I don't know what got to me. Something did. Some thought, sound or image. It happens sometimes. It's not just that a memory is triggered, at times a feeling is triggered and I'm back in that dark place I spent so much time in and with no one around to pull me out I descend into it's depths.
I didn't sleep well. I had fitful dreams and when I finally did awake I was in an even darker place. Burdened as if by a terrible weight and withdrawn, it was as if my reason for waking up was no longer there. Where did it go? Wasn't I, even just a day ago, motivated to get up, to wander, to explore? But this morning, hands swollen, tired, and deep inside myself, I felt no will to live. I felt as if I didn't even have the energy to exist. I was removed from the world. I was peering out through a distant tunnel. Vision as if through a haze. Sounds muffled. Even my sense of touch somehow muted. I was suffering an existential fatigue.
I get like this sometimes. Deep deep sadness. At home, when this happens, I halt. I do nothing. But out here, on the road I was forced to get up and get moving by external forces. Checkout time loomed large and I had to attempt to write. Obligation, in this case checkout time, drove me through the haze.
The internet connection at the hotel was terrible. It took forever to load anything and even then, after a while of editing, it wouldn't go through. It didn't matter. I was dismayed at my inability to write. All the openness I felt and all the insights were gone. Frustrated at my own emptiness, I typed in a few sentences and hit submit. I read what I wrote and thought "That's the me I remember. Not the me here, but the me there. Mired in the stress and closed."
It was time to find some coffee and something to eat. I dragged my gear and mounted it onto the bike. There was a diner down the street. To my dismay they had just stopped serving breakfast literally one minute before. I sat there, still in a daze, still seeing the world as if through a distant lens. A KTM rider was there but I had no desire to talk to him. I couldn't think of anything to say. He looked, like so many others, as if he were heading up to the Dalton Highway.
After breakfast, which looked like lunch, I went to get gas just to be safe. I couldn't remember how far away the next gas station was. I was so unhappy about seeing the "route east" signs. A man walked up to me and said, "I've been riding BMW's for 20 years and have three of them." We got to talking a bit, but I was still having trouble. A heavy weight still hung over me and I tried to force myself to continue the conversation. He had been all the way to Tierra Del Fuego in addition to a bunch of other places. He had done the Dalton 5 times. I started snapping out of my malaise a bit, but still heavy I asked him a few questions about it. He seemed to think going through Columbia was a bit dicey, but other than a few minor mechanical problems, he didn't have any problems on his trip. He gave me his contact info saying, "You should do that trip. It's a great one.". I'll contact him when I get home. I'm thinking about that trip more now ...
As I was about to leave the station, an enduro rider pulled up the gas pump. "Heading up the Dalton?", I asked. "Of course. You know it's gotta be done.". It's funny how almost any enduro or adventure rider on the Alcan highway is heading up to Deadhorse. I chatted with him for a few moments and then donned my gear and still bearing this weight headed on down the road.
I didn't feel like taking any pictures. We've already seen it all before. Beautiful mountains. Check. Incredible lakes. Check. Critters. Check. I mused about how miserable I was feeling as I passed through endless forests bounded by glacier capped peaks punctuated by deep blue lakes on a once in a lifetime trip that so many would like to undertake. This place seems normal to me now. I've seen bear, moose, caribou, buffalo, wolverines, fox, and a host of other critters. Without some deeper insight, some deeper more meaningful way to experience the subject, once you've seen one, the others tend to not be as interesting. I thought about that for a while.
There's something silly about "seeing". I've "seen" thousands of bears in books and on the television. I've "seen" endless mountainscapes and lakes. But there is something to "seeing" in person that differentiates the experience. To see a glacier up close and personal. To feel the cold wind coming down off it. To "be" in front of the thing is different. It's more real somehow. But I find this desire, this almost need, to delve into each place to a greater depth but am unable to do so. Travelling across this vast land I feel like a dilettante just glossing over everything quickly, never being able to fully experience any one spot or person. I get tastes of a place. Tastes of people. But that's it. I never get the chance to fill in the collage and am left with a canvas of mostly empty space with only a few colorful outlines and I am frustrated by it.
I wanted to reach Whitehorse. It was only 388 miles away but these were hard miles because of how I was feelinig. It was cool, but not cold. The sun was not too intense. The miles dragged on though. Normally 50 miles pass before I check the odometer but today I was checking it every 5 miles feeling like it had been 50. Everything hurt and I was still heavy with the burdensome dreams of the previous night.
As I rode further down the Alcan, the sun came out in earnest and it got to be slightly warmer. The bugs came out. Suddenly there were just a ridiculous number of dragon flies. I mean truly ridiculous. They were everywhere. Unlike any other time on this ride, they seemed to find every possible way to get around the fairing and impact me directly. Dragon fly guts everywhere, I was becoming actively unhappy. These dragonflies are large. Very large. One got me in the chest, another on the neck which hurt!
