Archive for July, 2009

Ways to stay cool on hot days

This July has been extraordinarily hot and dry up here in Alaska and Canada. Since starting my bike journey on July 1st in Prudhoe Bay I have had but two cloudy days and got wet only once from a thundershower at the end of a day in Yukon. My restday in Fairbanks with 32C was the hottest day there in 15 years – and it hasn’t been much cooler ever since. In fact I hear that further South in BC the heat is record breaking and approaching 40C – I would never have imagined this much heat!

When slowly climbing up long hills the heat without wind can really wear you down on the bike. Here are some techniques you can use to stay cool on the bike:

Stage 1: Cool drinks and icecream. This works when you have access to cold soda or icecream say at a gasstation or convenience store. Sometimes friendly campers will help you out in the middle of nowhere with rather cool water. Here I used this technique successfully just before reaching Fairbanks after climbing to the Hilltop reststop in 32C heat.

Stage 1 cooling: Icecream and cold soda

Stage 2: Water-cooling for head and shoulders. When cooling from the inside isn’t sufficient, use water on your hair, head, and jersey to reduce body temperature and sweating. Here I use a modified version of this technique at the Bear Lake Cafe prior to continuing in the afternoon towards Prince George:

Stage 2 cooling: Keeping hair, head and shoulders wet

Stage 3: Full-body evaporation cooling. For even more sustained cooling it is advised to ride in wet bike pants and jersey. The easiest way to achieve this is to take a dip in a stream or lake with full gear. I also use this technique in Florida with showers at the beach… Here I demonstrate this technique at Moberly Lake between Hudson’s Hope and Chetwynd:

Stage 4: Full submersion. When all else fails and you have access to a mountain lake, go for a swim and dip down below the surface. The water there is clear and really cold! Here I applied this technique at Lake Azouzetta on a 30C day at near 1000m ASL:

Stage 4 cooling: Full submersion in cold mountain lake

Stage 5: Go North. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen, err Southern latitudes. One place that I sometimes dream about is Iceland, where we didn’t have the overheating problem last summer…

Staying cool in a cool place (Iceland)

As I write this Blog post from inside a convenience store at Bear Lake using Stage 1 cooling the worst heat of the day is subsiding. I’m going to use Stage 2 cooling for the rest of the day’s leg to Prince George…

2 comments July 30th, 2009

Peace River and Pine Pass

After 2000km on the Alaska Highway I left it just before Fort St. John to ride West towards Hudson’s Hope on the Peace River. Traffic had gotten progressively worse the closer I got to the larger towns of Fort St. John and Dawson Creek, so I was happy to get off the Alcan. I also assumed somehow that the hills would be over – boy was I mistaken! Right after the turnoff at Charlie Lake, 80m down, 70m up, 170m down, 200m up, 400m down to the Peace River – and steep hills, just crazy. At a 10% grade downhill I topped out at 80.54km/h heading for a sharp turn at the bottom with roadsigns recommending 40km/h – good thing I have those two Magura disc brakes with my heavy load!

Pushing up one of the many steep hills along the Peace River valley

The Peace River valley is markedly different from the boreal forest landscape of the last weeks. Large farms, horses and cattle grazing, the smells of fresh cut grass and dry hay – with hot temperatures above 30C a quintessential summer day like in the corn belt of the midwest.

After the 8hr, 155km day it took to reach Hudson’s Hope I decided to have a semi-restday, and use the morning to go up to the W.A.C. Bennett dam. This massive earth-filled dam was built in the sixties; it creates the 363km long Williston Lake and together with the smaller downstream Dinosaur Lake dam it creates 1/3 of all of British Columbia’s electricity needs.

At W.A.C. Bennett dam visitor center

The tour at the visitor center is quite informative; the underground powerhouse with its 10 big generator wheels is particularly impressive – and nice and cool on a hot day like today. For additional and less BC Hydro centric, more critical information see the Wikipedia page on the Bennett dam.

