It started as a beautiful day. It had snowed in the morning and cleared up early in the afternoon. This was the moment I said goodbye to Lois in Watson Lake. Packed and with full loaded panniers I went cycling the 200 kilometers on the Alaska Highway to the Liard Hotsprings. Lois had hosted me for two nights and was like a caring mother, making me a chilli con carne when I arrived, baking fresh bread and making me such a big blueberry cake that would keep me going for the next eight days.
The stretch between Watson Lake and Liard Hotsprings would be special, because about 1000 wild bison live there. These animals are protected and because they are illegal to be hunted, they live on and along the road. Lois told me that cyclists had no problems with me. They weren’t aggressive, they just got in the way.
I soon came across signs with warnings and pictures of the bison. I was on the road for two hours and already saw the first three animals along the road.
They grazed peacefully on the roadside at a safe distance and looked at me a bit dry. I was impressed, saw wild bisons for the first time in my life, what an impressive animals. I took some pictures and cycled on, still enjoying this new discovery.
The night was approaching and I started to pay extra attention for a camping spot. In the distance I saw another bison lying peacefully on the roadside. This one was alone. I got closer and it wasn’t too long anymore before I would pass the animal. Suddenly something strange happened, the bison got spooked and jumped up and started to run. I immediately knew it was not a good sign. The big beast ran ahead of me, first through the thick layer of snow on the verge and later he jumped onto the road.
I cycled calmly after it, thinking that the poor animal was really scared of me and I apologized for my strange appearance in the middle of winter. At the same time I was aware that these were exactly the ingredients for a potentially dangerous situation, only I was lucky that he ran away from me and not towards me. I saw his footprints for the next ten kilometers on the road, until I finally found a suitable camping spot and stopped cycling. That night was comfortable, the temperature had risen a mild -5 and I slept no different than usual.
The next morning I got back on my bike. I had already forgotten yesterday’s incident and in my mind I was already laying in the warm oasis of the Liard Hotsprings. I cycled at ease for about an hour, until a moment when I looked over my left shoulder and what I saw was like a nightmare. The bison had spotted me again and now ran at a good pace towards me on the other side of the road. Fortunately I saw him approaching at a reasonable distance and just started to push it to keep ahead of the beast. It couldn’t be different than the bison that started running in front of me yesterday. Had I passed him somewhere? And why was he coming after me now? The situation was completely reversed and the thought, the poor animal, was now turned in a help cry. A bison that a probably spooked was now running after me!
A few scenarios ran through my head. If I stopped would he run past me? Attack me? Would I run into the woods then? Or play dead behind my bike?
Two trucks passed in the opposite direction and that slowed the bison down a bit. Now that the animal was a little further behind me, I stopped to observe the situation and to catch my breath. After some seconds a car stopped next to me that had just driven past the bison in my direction. One of the ladies in the car opened the window and shouted:
“That buffalo is on a dead run! You need to get the hell out of here!”
“What should I do?” I shouted back, “Isn’t it smart to get in your car?”
She looked at me with an intens gaze and shouted back:
‘A little further on is Contact Creek, you’ll be safe there, if I were you I would start pedaling really fast!’
The bison had already come dangerously close. I jumped on my bike and started pedaling like crazy. I still could put out a little joked to myself, because if he would keep chasing me like this, I’ll be in Mexico in eight weeks, instead of eight months. A smile came to my face that quickly gave way to a frightened look over my left shoulder.
Luckily the road went downhill and soon I passed a closed motel and a big shed where a man was clearing snow in a push truck. I immediately cycled over to him and told him what had just happened.
“Oooh,” the man said, smiling while showing his three remaining teeth, “don’t worry that buffalo won’t get any further than here. If you continue cycling, there is nothing to worry about.”
I stayed at the shed for a while and sure enough I saw the bison linger a bit at the buildings I just passed.
With a peace of mind I went cycling again and a little further I came to Contact Creek. A small gas station with a bar run by a grumpy lady who didn’t feel like having a customer today. At least, that’s how she came across to me. I paid the $2 for a cup from the self-serve coffee pot and sat down to take a breath.
Made a little video that answered some questions from social media on how it is to cycle the Alaska Highway in winter. Enjoy!