Thursday, November 12, 2009


I was heading to Watson Lake. Watson Lake is a relatively large town in the Yukon, and before you begin to develop any idealistic notions about a quaint little village set into the beautiful forests of the far north, you should know that Watson Lake is not most famous for its scenery, but rather for its 'signpost forest.'

I never did make it there to see this undoubtedly stunning wonder, but I know it consists of hundreds of road signs from all over the world that have been tacked up to wooden posts in an area creating a 'forest.' While the glory and charm of this forest are heavily touted on every tourist brochure in every cafe along the highway, I heard it described as 'not very impressive' by another cyclist, and so do not regret never having seen it. Nevertheless Watson Lake was my target, my mental destination. Cities like that meant a day off, a grocery store, and laundry. At least that's the frame I mind I was in at that point on my trip.

The day after leaving David behind by the lake was difficult. It was one of those days that was bland and unscenic. The trees seemed shrubby once again, like they had been further north. I watched much too closely as the kilometers clicked by and constantly felt like stopping. You’re tired. Make lunch, pull over and camp here. Take a day off. At least take a break. To this, some other part of me would simply respond, you're not tired, you're just looking for an out. And it was true, in part. I was actually tired, but I was mainly just looking for an out. At that point in my trip I was still stopping frequently, even if only for a minute or two. Every hour or so I would congratulate and encourage myself and take a couple bites of food. If anything, this at least helped to break the monotony of an entire day on a bike.

I finally allowed myself a break at a small rest area. That was one thing that always cracked me up, all those rest areas. Why are there so many rest areas? Who is doing so much resting anyways? This particular pull out was equipped with an outhouse and several informational boards with faded drawings of birds and plants and brief descriptions explaining the landscape. I still couldn't sit still long enough to really read any of these signs. I walked around munching a Snickers bar -sorry William- and tried anyways…

'...hundreds of acres burn leaving behind an environment of blah blah...well suited for many types of new blah blah blah which you can see by the thousands in the spring.'

I moved on to the next sign which had a hand drawn raven.

'The raven is a highly intelligent bird which plays a role in local mythology and tribal superstitions. The raven is generally considered a bad omen or the representation of an evil spirit.' My interest started to fade. 'Feathers are often used blah blah...' I finished munching my candy bar and got back on the bike.

In the distance a narrow black line quivered against the sky at the top of a low rise. I squinted, trying to determine what it was. It can't be another cyclist, it's too skinny... The line wiggled back and forth, oscillating like a mirage or a post blurred in heat rising off the ground. Slowly the specter solidified and within minutes I was face to face with it. It stared back at me. Its eyes were a brilliant reflective orange in which I could see myself and the mountains behind me. Its head was narrow and bulging and fluted on top, like a giant mushroom. Its arms and legs were skinny and black and it was smiling at me.

'Hello!' he said.

'Hi,' I answered, looking into his face which was tucked beneath a bike helmet that seemed somehow a little too puffy and behind a pair of brilliantly orange sunglasses that turned up at the edges making him look like some kind of insect. He wore long sleeve, black skin tight cycling clothes, and had absolutely no equipment on his bike which is why he looked so thin at a distance.

'Where're you going?' I asked him.

He smiled at me even more broadly, straddling his bike and standing partway in the highway.

'Well you see, I'm a Christian,' he said stretching his right arm out wide, touching his left fingertips to his chest and inclining his head slightly, almost as though the entire motion were a subdued but still theatrical bow, 'and I've been traveling on this here bike to spread the word of the good Lord Jesus Christ.'

He spoke with a Texan accent and had the energy and charisma of a fledgling television pastor. He was young, maybe in his late twenties.

'Oh, I'm a Christian too,' I said to him.

'Well the evidence of the Lord is all around us,' he said, sweeping his arm around at the mountains.

That's a rather silly argument, not that I'm gonna argue, I thought.

We exchanged information and wished one another well. It turned out that 'Jesse' had come up from Florida and was ultimately heading up to Deadhorse, after taking several months off in Alaska. I don’t know where he is now, but I don't think he could have actually done it before winter began in earnest, making the road impassable. Jesse was supported by a friend who drove a truck and pulled a trailer with his gear. I met the friend a few miles later.

I don't remember his name. It was a common name, but I had one of those moments where you hear a name and could not repeat it even a moment after hearing it. He was a big kid. I'm sure he played great football when he was in high school, and maybe even college. He had powerful hands and a big head. He was such a contrast to the light and slender frame of Jesse that I had trouble imagining them as friends.

He had actually driven past me catching up to Jesse, and then turned around and caught back up to me to give me a drink. He was too nice and it didn't seem natural coming from a guy with such a powerful build, although I do not doubt his sincerity. After giving me a soda he drove off, but turned around again and caught up with me fifteen minutes later, having found the pair of socks he couldn't find for me the first time he looked. I wish I could remember his name.

That evening it started to rain. A light, cold and dark rain that began just as I was pulling off the road to camp. I had reached Teslin, home of a grocery store. Well, that's what all the travelers said as it seems to be the only thing there worth anything to anyone. There was also a restaurant which had RV parking. I set up my tent in light rain down by the lake, had a shower, and crawled into bed.

When the rain cover is on the tent it is impossible to see out of. There are no windows and two doors have to be unzipped in order to get out. This leaves one feeling pretty vulnerable and blind. I lay there thinking about all the things that had happened recently, about being on my own again and how much I looked forward to getting south.

I was just beginning to drift off when suddenly a big black hand slapped down hard on top of my rain cover and began scratching against it furiously. My stomach cinched and my heart jumped in surprise as sharp black fingers began scraping frantically against the rain cover.

I stared for a moment and then reached up and punched the scrambling dark spot with the side of my fist. Instantly it disappeared, vanishing completely, making no noise at all. I laid my head back down and tried to slow my heart.

A raven, I thought, it was only a raven.

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