Of interest is also the enormous generosity, helpfulness and trust of the local people. I originally wanted to hitch a ride to the dam since it’s 22km from Hudsn’s Hope and some uphill (didn’t want to add 44km to my afternoon ride). When after 1/2 hr standing by the road nobody stopped I walked into the nearby restaurant called “Freddie’s”. I mentioned that I noticed a German flag outside and sure enough, German chef Freddie comes out of the kitchen and we chat for two minutes (in German, of course). When I mention my plan to hitch a ride up to the dam he asks: “Do you have a drivers license?” Of course I do! before I fully comprehend he already holds out his car keys in front of me and offers for me to take his car and drive up myself. Can you imagine! Offer your own car to a complete stranger you have talked to for maybe two minutes? And not even accept gas money for it? Unbelievable, but true! So I drove up in Freddie’s car – something entirely unusual as I haven’t been driving in a car for many weeks – and enjoyed the next tour of the dam.
Or Kathie from the visitor center, who not only watched over my bike while I was visiting the dam, but also gave me lots of useful information, fresh drinking water and generally wished me well. There really are many friendly people up here…

After a tour of the Hudson’s Hope museum across the street and some deliciously fresh apricots bought at the local farmer’s market I finally start my half-day ride around 3:30p. A few km West of town is the Dinosaur Lake created by a smaller dam. It’s visitor center focuses more on the MacKenzie exploration history and the many dinosaur tracks found here. Since it closes at 4pm I only have a few minutes in its cool building. The day’s ride starts in earnest after crossing the peace River suspension bridge (which offers great views of the dam and downstream river).

Peace River bridge at Dinosaur Lake dam

A 300m hill is waiting in full afternoon heat of 32C in the shade – unfortunately there is no shade, so this is a hot one… I long for some refreshment, as I reach the next lake. (Due to the extraordinary heat-wave up here in Southern BC I will try to post on techniques to stay cool in a separate post 🙂 Good thing today is only a half-day…

At Cameron Lake between Hudson's Hope and Chetwynd

After another long ascent past Moberly Lake there is a satisfying 300m descent down to Chetwynd, where I cruise down at 70km/h on excellent roads. Evaporation cooling from a wet bike jersey, shade at 8pm and high speed wind really cools me down, so much so that I can hardly walk in the grocery store in Chetwynd, as my leg muscles have cooled down and contracted. I have excellent veal cutlets for dinner at “Buckroads” and then hurry to the nearest RV park – it does get dark here around 10pm, something I have to get used to again…

Next day I start early (8am) for another long day West and then South on Hwy 97 across the Pine Pass. The first 50km or so are uneventful and rather boring, just a flat road through the forest back into a valley of the Peace River Country foothills. I have lunch at the Silver Sands Cafe (73km from Chetwynd) and meet/chat with French touring rider Florence, who will stay here for the night. Thus she avoids riding in the heat of the day – however she couldn’t have known at that time that she would encounter major thunderstorms the next day, while I kept just ahead of that front and stayed dry…

The scenery is really beautiful, with very clear water in the Pine River and lovely mountains, trees and flowers everywhere. Also some old-growth, tall trees here (30m+), mostly poplars and spruce or fir, which create shade even at midday. Only two aspects I don’t like so much here: a) the road has no more shoulder, which forces me to monitor the traffic and pay close attention several times to avoid becoming roadkill; b) there are three massive high-voltage powerlines running along the valley, and it’s hard to imagine a more striking contrast to and eyesore in the otherwise unspoiled wilderness.

After a very hot climb up to the Pine Pass I reach the Azouzetta lake lodge. At first it looks like it’s closed, but that’s just because they are working and low on staff; owner Curtis waves at me and invites me to use the lake access and then come back up for a cup of coffee. I enjoy swimming in what is probably the clearest mountain lake I have ever seen. I tell Curtis this is the closest to paradise I have seen this far North! If you’re ever in this area, make sure to check out this jewel of a lake!

Lake Azouzetta

A few more hours of riding past the Powder King ski resort and the Bijoux Falls. Finally I reach my goal for the day, the Windy Point lodge at MacKenzie Junction. It is run by the Dutch van Boois family, with 3 kids, a cat, many dogs and horses a lively and welcoming place which I can highly recommend staying at. Like so often, it amazes me when I think about how much ground you can cover on a bike, only using your own muscle power; in just three days I rode through the Alaska Highway boreal forest, Peace River farmland and Pine Pass mountain area – just wonderful memories!

2 comments July 30th, 2009

Celebration of Life, Nature and Technology

This is a more philosophical note…

When an acquaintance of my wife heard about my adventure plan, he said something like this: “Sounds like an extreme case of midlife crisis – why couldn’t he just have bought a Corvette?” Once I pondered this statement, it occured to me that I’d much rather call it a celebration of life. Life is to be in motion. Life is to be active. I love life, and I love to be active. Yes, there is physical discomfort involved in a trip like this: Sweat, heat, dust, cold, rain, hunger, thirst, fatigue… But our bodies have evolved to be active and move around. So climbing or riding 6-8 hours every day isn’t something unhealthy, it actually has many positive side-effects: You sleep like a baby, you can eat anything you want and burn all your body fat. (In fact I’m having trouble keeping my body weight up. Next time at a rest stop, compare the physique of a long-distance touring biker with that of a Harley rider – notice the difference?) And I guess I won’t be visiting the doctor for cardio-vascular issues anytime soon… A few years ago I wrote about Why I ride on my homepage – the same applies to the mountains – the psychology concept of “Flow” has a lot to do with it.

