Quick update

All going well (apart from not having enough time and battery to keep this blog up to date!). Finished stage 3 in 35 days – that’s 3000 km, with my daily average increasing, something I hope to keep building on (without overdoing it!). Had a few days of rain showers, but am all dried out now, and batteries all recharged. Now reached the end of the Alaska Highway (Dawson Creek), with the next target being Edmonton by Canada day (1st July). I also appear to be sufficiently close to civilisation for the tracker to be working! (Note that times are BST – I’ve not been cycling through the night!). A few of photos from the past few days:

Tailwinds are great – until this is the weather they are carrying – no stopping for a rest!

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Lovely smell of pine whenever one of these overtakes:

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Baerbel and Johan – lovely couple from Germany/Holland:

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Getting wet:

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Drying out:

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Never buy cheap shorts:

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Sun sets on Stage 3

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Me (thanks to Johan)

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Wildlife joins the traffic!

The wildlife spotting went to a whole new level with the wildlife on the road!

Bison – the general advice is that if there is Bison on the road, you have to wait for it to move out the way. What if they are running away from you? You follow them of course! Click on this link for the most remarkable experience on the road so far!

Bison pandemonium

Bears – not just one bear on the road – but two! The SUV commung the other way was timed perfectly to get the bears out the way. It was a bit like avoiding pedestrians at lunchtime at the junction of King St and New St in St Helier – except they don’t kill you!

Bear crossing the road

Rock Sheep – these are basically goats. So why the name? Same colour as rocks? Musical taste? Very (rock) hard? No – they actually eat rocks – or at least the gravel at the side of the road. This photo isn’t that clear, so you’ll just have to take my word for it – there was nothing green where its eating – just rock/gravel.

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Rock sheep on the road

The day seemed to be filled will delays. After finding the Beavers in a perfect arrangement (mother surrounded by 4 babies) but no camera (I was just going to pick up food hidden from bears), I spent a good hour trying to catch a good photo of them. Then my stove stopped working – and i spent half an hour unsuccessfully trying to fix it. No porridge for breaky today. This meant that by the time I got back to my video camera the battery had run down – there was a video file, but it was corrupt!
Fortunately the Coal River services were just 10 miles down the road. Great shower (first one since Teslin!) but food service was painfully slow, and the portions small – so I had to order more! Eventually left clean, fed and with more fuel for the stove. But by now the weather had gone from

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to

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Managed to avoid the worst of the rain, and passed through some big roadworks. What do you need if you are doing big roadworks? You need a big truck!

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So that’s how they manage to move quite so much gravel on to these roads! These trucks can take a 100 ton load – pretty much the same as I’m carrying on my bike at the moment!!!

Cycling Details

June 17th – despite all the delays, rain, hills and roadworks, I managed to get 100km from Fireside to km marker 740 (TBC)

Butterflies, Black Flies, Bears, Bison and Beavers

24 hours of wildlife encounters brought to you by the letter “B”:

Butterflies – big black and yellow ones. Normally natures warning colours – though on a butterfly it doesn’t really have the same effect. Here’s one on one of the zillion of dandelions

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Black flies – I’d stopped for some water and felt a nip on my leg, looked down and saw a slightly larger than average house fly. I waved it away and saw it had left a spot of blood – it had bitten me! House flies don’t bite – that could only mean that this was a Black Fly. I’d heard legend of these years ago from a former colleague John Day. He warned of them in the same way that a wise man would warn of dragons in a far off mythical kingdom. With all the bites I’ve had so far, the last thing I needed was another insect that viewed me as a stomach on legs!

Bears – OK, so I’ve seen a bear already, crossing the road ahead and disappearing into the forest. But today I came across a bear happily eating grass – just across the road!

Bear on other side of road

I stopped for a few minutes – it appeared to be on its own, didn’t appear to be in any distress, wasn’t nervous or bothered by the RV that thundered past, just happily eating grass. So I tentatively crossed the road to get a better look, but still keeping enough distance to allow me to react if it became more interested in me! It looked up for a moment, then just went back to eating grass – more like a sheep than a bear!

Bear on same side of road

I came across another bear, eating grass amongst pink flowers by the roadside. Quite clearly not bothered by (or maybe even liking) the attention from the car, camper, motor bikes and cyclist that had stopped to watch!

Bear with audience

Bison – a small heard by the side of the road, like the bear, happily munching on the grass. They’re basically cattle, but with big shoulders, big hair and a cool goatee beard.

