There's only three things that can get me off trail: the death of a loved one, a broken bone, or it's time to start my very own family. Well folks, it looks like my route is taking a new direction. Come mid March, I'm going to have a baby boy accompanying me on this journey of life. Couldn't be more excited for this change of course, so freaking excited to bring some beautiful life into our precious little world. Dad's on board to continue the trip down South... it just might look a little different from before.
Back in California, my buddy told me about Dawson City when I mentioned I would be riding through the Yukon. His band played at their summer festival a few years back and said it was a destination not to miss. Yup... He was right.
What a beautiful downhill ride down into town. I bumped into Christina at the free ferry, a fellow cyclist solo for a week while her boyfriend explores the North. Since he had her tent and I was desperate for a shower, we agreed to share a room for the night. The young charming Swiss German owner of the Bunkhouse made all the arrangements for us to have an extended stay in this little slice of paradise. If you're passing through Dawson, the Bunkhouse is where you want to be... clean, affordable rooms with lots of coffee and excellent company.
Ueli and friends took us out to all the bars in town, including the infumous Diamond Tooth Gertie's where we gambled away a round of beer money but managed to leave with our dignity. The next day we canoed down the Klondike River, floating with otters and eating lunch with eagles. A dream come true. I'm so thankful for the generosity and hospitality Dawson City showed me. My heart and belly are so full they both just might explode. A real shame I couldn't stay for the music festival, but this lady is always on the go.
My dear Tomasz flew out to Fairbanks bought a bike and joined me for a 3 week tour of Alaska. This trip was better than anything I could have imagined. We rode through Denali National Park, across the Denali Highway, down to Valdez, ferried over to Whittier and hitched up to Palmer before he flew back to the cement society of New York City.
Our first 7 miles on the road together and we found an excellent excuse to stop... a gin distillery, with vodka tastings! A few more hours and Skinny Dick's opened up special just for us. Stories of the bush over beers to learn why "global warming is a farce." Next came Healy, we arrived at midnight just in time to camp next to the Euphoria Rave, music blaring til 5 am. Any other day this would be great, but bikers need their rest! Sharpie lived in town and offered his beautiful home for an extra day of sleep. He shared wine and stories of working graveyard shift while spotting Halley's Comet during an Alaskan winter's night. 92 miles down the park road, one small tumble, 3 grizzlies, caribou, and a perfect view of Mount Denali. The park was beautiful, but we both agreed that riding the Denali Highway was a much more special secluded treat. Bard and his camper were parked at a vista and offered up several beers and warm company... he's a bus driver in the park and remembered seeing our giddy grinning faces riding down the rode a few days back. Rain came and so did the lineup of lodges! It was 4th of July weekend and the Alpine Creek Lodge hosted an open party with free food and a live band. Five burgers later when we were getting ready to go, it started pouring and the owner offered up a room to stay. A few hours later, I won the raffle, complimentary food and a room good anytime this year! Rain and mud, struggles and smiles! The best potato bacon soup of my life. Alaskan Ali from miserable Missouri smiled sweeter than sugar as she was going to announce her engagement that night... followed by crazy Marianne who learned to curse and drink as a grandmother and wasn't afraid to use her gun. Perfect camp site by the glacier fed river on our way over Thompson Pass. Then, our Warm Shower's host Jeremy in Valdez and his delicious salmon dinner. A ferry ride through the sound and a lovely Mormon family adopted us, offering their beautiful home as refuge for Tom's last day in the state.
It's the first time a partner joined me on my journey and I'm so happy to learn I don't have to do it alone. Tomasz has traveled the world and I felt honored to share my style of camping across a country with this great man. I have a million memories from our time spent together. I'm keeping them tucked away deep in my heart for the long, cold, lonely nights. I can't thank you enough, my dear for making Alaska so special.
Today was not going to be like yesterday.
I can't remember ever feeling so weak... I barely made it 17 miles, all my energy forced into the each pedal up the cold wet hill as I got closer to the border on The Top Of The World Highway. An old Neil Young looking man with grey braids and a rusty truck stopped to ask if I was ok, as he saw my swerving tire tracks for miles in the mud. He said I looked tired, offered me water and told me I would make it... pavement was just a few klicks ahead and there was a little pullout I could camp at. Slept like a baby and woke up ready to fight.