Another aspect of celebrating life is wildlife: In this wilderness up here in Alaska, Yukon and British Columbia there is lots of it. No domesticated animals, but wild ones. The bear, bison or moose along the roadside, the eagle soaring overhead, the muskox and caribou in the distance. Not in a zoo behind bars, but right out there same as you! Where else can you still see this?

The Kluane Icefields from high up on Mount Logan

This leads to thoughts about the grandeur of nature in general. Climbing high above the Kluane Icefields or riding for days and days through the boreal forest and seeing untouched wilderness to the horizon as far as the eye can see. The elements of snow and ice, sun and rain, wind and dust, sounds and smells. One day near Jake’s Corner (South of Teslin) I was riding along and suddenly had this intense smell of fresh strawberries! I stopped and noticed lots of wild strawberries along the road! (Wouldn’t eat them if they’re this close to the road, though.) Or the smells of summer in the Peace River valley, blossoming flowers, fresh-cut grass, dry hay – we just don’t experience this much anymore in our A/C controlled and often deprived world …

At the Peace River Overlook

Last but not least I often think about much of the technology that either enables or enhances this trip. 2 generations ago there was no Alaska Highway (built in 1942 during WWII). 1 generation ago there was no Dalton Highway (built in 1973 for the Trans-Alaska pipeline). Most of the gear was much more primitive and heavy-weight. 15 years ago there was no Internet, much less free wireless access to it from almost any little town or RV park. 10 years ago there was no Google to store and share Blogs and images. 5 years ago there was no iPhone with built-in WiFi, GPS, phone, email, etc. There was no SPOT satellite tracker to track progress automatically and near real-time. There was no high-definition all digital video recorder the size of a cigarette pack and no YouTube to share the videos instantly worldwide. All of this seems very ordinary and obvious, but I think it is not. Chances are I couldn’t have done this trip 2 generations ago for many reasons, and you wouldn’t be reading about it in this format 1 generation ago. Exciting times, indeed! What adventures will our kids embark on?

4 comments July 28th, 2009

Northern Rocky Mountains

On the way to Summit Pass, the highest point of the Alaska Highway

Over the last couple of days I have crossed the Northern Rocky Mountains from West to East. Coming from Contact Creek, the last settlement in Yukon, down to the Liard River hotsprings, then South through the Muncho Lake Provincial Park and on East via Toad River and the Summit Pass (at 1260m the Alaska Highway’s highest point) across to Fort Nelson.

Ride along the Toad River in the Northern Rockies

At Summit Lake

Looking back East to the Rockies from the last big hill at Steamboat Mountain

The scenery of the Rockies is just stunning: Clear rivers, aspen and birch trees, rocky slopes and canyon walls above the highway, all very scenic. And the wildlife in this area is the best along the Alcan: I saw bison, moose, caribou, mountain goats, eagles, beavers, bears, and a fox. This is the Muskwa-Kechika wilderness management area, at 1.5 times the size of Switzerland the largest wilderness area in the Rockies – they call this the “Serengeti of the North“. Wildlife on the road is a real traffic hazard, including the rare wild recumbent 😉

Wildlife is a real traffic hazard up here - including wild recumbents

Unfortunately there are lots of hills, not just the namd passes, but just many 20-30m hills in the road, up-and-down like a roller-coaster. With a car or motorcycle you take those hills using momentum, but with my heavy bike and bags I have to slowly grind up everyone of those little hills. At the end of the day I have an average of about 1500m total elevation gain per day! I was going to calculate the calorie demand from the weight lifting, but I’m too tired for that right now – my mostrous dinner portions taste as delicious as ever without doing the math, just listen to your body cravings…

I updated the Canada ride photo-album and split it into a Yukon and British Columbia part.

Whitehorse to Fort Nelson, 978km in 7 days, or about 140km per day. I need to keep up that pace for another 2 weeks in order to get to Seattle by Aug-8. My wife is coming out to the Pacific Northwest for a 2 week vacation, so I better be there 🙂

1 comment July 25th, 2009

Bad tires – and good samaritans!

