mental health-care tool kit for parents
Valerie Berenyi, Postmedia NewsOctober 10, 2011
-- What can parents do to help keep their children and youth mentally healthy?
Cossette, a recreation therapist with the Eating Disorders Clinic at Alberta
Children's Hospital offers these tips:
Find the balance between work and play. Work, school, being productive and
goal-oriented are important, but so is making time to rest, rejuvenate and
Play together as a family - and not just at sports. It can be board games,
goofing around in a park, hanging out with friends and family. Have fun, keep it
Aim for a healthy, balanced lifestyle on a budget. "It doesn't have to be Hawaii
for three weeks. Entertainment can be very simple, like a game of charades.
Finances don't have to be a barrier. Get back to the
Find a passion. "Life can be very difficult, demanding and stressful, whether
you're working or going to school, whether you're a child, adolescent or adult.
Having an outlet, an activity, a hobby can help restore, help heal and distract
us from the difficulties - not to avoid them but to take a break from
Humour is vital. Laughter helps us breathe, let go of tension and look at life
from a different perspective. "We need to be able to laugh at ourselves, knowing
that we, as human beings, are not perfect; we are incredibly flawed. Look at the
lighter side of life. Be playful.
cannot laugh and play all day because that's not healthy either. Again, it's
finding the balance."
Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald
It has been a while since I've updated this site. I've been doing a lot of thinking about what I learned and who I met on my journey and I've been working hard putting together presentations for various groups who have wanted to hear about my experience. For my more recent presentations I've included a little summary video which is basically a collection of clips from various points in my trip. As a bit of guide, the first 30 seconds or so are from the beginning of the ride through the community of Yale, BC and up the Fraser Canyon along the TransCanada Highway. At about the half minute mark I show about 10 seconds of the beginning of the Dempster Highway and then there are clips from along the Dempster up to just past the two minute mark. From two minutes in to almost the four minute mark I am riding through a placer gold mining claim along Quartz Creek south east of Dawson City followed by about 40 seconds of riding along the North Canol Road. The last 30 seconds of the video have me riding south bound along the TransCanada highway entering the Thompson Canyon just south of Cache Creek BC. There is no sound track, just images.
Over the next while I will add a few more clips and also write a bit more about some of my learnings on the trip.
I found this description of the North Canol Road on a motorcycle forum I follow. It was posted July 16, so about three weeks after I was there. The fellow who wrote this travelled about 20 km further than I did and also had the opportunity cross the new bridge over Moose Creek (the schedule for replacement is what spurred me to turn around when I did - they tore out the old bridge the day after I was there).
No wonder I felt so isolated out there! Here is that "interesting" description:
The road is in great shape compared to some previous years. The water-to-your-axle, mud bogs stretches have had some gravel laid in, bridge approaches likewise. They did a great job on Moose Creek, and are using galvanized sheet for the abutments, so should be good for some time. Itsi was where I had to stop as there was no bridge deck, the quads had to ford around the side. Watch for the usual deep holes where culverts have collapsed, beavers are making some ponds/streams across the road, erosion cuts on hills, ruts, and the like.
I won't say much about what's there as you'll want to find spectacular by yourself. A few reminders for those who haven't done this type of road:
This is one of the best rides you can take. Compared to almost anywhere else in North America, it's really out there.
Saturday morning. I’m up early, breakfast is at 7 and then I will be wasting no time leaving town. It’s an interesting hotel. Three of us have rented rooms and the management decides when breakfast and supper will be, the restaurant is not open for lunch.
I’m on the road at 7:45. The sun is shining, the roads have actually had about a day to dry out and that is helpful. The Robert Campbell Highway between Ross River and Watson Lake is like the Dempster in some ways. When it is dry, it is okay (but rough) but when it is wet….it is greasy and slippery like ice. Today is a good day and I can cruise at about 80 km/h.
