Pedalnam….Biking  Vietnam Part 2

As I sit on the shores of Cambodia’s beaches watching the waves lazily slap the shores, the sweat and fatigue of the last month seem like a distant memory….I almost have to pinch myself to remember what we put ourselves through during our 28 day traverse down the length of Vietnam on two (not entirely trusty) wheels.

But indeed, we did it.  As we turned down the small alley in Vietnam’s southern metropolis that hid our hotel, we dismounted and realized, that was it.  No more early mornings.  No more stinky gear, no more pedalling.  We had set out to get as far down the length of Vietnam as our bikes would allow, and they had indeed taken us the whole way. Twenty eight days and 1800kms after pulling out of Hanoi, we arrived in Saigon.  

While I hope my life will contain many more, this will forever remain on the list of our ‘trips of a lifetime’.  Byron and I both strive for and seek out challenges, enjoying that which pushes us both physically and mentally, and this trip was no exception.  Day in and day out, we got up, put on our often rather repulsive smelling jerseys and shorts, and aimed for a spot on the map a relative good distance south from us.  As we got stronger we found we could average about 100kms a day, but that often varied depending on the terrain and distance to the next town  where we may or may not find a guest house (fortunately we always did).  On our slowest, and probably most difficult day going over the mountain pass to Dak Glei in Vietnam’s central interior, we managed to grind out only 58kms, all of which were uphill.  Other days, when the wind was at our back and the road seemed to always slope away under our tires, we rode as far as 132kms.  It seemed that luck was on our side for much of the way with weather as well; we left Hanoi just as the winter weather was setting in, and were able to keep it behind us for most of the way.  We met a system in Hue that kept us over an extra day as the city was deluged in a continual downpour, but for the most part we rode through only mild showers, which left us no more drenched then we already were in our own sweat.  At the top of the pass on our slowest day we donned our jackets and stopped for a hot coffee; the first time we specifically requested it.  We chuckled about how acclimatized we had become and kept the jackets on until we reached the warm valley bottom below.  

With a hardy constitution, an open mind, and a little bit of spirit I would recommend this trip to anyone.  Vietnam is a beautifully diverse country, both naturally and culturally.  As mentioned in my last post, it’s difficult to go more than a kilometer or two without a joyfully shouted ‘hello!’ from a stranger, or a wave and honk from a passing vehicle.  Vietnam can also break your heart in the same instance it lifts it though; as you pass through a village that consists of nothing more than a few poor farmer’s shacks, or you swerve your bike through the garbage and stray dogs lining the streets you realize culture, education and economics have not yet allowed for the same standards we are so fortunate to enjoy at home. 

But travelling is one of the best reminders that we are all different, and life plays out in many different ways for us all on earth.  It gives one reason to examine and reflect on your own life and habits, and perhaps better understand not only humanity, but your own self as well.  As we continue our travels through South East Asia I can only hope we stumble upon more crazy adventures and experiences like we found in Vietnam, and continue to learn and grow along the way.

xo Alison and Byron

*For those of you who are thinking of embarking on a bike trip through Vietnam, I can only say;  DO IT!  You wont’t regret it, and as Byron and I figured, if the bikes break down beyond repair you can always thrown them in the ditch and catch the next bus to the city.  You never know till you try! 
   

  
  

Breakfast time  

 

  

  The double chair, all day everyday

  

  
  

Coffee time
  
  

  

  

  

  

 

 
  

  
  

   

 
 
  

Mae Hong Son Motorcycle Loop

The easy life in Chiang Mai is hard to leave, but after 6 days in and around the city we figured it was time to strike out and see the countryside, and a motorcycle seemed like the best way to do it. With some self-awareness and assertiveness the roads and traffic are reasonably easy to navigate in Thailand, especially when bikes and scooters flow like pebbles around boulders to the front of the line at a traffic light, assuring a safe start in front of the larger vehicles on the road. Our steed of choice for the trip was a 200cc Honda Phantom, a popular bike styled after the more muscular cruiser bikes of America. A decent bike, it was no problem for getting around the flat city streets, although we did find it to be slightly overloaded and underpowered for the remainder of the trip. But if time is on your side, who cares?

