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0022: The Cassiar Highway - Big bears and Strawberry scented roads.

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For those who know the English Lake District, will likely know the A591 road that runs from Ambleside in the south to Keswick in the north.

It's an 18 mile journey along some of the Lake districts finest backdrops.
The road twists and winds around little lakes and tarns. Climbs up steep inclines, drops into narrow valleys, then opens out to the grandeur of steep rocky crags and wide valleys.
White waterfalls roar down glistening black rocks and yellow mosses fill the cracks along with ferns, pines and a myriad of multi-coloured flowers.
Pine, Cypress and cedar trees line river edges, brush the road side and climb high up the hillsides where snow can remain hidden in crevices till late on in the year.
Most of this you miss when driving in a car, but having ridden it on a bike several times, one can truly appreciate the subtle small details that go unnoticed by the hundreds of cars that pass this way every day.
Like, the sight and scent of the little mushrooms on rotten tree branches, the rustle of grass as rabbits dart away from the road edge. Campion and Clover flowers being tended by bees as they search for nectar.
Though short, it is one of my favourite rides through the Lakes as it concentrates everything the region has to offer in a very small space. And all too soon you are transported from the peace and tranquillity of the journey from one small town and dropped back into the chaotic civilisation of the next.

Now, imagine instead of a 1.5 hour bike journey, but one scaled up to last 8 days and many times bigger!
This is the Cassiar Highway.

I started in Watson Lake having spent a few very peaceful and relaxing days with the Drurys.
Thank you Susan and Barry.
Your Moose burgers and Musk Ox are second to none, as was your hospitality.

While there I met up with Manuel from Switzerland
He has his own blog at:northwards.ch So I hope your German is good enough, and there are some fascinatic statistics.

We swapped notes then cycled together for the first 15 miles to the junction with the Cassiar.
I felt weak when riding; blaming the rest days and soon discovered I had a puncture in the front wheel.
It was slow, so I continued a little further but finally had to stop to change the tube.
Just as I pulled up, an RV pulled up behind us and we thought they were stopping to offer help, or a drink as occasionally people have done.
After a few seconds Manuel realised why they had stopped, and I should have remembered.

Tourists stop to photograph Bears!

Some 20 metres cross the road, two large black bears stopped feeding in in the roadside grass and were on hind legs and staring at the little convoy who had all just suddenly stopped.
Despite my flat tyre I rapidly pushed my bike another 100 metres or so down the road, and quickly changed the tube while Manuel kept watch.

First flat!

We parted company at the Cassiar highway junction service station and I took time to repair my tyre properly.
As I finished the front I took the opportunity to inflate the rear tyre. Suddenly, though it was working moments before, my pump stopped working!
Now unsure what to do, I noticed several cuts in the front tyre and was certain it was not going to last much longer. But as I was about to ride one of the most isolated roads in Canada, it would be good to be able to repair my tyre when it eventually failed.
After thinking for a moment, I packed up and started riding south. Worse things have happened!

This road is narrow, compared with the other highways I have ridden and in places the bushes come right to the road edge. I was hoping for no more surprises like before.
Descending a hill after about an hour, I saw a large black bear cross the road with 2 cubs.
The most dangerous combination.
I stopped immediately and began ringing my bell and calling out.
Not to attract her, but to warn of my presence.
Bear rule #1 Never surprise a bear.
She saw me, and walked closer...
Then turned back... paused and ushered her offspring into the woods.
Phew!
I waited another minute or so, still calling and ringing then with Bear spray at the ready, I cycled past the spot where the Bear family entered the woods.
As I passed the Mother was stood on hind legs watching me closely and the cubs were having a difficulty time trying to scramble up a fallen tree!
She stayed in the woods fortunately, and I sped past as fast as my overloaded bike could take me.
A few kilometres later, I met a Belgian cyclist heading north and warned him about the Bears. He seemed uninterested and we both continued.

The journey continued at a slow pace. My energy levels didn't rise and I felt weak and slow, blaming the tyre and the slight headwind.
By the time I reached Boya Lake campground I felt terrible!
Boya lake A good meal and I felt a little better, but not great.
A heavy thunderstorm finished off the day.

