an expedition to
A solo journey by bicycle from Lisbon to Labrador. Starting at the farthest West point of Europe and going to the farthest East point in North America. From the Atlantic ocean in Portugal, the trip will skirt the Mediterranean, Black, and Caspian seas. The route then crosses steep mountain ranges and through the vast open steppes of Central Asia. The most difficult challenge will be heading into the uninhabited reaches of Siberia and Alaska in winter. The path then crosses the interior of Canada before finally ending back on the shores of the Atlantic. An epic human powered journey to connect the people of the world using the power of the bicycle.
Date: March 11th, 2017
No flights to Wales today either.
Date: March 9th, 2017
I spent this morning figuring out Plan B and Plan C. I was able to find some of the people in town who know the trails on a snow machine. I was on the correct trail to Wales yesterday, which is good to know, but the snow has pretty much covered any old tracks I could have found. I was also trying to find someone who would take my bike and me out there on a snow machine as that would hopefully pack a decent trail (once on the way out and once on the way back). Sadly, most of the folks who would be interested in that are heading east this weekend to go hunting so I would have to wait until Monday. I also asked about the trail along the coast, but I was told that doesn't exist. At least, no one goes that way because the sea ice is too rough. That kills that option.
Plan C I worked on in the afternoon. I was calling the local airlines to see if there were any flights from here to Wales. It turns out that Bering Air and Ravn do daily flights along this route from Nome, with stops at Teller, Brevig Mission, and Wales if needed. Unfortunately, Wales was all socked in with weather. There were no flights that were going out there today. They didn't know about tomorrow either. That meant that I was stuck, at least for today.
Things weren't so bad, though. At the school they were having Eskimo Dancing and it was fun to watch that. The kids were great and wanted me to dance even though I'm a terrible dancer. They laughed at me and we all had a great time.
Later, the teachers were having a thank you dinner for the SkiKu folks and invited me along. It was good to see more of the people from the school and talk with them. I also had an invite for game night and went to play board games with some of the teachers later that night.
Date: March 9th, 2017
Distance: 23 kilometers
Song of the Day: You Wreck Me - Tom Petty
Today started well. I was up early and got to talk to the kids about my trip. Many had never been out of Alaska before. I realize not everyone wants to travel, and even fewer people have a desire to do so by bike. That isn't really the point, though. The kids here are just as capable of doing amazing things as I am. I hope that I can inspire them to think big and really do something great. By the time I got done I was feeling pumped up. I was ready to get on the bike and roll on down to Wales. It was only 50 or 60 miles away.
And then I went exactly... nowhere. I was supposed to take the marked trail out to Wales, and that did not work at all. It's on days like today that I'm reminded of a quote from Thomas Edison, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." It's a bit of a setback, but I discovered something new that I didn't know before. I now know that the marked trail is not the way to bike to Wales from here.
The day did start well. It was warm and the sun was out. There was a light breeze from the south. I was a little turned around in town, but finally found the path that led me out onto the frozen lagoon. Close to the village the assortment of vehicles crossing the ice had packed the snow down pretty well. I was making good time. The further I got from the village, though, the harder things got. The number of tracks diminished and the warm sun was turning the snow to mush. The riding began to get more difficult. I started spending more time pushing the bike through snow drifts. After three miles or so it became impossible to ride. I would sink in the snow on the few snow machine tracks left out in the wild. The wind had come up and the fingers of blowing snow were trying to obliterate those traces as well.
Now, a normal person would have turned around at this point. I'm cursed with an abundance of optimism, though. I kept thinking things were going to get better just up ahead. I have maps that show a trail and the people of Brevig told me it was out there. I just needed to find it. I was disappointed when I found the trail markers, though. There was no sign that anyone had been along that way in a very long time. And yet I kept pushing forward. I thought that something might show up. It never did. After 8 miles I realized this wasn't working. Most of the time I was up to my knees in snow. I was measuring my progress in feet, not miles. This wasn't going to work, so I decided to turn around.
That didn't make getting back any easier. I was struggling to push back the way I had come. The late afternoon warmth had really begun to melt up the snow. If I had turned around when a normal human would have, it wouldn't be so bad. Instead I had miles of pushing the bike ahead of me. Ah well. My own mistake.
