Key West to Alaska


  • 22 August 2013: 6,880 Miles Key West to Arctic Circle in Alaska. August 22, 2013

    We have totaled the Miles on the Key West to Alaska Bike Trip:

    Note: Annual dates are for Non-Winter biking seasons.

    2006 – Key West to Fort Stockton, TX                                   56 Days    2,207 miles

    2007 – Fort Stockton to Antelope Wells, NM                         9 Days       283 miles

    2007 – Antelope Wells to Montana/Canada Border           49 Days    1,730 miles

    2013 – MT/Canada Border to Arctic Circle in Alaska           61 Days     2660 miles

    Total  Key West  to  Arctic Circle  in  Alaska                         175 Days     6880 miles

    Betty:  Several of you have agreed to the challenge we sent out about a penny a mile donation to the American Cancer Society.  Should you wish to make that donation the Total Mileage is 6880 or $68.80 – or you can choose this year’s segment which was 2660 or $26.60.  If you want to let me know what you donate I can keep a tally of donated funds.  Please donate at www.cancer.org    Many Thanks to all of you for keeping up with the journal and for your encouraging words throughout the trip.

  • 19 August 2013 August 20, 2013

    As you are reading the posts, should you want to go further back you will need to click on the highlighted title of a post and that will take you to a single post per page and at the end and beginning of the page you will find the ability to navigate through the posts.  We’ll have mileages, etc in the next few days.

  • 19 August 2013: 12 Miles Today; 1,390 Total Miles, Finished. Dry Camped at Wal-Mart in Dawson Creek. August 19, 2013

    Chuck:

    What a great day for our finish; Blue skies with a few scattered clouds, cool morning with favorable winds.  Both of us can sense the unspoken drama of the day as we prepare for both the 12 mile bike ride and the RV drive into Dawson Creek.  Soon I am on my way, wind at my back fairly floating into the town of Dawson Creek.  I was so hyped; I think it must have been downhill all the way.  The road bike was the choice of the day, about 45 minutes later I was there, done, finished, nowhere to go, it’s over.  Betty was waiting with the RV by the “Mile Zero” sign.  Seventy-nine days ago, Betty, Brendan and I were photographed at this same spot.  It is hard to believe it is over, we took lots of photos; maybe to record that it has really happened, so when we wake up we will have proof.  No more hills to pump over, no more headwinds to fight, no more miles to countdown before day’s end.  For Betty; no more narrow bridges to cross with closed eyes, no more winding mountain roads with steep drop-offs on one side and falling rocks on the other, no more waiting for hours before I finally drag in for the day, no more hooking up the car to tow, no more hooking up utilities at campgrounds.  We were both floating with elation; glad that we did it, glad that it was done and happy to move on.  It was still only mid-morning, we walked across the street to a coffee shop for a maple long-john and a cup of unneeded coffee; we almost never do this, maybe it was just to unwind.  Later, we went to the Alaska Highway House a local museum that has excellent displays and chronicles the building of the Alcan during 1942 in great detail.  It makes me very proud of the U.S. Army Engineers for the monumental task they completed in just nine months; unbelievable.

    Finally, we load the bikes in the back of the CRV and drive to Wal-Mart for resupply and to park for the evening. I purchase and install a new battery for the Honda, the old one had been sluggish for several weeks. We had dinner at the White Spot restaurant.  In their parking lot we saw a small van with a sign we had seen earlier parked at Mile Zero, “Just Married, August 9th, 50 Years Ago”.  As we walked into the restaurant, Betty immediately spotted them; we struck up a conversation with Nancy & Stan Schriner from St. Clair, Michigan.  They are a very interesting couple on their way to Alaska as part of their Anniversary celebration.  They have reconfigured their van into a camper and love to travel.  As we leave the restaurant we notice several things:  it is much cooler, the wind has increased and it is now dark so we can readily see that I have left the lights on.  The new battery has passed its first test.

