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  • Writer's pictureBenji Pollock

Shared Adventures

(Sept 11, 2018)

Leaving beautiful places like Haines Junction with awesome people is always tough, but today I’m on my way to Whitehorse! Everyone has spoken so highly of the Capital of the North, so I’m really excited to figure out why. I woke up late because I stayed up so late watching the Northern Lights, and then packed up all my stuff. I had lunch with Elly in a nearby house, then finished up some last minute work, then hit the road. I was finally on the road at 3:30pm. The day was cloudy - the sun was out maybe once - but the scenery was absolutely impeccable. I was riding fast and felt super good. I’m finally feeling strong and efficient. I made a new rule for myself. Every time I stop, I have to at least pee, stretch, or eat. If I don’t need to do any of those, or don’t give myself enough time to do any of those, then the stop isn’t worth it. This has made me able to ride faster and further. My muscles don’t cramp as much, time isn’t wasted as much, and every break is a meaningful one.

As I was singing and dancing along to my speaker on the shoulder of the highway, an RV slowed down and the driver opened the window. “You have better tunes than us!” he shouted to me. “It keeps me busy through the long hours of riding!” I shouted back. He pulled over to his shoulder and so I crossed the road to go chat. We spoke for a while, and the driver and passenger introduced themselves as Paulette and Kevin. They both had travelled a ton. Paulette had sailed the world for 15 years, and when they reached 55 they both said “screw this, there’s no better time than now to go on an adventure. We’re only getting older.” Kind of like what I said to myself, just 30 years later. So they sold their house, bought an RV, and were driving around with no plan and no schedule other than to get to California for a talk in October. They assured me that there was nothing better I could be doing. “Your 20’s are yours,” Paulette explained to me. “In your late 20’s or early 30’s you’ll have a family, you’ll take care of that family until you’re in your 50’s, and once you’re in your 50’s, you’ve been stuck in that life for so long that it's hard to get out.” I told them how incredible of an experience I’ve been having, and about how I’ll think of a downhill and get a downhill, or need a campsite and a beautiful spot appears. They told me I’m manifesting my thoughts into the universe by being so present. They said to be in the now and embrace it, so I responded “it’s the power of now!” Funnily enough, that was the name of a book (I had no idea), and the talk they were going to in California was by the author of that book. I put it on my reading list. They gave me music recommendations, a bag of pita, a clementine, a sausage, and carrots. I thanked them and then continued, with a delicious new lunch in hand. As I kept riding, I met a British cyclist named Greg who had cycled up from Miami. He was in a race with himself to get to Anchorage in time for a flight to Japan. We chatted for a bit, giving each other advice on the roads to come, and then I left to go find a campsite. As I was nearing sunset, I looked to my left and found the most perfect clearing. I pulled in, set up camp, made some soup, and then went to bed.

The next morning I woke up to pouring rain. The forecast that I had read only said showers in the afternoon, so I went back to sleep to wait out the rain. My subconscious has a tremendous way of overwriting everything I should be thinking to convince me to stay in bed for longer. As a result, it’s so damn hard to get out of bed in the cold and rain. When I woke back up, it was raining even harder. I waited a bit longer, and it got even worse. I decided to hit the road while I still could. It rained on me all day. The views were incredible, and the fall foliage was in its prime. I pulled over at a rest stop and met an older couple from Whitehorse. I asked them for advice on what to do in town, and I think the age gap intimidated them, because they froze up and didn’t really have an answer for me. 20 miles in my right knee started hurting again. I only had a 30 minute break from the rain in the middle of the day, so I had an extended lunch break and ate what Paulette and Kevin had given me. I stretched a bunch, but by the time I got back on the bike, my knee was stiff again, and the pain was worse than before. The more I rode, the worse the pain got. I texted my WarmShowers host, Jen, to let her know I’d be in a bit later than expected due to the knee, and she offered to pick me up and give me a ride in. My pride got the best of me and I refused. 5 miles out I really regretted that. Every pedal stroke hurt, and every time I had to get back on the bike it was a screaming fest to get started again. I think I’ve developed bad tendonitis because of the cold. Stretching is always inefficient, and usually when I hop off my bike, food is the first thing on my mind, so stretching becomes an afterthought until my muscles have already gotten cold. Then I hop back on my bike and have to warm up my legs by using my super tight muscles, and it messes with my knee.

