Heart-warming kindness in the Alaskan wilderness

Posted by Megan Wycklendt on September 11, 2015

Between Gordon and I, we have met many wonderful, genuinely kind people throughout the years. However, even with an already strong faith in humanity, the kindness that has been afforded us in Alaska has been incredibly humbling.

It all started when our plane hit ground in Anchorage. My friend from graduate school, Alyssa, is now a counselor in Anchorage and offered us a place to ship our bikes to and stay for a few days. Alyssa has always been a wonderful host and thanks to her, the start of our journey could not have been smoother. She welcomed us at the airport and cooked us some delicious Alaska salmon, showed us how to use her personal sauna, and let us lounge on the couch while the bikes were being built at a local bike shop. Without having made an appointment, a mechanic at Paramount Cycles stayed nearly an hour after closing to help put the final touches on our bikes so we could set off the next morning.

As we road through downtown Anchorage to get out of the city limits, we received some “safe travels” and “good luck”s from passerbys and had a short conversation with a couple young boys riding their bicycles through town. “Where are you going? Argentina? Like past Canada? Like past the U.S.? Have fun!” As we pulled off to the side of the road to look at a map, a friendly cyclist stopped her ride to point us in the right direction, and we were on our way!

Seeing two people on bikes with a bags hooked on the wheels has been an easy conversation starter. We’ve gotten a lot of “where you riding to?” and before we know it we are swapping stories. We’ve met many kind folks from motel and cafe owners letting us fill up our water and tell us stories of their own cycle journeys along the Alaska highway to people like Arlene and Alan who saw us resting on the side of the road and stopped to ask if we needed any help. After reassuring each of them that we were just taking a break from the many long climbs through the mountains, we would end up chatting. Arlene told us about a guy who camped in her yard while on a cycling tour around the world through Africa, up from Argentina to Alaska and on his way to Serbia through Russia back to his home in Switzerland. He had told Arlene that he was traveling by bus and, frustrated at how little he got to see, he got off, bought an old bike and starting bicycle touring the world. Alan told us about his own cycling adventures around the U.S. and New Zealand while he was in his 20s and, now retired with a family in Anchorage, he was leaving at the end of the week for an 8 month cycling tour around Europe. When we asked if he had any advice for us newbees he quickly answered “HAVE FUN!” followed with “and take your time.” He left reassuring us that we had just finished the most difficult, mountainous stretch of Alaska and that we should have merely rolling hills until the boarder. Music to our ears.

We continued to meet locals, RV roadtrippers, and motocyclists who told us their stories of their adventures or of people they met doing something similar to us. Hearing about a unicyclist riding around the Artic Circle, and multiple solo bicyclists traveling the world for years, makes us feel like what we’re doing isn’t too crazy.

Countless others showed their kindness by offering us juice and sandwiches or offering their help. One couple saw me walking on the side of the road one day when I lost my prescription sunglasses. They stopped their car, turned around, and helped me look until they eventually found them and rode me back to my bike. Another couple who own a small mom-and-pop shop, Jay and Debbie, insist that travelers passing by stay the night on their property so that they can make sure they are safe and have some warm coffee on the house. They showed us their old bus that they fixed up with beds, a kitchen and writings along all the walls of travelers from around the world praising Jay and Debbie’s hospitality.

We left each conversation in awe of the sincerity of each person we met… and then there was the Mcmahan family. As if we weren’t already impressed and humbled with the kindness of people in Alaska, this family went above and beyond.

On our 6th day we were cycling through our first day of rain when at the top of a hill 20 miles outside of the nearest town, Gordon’s back wheel started wobbling- 2 spokes had broken. We were expecting to have plenty of bicycle issues over the next couple years but we were a bit surprised to have spoke problems on our 6th day. We quickly realized that we didn’t have the proper tools to replace a spoke on the back wheel so I went searching at a house up the road from where we were broken down. There were three young kids playing outside and I asked their mother, Jackie, if I could borrow a wrench. She then invited us to work on the bike closer to the house to get away from the road and offered us some coffee inside. I was not about to turn down anything warm as my toes were frozen from the rain. After realizing that we were more stuck than we thought, not having two specific tools that we needed to replace our spokes, Jackie invited us to stay for dinner, have a warm shower and do a load of laundry. I tried to hold back tears (as I am while writing this) of how grateful I was to be in the company of good people. In a time that could have been disastrous, I felt taken care of. This family was the answer to my prayers, our angels sent from heaven. We couldn’t help but forget our troubles while playing with the kids, Ever (6), Tell (4), and Isla (1 ½) and when Jackie’s husband, Bryan, came home from dinner he only furthered this family’s generosity. They offered us a place to stay the night and after looking at the tire, Bryan assured us that he could make a tool to fix our problem. After warm showers, clean clothes and wonderful conversation, we had the best sleep we had since we left Anchorage.

The next morning, Gordon went with Bryan to his flight hanger (where he keeps his small airplane that he uses for his hunting business) to see if they could fix the wheel. Meanwhile I called all the bike shops trying to find the tools we needed. The closest bike shop was all the way back in Anchorage and since it was a Saturday, the delivery company was closed for the weekend. Being the hero she is, Jackie called some friends, she new were in Anchorage and were driving back to the area that day, and found someone that was willing to pick up the tools and bring them back that night. Shortly after Gordon and Bryan, a genius handyman, came back with a repaired wheel! What would we do without this family? We spent one last night in luxury, eating the most amazing food and playing with the most adorable kids until we exchanged contact information and said our goodbyes the next morning. About 20 miles into our ride, just as I was reflecting on how amazing life is and how grateful I was for the Mcmahans to come to our rescue and treat us so kindly, we see Bryan’s plane swooping over us so we could wave one last goodbye.

Bryan, Jackie, Ever, Tell, Isla– From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.

Alaska, you outdid yourself.