I’m riding toward Watson Lake and have been on the road for about 45 minutes when I notice wobbly tire tracks on the road. I see them intermittently but they have been made since the rain. The tires that made the tracks are narrow tires, looks like a bicycle – but really wobbly. I ride for probably half an hour seeing these tracks until I round a corner, drop down a little incline and there in the valley bottom, I see a young man on a recumbent bicycle. He peddles along, weaving indiscriminately and apparently without pattern across the road – like a wanderer, having the time of his life. I slow as I draw abreast of him, shout a greeting to him about the beautiful day and the accent in his response suggests he is Australian. As I accelerate away, I grin to myself at the perfection of the stereotype: young cheerful curly headed lad, not a care in the world, weaving all over the road on a bicycle, one hundred miles away from civilization….has to be an Aussy!
Getting closer to Watson Lake the road roughens. There is a lot of traffic from heavy mining traffic in these areas and it takes a toll on the roads. At one point I hit a deep sharp chuckhole so hard that I think it could flatten my tire or bend my rim but the bike continues to run true without any change in handling. The road teases me with a stretch of pavement and then reverts to gravel….twice….before the pavement finally remains and I follow it into Watson Lake.
I fuel up at the gas station across the road from the sign forest (without taking the obligatory tourist photos) and head west toward Highway 37. I had originally planned on heading south down the Alaska Highway to Fort St John and Dawson Creek but excessive rains in those areas have washed out roads so my route south will mimic my route north.
I ride until about 11 PM when I pull into Smithers and find a motel with a perfectly adequate room. The next morning, I leave in the rain and carry on in my determined ride. Rolling out of Houston, a car pulls along side honking, waving and pointing - I smile and wave back…it is so nice when people have so much fun greeting travellers on the road.
I have planned stops in Burns Lake, Quesnel and Cache Creek. These fuel breaks are all that stand between me and home and I ride. Steady riding, three stops, I am home by 8 PM.
8,300 km in 13 days…2,000 were on gravel. I’ve written quite a bit here about the trip, what I saw, what I rode, what I thought, and what I’ve experienced. I think this has been a life changing experience for me but I’m not sure a person can be completely confident in a statement like that until some time has passed. I’m still processing a lot it all in my mind and will likely write more about that all in a bit of epilogue…..but I want to digest what I’ve written, what I’ve thought and what I’ve learned before I write more, so please continue to check back here for changes, updates and news. I'd like to keep this site active to remind people how important it is to discuss mental health issues (clinical depression in particular) in a rational, nonjudgemental manner...it is a health issue
If you have any questions, want clarification on anything you've read or are interested in a presentation about my trip. Please contact me through the contact page on the website or directly through my email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading, I hope you've enjoyed it.
The rain I expected last night did not arrive. I awake with the sun fighting to break through the high overcast. Quiet Lake is beautiful in the diffuse light but I am anxious to get on the road so I pack quickly and quietly. I’m just leaving as my friendly neighbour sticks his head out of his camper and wishes me bon voyage; he seems pleased that I did not get eaten by bears last night.
On the road to Ross River I find improvement as I progress toward Ross River. The road seems to be slightly wider, slightly more well maintained and I think I can make a little better time. I round a corner and am surprised to find an industrial loader working on the road, moving some gravel around. I stop in at Lapie Lake to take a picture but my camera decides not to cooperate – a total refusal to focus. When I see the campsites and the lake I know I was better off at Quiet Lake.
The morning ride to Ross River takes about three and one half hours to cover the 80 km distance.
At Ross River I find out three important things.
Firstly, they do have gas. If the store is closed they have a cardlock where I can just insert my credit card and fuel up.
Secondly, tomorrow is Canada Day and the all the businesses in town will be closed for celebrations (but I can buy gas at the cardlock).
Thirdly, at Moose Creek, 147 km from Ross River, a contractor will be replacing the bridge and the road will be closed tomorrow morning.
It is now about one o’clock on June 30 so I have about 19 hours to get out to MacMillan Pass (232 km) and back to this side of Moose Creek (85 km) for a total of 317 km. Based on my progress this morning, I’m looking at about a 14 hour ride so it may be doable. I cross the Pelly River on a cable ferry and set off to the North West Territories on a road that follows the Ross River.