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Later I saw a big bull on its own – just by the road side.

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Beavers  – less than 24 hours after the bear, I found a family of beavers just around the corner from where I was camping. There was a mother and 4 young beavers – they were sooooooooooo cute! But I saw them gnawing away at the derelict building over their burrow, and could see how they can be regarded as a pest. But they really were sooooooooooo cute, and a very unexpected find.

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I took a break at the Contact Creek Lodge, and overheard a conversation about the big news of the day – a road at Dawson Creek being washed away by floods after heavy rain. Hope they get that sorted by the time I get there – I don’t dance the 200km detour! There was also chat about a dog that had to be put down after biting a porcupine (quills stuck in food pipe). Sounded very painful – mental note not to stroke them! Had a good ride, and now have a working calling card, so back in touch with outside world.

Cycling Details

June 16th – a very good day – didn’t start too late, and rode 120km to the Fireside services in 8 hours (including 1.5 hours of breaks). No aches or pains either!

Big sky – big dark clouds

The day started of dry, but as I got closer to Watson Lake, the big storm clouds increased in size, number and darkness. At one point I was in the sunshine with moody clouds in front

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behind

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and to the left (up wind from me)

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It did not look like i was going to be dry for much longer! Fortunately I made it to the Nugget City cafe just as the downpour started. Dry as a bone, it was time to enjoy some soup, then more pie, while it rained and hailed outside 🙂

Made it to Watson Lake, a small village based around a road junction (junctions are a big thing here given that there are so few of them!). Finally got an international calling card that works, and stocked up on food. Canada has stock cubes (yay) and 5 minute rice – that’s carbs sorted! Also got cheese and eggs (protein sorted), biscuits, and the shopping day treat of milk and cereal 🙂
While I was enjoying the cereal and re-packaging the other items so that they’d fit, I had a good chat with Derrick. Some of it was a bit vague, but he was good company.

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Finally, one for my dad – a vehicle the size of a bus that was an actual bus (not yet another Recreational Vehicle)

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There hasn’t been a lot of traffic, but it has come in all shapes and sizes:
• RVs, usually towing something – a car, a truck (Sports Utility Vehicle), a camper (yes, really), a box trailer (probably containing the Sunday car – safe from the road debris!), a boat or even a horsebox!
• Camper vans – either with a detachable accommodation, or all in one (like you see in the UK)
• Motor bikes – typically a Harley, sometimes with a trailer or passenger. Also seen motor trikes and even a bike with sidecar.
• Cars – usually with lots of people and luggage, or spare fuel cans, roof racks, bikes, canoes, kayaks etc
• Bicycles – anything from sport bikes with no panniers (that’s what the support car is for!) to world tourers with at least 4 huge panniers – 2 front, 2 rear.
• Trucks (SUVs), vans, lorries and local cars (driver only, no stuff)

Recently I counted the oncoming traffic over an hour. There were about 70 vehicles – with the holiday / tourist traffic making up just over half of it (and half of that were the RVs and campers, a third were motor bikes). I also noticed that there were twice as much tourist traffic heading north than going south – I’m very much going against the tourist summer migration flow!  

Cycling Details

June 15th – 80km to just beyond Watson Lake. Not a late start, but rain avoiding and stocking up took a chunk out of the day, so just scraped a distance to keep the 80+ average going.

Pooped

I started the day with tired legs and a general lethargy – not a good start. I was eating well – I felt full after after the meal at Teslin (day before yesterday), and the ham&cheese omelette with toast and potatoes the next morning set me up for yesterday’s ride. But I didn’t have much in the way of lunch, and the instant macaroni cheese for two maybe wasn’t that big. I’d had a good nights sleep (best part of 11 hours), the weather was good (cool, cloudy, not much wind) but was struggling to hold a straight line while crawling up a not particularly steep well surfaced hill in second bottom gear. Today was going to be tough.
A couple of guys drove past and pulled in at rest area just up ahead. They got out and very enthusiastically asked me where I was form, where I was going, and was there anything I needed. The first two questions were easy – the last question, well, I didn’t know where to start! Can they take my panniers? New pair of legs? Give me a lift? The list was endless! I was not quite with it, but the just of it was that they were cyclists, and were providing support to some friends cycling from Montana to Anchorage (or maybe the other way around?). I declined all offers of help – other than a can of coke. As they drove off I realised that their enthusiasm was just what I needed, and I’d received enough to get me going to the Continental Divide just along the road. If you are reading this – thanks guys!

