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Skiing in retirement
25th Jun 2018 - 29th Jun 2018 - North American Epic 2018
Staying safe in bear country part 2

The Haines Highway.
Many people have assured us the 150 mile Highway is “awesome”, “gorgeous”, etc. The road climbs above the treeline into alpine tundra above 3,000ft at mile 90. There are 3 campgrounds in the first 50 miles then….not much till Haines.

But we are in no hurry as we have exceeded our 35 mile a day average target. This allows us to pass a leisurely day in Haines Junction, taking in the excellent visitor centre, village bakery, convenience store (expensive), and transferring to the Happy Wanderer hostel to pitch the tent. We meet other happy wanderers and find very decent Greek-style food at the somewhat inappropriately named Guys and Dolls bistro.

We have devised a plan for overnight stops on the Highway which requires just 16 miles on the first leg to Kathleen Lake campground. The wind is churning white horses on the lake, but the white spruce provide good protection in the camp which is clean with outhouses (aka long-drop dry toilets), a supply of water (treat before using) and bear-proof food storage. With sunshine and no bugs we are safe and sound.

The highway is smooth and fast, were it not for a brisk headwind and rising gradient when we head out early the next day to make it to Million Dollar Falls camp at mile 53 of the Highway by early afternoon. There are just a handful of other campers in small RVs, so we have our pick of sites. There's no water other than in the river - which we gather and filter to remove everything down to 1 micron in size. That takes care of dirt, dead insects, bacteria and most viruses.

With no food outlets of any sort on the Haines Highway we are carrying four days of one-pot and instant food. Oatmeal with honey and olive oil for breakfast, tortilla wraps with peanut butter or processed cheese and olive oil for lunch, instant rice/pasta/potato based hot food with olive oil for supper. Good job we like olive oil. We also get through quite a few energy bars: Clif and Larabar are favourite: they involve quite a lot of peanuts. It's not meant to be a balanced diet. It's all about calories. 240 in an enery bar; 140 in a tortilla wrap: loads in peanut butter and cheese and oodles per ounce of oil.

There are no recognised campgrounds, nor any other facilities in the next 100 miles. But just before the pass, we have heard, there is a one-room hut. Known as the green shack, it's available to any traveller on a first-come, first-served basis. Our luck is in as we are the first-comers today. The shack is a bit like a Scottish mountain bothy in concept. There are bunks for 3, a stove with logs, table. 1 chair. It's enough. The bonus is the adjacent outhouse.

Steven tries to get in touch with his inner Bear Grylls by hefting a large and sharp axe. He succeeds only in nearly chopping off his right foot. Now that would have been interesting. But it's only a glancing blow that barely breaks the skin. He then manages to bury the axe head deep into a log and has to saw it loose. Bear Grylls it ain't. But soon order is restored and we pass a comfortable night without further incident.

We are in low cloud over the pass the next morning so don't really take on board the vaunted alpine scenery. But it looks not so different from bits of Scotland. Once over the top we are quickly back into forest: taller and denser than the forest on the other side. And as we swoop rapidly down towards the US border we at last have an encounter of the ursine kind.

Pretty much everyone we have spoken to has at least one bear story. How they've seen a bear, been chased by a bear, hunted a bear, eaten a bear, driven into a bear (actually not that one). One fellow even told how his friend when attacked, killed a bear with his skinning knife; I believe that one. Yep, everyone has a bear story. Except us. 3 weeks on the road in bear country, sometimes for 10 hours a day, and no bear story. Unless seeing piles of scat on the road is much of a story. And we have seen piles.

But now we too have a story. A story of how Steven nearly rode into the back of Debs who had stopped dead on her tracks. Of how an adult chestnut-coloured black bear ambled out of the woods about 50 yards ahead, glanced in our direction, then wandered a few yards along the side of the road before disappearing back into the woods. Of how we failed to observe correct protocol of talking quietly to the bear, while reaching for the bear spray that we each keep ready at hand, supposedly, on the front right pannier. But that, at least, is our first bear story. (Spoiler alert: there are others).

5 miles on we exit Canada and re-enter USA. We hear tell of unpleasantness at US entry points, but our man is as nice as pie. Asks how long, etc., etc., are we carrying produce, etc., etc., and would we like to use the restroom and refill our water bottles? Then, with the obligatory command to “enjoy the rest of your day” completing the border formalities, we are back in the US of A.

It's 40 miles to Haines and barely after noon, so we don't doubt we will be there by evening. En route is 33 Mile Roadhouse, famous for burgers, it says on the sign outside; so that's what we do. The first burgers since arriving. Honestly.

The road in to Haines is easy and pleasant along tree-lined river banks that remind us somewhat of Blighty - but bigger, of course. The headwind is pesky, but tolerable. Unlike the lady at the road construction works whose only job is to drive the truck that escorts traffic single file through the works. We are too slow for the convoy so are required to de-pannier and hoist bikes and all into the back of the truck, getting covered in road gravel dust in the process. While driver lady just watches. All set to go, the 2 way radio announces that work has finished for the day and we have to demount and continue on our merry way. Not happy. Especially not happy with manual handling risks, so Debs profers wise counsel on the potential damages that the construction company’s procedures carry. Humpf.

Hey-ho, we arrive a bit dusty and dishevelled, with nowhere booked for the night. So, into the Fogcutter Bar for a quick pint and use of wifi. Only to discover that the wheel may have come off the wagon.

Next: In which we put the wheel back on the wagon
Previous: Staying safe in bear country part 1

Diary Photos
25th Jun 2018  Kluane Lake, Yukon
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25th Jun 2018  Kluane National park
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25th Jun 2018  Catholic (Nissan hut )church Haines Junction
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25th Jun 2018  Greek restaurant Bus at Haines Junction
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25th Jun 2018  Flags still flying at Kluane RV park, Haines Junction
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26th Jun 2018  Happy Wanderer, Haines Junction with one happy wanderer and tent just visible
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26th Jun 2018  Haines Junction where we leave the Alaskan Highway from Anchorage and take the Haines Highway to.....
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26th Jun 2018  Kathleen Lake
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27th Jun 2018  Dezedeash Lake. Dezedeash means windy. It was.
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27th Jun 2018  Where we stopped to let a full antlered bull moose cross just in front
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28th Jun 2018  Million Dollar falls campground
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28th Jun 2018  Above the tree line on the way to the pass, Haines Highway
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29th Jun 2018  Not Bear Grylls!
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29th Jun 2018  The green shack, rear of pic: outhouse in foreground
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29th Jun 2018  Yukon frontierswoman at green shack
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29th Jun 2018  Reading the green shack visitor log. The shack has been in use since 1974
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29th Jun 2018  There be flies
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29th Jun 2018  Goldilocks waking in the Green Shack. (No Bears though)
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29th Jun 2018  Salmon fishing wheel
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