I met a very enthusiastic and generous man named Jim in Tok, Alaska. The miniature Canadian flag pin he gave me is still pinned to the outside of my bushwalking pack, sitting proudly next to my Keep Tassie Wild patch. Jim was a builder of mountain bike trails in his home state of Minnesota, and he was utterly thrilled to see me cycling through Alaska and the Yukon. Grinning as he inspected my bike, he exclaimed "Bikes have to be the best things man has ever invented, surely. They've been around for so long and have hardly changed in all that time." Unfortunately for Jim, his knees had suffered the brunt of countless years of mountain biking and as a result he isn't able to cycle as much as he used to. He was ecstatic to live vicariously through the experiences I'd had so far, and I'm pretty happy to ramble to anyone who'll listen.
Travelling by bike is truly different. I guess that's obvious, but after about a month I'm starting to learn how different it really is. The world is altered, and you view it through a different lens. You read maps differently, you understand the lay of the land differently, you see differently. The distance someone drives in a hour will take you the better part of a day. As Trevor from Oregon told me as we sat on the banks of the Talkeetna River a few weeks ago, "Once you tour, you'll never look at a road the same again, for the rest of your life. Every time I get to the top of the hill — even in the car — I feel like I've won some little victory."
Yesterday I rode in a car, deciding to take up the offer of a ride with Kris and Nikola from Montreal and spend the day hiking a mountain that overlooks the Taiya Inlet near Skagway, Alaska. As fate would have it, the decision was bittersweet. On the one hand, I avoided 106km of an absolutely devilish headwind. On the other I skipped a section of road that, while spectacular from the window of a car, would have been incredible on the bike. Once crossing the US border into Southeast Alaska, the road drops from 1000m above sea level the ocean in 20km of winding, steep downhill roads. Sitting in the back seat of a car with the windows up feels like a different universe. You can't feel the headwind pummeling you in the face. You can't smell the freshness of the crisp, mountain air. You can't hear the sound of rubber making contact with road. It's as if you're in a bubble. A big, mechanical, metal bubble. That's not to say it's better, or worse. It's just different.