I finally made it to Jen’s house, riding at a snail's pace and limping in. I walked in soaking wet. When Jen saw me, she said, “We usually don’t get rain like this, it’s usually super dry here!” I told her matter of factly that it was raining because I showed up. “The rain seems to follow me everywhere,” I told her. She had stew waiting for me, so I took a hot shower, stretched, and went for dinner. I met Kale, the 11 year old son, and then as I was coming downstairs for dinner, Saleem (the dad) came home with the 3 year old son, Sebastian. I was greeted by a screech of excitement, hung out with Sebastian for a bit, and then had dinner. They offered for me to stay in Asha’s room (their oldest daughter), because she was out on a camping trip with school. I went to bed immediately after dinner. I was exhausted from the wet and the cold and the pain.

In the morning, I woke up, had breakfast, did some work, and waited for the torrential downpour to stop (yup, this dry place had a 36 hour downpour just for me). I had to go to a bike shop, and there were two in town. Jen informed me that one was better and bigger, but I chose to go to the smaller one because it was closer and my knee was killing. At Cadence, Massey gave me free labour for a few tweaks, and told me about the riding in the area. After, I went to the drugstore to get some anti-inflammatories for my knee, and then came back in time for dinner. I asked Saleem and Jen if they were cool with me going to the Mossy Raven show, and invited them. I was originally planning on bussing there and biking back, so I was going to skip dinner to make it. When I mentioned I was in a rush, Saleem and Jen both insisted on me staying for dinner. I happily obliged, as it was make your own sushi wrap night, and then Saleem expressed interest in joining so he offered to drive me there. After dinner with the family, and great conversations with the kids about planes and camping, we left for the bar to see the show. I took my bike in the trunk so that if Saleem wanted to go home early I could bike back, but we ended up spending the night together.

Knowing that Joel and Keegan (the Aussies in the solar camper van) were only a few days behind me at this point, I told them about the concert, hoping that they’d be in Whitehorse by that time and would be able to make it.

While I was in Whitehorse, I wanted to meet people in town that were around my age, so I thought it would be efficient to hop on Tinder. I matched with a girl named Laura from Mexico, we chatted for a bit, and right before leaving for the show, I messaged her inviting her to join all of us at the bar.

Without knowing if any of them would make it, I went with Saleem, got a table, listened to the music, and chatted for a while. Then, from across the restaurant I saw Keegan stand up. I waved him over, we chatted for a while, and then I asked where Joel was. “Oh he’s over there with a Mexican girl he met on Tinder,” Keegan told me. “Is her name Laura?” I asked. “Yeah how’d you know??” he responded curiously. I told him the story and we both had a laugh because apparently Joel had done the same thing. We ended up grabbing a bigger table so that all of us could sit together. I told Keegan about my knee, and he told me that they had to get some welding done on the van the next day (Friday), and then would head out on Saturday, so I asked if I could maybe hop in for a few days if I wasn’t better before they left. That way, I could rest my leg for longer but not fall so far behind in miles and get stuck in bad weather. He said for sure. Funnily enough, when I met the guys on the Dalton I made a joke with them that the next time they saw me I’d be on the side of the road crying trying to hitchhike with them. I guess I ended up jinxing myself.

We stayed out for a while, chatting up a storm and listening to Steven put on a beautiful show. I hadn’t been to a bar in ages, and Katelyn and I used to go see live music together a bunch, so I ended up finally getting the beer she had Venmo’d me weeks ago at the show in her honor. The music ended, and Steven came to say hi and bye before leaving, so I introduced him to everyone there. Laura’s birthday was the next day, so despite being tired, we all waited there until midnight to have some celebratory birthday tequila shots. Saleem ended up staying the whole time, so we drove back together and then both crashed immediately. I was glad he stayed out with us, because the night was a lot of fun.

