Thursday, September 29, 2005

 

Leaving Smithers


(09/28) For the past almost week I have been in Smithers, British Columbia. I’ve been updating the site and fixing a few things wrong with my computer—with a little help from Simon at B. C. web and Martin and Trevor at Anthem Computer Services—as well as gearing up for the next part of the ride to Prince George then over into Jasper and Banff. I have also been recovering from the ride down The Cassiar while staying at Tom Buri’s place just outside of town. Tom, the fellow that I met while in Tatooga Lake, has a fantastic home with possibly the best view in all of Smithers. It’s along a country road, neatly tucked away from the town, and sits high atop a knoll that over looks Smithers and the towns awesome ski hill. He also has led a very interesting life. Now a trial lawyer here in Smithers, Tom once lived off the land with his family for ten years in a cabin that he built in Telegraph Creek; a small community of Tahltan aboriginals way up north, in the bush, in a part of The Stikine River Valley known as The Grand Canyon of the Stikine. The views, spread and stories make it all too easy to want to stay and just hang around, but I know that it’s time to go. The cold rain and newly snow capped peaks tell me so. Until now I have been lucky and staying just enough ahead of the impending winter weather but if I hang around for too long it will catch me. So now I’m off! Bound for Prince George and new adventure!




Monday, September 26, 2005

 

"The Road Less Traveled."


After a few days off relaxing at The Liard River Hot Springs I was all set to start riding the long 450 miles (724 kilometers) of The Steward-Cassiar Highway. Late in the afternoon on Monday, September 12, I began what was to be an adventure in isolation, similar to the start of this tour along The Dalton Highway. Highway 37 is a road that not too many people knew well, but one that everyone recommended for its beauty and seclusion. So I had a bite to eat after being dropped off by Calvin Cornish then set off into the unknown to see what there was to be seen.

The northern part of Highway 37 started off less than fantastic; less than fantastic when compared to the section of Alaskan Highway from Watson Lake to The Liard River Hot Springs that I just hitch-hiked over. The road was more narrow and defiantly less traveled—after the first hour on the road I saw only 4 vehicles—but all of the scenery was being swallowed-up by thickening rows of spruce/pine forests that began lining both sides of the highway. The road started meandering slowly downward also, further hiding the views of the surrounding mountains. I began to doubt my decision and started to wonder if this was the right choice. “Is everyone whom I had spoken to about riding the road full of it?” I thought still continuing south. But I pressed on. I had made my decision and was determined to see it through to the end, no matter what the landscape offered.

After 25 miles (40 kilometers) of riding I stopped for the night beside the Blue River. It was getting dark and starting to rain. I did all of the necessary chores in order to enjoy a safe and cozy camp for the evening, got ready for the next day of riding and then called it a night.

The next day (09/13) started off wet. The sky remained dark and grey through out the morning and well into the afternoon. Periods of rain fell on my back and a persistent head wind blew in my face through out the day. Large ominous clouds full of cold rain kept a steady vigil over me later on that evening as I made my way further down The Cassiar searching for a place to camp for the night. I found a place right before dusk. I strung my food up after I prepared dinner and made a camp fire under cover of the thick, wet night. I rode over 50 almost 60 miles that day (96 kilometers maybe). Through out the days ride I could tell that the scenery was starting to change for the better, but because of the constant cloudy and wet weather I wasn’t able to see much. I was afforded only a few glimpses of what I am sure was nothing short of incredible. This also includes several, although brief sightings of bears—brown and black—as they wondered across the road in search of food or dinned on berries that were blooming right along side of it! “Maybe tomorrow the weather will change?” was the last thought I had before falling to sleep.

(09/14) I awoke to the sound of rain drops gently starting their rhythmic pattern against my tent at 6:45 a.m. The now very familiar sound of rain made it easy to put off starting my day and turn over and fall back to sleep. By 10 a.m. the rain stopped, allowing me to perform the morning chores without getting too wet and eventually get a start to the day. Because of the late start I decided to eat more than usual in order to avoid a lunch stop. I had the regular bowl of oatmeal and mug of coffee, but also ate some things that I normally reserved for my lunch break—cheese, jerky, peanuts. I filled my water bottles, finished packing the bike and then set off to start the ride. It was 12:30 p.m.