They claim there are 762 curves over the 140km distance from Chaing Mai to Pai, which sounds like a dream on 2 wheels unless those 762 curves are under construction. The road from Dong Palan (where you leave the main road) and Pai was an absolute disaster. Without warning two lanes turn to one, huge potholes appeared, gravel was everywhere, construction occurred without traffic control…you name it and we rode around, or through it. Stopping half way we questioned our sanity and judgment, but kept quiet any suggestion of terminating the trip. Three hours later we pulled into Pai, a small town in the middle of a broad lush green valley with a lazy river snaking its way through town and a large white Buddha statue sitting on the mountain side, presiding over it all. After the ride we’d just been through, it was a very peaceful place to pull into. We found a little guesthouse along the river and sat down to relax with a well earned drink. Pai has become a very popular destination with the backpacker crowd as of recent, and many of those who found it have never left. The town has a developed a very hippy feeling to it, unfortunately it’s a bit of a western one.

We both weren’t ready to get back on the motorbike given the previous day’s experience, so we decided to hang around town and explore. The area around Pai is dotted with farms, rural guesthouses and best of all, waterfalls. We rode the Phantom out to a popular waterfall where the cascading water has smoothed out the rocks, creating a great natural set of waterslides. The cool crisp water was a refreshing break as we splashed with the locals and visitors alike, soaking up the afternoon sun, playing and relaxing all afternoon. 

The next day, relaxed and refreshed, we hit the road. Thankfully we had made it through the majority of construction on the road, and the rest of the trip would see us alone on beautiful smooth blacktop. After some time on the road we stopped to explore a series of caves which have been carved into the limestone mountains, many of them popular tourist destinations, while others lie hidden, yet to be found. The largest and most accessible cave in the region is called Nam Lod, where a river has carved a path straight through the side of the mountain, leaving kilometres of caverns to be explored. A local guide (manditory) and a bamboo raft are the best way to explore this large cave, and for $18 you can spend several hours being guided both on foot and by boat. The main chamber of the cave is an impressive 100 feet high and features numerous stalactites and stalagmites, as well as hundreds of swallows and bats swooping and shrieking their way about the darkness, high above you. The third cavern we were shown by our guide was both fascinating and eerie; the remains of several teak coffins have been discovered and left on display for visitors, thought to be carved by the Lawa tribespeople some two thousand years ago.

After leaving the cave complex we headed south, paralleling the mountain range that makes up the Thai – Burmese border. Two very scenic hours later we reached our destination for the night and the namesake of our loop, Mae Hong Son. A tranquil village centred around a large lake, our guesthouse overlooked a temple and the evening market which surrounded the calm waters. We relaxed in the shade and then headed out for an authentic Thai dining experience, collecting dishes to try by pointing and laughing with the various food cart operators as the rural/tourist language gap was too large to bridge. Bellies full, we fell soundly asleep in the quiet peace of rural Thailand.

Continuing south the following day we bombed down rural roads, flying through shady forests and past endless green rice paddies. There are two different options to complete the loop to Chiang Mai once you leave Mae Hong Son; the longer route continues south until Mae Sarieng before heading east, while the shorter but less travelled route takes you east through Mae Chaem and over Thailand’s highest peak, Doi Inthanon. As is our nature, we chose the latter route

Up and down, up and down would be the theme for the days of travel through small farming villages and past fields of banana, rice and corn. Our third day was an amazing one on the bike where we felt entirely alone in the world, only passing the occasional overloaded pickup truck delivering produce to market. After we passed the small village of Mae Na Chon, we stumbled into the Hot Coffee guesthouse, a great little spot which offers quiet private bungalows beside the river. it was only 2pm, but the temptation of a cool swim in the river and a cold beer on the deck was all we need to stop for the night. Our night at Hot Coffee will go down as the most comfortable so far in Thailand; you couldn’t ask for better accommodations or a more welcoming host. As it turns out we weren’t the only ones who thought so, and found ourselves confronted with familiar faces from the downhill mountain bike race we had been at only days before. A father/son duo from the US who now live in Hong Kong were completing the same loop as us only on dirt bikes and the backroads, but after some navigational difficulties with the other members of their group and a flat tire, they found themselves at Hot Coffee for the night. We laughed to think how small this big world truly is, and spent the evening with their group swapping road stories and tales.

