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1000 Americans: Roger Johnson, Kitwanga: Good Morning, Canada!

September 17, 2008 by  
Filed under 1000 Americans

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For the First Peoples, the land is the source of Life- a Gift from the Creator. “Mother Earth” is the center of their universe, the core of their culture , the origin of their identity as a people, the provider of their material needs.

“The land cannot be given or taken away, we belong to the Land; our birth does not sever the cord of life which comes from the Land, our spirituality, our culture, and our social life depend on it”.

Respect for all life – animals, insects, plans, mountains, rivers, skies & seas are inseparably interconnected. First peoples do not consider the land merely an economic resource. Their land depends on lives, and in relationship to the environment around them. They know that the land is to be shared. If you misuse the land, you are killing yourself. Remember the earth will survive long after you’re gone.

Traditional people think the land is there for everyone to use, the way our hand is there, the grass, the trees and animals are our flesh. nature is our religion, thank the Creator for what he has given us all.”

Roger A. Johnson, 30 august 1991.

‘Nii t’am lax ooks by’, is Roger’s original Gitxsan name, meaning ‘care for the people’ as well as describing ‘a frog on a lily pad’. His generation was influenced by residential schools, church and government, making them loose their mother tongue and culture. Roger still speaks the old language and works as a interpreter in discussions and court cases between government, mining companies and the First Nation elders.

Nowadays the Gitxsan youth is depressed and suicide rate is very high.

“We can’t cry over spilt milk! We must maintain our culture and our language. We need a huge cultural center to teach our culture and language to young and old.”

While we were talking with Roger, a car drove up. A very conservatively woman stepped out and gave Roger a booklet and drove off again. The others in her car did not come out. The cover of the booklet depicted a nice drawing of a traditional Indian sky burial. But the rest of it basically said that that was nice in the old days, but against the bible and all First Nations should switch to ‘modern’ Christian values and culture…

“I remember my Grandparents often saying to me, ‘You are my cane, You are my sunshine, You are my flower”.

Roger gave me a Gitxsan First nation flag, which has been on my bike since. Then he waved us goodbye from the stairs leading up to his frontdoor. ‘Do not forget to wake up every morning, and shout to the world: Good Morning Canada!’.

(Sources: our meeting with Roger; Partly quoted from the local article ‘Wisdom of the Elders’ by Zanna Ove; Speech of Roger A Johnson transcribed by Julian Burge)

1000 Americans: Willy Williams, Stikine River ranch

September 5, 2008 by  
Filed under 1000 Americans, Friendly people

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Holly Eden from Dease Lake had told us to visit Willie if we had the opportunity.

Willie is one of those persons that can fill a documentary all by himself. We arrived late, uninvited but were welcome and spend hours talking about his history, present and future. We talk about the history of the Tahltan people and the fights with the other first nations.

We verbally travel from the horror stories of the missionaries taking the First Nation children away to religious experiences of his friends, fights about lands and property to sharing very personal stories and advice about love & life. He lets us sleep in the first house he built, filled with more memories.

Besides being the host for a yearly 3-day gospel music festival at his ranch, Willie organises horseback riding trips through the wilderness of the nearby provincial parks: Stikine River, Spatsizi Plateau & Mount Edizia. Every trip is different and some clients come back regularly.

Willie showed us a book from a german photographer, about the area, almost completely shot during the trips he guided. No website, no email. “How do you get your clients?” I asked him. “I don’t know, somehow people seem to find me”, he replied.

More than a week later we would meet Willie again, in Smithers where we also met his wonderful wife Grace. Thanks for letting us into your life for a short moment Willie, it will last much longer than just the few hours we spent together.

ps: To make it a bit easier to get a special adventure that might just change your outlook on life, call Willie or Grace Williams in BC: 250-771-4301. Trips can take anything from a few hours to a few weeks.