The views were starting to show themselves more and more as I pedaled the bike over the twisting and narrow road through the tiny town of Jade City—a town known, ostensibly, for its Jade stuff. I continued to make my way further down Highway 37. Still rain and wind dominated. Periods of brief sun only made the trip more frustrating. Because I was all geared out and ready to spend the day battling rain, when the sun came out I would have to stop and shed clothes in order to avoid overheating and further soaking my already damp gear with sweat. I continued riding with out a break, past Cotton Lake, Pine Tree and Joe Irving Lakes before reaching the massive Dease Lake and one of the only two remaining sections of The Cassiar that was unpaved. It is a 16 mile (25 kilometer) gravel stretch that climbs up and down along side the very long yet sinuous lake before coming to the final stretch of chip-seal asphalt that leads right into the Town of Dease Lake. The constant wet weather also made the unpaved section along side the lake a really tough and muddy ride. Because of many miles of use—over 3,300 miles as of today, 09/26!—the tread of my tires are really starting to wear thin. This made some of the longer climbs along side the lake very slippery and challenging to finish. The elements and mud took their toll on my bikes drive train as well. Most gears were left useless after the ride and also a spoke on the rear wheel snapped at the hub. At 7:45 p.m. I limped into Dease Lake and immediately found my way to one of the campgrounds in town. I rode over 80 miles (130 kilometers) that day. After all of that mud I desperately needed a shower and didn’t at all feel like finding a place to camp for the evening, so I decided to stay at the RV campground.

I spent all day Thursday (09/15) maintaining the bike and mending some gear. I stayed out of the elements, as well as camped, under the almost empty RV campground gazebo. I was able to repair the broken spoke and clean my drive train before re-supplying my food bag with enough grub to finish the remaining 300 miles (480 kilometers) of the highway. Bill, the campgrounds owner, also gave me enough white gas to make it to Gitwangak/Kitwanaga and the end of The Cassiar.

(09/16) I got up early Friday morning and the weather had changed for the better. Bright blue and sunny skies greeted me when I awoke and the air was still. I quickly broke camp and took off down the road prepared to be dazzled by the landscape. I wasn’t disappointed. The ride from Dease Lake toward Iskut and through The Stikine River valley was spectacular! The sun was warm enough to dry out the asphalt and the other section of gravel road and made the ride a lot easier than the ride into Dease Lake. The views from atop of the many long climbs were amazing too and I stopped several different times to enjoy the scenery.

By 4:30 p.m. I reached Iskut. Ahead of schedule and not ready to call it a day I decided to push on down the road. I then reached Tatogga Lake at 6:30. A head wind had started up, signaling a change in the weather, so I decided to start looking for a place to camp. I rolled into an RV park, there by the lake, in hopes to get enough water for the night before looking for a place to stay. While there I met Tom Buri and some of his family. Tom, along with his daughter Diana, her husband Mathew and son Alden were on their way up The Cassiar to Telegraph Creek for a visit to their old homestead in the bush. Curious about the tour I was invited me to sit with them for dinner. A great conversation ensued and lasted until they had to get back on the road. Before saying goodbye, Tom invited me to stop by his place in Smithers when I came through. I accepted the invitation, then said farewell. It was too late to look for a place to camp for the night and cheap enough to justify staying at the campground so I called it a night.

