Road Trip USA 2009 ...
Canada and Alaska continued
Having another day off to recover in Fairbanks gave me time to consider whether I should attempt the Dalton Highway. Riding the Top of the World Highway had given me some confidence on gravel roads but I was still unsure of whether I had the necessary skills to tackle one of biking's Everests. Talking with the other bikers and looking at their equipment did little to encourage me, most were riding BMW adventure bikes with full knobbly tires and most were carrying a spare tire although one who wasn't said 'if I was to carry one which should I carry, front or rear?'. I was also not sure that I wanted to ride three days up a dirt road, staying in $250 a night lodges (you are not allowed to camp in Deadhorse because of the bears) and then having to ride all the way back down the same road again! After a few days of deliberation I resolved to ride part of the Dalton taking it one mile at a time with the Artic Circle as my goal.
With the decision to ride part of the Dalton made I could relax with a visit to Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, the city has done a fine job relocating all the historic log buildings to the park and complementing them with some good musuems. The park has a family atmosphere with lots of playgrounds for the kids and lots of shops selling ice cream and candies.
Old log cabins now shops, Pioneer Park, Fairbanks, AK
The Pionier Air Museum was a particular highlight. It had the remains of a snow tractor, definitely a contraption designed by someone who had never seen snow, it is based on a normal tractor which is modified by the addition of two steel screw-threaded cyclinders that rotate in opposite directions to drive the tractor along. Apparently it did not work to well!
A snow tractor, doesn't look like a good idea to me, Pioneer Park, Fairbanks, AK
I also enjoyed the aircraft designed and built by a student from the University of Alaska in his spare time. He decided that it would be better to fly home from University so set about designing and building his own plane in one of the University buildings, after years of construction he finally flew it under an experimental aircraft licence.
Student builds an aircraft to fly home, Pioneer Park, Fairbanks, AK
I also spent some time talking with a guy running a knife shop, he made some really beautiful knives and I was tempted to buy one. Unfortunately I could not as the law in the United Kingdom would make most of his products illegal, it seems really stupid to me that a responsible citizen cannot legally own and carry a knife just because of the actions of a few daft city kids! It makes me mad! A bench near his shop made me relax and laugh though!
Every mall should have one of these, Pioneer Park, Fairbanks, AK
The next day I set off for the Dalton, not really sure where I would spend the night as I was not sure of the conditions. The begining of the Dalton is 85 miles of beautiful twisty road north of Fairbanks and my target of the Artic Circle lay 130 miles further north across a gravel road. The first few miles of the Dalton were a little bumpy but then it became smooth, hard packed, watered (to keep the dust down) dirt with some stretches of broken tar. It was quite easy riding! I stopped at a overlook to take a picture and next thing I see a Harley Electra Glide towing a trailer wizzing by at 50 mph!
The fearsome Dalton Highway ain't so bad, Dalton Highway, AK
It was quite difficult catching up with the guy as he was going so fast but I caught him at the Yukon crossing gas stop and we got talking. He was from Michigan, and had decided that he wanted to ride to Prudhoe, his father told him he was nuts and every biker in Alaska told him he was nuts (the local Harley dealership advise against any biker riding it) but he had set his sights on conquering this particular Everest! After being told that he needed to replace his tire and buy a puncture kit he did and then he set off. While chatting with him another guy came up and said 'well at least you're wearing protection' (pointing at the Harley riders laced leather chaps), 'this guy's just wearing jeans'. When I said 'kevlar armoured jeans, I think they thought I was joking!
We set off together and stopped at Finger Mountain where we met some hard BMW riding types who had just riden back from Prudhoe, they were full of horror stories about running out of clearence in the mud north of the Brook range and how they had three 'unplanned off road excursions' (crashes). They looked quite exhausted and I thought looked to be very disappointed by the ride to Prudhoe, all they could talk about was the food at the lodge in Deadhorse (you can't actually ride to Prudhoe, you stop in Deadhorse and take a bus)! I think a lot of bikers ride it expecting it to change their lives and end up being quite disappointed when it doesn't. Some who I met say enigmatic things like 'we can't offer you any advice on the Dalton as the experience is different for everyone who rides it', but I never saw anyone who actually looked happy to have riden it! It got me thinking about my expectations for my own trip, some of my friends say that I'm just compensating for deficiencies (no wife or kids) in other parts of my life and others say it's just a mid life crisis. There is truth in both of those, but I have no real expectation of the trip changing my life and I do not try reading any other meaning into the journey. I'm just enjoying the ride while I can!
