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thompson pass

Not long after I turn back onto the highway a man in a pick-up truck stops to warn me that he had seen a bear on the road only a couple of minute ago and so I set off on my way ringing my bell and singing bear songs.

The road out of Valdez rises steadily. The gradient is deceptively gently at first but it doesn’t relent for eight miles and gradually becomes increasingly severe. However, the views offer plenty of consolation. The weather is fine and sunny but as I continue to ascend, the air becomes chillier and above the tree-line patches of snow lie by the side of the road. Towards the summit clouds start to gather gloomily on the mountain tops.

A pair of trumpeter swans with a cygnet on a pond beside the road.

A pair of trumpeter swans with a cygnet on a pond beside the road.

Waterfall by the roadside on the ascent out of Valdez.

Waterfall by the roadside on the ascent out of Valdez.

I finally reach the crest of the pass at 2678 feet (806 metres) and a glacier looms into view on the other side close enough to the road for me to explore. Even better, the small visitor centre at the bottom of the glacier sells Snickers bars.* I find that glaciers, up close, are cold, wet and rather grubby and I am not sure if I am very impressed.

The summit of Thompson Pass at 2678 feet (806 metres).

The summit of Thompson Pass at 2678 feet (806 metres).

Worthington Glacier just north of Thompson Pass.

The glacier just north of Thompson Pass.

A glacier, up close.

A glacier, up close.

A glacier, up close.

A glacier, up close.

Eight miles of climbing has its compensations beyond some nice scenery and a Snickers bar and I whizz effortlessly, out of the dank clouds, down the other side of the pass and into the evening sunshine on the lookout for a campsite.

The road downhill.

The road downhill.

It proves to be one of those days, however, where the perfect place to rest is elusive. I eventually stop to cook some dinner at a roadside rest area with some picnic tables sheltering amongst trees which provide a screen from the road. I consider putting up my tent but a constant stream of traffic pulling into the area to use the public toilets makes me feel uneasy. The place is isolated but at the same time I feel exposed. It is late and so rather reluctantly I get back on my bike and continue. Several people have told me that there is an abandoned lodge down the road where I should be able to camp without problem but somehow I end up missing it.

Eventually I see a little cabin by a clear stream which I optimistically assume to be the lodge but on closer inspection it is evidently well used and clearly private property. I don’t have the will to go on so I put my tent up beside the cabin. I have lost track of the days of the week but I hope that it isn’t a weekend and that nobody arrives that evening or early the following morning.

The cabin is surrounded by a well cared for garden and chimes sound in the breeze. A porcupine ambles about on a small island on the stream. A small foot bridge over the stream is inviting bit a sign warns that the island is the home of honey-bees. A fragment of a dimly remembered poem about islands and bees drifts through my mind.**

The next morning I wake early and – regretfully, because the place is beautiful and I would like to linger on here – pack up quickly without cooking my morning porridge and ride on my way.

*In general, I am not a chocolate eater but eight miles of solid climbing on a bike makes me extremely hungry for Snickers.

** Google reveals the barely remembered poetry fragment to be from Lake Isle of Innisfree by William Yeats. What came to mind was a muddled part of the first line – I will rise now and go to Innisfree – and the fact that there was a mention of honeybees and an island. I have copied the poem in full below and I may attempt to memorise it just in case I have need of it again in the future.

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evenings full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear the lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

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