Tatoga connection Gord and Sofia
Smithers to Prince George
Rather reluctantly left Smithers behind with a wander around the shops and a top up at the Supermarket. Great to have some interesting food for lunch. On the road with ominous black clouds following me but no rain. Houston arrived at 70km so stopped at the Info Centre to have my pasta salad and fresh fruit. Talked to the lady on the desk for a while the back on the road heading for Topley.
Topley was another of those important looking dots on the map but again I passed right through before I realised the single shop and motel were it. Turned back to receive complicated instructions to a campsite at a nearby lake, until one of the customers interceded and suggested the big grassy rest area back up the highway.
I had just set up camp when another slightly eccentric cyclist arrived with his small dog. He switched conversations in a loud voice, alternately talking to me or the dog. I waited for the dog to respond first before I took my queue. The night was frosty cold and loud with both traffic noise and a elk bugling (according to my neighbour). I waited for the sun to hit the tent before my fingers would allow pack up. Quick free coffee at the shop on my way back through Topley and on the road again.
Five kilometres up the road a local native lady, a First Nation people occupying traditional land from Hazleton to Burns Lake. She took off on her 37 km bike ride. Pride and a need to warm up kept me in touch (at least no more than half a kilometre behind) until she reached her turn around point. We talked again for a few minutes and headed our separate ways. With a warning that ahead was a mother grizzly and two cubs which had charged her car when she stopped to photograph it a few days earlier. More grizzly searching eyes for the next 70km.
I was cruising towards Frazer Lake when suddenly a ute pulled up in front of me. Sofia and Gord, a young couple had talked to me 1000km or so back at Tatogga Lodge. They were heading home on a 15 hour long haul dash to Vancouver. My grizzly story is spreading far and wide.
Just short of Frazer Lake one of the small unmarked villages appeared on my left. Another First Nation village called Slenyah. A conversation with one of the local customers led to a tent site behind the store. I then had a long conversation with another local feeding the crows, a man with great knowledge of the local bird life. The warmth of sun and people at this site made the morning departure slow and reluctant.
The riding has been marred by heavy traffic, little safe verge and constant road works with tar randomly thrown across the road to stick over everything on my bike. The massive logging trucks constantly at my elbow are probably more of a risk than the grizzlies.
Prince George arrived today with the bustle of a city of 90,000 so no riding past this one.
Grizzly or one of these at my elbow every 20 secs - I take the grizzlies
A reluctant departure from Smithers
This one for Val and Grayson - the hay paddock stretched for kilometres up the highway
Misty mountains coming into Smithers today
In spite of the warnings of veteran Alaska cyclist, Mike Vermeulen, I never quite grasped the scale of the problem. Cooking in the outdoors in this region attracts a flotilla of flying things. Led by Mosquitos, but ably backed up by legions of smaller biting flies, big biting flies and nuisance value smaller black bodies. It is best illustrated by the sound in the tent at night which sounds like heavy rain, in fact it is just a continuous kamikaze bombardment of these various insects.
So trying to to eat from a hot billy of food quickly becomes a dilemma. Do you extract the last mosquito dive bombing into the food and risk 20 more as you fish it out, or do you just grin and enjoy the extra protein? In fact it is even better, because the mosquitos are bloated with my own blood it also becomes a form of EPO replacement. I never thought I would be coerced so easily into the world of drug enhanced athletes (or at least drug-enhanced slow cyclists).
I am now 330 km south of Stewart where I touched the Pacific. On the advice of a German cyclist I stopped at the village of Gitanyow site of some massive beautifully carved totem poles. I and chatted to the locals until I discovered the invitation to camp in the village common as described by the German cyclist was more of a self-invite. I headed further south to Kitwanga, I found a beer and a lovely grass campground with a shower plus a broken clothes drier to store my food.
Hitting the junction of remote highway 37 and the busy highway 16 between Prince Rupert and Prince George was something of a culture shock. Firstly continuous (it seemed) highway traffic, houses by the roadside, towns less than 600 km apart. It didn't help that rain was heavy and cold, the verge limited and the traffic oblivious to the cyclist. The highlight was spotting an elk just after the town of Hazleton.
