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  • Writer's pictureBenji Pollock

Hello, Bonjour, Welcome to Canada

(Starting September 7th)

This morning, I woke up in Canada! I slept in, and then hung out at the motel finishing up some final wifi tasks, and then hit the road. Early on in the ride, I met Matthieu and Julie from Montreal riding from Whitehorse to Anchorage. The weather was pretty shitty. But they chose to be here for a 3 week vacation. It reminded me to appreciate the weather, no matter what it was. I asked them if they had met a French guy along the way, and they told me that he was only about 20km ahead of me. “Maybe today I’ll catch him,” I thought. The road conditions were pretty terrible, the sky was dark grey, and there was a long construction section that required a pilot car. I ended up taking a ride in the pilot car with the driver named Saisha and the cutest dog ever. The pilot car drove about 10 miles, and it poured rain almost the entire way, but as I got out on the other side, the rain stopped. I perfectly avoided the storm. "How lucky," I thought. Maybe someone was watching out for me. I continued riding through a super foggy and rainy valley when the clouds started lifting. As soon as I got through the valley, the fog settled again and the rain started behind me. It seemed like the clouds lifted just for me. The weather is on my side today!

I had a quick bite to eat so that I wouldn’t get stuck in the rain, continued on my way, and then stopped at an RV park called Discovery Yukon. I pulled in looking for some food (they didn’t really have any), and met everyone hanging out in the office. I started talking to a guy named Darryl, and he told me all about the taxidermy animals along the wall. After that I introduced myself, and then asked one of the women what here name was. She responded “oh I don’t matter, I’m just another ornament on this wall,” to which Darryl responded “we’re all ornaments in this life, aren’t we?” I liked that line a lot, but I’m trying my best to have the most lively, active and meaningful life possible. I hope to not be just another ornament of society. As I was leaving, one woman offered me some Yukon Gold potatoes from her garden. I would save them for Haines Junction. I said goodbye and rode on. It got really cloudy again, and I thought I’d get stuck in yet another big downpour. I gave myself until 8:30pm before I would need to start looking for a campground. I didn’t really see anything and was getting nervous. As I was crossing a bridge, I serendipitously looked at my watch as the clock hit 8:30pm. At the end of the bridge was a beautiful turn off to a clearing on a small peninsula. On one side were rapids, and on the other side was a pond dammed off by beavers. It was gorgeous. I thought about trying to go a bit further, but decided that it was too good a spot to leave. Rain clouds were coming in quickly so I set up my tent, made dinner, and went to bed.

I woke up to pee in the middle of the night and the stars were absolutely magnificent. I was surprised that the clouds had cleared so quickly. I figured out later in the day that I missed the Northern Lights by a few hours. Bummer. I don't stay up late enough. I woke up in the morning to a squawking hawk, ate breakfast and then watched two swans gracefully land in the water and float around the pond together. It was majestic, and such a nice way to start the day.

I had a ton of vivid dreams last night. I had one dream that I got two flats back to back. Then I had another dream that I caught up to Cheri and we finally rode together. The last dream was that I stealth camped in a park that ended up being a summer camp, and when I got back from using the bathroom in the morning the kids had moved my tent into the rafters of a wooden shelter and broke my tent from the weight of the stuff inside. Cycling is literally taking over my thoughts and dreams.

Today ended up being incredible. It rained on me a bit and was really cloudy, but the clouds and views were magnificent. I'm truly here at the best time. The tourist have moved on to warmer places, and all that’s left up here are locals and adventurers. The cold also means that I sweat less, and thus can remain comfortable without a shower for longer. Yeah, it’s gross, but given the remoteness up here and my deep distaste for having to pay to set up a tent, I stealth camp most nights and don’t have access to showers for days and days at a time.

