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Biking to Alaska

Archive for July, 2007

Day 42: Grrr, Gravel

Posted by Alan on 31st July 2007

54.94 mi
I don’t feel like having oatmeal again this morning so I walk over to the campground lodge to see what looks good. Ben is on a budget so he stays at camp to eat. I get pancakes and a couple eggs. It turns out they have wireless internet so I upload a few days of journal entries and check email. We’re not in a hurry to leave because of the road closure until 11 AM.
We finally get rolling even later than that and hit a gravel section of the highway almost right away. The Yellowhead Highway has something like 60 miles of dirt and gravel sections along its length. They’re slowly paving all of it, but at least it’s not all gravel like it used to be. We had some gravel yesterday, but this is much worse. Yesterday was more like packed dirt, this is loose gravel and some sections are downhill, which is a bit sketchy on a fully loaded bike. The gravel continues for a while until we come to a construction zone where they will have to truck us through. While we’re waiting, Ben mentions offhand that he had to borrow some of my camp stove fuel this morning. He has the same kind of stove as me, but I really wish he had asked before helping himself to my fuel. We load our bikes into a pickup which takes us the seven miles through the construction area. As we unload our bikes there are a couple other bike tourists heading the opposite direction. We don’t have time to do more than exchange pleasantries before they’re gone in the truck and we’re riding on, you guessed it, more gravel, ugh!
Finally the gravel comes to an end for today and I get a chance to actually appreciate the scenery around me. It consists of rolling hills of forest with nice looking lakes and also mountains surrounding us. It’s mostly cloudy, but at least it doesn’t rain on us today. With the late start and slow going on the gravel I don’t have much time to enjoy the scenery before we need to start thinking about where to camp for the night.
We arrive in a very small town called Dease Lake and buy groceries at the local store. Ben proposes camping behind the grocery store, but I want to check out the local RV park and Ben tags along. I rent a tent site in the campground and Ben and I set up camp. I have a dinner of cold cereal since I’m hungry and that takes no effort to prepare. I then take a quick shower before calling it a night.

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Day 41: Nice Weather for Moose

Posted by Alan on 30th July 2007

91.86 mi
We decide to have breakfast in the lodge today so we wouldn’t have to deal with the mozzies at our campsite. They have a cold breakfast buffet and we completely pig out on cereal, fruit, yogurt, juice and pastries. It’s a cold morning out and eventually I have to stop to pull my fleece gloves out of my pack. This is the first time I’ve had to wear those on this trip. I have a small digital thermometer I picked up at REI for this trip and it reads about 51 degrees.
It starts drizzling after a while and it just keeps on drizzling. We stop for lunch at a rest area next to a remote gravel airstrip. I took a couple photos of the nearby mountains, which were partly obscured by clouds. By the time we finished eating those clouds had come even lower and you couldn’t really see any mountains at all. Over the next few hours we bike along. I’m in front and Ben is somewhere behind me listening to music or books on tape on his MP3 player. This is a very quiet highway with hardly any traffic at all. At one point I see a moose off to one side, standing in the edge of a lake. It stands extremely still, watching us. Eventually it lowers its head to munch on some plants. I’m excited because this is the first good look at a moose I’ve had in the wild. We eventually see another moose on the other side of the road later in the day.
We decide to stop to eat again, but like most rest areas, there isn’t anyplace to get out of the wind and rain. Well, there is ONE place to get out of the wind. We decide to huddle inside the small toilet building to cook our meal. I know, it sounds gross, but when you’re cold and wet, a little shelter is better than nothing. And besides, I had some disinfectant wipes we used to clean the top of the toilet cover before setting down our stoves to cook. We both cook up some noodles and the hot food tastes great.
The rain lets up a bit by the time we’re done and at least the wind is a tailwind. We pedal on for a few more hours before getting close to the small town of Iskut. There is apparently a section of road washed out ahead and we can’t go any further until 11 AM tomorrow. Bummer. We pedal back about a mile down the highway to a campground we had passed. We rent a tentsite for the night and cook dinner. Their showers aren’t working, but I’m desperate for a hot shower. I decide to fill up my six liter water bag with warm water from the sink and pour that over myself in the shower. It feels almost as good as a real shower. It’s going to be a cold night, and I also get the idea to fill my water bag with hot water and use that as a hot water bottle at the foot of my sleeping bag. I know, it’s pure genius! :) Ben fills a couple of his Nalgene bottles as well and we both enjoy a warm sleep.

