Saturday, August 16, 2014

Wild Goose Chases

Highway 37a to Stewart

I'm sold, Stewart has it all!

Way back when I was in Laos, about 18,000 km (11,000mi.) ago to be precise, I made a rule, one of few I have, to not go off on any "wild goose chases". I decided that detours longer than 5 km off the beaten path were generally “not” allowed. This came after I pedaled countless kilometers to waterfalls that were advertised 2 or 3 km off the main road and didn't appear after climbing steep slopes and pedaling more than 10km. I used to follow signs to historical villages that were supposedly “right down the road” and after bumping and jiggling along on a gravel road for more than half an hour, did not exist! I went in search of caves that were “just up the hill”, and after going up and down several hills, mysteriously there were no caves. I know this rule may seem rather provincial, and contradicts my adventurous spirit, but to tell you the truth, I'm usually satisfied and delighted with all the scenery I take in right along the side of the road, I don't have a desire to venture much farther. It's hard to motivate me to go down a gravel road or push my bike up a steep slope on a muddy road to see a tourist sight.

Bear Glacier, the first you come to on the road, I was impressed by this one, little did I know what awaited me...

Alps, Pyrenees,....nope, BC Mountains!

A perfect day for riding

I do, however, make exceptions to this rule from time-to-time. Ever since I started pedaling north to Alaska, I received countless suggestions from cyclists to go to the little town of Stewart, Canada. It's a unique little place because the road dead-ends at the town, but not before crossing the border into Alaska, at the small ghost town of Hyder, Alaska, a mining village that came to be during the gold rush. It's a neat phenomena to be able to reach an isolated town in Alaska on a dead-end road, not to mention everyone raved about the glacier along the road as well as the bear preserve in Hyder. Stewart itself is a small mining town on a dead-end highway off the Stewart-Cassiar, a 65km detour off the main road. Wow! That is an awfully long way to go to see a small town that is no larger than 500 people, but to make the visit even more worthwhile there are plenty of services and I was in need of restocking my food supply for the remote ride up north. After all, the highway is called the Stewart-Cassiar, and not just the Cassiar Highway. If the town is included in the name of the highway (which I'm sure was all due to being a destination en route) it must be worth seeing!

Wild raspberries, a treat for me (and the bears)

Despite my rule, I had deemed Stewart and Hyder to be a “must experience” wild goose chase! I decided I would go out-and-back in one day and then be on my way. Of course, as this trip has taught me, plans never turn out exactly as you think, and always expect the unexpected! The road down to Stewart was almost all downhill after the first 20km. The scenery was spectacular, riding alongside the mountains, lush and green, capped with snow, many with glaciers atop. When the downhill started my eyes shifted from looking up to peering down at the bushes alongside the road because noticing the wild raspberries. They looked a bit picked over, and to no surprise I came across a lot of bear poo, confirming the fact that I wasn't the only one who enjoyed the wild berries. I wanted to get to Stewart on the early side, had it not been for the scenery and berry picking, I could have definitely made it faster!

You'd never guess there is civilization at the end of this road

Stewart, it is like stepping back in time, this was a delicious breakfast joint.

Needless to say, by the time I arrived in Stewart, I was hungry! It takes a lot of berries to fill me, and I didn't have the patience to do that much picking! My priority upon arriving was food, wifi, and charging appliances. I found the small grocery store cyclist told me had free wifi, parked my bike outside and entered to buy food. I sat down at the picnic tables outside to charge up and catch up on emails. Sitting next to me were two men. They looked like travelers, with a computer out and conversing with a local. They struck up conversation with me, but I was a bit too focused on my phone to give them my undivided attention. In fact, I was so focused, I didn't even see the plate full of pastries with the sign, “Free, Take One” until five minutes later. When I finally decided to give up on the wifi and enjoy the moment, I fully engaged in conversation with Greg and John. That is when I realized there were free pastries next to them. The three donuts sitting there on the plate disappeared in a total of about 5 minutes!

Pete on his retro BWM, straight out of Motorcycle Diaries

Greg and John were motorcyclists who had been in Sturgis, South Dakota for the Harley concentration, and spontaneously decided to head to Alaska afterwards. They call themselves the “Poverty Riders,” along with one other member, Pete, who was doing laundry. They are all about function over flash, which is why they were camping rather than staying in hotels and invited me to share their campsite. However, that isn't the only thing they invited me to that day......As many of you know, one of the things on my list of “things I want to experience while pedaling” is riding on the back of a Harley. None of them actually had a Harley, but I couldn't refuse an invitation to ride on the back of a motorcycle up to the famous bear reserve in Hyder and on to the Salmon Glacier in BC. Despite their rough and tough look, motorcyclists are some of the most gentle and tender-hearted people I've met on my trip! Greg, John, and their third friend Pete, were no exception!

Greg and I on his BWM Z100

The only official sign to let you know you are in the USA

What an adventure we had! Pete was on an old retro motorcycle, John on a small 250cc sport bike, and Greg was riding a large 2 person BMW, with me on the back wearing my bike helmet and a big smile on my face! We cruised from Stewart to Hyder in the matter of minutes. This isolated Alaskan town is only 2 kilometers down the road and wouldn't you know there is absolutely NO American border control into Hyder? Shocking! The Canadian patrol the border crossing on the way back to Stewart, but this has to be the only border in the United States that has no government border control. From there we went up to the bear preserve. People are suppose to ohh and ahh at the bears, but I couldn't get past the 2 to 3 foot long salmon in the river, spawning, the obvious reason for the presence of bears. There was a putrid dead fish smell lingering in the air, and since there weren't any bears fishing at that moment, we decided to go on to the glacier, another 20 miles up the road.