Saturday (09/17) started off slow. I stayed inside the lodge at Tatogga Lake, drinking coffee and eating pie, waiting for the sky to make up its mind about what it was going to do. While I waited I talked with some of the locals about what I could expect down the rest of The Cassiar. The road itself wasn’t too terrible, I found out. Mostly it was flat, except for a few rolling hills to climb, and it continued to gradually slope downward all the way into Gitwangak/Kitwanga. The thing to pay attention to, however, was the amount of bears along the very remote part of the highway! “You’re really in the sticks for awhile, eh, and there’s nothing from here to Bell II.” A local trucker said. (Bell II is over 100 miles/165 kilometers away from Tatogga Lake.) “I one time saw about 50 from there to here.” “Great!” I thought, trying not to look shaken by the news. By 1:30 p.m. I had no choice but get a move on. The wind was fierce and was blowing hard. I pointed the bike south and pedaled off into the strong head wind.

The head wind impeded my pace the entire way and crawling along the highway was as frustrating as can be imagined. After four hours of riding I only covered 35 miles (56 kilometers). I was short of my daily goal but decided to make it up on a day when the weather was more cooperative and began looking for a campsite. I turned onto a fire road and followed it down a little ways. I stopped at an already established camp at about 500 meters along the road but fresh piles of scat and bear prints encouraged me to find another, safer place to stay, so I high-tailed it back to The Cassiar. I continued riding well into the night searching for a place to sleep. At 7 p.m. it started raining. I had met the storm front head on and it began to dump rain. As it got darker and the rain continued to fall I knew that there was no hope of finding a dry place to camp so I pedaled on. Shadows made seeing the road, let alone bears, difficult. I knew that this was where the trucker who had cautioned me about the bears was talking about so I remained as alert as I could while I rode. Well, it wasn’t until I was right beside them that I realized what they were. Two black bears, a sow with a cub, dinning on some of the vegetation that grew along side the highway, only 15 yards away! As I past by the sow hopped up on her hind legs and sniffed the air. I held my cadence and pedaled on past, increasing my pace after I past by! It was a thrill to see them, and so close up! Still reeling from the experience I rode on. Headlights from a distance lit the road enough to show that yet another bear was dinning on The Cassiar that night, not even a mile from where I saw the other two! The noise of the truck scared it into the woods before I past by it though. I reached Bob Quinn Lake that night well after 9 p.m. and decided that it was time to get off the road. I had well surpassed my daily mileage goal by almost twenty miles and was now ready for bed. I set up my tent and ate a little bit of food, in the rain, before securing my belongings. It was a miserable night and because of all of the bear activity that I had seen it took me a while to fall asleep.

The next morning (09/18) started off wetter than the night before. Because of the wet weather I decided only to make it to Bell II that day and wait out the storm. I had no idea what to expect but when I reached Bell II I was amazed. Luxurious cabins were available were available but tent camping was allowed for $11.50 (Canadian) which included use of the all of the amenities the lodge had to offer; sauna, hot tub, big screen T.V., etc. A gourmet buffet made deciding what to do about dinner an easy choice, but what to have a hard one. Everything from fresh salads, and vegetable side dishes to smoke roasted prime-rib, pork-roast, and herbed chicken and dumplings adorned the spread, making seconds a must. Because of the rain I stayed at Bell II until Tuesday (09/20) with a constantly full belly and without complaint!

By Tuesday the weather broke. The skies cleared and the winds were calm. I left Bell II at 10:30 a.m. after bumping into a couple of familiar faces. Kabe and Roberta, the couple that I befriended while in Denali Village way back in June, were on their way back down to Oregon for the winter. We caught up a bit before starting down the same stretch of highway. It was great to see them again and it such a random location!

I made it all of the way to Meziadin Junction that night after a very pleasant day in the saddle. From Meziadin you can continue south down The Cassiar or pick-up Highway 37A and take it over to Steward or Hyder, AK which is the final way back into the state. With the weather finally cooperating I was able to cover the 60 miles (96 kilometers), allowing enough time to find a good place for the night. I rolled into the Provincial Park at Meziadin for a break before beginning my search. I then met Ernst and Gisela Roser, a couple from Germany on holiday traveling Canada. They had passed me while on the road and when I rolled into the park they came right over to me invited me to their RV for tea. Both Ernst and Gisela spoke a little bit of English and we spent the evening conversing. They also taught me some different German sayings and expressions and showed me around their country a bit by drawing maps on pieces of paper. It was a lot of fun getting to know each other through two different languages. By 10 p.m. it was time for sleep and I was invited to pitch my tent in their site. I accepted the offer and agreed to have coffee with them the next morning before taking off, then went to bed.