Day 43: 23 August: Whitemen & Indians: frying fish at the illegal potlatch

August 24, 2008 by  
Filed under Canada, Trip reports, Yukon

Hi all, apologies for not posting before, we were too busy cycling, getting fed by friendly Canadians, watching bears and visiting doctors. I wil write about all of that soon, but first as promised, our day in Champagne:

We woke up to a nice day, which means: no rain :) Before heading out towards the seductions of Whitehorse, we decided to cycle around in Champagne, which appeared to be a ghost town. We spotted some good campsites near the community hall, wondering why our ‘hosts’ had not pointed these out. Just when we were turning around to start our trip towards Whitehorse, noticed some smoke coming out of a building. We checked it out and found a few ladies cooking in a large kitchen.

‘Do you want some breakfast?’ One asked.

Letmethink-yes!

‘Sit down, you can stay for the Potlatch.’

We had no idea what the Potlatch (often called Potluck) was, but we found out during this wonderful day. It was one year ago that one elder of the Champagne-Aishihik First nation had died. Now, one year later, a spirit house was built on her grave and all friends and family came together for the celebration of this occasion and to remember her.

So during the day a row of people came into the huge community hall, from very young to very old.. We were happy that we could help out during the day. I helped making al the tables and chairs ready for 200 persons and grilled several hundred of ‘Hooligans’: some small type of fish. Ivana helped serving the people, there were many courses. We got fed ourselves as well: from Moosejaw soup to fish eggs to salad and salmon. Ivana convinced teh shy children that she could turn them into animals by painting their faces. We talked with the elders as well as the younger generations. It was all great.

I spoke a while with Yoyo, one of the elders.

‘So you can tell your friends that you were with the Indians and that they all wore feathers and such’, Yoyo remarked.

I told him that that stereotype was not my impression of the First Nation people we had met so far. He looked at me, decided that I was good and started to talk about his past.

‘You know, the younger generation cannot speak our language anymore. I am one of the last ones to speak it. Our language is lower to the ground, closer to the earth. If I forgot my gloves near a tree in a big forest 60 miles away, I could explain a friend where to look for them in a few minutes. In the high speech, this is impossible’. Read more

1000 Americans: Joe Carlson, Joy, Alaska

August 16, 2008 by  
Filed under 1000 Americans, Friendly people

Joe Carlsson and one of his many granddaughters

Joe Carlson is a wonderful person. Joe and Nancy have adopted about 15 children, which supplemented their 8 ‘homemade’ (their own description) ones. They raised all 23 kids in their homestead, which they built from scratch. He is an entertaining person, which comes in very handy when the tourbuses come in. The sale of souvenirs is his main income, so when the large buses stop in front and a few dozen of mostly grey-haired pensioners on an Alaska tour come in, he switches on his salespitch. he greets all people in their home language, talks about the store, about Alaska, gives away free coffee and sell the souvenirs. 10 minutes later everybody is gone and he switches back to his relaxed mode.

They are a great family and their story is extraordinarily. When you are in the area of Fairbanks, do go up to mile 49,5 and visit Joe and listen to their history. Get a free coffee and a cheap delicious muffin and see what you can build up if you have determination and a free spirit.

1000 Americans: Beth, from Bend, Oregon

August 15, 2008 by  
Filed under 1000 Americans

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Beth works for one of the tour companies in Alaska and visits Wiseman regularly. I noticed the tattoo aroudn her wrist: a bicycle chain with a tooth.

‘Yeah, I crashed hard one time on my bicycle and lost some teeth, this is to remind me. I run a Bicycle coop in Bend, Oregon. We try to promote cycling, repair bikes and teach about road safety.’

————-

Now there is a real biker-chick! Thanks for making the world a bit greener, maybe others can follow in promoting cycling.

Day 32-34: August 12-14 2008: Tok Cutoff to Tok: About sun, mountains, lost pants, life in a bus..

after we woke up in our church, we noticed that it was actually dry! Not only that, but the weather improved during the day. Oh, how life is so much easier with some sun. I know we will curse it later when in the heat of central America, but for now it was very welcome.

