Two rubber wheels on the road
The story of the Dickey family's mammoth bicycle trip from Alaska to Mexico started in the tangled wreckage of an SUV and ended with an enduring closeness which will last a life time.
The trip, as it turns out, is more than the story of a father and his two sons undertaking a colossal journey, but one of the bonds that can only be formed when the creature comforts of the world are stripped away and the only solace remaining in the wet and cold night is the laughter of a loved one.
At the end of 2006, a coastal bicycle ride was the last thing on the mind of Jake Dickey. He had just survived a horrific accident that caused major damage to his left knee and may have killed him had he not been wearing his helmet.
"I was really lucky not to have injured my head or neck," quipped Dickey as he recalled being on the wrong end of a motorcycle, SUV collision. "Then again, maybe I hit my head pretty good to come up with an idea like riding a bicycle from Anchorage, Alaska to Mexico."
Jake credits or blames his father (depending on the story) for his love of biking and already had some pretty impressive rides under his belt before leaving Alaska, including a tour of the Oregon coast.
"It was my dad who got us started doing these bikes rides," noted the eldest Dickey, speaking of him and his younger brother Mark. "When I was 11 we drove out to the Oregon coast to deliver a piano and I was really enchanted by the lush vegetation and the rocky Oceanside of the area. So we took the 'scenic route' home. That is to say we took our time."
The Dickey's found signs on the coastal highway about a bike trail and began dreaming of someday riding that country. Those dreams initially led to a trip that led them through the entire length of Oregon, a trip the native Carbonites will never forget.
However, for this family, that trip quite simply wouldn't be enough.
Next, they stepped it up a notch and rode the rubber from Canada down to California, meeting a Japanese man who would sew the seeds of their coming epic journey. He told them of a path from Anchorage to the southern most tip of South America.
"Before then it never occurred to me that someone could do such a thing," said Jake. "I always imagined that Alaska was completely covered by ice and snow all year around. But it got me thinking...."
Two years later in 2003, father David Dickey and Jacob's 13-year-old brother, Mark, rode from Canada to Mexico. Jake reported that he wasn't able to make the trip because of prior commitments. However, after his motorcycle accident, he began wondering just how badly he had injured his knee and if he would ever be able to join his family on their biking adventures again. That thought caused an awakening in Jake, forcing him to jot down his "bucket list" at a very young age and setting plans for the ride in motion.
On May 23, 2008, the Dickey brothers found themselves in Anchorage, cold and frankly a little scared, Jacob said. The pair would start the journey and then meet up with their father in Vancouver.
"When we left, the days were very long and even at 5 p.m. the sun was really high in the sky," he explained. "As we set out I had a very uneasy feeling. Even though we were at sea level, being that far north is just very disorienting. I felt like we could slip and fall all the way to the equator."
According to Jake, the pair started out doing about 15 miles per day. They had planned the trip meticulously, but were reaching their destinations just as the sun was disappearing from what looked like an alien sky.
"Those first few weeks, we never saw the night sky because the sun set at about 12:45 a.m. and rose at 4 a.m. And believe me, as hard riding as the trail was, we were in bed by 12:45 a.m.," recalled the elder Dickey brother.
Jake said if it could go wrong in Alaska it did. At one point the team was almost shut down, because even though they had planned for wet conditions, they had no idea what kind of wet to prepare for.
"It rained ceaselessly and it was freezing," stated Jacob. We had prepared for rain but we had never thought about getting wet from below. We were trying to get through by riding without any gloves and after being on our bikes for only a few minutes our hands were going numb and I knew we were in real danger of hypothermia. So we took shelter in a large corrugated steel pipe. We ended up using garbage bags to cover our hands and feet, hoping it would get us by. We were killing ourselves trying to keep on schedule because one, we had to meet up with our father, and two if we didn't we wouldn't be able to finish the whole ride."
Their make-shift waterproofing did not hold up and after starting their assent into the Alaskan Rocky Mountains, matters only continued to get worse.
"We never said it to each other, but I know after 60 miles of solid uphill biking through freezing rain we were both thinking that maybe we had bitten off more than we could chew and began to second guess our ability to complete the trip safely," admitted Jake.
The pair lucked out and happened upon a small pavilion where they began to thaw out. Realizing that all of their gear was now soaked and that if they couldn't find a way to dry out and thaw their only recourse would be a cold ride back to Anchorage. They managed to start a small fire and get things dry for another day of torturous riding.
"We only continued because we didn't fool ourselves into thinking that things couldn't get worse, because they did," he said.
After only a few days on the trip, reality sunk in that things were not going to get easier. In fact, the pair were about to encounter a whole new problem.
"Of all the problems that we had on the trip, none was as bad as the headwinds we dealt with in Canada," recalled Jake, shaking his head. "Nothing was more frustrating than working up a hill into a headwind and coming over the summit only to find that you have to pedal your heart out just to go downhill."
The pair dumped every piece of equipment that was not essential at this point. That meant that they would be lighter but that planned stops and provisions restocking would become much more important. The few creature comforts they had to begine with, however were mailed home with glad hands.
Day after day the pair forced their bikes through the wind, reporting that the conditions brought a sort of madness into their mind set.
"Eventually, the helplessness changed into fury and rage," stated Jake. "Not long after that my rage turned into defiance. The wind would blow harder and I would laugh louder and ride faster. That felt great. When we finally reached that manic state, the harder things got, the more fun we had because the more fun it became to succeed. We gained a closeness on that trip that could never be matched by any other experience. You never really know someone, what's in their heart, until you go through something that intense with them."
Their defiance paid off in more ways than one, as the pair eventually managed to ride over 150 miles in a 21 hour period. They slept in a baseball dugout in the Vancouver suburbs for a few hours after reaching the first leg of their destination and a hard fought, well deserved rendezvous with their father.
According to David, his recount of the experience is a little more zen and laid back than that of his sons, partly because of where he joined the journey and partly because of his maturity.
"A bike trip is an amazing experience, being able to eliminate the day to day clutter that we call life is a very liberating feeling. I am always amazed that even after having done four such trips that I still end up sending a lot of junk home that I really didn't need," he explained.
"It is interesting to bike through a town," he continued. "It is in some way I think the way the old west was when you would ride your horse into town. People all want to talk with you, find out how far you've come and where you are headed. It is as though because you are not encased in a metal box, you are accessible. I always miss that at the end of the trip, when you return to being just one more in the crowd. I also realize I don't want people coming up to me at a gas station and talking to me in my car."
According to David, as a person cycles through a new town they get a whole different experience than those zooming by in motorhomes or other motor vehicles. He says those people are only getting a fraction of interaction with their surrounding environment.
"You know they didn't feel the sudden temperature change you felt at the top of the hill. They also couldn't hear the cry of a sea lion, they could not smell crisp sea air and you know they just missed the sea cave in that rock outcropping that could only be viewed by looking over the edge, an edge a car would never get to," concluded the elder Dickey. "Yes life from the seat of a bike is an amazing experience."-