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At the Continental Divide cafe I had a bacon (crisp!) and cheese omelette with toast, and rhubarb pie & ice cream. After chatting with Adam (cyclist from Seoul I met in Teslin), updating this blog, and waiting for a rainstorm to finish, it was 5pm by the time I left. With such a late start, I was not hopeful of even making 80km. But the omelette & pie were like rocket fuel – 3.5 hours later I’d covered a further 80km!!! There was a few comments on Facebook about my calorie intake – well from the last couple of days a big cheese & ham/bacon omelette (with toast) and a piece of pie (with ice cream)  is enough for 50 miles!

As for the countryside, another day is bringing another change. Up until now, all the rivers I’ve passed have drained into the Pacific (or Arctic). After the Continental Divide, all rivers will drain to the Atlantic. Because of all the stealth climbing (down hills just shorter than the previous up hill) the direction I was travelling in, the divide was not as dramatic as it sounds. But looking back after about 200m of descending, it looked more dramatic!

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Now there were no more surrounding hills, with the road gently dipping every time it crosses a river – down and up the other side:

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And down and up the other side – you get the idea!

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Cycling Details

June 14th – 95 km to the campsite at km marker 1042. As described above, left at 11 for a slow 15km, then a 4 hour break, then a solid 80km. This all adds up to 200km over two days – ie keeping the pace up, but without building in any reserve.

Back to the wilderness

After leaving Teslin, the Alaska highway leaves the Yukon and goes into British Columbia. In the past two weeks since the Dalton Highway there has been some sort of shop or cafe every 20-30 miles or so. Maybe in a small village, or at a river crossing, or at a junction. Today was the first day with just road, road and more road.
And a bear! My first encounter – even if it was 50m away. This is the only photo I got, and the bear is just a tiny black smudge to the right of the road on the bend.

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I tried to get some video, but by the time I’d set the camera up (there was a lot of fumbling with the excitement and trepidation!), it was gone.

If that wasn’t enough excitement, I got my first sighting of a wolf! One evening last week I heard a distant wolf howl. Now, I don’t have a thing about wolfs – I watched The Grey without having nightmares afterwards – but when that howl was joined by other distant howls, it really made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up! (The track on that moneysupermarket ad will never be the same again!) The wolf I saw today was just crossing the road ahead of me. I initially saw it just as it was leaving the road and thought: “another bear? But it was too low and long, bit like a dog-NO THAT’S A WOLF!”. It looked back as my brakes squealed (no, really, it was the brakes!). It went behind a tree, and I set my camera up to capture some video – but I think it was too far away to be seen clearly.

As well as being more remote, the landscape was changing. Rather than being in a valley looking up at adjacent mountains, or seeing snow capped hills in the distance, the road was up “in” the hills, all be it lower more rounded ones with only the occasional patch of snow  (bit like the Trossachs, but with RVs instead of tour busses!). It looked like I was now up in the northern foothills of the Rockies!

Some pics to give you a flavour of the landscape:

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Cycling Details:

June 13th – 105km to Swift River. A late start after unsuccessfully trying to get a new international calling card set up. I did the first 80km in 4.5 hours (inc stops) – good going, but the next 25km was slower despite the tailwind. I was hoping to get to Continental Divide, but the legs didn’t have the extra 15km & I was tired (I went on to sleep for best part of 11 hours that night!)

Stage 2 complete!

There have been no shortage of goals. With two units of distance (Yay, 1000km!. Yay, 1000miles!), towns (yay Coldfoot! Yay, Fairbanks!), administrative boundaries (Yay, Canada! Yay BC!), mile/km posts (Yay, another 100 done!) and daily totals (Yay, reached daily average! Yay, 100km done!). But Sunday saw two big milestones for this trip:
* End of stage two. (Delta to Teslin). Not just that, but in 10 days (including two lower milage days) of more consistent cycling (stage 1, Deadhorse to Delta, took 14 days!)
* My average distance per day (including rest days) is now over my planning estimate of 50 miles (80km) per day (1935km in 24 days).

The all metal bridge at Teslin – vehicle tyres make a ghostly howl when driving over it:

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And being able to see the river through the bridge was a bit weird!

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I’ve been lucky with the weather (very little rain) and since the Dalton highway, the roads have been reasonably good, with no really hilly days, and I’m sure I’ve had more tailwinds than headwinds. Here’s hoping my luck and progress continues for the next 22 stages!

