mid-sized car or another huge trailer with often a car and a motorbike inside. One day – we were sitting in the lounge of a campground – such a bus was pulling into the parking lot and Johan told me that it will get busy now, as there was a coach with at least 50 people just arriving :-). But as always only two people stepped out of this monster. What scared us most was the fact that there isn’t even a special license necessary to be able to drive them.
What we didn’t understand was the fact that we were treated so extremely unfriendly. Nobody seemed to like cyclists even though we were the ones eating lots of local food – be it good or bad – and paying a lot of money for camping without any facilities. While en route on a particularly remote stretch we stopped at a commercial campground to ask if we could refill our water bottles. The owner refused to fill up two bottles of water and instead told us we could buy bottled water as his tap water was only for paying guests. We left in disbelieve and angry without buying anything as it is against our principle to buy plastic bottles while there is drinking water readily available. This sign hung on his office door: ‘If you see a bear don’t run into my office’. I think this tells enough. Later that day some German tourists filled up our bottles and we pitched our tent next to a little river where we also washed ourselves, made a warming camp fire and went to bed as tired as always.
In this part of the world traffic is still very little and consists mostly of tourists and some huge supply trucks on their way to Alaska. This made cycling very peaceful despite being on a highway. Unfortunately the road was at many places under construction which meant for us a lot of dust when vehicles passed but much worse: we usually weren’t allowed to cycle through the construction site. Too dangerous! The first time we negotiated hard but unsuccessful and were forced to wait 20min until works would stop. All other times we had to load our bikes onto a truck to be driven through the construction site before we could continue by ourselves. Americans are always afraid about their liability and getting sued in case of something might happen.
One day, we had just left our campground knowing there wouldn’t be anything for the next 200km other than trees, hills and bears we spotted some red houses in the distance. Getting closer we could read a nice looking sign “Creperie” and thought that either must have survived from years ago or be a Fata Morgana. But no. There was a French Bakery in the middle of nowhere selling yummy French pastries, bred and of course crepes. Even though we had just had breakfast we couldn’t resist eating crepes and enjoying this unexpected treat.
On another campground – we had cycled over 120km from the early morning until almost 9pm – they closed the toilets at 9pm and showers didn’t exist, but we still were asked to pay almost 20$. As cycling farther wasn’t an option anymore we stayed, I desperately wanted to wash myself and used the remaining 10min for a sink shower. Later they learned that they closed the toilets so early as they had problems with the truckers, who would wash themselves at the toilet sinks…..
By now you might ask yourself why don’t you guys just wild camp instead of getting upset day after day. We had a few reasons for that: First we were more afraid of bears disturbing our good night’s sleep while camping out in the wild and felt safer knowing there were people around. Second we could get water from fellow campers and didn’t have to filter river or lake water while still risking to get sick. And the third and most important reason was that we did not have to put our food and other smelly items such as toiletries in the trees and out of reach of bears. That would have been a mission impossible anyway as all spruce and pine trees did not have proper branches. The state campgrounds always had food lockers or waste baskets that could be opened from the back and where we could safely store away our panniers. Without anything left in the tent other than two smelly cyclists, bear spray on either side of the tent and fireworks, Johan got from one of our Warmshower hosts, we usually slept safe and sound.
Most state campgrounds by the way are in the middle of nowhere at beautiful locations, with great views, next to a river or a beautiful lake and without any facilities other than outhouses and fire pits. There is no ward and you place your money for the night – usually between 10$ and 15$ – in a box by the entrance.
A few businesses still stood out, and of course they were busy as crazy. And a few people stood out as well. There was for example our wonderful Warmshowers host Susan in Whitehorse with who we stayed a few days and who took us on a lake canoe trip. One evening at the pub with some of her girlfriends we met Dee, a visual artist working with clay and spontaneously invited her the next day for breakfast to Susan’s house to show us her artwork. For those interested have a look at her website at www.DBaileyArt.com. And there was this retired guy with his campervan who stopped for us to ask if we needed anything. Or some Americans en route spontaneously inviting us to their homes back in the lower 48 in case we would pass by.
After another longer stretch through nothingness and less spectacular landscapes while crossing the northernmost Rocky Mountains we were looking forward to arriving at Watson Lake, known as the gate to Yukon (if you’re coming from BC) or for its signpost forest.
We stopped at the RV Park to ask for a camp spot and got the brusk reply: “No tenters”. As we weren’t aware of any other campgrounds in town we asked if we maybe could take a shower and of course pay for it, but got the same unfriendly reply: “No, these are for guests only.” We couldn’t help but ask why he was so unfriendly and were told that he didn’t like tenters, especially cyclists as they always keep their food out of their tents which attracts animals. Well, what else can you do in bear country if you don’t provide any lockers or room for food?
Luckily there was another campground that didn’t really advertise behind a gas station with clean showers and toilets and even good washing machines. Here we met a strange elderly couple parking their RV right next to us without even saying hello upon arrival. They apologized later for being grumpy and rude, as they had driven more than 700 miles that day. The next day we told them that we were quite disappointed about the people’s attitude here in Canada as nobody would talk to each other, people stay amongst themselves and hardly take notice of others. We also told them that we found it very strange that hardly ever someone stops in the middle of nowhere when they see us to ask if everything was OK or if we maybe needed any water, knowing there was just nothing for hundreds and hundreds of miles. They then told us that they also would never stop – not even for cyclists – as they might get shot. A response that can only come from a US-citizen! For us it seemed as if most of the Americans live in fear.