Wee Strom and Harley Electra Glide show tough BMWs how it's done in comfort, Finger Mountain, Dalton Highway, AK
Finger Mountain marks the start of the Artic Tundra and it was formed by the perma-frost pushing the boulders up to the surface in a ring formation, from the top of Finger Mountain you can see similar outcrops of rock that have been pushed up all over the place. It's quite a strange landscape.
Finger Mountain, Dalton Highway, AK
A few miles later we came to the Artic Circle, I had made it! While posing for a few photographs, and trying to swat the hundreds of mosquitoes another few travellers drifted in. Unfortunately I did not get much chance to talk to Karen as her attentions were being held by a very chatty American, the same one who had said I was 'just wearing jeans', but I met her again a bit later and we have e-mailed a few times. Talking of reasons for doing a trip her's is quite interesting, she is looking at how people deal with trash from the north to the south of both Americas or in her own words a Trash Trip. Maybe our paths will cross again, who knows?
I made the Artic Circle, Artic Circle, Dalton Highway, AK
And so did the bike, Artic Circle, Dalton Highway, AK
On the ride back down I stopped to take some photographs of the tundra and the Alaska Pipeline and a big artic pipeline truck coming the other way started braking and going down the gears until he saw my thumbs up sign that I was okay. It's good to see that if you do get into trouble the truckers will stop to help you out.
Let's get out of here, riding back down the Dalton, Dalton Highway, AK
I also had to stop again at Yukon crossing to get more gas, while I was there I talked with the girls working in the restuarant. They were students who decided that wanted to 'do something different' for the summer so were working and hiking in the area! Rather them than me, it's very isolated and infested with thousands of mosquitoes.
Stopping at Yukon Crossing for gas, coffee and a chin wag with the girls, Dalton Highway, AK
There were more trucks on the way back down the Dalton, as each one comes past at 60-70mph they shower you with gravel and dirt. Fortunately the lights and the screen survived the pounding, my visor and helmet picked up a few more dings though!
Leaving the Dalton having kept all the shiny bits up, Dalton Highway, AK
On Karen's advice I headed towards Chena Hot Springs looking for a campsite, I found a great one at the Chena River State Recreation Park. The next day I rode to Chena Hot Springs but was quite disappointed by what I found, it seemed very quiet with not a lot to do so I turned around and headed out to the Parks Highway to Anchorage.
Along the way I stopped at Nenana, as I had seen a paddle wheel steamer in Fairbanks that had been built in Nenana I thought it may be an interesting place to stop. There wasn't a lot there and it seems the biggest thing in Nenana is the Nenana Ice Classic where you can bet on when the ice on the Nenana river will break up! All the names and times to the minute are recorded in big books and these are consulted when the ice breaks to determine the winners!
Nenana Ice Classic, Nenana, AK
From Nenana its a short, cold but beautiful ride into Denali National Park, this turned out to be quite an expensive stop ($12 entrance, $25 camping, $50 bus) but I figured I'm only going to be here once so lets do it! My brother also told me that he enjoyed it and that I should take a look.
I decided not to do the tour as they were too expensive but to take the shuttle bus instead however I lucked out as our shuttle bus driver, Jeremy, basically acted as a tour guide the whole way! He had very good knowledge of animals and especially of birds. At one point he got very excited about spotting a Blue Winged Teal, he stopped the bus and took loads of photographs as he had never seen one in Alaska before. Like most Alaskan's he wasn't born there but had moved there about ten years ago, most Alaskan's I met were from somewhere else which is why I began to refer to Alaska as the 'from-state'. We also saw Carribou, bears (black and grizzly), ground squirrels, hundreds of white sock hares, golden eagles and bald eagles but they were all very far away from the bus! I saw much more wildlife in Alaska by getting out on the roads early, the animals like the plants that grow in the cleared areas along the highways but are soon scared off by the cars and trucks.
Denali shuttle buses at a stop, Denali National Park, AK
I was really there to see the mountains but unfortunately the weather was not exactly perfect for viewing them!
Not the best weather for sight seeing, Denali National Park, AK
The eleven hour bus trip was quite uncomfortable and it reminded me of my bus trip in Bangalore, India but I had a good time anyway!
Hey this reminds me of Bangalore, uncomfortable and animals way over there, Denali National Park, AK
The biggest disappointment is that I never got to see Mt McKinley the tallest mountain in North America, when the weather is good it can be seen from as far away as Anchorage and Fairbanks but I never saw it the whole time I was in Alaska!
Mt McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America, what I'm supposed to be looking at, Denali National Park, AK
My view of Mt McKinley, where did it go? Denali National Park, AK
On the way out of Denali it wasn't really worth stopping at any of the Denali viewpoints as it was raining heavily the whole way. I did stop at the memorial to Alaskan soldiers, airman and sailors. I thought the memorial looked oddly soviet, but quite moving especially the stories of why the Medal of Honour was awarded to some soldiers.
