June 12, 2012
Tok, AK – Kluane Lake, YT: 254 miles
Regardless of my fatigue from riding on the brink of hypothermia, I still struggled to sleep. The thunderstorms pelted on the tin roof of the bunkhouse like boulders breaking ice. I was so thankful I was not in my tent getting bogged down by the rain. Eventually my ears habituated to the sound and allowed my mind to drift to sleep.
The cabin had thick curtains allowing it to stay pitch black from inside when light out. It allowed me to sleep in and I was shocked when I woke it was already 9:45. I had rarely woken past 6:00 with the bright night hours in Alaska.
I packed up in the rain, again, this time appreciative for the tarp awning over the “Emergency Suite” across from the bunkhouse. I was glad to leave the bike parked there overnight. At least I would start off with a dry seat even though I knew it would only last maybe ten minutes.
I headed back into Tok to fuel up and found a gift shop, the type I typically avoided, to procrastinate riding. “ALL ALASKA GIFTS.” Looked like a tourist trap to me but I was sad knowing I was leaving Alaska and went in to avoid the weather I would be riding in AGAIN. I knew technically I would ride in Alaska coming into Haines, however I was beginning to feel the end of my Alaskan adventure drawing too close to an end.
I managed to find some unique gifts, unlike the majority of crap I had seen cluttering other souvenir stores, gas stations, and visitor centers. I found some native hand-made jewelry from ivory and jade to send home for my sister in-law’s birthday and for father’s day. Thinking of my niece and nephew, I found some gold foil and coins to show them a bit of Alaska.
The people in the store were kind to package everything up for me, so all I had to do was take it to the post office. I then realized I didn’t have room to shove three boxes in my tail case, and there was no way I was going to try getting them into the side cases with everything strapped down on top. And, thanks to the precipitation, I couldn’t just strap the boxes to the top with everything else to melt in the rain.
The post office was just a block away, so I stuffed the boxes into my jacket- one under each armpit, and one between my you-know-whats. I couldn’t even zip my jacket fully so I relayed on the velcro to get me there.
Well, velcro doesn’t work in the rain. It popped right open and I had to keep my arms pinching my pits and squishing my you-know-whats together while hunching over my lap afraid I was going to lose a box in the middle of the road. You can imagine this made steering a bit challenging and awkward. Not to mention, the rain was coming inside my jacket dripping down onto the box between my you-know-whats and making a not-so-comfy soggy feeling against my skin.
I’ll never forget the look on the guys face at the post office when I ran in dripping wet and pulled three boxes out from under my jacket, two of which probably smelled like BO, and one that was questionably (in his eyes) wet from the rain or sweaty cleavage juice. “So much for trying to keep the boxes dry,” I smiled.
It was already noon by the time I left Tok. I passed Taylor Highway, the road I came in on from the Top for the World Highway, and after just 80 miles, I crossed the border into Yukon with a short but rewarding break in the rain.
I had managed so far to ride without my heated gloves and was just using my insulated ones with rubber covers. But the next 20 miles it continued raining off and on as the temperature began to drop. I waited until I couldn’t stand it anymore and my hands were beginning to not function. I finally stopped at Beaver Creek to warm up my hands gripping a hot coffee before digging out my Golden Gloves.
I wired myself and plugged in before take-off. After five minutes of riding my hands were starting to feel chilly. Another ten minutes and they were cold. I kept riding, waiting for the glorious heat to kick-in. My hands went numb. God damnit my fuse was out again!
The next 100 miles I was more than grumpy.
I stopped at Destruction Bay, needing a break from my mind and the weather. The two were festering together in a fractious battle destined for ruin.
I sat in the Talbot Arm Motel, ordered a coffee and soup, and tried to rationalize my unfortunate mood and fanatical brain.
#1. There’s nothing you can do to change the weather so get over it, accept it, and toughen up.
(But I’m going to spend every fucking day of this entire fucking trip in the God damn rain freezing my ass off.)
#2. You can fix the situation with the gloves, you have a spare fuse. Either unpack the bike and fix it or stop complaining.
(But I don’t want to unload everything in the rain to dig out my fuse and get everything wet.)