Finally, something for any geologists reading this. Coming up from a river crossing the road cut through some really soft rock – sort of like dry clay, or packed very fine sand. But it is obviously solid enough to be left by the road engineers as a vertical surface. I could wear it down with my thumb, and it looks a bit like limestone in that it dissolves and redeposits with rain!

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Any idea what this is?

Cycling Details:

June 12th – 120 km to Teslin. Started at 09:30, got to Teslin 9 hours later with 2 stops for sticky cake. Mix of headwinds and tailwinds, more stealth climbing (down hills not quite as big as uphills!)

A buzy stop off at Whitehorse

Firstly, thanks to Shelley and Neil for my 1000 mile coffee at the Tim Hortons in Whitehorse. The chocolate and raspberry truffle doughnut didn’t last for long enough to be in the photo!

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As you can see, my skier-esq tan lines are coming as long nicely. Shame I’ve not actually been skiing. I stayed over at the very friendly Beez Kneez hostel:

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And had an excellent meal at the Klondike Rib and Salmon restaurant, with more fruit pie – I really must be well ahead on my 5-a-day!

Thanks also to Sylvio at the Triniti Tech shop for letting me use one of their laptops to back up the 7500 photos taken so far! I had a scan through some of the ones from the second day – it seems like an age ago now.

Whitehorse is a really relaxed place – big enough to have everything you’d need, but small enough to wander around. There was an impressive number of ladies riding bikes – well outnumbering the men! I caught up on washing, cash, photos, food, route planning, blog, charging, with some walking around to give my legs half a day off from the cycling. The haircut and swim will have to wait for another town.

The climb out of Whitehorse wasn’t as bad as I’d expected, and good as Whitehorse was, it was really great to be back on the road.
It was also about 5pm – a very late start, but I wanted to do 50km so I could get to Teslin (the end of stage 2) by the end of the next day. After an hour I passed a sign advertising a restaurant with free WiFi. I thought that if I called in there, it would save me time on cooking so I could ride more / get to sleep earlier. And with internet messaging now my only way of getting in touch with Sue (Travel SIM card not working with local mobile network, my international calling card no longer recharging from my credit cards, and a call from a payphone quoted at “$44 for the first minute”) I could make use of that too. After ordering my meal I asked for the password for the WiFi network, and was directed to a sign that said there was “no WiFi because this was a restaurant where people should be talking, not surfing”. I pointed out that I was on my own, but only got a “that’s the rule” response. I could see why the restaurant was almost empty. The food was OK, and I left feeling slightly cheated, mentally  wording a letter of complaint to the Whitehorse Authorities at the same time as being frustrated at not making more of a point at the time. I decided that the best way of dealing with this was to channel my energy into adding some extra distance. But by 60km, the headwind and the rapidly cooling evening were taking their toll. Looking out for a good place to camp I passed signs for a B&B. I thought this was an attractive option – if they were full I should be able to camp in a corner of their yard. I found the B&B down a wooded lane overlooking a lake, but there was no sign of life. I found a neighbour who was in, and he said that the B&B owners were out for the evening. His name was Craig, and I asked him if it would be possible for me to camp in a corner of his yard, say behind one of the out houses? After a short chat, he very generously offered me his spare bed. I was somewhat taken back by this offer, but it seemed to be genuine and I was  happy to accepted it. After I got settled in and had a shower, we spend the rest of the evening some Molson Canadian chatting about my trip, life in the Yukon, Scotland (where his family was from) and his old dog Molly.
After a good nights sleep and some perfectly poached eggs, we swapped contact details, and I was on my way, feeling privileged to have received such generous hospitality. Had I not been annoyed about the restaurant,  none of this would have happened. This trip was filling up with very unexpected sequences of events leading to very memorable outcomes with very kind people.

Cycling Details:

June 10th – 120km (75 miles) to Whitehorse – capital of the Yukon. Got my earliest start yet – 9am! Another very sunny day, but going well and managed to cover 80km by 1pm. Last 2 hours after lunch stop felt slow, but got to the hostel by 4pm.

So another good day, and with 1758km in 22 days, that’s 79.9 km per day – a whisker away from the magic 80km/50miles per day (inc rest days)!

June 11th – 60km to the lane with the B&B. Late start at 16:30, rode for am hour, stopped for dinner, then rode for another 2 hours. Not a big day, but enough to make tomorrows ride to Teslin realistic.

Looking distinctly Alpine

After the roadworks, and a very wordy blog update, here’s an update that should be easier on the eye. I’m going through the very spectacular valley formed by the Denali fault line. A relatively flat valley with mountains of Scottish Proportions on the left, and Alpine like peaks (hanging glaciers and all that sort of thing) on the right.

