ST. GEORGE — At the end of last month, Chris Haag and Sophie George spent a couple of weeks back home in St. George.
You remember Chris and Soph. They’re the nice young couple with more degrees than sense (some have suggested) who left their well-paying jobs in July and took their bikes to Alaska so they could ride them to Argentina.
It was even money that by the time they got back to Utah after three months on the road that they’d have had enough of sleeping on the ground and would come to their senses, and instead of continuing on to the tip of South America they would decide to climb back in the rut with the rest of us.
They stayed just long enough to catch up with friends, see their pets, do their laundry and hop back on their touring bikes.
Right about now they’re halfway to Mexico.
The road less traveled agreed with them, they reported, and they aren’t broke yet, even if Alaska and Canada cost a bit more than they’d budgeted. They spent about $3,000 a month for the first three months, taking a dent out of the money they saved back when they were employed — she as a professor at Dixie State; he as a consultant in the energy field — but not much of one.
“And where we’re going it should get a lot cheaper,” said Chris, looking on the bright side as they left St. George and pointed south.
Asked if life on the bike was as idyllic as he thought, Chris said in some ways, yes, in others, not as much.
The actual bicycling, “it’s been harder than we expected,” he said. “What you imagine when you’re planning something like this is riding through beautiful scenery, the wind at your back, the temperature perfect — but that’s not always the case.”
They had a headwind nine out of 10 days and constant hills to climb as they rode through Alaska, Canada and the Pacific Northwest.
“But when it’s harder than you expect it makes the good parts that much better,” he said. “You might be climbing a hill into a headwind for 20 miles and then all of a sudden you get to the pass, the wind dies, and you realize you’re going to get to ride downhill for the next 20 miles, with a view that is indescribable. You go, ‘Wow, this is why we’re out here.’”
The trip so far has greatly improved their view of humanity.
“We’ve been shocked at how gracious people have been,” he said, reflecting on countless meals, offers of places to stay, warm showers, rides in trucks when the smoke from forest fires in Canada made it hard to breathe, and other kindnesses. “People want to help you. I think there’s just something about the bike and showing up so nonthreatening. I didn’t expect it as much in America. People don’t do that here, right? But they do.”
Their favorite stretch so far? That would be the Denali Highway in Alaska. “The highway is actually outside the (Denali National) Park,” said Chris. “But it’s every bit as beautiful and you don’t have the bureaucracy of the park. The feeling of realizing how big that place is is kind of overwhelming.”
The worst stretch?
“Entering any urban area when you’re on the outskirts and there’s the four-lane with the turn lane with no bike lanes or shoulders.”
“We saw a handful of bears. We saw a grizzly at about 150 yards in Denali and one day we passed a black bear from about 15 feet. He poked his head up from a berry patch and thankfully didn’t seem that interested.”
But at that, the bears weren’t nearly as scary as the car on the bridge between Washington and Oregon bearing head-on at 75 miles an hour while passing a long line of cars. “It looked like he was coming straight at us. There was no shoulder and nowhere to go. He probably came within about 2 feet.”
They got a grand total of four flats — all of them, for some reason, on Chris’s front wheel — and averaged close to 50 miles a day during their first 101 days, riding five days out of every seven. Going forward toward Argentina, Chris expects they’ll bicycle less and look around more. “If you only take one day off you’re still sore when you get back on the bike. So it’s nice to take two days off in a row, and it’s even nicer to take three days.
“Soph and I both really want to learn Spanish, so we’re going to spend more time around people,” said Chris, who will continue to make periodic posts on their blog, presumably still in English. You can ride along with them at theplacesipee.org. With no hills to climb, and no headwinds.