Episode 2 – The Last Frontier
The Alcan is still the only road that connects, links the last frontier, the wildness, the far North with the "conquest" lands.
I someone like us who comes from the safe and comfortable Europe to see, to experience the way that Nature sets the rules so strongly to those few o that were brave enough to settle down around the Alcan. The way they cope with the almost endless Winters and Wildlife around them it is inspiring. In some conversations we had with locals it came up the idea, the feeling of being small, fragile against the Nature and how they have to learn how to survive in the Woods. Yes in the Woods that is where most of them live fully surrounded by an endless forest that covers everything that your eyes can reach to see. I have never seen something like that before I came to the North. The idea of being in one of the biggest "lungs" of the Planet Earth is unique and also a bit frightening for someone like us that we are not used to with the Nature face to face.
The image that comes to my mind is the 4 Elements, when I try to describe the Alcan
The biggest rivers I have ever seen in my life not even in my dreams, they are not just massive but wild, uncontrolled, you can really see that the water goes wherever it wants and there is no way for humans to "tamed" those rivers, when you get closer to any of those rivers and you see as we did the strength, the power of the current, the white water "roaring" dragging any tree does not matter how big it would be that attempt to grow too close their water.
It comes to my mind this place where we stopped to have some lunch and we found that river pass with a piece of land in the middle of the river and how the water was "eating" everything that was on its way, huge trees lying on the water, trapped between rapids. Waiting to be released from one rapid to the next. The strong feeling of fear while holding ourselves against a rock where we were standing, thinking if I fall down into the river that is it! No way I can survive and this feeling made me to understand a bit more the connection with Nature around me.
The forest and the animals they live on it, it is already two months we have already been here and it still surprise me all the time the idea of being surrounded by Wildlife ,some of the animals could be fatal if We have a bad encounter with them. For the first time in my life I had and still I do the feeling of fear when I'm walking in the Woods, when I'm looking for a place to camp, and it is something totally new for us, back home when I have been camping in the back country there is nothing can be dangerous but be cold or wet at night nothing else.
Having bicycle as a transport makes you tune in very much with the natural speed of the forest and makes you able to see every single meter of it and we have learnt from that a lot, our fear has reduced and our knowledge and respect for it has grown. The first time you see a bear by the road you flip out. We did not know what to do, everything we read about how to deal with a bear was gone, but bear by bear you learn what signs you need to look for. Do they have caps with them, if so where are they next to the mother bear or far away? You really don't want to be between them or you can be in serious troubles. With some other animals we has just to try to cope I am talking about mosquitoes and for someone who has not been in Alaska or North of Canada you do not know what a mosquito look like over here. They are huge!!! They are millions!!! And they love blood!!! It doesn't matter what you try to avoid them, what stuff you put on you they are waiting with patience until the mosquito repellent stop working or a bit of your skin is uncovered between the layers of your cloth or this tinny hole you have forgotten to zip up in the tent. They have made us crazzy!!!
I was born and grew up in a very dry place where we don't have hardly any forest, and to see how the Planet may looked like in the past before we cut down most of the forest, it has been something very magic. The gloom of life, the vast variety of plants and trees covering it everything it is the opposite of those small patches of green that you get in parks, along the street dividing the traffic lines, they look like islands on a Ocean of concrete that is unfortunately the way it looks back home. For us go to the countryside is very much mountains covered with few pines, olive trees and some lucky places they still have some bits of old forest, the rest is just Mediterranean bush. After what I saw here my idea of what a forest is has changed radically.
The next element is Fire, keep us close to the forest e over here fire is very much a way that the Nature controls the growth of the forest to keep it young and healthy. It was so surprising that in Summer huge, vast areas of forest are burnt out every year cause by lightning storms and how the local authorities wisely let the Nature to do its job, just intervening in the case that the fire could be a risk for the communities nearby. The fire for some pine species is the way of reproduce and also the way that many of the poor soils over here can be enriched again with nutrients to keep it fertile.
The last element and perhaps the most important while cycling is the Wind and the Alcan has been wild with that I don't know if normally is as windy as it has been for us, but most of the time we have cycled with head winds, specially up in the mountains or through Valleys or close to Glaciers, sometimes with winds up to 45-50 km. Perhaps the most windy day was at the Kluane Lake, due to the huge glacier that made this lake long ago there is a permanent wind blowing from the East-South to the North -East and that was our way, frustrating, tiring, all those miles uphill. It was a real test for us a reminder of how small we are and how influence by the Outside so the nightmare turned into an excellent, vital lesson as a cyclist.