Breakfast didn't go down well and I felt ill as I started down the road.
After an hour or so, I considered turning back but Jade city was a short distance away so I decided to stop there. This little mining community offers mainly tourist trinkets mined from the local Jade and other semi precious rocks, but also has a free campsite and free Wi-Fi.
I spent the afternoon sleeping under the trees and had a good meal to help boost my flagging energy levels.
I'm still not sure what the bug was, but I suspect something in the water, despite taking care to filter all I drink. Except Tap water from a few "safe" locations.
Klaus from Germany joined me late in the evening at the sit. An elderly but overly enthusiastic touring cyclist. I spoke with him for a few minutes and though he was keen to chat for longer, I left him and went back to bed.
The next morning Klaus left very early. I felt better and resolved to start the day with a good breakfast.
I went over to the Cafe where there was a reality TV film crew filming the events in this little town.
The overacting cafe owner was pretending to be stressed that the chef had a day off and she was having to deal with "oh so many customers!"
All 4 of us!
Klaus had been there a while, watching the "performance" and the "stressed" owner came and took my order.
Bacon, fried eggs "over easy", and hash brown potatoes. Simple standard fare and the only option I have seen on the menu so far in this region of Canada!
Still feeling not great, I began eating and forgot about the TV cameras. The owner enquired how the food was? "The Chef isn’t here, I'm so stressed that I overcooked your eggs. I hope they are OK?"
"Yes, they are fine" I replied. " They are still just about edible!" She scowled at me, and then I saw the camera lens over her shoulder.
She wasn’t happy, and moved off abruptly!
I certainly did not intend to cause offence. They were very nice, but my choice of words in the face of national Canadian TV (IF the show gets broadcast next year, some time) could have been better!
Ooops...
I didn’t ask for a discount!

"HeyBuddy!ThereisabearjustacoupleofKilometresfurtherdowntheroadeh!" Canadians have a habit sometimes, of running their speech together.
"Pardon" "A Bear! on the roadside, eh!" "Ah, OK thanks. Now I was on guard.
The Jeep driver was the first person in 1500 miles to stop and tell me about Bear #22
I saw it as I passed and tried to snap some photos, but not with good results.
There is a bear here, honest!

The gravel road got worse as I approached Dease Lake and my tyre was now very badly cut up. The only RV park did not accept tents, and the Motels were both full and VERY expensive.

The Police advised I camp by the smaller Atlin lake on the edge of town, so I set up there.
Mosquitos galore! And I thought I might get disturbed by the locals as it seemed to be a popular hang out area. There was lots of litter and campfire remains.
Then I set about changing my tyre.
Sure enough an hour later two locals came to fish in the opposite lake.
"Hey you had your supper yet, we've caught a load of fish here!" Eric and Ernie (Yes, really!) were part of the construction crew working in a Tungsten mine, north of Dease Lake. They caught 3 Eastern brook trout and gave them to me for my supper. I grilled them over a camp fire and enjoyed them thoroughly.

My energy levels now rising again I managed to get to the Mountain shadow camp ground north of Iskut.
Despite the expense, I paid for a night in a cabin for the luxury of a bed, shower, security and the opportunity to clean everything.
It worked and the next morning I headed 3 kilometres to Iskut itself, as the tourist guide I was following, said there was a cafe there, for breakfast.

" We have Hotdogs left over from yesterday or there is a Motel in about 25 Kilometres!"announced the unhelpful store clerk Not happy, I sat on the dusty door step eating a day old, luke warm hotdog and a Coca cola for my breakfast.
I will at some point write to both the Yukon and British Columbia tourist boards and complain that their "updated in Spring 2014" tourist sheets are sub standard and not accurate.
Several of the promised services are non existent. And if you travel in one of the huge RV's that tear up and down these roads it doesn’t matter. As a cyclist with a more limited and demanding fuel tank, it is more critical.

