I have always been impressed by cyclists on the Alaska Highway.
You know the ones I mean — bikes loaded down, their grimaced, sweating faces telling me how tough they are, and intimidating me into thinking, “I can’t imagine I could ever do that.”
Those guys have nothing on my new heroes, the Skarstedt/Roberts/Stapley/Kingsley family from Utah/Alaska/Louisiana.
Grandmother Cindy Kingsley announced to her sister, and fellow grandmother Mary Ann Roberts, “Mary, I’m biking the Alcan Highway,” and Mary Ann said, “Me, too!”
Then Mary Ann’s daughter Kristina asked, “Can I come?”
This process continued until the cycling party had grown to 14 family members, covering three generations.
“I’ve always done safe things, my whole life,” Mary Ann says. “I wanted to do something crazy.”
I came upon this unlikely group of travelers for the first time at around 11 a.m. on Wednesday, June 26, between Burwash Landing and Destruction Bay.
By Thursday afternoon at around 2:30 p.m., they were taking a rest break at the Kluane Lake Rest Area some 55-plus kilometres further on.
They had done well – there are some serious hills on the Alcan Highway.
They started their adventure in Fairbanks on June 15 and, in order to make their goal of Dawson Creek, B.C. by August 9, they must average at least 45-46 kilometres per day.
That’s 14 people — and five of them are under 10 years old.
The convoy includes Hazel, 4, riding a geared extension behind her mom Kristina’s bike, and Hanim, 5, riding her own bike.
And I complained when I had to coordinate an 8-person team for the Kluane-Chilkat relay.
Not only did the ladies in charge negotiate a sponsorship from Bear Creek Country Kitchens, to supply them with all 15 flavours of their dried soups at cost, Kristina put her dehydrator to work and produced seven or eight different kinds of homemade, mostly raw, energy bars.
The ingredients include everything from sprouted nuts, flax seeds, cherries, and even kale. The favourite, it seems are the Pizza Bars. I took careful note of their ingredients.
The group has a support vehicle — a van loaded with any provisions that won’t fit on the bikes.
Cindy and Mary Ann drive ahead, park the van, jump back on their bikes and double-back so they can ride along with the rest of the family. My guess is they are actually racking up more kilometres that way.
The support van is also carrying the carcass of a broken down recumbent bicycle that was ridden by Ian, 11. Now Ian rides in a trailer, chariot-style, pulled by his Uncle Jimmy.
Everyone has a different perspective on what the best part of the adventure is
15-year old Isaac loves the water, the rivers and the lakes they are passing as they ride. Uncle Jimmy loves spending time with his cousins, nieces and nephews.
Bonny, 11, likes seeing what is up ahead and making up songs about their adventure. Hazel, 4, was shy, but finally answers, “I like the mush.”
The moms burst out laughing. “That’s the hot cereal we make for breakfast.”
So where were the dads?
On the road to Whitehorse, to bring them a fresh stock of provisions and cheer them on for the second half of their adventure.
Now when I see those uber-fit looking guys on the Alcan, I’m not intimidated.
I just remember my new heroes and the mottos they have on their t-shirts:
“I can… Yukon… we Alcan,” and “Face Your Gears.”