Winter is Coming
(Starting September 21st)
The ride toward the Cassiar was stunning, and it was warm and clear. Despite being sad to leave Joel and Keegan, I was happy to be back on my bike. Despite a slight headwind, I felt great. About 40 miles into the ride, I took a snack break on the crest of a big climb. As I was unpacking my peanut butter from my bear barrel, I looked up and saw a car pulling over behind me to check up on me. I gave him a thumbs up and a smile, and then motioned for him to continue. I was happily riding, but just needed to reenergize. Despite my wave on, the driver pulled over right in front of me. I shouted to him “I’m all good, thanks! Just taking a snack break.” He responded, as if not hearing what I had said, “need a ride?” I told him again that I just needed some food and then would be getting on my way again. He introduced himself as Cory and recommended I hop in. “I don’t think it’s safe for you on this road,” he warned. “I should be good, I only have a little bit longer to ride.” Holding out, as if to save me from imminent fear, he finally warned me of some grizzlies nearby. “We just drove by some grizzlies on the side of the road a little ways back from you that were on the prowl for food. They looked hungry - they’re going into hibernation very soon. There are a bunch of them out here, and there have been a lot of attacks in the Yukon this year.” His friend, who had just hopped out of the truck, doubled down on the warning. They really didn’t want me out here alone, and insisted I joined them. Despite wanting to ride, they were cool guys and I figured some time getting to know some locals wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, especially if it was also for some grizzly protection. They told me all about their wildlife encounters out here and about their hunting experiences. They dropped me at an RV park by the junction for the Cassiar Highway, and when I hopped out, Cory came out to help me with my bike. He asked me what kind of fishing pole I was using. I told him I didn’t even have one. “What???,” he answered bewildered. “You absolutely need fishing gear.” He gave me fishing line, a fish hook, and some fire starter. I thanked him and left, withholding the fact that not only did I not fish well, but I had never cleaned a fish.
When I went into the cafe at the RV park, I was greeted by some old men who seemed to be regulars. They weren’t very welcoming, and were trying to scare me the whole time. I wasn’t phased, but they kept going. One guy was telling me I was toast and that I’d be lucky if I made it off of the Cassiar alive. The other told me that if the Moose in the rut couldn’t find a mate, they’d go for me and crush me. They seemed to be the types of people that had nothing better to do than to go hang out at this cafe and bother travelers. I was getting annoyed, so I left without eating. I continued down the road to the Cassiar Highway junction and found a little clearing in a government weigh station that clearly hadn’t been in operation for decades. I quickly cooked dinner and then ran across the road to a gas station to clean my dishes. Dave the cashier used his work computer to look up the weather for me. Boy was I in for a treat tonight.
I woke up at 3am to pee, and when I opened my tent, my shoes were gone. Every night, when going into my tent, I open the tent fly, open the tent door, then sit in the tent, close the tent fly, take off my shoes, and go to bed. My shoes are always in the same place. Every night. But now, when it’s -10 degrees Celsius, they’re gone. I knew it couldn’t be my error, because my routine was so set in stone, and I didn’t remember walking around barefoot last night. I went out in my socks, figuring I’d just look for my shoes in the morning with the sun out. As I was marking my territory on a tree, I saw my shoes tossed in two different directions, spread out in the field. “Fucking squirrels,” I thought. I walked out in the freezing cold in the cold to get them and then went back to sleep.
I was awoken by the sound of my tent rustling in the morning. I was asleep on my left side facing the door. Almost the entire area is made up of a mesh window. As I opened my eyes and lifted my head, I was greeted by a face in my rain fly. A coyote was trying to crawl into my tent. I let out a deep shout. That thing retreated in the blink of an eye. I still can’t figure out if I shouted out of fear or if roaring at animals to get them away has become instinctual. Probably a combination of both. I tried to go back to sleep because I was frigid, but my feet hurt so badly that I just drifted in and out of sleep. I wrapped my jacket around my feet, but it barely did much to help. I looked at my thermometer, and it said -12 degrees Celsius.
Winter is coming. The Alaska Highway from Fairbanks to the Cassiar Highway junction goes 18 degrees east longitudinally, and only 4 degrees south latitudinally. Needless to say, riding east is a pretty inefficient way to escape the ever tightening grasps of winter. Other than natural winding in the road through the mountains, the British Columbia junction of the Cassiar is nearly due south from the Yukon junction. “Finally,” I thought, “I’ll make some proper progress in running away from winter.” -12C is reaching the safe lower limit of the gear I have, and if I stay up north much longer, I’m going to have a hard time. Onward and Southward!
It’s so difficult to get out of bed when it’s this cold. No matter what you tell yourself, your body will resist leaving the cozy comfort of your sleeping bag like your life depends on it, because, well, in some cases, it does. You biologically need to stay in bed. When you are wrapped up in a warm sleeping bag, your body is doing barely any work to keep you warm. The warmth from your normal sleeping activities heats the sleeping bag, and the insulation keeps that heat in. All evolutionary survival tactics are trying to get you to conserve energy. If you get out of bed and have to heat yourself up, you burn calories. If you have a warm place to be, there’s no reason to spend those calories.
