Vancouver Island and Sunshine Coast

2015/09/19-24: Port Hardy to Vancouver, 420 km and four ferries
The time on the boat went quickly in the company of a like-minded cycle-touring couple we’d met  some time before. By coincidence, they were on the same twenty-two hour ferry journey, with their bikes were on the back of their car. Now retired, they’d sold their home and one purpose of their current journey was to explore smaller BC communities in which they might settle.  As we prepared to disembark we also met a former co-worker of Chris’s who has been on a kayak trip with launch and pullout at Klemtu, a mid-coast community accessible only by water. A highlight of their trip has been to see a blonde Kermode bear.

dsc_0417_21613959975_oDisembarking in foul weather, we bit the bullet and rode forty odd kilometres to Port McNeill rather than the shorter hop to Port Hardy.  In Port McNeill, the torrent in the gutter formed standing waves as it rushed downhill. We stood in a motel lobby so drenched  that the woman at the desk had to get out the mop and bucket  after we’d checked in. Our room soon became a steam bath from sodden garments hung to dry. Next day, we rode to Woss, the skeleton of a logging town, and fell into bed at the Rugged Mountain Motel. Luckily there was no one patronizing the Lucky Logger Karaoke Bar on a Sunday night, and the neon lights soon stopped flashing.


Steam rising from wet road

We’d had long stretches of boreal forest earlier on this ride, but now that we’d moved south I noticed the change to more familiar coastal vegetation. The forest was heavy with western red cedar, and dense thickets of salal lined the roadsides. Logging trucks loaded with the trunks of shaggy cedar passed us. DSC05516 Partly because we were keen to get home, and partly to avoid being overtaken by a group of supported Cops for Cancer cyclists, we rode a longish 130 kilometres to Campbell River.  We contemplated camping just north of town, but every side road seemed to be a gated industrial fortress. The first accommodation we saw was about a half star establishment with a sign that said “No Peddlers.” When I asked the woman at the desk if she accepted our kind, she chuckled and grinned. We don’t mind modest digs if the human face of the establishment is friendly. dsc_0441_21616856956_oWe rode into town for the large breakfast we felt we deserved after the previous day’s ride, then worked our way south on the old highway. A pair of cyclists waved at us, and later we chatted at a beachside rest area. It  turned out they were a Burnaby couple who’d been to our presentation at a bike shop about our 2009 ride . We stopped at the Merville general store for coffee, and rode on to the ferry terminal, arriving just as the ship sounded its whistle and set sail for Powell River without us.  We’d  just missed the mid-afternoon sailing, which meant a few hours rest in the company of some chocolate and some Sudoku puzzles was enforced. We got off the evening ferry to Powell River in the dark, and pushed our bikes in uphill to a hotel. DSC05523

Heading south in a headwind and rain, we crossed Jervis Inlet by ferry from Saltery Bay, and kept on down the Sechelt Peninsula to Sechelt. Our off-highway route took us on some steep climbs and descents, and then on a mountain bike trail for the last stretch to Sechelt. Looking at the forecast, we rose early on our final day, and made the ferry to Horsehoe Bay in good time, with me hitting exhilarating speeds down the final hill as a large truck waited sensibly behind me. I thanked the driver in the ferry lineup.

Disembarking in Horsehoe Bay, we boarded a bus for home. All Vancouver buses are now equipped with racks that carry two bikes. Yes, we could have ridden, but it’s a stretch we’ve done many times, we were weary, and the heavens were about to open with a vengeance. We didn’t need to ride in more rain.


The Nass Valley to Terrace

2015/09/15-18: Nass River to Terrace, 160 km
and train to Prince Rupert
We trundled another 30 km or so on good gravel, and arrived at Gitlaxt’aamiks, formerly known as New Aiyansh. Hungry for a change from liverwurst on Ryvita, we turned in to the largest of four Nisga’a villages. Gitlaxt’aamiks sports a modern government building with new totems in front, and three flags flown: Canadian, BC, and Nisga’a. We were in the Nass Valley, home of the Nisga’a people who in 2000 brokered the first treaty with the federal government in over 100 years.



Inquiring about eateries, we were directed to a small red and white cabin for good burgers. We have no photos of this very modest establishment, but we had to walk carefully around rusting vehicles and litter to enter it. The welcome inside was warm, and as we waited, a lively woman entered and didn’t hesitate to accurately parrot Chris’s English accent. It turned out she was the Nisga’a language teacher for K-6 at the village school, having learned the language during summers spent with grandparents. It was in fact her voice I had heard on the language portion of the Nisga’a web site, and she seemed pleased I’d explored the site and at least attempted a Nisga’a greeting. We were introduced to nieces and grandchildren who traipsed in and out, and to another language teacher who told us of her family’s salmon smoking, and showed us examples of the pine mushrooms she was collecting. They are graded into one of four grades, and the highest grade fetches $12.50 per pound from local buyers who sell them fresh on Granville Island, or dry them for export to Asia.