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Day 40: On the Road Again

Posted by Alan on 29th July 2007

59.77 mi
I’m up early again, despite being up until almost 2 AM. I just can’t sleep late when I’m in a tent. I hit the showers (having to pay $3 for a shower is so lame!) and do a load of laundry while using the campground wireless internet. I look up the latest news from the Tour de France, which ends today. It’s weird to think that race has been going on the last four weeks and this is the first chance I’ve had to find out what’s happening in it.
Everyone packs up camp quickly to hit the road. Our Canadian friends have offered to give us a ride back to the Cassiar highway so we don’t have to ride those last 45 miles again. They are simply too generous, but we don’t refuse their offer. Riding along in their SUV, sitting in a heated leather seat, I begin to question whether biking is such a smart way to travel. Oh well, the seat may be less comfortable, but experiencing the scenery by bike is without compare. It’s sad to say goodbye to these folks because we’ve had such a great time with them over the last couple days, but they have to go home and we have to go north.
Very shortly after we start riding along the Cassiar again, I spot a bear crossing the road in the distance. I shout so it can hear us and then notice a bear cub come out of the bushes after its mother. Oops, I hope momma bear doesn’t get upset. We’re a good distance way though and she simply looks at us a moment before continuing along. A second cub comes out of the bushes and follows its mother across the road. How cool is that?!? We see another bear in the distance before the day is done, but that one we just watch from a distance without making a noise.
Eventually we come to a place called the Bell II Lodge. We rent a tent campsite for the night, but the bugs are pretty bad so we retreat inside a building which houses the showers, workout room and sauna. This lodge is apparently used in the winter as a base for heli-skiing trips and it looks like a nice place with all the amenities. It’s just odd that it’s stuck out here in the middle of nowhere all by itself. We use the showers and eat inside before calling it a night.

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Day 39: Resting in Hyder

Posted by Alan on 28th July 2007

0.0 mi
Noone seems to be up when I emerge from my tent, so I decide to walk down the street to mail a couple postcards and see if I can buy some food. I find a general store which has ridiculously priced food and buy just a few things to snack on. I like this little town so I don’t mind supporting the local economy a little bit. I walk back to camp and munch on my snacks while writing in my journal.
Izzy’s group shows up after a while. They had been out trying some seafood at a local restaurant (one of the two or three in town). The afternoon is growing old and they start to prepare things for tonight. They are planning a little celebration for Christine’s birthday, which is today.
At about 6:30 we take a break from the eating and drinking to drive a few miles up the road. There is a popular feeding spot for the local bears there and this is supposed to be a good time of day to see them. The forest service has built up a wooden walkway with guardrails to keep the humans and bears seperated. We hang out for a bit hoping to see a bear before a young grizzly bear finally makes an appearance. He’s a scraggly looking fellow and he walks idly along the stream for a bit before disappearing back into the bushes. It’s cool to finally see a grizzly bear, but I was hoping I’d see one actually trying to catch salmon in the stream. Oh well, maybe I’ll see that someplace up the road.
We get in the car to drive back to camp and on the road we eventually see that same bear ambling along. There are a few cars slowly driving along while the passengers take photos. We join the tourist traffic jam and somehow the bear ends up right next to our car! I’m looking out the passenger window, no more than six feet from this young brown bear. We snap away with our cameras before continuing down the road, leaving this bear to the other tourists.
These folks know how to camp, I tell ya. They have a deep fryer and prepare coconut prawns, fried halibut and pyrogies. They have lots to drink and even a warm rhubarb pie for dessert. Needless to say, this blows away my usual dinner of ramen noodles or some other type of instant meal. We spend the night talking around the fire again. Sarah has done some bike touring and also rode in the Tour d’Afrique, which is an amazing bike ride down the length of Africa. She has some great stories to tell from that experience. It gets so late that I start to nod off sitting in front of the fire before heading to bed.