Due to the lack of moisture in the air in this area of the Yukon, temperatures fluctuate crazily during the day. Luckily, there was a 20C difference between 5am and 10:30am, and a 7C difference between the sun and the shade. When I finally got myself out of bed, I broke down my tent, and then shook off all the frozen condensation from my tent fly. All the ice flaked off and sparkled as it fell to the ground. I put the fly away completely dry (but cold). I warmed my toes up in the sun while making a small breakfast. I hit the road quickly to warm up, and planned on pulling over for an early lunch once it got warmer. Right before I headed south, I met a traveling nurse named Leanne. She was from Vancouver and was moving to Atlin, so she knew a lot about the area. She had driven up from southern BC and got caught in snow, so she recommended I take the ferry through the islands to avoid bad conditions. I got advice on southern BC and the Cassiar, and then she warned me that there was a black bear 15km south of us.
The day was absolutely beautiful. It was warm and sunny. I was blown away by how warm I was after waking up to a completely frozen water bottle, tent, and blood red toes. Evidence of the frigid night remained through the afternoon. Ponds and streams were completely frozen over. Many were perfectly nestled into the mountains, unable to get enough sun during the day to thaw before the freeze arrived at night.
Today was an oldies day, and I jammed out to 60s, 70s, and 80s music, dancing and singing along on my bike. Knowing that few people drive on this road, I was confident that the performance would remain exclusive and special for all who saw. All the dancing made me hungry quickly, so I stopped in a pull out for a snack. I was hyper aware as I was quite close to where Leanne spotted the black bear. After stretching I hopped back on the road, and within a few miles I saw the bear. Black bears aren’t too much to worry about. They tend to be pretty scared of humans, so if you look big and make noise they’ll run away and not cause you any problems. I conjured up my best impersonation of a bear, and let out a steady growl until he looked up at me and ran away. Once I passed where he was, I stopped my bike to look back and a southbound car pulled over to check on me. I told him I was just looking back to make sure the bear was gone, and he told me that I had nothing to worry about because they’re scared of me, but that there was another black bear a few miles south. I thanked him for the tip, and continued on my way.
Later in the day, a northbound car slowed down as it approached me and the driver window opened. It ended up being the same guy that warned me about the second bear. He was holding something out of the window for me, so I pulled over to the car to see what it was. He warned me that I was entering heavy grizzly territory, and gave me an extra can of bear spray. After he drove off, I took off my backpack to put the can away when I saw the price tag. $60.00. We barely shared any words, he didn’t know what I was doing, we didn’t know each other’s names, but he was willing to give me a $60 can of bear spray. I couldn’t believe the generosity.
People ask me how I trust people so much on this trip. “You get into cars with strangers?” “You sleep in strangers’ houses?” “You take food from strangers?” “How do you know it’s safe?” “How do you trust them all?” I’m convinced everyone has nice in them. Maybe not everyone is good, but everyone is capable of doing good. People naturally want to help people. Humans are social creatures, and the only way we’ve survived so long is by relying on others. People are taught to hate and judge based on race, religion, class, color, sexual orientation, beliefs, etc., but this is just a way to separate us. Everyone feels ties to some group, and everyone feels more inclined to help that specific group. Sometimes, that group is as tight knit as a family, sometimes that group is as expansive as a religion, and sometimes, for those who reach such a righteous place, that group is as all-encompassing as the human species. In the end, we’re all alike, and travel is, in my honest opinion, the best way to figure that out. So of course, I need to use caution, I need to be street smart, and I need to be aware, but if someone reaches out to help me, almost without fail, I would rather have a new interaction with a kind soul than reject it out of fear of danger or distrust in the person. Believing everyone is naturally good (whether or not it’s the truth) is so much more free, happy, and fulfilling of a way to live, and I plan on living the most free, happy, and fulfilling life I can.
The day continued to be magical. The blue sun contrasted perfectly with the orange and yellow trees. Dandelion seeds floated on wind gusts, sparkling in the sun. The warmth stuck around all day. I told myself I wanted to hit highway km marker 655 by the end up of the day. On the way, I saw a bunch of great camping spots in the woods, but wanted to keep going to take advantage of the sunlight and warmth. I was on a long straight section of the highway when I saw a turn far out in the distance. “That’s where I’ll start looking for camp,” I thought. As I rounded the bend, the sign for km 655 was right there. I quickly found a pull out into the woods. When I rode in, there were a bunch of wooden planks on the side of the trail. As I rode further in, there were random tools strewn all over, and then an old motorhome. It looked abandoned, but the whole place seemed sketchy and didn’t feel right, so I kept going.
