In the great north woods (part 9)

Day 16
The landscape now feels so tame compared to the Yukon and further north in British Columbia.. We pass farmhouses with cattle and hayfields, and the road is hemmed with power lines. The rain clouds that move across the sky so quickly, transforming the warm morning sunlight into grey blustery afternoons, no longer seem so threatening. If we get wet and cold we could pedal the next ranch entrance and beg for hot tea and shelter from the storm.
As we ascend out of the Peace River valley, we start to see beetle kill in the hillsides above us, as if the pine trees were turning for fall, their reddish-brown hue covering huge swaths of forest. The beetles that kill the pines are indigenous to North America, but previously the cold winters would thin out their population enough to prevent the wide scale loss of trees. Now, with climate change there are less frost days every winter and forests across the northern interior are turning red. Have we, just like the pine beetle, become so populous that we are depleting the natural resources we survive on at a level that is not infinitely sustainable?
Day 17
We biked in the rain today once again. What started as a gentle mist as we ascended to Azouzetta Lake had transformed into a steady downpour by the time we reached camp. We saw our first cottonwoods that had begun to change yellow in the cold. Tonight is warmer though and all our wet gear is spread around the campsite. Steam from wet gear that's warming over the fire catches in the beams of our headlamps. In the morning it�s damp and foggy and our gear still hasn�t dried out. The peaks of the Rockies around us are hidden in a cold mist that makes the thought of stripping down into bike shorts undeniably unappealing.
I discovered the dangers of DEET today. The bugs were terrible and I sprayed DEET around my head. Taking off the helmet later I felt like I'd stuck my hand into black sticky sap where the plastic had melted from the bug spray. I still don't have any bug bites though, so I�m going to stick with my regimen of coating myself in this toxic stuff.
I feel myself getting less and less analytical as the days go on. My mind has become occupied with the simplest of tasks. When will this hill end? When is the next meal? Is that rain cloud moving this way? It's not that we're entirely disconnected from civilization here � there are occasionally payphones at the outposts and a steady stream of vehicles pass us on the highway, but it�s taken us three days to find someone who's seen a recent weather report and the other news that normally permeates my life through Gothamist and Drudge has become completely muted. I know nothing of who Obama picked as his vice presidential running mate, nor how many gold medals American athletes won in this Olympics. And it doesn't matter. Instead I'm thinking about what we're going to have for breakfast tomorrow morning.
The wind shifts and is blowing smoke into my laptop. Little flakes of ash are landing on my keyboard. The fire is starting to go out and I'm already wearing every layer of clothing I brought, so I guess that means it's time to get in my sleeping bag. It's amazing how fast the days go. Wake up. Stretch. Eat breakfast. Pack. Ride. Lunch. Ride. Find camp. Unpack. Make dinner. Clean up from dinner. Write. Go to bed.
Photo: Campfire (Alex Applegate)

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