The cold can chase me all it wants, and it can rain on me everyday, but the rewards are truly remarkable. I've been running from winter instead of embracing autumn. Everything here is confidently getting ready for winter except for me. The birds are finishing up their summer to do lists before returning to their winter homes. The beavers are putting the final touches on their winter log cabins. The moose are foraging for last minute food before it gets covered in snow, and in the rut making sure that come next season, there’s a new generation to continue their legacy. The bears are in their finals hunts and forages, fattening up themselves and their young for their upcoming seasonal nap that I could probably compete with after this tour. The birds of prey are flying above, squawking to let each other know where the fattest rodents are hiding. I get to be in a live, dynamic painting every day.  Trees are quickly changing colors. In the sun, they shimmer and shine. In the rain they add incredible color and vitality to an otherwise dreary scene. The mountains are becoming snow capped with termination dust - the first dustings of snow, letting everyone know that summer is coming to an end - and are veiled in an ever morphing layer of clouds. The clouds twist and turn and wave and open and close. The sun paints a masterpiece of shadows, using the clouds as its medium. The mountainsides are carefully crafted murals. The valley floor is a dot by dot painting, with reworked patterns everyday. There are deep reds and bright yellows and oranges and violets and greens and blues. It's incredible. 

I pulled over in a rest area for a snack break, and met a couple who was traveling in a Ford E350 converted into an RV. It was an awesome rig. They started telling me all about their trip, and told me they were really excited for the next section heading east because there are bears all over the road. “Great,” I thought. They then got really excited when they remembered that someone had told them that there’s a momma grizzly with two cubs that hangs out on the road in the coming section. Being enclosed in a metal box gives you a confidence and excitement about wildlife interactions that’s unattainable on a bicycle. I got a bit nervous. They left, and then I made myself a peanut butter wrap (my usual breakfast and lunch). As I was eating, a lady named Marianne dressed in pink walking her Yorkie that was also dressed in pink came up to me holding a $20 bill saying “I don’t really know how you guys eat, so I wanted to give you this for your next meal.” I thanked her and explained that I mostly eat peanut butter, tortillas, nuts, and dried fruit, and at night I have rice and tuna usually, but would absolutely make good use of the twenty that she gifted me. I told her she could follow the trip on my website, but she wasn’t interested in what I was doing or where I was going. She just wanted to make sure that I didn’t go hungry. I appreciated that a lot.

I continued riding until I saw a cyclist on the road in front of me. There was a pull off between us on his side of the road, so I pulled over and shouted an excited “Hello!” He responded “would you like to have some coffee?” I don’t drink coffee on my own (I’m a redhead, and I’m convinced that ginger energy is equivalent to ~3 coffees a day for the normal human), but I don’t say no to someone asking me to have a coffee with them. We pulled over, each brought out something to sit on, and then introduced ourselves. His name was Joris and he was from the Netherlands. He pulled out his stove and coffee, and I pulled out some remaining food that I had. I was running low on food, but I would get dinner tonight in Destruction Bay with the $20 from Marianne, eat my packed dinner for breakfast tomorrow, and share my nuts and dried fruit that I was going to have for breakfast with Joris over coffee. He had already cycled Europe and Africa, and he was coming up from Tierra Del Fuego, trying to decide where to go next to avoid the snow. He wanted to go to Russia, but it was too cold already. He was thinking about maybe going to Turkey or China, but had some time to decide. His goal was to cycle all around the world. We chatted a bit longer, talked about our gear and route choices, I picked his brain a bunch about South America, and then we parted ways.

I pulled over at a gas station in Burwash Landing (10 miles west of Destruction Bay) for an energy boost, got a banana and a bunch of donuts, and chatted with the locals for 30 minutes. I then headed to D Bay for dinner, used some wifi, and then decided that I had enough energy to cycle a bit longer. I put in 15 miles after dinner and before sunset (making it my longest day at 75 miles), and ended my day right next to Kluane Lake. “There’s no way I’m not camping on the shore,” I thought. There were a few signs by a pull off saying no camping, so I continued down the road another mile and found a spot where I could do a little hike-a-biking and bush crashing to get to the lake. Once I got to the lake, I walked up the shore, struggling to push my bike through deep sand and gravel, looking for a place to set up my tent. Finally, I realized how stupid I was for not leaving my bike at a tree and scouting by foot, so I left my bike at a tree and walked up and down the shore until I found the perfect spot. The sky was clear, so I faced my door east and planned to wake up for sunrise.