Memorial to Alaskan fallen, looked very Soviet to me, Denali National Park, AK
I took a little detour to the historic Talkeetna village, which is a gold rush town that served nearby mines. It had the hippy, laid back, arty feel to it that I like in a town with not a suit in sight. I could definitely live there if it wasn't for Alaska's thirty five species of Mosquitos and the dark of winter!
View across the park, Talkeetna, AK
There were a couple of bars that looked very tempting as well, but unfortunately beer and bikes don't mix that well!
Tempting sign in a local pub, Talkeetna, AK
View down the mainstreet, lots of gift shops seeing 'amazing' stuff, Talkeetna, AK
I think I lost my mind in Denali, the relentless mosquitos, flys and kreepy krawlies had driven me mad. It had got to the point that I was imagining bugs crawling on me or biting me, the guy behind me on the bus in Denali even said 'I have been watching you for a while and you keep on swatting bugs that are not there'. I decided I needed a hotel for the night to recover some of my lost sanity. I looked for a hotel in Anchorage but the prices were crazy, Days Inn wanted $190 and said it would go up to $250 a night the next day! Eventually I got a room for $95 at Economy Inn where I parked next to a real traveller riding the world on a small Honda street bike. Unfortunately I never did get a chance to talk with him.
Parked next to world traveller, puts my little jaunt into perspective, Anchorage, AK
And he's more organised than me, got stickers and everything, Anchorage, AK
As the rooms were so expensive I only stayed the night in Anchorage before heading out to the Kenai peninsula. To get there I had to ride this beautiful road long the edge of Turnagain Arm, Captain Cook called it Turnagain as he had to 'turn again' having come to a dead end in his search for the northwest passage.
View across Turnagain Arm, Anchorage, AK
View across Turnagain Arm from Bird Point, Anchorage, AK
I spent the night at Captain Cook State Park, where there were a number of signs in the campground warning of two problem Grizzly bears. I found out that the problem bears were two cubs who had lost their mother either during hibernation or maybe illegal hunting and the cubs were trying to fend for themselves by raiding campers food. The rangers were shooting the cubs with paintball guns in a effort to make them wary of humans, but there was a good chance that they would have to be killed if the cubs did not learn to fend for themselves. I felt a bit sorry for them, but made sure my tent site was clean as even cubs can be dangerous!
The next day I intended to ride to Homer and camp on Homer's Spit. On the way I stopped in the historic Kenai village and went on a walking tour of the old buildings. The walking tour based on a pamphlet was good, each historic house has a little plaque that tells you the history of the building even if that history is only 150 years!
Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox church, Kenai, AK
Oskolkof/Dolchock Cabin, Kenai, AK
When I got to Homer's Spit the wind was blowing at fourty knots straight from the artic, it was freezing and the tents pitched on the Spit did not look like they would hang on for long so I decided against camping in Homer. It was a pity as I liked Homer, it had good bars and resturants and a good museum which had a good display on the Exon Valdez oil spill. Homer is the Halibut fishing capital of the world, every shop is either a gift shop or a fishing charter!
View along Homer's Spit, lots of gift shops, Homer, AK
I rode back to camp in Soldotna on the Kenai river, on the way there I stopped at the Kenai River Landing, an old fish cannery that has been turned into trendy shops and resturants. It was deserted, I spent quite some time talking with the girl who runs the coffee shop. She says her main business month is July and a bit of August, that must be one of the shortest business cycles ever!
The deserted Kenai River Landing, Soldotna, AK
Walking through Soldotna in the evening I spotted a funny sign, but their clever advertising didn't work on me. I was looking for a hiking fishing rod but every shop was packed with people buying lures, rods and reels so I didn't get a chance to talk with a salesman.
Going to any length to get a sale, Soldotna, AK
I spent the evening watching two fishermen cast again and again, when I asked if anything was biting he said no! Fishermen have to be the most patient people in the world, they sit there for hours in the hope of catching something, not being the most patient person I decided that on the ride back to Anchorage I would stop in Coopers Landing to get a few hours tuition in fly fishing (looks more active to me). When I got to Coopers Landing it was even crazier than Soldotna, there were hundreds of fisherman standing shoulder to shoulder along the Kenai river hoping to catch a salmon. I wanted to get a picture but there was no where to park, every available piece of pavement was taken up by a huge 4x4. I commented to a fisherman that 'the fish don't stand a chance' and he said 'no, they don't', I was told later that it's called 'combat fishing' where you have to elbow the guys on either side of you away to cast! There was no chance of me finding a hours tuition in casting, this was no place for amateurs, so I rode on through!