Friday morning marked out our last day on the road, and return to the Chiang Mai. Just a easy trip over the highest peak in the land, and hey, we’d be drinking beer by the moat in no time. The day started out cool, and while the bike struggled a bit with the altitude, it was nothing more than we had made it suffer through for the past four days. At the top, we joined the locals in donning our jackets, where 16 degree felt practically chilly after several weeks of much warmer weather. The ride down the other side was a breeze; the road widened out as we rejoined traffic on the freeway and the throttle was opened up, the familiar heat of the valley surrounding us yet again. About 50km out of Chaing Mai we stopped for a cold drink in the shade and a stretch of our legs, the end of our journey in sight.

Now I’ve previously failed to mention in the story so far the issues with the Phantom, our trusty steed that it turned out wasn’t actually all that trusty. We quickly discovered that she refused to start everyday once it got hot; I refused to take issue with it though as there was usually a hill or stretch of road around, and I could pull a fast one on her and get her going every time in second gear, circling back around to pick up Alison after the bike had stubbornly roared to life. So when we mounted the bike for the final ride into town, we were not surprised when it failed to turnover. A push start was initiated with negative results. More push starts were attempted with the same results. The Phantom unfortunately, had appeared to have given up the ghost. We tried and tried to get it going, but to no avail. Our final attempts were made in exasperation in the parking lot of a service station, where a group of employees soon gathered to help us in our quest, pushing me around the parking lot in a futile attempt at motorcycle resuscitation. Now even the Thais were sweating, and Alison and I were a hot mess, our situation beginning to look bad. I rolled the bike into the shade, and we contemplated what to do. While we were cooling down the Thais continued to try and help solve our problem. Soon, some rudimentary tools were located, and every man present to the situation had gathered around, offering advice, already contemplating which piece of the bike to pull apart first. With the group gathered around, the spark plug was checked, the oil was checked, and a few people even scoped out the gas tank situation. All of this still left the phantom spiritless. After a phone call to the rental shop and some use of Google translate, it was settled that we’d take the bike down the road to the local repair shop. After the spark plugs, the oil, and gas were again checked, further discussion with our rental shop decided a truck would take the bike and ourselves to town, where we would be relieved of the beast and their mechanics would be left to solve the riddle of her demise.

As we sat in a shady corner of the shop on some old car seats it became apparent that the truck that would take us to town was currently beside us on the hoist, a Songthaew, which was being frantically repaired before our eyes. A couple hours passed, and after returning from a successful test drive we and the disabled bike were loaded into the freshly repaired truck, heading for town. There are many forms of transport in Thailand, and the Songthaew is one of the many brilliant options of a modern-day vehicle converted for local transportation needs. With two bench seats in the back and a cover for shade, these colourful little trucks rip around town, delivering riders and their loads to and from destinations with enthusiastic efficiency.  

The breeze felt good as we rolled towards town and the driver (and shop mechanic) seemed happy to make an extra buck off of our delivery, in the truck we couldn’t be quite sure was his, or just a customer of his shop’s which he was moonlighting for our purpose. Suddenly the truck slowed, and as it sputtered to a halt on the side of the highway, it became apparent that their quick fix in the shop might not have done the trick. We were now 0 for 2 on transporation. With the hood up, our driver worked to figure and fix. Not surprisingly a crowd gathered, and soon tools were brought out, and everyone went to work. This time however, the result of the communal effort was a success; with a puff of black smoke our truck rumbled to life, and we were off again. We flew into town, and were greeted by a crowd at Mr. Mechanic, our rental agency who through all of this mess had done everything they could to get us back to town at no expense of our own. They were indeed very helpful and apologetic, and after some laughs and reassurance that we weren’t mad, we retired back to the old town of Chiang Mai to sit and laugh over the day, passports and cold beer back in hand.