Today I CHOSE to be HERE. And it was an absolutely incredible day as a result. From now on, every morning I will wake up and choose to be HERE, wherever that may be, and whatever weather conditions that place hits me with.

In the morning, I woke up to a gorgeous sunrise. It was the earliest I’ve woken up all trip. I had just heard about Mac Miller’s death, so I dedicated my sunrise breakfast at the beach to him by listening to my favorite songs of his.

After breakfast, I sat on the shore and meditated in the sun for a while, listening to the sounds around me, aware of my thoughts, feelings, and surroundings. The water quickly but gently crept up the shore, high-fived the highest rocks it could reach, receded, then repeated. Each wave was competing to see how long it could bask in the sun, and how many rocks it could touch. The sun shone pure warmth on me. The breeze blew by me, pulling away all my stresses and anxieties. I haven’t felt so free, clear headed, and at peace in ages.

Once I was fully packed, I bush crashed back to the road and started my ride. It ended up being one of the most beautiful days of my life. It was sunny, warm, and the views were jaw dropping. On a downhill section, I kept my eyes to the left, fully drawn in by the beauty of the lake. When I turned back to look at the road, I saw 3 massive grizzlies hanging out on the side of the road by a creek. There were cars behind me, and I had a downhill ahead of me, so I pulled out my phone to take a picture as I passed them. They were may 15 feet off the road, and when I biked by, all three of them followed me with their eyes and walked closer to the road to get a better look at what I was. Luckily, the car behind me stopped right in front of them to take a picture, and distracted them from me.

The road then curled straight into strong headwinds and over a dried out river bed that was surrounded by breathtaking snowcapped mountains. I later found out that this was due to a complete reversal in the water flow of Kluane Lake. When the Kashawulsh Glacier advanced across the Slims River, it blocked off the original drainage outlet of the lake. The water level in the lake then rose, and at it’s new height, the lake’s drainage reversed, carving a new channel to the Yukon river, 10 times further than its original destination of the Gulf of Alaska. This was so recent that the resulting changes are still being witnessed today.

As I rode down this section, I started cracking up at how both my siblings are out volunteering their time, serving to make the world a better place, while I’m on a bike trip by myself, for myself. “What a middle child,” I thought. Hopefully my positive energy and the inspiration I’m giving people is having some positive impact on the world.

I took a break at a pull off overlooking the mountains and lake. As I was walking towards a lookout, I saw some dog shit on the ground. What kind of person doesn’t clean up after their dog?? I had a quick lunch, and then as I was walking towards the pit toilets a breeze picked up. “Jeez, those pit toilets really smell bad, I can smell them from the other side of the lot,” I thought to myself. Then I looked at my shoe. I had stepped in the damn shit that I made sure to take account of when I first saw it.

The rest of the ride was magnificent. It was so hard to keep my eyes on the road. Every climb offered an incredible view, and every turn revealed something new. With only about 15 miles left, my right knee started hurting, so I pulled over to take a break and stretch. I ate almost all of the food I had remaining, knowing that I had a chance to resupply in Haines Junction, and found out that I had service, so I ended up talking to my Dad on the phone for a really long time. I love you Dad!

After hopping back on the road, I had a few more rolling hills before hitting an 8 mile descent into the valley. It was exactly what I needed, and it was so beautiful and well earned that I teared up with joy. The winds from the speed might have helped with the tears, but what a magnificent place to be, and what an incredible time to be here. I was hoping the descent would continue all the way into town, but it stopped about 4 miles out. I wasn’t going to have it THAT easy. 2.5 miles out of town I bonked so hard I couldn’t make it up a hill. It ended up being perfect because I finished all the food I had before getting into town. I had planned my last resupply pretty much perfectly, and that made me really proud (it’s the little things out here, I guess).