The North Canol is narrower and rougher than the South Canol. There are steeper hills, sharper corners, narrower bridges and maintenance appears much less regular. My bike, fully loaded with extra fuel is taking a real beating on some of these potholes. The bright side is that there seems to be more gravel on this road so if the rain should come, it may not slow me down much (although the roughness already does that).
Just past Dragon Lake (105 km) the rain I have been expecting arrives. I’ve watched the clouds thicken all afternoon and now they have started to spill their cargo. My progress slows in the rain mostly due to visibility issues. Ditches on the roadsides are full and begin to flow over the road. Approaching one of these spots I suddenly realize the watercourse is much deeper with a more abrupt channel than I had anticipated; I haven’t slowed enough. I stand up on the foot pegs increase my stability. The front wheel sinks into the channel that the water has eroded and my hands tighten instinctively on the grips. The front suspension compresses and bottoms out sending a jarring jolt up my forearms, into my elbows and biceps. A wave displaced by the front wheel and engine cases hitting the water washes over the bike and leaves a blinding film of mud on my faceshield. The front wheel hits the bank on the far side of the channel and I feel the rear wheel lighten then settle back as the front wheel pops up. Almost instantly the rear wheel hits that same ledge and bounces up. The weight of the whole motorcycle is on the front wheel wobbling from side to side under the stress. I fight to hold on to the bike. The rear tire contacts the ground sending a jolt through the footpegs to be absorbed by my knees and thighs. The suspension again compresses and I slam the toe of my boot onto the brake pedal trying desperately to scrub off speed. I feel the bike skidding but slowly I am able to bring it under control.
I progress toward the MacMillan pass and as the elevation increases it seems the rain intensity increases as well. Rounding a corner I pull to the side of the road to make room for a south bound road grader followed by a pickup truck. The road grader pulls to a stop beside by bike and the operator throttles the big machine back as he opens the door and pokes his head out. He advises that the bridge over Moose Creek is being closed and he is moving his machine south of that – I should make sure I am well back of that point by morning as well. Thanking him for his advice, I carry on.
My progress is quite slow now. The rain is heavy and visibility very poor. I reach the much photographed point along the road where surplus vehicles and equipment were left behind by the construction company who built the road over 60 years ago. I carry on without pause knowing my finicky camera will be no help in this downpour. I cross over another single lane wooden bridge.
I consider, as I ride, that I am now the last person on this road. Tomorrow morning, a bridge somewhere behind me will be removed and if I am not south of that bridge, I will be here for another ten days. I realize that as I progress into MacMillan Pass, the spectacular views I was riding to see, are totally obscured by thick low cloud and heavy rain. My progress is slower than I had anticipated and I’m thinking that I still have two to three hours to get to the NWT border. That means four to six hours to get back to this point and another hour to get back to where I can camp at Dragon Lake. Potentially another seven hours of riding for no views and more rain. I am wondering if the excessive rain I am experiencing will cause road washouts and what difficulty that might cause me. It is about 5 PM when I decide that I have gone as far up this road as I will go. Additional mileage will not produced anything different than what I am currently experiencing.
The ride back to Dragon Lake is uneventful with exception that I am developing a suspicion that my rear shock absorber may be compromised. The road is feeling a little rougher than it has in the past. There is more bounce and more bottoming when I can’t avoid the bumps. It may be time for new suspension when I return home.
The Dragon Lake pullout was recommended by the fellow I had camped beside last night. I had not seen any bear scat on the road coming here and could not find any as I checked the site carefully. The rain has slowed to showers and I decide to start supper (instant Backpacker “no cook” meal - just add boiling water and stir) before setting my tent. I’ll start that and set up my tent while the water does its magic inside the foil bag. We’ll see what curried lamb is like tonight.
I pull out my trusty twenty five year old single burner multi-fuel Coleman stove. For the first time I notice how the burner element is deteriorating with rust – poor old stove isn’t going to last much longer. Add some gas, close the lid and pump up some pressure. It worked perfectly the other night in Dawson, but today the pressure doesn’t build. I fiddle with it for a few minutes and realize that the pump seal is probably dried out and I have no spare –supper will be cold tonight. I add water to the bag and let it sit while I set up my tent. The mosquitoes are the worst I have seen on this trip and for the first time I break out my mosquito screen hat.