I got back into town just before sunset. The folks at school were a bit surprised to see me, but understood what had happened. Apparently they had just had a few weeks of heavy snow. Any trail that might have been packed down would have been covered over with a whole layer of soft fluff. Whoops. Tomorrow I'll have to come up with a new plan.
Date: March 8th, 2017
Distance: 31 kilometers
Song of the Day: The Mission - Valley Maker
The cabin worked pretty well. It kept me out of the elements and I was warm in my sleeping bag. I'm glad the wind didn't pick up overnight. The cabin also saved me the trouble of setting up and tearing down my tent. In this weather, in mittens, that can take a while.
Outside, I was again reminded of scenes of Antarctica. Bare white mountains all around, there were almost no plants and certainly no trees around. It has a severe and elegant kind of charm to it. Life can be tough here, but it does lead to some amazing scenery.
I was also happy because my road went down. I spent the morning coasting quite nicely down the mountains toward the city of Teller. I came up over a little rise and there it was, a little town situated on the end of a gravel spit out in the bay. I cruised through town with confused looks from the few people outside.
Brevig is on the other side of the bay, however. To get there I would have to cross over the ocean, which thankfully is not difficult at this time of year. Everything is frozen. There's even a handy trail marked out in willow branches. Crossing was slow going again. Closer to Teller, the snow was packed down pretty well. The farther I went, the more snow had drifted out across the ice. The surface was less compact and the going got harder. It reminded me of crossing Lake Volta years ago, the way I could see the town right in front of me but it seemed to creep closer so slowly.
Eventually I made it to Brevig. A local police officer directed me to the school. When I got there it was all locked up, though, so I wasn't quite sure what I was doing there. But a few minutes later Gus, who I had seen the first night out from Nome, walked out and greeted me. He got me in touch with Ginger, the school Principal, to look for a place to stay. She said I could stay in one of the classrooms while I was there. It seemed like a strange arrangement but these little Bearing Sea villages are a bit odd anyway, out of necessity. I guess the schools double as the local hotel of sorts. As Ginger said, "Where else would people stay?" I was not alone, either. A group from "SkiKu" was out here teaching the students how to cross country ski. There was also a school psychologist out here to help out. We ended up having dinner together and chatting. It was a lot of fun. I was even asked to speak before the school assembly tomorrow about my trip. I'm looking forward to that. Hopefully I can give a little back to the community.
Date: March 7th, 2017
Distance: 33 kilometers
Song of the Day: Sleepless - Soul Coughing
I got up today and tried the stove after warming up the pump. It worked just as Paul said it would. Good trick. That's one more thing I will have to keep close to my chest while I ride. I cooked up the dinner I was supposed to have the night before and ate that. Then breakfast. That probably wasn't a good idea as I was very sluggish the rest of the day. The large mountains didn't help either.
It's funny to see what's out here. I passed an old dredge, derelict on the shore of a frozen creek. A little further on were a group of old cabins, also abandoned. They were places built and then left in the wake of the gold boom and bust. Now quiet, cold, and forgotten about, just left to decay in this barren land.
I felt terrible at the end of the day, so tired and out of energy. I think some of it was from being dehydrated the night before. Whatever the reason, I could hardly push myself at all. I spent the last two miles pushing my bike up a hill as the sunlight slowly faded into dark. The sun itself had long since been hidden behind the clouds.
I was about to give up and make camp when I saw a dark shape over the next ridge. Even though I was running on empty I just kept pushing a little more and a little more. I was hoping it was someplace warm to stay. At the same time, I dreaded discovering an arctic mirage, an old road sign, a large rock. But I kept on. As it finally came back into view I could see that it was indeed a cabin. Soon I was close enough to see the place was open, the door was missing and snow had blown inside. I could also see far below across the sound, where the lights of Brevig Mission twinkled like a beacon. No wonder I was exhausted, I was at the top of a large hill. At least what I was looking at was a real place, though. I was too tired to make it tonight but I would surely be there tomorrow.
I made the best of the cabin at hand. The door had been wrenched from the entrance and half buried in the snow. Inside, drifts of snow covered everything. I wasn't the first to come visiting, though. The snow inside had been tromped down. The previous occupants had left cigarette butts and yellow snow in the corners. Still, it was inside and it would keep most of the wind off. I thought of firing up the wood stove inside, but it seemed like that would take hours to really get going. Instead I made food on my little stove while getting out my sleeping bag and getting ready for another cold night.
