by guest writers Jason and Daisy Philtron.
***Editor’s Note: The Philtrons were grad students at Penn State who decided to spend nearly two years biking from Alaska to Argentina. We wrote a profile piece on them two weeks before they left. They’ve kindly provided some updates about their trip as they work to cross two continents.***
Riding Days: 50.5 (15 rest days, 7 half days, 47 full days)
Miles/Day: 62.6 when riding, 46 overall
$ spent/day: $39
I think it has finally settled in for us that we are on an open ended tour with no need to rush and lots of time to explore. This doesn’t mean we want to dawdle — we love riding our 60 – 70 miles every day — but it just feels different when our schedule is flexible. If we find a really nice place to camp at 55 miles in, we take it!
One of many advantages of traveling by bicycle is the ease with which you can hide yourself and the tent. Most people assume that if there is no car, there is no person and so never think to even look. We easily find hidden spots near the road, in parks, and even in towns. We have camped in day-use areas, behind abandoned houses (after checking with the neighbors!), in folks’ yards, and in picnic shelters.
We’ve set a budget of $40 total per day, $20 per person. This has proven to be easy to stick to, even in the expensive far north. Our biggest cost so far has been food; we eat a LOT, and in the far north groceries are expensive, and eating out even more so. We eat a massive amount, and we have to eat very often. Jason in particular is always snacking on something. Our estimated calorie intake is above 4,000 each day! Our two favorite meals to have when eating out are fish and chips and burgers. Our favorite meal to make in camp is coconut curry with vegetables and tofu.
We cook most meals on our portable camp stove to help keep costs down. The other big cost included in our daily average is ferry rides and two bus tickets for a side trip. The costs of these travels were actually more than 25% of our total cost! Luckily for us, there is only one more ferry before Mexico.
Our bicycles and gear are beyond amazing. In more than 3,000 rough miles, we have had no major mechanical problems and only one flat tire. We have changed our chains and brake pads once. That’s it! The folks at Freeze Thaw built up some fantastic bicycles for us.
We are a lot stronger now! I don’t think we’ve lost much weight, but our bodies have certainly changed. A major difference: we no longer use padded bicycle shorts. Our butts just don’t need them anymore, and we were happy to make the shift to more ‘normal’ pants.
All sorts of people have questions for us, and a surprising number of people think that we’re doing something the wrong way: we are heading in the wrong direction, we have too much stuff, we don’t have enough stuff, we are wearing the wrong shoes, etc. It is actually quite amusing. The way we see it, there is no wrong way to bike tour except not to bike tour!
Challenges so far (particularly in the far north)
Distance between grocery stores
Carrying four days worth of groceries for two very hungry cyclists is always challenging, but it is extra challenging when they all have to fit into two bear-proof containers. We did it, but we have decided that we are sick of rice and dehydrated beans.
Camping with bears
Ok, so we never really camped with bears, but they were never far from our minds. I knew that the probability of a bear attack was very low, and we took all the precautions to minimize it. That being said, I still asked Jason every night before sleep: ‘Do you think we’re safe from the bears??’ Eventually, I had to start sleeping with ear plugs, so I didn’t spend all night being scared of the breeze and squirrels. In all, we saw around 20 bears during our time in Canada, so they were making their presence known.
Actually, the lack of showers. Towns and services were far apart, and the weather was cold. Even in towns, showers were expensive ($10 per person in Tok!), so we found that we were perfectly content going without a shower for up to 5 days. Some out there might say ‘Yikes!’, but realize that during most of these stretches we also never took off our long sleeve shirts and down vests, even in the tent, so it’s not like we could smell each other!
Some Things We Loved
We actually noticed a big difference in friendliness as soon as we crossed over from Alaska. In Canada, we knew we were tourists, but we were usually greeted as friends by the locals. Folks we met were quick to offer help, and we never felt like we were intruding. Best of all, we never worried that some hunter would find us camping in the woods and run us off the land with a shotgun.
Both the Yukon and British Columbia are beyond words for scenery. From sweeping vistas of plains, high mountains with glaciers, river valleys, ranches and cowboys, to quiet creeks, small lakes, fishing towns, and the signpost forest. Both areas are true to their proclaimed slogans and are absolute can’t miss places. Even if you’re not biking through, put them on your bucket list!
This distinctly Canadian dessert is divine. While in the town of its birth, Nanaimo, we took a trip on the ‘Nanaimo Bar Trail’ and sampled six of them in one evening. Daisy got sick on the sugar and butter, but Jason was in heaven. He promises to make Daisy Nanaimo bars for her PhD defense in September.
Yukon government campgrounds
These campgrounds were invariably cheap ($12), clean, and well-equipped. They were often in beautiful places next to rivers, lakes, or creeks, and they were free of giant RVs. What more could we ask? More often than not, there was firewood provided with the camp fee. Also, the larger-than-life picnic tables were great for spreading out all our stuff.
The US should take note! The bills are beautiful, colorful, and made of plastic for durability. There are no $1 bills, since $1 and $2 coins work better. Best of all? No pennies! They no longer use them, so everyone knows how to round.
This was our most northerly town for this trip at 64 degrees north. It was also a clear highlight for both of us. We loved the historical stories and tours, the friendly folks, and crossing the mighty Yukon river on the tiny ferry. We stayed two days and three nights here.
The capital of the Yukon has excellent grocery stores and small-town / big-city feel, but it was a highlight for us because of our wonderful host Alice. Her cooking, stories, and fantastic welcome made our days here very very special to us.
Bella Coola Valley and the ferry to Port Hardy
The descent into the tiny hamlet of Bella Coola was spectacular, easily rivaling our visit to Yosemite a few years back. The lack of tourism traffic, the abundance of mountains, glaciers, rivers, and salmon combined to make this stretch outstanding. Combine these things with the petroglyphs, the bizarre ferry experience, and the cycling friends we made, and we easily place these two days in our list of ‘top days’.
Time with Daisy’s parents
Having family travel with us was quite a treat. We felt like royalty every night when we were welcomed into camp by the squealing German shepherd and fed a giant dinner with fresh vegetables. We loved the evening conversations and the easy laughter.
USA here we come!
***Editor’s note: To see more daily updates, feel free to visit the Philtrons’ personal blog!***