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September 15th, 2009 - Madness On Cassiar Highway

Teslin Lake to Prince George is 1600 km on the Cassiar highway. Cassiar highway runs through some of the most isolated regions of British Columbia and is packed with bears, glaciers, high mountain peaks and class five waters. This was the longest, wettest, prettiest and most memorable leg of my journey so far.

I left Teslin in a full blown rain storm towards Watson Lake at the junction of the Cassiar highway. I tried to find some sort of shelter after two hours into the ride, but every place I went to was closed or abandoned. My situation was pitiful and I could see the glances of dry people looking at me in awe out of their car windows the second they splashed me with more water and passed me by. I rode for 3 hours before I gave up as I couldn’t see anything and my face was tired of getting plastered with high wind and driving rain.

I stopped at a lodge called the Rancheria Lodge and parked the bike and walked inside. Every head was turned the second I walked in. I really didn’t know what shape I was in until I looked down on the floor and saw the puddle around my feet and dripping water from my chin.
The owner of the lodge, Denis Bouchard, sponsored the night and gave me a much needed warm room. Denis bought the lodge about 3 years ago and he is one hell of a nice guy. We talked for a few hours sitting in the lounge, and I showed him how to make a website for his business. While I was there, I met a native couple who were very nice and I enjoyed their company immensely.

After a breakfast of eggs and bacon, I left Rancheria in good weather and met Gib in Watson Lake. We backtracked the 30 miles to the Cassiar junction and stopped for lunch. At our stop we found out that there was a huge mudslide past Dease Lake and the road was closed until further notice.

Cassiar is usually known to be a bad road and Gib didn’t want to risk the weather and get stuck on the road so he decided to take the Alaska Highway instead. I wanted to see the Cassiar and no mudslide was going to stop me, so I said my goodbyes to Gib and went down the Cassiar with plans to meet up with him in Prince George 3 days later.

The first 20 miles was absolute hell – gravel with potholes about the size of a basketball all over the road. The rain had turned the dirt into mud and it resembled the Dempster highway all over again. Past this section, the road turned into one of the best roads I’ve seen in all Canada with perfect asphalt and beautiful scenery. In fact, there was not a single section that was less than perfect all the away to Prince George. Gib missed out big time and I was glad that I made that call.

The first night I camped at a clearing before the mudslide and went to bed early so I could get on the road at sunrise. I woke up with the sound of the rain drumming on the tent wall at 7 am. At every break, I got out of the tent to evaluate the situation but the second I was out, the rain started again, heavier each time.

I had no book with me or anything entertaining (I had two books when I started but I gave them away after finishing them earlier on the road), so I started reading every label I could find on anything I had inside the tent. You’d be amazed how much reading material you can find around you when “tent-bound.” I read warning labels for a few hours (I must have read some of them more than 10 times) until I fell asleep again. When I woke up, the rain had stopped and it was already 1 pm. I packed up the wet tent and got on the road and surely enough, the rain started again and continued for next two days. The mudslide was clear with no wait or hassle. I passed the area in awe of what this slide brought down with it. There were trees as tall as a 3 story building and rocks weighing a few tons each. The mudslide had buried an excavator for 24 hours before they could get it out! I tried taking pictures but the crew wanted me to get out of there fast and gave me some angry looks, so I got on my way.

That night I camped at a rest area and crawled into my damp sleeping bag dreaming of warmer weather and sunshine. In the morning, I used the break in the weather and started drying my stuff in the overcast sunrays while eating a bowl of porridge standing up. The rain wasn’t as heavy when it finally started again and it started to clear up as I made my way towards Stewart and Hyder. Low clouds and fog made it hard to see the road let alone the mountains, but came a moment when the clouds lifted and there it was. Conspicuous glaciers and sky high mountains all around me with a road so twisty that I never had to go a straight line for more than 10 seconds. High canyon walls and waterfalls in every corner and the sun finally came out.

Hyder is technically in Alaska but since there are no American towns even close to it, it’s much like Canada with Canadian dollars used as currency. With population of only 25 families, it’s a pretty rustic town sitting at the mouth of Portland Canal, a 150km long fjord that runs along the southern edge of the Alaska panhandle.

When I got to Hyder, it was Sunday so everything was closed and with not much to do, so I went up and down the bumpy “street” of the town till I saw the whole town 10 times over and crossed back to Canada. The border crossing is just a formality and all I had to do was to take out my passport and as soon as he saw the blue cover he waved me in.

Being happy that the weather was finally decent, I rolled on the throttle to enjoy the twisties from Hyder to Stewart when all of a sudden I felt a little jolt and I knew I had a flat tire. I started to slow down from 60mph gradually but the bike shifted to the left and then to the right as the tire started to come off the rim. It was my rear tire that was getting shredded and I had no choice but to slow down gradually while holding on for dear life on a bike that had a mind of its own. Applying the front brake, I slowed it down to 10mph or so when I heard the rim hit the asphalt. At that speed I figured that it wouldn’t hurt that bad if I fell, so I squeezed the front brake as hard as I could and the bike stopped in its tracks, saving my rim.

I was Ok and the rim was Ok, the bead of the tire was broken but it stayed on the rim, so I pushed the bike to the side of the road and caught my breath. A pickup truck stopped and the lady asked me if I was ok. She first thought I was looking at a bear going in a wrong lane but when the bike started to shake and wander off she knew it was more than a bear. I asked her if she could get me an air compressor and off she went to find out. Seconds later, another car stopped and it was the British couple that I met earlier in Stewart while having lunch in the park and they helped me get the bike on center stand. He left me his ratcheting tie down strap so I could wrap it around the tire and give it a better seal to set the bead when I get the air compressor.

