==This post is an excerpt from my upcoming book, One Family, One Dream, One Very Long Road. While we are hiking the Colorado Trail from Denver to Durango this summer, I’ll post an excerpt every Monday.==
We were nearly at the end of the Alaska Highway and John and I wondered how Davy would deal with traffic – until now we hadn’t encountered any significant traffic at all. Would he be able to do this? We knew, after 2000 miles, that he was physically capable of riding his bike to Argentina, but could he handle the mental stresses of dealing with traffic? We would find out soon enough.
Davy and Daryl were, in many respects, extraordinary. They set high goals and never wavered in their determination to achieve them. They understood the idea of breaking an enormous task into manageable chunks rather than being overwhelmed by the big picture. And yet, in other ways, they were very typical ten-year-old kids.
So far, Alaska and Canada had been nothing more than an enormous playground for the boys. Each time we climbed off our bikes they were off and running. They climbed trees and balanced on guardrails. They played soccer with discarded Coke bottles and baseball with pinecones. While John and I rested on the side of the road, Davy and Daryl ran and played just like children the world over.
Were we forcing them to grow up too soon by taking them on this journey? A handful of bloggers had accused us of taking them on a forced march; of taking away their childhood. Were we doing that? Or were we giving them a childhood dreams are made of?
Davy and Daryl were the happiest kids I’d known. They loved their lives on the road. They thrived on the challenges and glowed with delight at being outdoors. I couldn’t help but feel that Mother Nature was the best teacher around and that my sons would learn life lessons that would carry them through their lives.
But still those doubts plagued me. Were we doing the right thing? Was it fair to take our children out of school, soccer teams, and Boy Scouts? Was it a fair tradeoff?
“You see that over there?” the manager of the campground asked me as he pointed toward a jet black, roiling, seething mass of clouds. “You don’t want to be caught out here in that. It’ll be a bad one.”
“I saw it,” I replied as I tied our big blue tarp securely over our bikes. “I’m just battening down the hatches here and getting ready.”
“We use Room 21 as a supply room for the lodge,” he told me, “but there is some room on the floor for a couple of sleeping bags. You are welcome to take refuge there if you want. I know I wouldn’t want to be out here in that storm.”
I thanked him for his generosity, and assured him we could weather the storm in our tent. After all, we’d been through a storm or two in that thing. A few minutes later I had everything prepared – the bikes were covered, our gear was stashed, and the tent stakes firm. I crawled into the tent with John and the boys.
“I think two of us should head over to the room,” John said, as he looked at the sky through the window of our tent. “Nancy, why don’t you and Daryl sleep over there tonight?”
“We’ve always been OK in here before,” I replied.
“Yeah. But it’s never been this bad before. The way I see it, that storm is blowing in fast. If you’re going to go, you have to go now. Once it hits, there’s no way you’ll be able to get your sleeping bags over there without them getting drenched.”
Daryl and I clambered out of the tent with sleeping bags, pillows, and mats in hand and dashed to the supply room. A few minutes later we were sound asleep on the floor.
It seemed like five minutes later when John barged in.
“Nancy!” he called out. “What a storm! Did you see the lightning?”
“A storm?” I asked. “Did it hit?”
“Holy cow! Did it hit? I’ve never seen a storm like this! Lightning was flashing pretty much constantly for thirty minutes and rain was coming down in waves. It was almost like someone was standing there pouring bucket after bucket of water down on us. And the wind! Our tent poles were bending like willows in the wind. It was crazy! It let up a bit after thirty minutes or so, but it’s been raining steady all night.”
As it happened, our tent leaked and there was a big puddle of water right where my sleeping bag would have been. It’s a good thing Daryl and I took refuge in the supply room.
It was a quick 25-mile hop in pouring rain from the lodge to Fort St. John which, for all practical purposes, indicated the end of the Alaska Highway. The official end would come the following day after another short ride, but we had emerged from the wilderness into civilization. From here on out, we would be passing through at least one town each day.
I felt as Alexander the Great must have felt after he crossed the Sahara Desert and finally arrived in the oasis of Siwa, or how the gold miners felt when they staggered into Dawson City after trudging through the wilderness for weeks. Arriving into Fort Nelson felt like landing on a foreign planet.
John and I sandwiched Davy between us as we entered into town. John and Daryl, on the tandem, went first to give Davy an example to follow. I followed behind to holler should he do something dangerous. With one minor glitch, the kid did a marvelous job of dealing with traffic and we arrived into town, triumphant.
It was a whirlwind of activity. Davy and Daryl were the youngest people to cycle the entire Alaska Highway and the press was out in force. A luxury hotel agreed to host us and we felt horribly out of place traipsing into luxury as muddy water dripped off our bikes and gear.
Before we even had a chance to shower away all the muck we were whisked away for TV and radio interviews, photo shoots, and meetings with local officials. It was pretty heady stuff for a family used to being part of the food chain out in Mother Nature’s world.
But we had made it! I had given us about a 50% chance of completing the Dalton Highway and then about 60% of making it to Dawson Creek at the end of the Alaska Highway. Now the long distances and remote areas were behind us. From here on out, our journey would be easier. The chances that we would reach Argentina someday were now a whole lot higher.
The best part of it all was that I had my answers. We WERE doing the right thing for our children. It WAS a fair tradeoff to take Davy and Daryl out of school, soccer teams, and Boy Scouts in order to give them the world. They were benefiting in ways I could only imagine, but ways that would benefit them their whole lives.
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2000 miles in: Arriving at the end of the Alaska Highway is a post from: Family on Bikes. Sign up for our monthly newsletter to receive your free e-book: Bicycle Touring with Children; A Guide to Getting Started.