Disgusting. Poor dragonflies.
I had forgotten about the construction on the Alcan. It was 20 miles of perfectly graded and compacted earth over which a water truck drove just ahead of me. The road turned to muck and it got all over everything. Slippery, nasty, sticky muck.
As I rolled up to the visitor center not far from the Canadian border, I grabbed the front brake as I usually do an "Oh Shit! no brakes!" as nothing happened and I rolled quite a bit further, like 5 feet, than I had intended to.
I'm guessing the muck got all over the rotors and on the pads preventing the brakes from grabbing. I wasn't going fast. I usually use the engine to slow down and reserve the brake for the last little bit. But I was on gravel at the time I needed the brake. It was a bit startling.
I was awake now. My brake rotors look a little worse for wear. I will probably need a new set of front rotors by the time I get back. They are expensive.
I hung out for a little while outside at the visitor center. I wanted to let the water truck get on down the road. I was tired of the mud spray getting over everything.
As is the case with so many buildings, it was built in a log cabin style using simply huge beams. This building also had a green roof which I failed to notice the first time I was here. I have to admit I really like this style of construction.
My fog was slowly beginning to lift but I was still very unhappy. My earplugs had started to really hurt again and my right hip was causing me trouble not to mention my back and shoulders were really sore.
Bitch. Moan. Complain.
I got back on the bike and rode however many miles of dirt, mud and muck until I got through the Canadian border.
You can sense an immediate change when you enter Canada. It starts with the customs officer. He's nice. He's friendly. He smiles. The anger is just not there.
You also immediately notice how clean everything is. There's alot of trash in Alaska as there is in most of the US. But Canada is clean. It's as if Canadians like their country and want it to look pretty.
I entered the bad section of the Alcan between Beaver Creek and Destruction Bay. Yes, there's a place called Destruction Bay. This was that section of road that was supposed to be so horrible but was a cakewalk on the way up.
I don't remember it being this challenging. I guess it was because I was down, tired and carrying some mysterious weight that made what was previously very easy much more difficult. I didn't remember how deep these ruts were or how frequent. On a few occasions I had to stand up on the pegs because I missed a rift in the road and drove right through it. I wondered if maybe the angle of the sun was making it more difficult to see the heaves, dips and cracks in the road or if maybe the eastern route was just worse than the other side. Nevertheless, it proved to be a much more disquieting ride than the ride up. Maybe it was because I now had it set in my mind that it was easy. Looking at the speedometer I think I was also trying to go faster than I should have. It's all about perspective and perception. Believe it's hard and it becomes easy. Visa versa seems to also be true.
I had stopped at Beaver Creek for gas. I saw on Facebook that Rick was leaving Destruction Bay so thinking ahead I grabbed a large bottle of water for him on the off chance I would actually see him on my way down. Having set a precedent I wanted to keep up the tradition.
As I rode on I noticed some movement in a small lake. Moose in water! Funny critters. It stopped at one point and raised it's ears in my general direction looking rather silly while staring at me. Unfortunately, I didn't capture that because it went back to what it was doing too quickly.
I was beginning to worry that maybe I had passed Rick without realizing it. I saw a number of bicyclists but none of them had Rick's yellow gear. Then I saw him in the distance at a rest stop.
He seemed as happy to see me as I was to see him. I rolled up next to his bicycle and said "Good to see you again!", shaking his hand.
We chatted for a bit about conditions on the Dalton. He was concerned about the cold and the mosquitoes. Horseflies were buzzing about around us. My impression was the road has started to wear on him. He's had too many cold nights of camping and it seemed like he wanted his trip to be in the rearview.
Me on the other hand, I simultaneously don't want to go home but, at least today, have little energy to keep going.
He had had the same concern as I did. He said he kept looking at BMW riders. I guess we all look the same. (laugh).
He had met a few pairs of riders who were doing the Prudhoe Bay to Tierra Del Fuego run on bicycles. One couple he talked to was taking out 18 months to do that trip. "That's too long for me!", he said. "I miss my bed. I miss my dog. I'm tired of camping. Every day it's a new pain.".
If crazy Europeans can do it on bicycles ... then again, we don't hear much from the ones who don't make it and get kidnapped having body parts shipped back as proof for ransom.
I shared with him what I knew of the Dalton and gave him the bottle of water I got for him. I was going to give him my bear spray since he's been running into more grizzlies than I have, but he already had a can.
He's been doing crazy mileage from my point of view. He said something like 70 to 90 miles per day. Day after day. That's nuts. I do 200 on a motorcycle and I already feel it. I can't imagine the discomfort he must be feeling on a bicycle going that distance.