Later down the road, to the right of me was what looked like a road, so I turned onto it and realized it was just a rock deposit. It was hard to ride my bike, and there was nowhere to set up a tent. I turned around to look for another spot, but it was getting dark and cold and I thought looking a little further into the tree clearing would be a good call before leaving. I found an old firepit, and a gravel spot that was relatively flat and mostly surrounded by trees. With my sleeping pad, I thought, it would be pretty comfortable. I like to stealth camp, so I try to get far away from the road, out of sight from people. There was a hiking trail right next to the spot, but there were fallen saplings and no footprints on it, so I figured no one would be around to bother me. I built my tent, cooked a quick dinner, and then got in my sleeping bag before it got really cold. I was in bed journalling when I got the need to pee. “Just finish this paragraph,” I thought to myself. As I was finishing up writing, I heard footsteps. I figured it was a hunter coming back from his hunt, so I turned off my headlight and phone and stayed quiet so he hopefully didn’t notice me there (I don’t like being seen). “Wait, FUCK,” I thought. There were no cars in the area. No ATVs. No bikes. No way for the hunter to leave. “That’s not a hunter.” I heard the footsteps get heavier and heavier, coming right towards me, cracking the branches in the way of the trail. In an instant, my subconscious took control and I had bear spray in my hand. Deep, heavy breathes became louder and louder as the bear walked around the end of my tent. I translated this to English as “I’m hungry, where’s the food?” I was the food. Well, not much of it at least. I’m mostly skin and bones. But I was easier to get to than the food in my bear barrel. If he came for me, I was done. All I had was the bear spray, and if he jumped on me, I would only be marinating myself inside the tent for the feast to come. I froze. I couldn’t think of anything to do. As I was frozen in my sleeping bag, unable and unwilling to move a muscle, it walked by the right side of my tent, around to the left side of my tent, back to the right side, and then I heard it head towards my bear barrel about 50 meters away. It then walked out of audible range. I stayed still for a little longer, making sure he was really gone. 5 minutes passed and I didn’t hear anything. Then 10 minutes passed and I didn’t hear anything. “OK, he’s not there anymore, you can go out and pee now,” I thought to myself. My body disagreed. 15 minutes passed and I didn’t move. 20 minutes passed and I couldn’t move. No matter what I told myself, my body was glued to the ground. Finally, after nearly 30 minutes, as I was slowly drifting off to sleep, I got the urge to pee again, and I finally managed to talk my body into getting outside.
Looking back, it knew I was there. It would have easily smelled me, and I only added to the ease with my current shower history (or lack thereof). It probably would have been better to just make some noise to scare him away earlier.
I slept surprisingly well, and woke up late. It was warm and cloudy, and I could tell that rain would start soon, so I skipped breakfast to make food at a table at a rest area nearby. Almost as soon as I finished my food and got on the road, it started raining on me. I rode in the rain until I got to a small community called Good Hope Lake. I went into the gas station store to dry off, charge my phone, and use the bathroom. A guy named Jordan was working behind the desk, and offered me to kill the coffee pot so he could make a fresh batch. He was a really good guy from Vanderhoof who spent summers in Good Hope Lake because he mom was originally from here. We chatted for a while, and then he told me his dad wants to cycle tour more. His dad ended up coming into the store later, so I gave him some advice and my website. At one point in our conversation, Jordan said “Oh man, here comes crazy John.” “Who’s that?” I asked. “You’ll figure out soon, he’ll talk your head off.” I thanked him for the warning, but couldn’t have expected what was to come. In he came. He told me he was one of the last living hermits, who rode his bike up this road and stopped in the area and decided to call it home. He lives off the grid in a cabin in the woods, and lives almost completely self sufficiently, growing fresh food in a greenhouse his built on his property. For the next 30 minutes I listened to this guy go on rant after rant about conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory. He told me about what he thought the pyramids of Giza were actually for, about where the bees are going and why they’re dying, about how a solar flare would wipe out from Southern Canada to Northern Mexico, about how the craters on the moon were caused by these big solar flares and that soon the moon won’t shine anymore because there will be too much dust on it caused by the upcoming flare, about a virus that will wipe us all out that we don’t have a vaccine for (he thought it’d be a west Nile virus adaptation). “There were seven plagues back then, and now there are seven plagues coming again,” he told me. After getting caught up in this conversation and waiting for my phone to charge, I had stayed for way too long, so I got back on the road. I had Jade City as my next stop - I heard they had free wifi and free coffee, and was planning on taking a quick break there and then continuing to find a campsite. By the time I got there, I wasn’t feeling good, and the town had free campsites. After the bear incident, I figured it’d be best to stay in the established campground with people around me. I then saw that the main store was closed, but there were people outside, so I went to ask them about the coffee and wifi. Danielle told me that the store was closed but she’d be happy to run in and get me some coffee and the wifi password so I could use it from outside the store. I took her up on the offer, then made my tent, cooked, looked at maps, and then went to bed.
The next morning I woke up at 7:30, and was inside the store to charge my stuff at 8:30. I was expecting to charge everything and then get going quickly. I had tea and coffee, made breakfast, and used the wifi. I then, as if I didn’t expect it to happen, met cool people that I ended up speaking to for quite some time. There was a TV show being filmed on the premises, so I hung out and talked to the cameraman and sound guy while they were on their break. I then spoke to Kylee who worked at the store and she gave me advice about Haida Gwaii. Multiple people had already recommended going to the island, and after Kylee spoke so highly of the place, I started to really consider changing my route. She gave me a big list of must see places on the island. I then spoke to another couple who lived on a boat for a while that told me about the ride to Prince Rupert in case I went that way and warned me about the grizzlies between Bell II and Stewart. They weren’t the first to warn me of the grizzlies in this section. I started to get a bit nervous. I had spent time all over the north already, and had never heard many warnings. Down here though, every second person was warning me about the grizzly activity. After seeing grizzlies in Alaska and the Yukon without many warnings, I figured the warnings I was getting down here were to be taken seriously. The only warnings I got up north were people telling me that black bears are way harder to deal with than grizzlies. “With Black Bears,” they’d explain, “you have to fight for your life. With grizzlies though, you’re dead no matter what, so you don’t have to do much.” The bears on the Cassiar were going into hibernation soon, and because of all the forest fires and drought, there wasn’t as much food for the bears as usual. And they were hungry. I decided to mark down that section in my mind and figure it out as I went. I said goodbye to everyone and finally got on the road.