(09/21) After coffee I said goodbye to Ernst and Gisela and set off down the highway. I was on the road before 10 a.m. and already it was shaping up to be a beautiful day. By 2 p.m. I had logged over fifty miles. With the weather still clear and calm I decided to finish The Cassiar that night. What remained of the highway was an easy roll almost all the way to where it ran into The Yellowhead Highway at Gitwangak/Kitwanga. Many remarkable sights kept the ride interesting, but it was when I reached Gitanyow/Kitwancool that really made choosing this less traveled road extraordinary. A large collection of totem poles stands in the town of Gitanyow/Kitwancool. The beauty of the ancient art and fascination of their meaning kept me wondering around looking at the many different totems for a couple of hours. By 7:00 p.m. and with darkness on its way I took off for the town of Gitwangak/Kitwanga and the end of The Steward-Cassiar Highway.

It was dark when I rolled into town. I had ridden well over 100 miles (160 kilometers) that day and I was ready for bed. There is free place to camp right in town that I heard about and after finding out how to get there I rode right to it. Only one other person was at the site that night, a mushroom picker who went by the name of Casper. Upon arrival Casper invited me to warm myself by his already blazing fire. Then, much like many times past, conversation followed. Casper filled me in on the many different types of edible mushrooms that grow around the area. “Lots of folks come here from all over the world to either pick or buy mushrooms,” Casper told me. He then offered me a sample of a pine mushroom to add to my bland pasta dish. We talked a bit longer until sleep finally had me in firmly its grasp. By 11 p.m. I said good night to Casper and turned in for the night. It had been a long week and I was somewhat relieved to be off of The Cassiar. Sleeping came easy that night.

The next morning (09/22) I visited another collection of native totems there in Gitwangak/Kitwanga. I talked briefly with two of the modern cravers about the poles and some of the stories behind them. I hung around and watched them work until I had to start riding. I thanked the artists for their time and then started off on my way with the itent to make it to Smithers before night fall.

By 1:30 I was off of The Steward-Cassiar Highway and heading east across The Yellowhead Highway towards Smithers, Prince George and new adventure. The past week and a half on The Cassiar was just as I had heard; incredible, isolated, and wild. It was defiantly worth all of the effort and I was glad to have made it.




 

"Two Roads Diverge In A Yellow Wood..."


There are many things to see on a bike tour, and of course this one is of no exception. Actually, because this one is especially scenic and there are so many things to experience, I have to make decisions and sacrifices along the way in order to continue heading south. In the summer, while in Alaska and with the long day light hours, I had plenty of time to travel around and see and experience things at my leisure. But now, with winter on its way and with the day’s growing shorter and colder, I really have to stick to a schedule or else run the risk of getting caught too far north by either the cold or the snow, or both.


There are two main ways to travel south through British Columbia: either continue riding along The Alaska-Canadian Highway, as I have been since Tok, AK, and follow it down to Prince George or take The Steward-Cassiar south to Gitwangak/Kitwanga and then pick up The Yellowhead Highway and take it east, also into Prince George. While deciding which way to experience B.C., I spoke with various people and gathered as much information about which way to continue my southern route. This is the first time during this tour where I have had to make a choice about which way to continue, and it wasn’t an easy one. Both ways promised spectacular scenery as well as wild-life viewing, however if I chose to travel down The Cassiar I was guaranteed to see incredible scenery, be more isolated and have much more of a wilderness experience—not to mention see more bears—than staying on the ‘Al-Can.’ But, if I chose to take The Cassiar over the Alaskan Highway then that meant missing a very special spot; Liard River Hot Springs.