Cold “boil in a bag” is not the most appetizing. I wolf down about half of it, seal the rest, and put it in my tank bag with the rest of my snacks and food which I then hang from a tree to bear proof my camp. It’s only a bit after 7 PM when I climb into my tent, more to escape the mosquitoes than anything else.
In my tent, I reflect on my journey. I’ve done what I set out to accomplish physically. I’ve done the Dempster; explored the gold fields; ridden the Top of the World highway; and done as much of the Canol Road as possible. It’s time to head for home. This early start to the evening is not a bad thing. I can get a good rest and then my trip home (about 2,400 km) can maybe be one really long day or maybe two shorter days depending on how long it takes to get out of Ross River and down to Watson Lake (the only two gravel components I have left to go). I force myself to sleep. If tomorrow is going to be a really long day, I will need all the sleep I can get tonight.
My tent and sleeping bag are very comfortable. I doze for a while and fall into a deeper sleep. Occasionally I wake up to the sound of rain thrumming on the tent but as far as I know, I stay dry (glad I got the tent set up between showers). I sleep more and quite deeply but suddenly, I am awake. I heard a sound or something unusual has awoken me. I lie very still and listen….is that a scratching sound outside? Something sniffing? I think I can hear something but I’m not sure. I lie very still…if it is a curious bear should I make a lot of noise now or wait until it paws and sniffs at my tent? If I make a lot of noise now will that scare the bear off or will it be more curious about what is making noises inside that green blob? I can almost hear my heart beating. I’m beginning to become quite sure there is a bear outside and I’m not sure what to do about it. Something scratches closer to the tent….I’m sure I hear something sniffing…..and there is a strange odour in the air. It must be a bear, that smell is horrible. Despite my terror I find myself drifting off to sleep again…that smell is still there and still horrible…and as I’m drifting in and out of sleep, I relax….and I begin to wonder….if the noise that woke me up, and that horrible odour, might not just be an after affect of my cold lamb curried rice that I had for my supper. That lamb curried rice…the taste is still there in the back of my throat, pretty sure it’s on my breath…and there is that rumbly feeling…..
Morning eventually arrives and I step out of my tent carefully surveying the ground around my camping site….not a single animal track anywhere. This was another example of how the mind can “play tricks” on a person and make you believe in a “reality” that does not exist. I was once again reminded how fear can create things in the mind much greater than what may or may not exist.
My timing is about right to catch an early ferry ride across back across the Pelly so I pack the bike up and ride off down the road. The rain has stopped but sky remains heavy with clouds. The road back is no better than it was on the way up but I arrive at the ferry crossing in reasonable time only to find it sitting across the river with a couple of vehicles waiting to board. I see someone walking across the pedestrian suspension bridge that parallels the ferry route. I pull my helmet off to wait.
“Happy Canada Day.” I hear his voice before I get a good look at him. “Yes, and to you.” I respond.
“The ferry is not running.”
“Why not?” I ask.
He shrugs. I find out that there was a party in town last night and they can’t find the ferry operator. The ferry won’t run until they can find him.
As is turns out, I’m talking to an employee of the Yukon Department of Highways. He is here to supervise the replacement of the bridge at Moose Creek but can’t get there until the ferry runs. We’re headed in opposite directions, trapped by the ferry across the river that doesn’t run. As it turns out, I did not need to be concerned about getting back to this side of Moose Creek, that bridge won’t be coming out today after all.
It is noon before they can find someone to operate the ferry but when he goes to start it, the battery is dead and attempts to boost it are unsuccessful (reminiscent of my own experience at Whitehorse). “Have to bring in a mechanic from Whitehorse,” the ferry operator advises gravely. “It’s about five hours if we can find him.”
