Thursday, September 29, 2005
(09/28) For the past almost week I have been in Smithers,
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
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
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
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
Saturday (09/17) started off slow. I stayed inside the lodge at
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
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
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
(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
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
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,
"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
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
It was early in the evening and the weather was calm enough to offer a pleasant drive of the
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
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
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.