The full photo diary for this leg can be viewed here
Riding into Smithers in the dark of Wednesday evening made me feel as if I’d stumbled early upon the dubious delights of Las Vegas. As we cycled down the highway we were bombarded from both sides with strip lights as the trappings of capitalism seemed to rear their bright and colourful head after a sedate few weeks in the wilds of British Columbia. I have spent much time dreaming of an escape from civilization but was surprised to find myself overjoyed at the prospect of a large superstore and the reassuring (but still unappealing) global marks of KFC, Subway and McDonalds lining a traditional north American strip. It was as if entering Smithers marked a point where things would start becoming easier; food more plentiful, cheaper and varied, and unities a plenty.
By day Smithers is very far from the light show that smacked me between the eyes that night. It is in fact a charming little town with a great community feel and an attractive Swiss themed Main Street. Having struck gold again with a house in which to stay and a host with which to explore, we have been enjoying this beautiful little adventure hub that nestles gracefully below perfect ski hills and for us, gorgeous blue skies. Sat behind a bottle of the local Plan B ale we have had time to reflect upon the significance of our location; we’re 2,000 miles in, reaching civilization and have finally hit a point level with the southern border of Alaska.
The 900 miles we’ve covered since Whitehorse have been an absolute delight. Sure we’ve had our fair share of weather hiccups but we have also experienced some magical days on what is regarded by many pan American cyclists as the most beautiful road on route. Whitehorse was an incredibly likeable town that we enjoyed from the hospitable base provided by our lovely host Tracey. Smithers is an incredibly likeable town that we are enjoying from the gorgeous base provided us by our generous and equally lovely host Kerrith. The road that has joined these two bastions of human kindness befits such generosity. Where as the Dalton Highway kept on giving with change and challenge, the Cassiar kept us captivated with a more accessible and gentler beauty, splendor and warmth. While the Dalton demands your respect and will derail you in an instant, the Cassiar will clutch you to its bossom, offering a homely wilderness that deposits you south into a land of farmyard animals and the topographically mellowed world of the Interior Plateau.
One of our motivating forces on this push south has been escape from the potential harshness of a northern winter. As we approached the Cassiar and for our first few days on it, we lived encased in a dulled grey world of threatening clouds, daily rain and dropping temperatures. As the hillsides became increasingly yellow we were resigned to the onset of Autumn and the end of our cycling summer. Happy with our ability to enjoy the conditions and overjoyed with the ever-increasing intensity of the Fall colours this prospect did not phase us in the slightest and actually served to confirm the merits of our motivation. Then, as we rode away from Kinaskan Lake on our sixth full day on the road we met magic; the clouds parted, the sun was released and the terrain opened up invitingly before us. Both Justin and myself were on high energy days and in great moods as we absorbed the warmth and surfed a slight and all too rare tail wind. The three hours up to lunch were like cycling through heaven, they were the justification for why we are undertaking the journey and topped up our optimism banks to overflowing. This single day was possibly the most enjoyable of the tour so far and spearheaded a surge in good weather and positive feeling. I wrote in my diary that night:
‘Today I touched paradise, if any day in the next few months comes close to this then I’ll know that all my efforts are being rewarded… During that 20 miles [before lunch] I found myself once again close of tears with joy. I reflected on the fact that for the first time I have a definite purpose to my life. I figured that life is all about the sum of incredible moments like this. This is not only why we tour, this is also why we live. ‘
It feels great to have cycled the length of Alaska, a State that I undoubtedly leave behind with fond memories of an ambition satisfied and a dream made real. I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy some fine cycling and meet some incredibly kind and amazing people. I was welcomed into a community in Fairbanks, experienced unprecedented joy on the road from Prudhoe Bay and experienced vast wilderness for the first time in my life.
As I prepare to cycle away from Alaska I find myself reflecting upon the character who landed in Anchorage on May 15th. I have not changed as a person, and doubt I will, rather, through the purity of cycling, purpose and kindness experienced, I have found myself shedding the layers of angst, frustration and bitterness that have been steadily enveloping me for the last 15 years. By releasing the appreciative and loving soul that has become increasingly suffocated by the stresses and expectations of life, I am edging closer to the freedom I crave. I realized very quickly on the Dalton Highway that this would be a spiritual journey as much as one of physical endurance. That thought persists. My experience on that haul road stripped me down to my core, I now find myself consolidating and trying to understand what I discovered there and what I continue to discover about myself and my relationships with people.
Smithers is treating us well. It seems we are learning to enjoy days off away from the tour. Blessed with amazing September weather and an incredible host, Smithers is an easy place to embrace. With two loving cats strolling around and the satisfaction of achievement derived from helping Kerrith paint her house, these days have been truly relaxing and rejuvenating. Yet soon they will be filed away in the bank of fond memories as we forge south once again. Next stop Prince George and after that Vancouver. We are confident, strong, relaxed and relishing the future.