The ride was absolutely magnificent. There was supposed to be some rain but it was sunny almost the whole way. Mountains towered over the valley I was riding through. Snow covered peaks reminded me of the impending shift in seasons. The sun shined patterns onto the mountains through the clouds, highlighting the fall foliage. The autumn reds and oranges and yellows cooperated beautifully with the winter white, sharing this time when both seasons have a near equal grasp over the environment. Strong headwinds slowed me down and made me sore and tired, but the beautiful scenery kept me going. I was planning on camping by Rapid Grizzly Rest Area (very calming name) but it was a bit of a hike away for starting the day so late. Late in the day, while I was rushing to get to my campsite before dark, I saw a cyclist riding north. I immediately asked him his name. “Rafael,” he told me. “RAFAEL!” I said happily. “I finally get to meet you!” Roberto and Daniella (the Chilean motorcyclists I met in the Yukon) met Rafael on the Cassiar, and told me to keep an eye out for a sweet cycle tourist named Rafael, and I was excited to finally run into him. We ended up talking for ages, exchanging information on the coming roads. He gave me a heads up that he saw RVs parked off the road about 20 meters after the rest area, and that there might be good camping there. As we were talking, the sun sank behind the trees and all of a sudden it became really cold, so we continued on our ways because we both still had a decent amount of distance to cover. I’ve tried to only stop when I’m going slowly, and try to never brake while I’m going downhill so that I take full advantage of gravity. I ended up having a massive downhill at the end of the day, but mid downhill saw a bunch of RVs off the side of the road, so I slammed on my brakes thinking that it was the stop. “You idiot!” I angrily thought to myself. “Rafael said AFTER the rest area, and I haven’t even gotten there. You killed all of your momentum and ruined such a good downhill.” I finally got to the rest area, and quickly stopped. A guy stopped me and told me he recognized me from the Alaska Highway in the Yukon about a week ago. “I recognize your backpack and helmet!” I felt pretty cool for a bit after that. and saw RVs parked midway down a hill to a lake. “There must be a way to get to that lake,” I thought. There was. And I found it. Darkness was looming so I set up camp and cooked really quickly, and then went to sleep to the sound of the water (my favorite thing).
It rained overnight, and I woke up to a wet tent. I got up early to get into Dease Lake for an early lunch, quick grocery stop, and then continue. I expected it to rain all day but the morning was nice. It was breezy and the fall foliage and scents were beautiful. The smells made me feel like I was back at home during the peak of Pennsylvania autumn. But then the winds picked up. Crosswinds were throwing me around the road and headwinds were so strong that they were stopping me in place on flats and even some downhills. I ended up getting into Dease at 12:45 which was an hour later than I wanted. Some guy called me over to ask about my bike, and after we talked for a little while I asked him where I could find cheap food and wifi. He told me there was free food down the road, and gave me directions to the place. I ended up going to check it out. It was a church and there was a sign outside that that said “meals for evacuees and rescuers of fire.” I went in anyway to ask them if they knew where I could go. As soon as I walked into the door it started raining out. I asked where good cheap food and wifi was. “Well,” the guy at the front started and then paused to think for a few seconds, “we have wifi, and there is definitely enough food for one more. Why don’t you stay here?” I met Matt and Denise who gave me Haida Gwaii tips and recommendations, and a local first nations guy. I asked him where he was from. “God’s country,” he responded. He was from Telegraph Creek where there was a big forest fire that took down a bunch of building. Everyone was evacuated as a result. He told me about all of his friends and family who were directly affected by the fire, and that all he wanted was to go home already. The church along with the Tahltan nation was providing three meals a day and housing for all affected by the fire, and he had already been here for a few weeks and had had enough. I ended up staying to chat and finally left at 5pm, and still had to get groceries. Once I finally got back on the road, it was pouring. Almost the whole ride was uphill. I rode until dusk and still couldn’t find somewhere to camp so I started getting nervous. I finally found a pullout at the end of a big climb. It looked shitty and super muddy in the beginning, but I found a spot in a clearing behind some trees that was perfectly hidden from the road. The rain lightened for a bit so I could build my tent without it getting too wet, but I was already soaked. I briefly thought I should’ve just stayed in Dease Lake, but then looked at it as practice for next time it poured on me through the night. I had a roof to sleep under the next night, so it didn’t matter too much if I had a hard night or got too wet. I had a quick sandwich and orange dinner that the church had sent me off with, and then went to bed freezing and wet. I was so happy to change into dry clothes and get into my dry, warm, sleeping bag.
