Tom works in market communications in Amsterdam (in Holland) and after a painful divorce he took a year off to travel the Americas by motorcycle. We met up in Coldfoot.
I thought it odd he’d parked his bike and camped behind the propane tank (which is really dangerous…for anyone who’s in a 4km radius) (2 ½ miles) on the night I used “without permission” the empty cabin close by the camp ground (You’ve already read this story? If not:here).
The night Tom arrived from Deadhorse he came to ask me if he could camp close to my tent.
I’d just arrived in Coldfoot and he was on his way from Deadhorse. He went up and came back in one day. The next night I camped near a lake alongside the “camp”. I went to get hot water from the restaurant to make some tea when he asked me where I was camped and set his tent up next to mine.
From inside the tents, nice and warm, we started a conversation about the adventures that we were beginning.
He’ll do the Americas in one year on a route much more extensive than mine, but two things caught my attention about what we had each recently experienced on the Dalton Highway: (1) I saw a lot of animals, especially on the Arctic plain before the mountains. I had my 5 minutes being 30 meters from Teimoso (98ft) (you’ve already read this story?), I saw the Arctic fox, as white as the snow, that I was only able to see when he was moving. I saw an immense Snow owl, white, magnificent, who haughtily gazed at me for a few seconds.
Of the dozens of signs of wild life along the highway, sometimes droppings, this is one of the more interesting. You can see how the animal eats, usually near a foot print.
I also saw the Red Fox who stopped what he was doing to watch me pass by, slowly, both of us wrapped in complete silence.
I saw hundreds of Willow Ptarmigans, a bird that hunters call “stupid Alaskan chicken” (one day I’ll tell this story) and saw a Hare running through the snow in a big hurry (perhaps it was time for tea?!)
Tracks, lots of tracks! At times you know how fresh they are by the amount of snow.
I saw a lot of tracks, droppings and remnants of animal predation. Tom didn’t see anything, neither animals nor tracks.
Secondly, the cold. Something that was frightening and intense for me, he barely felt… He knew what the temperatures were where he started out and where he was going and of course he felt cold (especially in his feet, he has hand warmers on the bike) but it wasn’t anything that he remembers feeling as anything significant. For him, keeping the bike upright was the greatest challenge.
The cold, that was my most intense sensation. For Tom, not so much…
On my second day on the road, in the morning when the temperature inside the tent was -17ºC (1ºF), the internal and external temperatures of the tent can vary about -5ºC (23ºF), I remember starting to be able to think clearly at about -11ºC (12ºF), part of my body to stop shaking around -7ºC (19ºF) and finally at about -4ºF (25ºF) I was able to unzip my sleeping bag and look outside the tent.
I celebrated each degree warmer by shaking a little less inside the cocoon of my sleeping bags. In a way I’m grateful to have felt all this.
The advantages of camping on the road and waking up in marvelous places
The next morning, in Coldfoot, I left an hour before Tom but he soon caught up with me on the road, sweaty, the strain showing on his face for pushing his bike up a steep hill (I’m never happy going up hills!) He stopped his bike and looked at me with pity. He offered to help me. I thanked him, wished him a good trip and he left.
The pace of travelling by bicycle lets me process my thoughts, sensations and impressions in real time. I’d never otherwise see or feel what I’ve seen and felt from inside a car or on a motorcycle….
Days later he wrote that he just couldn’t understand how I was going to get to Argentina at the speed I was going.
He’s travelling a lot faster and with less effort, and in a way that’s very comfortable, but even so, I’d never trade my bicycle for a motorcycle.