Monday, September 22, 2008

Not that heavy

Date: Sept. 22
Mileage: 25.1
September mileage: 526.0

I loaded my bike today with food and gear and set out to see how she handled. I quickly noticed the extra weight on climbs, but, as usual, started to forget about it as I coasted along the road in the crisp fall wind. I love packing up my bike with everything I need to live. There’s freedom and joy in the knowledge that I could ride to the end of the day and just keep going.

So my preparations are nearly complete for my spontaneous fall Yukon tour. I am starting to feel pretty nervous about it, which is a good thing. To me, being scared is a sign of a worthwhile adventure. The weather forecast for the area is calling for highs in the 40s and lows in the 20s with a moderate chance of precipitation on Saturday. I am hoping any precip falls as dry snow flurries if it falls at all. If I run into freezing rain, I may have to turn back or hole up for a bit.

This trip is the same route I rode in 48 hours in August 2007. During that trip, I clocked the distance at 371 miles. This time, I will have 72 hours between ferries to complete the tour. I also will be riding the route backwards, due to the only ferry schedule that worked out for me. It will be fun to see the Golden Circle from a whole new perspective, but I do have reservations about riding from Skagway to Haines. For starters, the climb out of Skagway gains 3,000 feet in 11 miles, as opposed to the same elevation in about 60 miles out of Haines. With all of my extra bike weight, that probably amounts to two hours of climbing in the red zone right out of the gate. Then I still have nearly 100 miles to ride into Whitehorse over the rolling hills that follow the headwaters of the Yukon River.

Day two will be the Alaska Highway, with mild rollers, more traffic, and, as I learned last year, very little water. When I rode this stretch in August 2007, I encountered temperatures in the 90s, oppressive sun and a steady headwind. What a difference a year and a month can make. This time, I will be happy if temperatures are in the 40s; happier if it’s dry; and even happier if the stiff wind is blowing in that same general direction.

Day three will likely be the longest and most remote stretch of the trip. I’d honestly rather get this leg out of the way on the first day rather than the last, when I haven’t seen a weather report in three days and have less options if I need to turn back. I will be watching the sky closely as I distance myself from Haines Junction, because I don’t want to be caught out there in a blizzard. Once I round the summit of Haines Highway, I’m nearly home free. It’s a quick drop back to the U.S., followed by a nice, flat meander along the Chilkat River that I’ve ridden several times before.

So that’s my tour. I have to overnight on the ferry on Wednesday, and I set out first thing Thursday for the hideous climb into Canada. I’m nervous! I know from experience that once I settle in, I’ll likely feel happy and content, with nothing to do but sleep, eat and ride my bike. But the days leading up to a big ride are always hard.