A puncture and the necessary off-load/repack to fix shortened the day further so I called a halt at 88 km after establishing that Morricetown had a campground. Well, almost, after the steep climb up the camp owners apologised, camp closed for renovations. Camp at the canyon they said, it's free. I had not even noticed the canyon on the way up, but it made an excellent campsite. I was made even better when two ladies stopped and provided dessert, they had driven continuously from Saskatoon (15 hours) to pick up their mother then were immediately heading back. One way to spend the Canada Day holiday weekend.
More rain this morning and the legacy of 8 continuous days riding caught up with the need for a warm dry place for the night. When Smithers appeared after a short 30km with a motel room within rest day budget there was no protest. I will celebrate with a shower and warm dry clothes.
Unpacked the bike to ride the convoy lead truck through the dust out from Stewart (thanks to to lolly pop ladies who insisted)
One view I missed on the ride into Stewart
Coming back out from Stewart
Yes I have met most of them
Gitanyow totem poles
The canyon camp last night on left hand side
A corridor of mountains
Since leaving Dease Lake the route has taken me literally through a maze of mountains. Firstly through the Stikine Plateau mountains, then the Skeena Mountains and finally the Coastal mountains to reach the Pacific (at least a long arm of Portland Inlet twisting out to the Pacific).
As each gorge opens out the next range appears in the distance. First night out was a camp at Tatogga, as it turned out next morning just down the road from Tatogga Lodge, which provided an excellent display of wild life (stuffed versions). So for my keen Imagine Childcare followers at least I have some images.
After leaving the lodge a forgettable day climbed into a howling head wind focused on getting to Bob Quinn Lake. Finally the road sign appeared, a few buildings then the signs for the traffic from the opposite direction past. No Lodge, nothing that provided a half decent campsite (although I did eye the grass of the airstrip in desperation). Dinner the night before had been four sardine sandwiches, the extent of Iskut outpost store food offerings. On a ride like this food in equals well being (or not) on the next stage. Definitely not today.
I stopped to cook in a desolate gravel pit. To complete the scene wolves were howling on the ridge above. Large fresh bear droppings dictated the gravel pit was not an ideal camp site. Nine hours on the bike and the road crammed between steep cliffs and a river bed. Just as light was fading at 10pm a side track provided a perfect campsite. A race against the mosquitos to get into the tent with no more than a small massacre on the tents walls.
Morning dawned with warm sunlight, enough to dry the wet layers of the day before. Transformation in mood and ride. Great water from Liz Creek and just 30 kilometres to Bell II Lodge for an early lunch and a pleasant chat with the cafe worker. We were joined by two fellow cyclists Faez and his cousin from Iran. In today's security climate these two, with long flowing black beards and hair to match would probably spend a long wait in "special attention" queues at border crossings. Faez also carries a long didgeridoo on his bike to complete the improbable picture. But two lovely guys who loved to get on their bikes and ride.
Faez actually links back to the Dempster Highway where we met him at the junction. He actually rode from the arctic sea on the ice road in full winter conditions. At least he had the comfort as he huddled in his tent that the grizzlies were still in hibernation. When you think you are undertaking an extreme adventure, there is always someone else just a little further up the extreme scale.
I have learnt that the average bear territory ranges over 10 kilometres, if you find bear sign, ride on 10km to a safer site. Yesterday every 10 km there was a bear sitting in the road side ditch, a total of 9 bears for the day. So 130 km later I opted for a safe official campsite at Meziadine Lake, right at the junction to the. Stewart turnoff.
This mornings ride was a justification for changing from Prince Rupert as my Pacific touch point. Magnificent scenery including a roadside glacier. It has also recovered so days on my schedule.
Glacier on the road to Stewart
Finally had the courage to take the camera out for one of yesterday's 9 bears
Road side fox
Glacier melt streams
Wolves at Tatogga Lodge
Leader of the pack
Dwarfed by the scale
The scale of the landscape and the distances here makes a person on a bike feel very small. I look out for miles thinking that there will be places the no one has ever set foot.The isolation continues with 600 kilometres between supply points. This means 6 days food on the trailer.
Leaving Whitehorse had some emotional twinges parting ways with Julian. We had covered a lot of ground, both on the bike and in conversation. The first two days were warm and sunny, the scenery took me unexpectedly, I had no preconceptions for this section. I enjoyed the changing vista and the lakes, especially the meandering Yukon River to its source at Marsh Lake. Always mountains framing the backdrop. Joy on the downhills with no buckled back wheel to send the trailer into harmonic wobbles.
On Marsh Lake there was a small roadside sign "Inn on the Lake". "Wonder if they have food?" was the immediate thought (it is a constant thought with the calorie furnace in full burn). The owner was just racing out but was sure that Patrick and Joel could find some leftovers for a skinny cyclist. Joel delivered a triple decker club sandwich, fresh fruit, yoghurt and coffee. I basked in sunshine on the sprawling log deck over looking Marsh Lake. A random act of generosity - feeling good. The day ended at Squanga Lake and a campsite with a view.
The next day climbed into the mountains, dropping down over the Yukon/BC border then back up. Johnson's corner provided a second breakfast after just 20km of riding. The small settlement of Teislin provided a few basic supplies and a huge turkey sandwich. About 90 km out I was stopped by an RV, two brothers and their sister. The brothers had abandoned their bike trip after mechanical problems and called for their sister to pick them up. They were Warm Showers hosts (an international cycling organisation offering free bed for fellow cyclists). Another act of random generosity left me with a can of beer and a fruit bar for camp.
The rain started. I set up a wet bush camp, drank my can of beer and crawled into the sleeping bag. Morning was icy, hands numb packing up soaking tent. Few snack bars for breakfast. Four thermal layers under the new parka were struggling, downhill wind dropping core temperature. Not enough fuel in the snack bars. Pre-hyperthermia brain fade. Needed to focus, warm up and eat. Just had enough discipline to stop, wrap my emergency blanket around my head like a tent, get the cooker going inside, throwing everything from nuts, sultanas, quinoa and granola into the billy. The reflective emergency blanket restored body heat and the mess in the billy fuelled the system. Back on the road feeling substantially better.
Two more wets days. Luckily a chance for dry out at the Continental Divide Lodge. Breakfast payment was refunded by Janet and her partner after hearing of my charity. Next day arrived at the Junction of the Alaska Highway and the Cassiar Highway (37) heading south. After noticing little wildlife in the rain saw 3 black bears close to the side of the road.
Highway 37 started badly, an off day on the bike and myriads of steep short climbs sucking energy I Didn't have. Found a scenic creek side to cook up food on the run, sun and food improved the feel. Then the Cassiar opened up some magic scenery heading through a mountain pass. Lake Good Hope had a fuel station and two hotdogs which were wolfed down. Speaking of Wolves, a very confused fox did multiple circles on a hill as I headed up. Obviously his first cyclist. Rode on to Jade City, a rustic jade mine and a free campsite beside a rusted out bulldozer. 9 hours on the bike and the tent was warm and dry.
The scenery yesterday was stunning. Steep alpine forest. Crashing clear water alpine streams, and a new Lake at every turn. Great little creek side lunch spot in the sun. Another 8 hour day into Dease Lake, B&B with WIFI, and after 23 days and 2000 km another rest day. Yeah!
My average speed is 25% below plan (16kph) To make up time my intention is to touch the Pacific at Stewart (rather than Prince Rupert which will take 2 days to ride in and out).
Generosity from Patrick and Joel at Inn on the Lake
Second breakfast with a view at Johnsons Crossing
Fresh snow on the mountains towards the Continetal Divide
Alaska Highway heading towards Highway 37 Junction
Into BC down Cassiar Highway
French Creek lunch spot
Jade City gift shop
Heading up and out of Jade City
Water stop - fortunately Dry Creek was't
Cassiar Views yesterday morning
Lunch in the sun yesterday beside beautiful creek below
Leaving Dawson and the wildness of the Dempster took a bit of adjustment, we had nearly 600 kilometres with one small town. Once again supplies had to be planned to last. Luckily in Dawson a cyclist from BC, Julian connected up so we agreed to ride the Dawson to Whitehorse leg together. Fortunately our cycling speed kept us within reasonable proximity, and the daily camp find was a joint choice. The days went something like this: ride 50 km, snack, ride to 100km find a sheltered cooking spot to cook dinner, ride for another 20 km or so until we found a good looking camp site, sleep. A couple of days had a lonely outpost cafe to have a second breakfast after a couple of hours riding. Our campsite choices were all good, including one with deep sphagnum moss for ultimate sleeping comfort.