I headed down the Seward Highway to Seward, what a great ride through mountains alongside lakes and rivers!
View along Seward Highway, Seward Highway, AK
Seward was a great little town, two bars, a coffee shop, a Indian resturant and a handful of gift shops that all seemed to sell the same thing. I should have stopped in Seward for a few days, but not being a fisherman, not being able to Kayak and unwilling to pay large sums of money to go cruising there would not have been a lot for me to do other than go to a bar and we know what happens then! It was also early so I decided to ride on.
View of Seward from across the bay, Seward, AK
Seward's main street, a lot of gift shops selling similar items and two good looking drinking holes, Seward, AK
I intended to ride to Hope, but Hope does not have a gas station so I had to ride almost all the way to Anchorage to get gas then ride back. I planned to ride the tunnel, which is shared between cars and trains, to Whittier Bay. After buying my pass, the attendent handed me a pamphlet entitled 'Motorcycle Safety Information' and told me that there would be a fourty minute delay as a biker had gone down in the tunnel after slipping on the wet concrete and touching a rail (you have to ride between the rails, and they send you in last just in case you do go down). When I asked if it happened often, he said 'all the time'. I sat there for a while in the cold rain thinking about it, then went back and asked for a refund on my pass. I think they were as relieved as I was that I had decided not to push it and ride through the tunnel.
So I went back to have a look at Portage Glacier and lake, there is a tour to the glacier but it was cold and so I decided to give it a miss. Since then I have seen so many glaciers that it really doesn't matter anyway!
View of Portage Glacier, AK
No wonder it's so cold, icebergs in the lake, Portage Glacier, AK
I stayed in a very hippy inn in Anchorage that night, I spent hours wandering around looking for seafood but all I could find were the usual horrible chains (Arbys, Boston Pizza) and Mexican chain resturants. Eventually I ended up eating at the small Mexican resturant at the inn, the food was great although my opinion may have been influenced by the gorgeous girl working the till!
The next day I was off quite late down the Glenn Highway, on the way there I rode up Hatcher's Pass to Independence Mine State Park, an old gold mining operation. The road up Hatcher's Pass was the curviest I have ridden in Alaska and I may have been a bit naughty riding slightly above the speed limits and overtaking some slower RVs.
The interesting Independence Mine, Independence Mine State Park, AK
Historic buildings at the mine, Independence Mine State Park, AK
Wood and steel meets rock, Independence Mine State Park, AK
The mine was facinating, especially as the information boards included a lot of personal stories of the people who worked there, including that of the first woman to drive the Alcan. I especially liked the story of schoolboy John who took a beer as a gift for his teacher!
A beer for the teacher, Independence Mine State Park, AK
After the mine it was back onto the amazing Glenn Highway, the first hundred miles riding west from Palmer are fantastic, huge mountains and rivers flank you on both sides!
Views from highway are spectacular, Matanuska River, Glenn Highway, AK
Along the way a cloud managed to position itself just right to make it look like the mountain below was erupting as a volcano. I had to get a picture.
Oh no it's a volcano, Glenn Highway, AK
The huge Tazlina Glacier also dominated its' valley, much more spectacular than the more visited Portage Glacier back on the Kenai peninsula.
Tazlina Glacier, Glenn Highway, AK
I stopped for the night at Squirrel Creek State Park, after setting up my tent I wandered across to Tonsina River Lodge where I had a couple of Alaskan Amber beers (on tap!) from the Mangey Moose Saloon and talked with the new Russian owners. he had moved up from Miami after loosing his job in the building trade and had bought the place because he loved the old, historical, lodge building. Unfortunately the building was severly damaged in a flood, when I asked what he was going to do with it he said he was going to restore it which would cost three quarters of a million dollars. I said 'wow, that's a lot of money' and he said 'no the government will give me a grant, they are desperate to save anything historic and there isn't much history in Alaska'! I asked about winter business and he said they get a lot of helicopters from heli-skiing landing on the strip near the lodge. I don't know what the neighbours will think of the new Russian owner but I'm sure he'll fit in as he is also a 'from' person in the 'from-state'!
I got up to the sound of rain on the tent, it was also freezing cold but I set off anyway in the hope it would clear before I got to the Thompson Pass. Along the way I stopped at the Worthington Glacier, which is retreating fast. I learnt later that the old pioniers used to use huge sleds to carry goods from Valdez across the Valdez and Worthington glaciers to the copper and gold mines in the area and that some of them (weighing a couple of tons) used to get away from them and go crashing down the glacier. That must have been some sight!