    It is late and we are retiring for the evening as I read over these notes:

    I already miss it!  We will be leaving one of planet earth’s special places; the vastness of the wild forests that still have not been touched by construction equipment, not been sapped by the petroleum industry’s long tentacles.  We will miss the opportunity to see wildlife still in its wild home.  We will miss climbing to a high crest and seeing panoramic views, mountains, valleys and wild rivers.  I will miss the exhilaration of the downhill run, hearing the rush of cool air streaming by my ears, the challenge of climbing to the next mountain pass.  I’ll also miss being able eat all I want (especially ice cream) and still lose weight, the feeling of being fit, seemingly, without trying.  And, the ravens, I will miss the two ravens that I see every day, (surely it is the same two each day?).  They take short flights just as I get close, then do it again and again.  Sometimes, they fly by really close, sometimes they talk to me in their deep raspy voice.  Nevermore!

    In a day or two we will recap the Bike Trip with dates, cumulative mileages, etc.

  • 18 August 2013: 40 Miles Today; 1,378 Total Miles. Dry Camped in Rest Area 11 Mi. N. of Dawson Creek. August 18, 2013

    Chuck:

    We didn’t get out of the campground until after 10 am but still no sign of Ben & Ellen or Sara.  We would liked to have said good-bye.  There have been reports of road construction and some gravel segments of the highway between us and Dawson Creek.  I can make better time on the road bike but, if there is construction or gravel or most anything else out of the ordinary, then the mountain bike is the best choice.  Plus, today there is a stiff headwind; 20 mph gusting to maybe 35.  To keep our options open, Betty will leap forward only about 10 miles at a time and stop even sooner is she sees that I need to switch bikes.  While on the mountain bike the highway drops down into the Peace River Valley. The bridge has a sidewalk which is raised 8 inches above the road surface, but the winds are so gusty I cannot be sure I won’t be pushed off into traffic coming from behind me.  I pushed the bike most of the way across, about one-half mile.  It was a tough climb out of this deep valley; a long pull of over 2 miles and signs warned that the grade will reach 10%.  It must be a “bear” during some winter conditions.  At the steepest part of the climb, I took a rest & water break.  When I started to resume biking, it was difficult getting the bike going fast enough to maintain balance on that steep of a slope.  After a couple of failed attempts, I waited until there was no traffic in either direction, pointed the bike across the slope, quickly got my shoe cleats locked in then turned uphill to resume the crawl out of the valley.  I think that might have been the steepest slope on the entire Alaskan Highway.  Betty is waiting at the top so I switch to the road bike.  It seems to me that the road bike does better than the mountain bike in a direct headwind, but a crosswind pushes the lighter and taller road bike around more.  Now I am descending down into the Kiskatinaw River Valley, a tributary of the mighty Peace River.  As my downhill speed increases, I pass a sign warning of dangerous crosswinds on the bridge.  The best choice seemed to be in the middle of the lane and let traffic behind me cross at my speed.  It worked well, a pick-up driver waved when he passed me at the end of the bridge.  While crossing, I only got a quick glimpse, but that deep, rocky canyon was awesome.  The climb up and out of the valley was child’s play after dealing with the Peace Valley less than an hour before.

    The relentless headwind makes for slow progress.  Passing by a hay field, a mama bear suddenly appears at the end of a drainage culvert about ten feet away from me.  She rises up on her hind legs and sniffs as two young cubs pop out of the culvert.  When I see that she does not seem aggressive, I stop and get the camera out of my bar bag.  The three bears go loping across the freshly cut hay field as I try to get a picture.  All three looked great with long, black, shiny hair blowing in the breeze as mom made sure they were out of harm’s way.  Just within the past 30 miles, we have been seeing evidence of farming and occasional home sites with large, green, well-kept lawns; we are slowly easing back into a more heavily populated part of the country.  When I catch up to Betty at a Rest Area, I suggest we stop for the day.  It is 6 pm and I’ve had enough wind for one day.