As I cycled off again the rain started.
The promised Iskut Motor inn motel did appear and I took shelter from the rain and was grateful the cook dropped an extra piece of Bacon on for me.
I also bought an apple. Which might not seem significant, but having eaten dehydrated junk or the same breakfast more or less since Fairbanks made it a rare luxury indeed!
I sat here for an hour waiting for the rain to pass but eventually had to brave the storm.
Though the card machine didn’t work, so I had to pay with the last of my cash before I left.

The road continued over low rolling hills and following a wide river. At one section an optical illusion caused by the mountains, made it appear as though the road was heading dramatically down hill while the river alongside seemed to be flowing uphill.
Maybe it was tiredness, but the effect was messing with my head even though my GPS said I was definitely climbing!

Arriving at Kinaskan Park, the skies had cleared and I set up my tent and bumped into Tony from Victoria.
He was cycling north and was debating continuing to Tatogga, another 30 km north where the camp ground had hot showers. We shared a meal, swapped notes and he continued north reasoning, if he had to pay for the site, he may as well have a shower too.
BC parks are not free. They provide basic facilities in a clean managed environment.

The camp supervisor, Margaret, caught up with me as I was cycling back from the water pump.
" I don’t have enough cash, what can I do?" "Are you driving?" "No" I explained my trip and we began chatting. "Ah well I never charge cyclists, just those in these giant RV's" Lucky me! A moment later, she also gave me some freshly baked cake. A nice finish to the day!
Later, she called to see if I had enough food and brought some tins of stew and biscuits to add to my collection.

Rain in the night had soaked everything as I packed up. I wandered to a near by shelter to try to cook some breakfast.
But was met by Gary and Gwynn from a neighbouring RV who immediately took sympathy and offered me breakfast!
A few minutes later I was sitting in their warm giant RV talking about my travels so far as the smell of bacon filled the caravan.

I spent a very nice hour waiting out the rain chatting to them and their friendly neighbours and was given good advice for the road ahead.

Before leaving, I saw Margaret again, who gave me more cake for the road ahead.
Excellent!
Vast snow tipped mountains receded into the distance and were replaced by dense spruce and pine forests.
It was here that the Pacific coastal forests began in more earnest. The variety of plants shot up dramatically and after a heavy rain shower I could smell the scent of tiny wild strawberries that grew in huge numbers on the roadside.

Bell 2 is a lodge complex in the middle of the forest. It caters to the more elite outdoor types as their $200+ rooms testify. I had a more modestly priced tent space surrounded by hoards of aggressive mosquitos.
At breakfast the next morning, I met Kirsten who served in the restaurant and was very curious about my adventures and seemed keen to try something similar. Though maybe not quite as extreme! If you happen to read this, I would still encourage you to do it.
Whether walking or cycling or anything else. Who knows we might cross paths again somewhere?

My strength now coming back, I felt better as I headed to Meziadin Junction. The campsite there was on the top of a terrace ledge and the wind blew away the mossies, so it was a pleasant if breezy evening. There is an expensive little shop here as well as Wi-Fi access. So I ate well and managed to send a message home.

My final push to Kitwanga was 96 miles. A long day accompanied by several more bear sightings along with another mother bear and cub. The free campsite was comfortable but as it was a national holiday in Canada, I had nowhere to get food or water. So had a very hungry, thirsty and lonely Canada day celebration. But slept well.

After 8 days of cycling through some of the most stunning scenery on this trip so far, I am now relaxing in Smithers with my next Warmshowers family and looking forward to the town music festival this weekend.

From here, I will head to Prince George. Then to Edmonton and the prairies.
Still another 700 miles away and my next major rest stop.

Animal count to date is 27 bears, 1 Wolf, 2 Foxes, 2 Porcupine and several grouse, birds, owls and only 3 cyclists.

My mileage is approximate. My computer seems to reset itself, so using Google maps; I have travelled approximately 2100 miles in little over a month.
I am less concerned with the finer statistics of the ride and happier just to be here.

Finally a short video of two bears I saw along the road to Smithers.

Overall, so far so good.

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Post by Matthew Hopkins

An avid cycle tourer and Bicycle Mechanic, I also enjoy cycling, cooking, camping, cinema, computers, internet and tech.

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