The lady with the truck showed up with a small 12v air compressor and knew it was the wrong tool from my smile. She went back again and this time showed up with a 60 gallon giant tank of air which did the job perfectly. I inflated the tire and rode back to her house in Hyder so I could fix the tire in her driveway. Sue Hickman was a God-send. Wife of the local pastor and a true Alaskan at heart, she provided every little thing I asked for to get the job done, from soap, towels, water, hammer and C clamp, to Pledge for lubrication. Without her help, I would be still sitting somewhere on the Cassiar waiting for a tire to get there. Thank you, Sue.

It turned out to be 3 holes in a 12 inch section of the tire and I had to plug this tire 3 times to get it to stop leaking. I had to break the bead one more time since it was leaking from the rim and with help of Pledge and good air compressor, I set the bead finally to my liking with no leak.

I headed out of town right after the repair and rode out towards Meziadin Junction. On the way, I stopped in the Bear Glacier Canyon to take a picture of the raging glacial waters rushing through the canyon. I wanted a better shot, so I climbed over the road side on a little steep hill directly on top of the swirling waters down below. I was taking pictures and trying to get a better angle when the soft dirt gave out under my feet and I started hurtling down towards the washing machine hole down in the river. I franticly grabbed on to anything I could and for the second time that day, a branch sticking out of the side of the hill saved my life. I climbed back up, shaken but unharmed; thinking what the hell else could happen that day.

As Murphy’s Law says:  if something can go wrong, it will go wrong. 2 kilometers down the road, this giant black bear that came out of nowhere is in the middle of the road and stopped. I hit the brakes and stopped too. Maybe 40 feet away, he stared at me and wouldn’t go away despite me honking the horn and revving the engine.

I was in the middle of the road and turning around required getting closer to the beast, so I stayed put. He stood up on his back legs and started walking towards me. I have no idea how fast I got out the buried bear spray out of my tank bag, dropping a million things in the process, but before I pulled the trigger, he ran into the bushes 20 feet away. I wanted to get the hell out of there right then, but I had to get off the bike and pick up the stuff that I dropped earlier, so the time stood still. I picked up the stuff and got the hell out of that place like a mad man.

I had enough of mishaps, so I started looking for a bear free camp spot and I found one. I camped at the Meziadin Provincial Park next to a picture perfect lake by the same name. I was finally free of troubles after all.

I shared camp with a Canadian girl named Stefanie Peacock. Stefanie is a biologist from Vancouver Island who decided to ride her bicycle from Whitehorse to Prince Rupert. She had dark chocolate and cookies and I had black tea, so we got along.

It rained all night again and in the morning, I packed up the soaking tent and got on the road, determined to make it to Prince George that day no matter what. It was probably the longest ride of my life as I stopped to check on the patched tire every now and then and had to replace two of the plugs with new ones as they kept going into the tire and leaking air. Somewhere along the way, the engine started leaking oil from the valve cover gasket and it got worse as the day went on. It took 12 hours to cover 450 miles and when I got to Prince George, I was so tired that I could barely stand up straight. I met Gib at the Boston Pizza place and I rented my first hotel room since I started the expedition. $85 for a motel is a normal price up here, but to me it’s a waste of money that I could have put toward the cause. But I needed a dry place and there was no way in hell I was staying in that soaking tent for another night, so I checked in the Camelot Motel and sat on a soft spot after 7 days of hell. It’s 2 am here as I’m typing this blurb, and that’s all I can muster up for now…

There are 6 Comments

  1. Nate
    September 16, 2009 at 5:19 am

    I am on the west side of phoenix if your route takes you this way… only for about 3 more weeks though. let me know if you need a roof or garage. I also work at a motorcycle shop and have access to new and used suzuki parts.

    Nate

  2. Mailman
    September 16, 2009 at 8:17 am

    looks good. keep going. good to get out of that cold. nice web site. heading south from vancouver on Sept. 22. maybe you’ll be further south at that point. have fun.

  3. Tom MLC
    September 16, 2009 at 8:56 am

    I’d be honored to host a pitstop for you, if your travels through California include San Jose. Replacement parts? Plan in advance, and I can order them up for you. Let me know if I can help in any way.

    I have subscribed, and will follow each post like the next chapter of a Clive Cussler adventure!

  4. Spyug
    September 17, 2009 at 6:12 am

    Man it sounds like you are having fun but you have to watch out for those baaars (in best Kentuck accent). I just heard on CBC news that a hunter up north in BC was attacked by a female Grizzly and nearly bought the farm. He is a bow hunter and he was by himself when the bear attacked from behind. He just had time to grab an arrow and shoved into the bears throat as it jumped him. Tore him up a bit but the bear ran off.
    Bear spray is better than nothing but I’d be carrying at least a knife ( that’s not a knife…this is a knife….remember Crocodile Dundee). Some bears just garggle with that stuff.
    Hope you were able to get a new tire as its no fun wondering if your in for another flat. Besides it could be damned dangerous.
    As the old sargeant used to say on Hill Street Blues (before your time?) ” Be careful out there”.
    looking forward to the next installment.

    Cheers,
    Spyug

  5. Jim Clark
    September 17, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    good to see you have braved canada and are still all in one piece. The bear looked kind of big, good picture. Your getting up in Alaska when the weather is just starting to change, take care and be safe.
    your pictures are great, take some license plate pictures if you find some that look cool.

  6. Peter Hill
    November 11, 2009 at 12:27 am

    Denis Bouchard is GOD…that I mean

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