A friend of mine, Elly, worked at the Kluane National Park Visitor Center in Haines Junction this past summer. Elly and I met last summer in Jasper National Park. She was returning from a hike along a ridge with her friend Kelly, and I was going out on that same hike with my cousin Liam. We crossed paths on the trail, and ended up talking for a while. It turned out we had a bunch of random mutual friends, and lots of common interests. We exchanged info with the hopes of getting together back in town in a few days, but after getting blocked on the ridge by snow, Liam and I turned back and left Jasper early. We friended Elly on Facebook once we got service and explained what had happened. This spring, Elly posted on Facebook that she was moving to Haines Junction for her summer job, so I reached out to her knowing that I’d be going through (there weren’t really any other options), not knowing what the place was like. After Elly put Haines Junction on the map for me and told me about the hiking, the park, and a really cool backpackers hostel in town, I decided to book two nights so I could take some time to enjoy the town, the surroundings, and the people there.

When I got into Fairbanks, I called Suzette (my Deadhorse to San Diego guru), to ask her for advice on the coming sections. The first thing she said was: “next goal: Village Bakery in Haines Junction.” I thought it was a far away goal to have at the time, but after two people spoke so highly of Haines Junction, I could tell that it was an awesome place.

Once I got into town at 5:15pm, I spoke to Martin (the hostel manager) for a while, and then took a shower. I headed over to the bakery at 7pm, only to find out that I had made it on THEIR LAST DAY OF BUSINESS UNTIL NEXT SUMMER! What are the chances of that??? They had a half off sale to get rid of all of their food before closing, and you bet that I took full advantage of that sale. For dinner I had a bowl of soup, a Jalapeño cheddar bun, a breakfast burrito, a sandwich, empanada pie, a cookie, apple strudel, and a chocolate chip muffin. I then got a bunch of extra food for the following days, knowing that the half price stuff here would be cheaper than what I could get at the grocery store. Every time I went back up to the counter for more food, the staff laughed at me. I’ve found that one of the hardest parts about cycle touring for me is being able to consume enough calories. The staff had the honor of watching the results of this difficulty.

At the bakery, I met a couple who started telling me about how cool Whitehorse is, and I told them I was really excited to check it out. They gave me a list of things to do, told me all about the job opportunities there, and then told me about all the cheap ways to get out of town to make it out before winter. They told me to look into a website and publication called “What’s Up Yukon” for upcoming events and shows. I think they thought I wanted to check out the place for a few weeks. I was just planning on staying for a day or two. However, their excitement got me even more excited.

I got back to the hostel, and no one was there. Funny enough, I booked the nights at the hostel to meet other travelers and go out with people, and tonight no one was here. It ended up being a blessing in disguise because I got a bunch of work done and then had an early night.

I think the biggest thing keeping this day from being the best day of my life was not having close friends and family to share it with. I was in pure elation all day. The easy part about being on the road alone is making connections. I’m forced to go out of my way to talk to people, and the nature of my trip and the paths that I take to meet people results in making deep connections quite quickly. The really difficult part about being on the road alone for so long is that it’s hard to maintain these relationships. There’s no consistency, and every time I get to a new location I have to hit the refresh button. I knew this coming into the trip, and being alone has a lot of rewards as well, but sometimes I think about how nice it would be to have someone along for the ride. Two minds thinking together can create positive reinforcement, strong motivation, and logical solutions. One mind thinking alone can run itself into the ground. But I guess the same can be said the other way around, depending on the individual and the team. The mental strength to push myself further than I thought I could, to keep myself positive through shitty situations, to take the time to step back and think through sporadic issues logically and calmly, and to be present in my lonesomeness were some of the reasons why I wanted to embark on this journey in the first place, and some of the takeaways that I wanted to gain from it. Of course I miss people, and I think about people dear to me all the time while I’m riding (if I haven’t reached out in a while, know that I love you, I’ve thought of you, and have not had nearly enough service to contact you, but feel free to reach out whenever and I’ll see it once I get service again!) but I miss people everywhere I am, because I will never get all the people I care about in the same place at the same time. Plus, this journey allows me to see people I haven’t seen in a long time, and meet more incredible people to miss in the future along the way, so why complain?