Border Patrol must have given me the momentum I needed this morning, because I flew through the ridge top hills like a wild child on speed. About 7 hours into the day, I saw the biggest black cloud headed straight towards me. Confronted with a choice, fear or fight. I screamed to the storm with full lung capacity, "YOU'RE NOT GOING TO GET ME!" Fist punching into the air commanding her to dissipate. I never rode so fast in my life. There were only four cars out here today, and I surely must have been a sight. I was in full battle mode, with a warrior look strewn across my face. I out-pedaled her, oh boy did I! Each earthquake rumbling thunder bang moving me faster into the night. Camped with a pink sunset at 11:48. I could have felt sorry for my self, sluggish, cold and questioning why I came out here alone... but not today, I chose to give it my all and slept with a heart full of delight!
My father is a special man. He has shown me so much love and support for my silly little ideas from the very start. When I wanted to play baseball with the boys, he coached the team.
I know it can't be easy, seeing me continually leap off into the unknown, but he's always understood that I needed to go. I asked him if he was worried about this trip before I left, thinking that it might be 3 years before I return... his biggest concern was that I would become too self-absorbed and forget how to be a great citizen of humanity, forget to do selfless acts for others. Thank you. Thank you for keeping me honest and my heart on the right path.
Before dropping me off at the airport, he made a comment that had me questioning my whole plan. " I understand all your other trips, but I don't really know why you are doing this, Ashley." I didn't want to tell him at the time, but I wasn't sure, either. I had just donated all my worldly possessions, dedicated to the goal. Around the world on a bicycle and now I don't even know why.
Riding across the snow capped mountains of the Brooks Range, seeing the newly blossoming purple-yellow-white wildflowers with their lovely pollinators the golf ball sized bees, tasting the delicious fresh mountain crisp air, pushing myself up and over the countless gravel hills in burning sun and pounding hail... everything became clear. This is why I'm doing it. This is why I'm here.
The indescribable beauties of this world cannot be understood unless you get out and see it for yourself. The kindness of strangers is hard to feel unless you vulnerably expose yourself to new cultures and experiences. I am so incredibly full of gratitude today. I'm so glad I listened to my instinct and had faith it would all work out. Thank you Dad, for believing in me and never showing any doubt.
Moving South across a chunk of land is a magical thing. You witness so much change down these lines of latitude... weather, plants, animals, people and behavior. It's a male dominated region, where I started. There is this recognizable leather to the skin... thick facial hair, too, making eyes pierce beautifully with a sense of wild and carefulness. People look after one another in a way I haven't experienced before. Survival. Roadkill doesn't stick around as long up North. Every animal for itself. Survival. I remember the first piece of green crossing the tundra. The first wildflower, too. I survived the first 500 miles alone on my bike. Several thousand more to go.
Flying into Deadhorse, I thought of all the ways I could get myself out of what I was about to do. I was scared. Terrified.
Prudhoe Bay, population 35 with a windchill of 7. A beautiful place to learn how to ride a bicycle. I want to see so much of this world, so why not start at the very top? Well, I can give you 72 reasons why not, to be exact. How about this little fact: the "road" isn't designed for bikes, or even better, permafrost tundra isn't designed for roads. There's a bed of styrofoam insulation laid under a raised gravel mound keeping the route from cracking, freezing, thawing and crumbling. Trucker after trucker hauling in more styrofoam rolls. A constant construction zone. The road doesn't end at a quaint picturesque town on the Arctic Sea, it ends at an oil extraction site built to move hundreds of thousands of gallons of this crude sulphur rich money maker across the great state of Alaska. Oh, but there is something still very romantic about this starting point. It's a place very few have ever seen.
Craig ferried me across the construction zone, passing a herd of muskox and caribou to my drop off spot. On my own, no way out, taking each gravel hill one inch at a time. I began this trip in 27 degree sideswiping snow. A few hours later and 3 grizzly bears got close enough to say hello! Day one and I made my mileage, camped on the side of the road. 24 hours of light. Pure exhaustion and the sorest thighs of my life. I just laid in my tent like a mummy looking straight up for an hour, unable to move, and too scared to cook as it might attract some unwelcome guests.
I woke up...11pm, 4am, 8am... who knows, it's all the same. Day two, and it's as sunny as can be. No more need for my winter layers, and I'm feeling more confident and stronger with each mile. According to my own calculations, I hit 45 mph on the downhill, too bad I can't confirm this since my new bike computer isn't functioning. So much love and support from the truck drivers, security workers and tourist. They handed me water, fruit and encouraging words, it really made my day. I'm starting to feel all right out here, starting to believe in myself while leaving most of my fears at bay.