  • 17 August 2013: 64 Miles Today; 1,238 Total Miles. In Rotary RV Park in Fort St. Johns, BC. August 17, 2013

     Chuck:

      Before starting today, we try to decide whether to do the last 115 miles in three days or two days.  I like the three easier days, because the heavy traffic with heavy loads are tedious and tiring.  But, we need to fill our fresh water tank and the next RV campground is 64 miles away.  I really like a shower at the end of the day.   Betty also appreciates me having a shower at the end of the day.  The showers win; we will take the two day option.  Actually, we make the final decision at a 50 mile rest stop.  At that point, I decided to switch from the road bike to the mountain bike because I am forced to ride on the shoulder which is now gravel and not safe with a road bike.  Good decision, trucks with heavy, wide loads such as dozers, derricks, stacks of large drilling pads, huge compressors, etc. keep me on the shoulder much of the time.  Late in the afternoon, I saw traffic ahead of me was stopped in both directions.  A large black bear was ambling across the highway.  It has been several days since we have seen any large animals.  Also this afternoon, I saw something on the shoulder directly ahead of me.  It looked like weeds or maybe a chunk of hay.  As I wheeled over it, I saw that it was a dead porcupine as the sandal on my left foot skimmed over it.  Fortunately, I did not pick up any quills.

      As I entered Fort St. Johns, the Rotary RV Park was on my left, a welcome site.  After that important shower, we joined our next door neighbors for an “in progress” happy hour.  Ben & Ellen and their friend Sara are all from lower British Columbia and are doing contract work with oil or gas related companies.  They have had very interesting lives and a lot of different experiences.  Unfortunately, their opinion of Americans in general, was not positive.  Actually, they really do not like Americans at all; they made an exception for us (I think) maybe because Betty drove the RV by herself and I was drinking Canadian beer. When I asked why the low opinion, they felt that Americans saw Canadians as ‘Eskimo like’ people who live in igloos.  Not much we said could change their minds.  An interesting side note, Ellen’s father played a major part in the development of Ultra-Light aircraft, especially the light engine used for propulsion.   They were fun folks and we had a good time.

    Betty:  Ben, from next door, helped get me backed in to the site when I arrived.  I normally opt for a pull-through site that way I don’t have to unhook the car and I also can see where I am going and do it easily by myself, however none of the pull-throughs were equipped with water, electric AND sewer.  Since I also wanted to wash some clothes we really needed the sewer hook-up and therefore a back-in site was the choice.  It was an easy back-in and Ben did a great job guiding me into the slot.

  • 16 August 2013: 70 Miles Today; 1274 Total Miles. Dry Camped at a Rest Area, 13 miles N. of Wonowon. August 16, 2013

    Chuck:

      Another good biking day; cool, partly cloudy, a light headwind and rolling hills.  Traffic is getting heavier every day, may be a sign of getting closer to civilization.  Actually, a majority of the traffic is related to oil and gas:  wells, exploration and the construction of roads and pads related to the oil and gas fields.  Construction of pipelines for natural gas is also very vigorous in this area.  All this work puts a lot of “oversized” rigs and other work trucks on the road.  It is a steep run down to the Sakanni  River, near the river is a fuel station and campground.  As I passed by it, little did I know that Betty had stopped here an hour or so before me and tanked up with diesel fuel.  The climb out of the Sakanni Valley was long and steep; it was just the first of many long climbs today.  At lunch we discuss our dry camp choices for the evening.  There are two Rest Areas available: the first would make for a 38 mile day, the second would be a 70 miler.  Ok, we will go for it. 