The Highways Supervisor tells me even the hotel in town is closed (and the cardlock at the gas pump doesn’t work so even a gas purchase is impossible). He has a room but the hotel manager is having a day off so he’s not sure if there are any other rooms available. I make my way up to the hotel and the Highways guy finds the manager who is happy to set me up with a room. The hotel guy suggests I might want to book for three or four days and get a multiday discount. “How is anyone going to find a government mechanic on a Canada Day Friday? – ferry probably won’t run until Monday.” I book for one night. It’s warm and dry here, I’ll figure out my next move tomorrow.
Mid afternoon, I wander down to get a few more things from my bike and as I approach the pedestrian bridge, I see the ferry is running. I am overjoyed! My bike comes across the river at the first opportunity and as it now late in the day and I’ve paid for the night, I will stay in Ross River and leave in the morning.
To pass the time, I do a bit of maintenance on my bike and notice, to my horror, the rear brake pad linings are completely used up. From what I can see, any application of the rear brake will result in metal to metal contact. My ride home will be with a broken rear shock absorber and no rear brakes….should be an interesting ride!
South Canol Road
The sun is shining but the thickening broken cloud cover and sporadic showers warn that the weather front is pursuing me. It is just after 4 PM as I roll back on the throttle and downshift signalling to no one behind me that I will be turning right off the highway and onto a gravel dirt road labelled as Highway 6 but commonly called the South Canol Road. A short distance off the tarmac is a wide staging area with historic panels providing information and signs warning about travel on the road ahead.
I snap a few shots with my increasingly finicky camera. I’ve noticed over the course of this trip it has had an increasing tendency to produce pictures out of focus. Between focus problems and rain, my camera is spending more time in my pocket and less time capturing images. A few drops of rain on the lens force the camera back in my pocket and I start up the Canol Road with cautious anticipation.
The road has almost a sandy texture. It has had water but doesn’t seem slippery and it definitely is not a gravelly surface at the start. The rain has not collected in the chuckholes and washboard so obviously the drainage is good. Chuckholes and washboard…this road is definitely rough. My riding is mostly in second and third gear and I quickly realize that if the road does not improve, I will be camping somewhere along the road tonight, not in Ross River as initially anticipated.
As the road winds through the mountains and valleys away from the Alaska Highway, I notice more and more fresh bear scat beside and on the road. I am quite happy to be motoring along here instead of pedalling a bicycle or pulling a rickshaw as I have seen other people doing on some of the more well travelled routes.
It takes about two hours for me to cover the nearly 80 km from the Alaska Highway to the first campground on Quiet Lake. The narrow, rough, winding and hilly road is not a fast road but has beautiful scenery. Quiet Lake is the largest of three lakes that form the headwaters to the Big Salmon River system in the Yukon.
I recall reading somewhere that former Deputy Prime Minister of Canada, Erik Nielsen and his brother, comedian Leslie Nielsen found great refuge and retreat at a family cabin located somewhere on this lake. I don’t have the inclination to try and figure out where the cabin is located but there do not appear to be many on this lake that are easily accessible.
I ride around the south campground and find no other campers but a bit of bear scat. I decide there must be a campground further up where there may be less evidence of bears.
The next campground is about 20 km up the road and as I ride through it I decide that it is too early to stop riding (at least there are three or four campers here). I carry on up the road to see if there are better spots and note that there seems to be an increasing amount of bear scat. I travel another 15 or 20 km before deciding that the North Quiet Lake Campground might be my best bet for accommodation. I had found a couple of turnouts that might work but decide that it might be good to have a few people around given the evidence of bear presence.
My tent is set up by 9:30 and a gent from the neighbouring camper wanders over for a chat. He is here on a fishing trip and generously offers me fresh fish for supper. As I’ve been snacking on the road, I’m not that hungry and regretfully decline. He is quite curious about my bike and my trip and we have a great chat covering a variety of topics. He is a fount of information on bear interactions, shares some great stories and my paranoia actually decreases a bit. I’ve heard it said that the best way to deal with fear is to find someone who has done what you are afraid of doing. Talk to them and find out how they managed it then go and try it yourself. A great way to conquer fear. Listening to this local resident (Faro) discuss his encounters with bears calms me substantially. He also advises me of a good place to camp on the North Canol if I do decide to get up there.