Turning south from Gitlaxt’aamiks, we passed the vast lava beds created by an eruption which occurred only some 300 years ago, and whose devastation of two villages lives on in Nisga’a oral tradition. We’ve never seen anything like the expansive jumble of rounded pumice rocks, each covered in pale lichen! The pieces are unstable and the pumice is sharp, so walking any distance is hazardous.


Still hoping to catch the Friday ferry from Prince Rupert, we pedalled hard to Rosswood and on to a user-maintained provincial campsite on Kitsumkalum Lake. When a local returned from a beach stroll and warned us of “fresh grizzly tracks”, we moved our tent nearer our only fellow campers, and we introduced ourselves to them in case nocturnal disturbances sent us diving into the protective embrace of their camper. Spawned-out salmon carcasses lay on the beach, and these are easy food for bears. We hoped any bears would stick to salmon, and not bother to reach for our food.


Next morning, after a night of listening for approaching bears, we pedalled to Terrace and dove into Boston Pizza. The young waitress looked at our grey hair and offered us “half portions” of pasta, but we made quick work of full bowls. Still trying to rid my bike of noises, we bought new jockey wheels at a bike shop. We might have pedalled westward along the Skeena to Prince Rupert, but we gave into our bodies’ demands and checked into a hotel for laundry and a good 15 hours sleep.


The following day we whiled our time in an excellent coffee shop, and come evening we boarded the train for Prince Rupert. We disembarked along with a German tour group who’d travelled in a private observation car, and we pedalled in the dark to a backpackers’ hostel.


Wet Weather and Bears

2015/0910-14: Dease Lake to Nass River, 450 km
Setting out from Dease Lakes, we passed broad wetlands.
A local in a truck called “Didja see any moose?”
“No, just tracks” I replied. We could see that the moose use the gravel shoulder of the road to commute.



The forecast was grim, so we rode against headwinds to the Bear Paw Resort where we were fed a hearty Austrian supper. The following day we rode in headwinds and increasing rain to Kinaskan Lake Provincial Park where we made hot drinks to go with lunch, and then soldiered onward to tuck ourselves amongst spruce for a damp night.


In the morning, the weather had improved a little, but my feet felt permanently soggy and chilled. My bike began to make irregular clicking sounds when I pedalled hard, and we worried might be signs of incipient bottom bracket failure. We made it to Bell 2 Lodge, a heli-skiing base, and dove into dinner and a comfortable (but extravagant) night, where internet access helped us begin to diagnose the worsening bike issues.


Next morning we saw a mother black bear with cubs ahead, and I decided to test my bear banger – something that is impossible to do in the city without the police arriving. The bear trio quickly left the road, and I got an idea of the trajectory of my weapon – a successful test all round. The day’s ride brought us to Meziadin Junction, where the road turns off to Stewart, BC, and Hyder in the Alaska panhandle. The aesthetic is very different to Bell 2, but the Atco trailers were warm and dry and the cook was friendly.


In the morning, we sacrificed a toothbrush to cleaning bike chains, and swapped mine with Chris’s as we reinstalled them. This was to test the theory that grit embedded in what was originally my chain might be the source of the noises. It wasn’t, and my bike continued to complain. A useful diagnostic, however. Heading onward, we stopped to watch salmon spawning. This was a first for me. Many times I’d seen the carcasses of spawned-out fish, but never the actual  upstream mating dance. Soon we saw another black bear, well-fed and unhurried.

At Cranberry Junction we turned south to follow the valley of the Nass River on a gravel forest road, stopping after about 20 km only to cook supper. The concept was to better separate cooking smells from where we’d sleep, as a precaution in an area reportedly filled with “bear action.”


An SUV pulled up, and two Korean men in camouflage hunters’ garb asked urgently “Have you seen any black bears?”. We guessed a good part of their urgency came from the price paid for a foreigner’s hunting license.
“No” we answered truthfully, “and not much scat either.” I gestured explicitly so as to help in case “scat” was beyond their English vocabulary. They sped off.



After supper, we cycled a little further and turned up a branch road to an old logging landing to set up camp. Wolves howled nearby as darkness fell.