The river formed by the glacier

The road and view on the way to Salmon Glacier

The road was gravel and it started out flat alongside the river, which was rushing down from the mountains, wider than any river I had seen on my trip. In fact, it was so wide, it really had no clear path and had flooded everything in its way to create its path. We started to climb, leaving the river, and had unbelievable visibility making for gorgeous glacier viewing. Mountains surrounding us and there was a countless number of glaciers tucked away between mountains and covering almost every peak. It made the Icefield Parkway seem ridiculous in comparison, and Glacier National Park a joke! There was absolutely no one on the road and it has to be the most scenic road of my trip! The further north I pedal, the more scenic the roads become! Here I was in delightful company chatting to Greg the entire ride up, talking about everything imaginable from travels and childhood, our first love, sorts, our parents and family, you name it. Although there was about a 25 year age gap, it was as if we were one and the same kind of people with an instant bond and connection. Our conversation got interrupted every 2 minutes for me to repeatedly say, “Oh my god!!!!,” while gawking at the views. On numerous occasions I admitted, “I have to be the luckiest person alive, look where we are Greg!” Greg and his buddies are as hard core motorcyclists as I am a road cyclist. We love our bikes, for the sole purpose of where they take us!

At first you only see the river.....

Then the glacier appears

Here we were observing the longest glacier I'd seen in my entire life. No joke, the road followed The Salmon Glacier about 12 to 15 kilometers up to where it started, and then it looped behind, for an even more phenomenal viewing. I felt bad that Greg couldn't take the pictures, but not one of my pictures does this immense mass of ice justice. I have never in my life seen anything like The Salmon Glacier, which is officially in British Columbia and yet it is the 5th largest in North America, the longest accessible by road. I've seen untouched glaciers in the Andes in Peru, The Mer du Glace in Switzerland, Glacier National Park, Icefield Parkway, and New Zealand's prize glaciers as well, and nothing comes even remotely close to impact of The Salmon Glacier. Not to mention, it's in an unspoiled natural environment with almost no commercialization, not even flights hovering above. Ironically at the summit there is a man selling DVD's and postcards, but he had abandoned sales that day and was no where to be seen. The only thing up at the summit, other than us, was a massive amount of mosquitoes, which is why I debuted my mosquito face mask, given to me by some of my followers (Thank you Janis, Bruce, and Murdock)!

the picture doesn't do Salmon Glacier justice!

It is a massive sprawling glacier

Look closely to see the road we traveled and the dust covering my clothes from the road

I hesitate to write a post about Stewart, Canada, because I don't want to spoil this undiscovered frontier. Sure, there are people in Stewart and Hyder, but most don't make it past the famous bar in Hyder, let alone the bear reserve. We probably encountered a half dozen people on the dusty gravel road, and to my luck one of these 6 was a couple Greg and gang had met the day before at their campsite. Robbin, the lady, works at an IB school in Vancouver, which I will now hopefully visit when I make my way down to their city. What an ironic meeting!

Beyond the glacier was equally as picturesque!

After our ride to the Glacier, Greg, John, Pete and I went to the famous bar in Hyder. You step inside and enter a time warp to experience the true feel of the ghost town. I'd call it a million dollar establishment, literally because the walls are lined with dollar bills from all over the world, signed by all the people who have stepped foot in this establishment over the years. Behind the apparent outer wall there is an inside panel also covered with dollar bills. Some aren't even dollars! I saw 20, 50, and even 100 dollar notes from currency around the world signed with the idea that historically if a miner came to the bar at the end of a long day of work and had no cash, they'd find their bill from the previous visit and use that to settle their tab. It's a pretty neat tradition. It felt weird to be back The States but I took advantage of my stay by mailing some postcards, saving $2,20 per international postage! I was delighted!

The only bar in town, a million dollar establishment, literally!

"Poverty Riders", plus Melissa

We all had diner, Greg and gang treated me, and we went back to Canada. I walked across the border, to avoid problems being on the back of a motor bike wearing a bike helmet. By the time we got back to our campsite, the typical Northern BC and Alaska weather had rolled in and it was gray and drizzly, again, making me thankful to have experienced the glacier and scenery at it's prime!

The breakfast gang the following morning

Here I am now, with the gang of motorcyclists and a few other add ons to the group, enjoying a delicious warm breakfast and good company before I set out again back tracking my route, to continue heading north to Alaska. I've had an amazing “sneak preview” of the Yukon and Alaskan wilderness and if I don't make it any further on my trip, I'm content, I wouldn't complain. I'm absolutely tickled with what I've seen! Yes, I officially went more than 5km off the beaten path, but this wild goose chase was well worth it! Not only for the scenery and the fact I got to ride on the back of a motorcycle, but Greg, John, and Pete were true gentlemen an treated me like the most entitled young lady! I'm a lucky gal, I can't deny it!

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