Yesterday was one of those days! Alternately I felt cursed, but also very blessed. Here is what happened: It all started the day before. I was cruising along with a nice tailwind on a slight downhill stretch next to a river with a beautiful view, having a great time. All of a sudden, I hear a loud “tffff” noise of my rear tire deflating, followed by some sideways drifting of the recumbent which handles differently with no air in the rear tire. Luckily I got the whole rig stopped without problems. And it was not a pretty sight: The rear tire – which I had hoped to ride to Seattle – definitely wouldn’t make it much longer.

The beginning of the end of the old rear tire

I patched up the tube, duct taped the tire and hoped I would make it to the next town with a bike shop. (Turns out that would be Fort Nelson 500km down the Alcan, as the next town, Watson Lake, doesn’t have a bike shop.) To make things worse, the rubber seal of my bike pump doesn’t work correctly for Shrader valves, so I can’t get good pressure in the tire. Luckily I ran into Laura, a teacher from Oregon, who had a hard time riding into the wind going the opposite way. She was happy for a little break, and while we chatted about our journeys I also borrowed her pump to properly inflate my rear tire. So I made it to Junction 37, where I camped for the night.

Next day I decide to ride the first 20km to Watson Lake for a big second breakfast. And there the “flat tire daemon” strikes again at Upper Liard: tffff… This time the front tire! So I decide to replace the tube with one of the two spares I bought in Fairbanks. But hey, the shrader valve doesn’t fit all the way through the holes in my RhinoLite rims! Go figure, aren’t these things normed? So I use it anyway, with the valve stem still sticking halfway into the tube – I hope that will work.

In Watson Lake I shop for groceries and meet the cyclist Scott, who rode his bike up here from Florida since 5 months! He is on a restday here and points out some useful locations, such as a good restaurant for my brunch (Bee Jays). Scott also has a great website: – I love the elevation profiles and photos there, as it gives me a great preview of what to expect the next day 🙂 I also inflate both my tires at a local motor garage and tour the famous “sign-post forest”, so life is good again. I leave town around 1:30pm heading East, having almost forgotten the tire issues…

Then just 8km out of Watson Lake, a loud “tffff..” and my rear tire is blown out again! This tire won’t make it any longer and needs to be replaced now! What to do? This is the first time I actually use the HELP message on my SPOT to signal that I’m stuck without help from others. I decide to leave my bike and trailer here locked to a lightpole next to the highway and try to hitchhike back to town with just my rear wheel and my panniers. I wait there for probably 30min, not a good sign…

Hitching my way back to town with the unpatchable rear tire

Then the first good samaritans of the day: Cheryl and Linda from Victoria (and their black lab Cooper in the backseat) actually were driving the other way (East) when they saw me standing beside the road. They decided to turn around and give me a ride back to town! Incredible, would you do that for a stranded biker? Hence I was back in Watson Lake after another 10 mins – Thanks so much to Cheryl and Linda.

Thanks to Cheryl and Linda, who turned around to give me a ride

Where do I get a new tire in a little place without bike shop? I could easily be sitting here for a few days trying to get one shipped up here… My first thought was to seek out Scott, as he mentioned he had Internet access (only for hotel guests). So I call him from the lobby of the Big Horn Motel. Luckily he is in his room and comes down right away to inspect the damage. And as luck would have it, he even offers me his own spare tire – also of the right 26″ size! How incredibly lucky is that? He even offers the tire for free and throws in an extra spare tube for good measure; at least I insist that he take some cash in return for the life-saving tire. (He actually ordered two brandnew tires to the bike shop in Whitehorse, so he only has a few more days on his old tires.) A lesson in preparedness. Thanks so much Scott!

Thanks to Scott who gave me his spare tire, saving me from getting stuck in Watson Lake!

Within minutes of inflating the new tire again at the motor garage I hitch a ride back to my bike with a native Indian who lives right next to where I had left my bike, again a lucky break for me. After re-assembling bike and trailer I finally resume my ride by 4:30pm. I lost 3 hours, but could easliy have lost 3 days.

As if this wasn’t enough for one day, my troubles weren’t over yet: When I stopped at the Hyland river bridge to look at the map, I suddenly hear that dreaded sound again “tffff…” Oh how I hate this sound by now! My front tire got a small cut and the tube pinched. I can’t believe it! And here the mosquitoes are really bad. After eating and drinking a bit, applying generous amounts of Deet and putting on my headnet I again start fixing the flat. This time I use the spare tube Scott gave me, as it has a Presto valve and for this my small hand pump works well. So 1/2 hour later I’m on my way again… and eventually reach Contact Creek, the last settlement in Yukon on the way South, where I camp for the night.

2 comments July 21st, 2009

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