On my first morning in Haines Junction, I slept in, had breakfast, and then did work for a while. After I finished everything I had to do, I went to visit Elly at the Visitor Center. We caught up for a while, and then I told her that I wanted advice on a hike that was close enough to town to easily bike to (I was technically on my day off so I didn’t want to bike too far) and easy enough just to shake out my legs (I was technically on my day off, so I didn’t want anything too strenuous). She told me that if I’m only here for a bit and only have the time for one hike, I better do one of the cooler hikes further out of town. “Do you want to take my car? The King’s Throne hike is about 15km out, but one of the best.” It was an incredible, and very much appreciated offer. I took her up on it, and went to do a 6 mile hike with 2,000 feet of elevation gain. That’s my kind of day off. People have been so unbelievably kind to me up here, and it’s so hard to pay it back in any way with just my bike and what I can carry on it, so on my way back, I filled up her tank with gas. It was the least I could do.

The hike was incredible, and the views were gorgeous. For a few kilometers, I followed an old mine trail, and then the trail turned into switchbacks to get up to the area of the mountain referred to as “the King’s Throne.” I followed the trail through the foFest, above the tree line, up steep loose gravel switchbacks, and to a gorgeous view. On the way up, I met a woman named Delphin from Quebec who had cycled the world. She was unbelievably modest, crazy cool, and super fun to talk to. She told me all about her adventures, and gave me a bunch of advice (including using big latex dishwashing gloves over your outer layer during heavy and cold rain - GENIUS). She reminded me how much living in fear and fearing certain places is often just a mindset brought on by a few bad stories that could happen anywhere. When she told me about her solo cycling trip through Africa, I told her that I thought that would be so cool to do. She said “unfortunately for you, you’re a guy, so it’s probably less safe for you.” I was inquisitive, as most people say traveling alone as a girl is much more dangerous than as a guy. I asked her why she thought that, and she told me that because she was a girl, EVERYONE wanted to help. She usually had a place to stay at night, someone to feed her, and advice on exactly the safest route. Because she was a girl, people cared more for her and helped her more, so she had a safer experience. I thought it was a really important perspective and point.

Hiking up further, I met a guy named Steven, who told me he was a musician on tour. “Are you playing in Whitehorse in the coming days by chance?” I asked. “Yeah I am,” he responded. “I recognized you from What’s Up Yukon and was planning on coming to your show!” I told him. He gave me all the details and encouraged me to stop by (his stage name is Mossy Raven, and he is super talented - check him out!). I was almost at the top and my legs were getting tired, and since it was my day off, I decided to turn back and hike down with him. We chatted the whole way down, and when we got to the parking lot he showed me his Honda Element camper set up, and then I met two of his friends, Jeni and Derek, who both worked in Ushuaia seasonally. They gave me a bunch of tips on traveling through South America, and told me all about Ushuaia. I exchanged contact info with them so I could hit them up when I got there.

After chatting for a little bit, I drove back to Haines Junction to return the car to Elly. When I got service again, I had a message from her saying that the car keys she gave me also had her house keys on them, so she couldn’t get in. I felt so bad for sticking around to chat for a bit. We met up at the hostel, sat around a campfire and talked, and then she went home. I stuck around the campfire, made some bread on a stick, and talked to all the guests (tonight, there were 6 people staying at the hostel, so I got the company I was looking for). I then made some chips from the Yukon Gold potatoes I was given, and shared them with people around the campfire. As we were hanging out, the Northern Lights came out. Johanna - a super cool girl from Germany who was a work-away at the hostel - asked if I wanted to go to her favorite spot to watch the lights. I told her absolutely and we went to a dark open field a few minutes walk away. They were stunning. I think everyone needs to see the Northern Lights in person at least once in their lives. Watching colors dance and twirl in the sky, almost as if they’re telling a story, is such an incredible experience. The First Nations believed that the lights were the elders traveling to heaven. Science has given us reasons as to why the Aurora actually occurs, but standing in the field, surrounded by such a show, it was easy to believe that the lights were spirits on a heavenly journey.

We returned to the hostel and chatted with Martin for a bit before he went home, and then I went to bed at about 2:30am. It was way later than I wanted, as I was leaving the next day, but it was well worth it.

(Ending September 11th)

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