Our plan for now is to spend the remainder of the weekend relaxing in Chiang Mai, and catch the bus to Laos on Monday. once we arrive in Laos we will take the slow boat down the Mekong river to Luang Prabang, and from there, who knows!  

Until then

Byron and Alison
Tips for Mae Hong Son Loop by bike:

Rent from Mr Mechanic or a shop with insurance. Although our bike did break down, their response and help was excellent and didn’t cost us extra. They were great to deal with

Get the map ‘The Mae Hong Son Loop’ by Golden Triangle Rider, it’s very helpful and detailed for the journey..

Tour around the towns for guesthouses and shop around for best price; most towns have a lot of options and the prices vary for basically the same thing. 

In Pai we stayed at Golden Hut, in Mae Hong Son we stayed at Johnny guesthouse and outside Mae Na Chon Hot Coffee guesthouse. I recommend all of these places as they are all clean, comfortable and quiet.

Fuel is plentiful along the trip.

The road between Dong Palan and Pai is awful, but when construction is complete it will be an amazing journey. 

There is a cool guest house beside the Nam Lod cave called Cave House, we didn’t stay there because of timing but I would recommend it rather than staying two nights in Pai.

   
  
  

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Bikes, Ice and Bears

If only the summer could last just a little bit longer, I think we could stay in the North forever.  Unfortunately, after a month and a half on the road exploring the wild, the weather began to turn and the cool nights prompted us to start looking south again. After leaving spectacular Kluane National Park we headed south for Haines, our last sojourn into Alaska for the time being.   Although the cooler weather kept my arms tucked securely under the duvet at night, it also brought the bounty of migrating salmon, and with them, those that feast on their return.  For hours we sat upon the river banks surrounding town and watched as bears themselves watched the waters, combing the shores for that which will help sustain them throughout the winter as they hide from the cold dark days in their dens.  Absolutely fascinating, beautiful and brilliant beings, the bears we saw on the latter half of our trip illustrate the power nature holds and the strength of survival in a climate so variable and harsh.

After a few days exploring the area on our own, we met up with some old friends for a night of socializing and tasty home-cooked food.  Seeing family and friends, old and new, has been a highlight of the trip up North; one of the biggest banes of limited holiday time when you are working is trying to find a balance between spending your hard earned vacation days on yourself, and also fitting in visits with everyone in your immediate (and sometimes extended) family too. Without this deadline, the conflict for us has been erased; not only have we been able to commit a healthy amount of time to ourselves, but also to spending as much time as we can with those we love along the way.

Departing Haines by boat, we left our wilderness trekking and travels behind and began to make the journey south.  Itching to get back on our bikes, we made way for Carcross, a small town southwest of Whitehorse, where the Carcross/Tagish First Nations youth have developed an amazing network of mountain biking trails.  Although the weather wasn’t in our favor we persevered (there’s a great little coffee shop in the main square where you can warm up after a particularly cold and wet run), riding the trails with namesakes such as ‘Wolverine (in the woods), ‘Grizzly (charging steep lines), ‘Goat’ (technical rock lines) and AK-DNR (think Pseudo Tsuga for those of you who have ridden Squamish) for three awesome days.

From Carcross we headed south into our home province via the Cassiar Highway, a beautiful and much lesser-traveled route through Northern BC that parallels the boundary of the coastal and interior mountain ranges with (thankfully) much less road construction and potholes than it’s sister highway to the east.  After making a side trip to visit the spectacular Salmon Glacier west of Stewart (omit the note about better roads here) we continued on to Terrace, the first stop on what would become a week of amazing riding in the region.