We passed quite a few roadhouses and motels, that were either closed for the season or closed altogether. Seems that the combination of higher gas prices (increasing the costs for the generators and heating) and lower number of tourists (also partly because of higher gas prices) already has put many businesses out of business. Still some smaller business like the Cappucino house at the Gakona Junction seemed to survive. Shame that most clients never leave their car and stop to talk with the friendly ladies that run the wildly decorated place. Louise warned us for the many wild bears that were on the coming stretch and showed us some photos of a bear on the side of the road that apparently was not afraid of humans at all, taken a few days before…

We had stopped for some internet at Gakona Roadhouse, a nice historic place in a beautiful setting. It was comfortable to stay there, but the late evening sun convinced us to go a bit further and so we managed to see the beautiful sunsets over the Wrangell-StElias national park, with its 2 dominant peaks (from this side) Mt Drum and Mt Stanford. Read more

Day 27-30, 7-10 Aug 2008: The Denali Highway! About rough roads, cold and more..

August 11, 2008 by  
Filed under Alaska, Friendly people, North America, Trip reports

We both had a very strong love-hate relationship with the Denali Highway. It is a bit over 200km/130mi long, but 80% of this is unpaved. Sometimes tougher than the Dalton, wilder than the Denali park road, and wetter than the Netherlands :). ladies & gentlemen, we offer you: The Denali Highway in pictures, with some words as well…

It started out ok, with some nice roads from Cantwell, but soon the gravel came back with full force. Ivana had a bad day, so I just stayed away from her; I bit on front or a bit in the back. That is usually the best thing to do, when one of us has an ‘angry day’, when all roads are terrible, the legs won’t work or rain seems to hit you every minute. I was actually enjoying this road a lot.

It was nice to be away from the main traffic again. almost no people live here, rental cars are not allowed to drive these roads and trucks have nowhere to go to here, so all cars you see are travellers or hunters. All of them wave back when we wave at them and many stop for a chat. The landscape is simply stunning: from high mountains (even though most were hidden in thick, rainy clouds) to taiga forests and age -old glaciers. We cycled through valleys, crossed big rivers, saw al kinds of wildlife and met friendly people. We got rained upon, almost froze our hands and feet, downhilled in the dark and found cyclists’ heaven, all in a few days. Almost too much to process. Pictures do not do justice, but I will share a few, together with some short stories from the road: Read more

Day 8-9, 19/20th July 2008: Wiseman – Arctic Circle. Thoughts about food, Alaska & angels..

It was time to say goodbye to Wiseman and 8-Ball, even though we could have stayed much longer. He asked us not to tell everybody he was such a nice guy, but we said that we could not do this.

Just when we were cycling out of town, we heard an engine behind us and 8-ball appeared on a small 4×4 vehicle that every Alaskan seems to have nowadays. 8-ball stopped besides me.

‘I forgot my manners. As you were going to Coldfoot for some lunch, I just thought, maybe I can make you some soup! Do you want some?’

The we did something that biketravellers normally never do: we turned him down.

‘Thanks for the offer 8-ball, much appreciated, but you already have done so much for us. We have to go.’

And off we went. The road was not as bad as we had left it 2 days before and soon we arrived in Coldfoot, the leftover from the Pipeline and mining town. Now it is mainly a truckstop, serving Alaskan-sized portions of food. as mentioned, most cyclist do not have epiphanies when cycling. The only deep thoughts that cross our minds are usually either:

  • When can we eat again? I am hungry..
  • Damn, that wind is again slowing me down, when will we get tailwind?!? Is that another rain cloud up there?
  • Should we stop for lunch now and push another mile or two?
  • 20 miles cycled today, so that is 32km, so almost 11km per hour. Seems it is time to stop for a snack, but maybe then it will take too long until dinner..
Truck lined up in Coldfoot

Truck lined up in Coldfoot

As you can see, the thoughts of a biketraveller are mostly about basic subjects: food and cycling, distance and weather. Ivana and I both admitted to eachother that we increased our speed when approaching Coldfoot, making non-stop calculations: ‘Coldfoot is at Mile 175, this is Mile 171, so 4 miles, that is 6.4km. We go 13km per hour now, so almost 30 minutes to lunch. Oh no, uphill, 40 minutes to lunch. Great going down again, only 10 minutes to lunch now.’

_MG_0031-Ivana-Pablito-Arctic-CircleSuddenly we both realised independently a horrible possibility: what if the other cyclist had come to Coldfoot before us and had already bought al the snickers bars!?! Read more

Our Favorite cycling Books

July 8, 2008 by  
Filed under

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