I woke up to the sound of water pelting my tent. The rain had persisted through the night, and both by rain fly and tent footprint were almost soaked through. I packed up, broke down my tent quickly, and got on the road with a snack in hand for breakfast. Almost the entire morning was uphill and wet. As I got to the crest of a pass, I realized my back tire had low pressure. I pulled over and figured out I had a slow leak. It was raining too hard for me to happily spend time fixing the leak, so I pumped up the wheel and kept going. After the pass, which was at an elevation of 3900 feet, I expected the day to be mostly downhill, because my GPS showed my next destination as having an elevation of 1900. I finally got to the descent I had been building on for the past two days. It was a steep, fast, and windy descent. I was having so much fun. As I descended through the clouds and fog, new twists and turns revealed themselves, opening up fresh views of hidden autumn colors. At the bottom of the descent, I hit the Stikine River, and had to cross a bridge to the other side of the valley. It turned out that I had to do the nearly the same descent backwards; steep grades, low visibility, and all. When I looked at my GPS, Iskut was actually at about 2900 feet. It turned out I had misread the elevation because of rain on the screen. On the climb up, I hit a steep section of muddy wet loose gravel. The mud sucked in my tires making the climb miserable. When I finally finished the 8km series of climbs from the riverbed, I was riding on a flat section, happy to have gotten to the top, and dancing and singing along to Crazy by Gnarls Barkley when I thought I heard my name. I was completely taken aback. I looked up the road, and saw someone standing at the pullout. “Who the hell knows me on the Cassiar Highway???” I thought to myself. As I got closer, I realized it was Mary and Kenneth. I must have been visibly shocked to have heard my name because when I got to them Mary asked me if I remembered them. “Of course I remember you guys!! I’m so happy to see you!” I couldn’t stop laughing with joy. They asked how I was and when I told them I was great, they said I looked so much better than the last time they saw me. “You look so much happier!” Mary told me excitedly. Even with the sky dumping all its sorrows on me for the past two days, I was in a bubble of happiness and sunshine. I was happy to be on the road, happy to be successfully pushing through shitty weather and tough climbs, and the happiest to see Mary and Kenneth again. Before we parted, they asked me if I needed anything. “Seeing you guys was more than enough!” I told them. I was on a high for the next hour, unable to get the smile off my face.
I stopped at a rest area that was about 10 miles out. I figured the rest of the way would be easy, so I topped off my slow leak again, had a snack, and headed into town. It poured on me the entire way to Iskut. The ride went through some open range farms, so there was livestock all over. At one point, there were a four horses in the middle of the road right after a sharp curve, so I stayed at the curve flagging people down to slow down so they didn’t crash. One RV stopped and was grateful, and then I tried to slow down a pickup truck and they pulled over to mouth off at me for stopping people in the middle of the road. I told them that right around the bend there were horses in the road and they gave me the dirtiest look I’ve received in a while. They looked at me like I was absolutely out of my mind, probably thinking “this idiot probably doesn’t know what a horse is, there’s no way there are horses hanging out out here.” They sped off and went around the bend and I immediately heard a loud, sustained honk from them. I biked towards them and they were stopped by the horses I warned them about. “I told you so,” I muttered to myself, laughing about how disrespectful and unfriendly they were.
When I got to town, I pulled into a gas station on my way to the lake resort I was planning on staying at. I asked them how much further down the road I had to go, thinking the resort was in Iskut. “15 kilometers,” the woman said. “Wait, what???” I thought. I looked at the google maps directions I had, and it turned out the the location in google maps was incorrect. I thought I was done riding. Apparently I had another hilly hour of riding. I pumped up my slow leak once more, and then slowly got back on the road, not wanting to ride any further. The good news was that the rain lightened and the views were magnificent. Beautiful lakes were encircled by red and yellow and orange trees, and backdropped by snow capped mountains hidden in the clouds and fog.
Once I got in, I went to say hi to John who worked there. The resort had private cabins right on the lake for $30 a night. They didn’t have electricity or running water, but I had spoken to John on the phone a few days back, and asked him if I could use the showers and wash my clothes. He told me I could, so I decided to take a day off there. After he finished up some tasks, he took me around the resort in his car to show me the cabins. On the way back to the main building, he said to me “is that what you want? Your other option would be our old crew housing that I could put you in for free.” “Free?” I doubled checked with him. “Yeah, they’re closed for the season and have no locking doors, no heating, no running water, no bathrooms, but you can use a bed there.” Free was even better, and I didn’t care about the lack of amenities (it was still a step up from tenting in the pouring rain) so I took him up on the offer. After deciding on where I was staying, I brought up the showers and laundry. “Go get your stuff settled and we’ll worry about that later,” he told me. I did so, and came back to ask again. He was busy so he told me to have dinner and we’d discuss later again. So I did. I met a guy named Brandon, who was a heavy duty mechanic from Prince Rupert out here working on a logging project, and ate dinner with him. We started talking to the couple next to us. They were really sweet, and ended up buying me ice cream without me knowing. After I finished dinner, I asked again about showers and laundry, and John told me to come back early in the morning at around 7:30 or 8am so I could get everything in before he had to do the resort laundry at 11am. I said fine. I had already gone 10 days without a shower, and 12 days without doing laundry. One more day really wasn’t going to make a difference. He then went off about how cycle touring is such a terrible way to travel, and cycle tourist are liars and the whole thing is a sham. He told me that everyone who says that cycle touring is a cheap and environmental way to travel was a complete bullshitter. I mostly went along with it, not wanting to get into it with him or be disrespectful to the person putting me up for free, and then left. I ended up hanging out with Brandon for most of the night, and then went back to my room to go to sleep.