We were lucky with wildlife along this stretch, we saw a black bear yearling, a bobcat and a very rare cougar. The lasting impression of the landscape was the huge water volume of the rivers. Firstly the Stewart then the Perry and finally the Yukon itself. A vast network of intertwining rivers.
Many thanks to Nancy of Beez Kneez backpackers in Whitehorse for providing my accomodation free of charge for the Cancer cause.
The gold rush rustic character of downtown Dawson
The Stewart River
Coming down to Pelly Crossing and the Pelly River
Moose rack Minto Resort a short snack stop
Inuvik famous Igloo Church which I had the privilege of touring with Bernice and Joe
Inside the dome of the church - A priest with master design skills
Fox outside Ernest's fish drier with a "spare" Whitefish
Crossing from North West Territories to Yukon (after a 12 hour 2am climb)
Crossing the Arctic Circle (Day 4)
Glacier melts all along the way
Day seven on the Dempster I was slowly climbing the last slope to Seven Mile Hill, just above the Olgilvie River. I heard a grunt-like pant and heavy foot falls, looked over my right shoulder, direct into the face of a grizzly. I had one brief moment of "what a magnificent animal" big brown eyes level with mine. It was enough to calm a panic action, to stop the bike and reach for the bear spray. We were long past the "make noise to warn him" and the "stand up tall to make yourself look bigger", we had skipped a few vital stages of bear encounter rules. The teeth biting into my handle bar bag clinched the rapid bear spray action (even had the calm to check the bear spray was pointed in the right direction). So from 30 cm away a burst of spray stopped the next chomp. He retreated rapidly to the side of the road, but disturbingly only 20 metres or so. I cautiously started back up the hill, head swivelling backwards.
It took a kilometre or two before the nerves cut in. I checked my airtight snack bag, someone had left 2cm of the seal unzipped. What an incredible nose to detect the few microns of snack food drifting out of another closed bag.
News travels fast up here, clearly this wasn't a run of the mill encounter, Lolita from the Yukon Parks office tracked me down as I rode into Dawson for a hour or so detailed debrief.
That was the unwelcome excitement of the last 10 days across the Dempster highway. The remainder from day one was an incredible ride through vast space, mountains in all directions, the huge glistening watery network of the McKenzie delta below. Green glaciers in their last stages of melt, crystal clear glacial streams and wild life everywhere, not always so intentionally visible.
With neither ferry for the McKenzie or Peel River crossings open for my arrival, l was carrying food for a long camp out waiting for a local with a boat to get me across the kilometre wide swirling torrents of icy water. It took just half a days wait at each, and a highlight of spending time with local Qwich'in people.
Ernest a Qwich'in elder filled three wonderful hours on the banks of the Peel River. We inspected his fresh stock of drying Whitefish and he told me his story of cancer recovery. With chronic bowel and stomach cancer, doctors had removed much of both. The operation also paralysed him from the waist down. Given two days to live he asked a best friend to take him home "to set a net in his river". With a grandson lifting his legs into the boat he did just that. He had a vision with his dead father on one side and more live and experience on the other. Fighting pains memory loss and forcing himself in to action, he got his legs functioning. Last winter he and his wife loaded up the Ski-Doo to travel 200km to the caribou hunting grounds, alone.
At his last assessment with his Doctor there was absolutely no sign of cancer. I left him about to repair his chainsaw to cut firewood from the huge pile of tree trunks the melting ice of the Peel had dumped in his front yard. He told me the risks of grizzly's in my path across the Dempster "I am comfortable with bears" he said. I like to think he lent me a small part of that comfort.
Ernest on the banks of his "TV" passing life on the Peel River