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Day 38: Beautiful Detour

Posted by Alan on 27th July 2007

44.60 mi
Izzy and Sarah’s group consists of Izzy (Isabel), her husband Mark and their two kids Liam and Gabriela. Christine is another friend of theirs spending this little holiday with them. The three women seem to be vey good friends and the lot of them are fun to hang out with. Not to mention how generous they are to let Ben and I tag along with them. As they wake up, some of them go to the lake at this campground for a quick swim to start the day. I’m tempted to take a dip myself, but last night they were saying how the lake is glacier fed and extremely cold. Maybe I’ll wait until the day warms up a bit.
They start making breakfast and offer some of their pancakes to Ben and me. We slather on some butter and syrup and enjoy the tasty breakfast. After that everyone sits around the fire a little, enjoying the laziness of the day. Eventually Ben says he wants to take a dip in the lake and I decide to go with him. I’m really eager to rinse off a little, no matter how cold the lake is. Well, let me just say it was damn cold! I jumped in a second time though, it felt that good to rinse off.
Back at camp, everyone was getting ready to hit the road. Our Canadian friends were going to drive to Hyder, AK today where they are going to stay the next two nights. They offer to carry our gear for us so we can ride the distance on unloaded bikes. We gladly accept their offer and hit the road. This detour will both hasten and delay my arrival in Alaska. It will hasten it because technically I will cross into Alaska today, but it will delay by a couple days my eventual arrival in the “real” Alaska.
This road to Stewart, BC and Hyder, AK was a beautiful route. There were snow-topped mountains rising up beside the highway as Ben and I pedaled along. The scenery became more and more beautiful as we rode along. Eventually we came to Bear Glacier, which is a glacier at the same level as the road across a small lake. The ice in the glacier is a subtle blue color and there was a large torrent of water pouring out of the bottom of the glacier into the lake. There were numerous other small glaciers on the mountainsides along the way. This road was just as breathtaking as the Going-To-The-Sun road in Glacier National Park and I’m very glad I decided to take this detour today.
About ten miles before we got to town, we crossed paths with a couple bike tourists. This couple is from Colorado as well. They’re taking two years to ride from the Arctic Ocean in Alaska to the tip of South America. We talk for a little while before the mosquitoes force us to say goodbye and continue riding. I’m feeling a bit tired today and my hands and butt are sore. Thankfully, however, young Ben is full of energy and pulls most of the rest of the way to town. For you non-cyclists, “pulling” refers to the lead cyclist working harder to fight the wind while cyclists riding close behind them can work less and take advantage of their slipstream.
We arrive in Stewart, BC but continue down the road towards Hyder. I’m pretty excited to be arriving back in the good old USA, even if it’s only for a day or two. We stop to take a couple photos of the entrance to Hyder, AK. It’s a sadly run-down looking street with dirt roads and old looking buildings. But hey, at least now I can say I rode my bike all the way to Alaska, no matter what happens down the road on this trip. We stop at a pizza joint to fill up before meeting Izzy’s group at the RV campground.
They glady let us set up our tents near their RV and once again share their food , fire and hospitality with us. Since they are staying for two nights, Ben and I agree to stay an extra day here so we can have a rest day tomorrow and hang out with these cool folks. We sit up for a while talking and playing cards before eventually heading to bed.

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Day 37: Generosity of Strangers

Posted by Alan on 26th July 2007

96.63 mi
I got up early today so I would have extra time to upload the past week of journal entries to my website. Now that I’m travelling with someone else, I can’t just take as much time as I like. I don’t want to keep Ben waiting on me. I get my internet work done along with the usual morning routine of breakfast and packing up. We hit the road around 10 AM and we’re both eager to see what the Cassiar Highway has in store for us.
Our first stop is a couple hours into the ride. We hit a rest area and despite the bugs we manage to eat a little lunch. While we’re there a woman with a thick european accent asks us about our trip. We tell her where we’re headed and where we started from, the usual stuff. She wishes us well and returns to her RV. A minute later she walks back over with a couple small chocolate bars for each of us. One is a Toblerone and I can’t wait to bite into that tasty chocolate. It’s really nice of this woman to be so generous and we thank her profusely.
Back on the road, I savor my Toblerone over the next mile or so. Hopefully it will give me some energy because it’s going to be a long ride today. We pedal on through a fairly consistent landscape. We’re in a mixed forest of pine, aspen, elm, cottonwood and other trees we can’t identify. The terrain consists of one rolling hill after another. It actually gets a bit boring after a while since it’s so similar mile after mile. Every once in a while we get a glimpse of distant snowy mountains through the trees.
Based on information in The Miilepost, we know there is a rest area at mile 88 which we can probably camp at and so we’re aiming for that. We finally arrive there late in the day, but Ben doesn’t like the look of it so we continue on to check out a provincial campground which is another eight miles further along. This turns out to be a great decision for a couple reasons.
The first reason is that along the way I spot a bear on the road in the distance. We prepare cameras and bear spray and slowly roll forward. We try to make noise to alert the bear to our presence. I also try to take a few photos with my camera at maximum zoom. As we get closer it appears the bear doesn’t realize we’re there because it suddenly looks up at us and dashes off into the bushes. I feel bad that we appear to have startled it. I guess we’ll have to be even noisier next time.
As we pull into the campground to check it out, the second good reason for coming here appears. We hear someone call out Ben’s name and we stop to see who it is. It turns out to be those two girls we had seen huddled next to a small fiire at a rest area a few days ago. Sarah and Izzy are their names and they are here camping with family and friends. They immediately invite us to join them for burgers and beers. I decline the burger but they bring out some tortellini after I tell them I’m a vegetarian. Such amazing generosity, I tell ya! We end up spending the night at their campsite. We sit around the fire for hours talking about our trips to Alaska, forest firefighting techniques in Canada versus the U.S., politics, hockey, you name it. We also put away numerous beers. Frankly, I’m impressed I got my tent up correctly in the dark with a slight buzz. :) I guess five weeks of putting up a tent makes it a no-brainer.
They have invited us to join them the next day as they take a side trip off the Cassiar Highway into the little towns of Stewart, BC and Hyder, AK. This will put me into Alaska early, which is sort of cheating, but there is supposed to be a nice glacier along the way which I’d like to see. A rest day is overdue for me, so I guess I’ll be sidetracked from the Cassiar for a day or so.