I had set an alarm to meet John by 8, but I was absolutely exhausted (and expecting to sleep in today) so it took me a bit more time than expected to get out of bed. I got in at 8:15am, and he gave me a key to a motel room and told me it’d be $3. He never told me it would cost anything, so I was surprised when he told me that. I then asked about doing my laundry, and he told me I couldn’t because all of the washers were running. I happened to see Brandon, and told him everything, so he gave me his motel room key and told me to just use his shower because he was leaving that day. I went to shower, and when I was coming back I ran into Brandon again. He asked if I had done my laundry, and I told him that John told me I couldn’t after telling me I could and setting up a time for me, so he showed me where the laundry room was (Brandon had been there for a few weeks already and had been doing his laundry). When we walked in, not a single machine was running, so I threw all my stuff in for a quick wash. That afternoon, John asked me if I still wanted to do laundry (of course I did, that was one of the main reasons I stopped there), and I told him that Brandon helped me and I got it done. John got really mad at me. “Did you ask me before you did it???” he asked me angrily. It felt like he was just playing a game with me at this point. I told him I had and reminded him that we had spoken about it so many times. He then continued on about how what I was doing was a sham and that there were cheaper and more environmentally friendly ways of travel and that he calculated that my carbon footprint is 4 times that of someone traveling by car and that I should get a car and stop riding. He told me he had researched this a lot to prove all these cyclists wrong, and there was nothing online about it so he wanted to write an article and make it viral. I was getting really sick of him talking about this, and started feeling really uncomfortable and unwelcome there, so I respectfully asked him how he came up with these numbers conclusions. He showed me a single post it note with very few and mostly inaccurate calculations for a week of travel, and so I told him that I’d look more into it, but for now I was going to be staying on my bike, because that’s what I was out here to do. I felt almost as if he gave me a free place to stay only so that he could try to hound me about how wrong I was and convince me that he was right. Converting me probably would’ve helped his credibility in the article that he was to write, debunking cycle touring and calling out all of us bullshitters and liars.
I decided to just keep my distance and avoid talking to him too much until I could leave in the morning, and so I did some work outside in the sun for a bit after he had to close up the main building to go do other work (he was the only one working there). When I got back to the main building, I ran into two German guys, Chris and Valentine. They were traveling around Canada by van, working for housing and food the whole way. They stopped at the resort for some time to help out John. Chris told me that they were here working for John for up to 14 hours a day, and they were getting housing and food and didn’t know if they were going to get paid money for the extra work but didn’t really care because they liked John and the work they were doing for him. They told me that they were really happy to help the guy out because he owns the place and he used to split the work with his wife but they split up, so now he works the kitchen, the gas station, the motel, and the resort all alone. He apparently works from 530am-midnight 7 days a week for the season, which end up being about 5 months. He doesn’t rest, he doesn’t take breaks, and he doesn’t hire anyone to help because he doesn’t trust people to get his work done for him. Apparently the night they the German guys got in, there was an armed, violent drunk guy at the bar in the restaurant threatening to kill John, and they walked in and were able to get the guy to leave and protect John. After that, he trusted them and they were more than happy to help him. After hearing their perspective, I appreciated, respected, and understood John a lot more. Everyone has a story and a reason for doing what they’re doing. This guy is stressed and tired, working himself incredibly hard, and I reminded myself that I shouldn’t take his baggage personally. His intention surely was not to make me feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. I came back to do work and then I ordered dinner. After John got sidetracked with other work, I realized he had forgotten about my order, so I went to remind him about it an hour after I placed it. I ate and then went to bed.
When I woke up, I went to the lodge and saw the Germans again. They were leaving for the day with John to go to Dease Lake to buy some Jade stone to resell at the resort. Because John wasn’t there, the whole place shut down without any warning. I had figured out my flat was caused by the gash in my tire from my previous flat, so I patched up the tire and tube before getting on the road again. It took me forever to fix, because the tire was on so tightly. For the first 10 minutes I struggled to get the tire off, I was convinced I wasn’t going be able to fix the flat. After wrestling with my tools for ages, I got it off. I was going to be able to ride today!
For the entirety of the Cassiar, I have been warned about the grizzlies. However, I had gotten about 15 warning about the following section I had to ride. The next section was the most densely populated bear area. Due to the forest fires, there wasn’t a lot of food for the bears, and because hibernation was only a few weeks away, they were hungry and active. Most warnings told me to be careful about riding through this section, and to definitely not camp in this section (I pretty much only camp). A few people told me I would be fine. One person told me that he hadn’t seen any bears on his drive up, so I should be fine. I reminded him that he was driving a diesel pickup that scared all the bears from far away, and I was riding a near silent bicycle. Another person told me that I had nothing to worry about because the bears were only really active late at night and early in the morning. I reminded her that I bush camp in a tent overnight. Another woman told me that her 62 year old husband has been bush camping for his whole life and has never had a problem. “He believes that his time will come when it comes, so he regularly camps out in the bush with the bears when he’s out hunting,” she told me. “Oh, so he has a gun with him?” I responded to her. “Of course!! He sleeps with his shotgun at his side every night!” All I have is bear spray, and that response was all I needed to know I should probably stay out of there.
I had already seen bear shit all over the roads that I wasn’t warned about. If you don’t know how to tell the difference between black bear poop and grizzly poop, the locals up here have a pretty simple distinction. Black bear poop is a big dark pile of poop with berries in it. Grizzly bear poop looks pretty similar, but has bells and smells of pepper spray. Despite being a joke, I was sure I didn’t want to end up as grizzly poop.
As I was pulling out of the resort to get on the road, I met two guys out hunting, and again they warned me about the bears. I was planning on riding for the morning and then hitchhiking past the dangerous section in the afternoon so I didn’t camp there, but as I pulled onto the road, my gut told me otherwise. Everything in my body was telling me not to ride. I tried to fight it and get on the road, because it was supposed to be a magnificent section, but I realized that even if I was to ride the section, I wouldn’t enjoy it feeling the way I was feeling. I decided to hitchhike immediately. There wasn’t much traffic, and I tried to flag down a few people. Most didn’t stop, weren’t going far enough south, or didn’t have enough room for my bike. By this point, it was already 12:30pm. I just wanted to leave, so I again considered just getting on the road.
