Short Stories
Entry No. 7   June 26, 2004

Europeans, Europeans Everywhere, and then there was a Bear.
Dalton Post Lodge on the Haines Highway - about 530 miles along

First, I'd like to let anyone reading know that this day is dedicated to a Mr. Bernie Griga who is currently fighting cancer and is doing a damn good job of it. Bernie, a former boss, friend, father, and lately, mother (from the hormone therapy), had surgery to remove the cancer on June 26th, the same day of this story.

As I have mentioned, I have been biking with Tamara and Stephan, my new-found friends from Germany. We've been traveling together since my 6th day of biking. We have already become friends and have laughed quite a bit as they teach me some German and I refine their English grammar. It is also amazing the amount of Germans, well, Europeans, but mostly Germans, that we've run into. We've talked to more fellow bikers in Deutsch than English, unfortunately for me - I don't have much input into the conversation. Where are the Americans you might ask? They're all in their RV buses with SUVs trailing behind them for their "day excursions" to the campfire for some S'mores.

From Karl, to Conrad, to Klaus, to the couple from the Netherlands, Germans and Europeans, are brought up with the mentality to go see the world. I like this mentality, I am glad that I have it somewhat, I hope my future soul mate has it, and I would like to build on it and instill this into my children. If I ever, ever take my two week vacation at home catching up on yard work or cleaning the basement, slap me silly and send me on my bike somewhere far.

Since I've started, it has not rained once. There have been many forest fires and there is an Extreme Fire Warning at every campground we have visited and no clouds would hide the hot sun for another three days. As a result, we've taken to biking in the late afternoon into the evening when it is much cooler. With our first attempt at night riding last night, we headed to Kathleen Lake, we had not been prepared for the swarms of mosquitoes that attacked at a stop we made on the way. At first, we thought that maybe night riding wasn't such a good idea, but as we continued, armed with bug spray and mosquito coils, it turned out to be quite a pleasant experience.

After a mid-afternoon dip in the freezing cold Kathleen Lake which gets its temperature and color from the glaciated St Elias Range of the Kluane National Park and Reserve, we lethargically packed up and headed south on the Haines Highway around 6:45pm. Stephan and Tamara were just beat. They had done 4 weeks of biking with maybe three days' rest. I was in a better place because I was still new and fresh and excited - but I was still hot and sluggish, thinking about the hills ahead. It was scorching hot, drinking water was low because it had to be boiled or treated, and we had a 38-mile bike ride ahead of us which we were just not looking forward to. As we were biking the first few miles, we looked at each other and all thought what a tough night this was going to be.

According to the Milepost, there was nothing between Kathleen and Million Dollar Falls, so when we saw the sign for Dalton Post Lodge, we were curious as to what it was, almost dismissing it, for it was not in our bible. Only did I pay it any attention when Stephan wanted clarification as to if "Open After 5 PM" meant that it was open now. Since it was certainly after 5 and some cold, clean water sounded pretty appealing, we pulled in around the back. We weren't sure of what we were getting into after a quick survey of some huskies growling and a helicopter pad to our left. We made another turn, thinking there would be a door to enter, but our eyes popped out of our heads as we saw a huge wooden deck with outdoor chairs and table with umbrellas and a full table of people. People drinking beer, drinking wine, eating appetizers?? "What the hell is this?" we thought and why wouldn't the milepost mention this?

As we said hello, guess what they spoke? German! A few were Swiss, speaking Swiss-German, and some from the Check Republic. They didn't speak much as their mouths were full and we had some ordering to do. We ordered drinks and found out that dinner was no longer being served - hmmmm dinner from 5-7:30? Odd. Before our drinks came, a few more people strolled out of the door that I was dying to go into and check out. However, we started talking to this trio from Switzerland and had a great time with them. Jeanette, her husband, and their friend we later termed the "Chocolate Man". As we got to know each other, we found that the lodge was pretty selective in who comes here to stay. They had various rooms and some were staying for as long as a month. We decided to bet on how much they cost and considered staying the night. Then I went inside to use the bathroom. I looked to my right and couldn't believe my eyes. A huge, flat screen, Hi def I-wish-I-could-remember-all-of-electronic-jibber-jabber TV next to this enormous fireplace with leather couches, a computer, phone, and rug with various paintings and trophy animals on the walls. I fell into the couch and quickly remembered how I must have smelled and the fact that it probably wasn't pleather and I didn't support that. So I got up, but continued to watch the soccer game on TV. I finally made it to the bathroom and then back outside. Tamara looked at me with a "What?" expression because I must have looked bewildered. I sat down and made my bet. $150. They said no way. I said go look inside.

They held off and we continued to talk to our three friends. They also started paying for our iced teas too! And the pretzels and peanuts were plentiful. English was spoken, but when German took over, I was able to contribute Straussenbamhalterstellar (subway stop) and hühne brüste (chicken tits) to the mix. We laughed and talked about cigars and Clinton, our ride, fish stories and skiing in Switzerland, among various other things. We were also gifted with three huge bars of organic (natraplan) chocolate from Jeanette's friend and although I don't like dark chocolate, it was sooo good. It went well with the peanuts.

At one point, Janette told us to check out downstairs. Tamara and I inquired as to what she meant and she just told us to do it. Our normal reaction to hearing someone say "do it" is to repeat it like in the Starsky and Hutch movie when Ben Stiller says it when he is incognito staking out a bust. Stephan and Tamara did not see the movie but I told them about it and now they do it all the time. With their German accent, they give it a Governor Arnold twist and I just about fall over laughing. Here's a big ANYWAY, Tamara and I went downstairs to have a look. My bet just doubled. Foozball and Air-Hockey were among the bar games there as well as the (pronounced [thee]) largest pool table I have ever seen. Huge. Everything was in mint condition. I was in shock as I sipped my tea and ate my chocolate. Tamara and I just looked at each other and said, Well, maybe they'll offer to have us stay in their room! We stayed until 11pm and finally headed out. Chocolate man slipped us a Canadian 10 and we thanked them profusely and headed out. As we pulled on to the road to Million Dollar Falls, we joked that if we were just a bit cuter, we could have gotten the offer for a stay, but the way things were going and the amount of beer they were drinking, it may have meant a blow job for chocolate man by either Tamara or me. And since Tamara was with Stephan, that left me.

So it was 11pm and we still had 45 km (27 miles to go). This time, biking at night was even more beautiful, with the Dezadeash Lake to our left. It took almost an hour to bike past it. As we continued on, the iced teas began to make their way down to my bladder and I felt that I couldn't hold it for much longer, but I didn't want to stop and be really far behind Stephan and Tamara and nervous about the whole bear thing. Many had been sited, especially at night. I held it and told myself that I would stop at the top of the next hill. As my eyes began to yellow, Tamara pulled off and I asked why and she said to pee. I said THANK GOD and Stephan too! We all sat in a row on the side of the highway and laughed like hyenas and peed like cows!

The night was so gorgeous. It was as if it was early dusk on an east coast winter day. The waxing crescent moon above the mountain range with the clouds dotted in the sky made it beautiful, but what made it perfect was the black bear that was roaming in the field to our right. He was far enough away that we didn't feel threatened, yet close enough to make out his perfect little ears. I thought of Bernie and wanted all of the positive feelings I had that day to somehow get to him.

If I ever do question why in the hell I am doing this, which I am sure I will at some point, I need to think back to these amazing experiences and remember why.

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