He questions me on my gas capacity and scoffs at my fear of “no gas in Ross River.” They always have gas there, he advises. Well I have it now and believe its always better not to take chances in this country. The Boy Scout motto, “always be prepared ” comes to mind.
I settle in for the night feeling quite fortunate to be here in the secluded north. It is indeed a quiet lake.
Yesterday the low clouds warned of diminished views along the Top of the World Highway. Today’s weather is even less inviting. I can hear the rain pelting on the roof of the hotel before I even get out of bed. Checking the weather forecast I see that I have a choice of battling the low pressure (rain) front down Highway 37 (which is the same highway that brought me up here) or chasing the sun down the Alaska Highway through Dawson Creek and then detouring through Alberta because road washouts have closed Highway 97 between Dawson Creek and Prince George. I’m quite disappointed about the road closures because this was the route I had originally planned to take (and see a few old friends along the way).
Neil and Steve were planning a trip down to Skagway but change their plan in light of the weather. The weather map suggests that my Canol Road journey might not be in the cards due to inclement weather as well. Their plan is to head to Whitehorse for a tire change and maintenance and likely out through Alberta after that.
I check my rear tire and am shocked at how quickly the pavement has taken a toll on the TKC knobs. I decide to pull the rear tire off and put the Anakee back on. The front tire does not seem as susceptible to wear so I’ll leave it on for now. Across the street from our hotel I find a closed Shell gas station where I start changing my tire. Neil and Steve pop over to check their bikes under shelter (chain maintenance, make sure the gear is all okay) and then head for Whitehorse in the rain. I doubt that I’ll be doing the Canol Road.
Finally on the road after my tire change and breakfast, the highway ride to Whitehorse seems to take a long time (although its only about an hour). The weather seems to be improving as I ride which is heartening but I am very aware that I’m just outriding the clouds – I’m heading east and the weather comes from the west up here. If I stop for a longer period of time, I am sure the weather will catch me and I will be getting wet again.
It is pretty much a non-stop blast from Haines Junction to Johnson’s Crossing (about 320 km) and by the time I get there in the early afternoon, I’m ready for gas and a snack. This is also a decision point for me. Johnson’s Crossing, a campground with fuel and a restaurant/bakery, also marks the junction of the South Canol road with the Alaska Highway. I had stopped here on the way up (just over a week ago – seems much longer) and the fuel pumps were flying Shell colours. Today, no fuel is available because the colours are being changed and the new supplier will fill the tanks in a couple of days. The restaurant offers fantastic fresh baked goods (including melt in your mouth giant cinnamon buns), great coffee and the latest news on the condition of the South Canol road (depending on who you talk to).
I had two reports. The restaurant owner was quite non-committal in his response. I could tell he didn’t want to encourage a person who might get in over his head but didn’t want to discourage a competent rider from a great experience. He talked about a lot of washboard and it being a rough slow road…but I’d have to see for myself. Another gentleman (likely doesn’t get these questions nearly as often) advised the road was “the physical sh*ts” in a truck but a quite manageable on a bike. Nobody would tell me what it was like if it rained but I didn’t have anyone warn me away from it if it did get wet (unlike the Dempster).
I needed gas to do this road and that meant another 50 km down the road to Teslin. If I was going to do the South Canol, it was a ride to Teslin to top off my tanks and a return to Johnson’s Crossing….about an hour round trip. That gave me more time to decide. The weather had improved (yes I know, I was just ahead of it, I knew what was coming) and so I left for Teslin, strongly leaning towards a trip up the South Canol. My thought is that I could do the South Canol today, end up in Ross River tonight and decide tomorrow whether or not to do the North Canol. Worst case scenario, I’d only have bad rain from Ross River down to Watson Lake and then I’d be on pavement again and that would be quite manageable.
