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..
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.’
We rushed into the diner, just to see that the lunch buffet was getting cleared, but managed to get a special price for everything that was left, and we could make two sandwiches ourselves as well. We thought that our self-made ham/cheese/turkey/lettuce/tomato/onion/moreham/cheese/turkey sandwiches were a bit over the top and shamefully hid them from the eyes of the waitress. That is, until we saw the size of the meals and sandwiches they brought out for the hungry truckers, which made ours look like baby sandwiches.
We picked up our foodbag that we had dropped off on our way up, a week ago. About 5 kilos more to carry up the hills, but knowing that it was 5 kilos of Adventurefood and other treats, I happily stuffed it in my big Ortlieb bag. We made a brief visit to the beautiful Coldfoot Visitor center, with a huge globe and Pablito made some new friends (he even went hunting with a lynx!).
As it was almost my birthday, Ivana told me I could choose a book from the bookstore and she would not only buy it for me, but carry it as well. There were so many books to choose from, about Alaska wildlife, nature, and many real stories of Alaskans. I picked ‘Ordinary Wolves’ from Seth Kantner, a much-acclaimed fictional story about a boy growing up in the Arctic.
The day kept getting better as outside Coldfoot we found ourselves riding on an asphalt road again. Suddenly it felt like we had finished the Dalton Highway and that we only had to ride it out to the big city. Little did we know that in the next 4 days we would see more vertical climbing, mud and rain than in the entire previous week…
We enjoyed cycling in the late evening light. There was almost no traffic and even though there were some steep uphill climbs, they were not too long and usually followed by some nice downhills. We looked around for wildlife, but there were none to be seen; but just the fact that we were in a place that will contain bears, moose, wolves and other fauna, made it exhilarating, even without actually spotting them, we knew that we were being spotted by them all the same.
We were talking together about how we both loved Alaska. The wildlife, the people, the nature and just the general atmosphere, truly a gem of the earth. When we stopped at a public outhouse at Mile 156, I noticed a bicycle and a hammock, we had found the other biketravellers again! Though we had planned to ride at least a few hours more, we stopped and caught up on stories. They had spent a full day at Coldfoot, nourishing themselves. It was nice to talk with kindred souls again and we talked about all things cycling until the last wood on our campfire had turned to coal..
Angels at the arctic circle
The next day we were up early again, the others enjoy to sleep even more than we do. The road was great, but the hills started to get longer and steeper. On a bike with full loads, a 250m vertical climb is long, especially if it is followed by another one. Still we were feeling strong, the rest day in Wiseman had revived some strength. As I go faster on down- and uphills I went ahead to the next meeting point. Actually it was more like a meeting line, as we had arrived at the Arctic Circle. This virtual circle at 66 degrees North is the place where the sun does not set for a full day on June 21st and does not rise for a full day on December 21st. There is no line on the road, but there is a sign where you can take a photo to prove you had made it.
While I was waiting for Ivana to show up, some tourists arrived. I offered to take a picture of them together and then asked them for some water. I had not seen any stream nearby and we had planned to make some dinner here, before cycling a few hours more. The guys did not have water, but gave me a bottle of cranberry juice instead, which was not good for cooking, but by body appreciated it nevertheless.
1000 Americans: Tom and Dan, angels in disguise
A few moments later another van pulled up, almost simultaneously with Ivana. Ivana looked at me in panic:
‘Have you seen the next hill? It is vertical! I do not want to go on..’ She showed me a picture of the road ahead, which did look vertical indeed.
The guys in the car were very interested in our bikes and our trip. Tim had just come back from serving in Iraq and Dan was a good friend and a chaplain who had promised to take Tim on a road trip to Prudhoe Bay when he would come back, to clear his mind. We talked about the beauty of Alaska and our plans.
When we said our destination was Argentina, their eyes opened wide. Always one of the first questions is how we support ourselves, though Dan rephrased it somewhat:
‘So, how can you just step out of life for two years?’ he asked me.
‘I like to think of it as stepping into life…’ I replied.
When we asked them for water so we could prepare some food, they replied unexpectedly.
‘Do you want some food? Wait, we will make you some dinner. You choose what you want and we will prepare it for you.’
We looked at eachother. Were we dreaming? But before we could say much, they had opened up the ski-box and the van and dragged out several big boxes of food and other goodies. Dan fired up his gas stove and prepared us some well-filled Campbell’s soups while offering us sweet Alaskan beer and jalapeno-flavoured chips. Meanwhile Tim had gone into the woods and came back with a large stack of firewood and soon we had a nice warm fire going, chasing away the bugs. To top it all off, Tim brought out a big spicy chorizo sausage, which we roasted on the fire. Though my B-day was still a few hours away, it felt I already had received all my gifts and I was in the middle of a great party, organized by 2 angels. We talked about life, religion, Alaska.
Suddenly they noticed that they were late and as they wanted to dip into the Arctic Ocean the next day, they had to rush. They made us take another few cans of soup as well as a big jar of delicious peanut butter and headed off.
When Ivana was heading off for a moment, Dan walked over to me and gave me two things. The first was a book containing bible quotes about war: Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Christ’s Teachings About Love, Compassion and Forgiveness, by by Wendell Berry.
I had already told him that I was not religious, when he had asked if I though that all the beauty of Alaska just had appeared or that it was made by a creator. He respected that I thought it had just appeared, though it took a few billion years to evolve to its current state.
Though I have never read the bible in such detail, I did read the book during rest stops the following days, out of respect for Dan and his kindness. The small book and specifically the introduction was excellent, but for a wrong audience. It is meant for people who call themselves Christians, but use the bible to defend the war-politics, while the bible is full of quotes opposing this.
What I noticed with interest that all quotes were completely logical to me. I have never been taught any biblical thoughts and do not believe in an afterlife or a higher being, but all of the quoted sayings were completely common sense to me. I realized that by travelling around the world, talking to people from all classes, religions, colours & genders, I had probably learned more than years of sunday school can teach any person just stuck in his or her hometown. Enlightened by travelling, maybe Jesus, Mohamed, Shiva & Buddha were travellers?
For me, religion is the distance between what man perceives and what he understands. If you see the world as a global citizen while taking personal responsibility, you can rise above the short-term goals and shortsightedness of daily life and local cultures and religions and see the world as a greater total. No need to be stuck into hard-to-break frames made of age-old thoughts that do no longer fit the current world. No need to move responsibility from a personal one to a higher being. Most Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist & Hindu values are the same and generally good, but you do need to study books with similar spirited people as you will limit yourself. If you just take the time to look around you and meet other people and cultures, you will see these ‘values’ are universal and the basis of life everywhere. They can be noticed and deducted easily as long as you still have an open mind.
That said, the book is great for anybody supporting any war on religious grounds, whether Christian, Jewish or Muslem (somehow the Hindus and Buddhists seem to be less bloodthirsty nowadays). And if somebody has no moral values to start with, the Bible or Koran are fine boks to start with, but do see their limits by travelling beyond what they describe, both in time and space..
The other thing he gave me was a ring. Not just any ring, but one that we had admired during dinner: the ring that controls all others, the Lord of the Rings ! We had told him that I had proposed to Ivana on the summit of Kilimanjaro, a few weeks before, but that we did not have any rings yet (I had proposed with a carabiner). I told him that I could not accept it, but he insisted that I should have it to give to Ivana. Later that night, when the other cyclists also appeared, I gave it to her, but it was to big for any finger, so now I am carrying it myself, until I meet another special person like Dan and Tim, to pass it on to..
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