AK 7 – Cycling in to the Yukon
The distance back to camp clicks off with each milepost, peddling along the Chilkat Flats. At MP 8, I turn off and take a break, the river flows by a small beach sheltered by some Aspen from the heat of the day. The sharp glaciated peaks of the Chilkat range rise from the tide flats of Pyramid Harbor, holding back the icy mass that gives Glacier Bay it's characteristic fiords. Yet I lay on my back collecting my strength to push on those few last miles more. It has been a long day, with views that could not have been imagined. It seems with every turn in the road, the vistas only got better and better. If I had know that I was going to go so far I might have paced myself a bit. But early in the day when the miles were quick, I seemed to be pulled onward. Now I just lay in the grass, looking out towards the evening light cast it's shadows. It is 8pm and still the sun is out, warmth in the air, and miles yet to go before I sleep.
It started out from the town of Haines, having return from two days in Skagway. This village perched on the peninsula of the Chilkat and Chilkoot Inlets, had history for me, memories so many they seemed to come at once in all directions. When I was young this had been where I spent many summer, aboard the Pacific Queen. Now looking at the mountains, I knew why the lure had soaked within me, always wanting to see what was behind that distant range. Here they are unimaginable, like told in sweeping panoramas, or tales of haunted Klondiker's looking to rise over their dizzying heights. While only reaching up to four to five thousand feet in elevation, their steep sights hold the visitors gaze. The day I arrived, I felt that I wanted to go far up into the Yukon, along the old Dalton Trail. Now made into a road to Haines Junction, a bike rental shop caught my eyes. A quick $35 dollars for a road-bike, helmet and saddle bags together. I went back to camp and awaited the next days dawn to come.
The light rose at 4 am, and I finished my breakfast of oats and packed up to go. At first the peddling was quick and I round the old field where the Ten Mile Cafe once stood. Memories of a Prime Rib Buffet seemed entice the appetite. But a few cliff bars and PB&J was all that I had brought. The Highway wound its way along the Chilkat Flats. Here in the coming weeks the eagles would begin to converge, drawn by the flash of Sockeye migrating up the river. Towards the fall, they would perch on every tree, gazing down at a virtual circus of animals taking in the grand feed. This valley is famous at these times, and photographers from all around converge to capture images of Eagles and Bear feasting as winters chill sets into the valley air.
At milepost 20 at the divide of two rivers, a lone Moose bull splashes about in his cold glacier feed bath. Looking up for me for a bit, the back to the crossing away from the busy strip. I peddle on up the river, passing Tsirku River, Klukwan and Mosquito Lake. Leaving the Chilkat, the Dalton follows the Klehini River as wild as any other, still milk-grey from glaciers rising to McDonell, Three Guardsman, and Nadhahini Mountains. Mark by meanders and sand bars, the river courses it's way to the Sea. The aspen groves rattle in the Chinook winds that relieve this biker on a hot June day. Skies blue and clear as any I've seen in as many weeks. Uncharacteristic for SE has this day ever been.
The road continues to rise through the Mining district of Porcupine Creek. Small cabins and sluce boxes line the rivers edge. Now with gold as high as it is, what was once dead places seem to find a little life again. There is still Yellow nuggets locked in these sand bars. The same that lured tens of thousands a hundred years past. But hard work and little payout is all a miner mostly find, so old family holdings seem to be for relaxation then searching for "the strike." The wheel beats the pavement groves slower with time, the road near Pleasant Camp and Canada begins to rise. Following the route old Dalton blazes to the skies.
Long slow switch back turn towards the summit top. A low pass by constant, I peddle without giving up. Realizing that maybe I should have turned back. The summit is close and the land is beginning to open up. Reaching the Pass. I pause at the summit. Until I realize I am yet to the Chilkat Pass, and the road still keeps agoing. Yet here at Three Guardsman Pass, I can see across to the horizon never ending. The trees yield to tundra, the alpine and fields. Just beyond the horizon lies the Yukon that I had wished to see. But at 45 miles from my camp, I'll have to wait for another day. Here the it seems you are on top of the world. Yet the mountains to the West and East still rise higher. That Spell of the Yukon seems to call deep to a mans heart. Remembering ol' Robert Service's lines, I could not put it any better this day.
"No! There is a Land. (Have you seen it?)
It's the cussedest land that I know,
From the big, dizzy mountains that screen it
To the deep, deathlike valleys below.
Some say Good was tired when He made it;
Some say it's a fine land to shun;
Maybe; but there's some as would trade it
For no land on earth – and I'm one...
"The summer – no sweeter was ever;
The sunshiny woods all athrill;
The greyling aleap in the river,
The bighorn asleep on the hill.
The strong life that never knows harness;
The winds where the caribou call;
The freshness, the freedom and farness-
O God! How I'm stuck on it all..."