South on the Stewart Cassiar

2015/09/6-9: Nugget City to Dease Lake 250 km
Turning south into the Stewart Cassiar Highway (number 37) was a welcome change of scene. The Alaska Highway is a major transportation route to and from Alaska, much of the traffic was large trucks, and huge RVs as US snowbirds migrated back to the Lower 48. It did have wide paved shoulders, but once on the Stewart Cassiar we could ride side by side, and vehicles passed only occasionally. This road dips and winds which adds interest and aesthetics.

DSC05401We reached Boya Lake Provincial Park, where kindly attendants let us use the picnic shelter and convenient bear cache. The clear turquoise lake was busy with minnows, and there were canoes for use by campers.   dsc_0258_21271141596_o
DSC05413After chatting in the morning with Swiss retirees and rowdy Swiss youths headed for Ushuaia, we made use of these to find beaver lodges among islands, and set off by bike only after lunch. We camped at Cottonwood Creek rest area, hanging our food bag on a hook inside the inside of the outhouse door. In the morning, we were greeted by the appearance of a large black (Arctic?) fox on the road, and soon a rented camper van stopped and we chatted at length to Verena and Franz, one of the Swiss couples from Boya Lake. We reached Dease Lake and checked into a hotel after supper at a cafe. We had tired legs and sore bums, but Chris’s Achilles’ tendons were in good form thanks to having adjusted the position of his cleats. DSC05433

Our rest day in Dease Lake involved sleeping, communication, and careful grocery shopping for the coming stretch. Dease Lake’s cafe and two hotels were abuzz with work boots and safety vests, as men came and went from exploration crews and camp building projects.


The Alaska Highway

2015/09/1-5: 420km
After a sociable weekend with Yukon friends, we departed a day later than planned. It was sleeting, and we wore heavy mittens over our gloves. If a tailwind hadn’t been driving us forward, we’d probably have turned back after only a short distance; surely nobody in their right mind would do this for fun? At a rest stop, we were invited into an RV for coffee, and later a car stopped and the driver presented us with a huge bar of chocolate. We were encouraged by the friendliness of the road, but we hoped not to camp till the weather improved, so we soldiered on to the motel at Johnson’s crossing. Unfortunately, their hot water heater was out of order, so we were out of luck for evening showers.

The next morning after breakfast, when we learned the hot water was back on, we made joyful use showers before riding on to Teslin for a buffalo burger lunch. As we paid our bill, I overheard the weathered waitress discussing how much RAM her hard drive had. You meet an array of colourful characters in northern outposts, and they often have an eclectic collection of skills. Shortly after lunch we stopped to replace two bolts on Chris’s rear rack that was sitting at an unhealthy angle, then rode on to a simple recreation site at Morley River, and we watched mergansers swim by before we cooked supper.


The following day took us over the continental divide between Yukon and Liard (Mackenzie) drainages to Rancheria Falls, a pretty site recommended by our chocolate provider. We cooked alongside some Virginians, and camped in the picnic shelter while temperatures fell below freezing that night.


In the morning, we met a Japanese fellow who had ridden his folding bike south from Inuvik, toiling under a large backpack. We passed each other a few times, and it became clear — when I came upon him from behind without sufficient warning and nearly gave the poor man a heart attack — that he was mortally afraid of bears. He had seen several grizzlies on the Dempster Highway.

We found a cafe at Rancheria, and never passing up a chance to eat and make our carefully packed dried food last a little longer, we dove inside for a second breakfast. Asking for the bill, and having come to expect “northern” prices, we found we were charged only $10 for two hearty meals and an extra coffee we’d offered the Japanese guy. The friendly and generous manager insisted on giving a big discount to cyclists, and we doubted what we were permitted to pay covered the cost of ingredients. We camped in a pullout just west of the junction with the Stewart Cassiar highway, and hoisted our food as well as we could.


Next mid-morning we rolled into the RV park, cabins, and tacky souvenir shop that calls itself Nugget City, only a kilometre from the start of the Stewart Cassiar, and decided to collapse into a cabin for rest and an evaluation of Chris’s Achilles’ tendon problem. We’d ridden over 400 km in just over 4 days, and the old bodies were begging for a break. Dining at the cafe that evening, the cook-waiter talked a mile a minute to anyone who would listen. He seemed to be full of bravado and sensationalist misinformation. He’d worked full tilt – fourteen hour days, seven days a week –  for the past three months, and now that the summer season of migrating RVers was tapering off, he was in some sort of wind down mode.

After online reading, we tweaked the position of the cleats of Chris’s shoes so as to reduce Achilles strain.  Looking back, we feel the main cause of his tendon pain was a rather fast start to the trip after very little time spent cycling in prior months.