In the morning, my knee was still bothering me, despite stretching, drinking a lot of water, and taking anti-inflammatories. Jen could tell, so she offered for me to stay another night. I graciously accepted the opportunity to spend more time with this incredible family. I hung out with Sebastian all morning. He wanted to build “the coolest train track ever,” so we got to work with his toy train set, constantly discussing ways to achieve that goal. We then worked on a puzzle together. Both my siblings were available to talk on the phone, and I hadn’t spoken to either of them in a long time, so I took a break from our hard work on trains and puzzles to go call them. When I was on the phone with my sister, Sebastian adorably barged in to the room with a book in hand telling me all about all the cool planes inside. I told him I’d be right down to read the plane book with him, as soon as I finished talking to Lyss. He was restlessly back within 2 minutes, so I said goodbye to Lyss and read the illustrated plane book to Sebby, pulling up real pictures of all the different planes that we had read about. Then he ran downstairs to Jen, excited to tell her all about the awesome planes we researched. After that, Jen had to run an errand, so she asked me to watch Sebby. He was in the greenhouse, so I went over to hang out. He gave me a tour of the greenhouse and then asked me to help him with his project of stacking pebbles. This kid is so creative and smart for his age. It was awesome to watch him in action. After Jen got home, she and Sebastian were working on splitting wood with a wood splitter to heat the house for the winter. I had a bit more work to do, and once I was done and went out to help, the wood splitter had stopped working so I helped them stack the wood in front of the house. In the afternoon, Asha got home from her camping trip and I finally got to meet the final member of the family. I then got a message from Keegan and Joel telling me that they were going to the nearby hot springs, so I decided to go with. We went to pick up Laura on our way out. I thought I’d be back in a few hours, but we took a lot longer than I expected. Late in the evening, once we were heading back and I got service again, I texted Jen apologizing for being out so much longer than expected, but she encouraged me to stay out and enjoy the night and she’d leave the door open for me.

When I got to Whitehorse, Suzette told me to go to the Dirty Northern (a bar that she loved) and Venmo’d me my first drink there. So after the hot springs, Laura, Joel, Keegan and I went to have some drinks at the bar. We met a bunch of locals, and then all decided that we wanted to go to a karaoke bar. We found one in town, so we tried to get everyone together to go but we were all distracted talking to someone else. By the time everyone was ready to go, we all wanted to go get food and then go home. We did just that.

Keegan and Joel ended up not being able to get the welding done on Friday because they were too busy getting famous having an interview with CBC that went longer than expected, so they had to wait for Monday to get the welding done. When I told Jen that, she told me that I was more than welcome to stay until they left on Monday. I was hoping to get out of town and back on my bike earlier than that, so when the guys told me they were planning on going climbing just east of town and invited me, I decided that I’d leave that day to go climbing with them, camp out by the climbing area, and then hit the road the next morning. So after I ate breakfast and got a bunch of advice on the route from Saleem, I got on my bike to go run a bunch of errands before meeting up with the Joel, Keegan and Laura. I met up with them at Staples, we stopped at Tim Horton’s to do some work, and then went to the climbing area. We were able to get a couple climbs in before it got too cold to continue, then we went to build a campfire and make dinner at the van. We chatted, ate, drank, listened to music, and stargazed around the fire, and then we went to bed.

The next morning, my knee was still killing me, so I decided with the guys that I would stay with them a bit longer. A bit longer turned into nearly a week. We went climbing together, we camped together, we did work together, we did some van repairs together, and we did a bunch of driving together.

The van is fully solar, has three huge arrays stacked on the roof, two on the back, and a backup battery. In order to charge the van, the three arrays spread out on folding slider arms. One array on the back can be removed to use as a satellite array, and the other one stays on the back. For highest efficiency, a pulley system angles the three spanned out arrays to track the sun. When trying to track the sun a little while back, the brackets broke at the joints, so they needed to be resoldered. We brought the van in to a welder to get it fixed. At the welder’s house, there was a Black Lab. I made the mistake of throwing the ball that he brought to me when I first got there. He never left my side after that, begging me to play with him all day. Never throw a ball to a Lab if you don’t expect to play until he’s dead tired.

After all the mounting pieces were taken off, Zach, the welder, resoldered the joints, and then we put the mounts back together. As we pulled on the array with the tracking system, we heard some creaking, and then looked at the brackets and they were completely bent. The newly soldered joints had no issues, but we had to take it all apart again so that the brackets could be straightened and thickened.