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Day 36: So Long Yellowhead

Posted by Alan on 25th July 2007

71.94 mi

It was a lovely morning today at Lake Kathlyn. I woke up early and peeked out to see mist rising off the lake. I took a couple photos of the lake and the nearby mountains. Smithers is located near the base of some impressive looking mountains. There’s even a small glacier up there which feeds a couple waterfalls. It’s really a nice little town. Make sure you stop there if you’re ever in the area.

We’d gotten a dozen eggs last night, so we split those and each cook up our eggs for breakfast. Ben shares his cream cheese which I put on a bagel (I’m too lazy to try toasting it on my camp stove though.) Our plan for today is to make it all the way to the junction of the Yellowhead and Cassiar highways. That’s a fairly long ride, so we don’t wast too much time while cleaning dishes and packing up.

At one point, we saw a biking couple coming towards us. We stopped to talk to this English couple. They’re biking from Alaska to L.A. They then plan to fly to Australia and also spend time in New Zealand. I’m so jealous. New Zealand is the next place I’d like to take a bike tour. We were moving at a good pace this morning but then Ben got a slow leak in his back tire. We were just outside a little town and we stopped outside a grocery store so he could fix it.

Before we got back on the road he discovered he had a flat tire on his trailer, no wait, and his front tire has a leak too! Talk about bad luck. I took a little time to clean my bike’s drivetrain while he worked on his flats. We also talked to a couple people from Quebec who stopped at the same grocery store we were in front of. They are biking that same route from Vancouver to Calgary which a lot of people seem to be riding.

We finally got back on the road and biked another 30 miles to the RV campground we were aiming for. The campground is a few miles up the Cassiar Highway, and so as we turn north we bid the Yellowhead Highway farewell. I was really looking forward to a shower and doing laundry. I’m not sure if we’ll run across any campgrounds with such luxuries for the next several days.

More of the usual chores tonight. Shower, laundry, dinner, yadda yadda yadda. I did, however, replace the chain on my bike, that’s exciting, right? I’ve covered about 2200 miles on this trip so far, as good a time for a new chain as any I suppose.

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Day 35: An Easy Day

Posted by Alan on 24th July 2007

46.11 mi

We’re in no hurry to leave camp this morning. The place is dead quiet with noone around, so we’re not worried about getting out, even though we’re probably not allowed to camp there. The sun is shining a little, so we dry out some of our gear which is still wet from yesterday’s rain. Once we are packed up, we roll over to the town library to use the free internet access. I upload some photos while Ben tries to download some audio books to his mp3 player. We spend almost an hour and a half there before hitting the highway.

It’s a short ride of about 45 miles to the next big town of Smithers. We want to stop here to stock up on food before we hit the less populated areas along the Cassiar Highway. We buy almost more food than we can carry, then we stop in a town park to eat dinner. We talk to a couple locals about places to camp and they point us towards Lake Kathlyn outside of town.

We ride the short distance to that lake and find a nice quiet little park at the end of the road in a rural residential area. It looks like a good free campsite, so we put up out tents and eat a little more before we hide our food in the back of the bearproof garbage cans. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this trick before, but it’s a great way to secure your food from any bears that might be in the area.