      For a place that our map labels as “Interior Plains” there are a lot of ups and downs.  But, even the worst hills will be history if we just keep knocking them out.  Betty is probably having a harder time with the hills and the traffic than I am; I just stay to the right and keep pumping, Betty is in the middle of the traffic and does not like big trucks pushing her to go faster than her comfort zone will allow.  It is a beautiful sight to see the RV waiting; Betty has a cold beer ready for me so we can discuss the trials of the day.  She points out that we are only 13 miles from Wonowon (named because it is at mile marker 101 from Dawson Creek) which means we only have 114 miles to the end of the Alaska Highway and our biking saga.

    Betty:  I am way out of my comfort range with these huge oversized loads bearing down on me.  Only 114 miles left – “I think I can, I think I can”.

    Be thinking about our challenge to each of you to donate a penny per mile to the American Cancer Society.  We will post the final mileage once we are in Dawson Creek.

  • 15 August 2013: 47 Miles Today; 1,204 Total Miles. Dry Camped at Buckinghorse River Turn Out, BC. August 15, 2013

    Chuck:

        The plan is to get fuel at Prophet Creek; we can see the station from our campsite.  I will bike to the top of the hill and wait at the station for Betty.  Oops, the station is boarded up, closed.  Across the highway is a heavy equipment yard with pumps outside a large warehouse.  As I bike up to it, four barking dogs charge out.  Now I can see the large black trash bags pulled over the pumps; time to exit.  Fortunately, these are well behaved guard dogs, as I turn to leave they have done their job and return to their “duty station”.  Betty is now coming up the hill and will see me biking away and know we cannot get fuel until later. 

      A great day to be on a bike, clear skies, no wind, mostly flat terrain.  Cruising along effortlessly at about 18 mph, tires singing, creating my own breeze and the open road ahead; beautiful.  Lunch at 22 miles and back on the road; Betty will wait for me past the 50 mile point.  Later in the afternoon, the sky darkens, then lightning, thunder rolls and a few rain drops.  Looks like I am headed right into thunder showers.  Wow, here comes our little Honda, Betty is going to “rescue” me.  We quickly load the bike and start driving back to the RV, it is 7 miles, I would have been drenched.  Back at our “dry-camp” for the night, it rains hard for a couple of hours.  Most turn-outs like this one are pretty quiet with only an occasional vehicle stopping and maybe one or two others spending the night.  Evidently, this one is a holding area for a quarry and an asphalt plant and some kind of drilling support operations located down a side road, directly off “our” turn-out.  The heavy truck traffic is nearly non-stop until about 8 pm and starts again at 6 am.  We suspect the heavy equipment may be supporting the road construction ahead of us.  Steve (biker from Montreal) warned us about the construction, he said it is a “mess”.

  • 14 August 2013: 57 Miles Today; 1,157 Total Miles. Dry Camped at a Turnout Near Prophet Creek, BC. August 14, 2013

    Chuck:

      This morning, on the way out of Fort Nelson, I stopped by the “All Sports” store and purchased a tire repair kit.  Yesterday, I forgot it was on my list.  Today is the first time in about three weeks that I have ridden the road bike (thin tires); gravel, road construction and steep hills were better handled with the mountain bike.  It was kind of like getting off a tractor and getting in a little sports car.  The road bike is much lighter, faster and more responsive; also more squirrelly.  It felt good to be back on it.  The terrain is now somewhat flat with biker friendly hills.  Late this afternoon, I met Steve, a cyclist from Montreal.  He left his home about four months ago and is now biking north to Whitehorse.   From there he will bike to Skagway and take the Marine Ferry to Vancouver to meet a friend then bike on through California, Mexico and eventually through several countries in South America.  He seems to be about 25; said he has two years to roam before he has to go to work.  Even before I met up with Steve, Betty had seen him pedaling north as she was parking; she knew I would talk with him and was eager to get the details.  We have noticed before, on long hikes or rides, that there is a curious bond with those attempting something similar.  There is an immediate connection because all face many of the same challenges.  Betty and I still feel connected (and stay in touch with) many of the hikers we met 13 years ago on the Appalachian Trail.  It is a sense of camaraderie, not unlike that of the military.

