Traveling by bike can be joyfully simple or insanely complicated. The reality oscillates between these two poles on a minute-by-minute and day-to-day basis, especially when you are travelling as a family of four in the wilderness. It takes some time to settle into a new routine and really get rolling - about 1500 km in our case.
Week 1: Apprehension and Adjustment
Riding from the most northerly roadhead in Canada as a young family was daunting and more often than not overwhelming. In our first week, apprehension arose with each new challenge: the voracious bugs, heavily loaded bikes on looming ascents, hard-hitting squalls on the exposed tundra, or oppressive heat in calm clear conditions under a 24-hour sun.
Day 6 was pivotal. I nearly gave up on the entire nine-month project (to ride from the Arctic to Mexico along the Continental Divide as a family). The climb ahead looked impossible under a stiff headwind that tore across the heights of the Continental Divide. If that wasn't enough there was our load of people and gear that made every incline hard. Saddled - literally and physically - with the weight of my responsibilities as a parent, I could barely breath let alone pedal. I was ready to quit. But when I turned around for a glimpse back, I was met with smiles and encouragement from both kids. Of her own volition, eight-year-old Ava Fei said what I've often cheered when things get tough, “We're doing it!”
How could I quit after that?
Week 2: Embracing the North
As we edged into the second week of travel on the tough gravel of the Dempster Highway, we started to experience more successes than stresses. We embraced the North. The bugs were less constant and our loads more manageable. Our friend Olav Falsnes kindly dropped off ice cream and fresh fruit for the kids on his way past. He even assisted us with water on a 120 km dry section where fire threatened to close the road and other cyclists were pulling the pin due to heat stroke. Acts of kindness from locals and passing motorists helped build our confidence - eating caribou stew given freely by a native elder transcends most any hardship.
On day 11 things clicked for the first time. With a cool day and favorable winds, we edged through the fire that had closed the road, and bee-lined through a 50 km stretch where an aggressive grizzly had been sighted. We even rode an extra 40 km with a tale-wind to reach a hidden campsite and well-deserved rest day on the banks of the Ogilvie River. Watching the kids build fairy houses and throw rocks in the river, I started to feel the contentment that is a constant for me on these wilderness trips.
Week 3: The Beginnings of Confidence
Riding the 520 km between Dawson City and Whitehorse, we started to feel a burgeoning confidence between rain showers. When the skies finally cleared after four rainy days, our progress on some pavement felt inspiring for the first time of the trip. Our home-grown peloton started to really move and we all felt strong when we could maintain a 25 km/hr pace for a good stretch. It takes some work to get three bikes to shift in unison and for the kids to communicate all that is going on as we roll down the road, but we are refining our systems and feeling better each day.
It doesn't hurt that there are a few amenities in this stretch too. We are carrying less food and stopping to enjoy an occasional treat along the road. It is amazing how a couple of cinnamon buns the size of your head can keep you going for a couple of hours of hard pedaling!
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Wish us well on our journey!
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The Clark Family: Dan, Alice, Koby, and Ava Fei
Cycling has been part of our life since our kids were born. When they were babies, cycling provided us a time-crunched workout between diaper changes. But these were solitary missions, not family adventures. Our cycling took on a new dimension in 2014 when we left our home and jobs and flew to the tip of South America for our first bike trip as a family. During our eight-month ride, north along the Andes of Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia we discovered the freedom that bikes and an open itinerary allow. We experienced the peace and solitude of roads less traveled, strengthened our family bonds, and were welcomed into a larger family of cyclists from around the world - our “Familia Ciclista.”