After a full day of work, the van was finally fixed, and we headed out to camp at the property of a guy that Keegan and Joel had met on the road. Because most of the Yukon is powered by hydroelectricity (a reusable energy source) they plugged in to the grid to charge the battery. The next day, we drove out to Teslin for another charge. This was the last area that was still on the hydro grid, so we were still able to plug in. We spent the afternoon on Teslin Lake hanging out, drinking beer, doing work, and enjoying the sunshine. We ended up staying the night to finish up our charge, so we watched a movie in the van at night. The next morning, we woke up and I stayed in bed journalling. Joelsy wanted to shower, so he thought it would be easiest for all of us if he drove to the bathrooms. Once he was done, we took off from the RV site and headed to Rancheria. About 45 minutes into the drive, we hit a bump and there was some noise in the back. Joel looked in the rearview mirror, and then turned to me. “Where’s your bike??” he asked. I looked back, and it wasn’t in the van. I had been locking my bike up outside the van at night so there was more room inside, and then tossing it in the back of the van during the day. I’ve been camping since I was super young, and I have ALWAYS done a final sweep of the campsite before leaving to make sure I have everything. I guess this morning I was distracted with journalling, and when we moved to the bathroom, a site sweep slipped my mind. I was going to hitchhike back to pick it up and then back to them, but we decided to just drive back to Teslin so I wouldn't get separated from my gear. Ask me how I forgot my bike somewhere on a BIKE TRIP. I have no clue. I asked myself the same thing and knocked myself all day for forgetting it. I couldn’t figure it out. I guess my mind is so segmented that streams of consciousness work on such different ends of my brain that I can forget about my bike when I was literally on the way to Rancheria to hop back on my bike to ride. Because of my fuck up, we lost a day of driving. We had used up just enough battery that we wouldn’t have been able to get back and then go again with enough power to get all the way to Rancheria. I spent the whole day kicking myself, but the guys were so chill about it. Keegan told me that he always thinks things happen for a reason. Maybe had we gone any further on the road we would have gotten into a car crash. Joel told me it was completely OK, not to worry about it, and that it was just a small mistake in the grand scheme of things. “It’s one extra day of hanging out on a trip of 2 years, who cares.” He genuinely meant it.

My mind is so scattered all the time, and I’ve always been hypercritical of myself. If I spoke to people the way I speak to myself, I don’t think anyone would like me. I’ve been working on mindfulness a lot, and trying to stay in the moment and limit overthinking by letting these thoughts pass right through. However, I truly believe that the criticism I give to myself and the time I spend overthinking the past and self reflecting has made me a better person and who I am today. If I’ve made someone feel shitty, did something incorrectly, didn’t do the best I could, etc. I think deeply and heavily analyze the situation to learn from my mistakes so that in the future I can do my best to make sure it doesn’t happen again. So the mindfulness concept of letting things go and living in the present has been a clash of philosophies for me. On the one hand I am at peace when I brush it off. On the other hand I feel tremendous self growth from the overthinking and introspection that usually naturally occurs in these situations.

Joel seems to have figured out the perfect balance. You can sit and watch him work and see every single gear turning in his head. He’s aware of everything around him, incredibly analytical, and constantly thinking. But yet, he’s somehow also present. He rolls with the punches. He doesn’t sweat the small stuff and let’s things slide.

Keegan is incredibly compassionate, relaxed, and understanding. He sees the best in people and situations and makes the best of everything thrown at him. He seems like he’ll never be shaken by an unexpected event, mistake, or problem.

The two of these guys are absolutely incredible people. They made my own dealing with my mistake a whole lot easier. In the time I spent with them, I grew, learned from them, and felt like a better person because of them. They truly make the world around them a better place. It’s only fitting that they are doing this crazy solar powered journey called Route Del Sol.

Joel is a climate change scientist, and three years ago he came up with the crazy idea to build a completely solar powered camper van and take it from the Arctic Circle in Alaska to Tierra Del Fuego in Argentina. This past summer, he found an electrical engineer that was willing to help him with his idea, and then he set out on his adventure at the end of August with Keegan, his newly recruited member of the team and new media specialist. Not only are they on this journey together, but they are creating a community behind them. Knowing that climate change is accelerating, and the current state of human reliance on nonrenewable resources is unsustainable, they’ve made it their mission to prove that transport, travel and environmentalism can all be sustainably merged into one lifestyle. They don’t just hope to complete a journey, they hope to change the world. And they are. Step by step. Conversation by conversation. I’ve seen and experienced it first hand. They’ve convinced people to add solar panels to their homes. They’ve educated people about where their energy comes from. They’ve educated people about the opportunities for environmental and sustainable lifestyle changes. People are blown away by their project, and rightfully so. No van in the world looks like their van. No van in the world works like their van. And no one is doing what they are doing. It was such a pleasure to sit back and be able to enjoy these guys in their zone, spreading their passion to the world, igniting sparks of change with every interaction, wave, conversation, picture, and business card handout they had.

