Ride Report: Day 8

Day 8 / Thursday, June 19, 2008

I was woken up around 5 am by the sound of a herd of crows around my campsite that were picking through my oatmeal packets and trying to steal some other food items. I was being good about throwing away all opened food items in closed garbage cans and thought sealed food packets shouldn't be an issue for the wildlife, but these crows somehow knew that food was contained within these packets. I shooed them away, but they kept returning and I couldn't fall asleep, and since the sun was up already, might as well get going.

I was woken up by a herd of crows that were trying to get my oatmeal packets open. This was the view from my tent at about 5 am local time.

John Jacques Caux, one of the great frontiersmen of the day that opened up interior BC.

Today I would be riding the Stewart-Cassiar Highway, which I was looking forward to on the whole trip. This is a remote highway that runs north from the Yellowhead Highway in central BC up 450 miles to end at the Alaska Highway in the Yukon Territory. The road initially came south from the Alaska Highway to support asbestos mining in the town of Cassiar and came north a little bit from the Yellowhead Highway to support logging. Over the years in the 1960s and 70s, the road was fully connected and slowly became paved. It's now mostly paved except for the section north of Dease Lake.

The highway is renowned for the remote terrain it passes through. Being remote, the availability of finding gas along the way is also an issue. The longest section between gas stations was about 120 miles, if I remember correctly. So, it's a good idea to fill up at every station you pass by. I sometimes follow this too religiously as I don't really ever want to run out of gas especially since I didn't have all the fuel containers that I wanted.

Just 14 miles north of the Kitwanga Junction (where the Cassiar starts), I topped up at the Gitanyow Indian Reservation just for good measure. This was a small fuel depot intended primarily for the local native people. I believe the fuel was subsidized for them, as they just had to sign a log book at the cashier for how much fuel they used and I don't remember if they had to pay anything.

The start of the Cassiar Highway heading north to Alaska. This was one of the destination roads of my trip as I read a lot about the scenic beauty of this highway and was looking forward to riding it on such a beautiful day. It's about 450 miles north to the Alaska Highway.

One thing I didn't expect was the numerous long, long straight sections of highway, where a throttle lock would've been handy to relieve my right wrist. I was waiting to cross the Rockies further up ahead for some good riding and views.

However, the road did wind a bit. The road conditions were great except for some slight gravel here and there.

The road was once again much straighter than expected, but I waited patiently to enter the Rocky Mountains up ahead, where I knew the scenery and the riding would be better.

At the Meziadin Junction, about a 100 miles north of the Kitwanga Junction, a spur (Highway 37A) goes south-west about 40 miles to the coastal community of Stewart and also Hyder, across in Alaska. This is called the Stewart or Glacier Highway, as it passes very close to Bear Glacier, which can be appreciated from the road-side. Besides heading down this way to see the glacier and the towns of Stewart and Hyder, I didn't know how much further I had to go on the Cassiar for the next gas station, so making a 40 mile one-way detour to get gas made sense to me.

The Stewart Highway was very scenic and the coastal mountains of course provided for some good riding. There are mountains all along the Pacific Coast from here north into Alaska because of Plate Tectonics. The Pacific Continental plate is slowing pushing into the North America plate and this gives rise to these mountains right on the coast. The same phenomena gave rise to the Himalayan mountain range with the Indian plate pushing against the Asian plate. Learning about geology has given me a much deeper appreciation for the world around us and the monumental forces that are behind it, working at a much greater timescale than our own lives or civilization.

At the turn-off heading to Stewart and Hyder. The Cassiar Highway is pretty remote and gas stations are few and far in-between. Previously, I read there used to be a gas stop here, but now, most riders make the 40 mile diversion to Stewart/Hyder to fill up instead of risking trying to make the next station.

Fueling up in Stewart isn't the only reason to come this way, as the scenery is great.

Electric posts reinforced with a stone base to maybe protect against avalanches in the winter.

A canyon near Stewart, BC. Most of the coast here is featured with mountains and cutting through canyons seemed to be quite common (did it about 3 times this trip to get to the coast).