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What more could I ask for? How about blue skies and a bank of yellow flowers by the road? No problem:

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Or a mirror like lake for a stunning reflection? No problem:

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Or just big dramatic slopes and sweeping curves? Yep, you’ve guessed it, no problem:

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The Canadians have some curious signs – like this one that is the first time ever I’ve seen an official sign urging you to go faster:

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Though it was welcome after I hit this bit of gravel with too much speed and too narrow tyres:

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(You can just about make out the very erratic furrow I ploughed). But this sign was just weird:

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It was like “there’s something to the right,  but even though I’m a sign, I’m not going to tell you any more than that”

I mentioned that there were payphones in Canada – this makes calling home much easier because you are not blocking up someone’s line. All the payphones so far have a logo that some of you may recognise:

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Gone, but not forgotten!

Cycling details:

June 8th – 110km (70 miles) to km  point 1650. Started at 11am, legs a bit tired after the battering on the road works. Trees by the road in Canada are cut back further (fire break?) than Alaska – this gives a better, more open, view. The headwind before lunch (2pm) became a tailwind after. Stopped again at Destruction Bay (4pm) – great cakes & pie. Rode on for another 1.5 hours to clock up the 110km.

June 9th – 110km (70 miles) to km  point 1540. Yes, going for consistency – leaving 120km (75 miles) to get to Whitehorse tomorrow! Started at 11:30, uphill, then undulating, into a headwind for 2 hours. Then huge descent to Hains Junction. Eat loads at the Bakery, then another 3 hours riding, but with a tailwind now 🙂
Had a very welcome shower at the Otter Cut Truckers Stop. Cycled on and reached the 110km by 21:30.

You’re spoiling us, Monsieur Trudeau

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Canada! The people are friendly, the gofers are cute, the scenery is spectacular, the portion sizes are normal, they use metric, have payphones, chip&pin and have a nice flag. But when you are on the road, a big part of the experience is, well, the road. Canadian roads started out a bit rougher than the American equivalent, but that was before 50 miles of roadworks yesterday. The Dalton highway had bits of lumpy dried mud that shook you around, stretches of scattered gravel that slowed you down every time you hit a piece, strips of smooth fine but loosely packed gravel where you left an energy sucking track. But on these roadworks, there was the choice of all three on the same bit of road! You’re spoiling us, M. Trudeau! Later this just became general loose gravel – shallower in the car tyre tracks. Tackling this involved identifying the shallowest tracks (which could be on the far side of the road), then cutting through the ridges of gravel separating the tracks. At the same time, checking for on-comming traffic, and, by the end I had perfected the art of checking my rearview mirror for traffic looking to overtake (ie, close right eye, turn head slightly to left to get full rear view, focus left eye on rear view, check for vehicles, turn head back, open right eye, focus on road ahead all with out losing balance while being shaken about. I was becoming a Pro at this!). Not only was I coping with this, but was almost enjoying it – successfully navigating a recumbent with a 30kg load through a gravel field with increasing speed. Yeah! (Or “yeah baby!” after watching the end of an Austin Powers film a couple of days previously). Then it was the piece de la resistance – Washboard Gravel. Yes, repeated ridges going across the road. You’ll be pleased to read that I don’t have the words to describe this – click on this link for a short clip of the majestic Canadian scenery jumping around as I try to keep my head as still as possible through the washboard!

Washboard gravel

Anyway, enough about the road – here’s some of the dramatic scenery:

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And a cute gofer (same as a ground squirrel)

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Cycling details:

June 5th – 70 miles to the Canadian border (or more precisely a few miles into the 20 miles of no-man’s land after US customs and before Canadian customs. A disputed border in a “US: you have it. CAN: no, you have it. US: no, really, you have it. CAN: thanks, bit we insist, you have it…” sort of way). Steadily climbing by stealth – each downhill not quite as long as the previous uphill. Passed 800m for the third time this trip. Rode for about 8 hours with 3 hour long stops.

June 6th – 20 miles to Beaver Creek. A late start after a late finish the previous day, legs tired, and Yukon is an hour ahead of Alaska. So there were going to be no big miles today. So booked in at Beaver Creek and caught up on admin.

June 7th – 110km (70 miles) to km  point 1760. 40k in the first 2 hours, then roadworks – 5 hours for the remaining 70k! More gradual climbing – hit 1000m for second time this trip)