Another glacier, Worthington Glacier, this time you can walk right up to it, Richardson Highway, AK
Unfortunately when I got to the pass it was still raining so I pushed on without stopping to take any photographs on the way in to Valdez, I knew I would be passing back through the pass a few hours later so hoped it would clear a bit!
After the pass you ride through Keystone Canyon which feature the Bridal and Horsetail Falls, I tried getting a photograph but the lighting was terrible, I guess you could always look online.
Keystone Canyon, Richardson Highway, AK
Valdez is not as touristy as Seward or Homer despite being dominated by three large RV parks one of which blocks your access to the sea! I just rode around taking a look and after breakfast rode out again. There were a couple of road signs I hadn't seen before, which may be a good thing!
Never seen a sign like this before, Valdez, AK
On the way out of Keystone Canyon I saw the perfect picture, a moose was happily munching away in a flower lined small reflective lake accompanied by two big trumpeter swans and their chick. I motioned to an oncoming car to look that way, and by the time I stopped and went back, the moose had moved off into the woods and the swans had swum off! That will teach me for letting other people know about something I've spotted!
Stop it's a moose, Richardson Highway, AK
On the way out over the Thompson Pass I got a small break in the clouds and managed to get a shot of Mt Witherspoon.
Mt Witherspoon from the Thompson Pass, Richardson Highway, AK
After the pass I set off for Chitina hoping to be able to visit McCarthy and Kennicott in the Wrangell St Elias National Park as this park is probably the most wild in southern Alaska with the most spectacular scenery. It was twenty miles to Chitina but I hit deep crushed rock (sharp) gravel after ten miles and saw a sign saying 'gravel ten miles', I almost dropped the bike twice and the chain which was already stretched would not last ten miles of dirt so I gave up and headed back to historic Copper Center for coffee and a biscuit, much more civilised!
Just after the Copper Center my chain started to make a hell of a racket, I took a look and it had stretched badly and must have been bouncing and hitting the swing arm. I wasn't too worried about it breaking as that's pretty rare these days but was worried about it jumping off the sprocket, locking the rear wheel and chucking me off! I adjusted it one last time to the limits and set off hoping to make Whitehorse. A truck driver at a gas station warned me that it was bouncing badly and making a loud noise.
The text conversation I had with my brother went something like this:
Me: Suzi, my Wee Strom, is unhappy and claims I have been neglecting her and that she wants a new chain and sprocket.
My brother: You call your bike Suzi? You need to get a girlfriend!
Me: I do, she's a bit of a dirty girl but cleans up real good with a power washer!
That night I spent a sleepless night in Porcupine Creek State Park, surrounded by howling coyotes on all sides of my tent worrying about whether I would make Whitehorse the next day. When I woke up and looked at the map, Whitehorse was twice as far as Fairbanks so reluctantly I headed back to Fairbanks to get a new chain and sprockets. I set off early, about 5 am as the sun hardly sets in Alaska, along the way I saw seven moose, and a bear! You have to get up very early to see wildlife from the roads in Alaska, by 7 am they have all left the roadside for the deeper bush. There were also some amazing light effects between the clouds and the hills.
Wierd lighting on the way back to Fairbanks, Tok cutoff, AK
I arrived at River's Edge RV park on Saturday morning at 10h45 thinking I would be stuck in Fairbanks for a week or two waiting for parts and/or a service appointment. When I phoned Northern Powersports they said bring it right in we'll do it right now! What service! It did cost a fair packet though, $827 for two new tires, chain, sprockets and an oil change. They told me they like to get travellers back on the road as soon as possible. If only the services in the UK were so good!
While there I noticed a few Honda Goldwings were towing camper trailers and I had to get a photograph, one day when I grow up I also want to ride a Honda Goldwing!
Goldwings towing campers, Fairbanks, AK
I also had plenty of time to catch up on the news in the local rag, as it was solstice weekend most of the news was about the Midnight Sun festival and the all night baseball match. I loved the correction in the newspaper! I thought about hanging around, especially for the festival but when I woke up on Sunday it was to the sound of heavy rain so I packed up and headed off to Whitehorse to meet Jorge.
At least the American Wigeon can't sue, Fairbanks, AK
I had not ridden the section of the Alcan from Tok to Whitehorse so was looking forward to it despite the warnings from some Harley riders in Fairbanks that it was the roughest piece of the Alcan. The ride through the Tetlin National Wildlife Reserve did not disappoint, it was difficult trying to take a picture that included all the lakes and streams. I pointed out a bald eagle to some German tourists but they didn't even thank me!