The towns of Hyder and Stewart are well known in the adventure and long distance motorcycle community because of the fact that Hyder is the closest town in Alaska to the lower 48 states of the US that is accessible by road (through Stewart). This fame came about in 1998 when long distance rider Ron Ayers set a record of riding through all Lower 48 states plus touching Alaska in 7 days and 20 minutes. It then became well known through the Iron Butt Association of long distance riders and now there's an annual get together called the Hyder-Seek, each Memorial Day Weekend.

While many Alaskans and others might ask what's the point in saying you've been to Alaska by just touching Hyder, as you've not really seen much of the state, one must remember that is just a technicality for record setters as it does qualify as entering the state of Alaska.

Anyways, the reason that Hyder was established in the first place was as is usual in these regions because of gold and silver being discovered. Hyder is at the head of a 70 mile long fjord (long, steep valley carved by glaciers) and was an entry point to many mines across the border in Canada, before Stewart was serviced by highways. Hyder's heydays were in the 1920s and 30s and the town is actually named after a Canadian. It was originally called Portland City after the fjord's name of Portland, but the post office asked for a different name since too many cities in America were called Portland, so the residents chose Hyder after a Canadian mining engineer who had great plans for this region.

Hyder is also unique in that it shares its telephone area code with Stewart across the border and doesn't have any immigration or customs facilities. It's a common thing to step across into Hyder from Stewart and say, "Hey, I'm in Alaska," and then continue on your journey back up the Cassiar. But not wanting to mess with any funny immigration rules with my US visa and crossing back into Canada, I just stayed on the Canadian side.

At the gas station in Stewart, I was surprised to finally run into another adventure motorcyclist, that too on the same bike as me, a DR650. While researching this trip on ADVrider.com, it seemed like there were many people who would be making a trip up to Alaska over the summer and it's common knowledge that you're bound to run into other riders along the way and that's part of the fun: riding with some newly made friends for a while and sharing the road with like-minded people. Of course, the more remote the road gets, the more likely you are to run into other riders because there's not that many other places you can be.

Ryan was on a month long journey from Nevada and we compared how each of us set up our bikes. He had the same luggage system as me (Happy Trails) but I was surprised that he still had on the stock gas tank, which holds only about 3.4 gallons - good for about 130 miles and he just had on an extra 1 gallon fuel container and here I was worried about not having enough gas with my 4.9 gallon tank and extra fuel containers. Since we were both heading north on the Cassiar, we rode together for a bit but our pace was very different, so we soon parted ways.

Looking at Hyder, Alaska from Stewart. It starts where the pavement ends. It's a small town, which is technically in the state of Alaska but uses a BC area code and doesn’t even have customs or immigration services. I could've entered just for fun, but didn’t want to risk anything with my new visa status.

These signs are posted at the land borders between Canada and the US and I was converting in my head the whole time from thinking in miles to living in kilometers. I easily adapted to thinking only in metric and then surprisingly took about a day or so to starting thinking back in miles when I crossed into Alaska.

At the gas station in Stewart, another adventure rider heading up to Alaska on a Suzuki DR650 just like my bike pulled up. He also had the same brand of aluminum side panniers - Happy Trails. This was Ryan's bike and he was from Nevada making a month long trip.

Since there's only way to go to Alaska from here (north), we rode together for a while.

Entering the canyon on the way back.

I stopped and enjoyed the view of Bear Glacier for a few minutes and dwelled on the fact that seeing a glacier was proof that an Ice Age did exist long ago and the thawing out from that era, which began about 10,000 years ago might've been a catalyst for the great rise in human civilization around that same time period. That's one of the great things I love about adventure motorcycling - you get to see history Live, in person. Reading about a glacier in a school textbook is one thing, but seeing it in person and its effects on its surroundings really drives home the point of how important it is to study glaciers and other aspects of nature to understand how they affect humanity. The glaciers around the world are currently retreating meaning that global temperatures are rising and as glaciers decrease, so does the cooling effect that they provide, meaning we get a feedback cycle, which keeps increasing temperatures. Maybe not everyone agrees that humans are responsible for the current warming around the globe, but I say let's at least understand what this warming means to our future and what we can do to reduce its adverse effects on humanity.