Terrace has a few different spots to hit the trails, and the type of terrain you find varies greatly.  Copper Mountain was the talk of the town though, and much to our delight it lived up to expectations (Trailforks said STEEP and they meant it; think Cypress Mountain for those of you that ride the North Shore).  We spent the afternoon with adrenaline coursing through our veins as we rode the mountain and brought home a few bruises to boot.

After saying goodbye to Terrace we headed for the coast to visit some dear friends in Prince Rupert who not only gave us use of their cabin while staying in Terrace, but allowed us another night under a dry roof along with a hot shower, good food, and a few glasses of craft beer from the local brewery.  Seeing and meeting those along the way who also love to travel and explore the world brings a smile to my heart, as it only feeds our addiction and enthusiasm and makes me excited for all of the adventures that still await us.

From the coast we headed back inland to Smithers, a beautiful little alpine town surrounded by high mountain peaks, world-class fishing rivers, and a few more mountain biking trails to boot.  Fortunately for Byron (but unfortunately for me) a stomach bug kept me from riding that day, so he took advantage of my offer to shuttle while he checked out the local dirt.  Huckin ‘Eh turned out to be the day’s favorite, so while I curled up to play countless rounds of Angry Bird (yes, it still exists), Byron coated himself with mud and grit, claiming it to be one of the best trails of the trip thus far (a statement he still stands by too).

Whether it’s just local rivalry between competing trail builders or town councils I don’t know, but as i’m sure its becoming obvious, you don’t have to go far in the region to find more mountain biking trails than you can ride in a day, maybe even a week.  From Smithers we made the quick trip to Burns Lake, the second to last of our stops on our southwards journey home.  With a beautiful little rec site and lake awaiting you at the base of Boer Mountain, bikers can shuttle or pedal up the mountain and do endless laps throughout the day.  Those that enjoy a little more speed and structures can check out the likes of ‘Charlotte’s Web’ (fast, steep and flowy) and ‘Water Lew’ (an impressive amount of woodwork), while those looking for a longer cross country ride can spend the day out on Razorback, although be warned, I think there was more up than down.  After two days the rain found out where we had moved to, and we decided it was time for a hot shower and some rest.  Heading into Prince George was almost a shock to the system after our time up North, where one is more likely to see more moose than traffic lights on your daily commute. Nevertheless we quickly adjusted, and spent the evening enjoying a bounty of craft beer and delicious food from The Copper Pig, a great little BBQ joint in town that I highly recommend for anyone passing through.

Will full bellies and clean clothes we set off on the last few days of our Northern road trip, with the frequency of familiar places and faces quickly replacing the nights of solitude and days in the wild we had become so accustomed to. Not wanting to miss one last opportunity to ride, we made a stop in Williams Lake, where the trails rivaled any of those found in it’s neighbouring towns of the north.  Let me just summarize it this way: if you’ve always wanted to ride a suspension bridge on your bike, I highly recommend making the trip.  Like surfing a wave on the ocean, there’s something quite unique about the ground underneath you moving as you move, swinging under your weight and rolling tires as you traverse the boards strung high up over a gulch.  If that doesn’t suit your fancy though you can always hang back and practice your wall rides and moves on the teeter-totter, the latter of which I was much more comfortable on.  There’s something about being perpendicular to the ground on my bike which I haven’t quite mastered yet.

With that one last stop we came full circle and have now landed back in Vancouver for some rest, laundry, and family time.  In a few days we’ll make our way east to pick up Winter (video requests of our reunion have been stated), then we’ll start the drive south to the Baja.  From there we are planning to fly overseas (Kathmandu is the rumoured destination at this point!) and our adventures will continue.  We look forward to seeing as many of you as we can along the way, and continuing to share our adventures as we go.