This is one of those times where the trip sucks. You meet people along the way that you want to get to know better, that you want to spend more time with but the time is finite. It's here and then it's gone. That's happened a lot. I've met a crazy number of people and there have been more than one occasion where saying goodbye has not been as easy as it should have been.
He pedalled off to continue his adventure. I rode south continuing on my Long Sunday Drive.
Things were improving a bit with my state of mind, but I was still burdened. The Alcan was proving to be unnecessarily challenging. This was mostly because I couldn't bring the level to attention to the task at hand I really needed to. My mind was endlessly Elsewhere.
I happened upon a tractor trailer accident in the middle of a straight stretch where the road was actually not that bad.
A tractor trailer load of fresh silver salmon had just been spilled. People were coming from up to 100 miles away to stack up on salmon. I understand the driver had to be taken away in an ambulance.
"Good thing I'm on a safe maneuverable motorcycle instead of some dangerous semi on this road.", I thought. I saw quite a few semis nearly lose it in the rough spots. One had his trailer skid to the right onto the gravel. It created quite the spray of gravel and dust cloud.
I rode on. The temperature dropped enough that I began to consider adding another layer. The last 50 miles really hurt. I was glad to pull into Whitehorse, but of course, I had forgotten that the edge of town is 12km from it's center. I'm staying at the same hotel I stayed at the last time I was here. The attendant remembered me.
The restaurant was open until 10:30. The kitchen closes at 10. "Good. Plenty of time.", I thought as I walked in. Unfortunately, I had failed to notice that I crossed a timezone. It was now 10:15. The kitchen had closed. I ordered a glass of wine and chatted with the bartender about my trip for a moment. He had immediately remembered me and thought that maybe I had stayed the whole time in Whitehorse. "Nope. I went up to Deadhorse and back.", I replied.
He suggested I try a couple of restaurants that were only a few blocks away. Motivated because I had skipped lunch, I walked to the restaurant he suggested. It was closed but they directed me to a bar and grill that served food until midnight. I hurried the block and a half to where the place was and walked in.
The place was a bar with a pooltable. The bartender, Nicole, had a vague resemblance to Jolene Blalock who starred in that terrible Enterprise series. Beautiful woman, terrible show. When I ordered a hamburger sans bun she seemed interested and asked me about it. As it turns out, nutrition and food allergies are an interest of hers. We got to talking for a bit. Canadians. Polite. Nice. Interested. I like Canadians. I have really grown to like the Canadian soul.
But of course, as it would happen, as soon as I have an interesting conversation with an attractive bartender the place fills up. It took like 10 minutes to go from dead to being bustling.
I have two effects on bars. In the case of the Outback where Rachel and Dale work, I show up and the bar clears out, unless of course, I'm trying to have a conversation with Rachel. It's uncanny. In the case of Claudia at Piratz, when she used to work there, I would show up and the bar would fill up within minutes. The story was the same with Wendy, a bartender who saved my sorry ass at one point during the Nightmare and to whom I will forever be grateful. She would joke that she should give me a percentage of her tips. Always entrepreneurial, Wendy was something very special.
Nicole was nice. Despite being busy attending to the 15 or so people who had just walked into the bar, she took time out to chat with me. That was really nice. The bar had a good selection of scotches so I ordered a Talisker. "I haven't gotten that far yet.", she said pointing at the scotch. "I've had the Aberlour.", she mentioned. "So you want to be the woman who impresses all the men by her knowledge of scotch?", I asked. "yes, most definitely", she replied. I said if I had had more time I would have introduced her to more scotches. "Aberlour 12 is a good scotch for introducing women to scotch. It has a wine like complexity to it.", I opined. She asked what the next scotch she should try is. "Balvenie 12 Doublewood would be my suggestion pointing at the top shelf.". A good scotch, but finished in a cherry cask so it bothers me. Bummer.
I mentioned how everyone was asking me to send them messages and that one person suggested I just write a blog. "Oh really? What's the address of your blog, I'll check it out.". I told her she would be mentioned here. I enjoyed meeting Nicole. She's another one that, given more time, I would get to know better if I could.
I'm back at the hotel now. My hands are still swollen and I still feel this weight. I think it's that I'm pointed Eastward. I don't want to go home except to see a few close and special friends, none of whom I get to see or experience nearly enough. I guess that's life. I need to remember what a privilege it is to experience what I do. Even these people out here, these glimpses of lifes I get, are worthwhile, special and worth remembering. The parts of lives that people back home share with me have a value to me I cannot put into words ...
I hope I'm in a better frame of mind tomorrow, otherwise these miles are going to drag on something fierce. Hopefully tomorrow I'll find a reason to wake up ...