While pondering what gave rise to this glacier's name, just around the corner I came across two black bears just hobbling about in the middle of the road. I stopped about 200 ft away and just observed them through the camera lens. They were simple crossing from one side to the other and I was a bit worried that on coming traffic, like a truck might not see them. They did look cute like their caricatures, and I was happy to see some real wildlife. After waiting for a few minutes, I revved my engine, which made them scurry up the hill and I passed through.

auDRey and Bear Glacier - one of the big reasons of coming this way to Stewart/Hyder. Really cool to see an actual glacier for the first time. You can just imagine it was much bigger before. Locals have said they've seen it retreat quite a bit in their lifetimes.

And how aptly named - a few Black Bears were right around the corner from the glacier.

They do look cute, don't they? These guys were just hobbling about on the road and crossing it back and forth, not really bothered by me. I was about 200 ft away. When I had waited long enough, I revved my engine and they ran into the bushes.

From here on the highway really came into its own with stunning scenery and the beautiful sunshine was an added bonus. I really did have many days of great weather on this trip.

At the Bell II gas stop, about 60 miles north of Meziadin Junction, I came across an African American who just left the armed forces after a good career to take up a teaching job in Anchorage and was moving his whole family in a Suburban pulling a U-Haul trailer. He had never been to Alaska and figured it would be fun for the kids. That's another kind of adventurer.

About a 100 miles north of there is the town of Iskut, which is mainly an aboriginal community comprising of the Iskut First Nation and the Tahltan Indian Band. There is one gas station and store called the Kluachon Center, which seems to be the center of the area regarding meeting people and communicating with everyone else. This is also evident in any other small town, where the gas station/convenience store becomes central to the social life of the community. Iskut is currently gaining fame for the disagreement between the local tribes and the government over giving permission to the Shell oil company that wants to extract coalbed methane, a form of natural gas. The land is important to the natives and is considered sacred as it forms the headwaters for many salmon rivers. There must be numerous others struggles around the world between Progress and tradition and who's to say that Progress should always be triumphant.

Back on the Cassiar Highway, which was becoming more fun to ride as it got into the mountains.

This was the extent of how bad the road gets, which is not much at all. These spots were all well-marked with orange flags.

Waiting for about 30 minutes for the highway crew up ahead to finish up some explosive work. As you can see, the only people on this road were mainly RV campers, bikers and construction workers.

While the highway is mostly paved, there are still sections of gravel road, but it's not bad at all. And with that kind of scenery, who cares what the road is like.

It rained a little bit here and there and that made the gravel/mud roads a little slick in the hilly terrain, but it wasn't too much for my 80% street / 20% dirt tires, Kenda K761's.

Pavement up ahead.

My faithful companion - Sir Shadow. For the amount I love riding with friends and others, I truly cherish solo riding, as well.

The community of Dease Lake is about 50 miles north of Iskut and is considered the biggest community on the Cassiar Highway, having a community college and hotels and restaurants. Trying to make it to the Alaska Highway before it got too dark, I pushed on ahead. 25 miles later, I passed the community of Porter Landing at the other end of the long and thin Dease Lake and saw a sign that said no fuel services for the next 120 miles till the Alaska Highway, so I turned around and filled up my tank along with the extra fuel container. I had hoped to fill up in the town of Jade City, but as I rolled through, I saw that the only gas station there was shut down. This town served as the junction from the Cassiar Highway to the gold and later asbestos mines of Cassiar about 10 miles inland.