In Teslin, I filled my tank and for the first time, filled the 10 litre jerry cans that I had strapped to my home-made peg packers on each side of my bike. The full jerry cans added approximately forty pounds of additional weight on my little 650 – good thing I was on a diet early this year, it all nets out! I figure the range out of my tank is about 375km and with the additional 20 litres I should be good for another 400 km at least. The South Canol Road is about 220 km long, the North Canol extends about 232 Km to the NWT border and a bit beyond that. The gas I am now carrying will take me up close to the end of the North Canol Road and back to Ross River before I need to buy more fuel. I’ll likely fill in Ross River before trying the North Canol just in case there is no fuel available on my return. In a sense I’m carrying too much fuel but in another sense, I shouldn’t get stuck without it. I think I’ve covered everything off.
The decision is made in the sunshine (with looming clouds). I’ll do the South Canol and make a decision on the North Canol at Ross River. I hop on my bike and head back up toward Johnson’s Crossing.
The day is gray with low hanging cloud as I check out of my motel. The bike is loaded and the tank is full; I am bound for Chicken, Alaska via the Top of the World Highway. The spectacular scenery I’ve been expecting will likely be obscured by the clouds and I expect rain will make the road a challenge for my two-wheeler.
The George Black is a free ferry leaving from the north side of town at regular intervals. I make a final tour through town with my helmet camera capturing moving images as I ride then arrive, first in line, for the ferry. Moments later a pristine GS1200 pulls up beside me piloted by a rider and his wife wearing matching riding suits and followed shortly by another big GS. Apparently this is a family holiday for them and a nearby SUV has a ladies bike in the trailer. The pristine GS is a garage queen and was trailered up from the Midwest US to be ridden with dad’s bike (the other big GS) from here into Anchorage. The ferry ride is short, the other riders are busy with their own things and I fuss with a few minor housekeeping things on my own bike. As the ferry docks, I launch off the ramp for a holeshot into the first corner of the Top of the World Highway (well not quite as aggressively as it sounds but I did want to get there first).
Top of the World is a mix of gravel (construction zones) and older pavement as I wind my way to the clouds. I’m sure that on a clear day there are some spectacular views but I was correct when I left Dawson – there is limited visibility up here today. Despite the lack of a view, this is a far easier highway to ride than the Dempster and I enjoy a few stolen views when there is an opening in the clouds.
As I approach the American border, the clouds that have been threatening through the morning begin to leak and pulling up to the kiosk with my paperwork in hand, the clouds hit “full deluge.” I have only a few moments of refuge beneath the border canopy before my aerostich gear is fully exposed to the downpour.
The American side of the road is significantly worse than the Canadian side. There is no pavement, limited gravel and the downhill grade only adds to the challenge of this mostly dirt road. I am thankful that my TKC tires have only run up and down the Dempster, they are still reasonably fresh and handle this mud pretty well.
About ten minutes down the road, I realize that the cold rain is not letting up and with time it will chill me. All I’m wearing under my Darien jacket is my Koerta Pressure Suit over an electric vest (that isn’t for some reason) with a light cotton shirt. I plan on a few miles today and a chill this early in the day would not be a good thing so I start to look for a place where I can get off the road and add an insulating jacket. I see some rundown log buildings and what appears to be abandoned gas pumps at a wide spot in the road and pull off just in case some traffic happens by (haven’t seen any for quite a while).
Down goes the side stand, off comes the helmet and I dig into my tank bag for my Darien fleece liner. As I’m struggling to drag the fleece over the pressure suit, a voice startles me from behind asking if I’d like some coffee. I turn to face two young men (likely late teens or early twenties) who are here “taking care of the place” and doing a little prospecting back in the hills. These boys looked like they just stepped out a gold rush photo-documentary: dirt encrusted Carhartts, long sleeved cotton tees, suspenders, unshaven, unwashed rain-soaked hair. This was their summer job; try to rustle up a little business for the dilapidated roadhouse and pull a little gold out of some claim back in the woods. In the past couple of months they’ve pulled about ten ounces of gold out which, even at $1,500 per ounce, can’t be doing much to cover their costs much less build a nest-egg for the future.
I politely decline their offer of coffee. I’m not cold yet and I’ve got my gear back on all the way it needs to be and I have a lot of miles to go today. I have one of those funny “Deliverance” type feelings too and think about all the business that isn’t there….how fresh can that coffee be with no traffic and an empty parking lot? I wave to them as I head off down the road. I last see them trudging through the mud back toward one of the larger buildings. This was one of the few encounters I had with people where I did not talk about my road2blue projection.
Chicken, Alaska is a community of less than 30 for most of the year but in the early 1900’s apparently had a population of about 400. It is located about 160 km west of Dawson and about 120 km north east of Tok, Alaska and is the perfect place to top off a gas tank and take a break on a rainy wet day. Actually, as I pull into Chicken, the rain had stops, the clouds were lighter and the road seemed to be drying out a bit (but the temperature was holding firm at “cool”). I fill the tank and wander into the general store to see what kind of merchandise is available.
Chicken, Alaska. How many tiny communities can gain such fame? This town is a testament to perseverance and innovation. Originally this town was supposed to be called Ptarmigan after the lifesaving abundance of the bird during a particularly lean year of other game and food but the local miners could not agree on the correct spelling so they called it “Chicken.” From such a laughable beginning, this little town has created a presence – the second town in Alaska to have a US Post Office and a notable entry in “The Milepost” – Bible for northern tourists. One aspect of the “Top of the World Highway” that appealed to me was the fact that it would take me through “Chicken.”
I buy some teeshirts for my daughters head out of the store.
I think we can all learn from “Chicken.” We may begin our lives under less than ideal circumstances; as Michael J. Fox has stated, “we all have our bag of hammers.” It might be parkinsons, diabetes, cancer, depression, schizophrenia….or a host of other illnesses; with help, determination, hard work and a willingness to take chances, we can turn adversity into advantage. If we are fortunate enough not to be seriously afflicted, we can see those who are afflicted…and care for them. Care for them by not judging them, by giving them the help they need, by helping them help themselves.
Walking back to my bike, I see the pristine GS pull into the lot. I wander over to the cookshack to see if there is any food that appeals to me but after perusing the menu, decide to pass. I make my way back to the bike, get my gear on and just as I’m about to head out, the other GS that had accompanied the pristine one back in Dawson finally shows up. Still no sign of the SUV with the wives and trailer but at least the guy’s father has finally showed up. Interesting way of “riding together” I think. I sure wouldn’t like it very much if my riding “partner” was that far ahead of me. Oh well, everyone rides their own ride.
The rain returned as I left Chicken and followed me until I approached the Canadian border at Beaver Creek approximately 320 km from Chicken. The road between the Port of Entry into the US and the Canadian border crossing ( a distance of almost 30 km) is under construction for most of the way but once I get back to the Canadian side I stop for supper before carrying on to Haines Junction.
Beaver Creek to Haines Junction is almost 300km. On a sunny clear day, apparently the waters of Kluane Lake are breath taking. Today, the snowcapped peaks are obscured behind lowhanging clouds and the diffused light leaves the lake appearing cold and grey. A cool north wind has me nearly shivering and the buffeting tosses the bike across the width of the lane at times.
Approaching Haines Junction, I catch a couple of fellow travellers. As I pass them, I am pleasantly surprised to see my friends Steve and Neil whom I seem to be running into on a regular basis. Obviously I’m travelling a little quicker than they are so I pass with a friendly beep of the horn and a wave as I pull back into the right lane ahead of them.
In Haines Junction I ride past three motels before I find one with vacancy. Neil and Steve pull in behind me and between the three of us, we get the last two rooms in town. After a long day on the road, there is much to reflect on and I know that the next day I will have to make some decisions regarding how much of an impact the weather will have on the last few days of my journey.
I'm Doug Janzen, just over half a century old, married for more than half my life and have two wonderful and beautiful teenage daughters. I've seen the devastating impact of mental illness (depression in particular) and want people to talk about these things....its an illness and nobody's fault. Lets talk about and see if we can deal with it in a helpful productive way.