Until then,

xo, Alison and Byron

A sow and her two cubs comb the tidal shores of Haines, AK, in search of salmon and other seafood snacks

A sow and her two cubs comb the tidal shores of Haines, AK, in search of salmon and other seafood snacks

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Mother bear patiently watches for dinner…

While the cubs goof off and brawl on the shore behind..

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An eagle watches the river mouth for dinner at Lakelse Lake, BC

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Back to BC, and free rec-site camping.

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The bears and eagles weren’t the only successful ones..

Salmon Glacier, BC.

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Clouds hang out over the Salmon Glacier, BC.

Glacier lines. Salmon Glacier, BC.

Stewart, BC.

Stewart, BC.

Stopping to admire the historic totem work in Gitanyow, BC.

Bear Glacier, BC.

Black bear sow and cub, Stewart, BC.

Totem poles and clan totem paintings, Carcross, Yukon.

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Jump, this way. -->

Jump, this way. –>

Air time (Carcross, Yukon).

Navigating the end of the rock slabs on 'Grizzly' in Carcross, Yukon.

Navigating the end of the rock slabs on ‘Grizzly’ in Carcross, Yukon.

Bridge to rock to bridge to rock to bridge - and done! 'Goat', Carcross, Yukon.

Bridge to rock to bridge to rock to bridge – and done! ‘Goat’, Carcross, Yukon.

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The forest starts to show its fall colours in Burns Lake.

Playing on the trails above Bohr Mountain in Burns Lake, BC

Byron tackles the woodwork on Snakes and Ladders in William’s Lake, BC.

The Tall One, and the Tall One’s Wife

How could we top Tombstone?  Leaving the Yukon last week, it was hard to imagine what we might find in Alaska that could rival the spires and scenery we crossed paths with in our previous wilderness adventure.  Crossing over between the Yukon and Alaska via the Top of the World Highway, we made our way into America’s northernmost state with high expectations of what the state might bring.

It was immediately apparent that just like its southern neighbours, Alaska continues the trend and indeed provides scenery that rivals any of which you may find in British Columbia or the Yukon.  Most of its population has quite happily removed itself from present-day life, and can be found scattered across the vast wilderness that makes up Alaska.  Gold prospecting is still a prevalent life for many in those certain regions, and providing for one’s self through hunting and harvesting is not a recently developed habit of the hipster era, it is a way of life.  While the few major hub cities that dot the state’s landscape may showcase residents in suits and ties during the week, these same residents can be caught fishing the seasonal salmon run on their lunch hour just a few blocks down from the office in the heart of downtown.  Essentially, Alaskans mean business.

So where to first?  The last of our known must-sees, Denali National Park boasts wildlife for days and scenery to boot.  At 20,320ft, Denali (or Deenaalee as it is called by local Athabaskans, roughly translating to ‘The Tall One‘) is North America’s highest peak.  To its side lies Deenaalee-Be’ot (The Tall One’s Wife), or Mount Foraker, at 17,402ft.  Knowing this, it only seemed fitting that we spend some time in the company of these two great peaks.

Let me preclude our park trip by saying this; American National Parks are a bit of a culture shock even to a Canadian who has just a few short weeks ago left the buzz of Banff and Jasper National Parks.  The Americans know how to take a natural attraction, and organize and commercialize the hell out of it.  There is nothing more soul-sucking that leaving the remote wilderness and entering a visitor center for a large National Park.  The tour busses, the RV’s, the motorhomes…..the people. (And that’s not to mean the American people, it’s just the sheer number of people in general).  It can leave one a little daunted and skeptical that any type of wilderness experience may occur on the other side of the park boundary when you are gathered with so large a group of seemingly inept individuals completely content with being herded around like cattle.  Have you ever looked into the eyes of someone fresh off the tour bus?  I dare you.  They could give the walkers on the ‘The Walking Dead’ a run for their money.