Date: March 6th, 2017
Distance: 30 kilometers
Song of the Day: Winter - TV on the Radio
I am struck by how much the Seward Peninsula here looks like Antarctica. It's a very bleak and barren place. When the sun is out and shining it has a stark beauty to it that's quite breath taking. That, and the cold can literally be breathtaking. It's a cold and solitary place, for sure.
Shortly after getting up I passed the Sinuk river. I wasn't paying much attention, then I noticed something important that I should have seen earlier. There were two moose cows, with calves, on different sides of the road. They were watching me, so I thought it was best to move along and not startle them. As I came up the draw on the far side I saw a clump of willow bushes and thought that would be a great spot for a moose to hide. Sure enough, there was a big bull hiding in the reeds there. As soon as he saw me he strode out onto the road and stopped. When you are only 30 feet away from one, it's easy to see how big those animals are. I stopped and waited to see what he would do. After a minute he wandered away from me and I breathed a bit easier. The last thing I want my tombstone to read is "killed by moose".
Conditions on the road didn't improve much. Occasionally I would hit a patch of bare road, an area where harsh winds had blown away the snow, scouring it down to the gravel. Of course this was usually mixed with areas where heaps of snow had been dumped on the road. The wind was not that bad, though. The sun was shining and, other than traveling slowly, things were going okay.
That is until I hit Mile 42. I crossed over a small ridge and the wind went from nothing to over 40mph. It was scary how fast I started loosing heat. The wind was sneaking into small gaps in my mask and flash freezing my nose. I tried to go on for a little bit, hoping that the wind would die after I made it out of the small gully. As usual, I was wrong. By the time I made it to Mile 43 I could see snow being whipped across the road. It was so thick ahead that this churning mass of wind-blown snow looked like fog. I turned around and camped back where the weather was calm. But hey, I got to watch a nice sunset because of it.
I had one more problem in the evening. My stove that had worked all through Russia suddenly wasn't working. No hot dinner for me. Even worse, I had no water since I was using the stove to melt snow for that. I made a call to Paul in Nome for advice. He suggested warming up the pump so I stuck it in my vest and fell asleep.
Date: March 5th, 2017
Distance: 35 kilometers
Song of the Day: It's Time - Imagine Dragons
Well. A few words about the time at home: I spent about three months with my family and it was awesome. I took care of my niece for my sister and brother-in-law while they worked and, let me tell you, keeping up with her is even harder than biking all day. Wow. She's really fun, though.
I also kept up my biking legs by working a few nights a week as a bike messenger. Since it was the wettest Seattle winter on record, that was quite an adventure sometimes.
I got some better boots and, I hope, fixed the problems with my bike chain. We'll see, though. It's so hard to predict what will and won't actually work for biking in the cold the way I'm doing. This isn't exactly what most cold weather gear is made for.
I flew to Alaska a couple of days ago and I left Nome today. I had been staying with Paul and Stacey, some family of my brother-in-law's. They have been great. Paul cooked up a big breakfast for us this morning, and for that I am certainly grateful. He's a former state trooper and on the search and rescue team so he was telling me all about the various locations along my route. If you want to do some crazy stuff in the wilderness out here, Paul turns out to be a great guy to know.
I didn't end up getting on the road early today, but things started well. Nothing too fast, but 7 miles of good biking on a paved road to start off the day. I was starting to think things were going to go easy all the way and then the pavement ended. Okay, so that wasn't a big deal. It was all compact snow I was riding on.
Then I came to this:
I have never seen a sign like that. And it was right. The road was not maintained after that point. I was now onto snow machine trails. Sure, they more or less followed the roadway, but that was often hidden under large drifts of snow. That slowed things right down. Well, that and the hills. My bike can do snow but it's also carrying a lot of weight, so going up hills on un-compacted snow is not fun. I spent most of the day doing that.
I finally stopped in the lee of the "Mile 25" sign. Just after I got my tent up, two guys from Brevig Mission stopped on snow machines. They wanted to make sure that I was okay. Gus thought I was crazy, but John figured I knew enough not to freeze to death. I assured them I was okay and the two headed back out into the icy fog while I climbed into my warm sleeping bag.
Date: November 24thrd, 2016
Distance: 53 kilometers
Song of the Day: Endgame - R.E.M.
