Spending 5 to 6 hours a day pedaling gives me time to think. Heading toward Alaska from Southern California, one of those recurring thoughts has been, “Am I in The North yet?”
Surely, crossing the border into Canada means that I’m now in The North, right? Except that Vancouver is right across the border from Seattle. It has the same mild, wet winters thanks to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean.
Continuing on, I eventually start noticing electrical outlets at individual parking spaces. An RV park operator tells me that she grew up in The North but lived in Vancouver for several years. Vancouverites would ask why her car had an electrical plug in the front. Is it an electric car? No, she would laugh, that is an engine block heater. At extreme cold temperatures, batteries get so cold and oil gets so thick that engines can’t start.
Solar panels for remote monitoring stations and even some buildings are mounted at a 90° angle to catch the winter sun when it is just a few degrees above the horizon. In the lower 48 states, the optimal tilt for solar panels to get the most energy in winter is around 60° (year-round it’s about 30° but even 0° is feasible).
The mosquito situation escalates from “they’re a nuisance when you camp near water” to “they attack in swarms any time your speed drops below 10 kph.” Good thing I brought a head net.
When asking about camping options, locals tell you, “You can camp anywhere. Nobody’s going to bother you.” Highway rest areas no longer have signs prohibiting overnight stopping and camping. In fact, the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center uses the wording, “Along the Dalton Highway, feel free to pull off and camp anywhere along the road.” Bike touring heaven.
Road hazard signs start including the words “frost heaves.” These speed bumps are bad news for RV drivers. Mostly a non-issue at cycling speeds.
The people in the campsite next to you arrive
in a float plane. Yukon Territory and Alaska
have many small communities that can only be
reached by plane. Small bush planes are
The tallest plants all the way out to the horizon barely reach up to your knees because you are now in the tundra. This makes hanging your food bag in a tree to keep it away from bears rather difficult. Creative solutions are needed. I hang my bag from a bridge one night and stash it in the back of bear-proof trash containers several times.
Bridges are built with wood decks because steel and concrete expand and contract too much to survive the extreme range from hottest summer to coldest winter.
I get up in the middle of the night, miles from the nearest human settlement. There’s a faint glow on the horizon. Could it be…? I pull out my iPhone, snap a photo and it comes out looking like this. Ok, now I’m definitely in The North.
5 Replies to “Signs That You Are in The North”
Great update Mark. So glad you got to meet Myles and Willow O’Brien, truly some of the nicest folks in the North country. Great pictures and stories to go with them. I hope you had nice pedaling weather while going around Kluane Lake, one of my favorite stretches of highway. Safe travels. Rob Barbour, Williamsport, PA
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Hi Rob. Yes, Myles and Willow are amazing. It was difficult to leave Whitehorse.
Kluane Lake was certainly my coldest lake dip but the scenery was worth it.
That ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ photo at the top of this page kind of says it all, but you do a nice job of filling in the details. Thanks for including the mosquito details — makes me feel good about having no urge to follow in your footsteps.
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Thanks, HJ. There’s a bit more story to what it took to capture that photo but I’m saving that for the next update about Alaska and the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay.
Currently en route to Sydney!
Its been a while since your last update, hope all is well and the Australia trip was entertaining. Have enjoyed traveling vicariously via your blog and it would appear that your every bit as good a cameraman as you are an engineer. Talent, it would appear, is not dolled out equally.