Finally, I waved down a pickup that was heading all the way to Terrace. The driver agreed to take me south. His name was Tom, and he was a construction manager from Terrace. He was working in Dease Lake helping to repair the burnt down homes in Telegraph Creek. The project was 60 days, and they were tasked with rebuilding 16 homes. He was 30 days into the project, so he decided to drive home 8 hours just to spend a few hours with his family. He told me that the pickup was a company vehicle, and he was actually unable to pick up hitchhikers, but I waved him down, so he decided it was OK. I liked the way he interpreted the rules to his liking. “You didn’t look like a serial killer or anything, and I had nothing else to do in the car, so I pulled over.” I told him that when Rocky picked me up in Fairbanks, a car right in front of him blew right by me. When he pulled over for me, he was bewildered as to why they wouldn’t help. “You’re wearing tights and a neon yellow helmet, how scary can you really appear?” He said to me. I joked with Tom that I’m probably the least intimidating looking hitchhiker he’ll find, and he agreed with me. We talked the whole way about our families, our upbringings, the mountains out here, hunting, and politics. He was happy that I was there to keep him company on such a long drive, and I was super thankful for the ride. He offered to drive me all the way to Terrace, but I wanted to ride more, so I got out at Meziadin Junction.
The section he drove me was absolutely stunning. Huge, sharp, snow-capped mountains pierced the clouds, the sun highlighted the impeccable autumn colors, and crystal clear streams rushed down the valley sides. For a while, I regretted hitchhiking, but then reminded myself that my safety was more important than the views from the bike. I was happy I listened to my gut. Machismo and bravado is unnecessary and dangerous on this trip. Risking my life for a view was simply not worth it.
When I got to Meziadin Junction, I went to the local restaurant for some food, and there was a first nations guy working there. He sat with me while I ate, and told me about his land and home up here. He had experienced a lot of racism through his life. Growing up, he was always called bad names and bullied. He had a bad shoulder from being beaten up as a kid. When he was older, he got knocked out as he walked into a bar simply for being native. He was happy that his grandkids had it better than he did - he thought things had improved, but there were still a lot of problems to solve. He lived in the city for a bit but hated it because he thought that people didn’t care for each other or the land they lived on, which went against everything he grew up knowing.
After hearing about life in BC as a first nations, I started riding. I felt amazing - maybe it was the good weather, maybe the good food, or maybe the day off. I got to a rest stop 20 miles in and stopped at 5:45pm. There was a sign that said no camping but a lady there said she saw people staying here overnight all the time. I hadn’t seen a single other area to pull off the whole time, was worried that I wouldn’t find anything before dark, and wanted to be around people because of the bears in the area (I was still in heavy bear country - the rest area itself was called Brown Bear Rest Area). The woman gave me some tips on the rest of the highway, and suggested a stopped at an area known by locals as “mushroom city.” She told me they had food trucks, so I decided that I would stop there.
The rest area ended up getting busy. An 18 wheeler with a Manitoba plate pulled in. When the driver hopped out, I shouted to him “Manitoba?? Where from?” He was from right outside of Winnipeg, where my dad grew up, and we ended up talking for most of the night about cycling, Manitoba, truck driving, and the bears. He was a super nice and talkative guy. When I told him about the grizzlies up north, he assured me that if a bear came, he’d honk at it and use his heavy mallet if he needed. I laughed and thanked him. He told me that if I needed anything at all throughout the night that I could come knock on his truck door and he’d be there for me. Another guy ended up pulling into the rest area with his dog. He was from New Jersey in a town an hour away from me. We watched a beautiful sunset together after eating our dinners, and then I went to bed.