Route Del Sol is a special one-of-a-kind project being run by special one-of-a-kind people. You can learn more about them, follow their journey, and keep up to date by searching “Route Del Sol” on Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube. If you want to support them, you can share their pages and spread the word about their project. If you work for any non-profits dealing with climate change, renewable resources, green energy, sustainable transportation, etc. and would be able to back these guys as they apply for grants, or if you work for a climate change, renewable resources, green energy, sustainable transportation, etc. company that would be willing to sponsor them, reach out to me and I’ll put you in contact with them, or even easier, reach out to them directly through one of their social media accounts. This project and community should be influential, and knowing these guys, it will be. They’re trying to change the world for the better. Can you help them?

After my stupidity, we turned back to go plug in at Teslin. Once we got there, the power was out where we had plugged in the night before. No one at the site seemed to know why. Not only did we not have enough charge to make it where we were supposed to go, but now we couldn’t recharge. We finally learned that today was the day that the electricity of the majority of the RV park was turned off for the season due to lower traffic (almost all of the sites with electricity were full or didn’t have high enough amperage to charge the van). There was an RV site 6 miles down the road that was still on the hydro grid, so we drove there and plugged in. We did some work, Joel made an awesome bonfire, and then we sat around the bonfire to watch a movie. After, we chatted until late at night. It ended up being a great day.

The next day we hit the road again. My knee was feeling the best it had in a long time, so I planned to drive to Rancheria with the guys and then hit the road on my own until sunset. On our way there, we stopped on the side of the road to take photos and fly drones, and a motorcycle with two people on it pulled over, so excited to meet the guys behind Route Del Sol! Roberto was driving, and Daniella was riding in the back. Joel had just posted about their trip in a Pan American highway Facebook group, and it got a ton of attention. We then lost service for 2 days, so they didn’t get to post, see or respond to any comments. Apparently Daniella and Roberto had commented asking where in the Yukon they were, and hoping to see them on the road. They were the first official internet fans for Route Del Sol, and it was so cool to have three different Pan American trips converge. We hung out, chatted, and shared advice for a while and then got back on the road.

When we were driving again, a big van honked at us and then got into the oncoming lane to pass us. As they did, they waved. It ended up being Joel and Keegan’s friends Dylan and Taylor. We pulled over to talk. They were heading to Liard Hot Springs, but Keegan and Joel convinced them to stay in Rancheria with them for the night. When we finally got to Rancheria, it was about 5:15pm, and I had not even 2 hours before sunset. 2 hours, I figured, wouldn’t make a huge difference in distance travelled, and Dylan and Taylor only added to the cool factor of the group, so I decided to stay one more night and take off on my own in the morning. We walked around the area and found a river with a beaver in it. The beaver was within 15 feet of us, but carried on as if we weren’t there. We then made a campfire, talked, and had dinner together. After hanging out for a bit longer, Dylan and Taylor took off to warm their van up (it was apparently freezing), and we went to bed. It was well worth staying the extra night.

In the morning, I packed up all my stuff, did a final sweep to make sure I had everything (I learned my lesson), and then got on the road after the guys had pulled out. It was a hard goodbye, but after I left my bike behind, and after I had already taken a week off the bike to let my knee heal, I knew I was getting too comfortable and had to head back out on my own. I haven’t laughed as much and had as much fun as I did with everyone I met on this stretch of taking time off the bike, but I knew I had to continue on to chase better weather.

On the road, I listened to the Alchemist on tape. I didn’t exactly know what the book was about, but had it recommended to me so many times that I listened. Ironically, on the day that I returned to my own adventure, I decided to listen to a book all about a kid following his personal legend. Your personal legend is what you always wanted to, and were destined to, accomplish. When you really want something enough, according to the book, the whole universe will conspire to make your wish come true. It was my time to return to chasing my own personal legend, and leave Joel and Keegan to follow theirs. I know I’ll see them again on the way somewhere anyway, but boy was it fun to share our adventures for a bit.

(Sept. 21, 2018)

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