According to Canadians and other travelers, The Steward-Cassiar Highway was the way to get a true sense of British Columbia’s wilderness, but Liard Hot springs was really a unique place and promised a very fatigued bicycle tourist, like myself, the necessary rejuvenation in order to continue trudging on through the ensuing cold and mostly wet weather. What to do, what to do? By Saquanga Lake, about 200 hundred miles (almost 300 kilometers) from the junction of the two roads, I had pretty much decided to take The Cassiar, but still I wanted to soak in the springs at Liard. Now, Liard Hot Springs is over 300 miles (430 kilometers) away from the northern start of The Steward-Cassiar Highway and I couldn’t justify riding another 6 days—more or less depending on the weather—in any direction other than south, so pedaling over 300 miles out of the way was out of the question. So, while in Watson Lake after I re-supplied with the necessary amount of groceries to make it along The Cassiar I came up with a plan. I would hang out at a gas station there and find a hitch to Liard, then after a day at the springs, hitch back to Highway 37 (The Steward-Cassiar Highway) and start heading south! Simple! So simple in fact, that the first person who pulled into the station to fuel up, with enough room for me and my bike and headed towards Liard, was the only person that I had to ask! Barry, who was up north in Dawson City visiting his son at the Royal Mounted Canadian Police Academy, was heading back to his home in Fort Nelson and had plenty of room in the back of his pick-up to give me and my bike a ride! Wow-now!


It was early in the evening and the weather was calm enough to offer a pleasant drive of the Alaskan Highway to Liard. The views were amazing and I began to doubt my decision about choosing to ride The Cassiar over the remainder of The Alaskan-Canadian Highway, but no matter now, either way I was going to soak in the springs! Along the ride Barry and I built a friendship, albeit brief, by swapping stories and experiences about traveling in Canada and the U.S. and listening to ‘blues’ on the radio. We were even lucky enough to see one of the many heards of buffalo that roam up and down this part of the 'Al-Can' on the way to Liard! In an hour and a half we reached the lodge at the hot springs. After unloading the bike I said goodbye to Barry, then headed across the road to the Provincial Park and to find a place to sleep for the night.


It was dark by the time I found a site to camp. For the amount of people that I have seen thus far in my travels, I was surprised to find the park somewhat crowded. It was well into the evening and after I paid $17 (Canadian, but still $17—and for a bike and tent, I mean really, $17! Come-on!) I pitched my tent, made dinner and hit the sack, in order to wake up early enough to enjoy the springs before finding a ride back up ‘The Al-Can’ to start down The Cassiar.


I awoke before seven the following morning. I grabbed my towel and shorts then found my way to the springs, which was an easy 5 minute walk over a marsh and through some woods. The way over the marsh to the springs is along a wide board walk. It’s wide enough to ride two abreast on bikes, but of course no bikes are allowed beyond the parking lot. No matter, bike or no bike, the crisp cool morning air and stellar views made for a satisfying prelude to what promised to be a great day.


At the first pool—Alpha Pool, I believe it is called—there are changing rooms, stairs into the pool, as well as a large board walk that creates a deck around the pool, and washrooms near by. Everything is tactfully built around the natural setting of the springs and does nothing but create a welcoming bit of ambience for its users. The springs even have gravel bottoms to keep the water clear and a little nicer, I recon. Sounds inviting, right? Well it is, truly! In fact the only unattractive thing about the whole experience, beside the $17 campsite, was maybe the strong smell of sulfur, but only if the slight smell of rotting eggs bothers you—me, not so much. I decided to walk on up to one of the other pools before testing the waters of the main pool. My plan was thwarted though once I reached a blockade and sign warning of a problem bear roaming the area around the other pools and I was forced to use the only pool that was available to enjoy. Oh well, what can you do? Anyway…


The springs are really exceptional! At first the water feels almost too hot and seems a bit much, but it only takes a few seconds for your body to adjust to the exceptionally warm bath. The water temperature varies depending on how closely you are to the actual spring. It can be regulated though by circulating the cooler water from the bottom of the pool to the top, which creates a more pleasing mixture or you can move to a different, cooler part of the pool. The pool is separated by a man-made waterfall and has a few stone benches submerged within it also. It is very relaxing and invigorating to wonder around in the water—especially after the noisy majority of early-birds, with the same idea as me to get in a soak early enough before everyone else filled the pool, left to start driving to their various destinations!