Quite a few cars drove in at night. I woke up from them, and realized that I had passed out in all of my layers as soon as I got in my tent. I must have been exhausted. I woke up again to the sound of a honk. Duane told me before going to bed that if he saw any bears he’d honk for me. Half awake, I got scared that there was a bear until I processed that it was from the other car in the parking lot and not Duane’s truck. The dog probably hit the steering wheel and scared himself more than he scared me. I woke up early in the morning to say goodbye to Duane, and the skies over the rest area were completely overcast. It looked like it would storm on me, so I got on the road quickly. As I pulled out of the rest area, which was surrounded by trees, I looked south. There were pure blue skies coming my way, previously completely hidden by the tall trees protecting the pull out. I hopped on the road feeling incredible, excited to enjoy the sunshine. The weather was impeccable. I ended up getting warm and having to shed layers, so I pulled over before a rocky outcropping and made it a snack break. As soon as I got back on the road and passed the outcropping, a crazy headwind started. The food trucks motivated me to push through the wind. I got hungry, but didn’t want to stop until I got to mushroom city. When I got to the kilometer marker that I thought it would be at (right at a junction), there was nothing. I thought about pulling over to eat, but figured it couldn’t be much further away so I continued. Two kilometers passed. Nothing. Another two passed. Still nothing. Ten kilometers went by where I constantly contemplated just stopping to eat on my own instead of waiting for the food truck, or pushing through the hunger to get there. I finally pulled up to a sign that said “FOOD TRUCK” with an arrow pointing into a pullout. I rode in, excited to try some freshly picked mushroom meal from the food truck instead of having a peanut butter wrap for lunch. I got to the food truck, and laying on the side of the truck there was a small sign that read “closed.’ Apparently, between the fires and lack of rain, this season has been a terrible mushroom picking season in the area, and they didn’t have enough mushrooms to make use of the food truck. As I was riding away from the bus. A guy approached me. He welcome me to what he called “the Zoo,” introduced himself as Warren and asked me about my trip. He told me about the road south to Kitwanga and about mushroom picking. I then went to go sit down and eat my lunch. He ended up coming to sit and chat with me. He told me he used to be homeless and then came up to pick to make money. Then a guy named Ben came to chat after seeing my bike. He was also a picker. He used to work construction while he was raising his kids, but then got back into mushroom picking. He showed me some radar images and explained the weather to me. Apparently, there was a hurricane off the coast of Baja Mexico that was pushing air up the coast and through the valley I was in, causing the crazy headwinds I was battling. The skies were so clear because of arctic air pushback. He told me his dad runs an RV park in Mexico along my route, and that he’ll be spending some time there in January or February, so hopefully I’ll see him again. Ben was driving a big trailer, so he decided to stay for the morning hoping the wind would die down, but it never did, so he decided to take off at about the same time I left. The wind was still strong, and riding through it was still difficult, so I decided to stop at a rest area instead of pushing to Kitwanga. The colors and views along the way were gorgeous, and between the wind and my constant stopping to take pictures of the beauty that surrounded me, my knee pain kicked in again. When I got to the rest area, I stretched, made my tent by the creek, made dinner, and then went to bed.
I woke up absolutely freezing in the morning. Everything was heavily frosted over. I waited in bed for the warmth, but it seemed to never come. I was in a near permashade area, and never got sunshine. As I was getting ready to leave, I met Dave and Ashley, who had pulled in in their camper. Dave was a cycle tourist, so we talked a lot about our tours, and then he gave me a contact for mushroom picking in Haida Gwaii. I finally got on the road at 11:30. Warren had given me advice to take some side roads to skip a big hill by going through a town called Gitenyow, so I did so. As I approached a bridge to get into town, I saw a park parked in the middle, with a guy looking off the side into a creek. I looked over with him, and there were about 30 salmon stuck in the river. This year, there apparently wasn’t enough water for salmon to properly run, so they were getting stuck in pools formed in rivers. Apparently some people are actually helping them out by relocating them upriver.
I rode through town, happy to ride a the flatter route, as I could see the big hill off to my left that I managed to skip. The town was also really cool, and I’m glad I got to see it. As I got back on the highway, beautiful views of the Seven Sisters started to reveal themselves. The approach to Kitwanga was all downhill, and I hate braking on downhills because it’s such a waste of energy, but I saw a sign that read “everything under the sun,” and another that read “garage sale.” Without thinking, I slammed on my brakes. I got a good feeling about the place, and wanted to see what was there. I was in too high of a gear to climb, so I hopped off my bike and walked it back up to the driveway with the signs. When I got to the house, I met Joycee. She gave me a tour of the place, and then told me to look around the garage sale. She offered to grab me some cold water, and when she came back she was holding a big bowl of fresh picked plums. She saw how much I enjoyed them, and probably seeing that I was hesitant to eat more, she ensured me that she brought the whole bowl out for me to eat. We talked about her place, her life, and her journey. Joycee had lost a lot of people close to her, and we talked a lot about dealing with grief. She believes that everyone is put on earth for a purpose, and her purpose was to spread love everywhere she goes. Her grandparents had settled in Kitwanga, and streets in town were named after her family members, so this place was home for her. I was getting hungry, so I asked her about local food options. There was a restaurant called 37 grille, so I asked her if it was expensive. She told me that it was relatively expensive, but that I could get a pretty hardy meal out of their soup which wasn’t too expensive. She stopped to think for a brief moment, and then said “why don’t you just stay here for lunch? It will be free, and you can meet my husband once he gets home.” Deal. I stayed, deciding in that moment that I wasn’t going to make it to Terrace today. I ended up staying for a few hours, met and ate lunch with her husband John, and chatted with them for a while. John and Joycee got married a few years back, after Joycee had spent a lot of time grieving her late husband. John was a city guy, and lived in southern BC before marrying Joycee, but then moved up to the cold north to be with Joycee. Joycee had told me that he did super well with the transition, and was incredibly helpful around the house immediately. There’s always so much work to do when living up north. There is a small window of good weather every summer to prepare everything for winter, and John got up there and seemed like he had done it all before. Before I left, John gave me a tour of the rest of their property, showing me all the work they had put into the place. They invited me to stay the night but I knew that I had to get more miles in, so I gave them giant hugs goodbye and continued. They invited me back again, and insisted that the next time I’m there I should stay with them for a few days.
On the way out of Kitwanga, I stopped by the general store to pick up a snack for the road. I got a box of oatmeal creme pies and went outside to put them in my bear barrel. When I came back in to throw away the empty box, I got a look from the cashier. I laughed with her, promising her that I didn’t just eat the whole box (I had already eaten 4 of the 12 already, but omitted that detail).
I got to the junction of the Yellowhead and the Cassiar, and took a right towards the ocean, instead of heading to inland BC. Haida Gwaii, here I come.
(Ending September 30th)