27 April – 27 May, 2016 – Bridging the winter in Thailand hasn’t been our smartest idea ever. First, it was far too hot in Thailand to enjoy cycling and second, a 30-degree-temperature difference didn’t make our acclimatization much easier. We would feel cold for weeks. Thankfully we were warmly welcomed by the wonderful and a bit chaotic Lowe family in Anchorage who didn’t mind us staying longer than planned to get used to the time difference and the idea of cycling at for us still winter temperatures. We upgraded our gear, walked the dogs of our hosts, cycled around Anchorage, enjoyed yummy food and a different breakfast almost every day, ate Sushi with the lovely neighbors, were taken to the Exit Glacier and Steward, and participated in a bear awareness training. You would expect that one feels better prepared and less anxious after such a training. Failed! We now knew how to handle our bear spray, we knew we had to “stand the ground” if a bear would charge and that most charges were bluff charges and the bear turns away a meter before you. We even learned to fight back when a bear starts eating us or if a bear would attack our tent in the middle of the night. REALLY? We both were more afraid than ever of potential bear encounters and now felt like there was a bear behind every tree and after every corner of the road. However, it is still more likely for us to get hit by a car than charged by a bear. After 10 days we were finally ready to start pedaling – mentally as well as physically. Leaving was hard this time as we felt like losing our family – the downside of long-term travelers.
Cycling Alaska in early May means cycling pre-season and lots of campgrounds and other even more important facilities such as grocery shops along the way were still closed. We left Anchorage heavily overloaded as our new family was afraid we would starve on the way. We chose to cycle the George Parks Highway to Fairbanks and from there the Alaska Highway to Canada.
Weather at this time of the year is very unstable with chilly temperatures, sometimes snow and lots of rain. Forecasts are useless as the weather changes so quickly that they are mostly unreliable. Luckily we found a few more hosts on our way so we could get some shelter from the rain and cold, the one or the other nice warm meal and the often desperately needed hot shower. Shortly after Anchorage we were able to stay with an older lady living on her own with 13 sled dogs in the middle of nowhere. Last year a huge fire destroyed the forest around her house together with her greenhouse and a shed. Thankfully her beautiful house overlooking the vastness of forests and mountains stayed untouched by the flames. Due to heavy rains we were able to stay another day at her little cabin next to the house and dogs, entertained her with our road stories, listened to her life stories. In return for her hospitality we cleaned her house and Johan became friends with her dogs and fed them as well as cleaned their area from poop.
We continued cycling through rolling hills and endless forests and enjoyed fantastic vistas of snow-capped mountains and a myriad of lakes, if rain allowed. We camped at an abandoned lodge, always afraid we would wake up with a gun pointed at us as we had trespassed private property. At Denali National Park I celebrated my birthday and we admired North America’s highest peak, this time at fantastic weather. James and Amanda, our hosts at Denali, invited us that evening for a yummy dinner followed by drinks at a nearby bar with live music.
We still hadn’t spotted a single bear but instead moose and caribou. They would just graze next to the road and look curiously at us with their enormous heads. Strange enough we both are less afraid of these ungulates even though everyone keeps telling us that they are more dangerous than bears.
In Fairbanks we had an encounter of a very different kind: we met the real Santa Claus. He lives in North Pole and happened to be the brother of my former work colleague and decided to change his name into Santa Claus. At Christmas time he makes a lot of children very happy with his personalized letters and presents.
This day would continue with more unexpected surprises: our Anchorage family came to visit us and we camped together with their two children, two dogs, a chicken and a bunny. The next day little Omi decided she wanted to continue with us and we loaded all our luggage into the motorhome and flew with the wind 165 km further to our next campground. In the meantime the Lowe’s collected a Japanese cyclist on the way and upon arrival they spoiled us with delicious dinner. That night five adults, two children, two big dogs, a chicken and a bunny slept in a 6-person-motorhome as thunderstorms passed through.
After another wonderful breakfast the following morning including fruit salad, pancakes, sausages, juices, coffee, tea, eggs and many more delicacies we bid our final farewell and continued cycling towards Canada together with Hiroki.
On the beautiful Alaska Highway