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Day 34: A Riding Partner

Posted by Alan on 23rd July 2007

62.78 mi

Since I was in a rest area, I packed as quickly as I could to get out of there. I decided I’d check out a free campground in Burns Lake to see if the guy from Colorado had camped there. I didn’t see him, but there was a covered picnic area so I stopped for breakfast. I barely had my food unpacked when I saw this other guy from Colorado ride past on the road. At least, I assumed it was him since he was pulling a trailer, which matched the description I’d been given. I yelled at him and he came over and joined me for breakfast.

His name is Ben, he’s 18, and he’s biking to Anchorage and will probably stay there for the winter to work and save some money. He’s from Fort Collins, so he even started from the same town as me. He started about eight days before I did, but he’s taken more rest days and he took a longer route through Montana. We finished up breakfast and hit the road together.

We stopped before long to use a rest area only to discover someone had started a small campfire under the overhang of the bathroom. Then two girls came out of the bathroom. Apparently they had been riding through the area on their mountain bikes, but had gotten too cold and wet and had stopped to warm up. We chatted with them a few minutes and had a few laughs about their little campfire. One of them claimed to be a firefighter and assured us she knew what she was doing.

It was another rainy day, and after riding for a while, we stopped at a general store in a very small town to eat lunch. We talked with some old guys who lived around there about the weather, our trips and the roads ahead of us. It turns out they are having a very wet year. Just our luck! The sun does actually come out for a short while, but then it’s rain again before we arrive at the small town of Houston, BC.

Before I left home, I photocopied some relevant pages from a highway travel guide called The Milepost, and those pages inform me that this town has a rec center with a pool and more importantly, a hot tub. We locate the rec center and go inside to soak for a while. If only every town had a nice rec center like this. It would almost be worth the five or six bucks they charge to have a hot soak every night.

The Milepost also mentions a municipal campground in town and we ask for directions to that. It looks like the place is closed, perhaps only to be used for group functions, but we ride in and set up camp next to a picnic shelter. Judging by a few broken bottles and condom wrappers, this place is a popular hangout for the local kids. We make dinner and talk for a bit before heading to bed.

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Day 33: I Fought the Wind, but the Wind Won

Posted by Alan on 22nd July 2007

75.54 mi

I had chores to do and errands to run this morning, so I knew I wouldn’t be on the road for a while. My chores consisted of doing laundry and sewing up a seam on one of my biking shoes which was coming undone. Thankfully I had picked up a small sewing kit at an RV campground a week or two ago. It took me a while to get that seam sewn up, but that time allowed my bike shorts to dry on my clothesline, so it was all good.

Ok, so I only had one “errand” to run, and that consisted of stopping by the grocery store to stock up on food on the way out of town. It must seem like I write about buying groceries every day, doesn’t it? Well, it’s actually about every three or four days. I simply can’t (and wouldn’t want to) carry more food than that. I bought way too much food, but still managed to find a way to fit all of it into my bags. Have I mentioned how I keep my bread (and/or bagels) sitting on the top of my rear luggage rack? I call that my “bread basket”. Don’t worry though, I secure the bread in a shopping bag and wrap double sided velcro around the top of the bag to keep it from falling off.

I came across two couples on bikes today. The first couple was Markus and Heidi from Austria. They’re taking 16 months to bike from Anchorage to Patagonia. How cool is that?!? (They have a website: 2roadrunners-on-tour.at, I’ll have to check out when I have time.) The other couple didn’t really stop, but they paused for a second to ask if I was the “other” guy from Colorado. It turns out the guy from Colorado who is ahead of me had heard I was on his tail. He sent word that he was aiming for the town of Burns Lake tonight. It cracks me up the way the grapevine of bicycle tourists works out here.

Burns Lake was a little further than I was planning to go, especially since I didn’t even hit the road until 12:40 today, but it gave me motivation to pedal harder. Well, my best effort wouldn’t have helped today due to a horrible headwind almost the entire time I was on the bike. I also had sporadic periods of drizzling rain, so my good mood at the beginning of the ride became a bit more glum by the end of the day.

I finally made it to a rest area about nine miles short of Burns Lake and decided to camp there. It was close to the highway and some railroad tracks, but it was free camping and there was a lake nearby. I quickly set up my tent and crawled inside. I was hungry, but too exhausted to cook anything. Instead I simply munched on some Cheese Nips. Those things are super tasty after a hard day on the bike. I fell asleep to the sound of traffic and the occasional call of a loon on the lake.

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