I left Sokol today and headed right for the coast. I had traveled all the way from the Atlantic, and now here I was heading to the Pacific ocean at long last. The road was pretty conducive to speeding me on my way. After Sokol it became paved and was mostly downhill. After all the cold and struggles, things were going pretty well. I was in no rush. This was my last day of biking around Russia. I'm a bit saddened by that and really wanted to enjoy the experience. It's been both wonderful and brutal here. I feel a little annoyed that I can't travel on to Chukotka the way I'd hoped but I'm also somewhat relieved. I know I need better boots and to make repairs to my bike. All in all it's sad to see the end of this part of the journey. When I arrived in Magadan, phase 2 was over.
So what is next? Well, I am going to go home for a few months. I'll spend the holidays with my family. In March I'll leave again to continue this journey, this time from Alaska. I'll head from Wales, Alaska, across North America to Labrador in Canada. I look forward to that, and I hope to see you down the road...
Date: November 23rd, 2016
Distance: 17 kilometers (300 km cheating by truck)
Song of the Day: Coming in from the Cold - Bob Marley and the Wailers
I did not have a good morning. The boiling water I poured in my plastic water bottles last night had melted them. One was now leaking. Not too much, fortunately, but it was frustrating. I also couldn't really judge how wet my sleeping bag had gotten. I can't exactly air it out on the road like this, and any water in it would freeze, which would mean a very cold night and put my feet in danger of frostbite again...
At least my feet stayed nice and warm the whole night.
On the road I had more problems. I hadn't gone down the road very far when my chain snapped again. Number three. Blech. While I was fixing it, a truck stopped by and asked if I needed a ride. I was tired and cold, so I accepted the offer.
I had intended just to go down the road to the next town, where I was hoping to find someplace warm so I could dry out my sleeping bag and fix my chain. The driver and his son said it was no problem and that they would take me to the next place, Atka. From my map I knew that was almost 200 kilometers away. I was concerned, but figured I could ask them to stop whenever we got to a town. Unfortunately, there just weren't any places out here. So I kept going.
We stopped in Atka for food. I asked around for a place to stay but just like the day before I was told there wasn't anything around. The driver told me that this used to be a bustling town 20 years ago, but now there was hardly anyone left.
It wasn't until I got to Sokol, just outside of Magadan, that there was any place to stay, and that was only because it's where the main airport for Magadan is located. (There are always hotels by the airport.) At least I had somewhere to stay.
Well, my grand plan for riding around the world without using any motorized transportation has really come apart at the end here. Ah well, it's all a learning experience. You never know how to do anything until you have tried it. I never worry about having too much ambition, I just realize that sometimes I fall short of my dreams.
Besides, it's not like I'm the first one to have grand plans defeated by Russia.
Date: November 22nd, 2016
Distance: 68 kilometers
Song of the Day: Here - VAST
After leaving Debin today I crossed the Kolyma River. This is the river that gives the highway its name. It's crazy to think about all the huge rivers out here. It's also crazy to think about how much work must have gone into building this bridge, which is quite long. There are even piers from an earlier bridge out here too. This road is apparently important enough to spend the money to build bridges like this across the river, and to maintain them. Crazy.
There was nothing special about the riding today. The only real difference is that it seems like it's getting colder again. I'm not happy about that. I'm trying to keep my toe from freezing off!
I was helped in that late in the day by stopping in at a cafe for dinner, so I got to be someplace warm for a little while. I was hoping they could recommend a good place to stay, since there was a good sized town just across the river from them. I was told that there was nothing for visitors. I tried asking if there was anywhere at all to stay, but there was nothing. Damn.
When I left the cafe I was hoping to find a place to stay at the next town on the map but I was quite disappointed when I got to the "town". It was just an old gold mine. I didn't even know if it was still operational. I sure didn't see any people, just a few dogs. Not really a welcoming place.
So I pushed on and eventually found a spot to set up my tent. Before crawling into my sleeping bag I wanted to check my feet thoroughly. Since I still couldn't feel my left big toe I needed to keep an eye on it. It wasn't blue, but it didn't seem like it was doing well. It had been red the last few days which, hey, wasn't blue, but it was pretty pale when I checked it. I warmed up some water, poured it into my water bottles and stuffed that in my socks to keep my feet warm. I hope that works.