      The part of the Alaska Highway we are now on is mostly straight; it was “realigned” in 1992 during a major project spurred by the Highway’s 50th Anniversary.  Previously, as the Alcan, this stretch, alone, had 132 curves.  In 1942, the military surveyors laid out the most expedient route possible, avoiding lakes, rivers, frost heaves, etc.  The original road prompted one GI to say, “Winding in and winding out; leaves my mind in serious doubt; as to whether the man who built this route; was going to hell or coming out.”

  • 13 August 2013: 50 Miles Today; 1,100 Total Miles. At Triple G Hideaway & Campground in Fort Nelson August 13, 2013

    Chuck:

      Cool morning, long, steady climb in a big half-circle.  Two miles later, I am high above the Rest Area and look down to my right front see our RV as Betty prepares to get on the road.  When I pedal over Steamboat Summit, the road starts downward past a large rock formation shaped vaguely like a steamboat.  Now coasting at 28 mph and increasing; the cool air and panoramic view are invigorating.  The free ride slows a bit, but continues for almost six miles, then I crank up and over a ridge for more free miles.  We are easing out of the Rockies and down into BC’s “Interior Plains”, actually forested hills.  The first thirty miles were mostly easy; Betty meets me at a Rest Area.  We have lunch and she goes on to Fort Nelson to check into a campground.  I follow, but the last twenty miles seem to drag.

      Fort Nelson is a small, active, working community, about 6,500.  On our way back from a grocery store, Betty spots an “All Sports” and suggests that I check for bike tubes. A previous Internet search did not list any bike shops in Fort Nelson.  Eureka!  This little shop has all sorts of sports gear:  hunting, fishing, kayaking, snow shoeing, hockey, football, trapping, etc. It is packed full.  I asked the young clerk about bike tubes.  He went back in the storage room and returned with three road bike tubes and two mountain bike tubes, all with the proper valves.  Wow, later in the afternoon I would have been drilling the road bike wheels to accept the larger valve stems for tomorrows ride.

    Betty:  283 miles to the finish at Mile marker 0 in Dawson Creek.  Yeah!  Reports are that it is a good road between here and there.

  • 12 August 2013: 37 Miles Today; 1,050 Total Miles. Dry Camped at Rest Area on Steamboat Summit, BC. August 12, 2013

      This morning we found that the plateau we’re on is actually the Summit Pass, the highest point on the Alcan Highway.  So, it is all downhill from there on, well maybe for about 4 miles.  I was so elated with this surprise that even the smaller ups and downs seemed to pass by easily.  We have adjusted our routine a bit due to the lack of spare tubes for the mountain bike.  Betty goes only a few miles ahead and waits until I get there before moving forward again.  If I do have a flat that a patch will not fix, she will realize it more quickly and can rescue me more easily.  So far, so good. 

      A highway inspector told us that there was an area of road maintenance prior to Steamboat Summit and then it was clear all the way from there to Dawson Creek (our finish point).  This sounds too good to be true.  Not long after we crossed the maintenance area, it was uphill for about 3 miles.  On these long uphill pulls, I find the right gear (usually very low) for my spin speed and “zone out”.  It is a mind game, but I find it helps if I concentrate on little things like body position; head down, elbows & knees in, toes pointed slightly downward to make the up-pull on the backstroke smoother and just keep spinning at the right speed.  Sometimes on a steep hill my forward speed is only about 4 mph, but that is faster than most folks can walk up a steep hill.  Just keep on, keeping on!

      Some of the roadside wildflowers are beginning to wither, some losing their brilliance, others going to seed.  Their very limited life span is coming to an end.  Grow into a miracle of beauty, then fade away; that’s life.

    Betty:  What a surprise – Steamboat Mountain Summit gets a cell signal.  That is why I am able to post this.