I am so incredibly frustrated with myself for not finding the time to blog about my Hayduke Hike, as I have already set out on yet another adventure. You see, I'm in Alaska now, sitting behind a computer at a hostel trying to quickly summarize my experience from several months before. Last fall, I hiked all but one brutal section of this 850ish mile route. This was probably the most beautiful experience of my life so far. Sure, I say that often, but I am telling you the truth. I am forever changed after spending a few months alone in Utah and Arizona.
Luckily, I kept a daily journal (now safely stored with Dad back in California) and will one day write a better account of this journey. For now, here are some of my favorite memories. I only pitched my tarp twice in over a two month stretch since the weather was so good... no issues with snakes or spiders, thank you. I saw my first narrow, shimmied up and down my first chimney, maneuvered through some tough rock climbing moves alone and learned how NOT to lower a 50lbs pack with shoe string size rope because it will slice your hand skin wide open. I carried 20 lbs of water at one time, and luckily never went dry. I thought the desert would be desolate, but found it full of life. I studied the stars each night with my little astronomy text book and can identify almost all the constellations in the November Utah sky. Hippie Longstockings, Bug and Mud all joined me for short parts of this journey. I met each of them on the PCT back in 2014 and was honored to reunite.
Here are some of my favorite photos that I hope will inspire you to explore this amazing region.
I took the 1:30 ferry back to mainland Iceland and made my way to the darling village of Vík. Camped in a parking lot tourist hub of tents and fell asleep to the sweet lullaby sound of cars racing down the Ring Road. There must be at least one hundred others here, surrounded by people, but no one says hello. Woke up for the sunrise. Pinks, oranges and purples bouncing off the sea. Up the coastal mountain, down to the black sand beach of divinity. I made an attempt to climb a cliff and reach the lighthouse, unsuccessfully.
Onward to Skógafoss, the spectacular cascade Apple Computer uses as a screensaver. I hiked over the people and continued past one hundred more equally stunning waterfalls until the sun set. Pitched my tent way off trail, not something I can condone in a permitted park, but I just needed to be alone. For my final day, someone sent me perfect weather. Put on my shorts to cross a rock solid ice cap in the early morning light. What do you know, a friendly arctic fox joined the trail to say hello.... or maybe he really meant goodnight?
Today, I completed my Iceland Traverse. I walked from the Northern Most point to the very South. I hiked it alone. There's something anticlimactic about this finish line. I can't pretend to be excited or feel overwhelmed. I saw a beautiful country and I proved to myself that I am just fine out here, all on my own.
I made it to þórsmörk by 10:00 am. Sour... Search and Rescue told me I wouldn't be able to continue on to Skógar. They picked 6 people off the mountain, two seriously injured, 1 hypothermic. Zero visibility and furious winds. I tried to explain where I had just come from and that I'm not a regular tourist. I tried to convince them I was a "professional hiker" who only had 15 miles to complete her solo traverse of this beautiful land; 15 miles which would take me roughly 5 hours. Maybe if I spoke in kilometers they would understand? No problem. Safety first. I'll come up with another plan.
I downed 3 beers for $30 while waiting for a bus to take my deflated soul to the closest town. I looked at the map and found Iceland's REAL southernmost point: the Westman Islands. Jumped on a ferry to ride out the storm. It seemed silly to sit for several days in my cold wet tent, eating ramen in the overpriced camping lot. What a genius idea!
Wellcome to the land of Puffins! I'm sure most people who set off to Iceland are aware that these beautiful creatures inhabit the lands, but I only had 10 days to plan my traverse. What a glorious shock to stumble upon a breeding cliff. Oh me, oh my, it's beautiful here. Wonderful. Superb. A dream. I'm so happy I listened to my little heart and followed its direction. What a gift this mini storm detour is turning out to be.
On August 18, in my tiny island cabin, I had an eureka moment, a new life goal: I know what comes next, I'll circumnavigate the globe! I couldn't sleep that night, writing out a million thoughts, plans, ideas and concerns. Who knows when I will be able to start this trip or how I can make it come true, the only thing I can say for certain is that it will happen, OH BABY I PROMISE YOU! The sun returned the next morning, and I took a ferry back to finish my hike.