#3. You can either ride another three hours to Haines with cold hands in this miserable weather or you can camp in this miserable weather and stop riding now.
(It’s already 6:30 and I don’t want to ride without heated gloves and I’m going to freeze my ass off camping in the rain.)
I looked out the window and saw the rain had temporarily stopped. I tried to be optimistic for a moment but it didn’t change the dejected look on my face.
I studied the Milepost for campgrounds and decided if it still wasn’t raining when I got to one, I’d check it out and risk camping in unpredictable weather. But, if it started to rain again and I was on the bike, I was going to ride until it stopped or I got to Haines where there would be a hostel to dry out in. And, I was still refusing to unload the bike to dig out my spare fuse. In hindsight, that still makes no sense. I am a Taurus 100%.
In ten miles was Congdon Creek campground. It was on Kluane Lake, mostly tent sites, and had outhouses and water with a “kitchen shelter” and firepit (with wet firewood I’m sure). It was a $12 self-registration site. Sounded good.
In sixteen miles was Cottonwood RV Park and Campground. The words “RV Park” did not strike my interest or its description: “Wilderness Paradise.” Somehow I feel those two phrases should not be connected. It too was on the lake and even had a mini-golf course to entertain those rough country seekers. But wait, there’s more! This rustic place had free WiFi! Holy wilderness I have to go!!
In 75 miles was Kluane National Park with camping on Kathleen Lake 16 miles south of Haines Junction. This would put me just 130 miles from Haines in which case I may as well just ride all the way there and stay in a hostel.
I paid my bill and dragged my feet back to my bike layers in hand to begin redressing myself into an arctic astronaut. I hadn’t bothered stripping any of my bottom layers during my break from mental destruction, ironically at Destruction Bay, however I had stripped my top layer down to my Underarmor and Patagonia polyester layer.
Next went on my REI fleece followed by my REI windbreaker. Then went on my Marmot rain jacket and then, I could put on my fully insulated TourMaster jacket.
It was when I got to this layer I struggled getting my arms to fit all the way down. I was in the process of muscling my way through the sleeves by doing an assortment of bizarre arm stretches while jumping in an attempt to have gravity’s assistance when I noticed there was a man observing this unique gorilla dance from the truck right next to me.
I had to laugh when I caught his intrigued eye. “Next time, I’m getting a heated jacket,” is all I could say.
Well the clouds were still sparing me any further wetness, but it was still cold, probably in the 30’s. I decided to stick to my bull-headed plan and stop at the next campground if it wasn’t raining.
My earlier optimism from the lack of rain began to become infectious. I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much but I thought I could see a little patch of blue hiding behind thinning clouds.
I was obviously distracted by this phenomenon in the sky when I passed Congdon Creek, the only campground that seemed somewhat convincing as a nice place to stay. It was .5 mile from the highway unseen (perfect for me) but I blew by the little sign with no time to stop.
The road was narrow following the lake and I search for a safe place to turn around but I already made it another five miles to Cottonwood’s Wilderness Paradise before I had the chance.
I thought of using their perfectly manicured and landscaped lawn as a gentle place to turn around leaving a pastoral tire track to give the place an earthier feel. However, the lack of rain had already influenced my fiery nature within and suspended me from temptation. I decided to give the place a look at least, since I was there.
I went into the office and spoke with a sweet woman working there that was chipper than I could match. It was just $16 and there was a hot shower house, coin laundry, potable water, and oh yes don’t forget mini-golf and WiFi.
I drove around to check out the sites and found the RV’s were segregated to their own side of the grounds far away from the tent sites (+). I drove around the tent sites and saw there was no one else there (++). I found a site that was surrounded by trees unseen from the road and backed up right next to the lake with a gorgeous view (+++). What do you know? This IS a wilderness paradise.
Attempting to repress excitement, I set up camp in what became one of the prettiest camping spots yet. I could hear the redundant laps of waves of water. I could see the mountains on the other side of the lake. I could feel the sun slowly seeping through the clouds and blue sky shyly peeking between them.
I took a walk down the edge of the lake along a beach of green, blue, and purple stone. It was windy and almost frigid cold. But it wasn’t raining, so I was happy. The bull within settled and I was grounded by the tranquil beauty of Kluane Lake.