A Day Late and a Dollar Short
Well, not really a dollar short....but definitely a day late. Meant to leave early this morning but family stuff got in the way. 5AM I was up...change the tires, sprockets and chain, cleaned the air filter, changed the oil....then started packing... so, now I'm finally packed, just need to throw the duffle on in the morning and tie it down. Looking good!
Smithers to the top of Highway 37
Just over 100 km west of Smithers is the junction with Highway 37, the Stewart Cassiar Highway. I stopped at Moricetown Canyon for a brief photo. This was once the largest population centre in the Bulkley Valley due to its spectacular fishing opportunity. Reaching Kitwanga I topped of my tank, crossed over the Skeena River and headed to my first gas stop about 265 kilometers north. This was my first foray into desolation. Traffic was noticeably lighter almost immediately. Pavement was superb and the scenery spectacular.
An hourÔÇÖs ride (seeing maybe twenty other vehicles) brought me to a stop sign at a junction in the middle of nowhere. Turn left and ride 40 km takes me to Stewart BC and a short hop into Hyder Alaska to get ÔÇ£hyderized.ÔÇØ If I turn right, IÔÇÖm about 60 km to fuel and the closer to my goal of being at the top of Highway 37 for night. I turn right. At kilometre 245, my low fuel light comes on. I have never run out of fuel with this bike so I donÔÇÖt actually know how far I can ride after the light comes on ÔÇô IÔÇÖm usually close enough to a gas station not to worry much. The other day, riding into Cache Creek, I rode approximately 25 km with the light on. When you see fewer than 20 cars in an hour and the last place you were close to fuel was over 100 km past, a low fuel light can play on your mind. Theoretically, you have done the math and know you have the capacity to make the goal but your light has come on earlier than expected. My first tank of the journey got me to 285 ÔÇô those warning lights play on the mind! I guess the little bike is a bit more thirsty when it is pushed a little harder. There was nothing to do but keep riding and hope the fuel outlasted the road.
Bell II showed up right where it was supposed to be. Bell II is a funny name for a stop in the road, it is really a beautiful log structured heli-ski lodge set beside the highway that offers fuel, a restaurant and lodging to travellers when they arenÔÇÖt booked with skiers. This time of year there were rooms available but with lots of light left in the day, I was soon off to my next fuel stop at Dease Lake.
Leaving Bell II the road winds along the Bowser River and numerous lakes eventually climbing to the top of Gnat pass nearly reaching the treeline (which is not as high as I am used to due to the northern latitude here).
From the summit of the pass, the road winds down a bit tighter than on the way up the last being a 7% gravel grade down to the Stikine River crossing. Although the Stikine is viewed as being one of BCÔÇÖs last truly wild rivers, the steel bridge takes us over waters that appear peaceful and placid.
From the Stikine crossing to Dease Lake there are numerous construction stretches but at this hour, the workers have left the jobsite for the day. I arrive at the Dease Lake gas station at eight pm, just as it is closing. I manage to sweet talk one last fill from them which will carry me to the top of 37 tonight. As I am leaving, truck and camper arrive and manage to squeak in under the wire as well.
For the next hour, the road is a little rougher than it has been further south. Here it is primarly seal coated rock chip rather than proper pavement. In the dimming light, sometimes there is the appearance of loose gravel on the road but traction remains consistent and strong.
By 9:30, IÔÇÖve been on the road for about twelve hours and IÔÇÖm looking at my GPS more frequently to figure out how long it will be before I get to pitch my tent. As I round a corner in the road, my jaw drops inside my helmet. The road straightens out and as far as the eye can see, both sides of the road are lined with blackened toothpick trees and charred grass. The transition from lush green to burnt remnants is instantaneous and the desolation is haunting, particularly in the dusky light of the evening. I ride for miles through this depressing devastation awed by the impact of a raging and uncontrolled forest fire. The odor of death and decay is heavy in the air.
Just after 11 PM, the junction of Highway 37 and the Alaska Highway appears ahead of me. A rustic and nearly empty campground at the corner has tremendous appeal and I set up my tent by the light of the twilight sky.