Sidetracked

~185km (~2672km total)

August 8, 2014

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Whitehorse – Southern Klondike Highway km 102, ~80km

I started late today. I was finishing up a blog post (my last blog post until the trip’s conclusion, in fact), and Carcross, my intended destination, was a mere 80km away. Once I looked outside, however, and saw the trees giving way to the wind, I remembered that excellent tailwind that accompanied me on my ride into Whitehorse and how I was now going to be travelling in the opposite direction. I was surely in for it, but I hoped that, once I reached the junction towards Carcross, about 25km east, that I would be riding with, at worst, a cross wind.

If you take a look at the map (which I obviously hadn’t done in some time), you’ll see that I was clearly mistaken. This was the hardest day of the trip so far, easily eclipsing those days heading west from Watson Lake. The headwind was constant and gusty, at least up to 60 km/hr. Somehow, I managed to remain mentally composed; even the obnoxious motorists, with their needless honking, aggressive passing, and excessive speeding, didn’t phase me.

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Minimalist road signs.

The scenery was (very) slowly becoming more impressive as I headed south, a relief because with constant onslaught of wind, I was initially questioning this detour. The road eventually settled into a deep valley, great for scenery but even worse for the wind.

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Approaching the northern end of the coastal mountains.

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Windy selfie.

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Beautiful scenery along the Southern Klondike Highway. That’s the aptly named Emerald Lake to the right.

I eventually inched my way into Carcross (historically, Caribou Crossing), but not before coming through the Carcross Desert. At approximately one square mile, it’s the world’s smallest desert, though, in it’s purest sense, it’s not a desert at all but a series of sand dunes formed by glacial processes during the last ice age, at least ten thousand years ago.

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The Carcross Desert. In 1992, the Yukon Government attempted to protect the desert, but locals opposed the idea, preferring instead to use the sand dunes recreationally (ATV trails were all over the place).

Carcross was obviously benefiting from the enormous amount of traffic the cruise ships into Skagway generated. The town was immaculately preserved. I learned that they received around one thousand guests from the cruise ships daily. It’s not hard to see why, as their town centre is also the main station for the White Pass railroad route, a popular and scenic trip from Carcross to Skagway.

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Looking east to Nares Lake. This lake is actually an arm of the much larger Tagish Lake, which extends another 100km to the south.

The wind stayed strong well into the evening, so I made dinner in a shelter behind the visitor’s centre before heading about 5km further south to find a spot to camp. I wasn’t too concerned about wild animals at this point (when did that happen?), but I hoped that locals would leave me be, as I wasn’t completely concealed.

August 9, 2014

Southern Klondike Highway km 102 – Skagway, ~105km

I “slept in” until about 8am today. I skipped breakfast, as I was too paranoid about a major headwind developing if I waited too long. I scarfed down some bread and granola pedaled away not more than 30 minutes later.

 

The wind did pick up, although it was far less severe along the shores of the Tagish and Tutshi Lakes. The scenery was breathtaking. The road hugged the shore, giving an unobstructed view of the surrounding slopes, which were dominating every horizon. Run-down mining paraphernalia was occasionally visible from the road, along with many cement structures reminiscent of those found in old artillery fortresses along the coast of Vancouver Island.

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Old cement structure beside the highway, ornamented with local flare.

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Looking back along Tagish Lake. Rain was never far away today.

Once I left Tutshi Lake, the landscape transformed once again into a kind of alpine boundary wasteland. Wind-beaten Douglas firs barely reached 10ft tall, and vegetation seemed to be fighting for its existence among the boulder-strewn land.

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Near White Pass, along the alpine/subalpine border.

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Ditto.

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Tough trees dealing with their lot in life.

Rain was on and off for most of the day, and decidedly on once I reached the final 14-mile descent into Skagway. Skagway, a town of just under 1000 people, felt very tourism oriented. Jewelry stores were everywhere, which I later discovered were owned by the cruise ship companies. Speaking of cruise ships, I was fortunate that I arrived on a day where only one was in port, as the town, I learned, transforms in a northern Disneyland during peak activity, receiving around 900,000 visitors during the summer.

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The summit is just around the corner!

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It’s all downhill from here.

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Competition must be hot.

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Downtown Skagway.

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Window Shoppers.

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Any guesses as to what’s on the other side of that sign?

A couple days ago, in Whitehorse, I had met a guy who was riding the Golden Circle on his unicycle. He was heading back to Skagway, where he worked with an outfitting company, and he had offered me a couch to crash on when I arrived. We eventually connected for more than a few drinks, and I spent the remainder of the evening trying to remember where I had locked my bike (the hostel, it turns out) before finally passing out on the couch.

 

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