It's the Christmas holiday in Cabo San Lucas. Five months ago, Mark and I had just landed at Deadhorse Airport, freshly shaven and laden with expectations of the days ahead.
I've accumulated a novel's worth of experiences on this trip so far. It's strange to think that we're only 1/3 of the way to our ultimate destination. Patagonia looms still distant on the horizon, but it's a fantasy that grows more realistic each day. We've come a long way.
So, to reflect on the 5,130 miles we've cycled thus far, I've compiled a list of 'fives.
Have at it:
Five best descents:
- The Atigun Pass - Perhaps the most memorable descent, we encountered the formidable and legendary Atigun Pass on our fourth day of riding. The steeply graded, unpaved, washboard road to the top of Alaska marked our passage from one Alaskan landscape to another. We grit our teeth and trudged our way through rain and mud and mist to the summit; we descended into an Alaskan postcard. Idyllic and evergreen-scented, the road south of the pass was nothing like its barren northern counterpart. It was an early reminder of why we were on this trip.
- The Haines Highway - What a spectacular stretch of road! Connecting Haines Junction, YT and Haines, AK, the Haines Highway is a 146-mile "National Scenic Byway" that winds through some of the most majestic territory on the North American continent. The road tops out at 3,510 feet and winds its way to sea-level over nearly 25 heavily wooded miles, eventually joining the Chilkat River to snake its way to the sea.
- British Columbia's "Sea to Sky Highway" - After spending two weeks navigating central BC's relatively unexciting agricultural interior, Mark and I were hungry for mountains once more. We weren't famished for long, though: BC's "Sea to Sky Highway" delivered the bevy of terrestrial punishment we were seeking. The grueling, multi-day climb was not without its rewards: we cooled off at Duffey Lake near the summit and then coasted all the way to the Pacific Ocean, cruising to a long-awaited pizza party in Vancouver.
- Every downhill with Sean and Chris - Riding a bike with a good friend is a blast; riding a bike with THREE good friends is nearly perfect. Mark and I were joined by our friends Sean and Chris from Seattle to Portland, and it was one of the most fun weeks of cycling of the entire trip. We labored through sub-freezing temperatures in Rainier National Park, soaked in panoramic views of the Cascade Mountain Range, and eventually free-wheeled all the way down to the Columbia River and into Portland.
- Baja California's Highway 1 into La Paz - This descent was significant more for what it represented than for its stunning scenery. After spending 3 weeks in the Baja desert, our descent into La Paz signified the end of of the first truly foreign leg of our journey. We eagerly anticipated the much-deserved beer(s) that were waiting for us in town. 5,000 miles down, 10,000 to go.
Five favorite dinners we've made on the road:
- Mac n' Cheese with crushed Doritos, hot sauce, and reindeer sausage (how Alaskan).
- Tomato-and-basil-flavored instant rice mixed with improperly cooked instant mashed-potatoes, hot sauce, and cheese.
- Tacos! Flour tortillas, cheese (whatever is available), refried beans, and chorizo. And hot sauce.
- Ramen + anything. Usually tuna. Also hot sauce.
- Any and every free meal. Zero dollars = zero complaints. Plus hot sauce.
Five flat tires:
- Near La Conner, WA. About a day's ride north of Seattle.
- Less than a mile after flat #1.
- On the way into LA.
- Yup. Just after flat #3. Hit a HUGE nail in a construction zone that ravaged my tube into obsolescence.
- On my way into SD. Meh, a boring one. Averaging 1 flat for every 1000 miles. Not bad.
Five international border crossings:
- Alaska into the Yukon Territory.
- British Columbia back into Alaska.
- Alaska BACK into British Columbia (by boat, this time).
- British Columbia into the continental United States.
- USA into Mexico at Tecate.
Cactus with 5 discernible "appendages":
Five favorite new beers (a truly incomplete list - this could be 10x as long):
- Haines Brewing Co. "Spruce Tip" Ale. - indulged in Haines, AK.
- Lost Coast "8-Ball" Imperial Stout. - Drank this in Seattle, WA.
- Silver Gulch "Prudhoe Pig" Oatmeal Stout. - In the Anchorage airport AND at the end of the Dalton Highway.
- Alexander Keith's "Cascade Hop" Ale - mostly because of how much fun we had while drinking this in Kitimat.
- Tecate/Pacifico/Modelo - Because it's all you can buy in Mexico.
Five things I'm glad I brought:
- My Mountain Equipment "FitzRoy" Jacket. It's windproof and nearly waterproof, warm, and when jammed into its stuffsack, it's the perfect nighttime pillow.
- A reliable journal. I write every single day, and a good personal journal is an indispensable companion on a journey like this.
- Multiple handkerchiefs. I keep 4 of 'em tied around my handlebars; it looks like Steven Tyler's microphone stand. But when it's hot I can soak 'em and wear them around my head and neck; when it's windy and dusty I can cover my mouth and nose bandit-style; when it's cold I can use them like a scarf; and when I need to clean my bike they do a great job of flossing grit from my chain and cassette.
- My Black Diamond "Spot" Headlamp. I didn't purchase this 'til Santa Barbara, but it's made setting up camp in the dark SO much easier.
- Hair gel. I sculpt my voluminous, salubrious scalp-toppings surreptitiously in my tent every single morning, and it provides me with the confidence I need to pedal prodigious distances with pomp and power. Just kidding. This has never happened...I hate what I just wrote. On a serious note, my "Old Style" hat proved invaluable in its ability to shade my face from the prying sun and the menacing wind. Sadly, it has since succumbed to the wear-and-tear of the road. I've retired it to the top of Baby's head; a new mantel-piece, if you will.
Five members of the Rigas Family, with whom we are staying in Cabo San Lucas (in no particular order - they're all amazing people!):
Five new foods I've tried:
- Cactus (nopales) tacos our first night in Mexico from a street vendor in Tecate.
- Moose burgers! We ate moose that Scott and Rita had hunted and dressed themselves at their home in Fairbanks, AK.
- Reindeer sausage (also in Alaska).
- Poutine! Sup Canada.
- Machaca - a dried, spiced meat common in some parts of Mexico. We've had both beef machaca AND homemade donkey-meat machaca.
Five favorite cities so far:
- Portland! Bike friendly, full of great beer, and nestled among some of the most beautiful places in America. RIP CITY!
- Seattle. From what we gathered, the city rides downhill to work every morning, and then takes their time heading back uphill once the day is through at the office. It's a tough city to explore; full of hills and inlets and waterways, it can easily take an afternoon just to walk from one neighborhood to another. The pleasure is that you don't mind; it's a very charming and picturesque place.
- Vancouver. I guess there's a Pacific Northwest trend here. Whatever. We visited at the best time of year: late summer and early autumn, so we saw these places at their most appealing. The novelty of spending time in a world-class city that offered pretty much any outdoor activity you might want to undertake WITHIN a reasonable day's drive never wore off.
- San Diego. Spent time with friends Matt and Francis, explored the zoo, joined the Bova family for Thanksgiving at a beautiful family home in the suburban mountainside, and ate a lot of cookies.
- Cabo San Lucas! Granted, our time here was very limited, and we really didn't explore the city itself at all, but I'll never forget Christmas on the beach here at the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula with the Rigas family. We are lucky.