The following is an account by Reese Wells, a member of the Keys to Freeze group that rode from the Florida Keys to the tip of Alaska this year as part of Climate Ride’s Independent Challenge program. Two months removed, lessons are still being learned, and the road still beckons. The following is Reese’s reflection their incredible journey.
Keys to Freeze is over. After 8,000 miles through fourteen states, one province, and one territory we have successfully traveled from the tip of Key West, FL to the oilfields of Prudhoe Bay, AK. As an Independent Challenge with Climate Ride we chose the National Parks Conservation Association as our fundraising beneficiary and so raised funds and awareness in the best way we know how – meeting people on the road and starting a conversation.
We meet a lot of people this way. The road, it seems, is made for stopping. Oh! The sights we see trawling at eight mph. Oh! The communities we crash at night, weary and looking for shelter. Oh! The diners and dives we descend upon, rooting around the menu like hungry hogs at the feed.
Reese Wells sits back, satisfied after completing the Big Texan 72-ounce steak dinner challenge. He is rewarded with a shirt, a free meal, and a distended belly for his efforts.
The days grow and blend and soon become weeks. The weeks trick into months and what is left to distinguish present from past is this rolling landscape. From the flat and tropical Florida clime to the barren and brown wastes of a Texas panhandle in drought we spend our first month learning the rules of the road. Then into the Rockies of Colorado, the parks of southern Utah, the wild lights and sights of Las Vegas, the desert of eastern California, the bustling city of San Francisco. Up, up the west coast to the rugged Oregon coastline and then inland to Portland and Seattle. To the islands! We ferry-hop to Victoria before heading back to the mainland. Downhill mountain biking waits in Whistler and then it’s the long and straight Scenic Corridor of Highway 97 up to Dawson Creek.
So the Alaskan Highway begins. We stay on the ALCAN all 1400 miles, watching the landscape turn from flat, dense pinelands to huge, sweeping mountain landscapes covered in muskeg. We are in Alaska. Tok to Fairbanks and then Fairbanks up to the Dalton Highway, famous as the ‘Ice Road Trucker’ highway. Four hundred miles to Prudhoe Bay. To the Arctic Circle. To the end of our tour.
And so, looking back on the road I wonder – what do we learn? What can I take back with me now that the road has ended and I have made my way home? Perhaps the lessons are found in memory. I remember moments that helped define this experience.
1. Keys to Freeze arriving in Duncan’s Mills, CA to cheers from Climate Ride’s California North Coast team of 168. Seeing the happy people, flying high from their first century, eating and congregating. It was inspiring how quickly they have formed together, and how excited everyone seems for the road. A tent city sprawls over the field where they camp. A band of cycle tourers.
2. There is a moment that I name the Arrival of the West. We are cycling from Albuquerque, NM to Santa Fe. Gone are the high winds and brown doldrums of Texas and southern New Mexico. Here are the Jemez Mountains. Mountains! This is the arrival of the west, the beginning of our trip into the wild, a signaling that our trip is leaving the creature comforts of civilization as we began the slow and uncompromising march towards the wilds of the west.
3. The last leg of our journey – The Dalton Highway. This is our final challenge. It is a complex one. We are tested physically, emotionally, and mentally on a long and uncooperative road. Each day throws new challenges and obstacles – bike failures, heavy winds, an ice storm, and big mileage – that we must to overcome in order to reach our goal of Prudhoe Bay and the Arctic Ocean. But the reward of setting up camp each day in such amazing, unparalleled wilderness and beauty triumphs over all.
What do we learn? Maybe I can only speak for myself. So be it.
I am a new man because of Keys to Freeze. That’s what sitting on a bicycle for six months can do for you – it’s a lot of time to sit and be witness to the country highways and byways and interstates that twist and crisscross their ways through the states.
I learn that this lifestyle is not always easy. On some days, motivation is hard to come by. I lean on my teammates for support. I trust them with everything. They are my family. We share the joys of the road – in the people we meet and the sights we see.
I learn about my country. The United States is a huge and diverse place. It needs people like you to continue advocating for and protecting its wild places because they are in danger of being overwhelmed by simple, violent misuse in the future.
Keys to Freeze works with the Zion National Park rangers on a trail maintenance day — cleaning up rock graffiti is good for the soul.
I learn of the road’s hidden joys – a surprise bike path next to a busy bridge, for example. They help us push through the tough miles.
I learn that this is not the last stretch of road. It continues on, winding its way over, around, and out of view. I find, even two months off the bike, it calling to me. Maybe Keys to Freeze will ride again.
We ride these roads, every day a new city, our new home. Thank you for all the support and love along the way. We could not have done this trip without you.
So the road goes — and with us on it.