After a good long time spent in the spring, I headed back to my camp site to eat and break camp in order to vacate the site by the 11 a.m. check out time (No shit! $17 and a check out time! Reason number 38 to camp the way I camp!) When I finished packing up the bike I decided to enjoy another dip before finding a ride back to The Cassiar. Only one soak for $17 wouldn’t be prudent, right? So I rode back to the trail head, parked the bike and took another walk back to the springs!


By four o’clock that evening I headed over to The Liard Hot Springs Lodge and started looking for a ride back to the start of The Cassiar. I waited and waited, but not many people were using the highway at that time of evening and none where heading in that direction. I hung out, drank coffee and talked with Angie, Angel, Nick and Jack, some of the staff at the lodge, while waiting for a potential hitch to pull into the parking lot. But as the evening grew later, and the prospects of getting to The Steward-Cassiar that night grew slimmer I decided to accept the offer by Jack, the manager of the lodge, for a free place to pitch my tent and stay the night behind the lodge and try to find a ride again in the morning.


Late the next morning Calvin Cornish, an artist on his way up north to Whitehorse to showcase some of his terrific pencil drawings, stopped by the lodge and was able to give me a lift. Calvin has a van that had just enough room in it for me and the bike. By noon we were all on our way back up the Alaskan Highway. Calvin took the bike and I past Watson Lake and all of the way to the start of The Cassiar. Along the way we saw another heard of buffalo and made the time to take a hike before reaching the start of Highway 37. The hitch proved to be a convenient and fantastic end to a diversion that was well worth the effort. And all made possible by the kindness of a couple strangers.


At 3:30 that evening (09/12) I started down ‘the road less traveled.’ With my body and mind recharged I was now ready to spend the next week and a half exploring The Steward-Cassiar Highway.




Sunday, September 25, 2005

 

Oh, The Landscape!




The landscape of The Yukon and Northern British Columbia is truly marvelous! Parts are very similar to Alaska and several areas remind me of the north-western parts of Montana, but most of what I’ve seen thus far has uniqueness unlike any other place that I have been before. With winter on its way it is now starting to become even less and less familiar. As I slowly make my way south, out of the far reaches of what will soon become the great white north, the trees are changing color and getting bigger, different species of birds are starting to appear as well as the emergence of different animals like deer and elk. The mountain ranges are becoming less identifiable in addition to the names of rivers and other landmarks, and the days light is gradually shrinking, however they still are lasting longer than just a day’s ride ago.

After leaving Whitehorse and while still continuing down the Alaska-Canadian Highway, as well as along the many diversions that I have stumbled upon, the surroundings have been nothing less than extraordinary. From the majesty of the pointed, rocky and often newly snow-capped mountains to the soft, rolling hills and vast low-alpine forests full of dark green spruce/pine trees as well as bright yellow birch and poplars. From the enormous clear-water lakes and seemingly never ending rivers to bright, cerulean blue skies packed full of white cotton-ball-like clouds which only add to this entire incredible and natural splendor. At times all of this is beauty is obscured by a thick blanket of foggy vapor, leaving only new vantage points in which to witness all of this magnificence. But on days when the sun is out, the mind boggles at the amount of land that there is here in the far reaches of the northern part of the continent.

The towns up north are few and far between and many of them offer only a handful, if any, services but the roads are in great shape for bike touring. A very small number of travelers are using the roads now. Except for the occasional RV heading south into B.C. or Alberta or further down south back to the states, only trucks and local traffic—and my bike and I—seem to occupy the long and empty stretches of asphalt and patched pavement.

Alright-already, enough with the sappy words! I could continue to burble and gush about what I've seen alot longer, but I will spare you from any more superfluous blathering and just show you all some more of what there is to see.