Alaska 2013 – Fifth Week (Stewart-Cassiar Highway)

After the thrill of riding the Dempster Highway, it was time to settle down a little bit and start my way back home – very slowly… From Dawson City it was a long day (600 miles) straight to Watson Lake for yet another night at the Air Force Lodge and an unexpected surprise when I stopped for a late dinner at Nugget City: Patti and John Heveron, the Rochester couple I had met in Whittier and Valdez, were there too and joined me for a couple of hours, until it was time to rest after so much time on the road. On the next morning I started my way down the much talked about Stewart-Cassiar Hwy, one of the beautiful roads around this part of the world. The sun refused to play its part, alas, and the ride to Dease Lake was still great, but nothing as spectacular as it could have been. I planned to take the dirt road to Telegraph Creek and back before calling it a day, but the rain kept falling on Dease Lake and I decided to try it in the morning, before leaving for Stewart.

Telegraph Creek is a short road, compared to the Dalton and the Dempster, only 70 miles from Dease Lake, and it’s another one of those small ghost towns from the Gold Rush days. Nothing much there, except for a piece of history and some incredible landscapes around the little town, but I was looking forward to visit it. It is a dirt road, but it is also well kept, and except for some very sharp and steep switchbacks, and some very narrow stretches, it’s not that much of a big deal when it’s dry and sunny. With rain, though, everything changes and I was told many times over about how slippery and dangerous the road becomes. Well, the rain kept falling the whole night, so in the morning I packed the bike and hit the highway on my way to Stewart. After a couple of miles, I stopped and the stubborn little voice inside my head told me to turn around and head to Telegraph Creek anyway. The road would be a bit slippery for sure, but at least it wasn’t raining, even though the skies were heavily overcast. I turned back and off I went, but no dice: after only 20 miles of a few “oooops” and “here we go” moments, the rain came down again, and I wasn’t even near the tricky part of the road. So on to Stewart I went, adding this road to my list of “next time” items… There’s virtually no traffic up there, my off-road tires were pretty much done after the long rides up North, and I still had quite a few weeks on the road to risk something unexpected. Telegraph Creek can wait…

I was anticipating spending two days in Stewart, because it would be my last chance to have a close encounter with bears on this trip. Next to this small Canadian port town is Hyder, called the friendliest ghost town in Alaska. With a population of 85, it is indeed like a ghost town and it’s definitely unique. You have to cross the border to reach it, but there’s no US Customs post there, just the Canadian one. Hyder is also home to a very famous bear observation park and the Salmon Glacier, a gigantic glacier which is accessible by a road 17 miles long, all gravel and dirt up in the mountains. As my luck would have it, no bears to watch (the salmon is running late this year, and the bears are deep in the woods trying to make do with a diet of berries, while the salmon make their way). No problem, I thought, there’s still the glacier, and after a short night’s sleep, I woke up before 6am to try and see the beautiful glacier and rode the incredibly scenic road. My only problem was, you guessed it, more rain, this time with heavy fog and very cold winds… I kept climbing up the slippery road, sometimes as slow as 20 mph, for there was no barriers and any mistake would see me and my bike a few hundred yards down the valley. At the top of the mountain, I could hardly see more than 8 or 10 yards ahead of me. I was riding through the clouds and cold rain at that point., and not a soul around. I decided not to turn back, though, as if by some miracle the sun would suddenly break through the clouds and show me the glorious views. No miracle for me this time, and I had to ride it all back to Stewart for a nice and hot breakfast. The waitress told me I was crazy for riding it up there in conditions like that, and also that the glacier is usually seen in the afternoons, after the almost always present morning fog. I wish she had told me that the day before.

After that unique experience, I cut short my stay in Stewart and made up my  mind to have the next rest day in Prince Rupert, which wasn’t originally in my plans to visit. I was told it was a great port city of 12,000, with decent Internet, an incredibly beautiful road and some great food. I also read about a boat tour to a grizzly bear sanctuary two hours away, the Khutzeymateen Valley.  For the very first time on this whole trip, I decided to become yet another tourist and see some bears after all, even if by the comfort of a boat deck. It felt like cheating for sure, but at this point, I couldn’t care less. I wanted to see some bears and some bears I was going to see! The road to Prince Rupert was everything I was told about, and I booked my spot on the boat as soon as I got there. The tour would start the next day at 8am, and I prepared my cameras and waited anxiously for the boat to arrive at the valley, some two hours away from the port. Together with a whole bunch of tourists from Canada, the US and Germany, I spent close to 3 hours searching for the bears, and I finally realized they must have something personal against me: not a single one was to be seen, by me or anybody else, a very rare moment according to the tour operators. I guess the first thing I will do when I get home is take my camera to the Miami Zoo and see if they have bears there…

Now it’s time to go back to the old and good US of America, and to visit Ju in Seattle. I’m leaving Alaska and Canada for this time, but with plans to come back in two or three years: ride some new roads, complete the Dempster to Inuvik, get to see Denali Park in good weather, visit the new friends I made here once again and… see some bears! I leave the Northwest with mixed feelings, being absolutely happy to have seen and experienced so much in this past month, and at the same time wishing I could just turn back and keep riding my bike around so many wonderful places. Couldn’t have asked for a better trip, but I want seconds…

11 comments
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  • Luiziana BarrosEssa viagem tem que se transformar num livro. Vc escreve muito bem e as fotos…. Bem, as fotos não tem nem adjetivo. Mais uma vez parabéns! Pelo sonho realizado, pelas lindas fotos que compartilhou conosco e pela viagem que pude fazer junto através dos seus depoimentos.ReplyCancel

  • Stu NowlinExcellent shots! Good choice to bypass Telegraph Creek.ReplyCancel

  • Robert PhillipsSensacional!ReplyCancel

  • Julio GrimaldoAwesome scenery!ReplyCancel

  • Hierneis Gunterluiziana barros said it all!ReplyCancel

  • Juan Clementeincredible, just incredible!ReplyCancel

  • Fabiola FerriUma foto mais linda que a outra!ReplyCancel

  • Nicole Santa RosaM A R A V I L H O S O! Muito feliz e orgulhosa por voce estar realizando uma trip de sonho. <3ReplyCancel

  • Ricardo FotovideoQue tal Ricardo donde vienes?ReplyCancel

  • Edward N Patricia MarinAgain one more time I am so glad you sre shering all this great adventure with us , thank you!ReplyCancel

  • Sidney TenucciPutz, Ricardo! Tô na estrada contigo! ( na volta trocamos figurinhas…o meu livro the viagem Tailândia, Vietnã, Cambodia, Laos, Bali, Lombok e Istambul está no forno!). Nice road, my friend. Sua alma agradece a iniciativa e uma dos melhores e mais profícuas utilizações do tempo que um ser humano pode obter nessa vidona nesse planetinha….ReplyCancel

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