Now that I’ve had my chance to rant, however, let me tell you that Denali is 100% my top recommendation of parks to hit up in Alaska. (I know it’s the only one we’ve been to so far, but I don’t see it moving far down on the list even after then next few weeks).  The daunting thing about Denali is that for a short time, you do become one of the cattle.  You have to register to camp (last-minute trip planners beware), and private vehicles are not allowed onto the one road leading into the park.  You must make a reservation to get on one of the operated busses that run into the park (either one that includes a ranger, or a simple hiker/camper bus), and if you are camping in the backcountry you must go through a tutorial video, register with the park service and adhere strictly to their bear policy.

Unless you are one of the aforementioned Alaskans that lives out in the bush and has done so for the past 50 years, I can almost guarantee that you will see more wildlife in Denali National Park than you have seen in your entire life. Hands down. At last count, we stopped counting the number of Caribou we had seen (and groaned whenever the bus actually stopped, again, for another one), moose, countless Dall sheep, over a dozen Ptarmigan, and over ten Brown bears (it was hard to tell which ones were repeats from the day before).  This included a Sow and her two little cubs, which were inevitably, the cutest thing you’ve ever seen.

In essence, becoming part of the tourist herd has its perks.  In an effort to keep the park wild, the limitation of vehicle traffic and the control of the travelers to and from the park has allowed Denali’s wild to flourish.  It becomes old news to see another Caribou or Ptarmigan, because they’re everywhere.  And as one bus driver that we had commented, ‘If you don’t see the animal, then it just means you’re not looking hard enough.  Because I can guarantee that there’s a moose, bear, caribou or sheep out there, it’s just a matter of timing and good eyesight.’

And Denali has a great little secret for those that manage to weather the entrance gate storm; once you’re on the bus and in the park, you’re free to go wherever you want.  Because the thing about the American’s National Park mentality is this; Parks are public property, and as such they have no reason or authority to tell you when or where you cannot go.  As a Canadian, who grew up with designated trails and the mentality that you must stick to them, this was overwhelmingly exciting beyond belief.  Jump off the bus wherever your heart fancies, and climb whatever peak suits your eye?  No problem.  Hope you’ve got whatever you need to do it, and have fun.

And so off we would get, and away the bus would go….

It truly made me look at parks in a whole new manner.  Because for the first time, we weren’t looking for the trail.  We were just looking for a trail, or sometimes, no trail at all until we, or something else, had made it for us.  We were free to roam like any other creature of the park, wherever we wanted.

And so we did.  For three nights, we camped at Igloo Creek (only 7 tent sites, but they’re almost always open to book with only one day’s notice.), and each day, we either hiked from our camp site or caught a passing bus until we saw a peak that looked appealing and jumped off to go climb it.  If you’re simply doing day hikes while staying at a designated camp site within the park, you don’t need to register as a backcountry traveler or sit through any VHS-era tutorial, and merely need some basic backcountry smarts about being prepared and traveling in bear country.  Having equally terrible singing voices and some good whistles (thanks John!), Byron and I managed to ensure the bears maintained a two valley gap between us and them at all times.

To top the trip off, which was already going to be hard to do, on day three the skies cleared and we saw what only 30% of visitors to the park get to see; Denali itself.

A recent geological survey found that Denali’s current recorded height of 20,320ft measures the mountain 82ft higher than it actually is. Although once corrected it will be moved from 109th to 110th on the list of the world’s tallest peaks, Denali is a beast to be reckoned with.  It simply dwarfs all other mountains which dress its flanks, and stands to challenge those who seek its lofty summit.  In 2015, 1089 climbers had registered to ascend Denali, and only 601 successfully reached the summit.

We left Denali four days after we first stepped across its park boundaries with hearts and minds brimming with gratitude and happiness. The uninhibited manner in which one is free to wander and explore this great park left us both with a great appreciation for everything it can offer you if you choose to seek it.  With Deenaalee and Deenaalee-Be’ot presiding over us as we did, we couldn’t help but feel right at home.

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Ferry leaving Dawson City taking us across the Yukon River and on to Alaska.

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Cairbou along the top of the world highway

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Dall Sheep

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Base camp

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