View across the Tetlin National Wildlife Reserve, Alaska Highway
After camping just south of the Canadian border I carried on the next day, it was even better than the day before with stunning views of the St Elias Mountains behind the Kluane Game Sanctuary.
View of the St Elias Mountains, Alaska Highway
I stopped at historic Copper Creek bridge where I talked to a guy driving a massive rig pulling a small (relative) camper and was finally was able to get some information on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway that I was considering riding back south. He told me it was good and that there was only twenty miles of dirt but that the dirt was in good condition.
The historic Copper Creek bridge, Alaska Highway
I arrived in Whitehorse and waited for my friend Jorge to arrive, he eventually did at 11pm and not having anywhere to sleep (he gave up his campsite in Whitehorse) decided he would sleep on my floor! We also went off to a local bar and drank beers till closing time at 2am, it was still light outside when we left the bar! Over some beers he told me his plan, ride 950 miles from Whitehorse to Homer because in his words 'they named the town after a cartoon character', camp, ride 950 miles from Homer to Whitehorse, camp, and then ride 900 odd miles to Kitwanga where he would meet me all on his Harley 883! The guy is nuts, but we agreed to meet in Kitwanga in three days time.
We had a day off wandering around Whitehorse seeing the sights including a tour of the paddle steamer.
Jorge takes another photograph, Whitehorse, Yukon
I set off on the Alcan the next day heading for the Stewart Cassiar junction at Watson Lake, on the way there I came across an accident and stopped to help. The dust was still settling so it must have happened just before I arrived, two kids had a blowout on the front wheel and had gone skidding off the road. Fortunately there were no injuries. A truck driver and RV driver also stopped, we considered towing the car back onto the road but the truck driver was worried about flipping the car and I thought the car's suspension and engine were damaged anyway (the car was grounded on big rocks). The truck driver said he would send a tow truck back from the next town.
Blowout on the Alcan, Alaska Highway
The start of the Stewart-Cassiar highway was a bit rough but the scenery was great, I think riding this highway was one of the highlights of the trip up to Alaska and the highway is definitely a better ride than the Alcan through the Yukon!
View down the Stewart Cassiar Highway, Stewart Cassiar Highway
More snow and rain and oh yeah some fantastic mountains, Stewart Cassiar Highway
It just gets better, Stewart Cassiar Highway
I spent the night camped next to Deese Lake, while there I also had to clean out one pannier as my detergent bottle had burst covering everything in soap. The next day I set off for Stewart, I hit my second longer section of dirt at the Stikine River crossing and had an encounter I will never forget! I stopped to take a few pictures of the scenery, after wandering around for a while I went back to the left side of my bike and was putting away my camera when I looked up and noticed a huge black bear only two or three yards away at the edge of the woods on the right side of my bike. I started thinking what can I defend myself with when the bear made a little mock charge, taking two quick steps towards me. The advice you are given says don't run as the bear will then see you as prey but it takes a lot of courage to just stand there! I started my bike hoping the noise of the engine would chase him off, but he wasn't worried at all so I beeped my weedy little horn 'beep-beep'. It sounded more cheerful than frightening and the bear just shook his head and turned around and went back into the woods, I think he thought I wasn't worth eating as I'm so skinny! I jumped on and rode off as quick as I could! Making a connection with such a large animal by looking into his eyes (something you're not supposed to do) is something I will never forget and something I never want to repeat! I saw four more black bears after that right on the side of the road, so was a bit more nervous about stopping to take a photograph! A few miles down the road I passed a girl riding a touring bicycle going the other way, one of the few times I did not envy the tour cyclists.
Almost eaten by a bear for this photograph of Stikine river crossing, Stewart Cassiar Highway
Almost eaten by a bear for this photograph of Stikine river crossing, Stewart Cassiar Highway
After the river crossing the road improves drastically, it's the best tar in the north, smooth sport bike territory!
Back onto smooth tar, the smoothest in the north, Stewart Cassiar Highway
At the junction I turned down to Stewart and Hyder, this short section ranks as one of the best roads on the trip up north. The scenery is similar to the Kenai peninsular but there is not much traffic and the mountains are a lot closer to the road!
Riding down to Stewart, one of the highlights of the trip up north, Stewart Cassiar Highway
The Bear Glacier provided a great backdrop while I had lunch and listened to the glacier creaking and cracking and the melt water rushing from below the glacier!
The Bear Glacier as a view during lunch, can it get any better, Stewart Cassiar Highway
When I got to Stewart I rode right through heading for Hyder, Alaska. It's a tiny town of about sixty people who stay year round. I spent half an hour having my ear bent by the gift shop owner as he explained his reasons for moving there (California has gone to hell because they were nice and let in the Mexicans) and his lifestyle (I open the shop when I feel like it).
As the sign says 'Hyder Alaska A town of about a hundred happy and a few old sh*& heads', Hyder, AK
A lot of the shops were closed and bordered up, the most sucessfull business in town looks to be the pub that sells a drink and a sticker saying 'I got Hyderised in Hyder!'
Economic downturn hits Hyder, Hyder, AK
I headed back through Canadian customs to Stewart and pitched my tent in the local campground in the middle of town thinking this looks like a nice town to walk around.
View of Stewart across the harbour, Stewart, BC
It was only when walking around the town that I started to notice all the 'Closed' and 'For Sale' signs on the business and houses, most of the bars were even closed! It looks like Stewart is really struggling economically and is slowly dying sinking back into the Mosquito infested swamp from which it was born!
Photograph that sums up Stewart, sinking back into the bug infested swamp from which it was born, Stewart, BC
The only open bar I could find was Casey's Place, the barmaid had a very interesting hair style. It looked like a racoon had a fight with a peroxide bottle, she had a blond bob with a stripey pony tail! I only had a beer as it was almost deserted aside from the Keno adicts trying to win on the lottery.
Casey's Place, the only open bar in town, Stewart, BC
It was a short ride from Stewart to Kitwanga, where I was to meet Jorge, so I took my time and enjoyed the fantastic ride back to the intersection from Stewart even if it was in pouring rain. Along the way I stopped in Gitanyow to have a look at the historic village and the totem poles. I found the art on the totem poles very alien, I think it's difficult for a western mind and an engineer's one at that to interpret this art form. The museum was closed which was a pity, although it did mean there was no one to collect the $5 you're supposed to pay to take pictures of the poles!
It was interesting to learn that it was the act of raising the pole rather than the pole itself that was important, once raised the pole was basically left to rot. It is only recently that they learned the value of preserving and restoring old totem poles.
Totem poles, Gitanyow/Kitwancool, BC
When I got to Kitwanga I camped in the free Centennial Park right in the middle of the town. Quite a few of the small towns in Canada provide free short-term camping to visitors. I wish the same was true of towns in Europe but I guess it's just a question of numbers, in the UK the campsites would always be full!
Camping in the free Centennial Park, Kitwanga, BC
I had a whole afternoon free to wander around the town while waiting for Jorge to roar in on his noisy little Harley so I went for a walk around the town! As the town consisted of a garage, a general store, a cafe, a post office, a lumber mill, a community hall and a few dozen houses it didn't take too long!
Kitwanga Cafe, no need to call it anything fancy as it's the only one, Kitwanga, BC
I especially liked the tiny church, it looked like the builder had forgotten to finish off the bell tower or spire!
Kitwanga Church, Kitwanga, BC
The main historical attraction in the area is Battle Hill, this was home of the famous warrior Nekt who sounded more of a rogue than warrior to me. He built a fort on the hill with the intention of defending any conterattacks from his raids on his neighbours! I especially liked the name of his magical club, it was called k'i'laa, "Strike-Only-Once." It reminded me of the magical headbands the terrorists, sorry freedom fighters, used to wear in Zimbabwe that were guarenteed to turn bullets into water!
Battle Hill, Kitwanga, BC
View from Battle Hill, Kitwanga, BC
I didn't really expect Jorge to show up as planned, as I thought he may have bitten off more than he could chew with that ride! Nine hundred miles on Interstate is different from nine hundred miles on bumpy Alaskan highway! To be fair to Jorge he was beaten by the weather and not the distance, I heard later that he had been hailed on, snowed on and had been subjected to freezing conditions so had stopped to buy a small fly screen for his bike. I'm not sure he enjoyed Alaska as much as I did.
I thought about waiting another day, but then decided to go on as I was not sure whether Jorge would be another day, another week or even if he had decided on going back down the Alcan. On the way out I stopped to look at the bell tower in Gitwangak that dates back to 1893. One of the problems of historical buildings in Alaska and BC is that they are made of wood, hardly the most durable of building materials.
Historic Chruch tower, Gitwangak, BC
After considering the three hundred mile round trip to Prince Rupert and rejecting it on the grounds I had to ride there and back on the same road I turned down Highway 16, the Yellowhead Highway as it is officially known. It is unoffically known as the Highway of Tears as there is apparently a killer on the loose who is killing hitch hikers, there are billboard signs all along that section of the highway warning against hitch hiking. For some reason my wierd brain instantly recalled The Doors, Riders on the storm ("There's a killer on the road... // His brain is squirmin' like a toad... ") and I just couldn't get it out of my head the whole day!
Shortly after joining the Yellowhead Highway I passed through Smithers, I wonder if Jorge noticed on his way through. Perhaps he should make it his mission to visit every town 'named after a cartoon character'!
A more interesting stop was Hazelton, which used to serve the local gold rush miners. I parked up and went for a walk around the historical center of the town.
Parked up in historic Hazelton, Hazelton, BC
One of the less welcoming posters looked to me like Vigilantism, I'm not quite sure of the legality of this in Canada but in my home country the authors of the poster would be at least cautioned by the police!
Vigilantes in historic Hazelton, Hazelton, BC
As it was so early nothing was open and the same was true of the nearby Ksan village when I went for a walk around it! On the positive side I didn't have to pay any entry fees and I wasn't in museum mode anyway.
Wooden lodges at Ksan village, Hazelton, BC
The ride down the rest of the Yellowhead to Prince George was good, it passes through the Lake District, but I didn't stop much just enjoyed the scenery and the occasional sun in between rain showers. I kept an eye out for the ellusive Canadian Moose, there were lots of signs warning about moose in the area but despite all the time I spent in Canada I never saw one moose. Either all the moose have gone on holiday to Alaska, or the Canadian moose has been made up by the tourism board to sell Canada to tourists!
When I got to Prince George it was raining heavily and it looked worse towards the south where I was heading, the girls in the Information Bureau told me that there were tornados and hail storms in the area so I headed for a motel in the city center. What a mistake! Prince George is a dump, there is nothing Royal about this town! I went for a walk to get something to eat and on leaving the motel was stopped by a drug adict looking for 'some change to go see his sick mother', and there were people sleeping rough everywhere or staggering about smelling of dope. All of the resturants and bars were closed as well so I ended up retreating to my room where I had a dinner of crisps and chocolate bars! I spent the night getting up every few hours to check on Suzie!
From Prince George I headed down Highway 97, the Carribou Highway. It would have been a nice ride, reminding me of the ride around Lincoln Pennsylvania through farms and horse ranches, but for the heavy traffic as it is the only route south to Vancouver. I even saw a Carribou on the way, from a little too close if you get my meaning.
I stopped at Hat Creek Ranch to take a look, but my usual sunny disposition, okay you can stop laughing, was ruined by my second digital camera failure. I couldn't take any pictures after Hat Creek without the camera making an alarming crunching sound on turning it off. The failure put me in a bad mood, so I wasn't really that keen to take my free ride on the stage coach, the ranch was also a little too commercial for me.
The main house, Hat Creek Ranch, BC
I did enjoy the native village nearby, especially the winter lodge. It seems like a very environmentally friendly way of living or maybe living half underground just appeals to the Troll in me! On the subject of environmentalism, I'm getting really annoyed by the whole 'Indians lived in harmony with their environment and only took what they needed' sentimental clap trap. The truth is that their populations were so low and their technology so poor (they didn't even have the means to carry large amounts of game before the arrival of the horse in the 1600s or the means to hunt large amounts of game before the rifle arrived in the 1800s) there is no way they could have made any impact on the environment even if they took everything they could! I was listening to a native radio station in California later in the trip and they were talking about how productive forests are and how we could all go back to a hunter gather lifestyle, living free of work and could live off the forest, somebody needs to run some basic math passed them!
Winter lodges, Hat Creek Ranch, BC
Winter lodge interior, looks cozy, Hat Creek Ranch, BC
After Hat Creek Ranch I had a choice, I could continue down Highway 97 to Vancouver or take Highway 99, the scenic route to Vancouver through Whistler. I chose the second option, initially the ride through Marble Canyon was fantastic, but the road soon got rough and eventually I had to stop to camp near Pembleton. The next day I planned to stop in Whistler, but when I got there it was a big building site, all in preperation for 2010 Olympics. I got my first taste of British Colombia driving, the worse in North America by far, bumper to bumper and 20mph over the speed limit even through 'double fine' construction zones. I lost it a few times with some dangerous tail gaiting, and then decided 'sod it I'm driving at the speed limit and you can try and push all you like but I'm not going any faster'!
It's a shame because the area around Vancouver is beautiful, lots of islands, lakes, and inlets from the sea. I planned to stop for a few days in Vancouver but after two hours getting pushed around in the place headed for the border and back to the USA.
At my first rest stop after the border, a medic from Tennessee (the friendliest state in the USA) came over for a long chat. It turned out he worked on a lot of casualties from the dragon so maybe those 'I survived the dragon' T-Shirts have some meaning after all. It was great being back in friendly USA after 'stand-offish' (a Canadian biker told me he rides in the USA as Canadian's are too stand-offish) Canada. Next stop, San Francisco on the Pacific Coast Highway and Redwood Highway!
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