From Jade City, there were long stretches of oil-treated gravel, with a few crazy truck drivers that didn't slow down at all for me, almost pushing me off the shoulder. Besides that, the road was ever winding between lakes and mountains. At dusk, around 8 pm local, I saw a big moose run across the road in front of me. He was in the shoulder of the road and after hearing my exhaust, he bolted into the woods. It was beautiful to see such a huge animal move with such quick grace. Too bad I couldn't get a picture of him, but the image is clear in my mind. As usual, I was being very alert to the increased activity of animals at dusk, but didn't see any other wildlife on the road. The Cassiar is famous for seeing wildlife and I guess I should be happy for seeing those bears and a glimpse of this moose.

Just fantastic. These kinds of views are why I came this way. Pristine, beautiful landscapes.

Let's see, I'll call this 'Mirror Lake'.

The sun was setting on this long day, but there were great views around every corner, which kept me going. This is about 8:40 pm local time.

The bugs came alive at dusk and you can see all the splotches radiating from the center of my shield. It's really not that bad regarding my vision. I can’t really see the bugs because they're so close to my eyes, unlike on a car windshield.

From Dease Lake north to the Alaska Highway, the Cassiar is gravel for a large part. It looks like they're working on paving the last part, so it should be all paved within a few years.

Stopping to lower the air pressure in my tires after not having a good enough feel for the tires with high/pavement pressure.

One thing to note for future travelers is that gas stations close pretty early up here in the wild, around 6 pm or maybe 9 pm at the latest. I made it to the Alaska Highway around 10 pm and the big gas station at the junction was closed. Good thing I was carrying my extra fuel, as I still needed to go about 65 miles to a campsite up the highway. High up in the latitudes here, with the long days near the Summer Solstice, it's very easy to ride late into the evening and not feel that tired.

I was now riding on the famed Alaska Highway and was very glad to have made it up here. Before the trip, I had read all that I could about the highway and was pleased with myself that I was finally here. Initial impressions were that the highway was definitely in a remote, pristine part of the world subjected to harsh weather conditions (visible with the frost heaves), but it was also really wide, as in almost Interstate wide. In some places, the forest was cleared on one side along the highway indicating that two more lanes might be built. After enjoying the intimacy of the Cassiar Highway, the Alaska Highway almost seemed like an Interstate. Oh well, it was a beautiful Interstate. And besides, I knew the part of the highway that I had planned to ride on my way back (south of where I joined it), would be the interesting bits. And besides, at dusk, everything looks beautiful. I was the only one out on the highway around 11 pm and I felt very much at peace with my surroundings.

I was cruising along at 75 mph, hoping to quickly reach the Racheria RV campsite and call it a day, when the bike's fuel went to reserve at about 10 miles out. I didn't realize that I maybe should've been cruising at a slower speed trying to conserve gas and now, not wanting to be stranded at night, I chugged along at 40 mph in top gear. At this moment, I was thinking about the fuel and time dilemma, which is that when you're running out of gas, is it better to speed up and get to your destination/gas station quicker before you run out of fuel, or go more slowly and hope the fuel lasts longer? For most practical situations, it seems going slower to increase fuel efficiency is the best method, but I think some physicists says Black Holes (in space) prefer the latter method of consuming as many stars as they can before time runs out.

Speaking of stars, being so far north on the globe, this was the first night that I couldn't see any of them, because the Sun never fully set. It was only two days before the Summer Solstice and it does feel kind of strange to never see complete darkness. It seems like one day just runs into the next, without ever pausing for the night. Unfortunately, our bodies don't act like that and require darkness to help fall asleep. That's where having an eye mask aids in getting good sleep up here. Also, as much as I love nature and its sounds, I found the animals to be too loud during the night. I think the long days were throwing off the clocks of some birds and they were sounding their morning calls all through the night. I got in the habit of sleeping with my ear plugs in to insure a good nights sleep. It still doesn't make sense to me, because the animals should've adapted to this change by now, but maybe they're migratory birds and not used to the long daylight.

Entering the great northern province of Yukon, which connects British Columbia to Alaska.

My campsite at Rancheria RV on the Alaska Highway. Local time about 11:30 pm.

Another great campfire.

It was a bit chilly and I was trying to get some warmth to go in my tent...

Next: Day 9, Alaska Highway up to Dawson City

Ride Report Index

No comments: