The Yellowhead: Part III

The Yellowhead, part III: The North Coast

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We set out early from Terrace for the last leg of our coast-to-coast route. What a beautiful day for it, too; clear skies and a tailwind made for superb riding.

The Skeena widened still further. We could see fishing parties along the shore. Smoke rose from little fires where I imagine fresh fish were being roasted.

The Yellowhead snaked along towards the Pacific. On our right, the Trans-Canada rail; on our left, the Skeena.

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A bald eagle circled above. I stopped. It circumscribed us slowly with its eyes always trained on the river. These were his fishing grounds before all.

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We spotted numerous icefields and glaciers in the North Coast mountains. Although the icefields in Jasper and Banff are famous, the icefields all along the Yellowhead are equally or more beautiful. Their glacial waters pour into the Skeena and, like us, race Westward toward the Pacific.

45 miles into our 90-mile day we encountered a strong headwind coming off the ocean. The wind brought the smell of salt water and seaweed with it, though, and in our excitement, we leaned into the wind and raced on.

Kite-surfers skipped over the river. They were undoubtedly keen on the strong winds.

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We closed in on Prince Rupert in the evening. People driving the Yellowhead honked, yelled and cheered. Given our ragged appearance and hefty gear, they must’ve known we were attempting a continental crossing.

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And then there it was: The Pacific Ocean. 4,217 miles, and 62 days later, we arrived.

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The support and generosity of both our relatives back home and many along the way made our crossing possible. It took hundreds of hours of cycling, sweat, blood, bruises and even a few tears to make our way here.

We’re ecstatic to have completed the East to Northwest chapter of our trip. We now turn south down the coast toward our final destination: San Francisco.

We ate a hearty salmon dinner to celebrate, which was no doubt caught in the Alaskan Gulf  upon which we gazed through the window.

We got up before sunrise and boarded the Northern Expedition ferry to Vancouver Island.

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The Yellowhead: Part II

The Yellowhead, Part II: Prince George to Terrace.

The rain and heavy mists persisted.

Vanderhoof was our first camp after Prince George. A small town in Sai’Kuz Traditional Territory. We found a bicycle path through a small section of woods and found a small spot in the rainforest by a pond.

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We had been traveling through the inland wet belt—technically a rainforest—for days and were completely soaked. The thick, wet undergrowth ensured that everything only got wetter as we set up as well. We were both grouchy that night. We agreed to search for a gas station with a hand dryer the next morning to give our pruned feet some relief.

No dice.

Our next camp was 77 miles from Vanderhoof at Burns Lake.

We found a Canada Rail service road leading off the Yellowhead and down to the train tracks. An almost invisible path lead down to the uninhabited shore of Burns Lake.

Someone had built a fire pit by the Lake. An absolute steal! We were thrilled to have found such a good camp, and right on a lake as well. We started a fire and enjoyed the evening. A loon reeled its quivering call over the lake into the night.

We noticed that the sun had been setting incrementally later the further Northwest we went.

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We asked someone the next day and they told us we were entering the land of the midnight sun. A bit further North the sun never really sets; rather, an ethereal glow hangs in the sky as the sun dips below the horizon, and then rises again.

We agreed: This is Northern Canada. We’re here.
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We adjusted our plans in the morning. We had initially planned to take nine full days to get to the coast, but since the ferry only sails on even days, we would have had to spin our wheels for a day. Raphael came up with the ambitious plan that we push harder and arrive a day earlier. That meant adding dozens of miles to already full days of riding.

We adopted this new plan. 23 miles into the day, we added 94 on. It was a difficult day, to say the least. 118 miles of riding through the rolling hills of central B.C. all but exhausted us.

Along the way, an adolescent black bear ran in front of us and stopped beside the road. We weren’t sure if we’d startled it sufficiently for it to attack us since it was just standing there, so we pulled out our bear spray and continued forward, talking as soothingly as we could to the bear. It turned and disappeared into the wilderness.

My left ankle and Raphael’s right started to ache and give way after 110 miles. It was dark, though, and another bear crashing around along the treeline was enough to give us new strength. We couldn’t see it, and thus, couldn’t be sure which type it was. This had happened several times, in which we couldn’t identify the bear, and yet heard the heavy, slow footfalls. Now, we just generally assume its a grizzly, unsafety the bear spray and get out of there as quickly as we can.

We arrived in Moricetown at 11:45 p.m., pitched camp, set alarms for 6:00 a.m., and promptly passed out.

The next morning we were both in rough shape from the previous day’s ride. But we crawled out of camp and hit the road by 7:00 nonetheless.

We saw people fishing with nets and gaff poles at a waterfall on the way out. A smoke house plumed just next to it. We learned David, the town’s gas station clerk, that this is a native tradition here. The bounty is shared among the community. There was a salmon festival the next day, which a woman in town invited us to. Sadly, though, we couldn’t stay. We had a ferry to catch and an ambitious schedule to stick to.

David told us to keep an eye out for the “Spirit Bear”: A subspecies of the black bear. It’s white and yet not an albino black bear. It’s an endangered species unique to British Columbia. He said a Spirit Bear was known to frequent the Kitimat-Stikine forest District, in which we were riding.

We dug up some granola we had saved from the day before and ate yogurt and granola for breakfast at the gas station in Moricetown.

We set out with 109 miles to ride for the day. After such a tiring day as the one before, this was a true challenge. 118 is an all-time record for us, and we had never before tried back-to-back days that totaled more than 100 miles.

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We broke the 4,000-mile mark in the late morning.

In Hazelton, we reached the Northernmost point of our trip. We were further North than Alaska’s southern border, but to the east, and thus still in Canada.

We stopped at the Cassiar Highway intersection in Kitwanga for lunch.

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And on we went. The Yellowhead turned Southwest now, cutting below the Misty Fjords of Alaska.

The Bulkley-Nachako river, which we had been following for a while, was absorbed by the Skeena river coming out of the Yukon to the North.

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We saw an abundance of wildlife on this day. Bald eagles dove at the Skeena and landed on the shores in droves. We saw three Bald eagles, a family perhaps, land on the northern shore at one point and huddle together.

We startled a black bear in the afternoon as it munched on berries by the roadside. It dove into the woods, though. We yelled an apology to the poor fellow and rode on without incident.

The Skeena expanded in width and flow as every creek and stream in sight joined it. The water raced toward the Pacific. We raced Westward beside it.

We made it to Ferry Island as planned, which is a small island in the middle of the now massive Skeena River, 109 miles from Moricetown.

It was hard to get to sleep, tired as we were. We were too excited, knowing that we were merely 90 miles from Prince Rupert and the Pacific.

The Yellowhead: Part I

Raphael and I set out from Jasper on the 16th of July. I haven’t had stable access to the internet since, and thus haven’t been able to post anything in a while, but I have been writing and taking photos. I’ll post the Yellowhead crossing in three parts.

Part I: Jasper to Prince George.

We descended from the Rockies and into the Fraser River Canyon. Cold mists replaced the dry, sunny climate we’d grown accustomed to.

The wildfire smoke stayed with us. We learned later that the highway 11 fire we’d passed through was one of over 140 actively burning in the Canadian Northwest.

We set out on our longest serviceless stretch yet on the 17th. Two days of riding, one and a half without any towns, water, or food. We rode 40 miles from our camp in Téte Juan Cache (64 miles West of Jasper) to McBride, where we picked up lots of food and water.

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We rode another 40 miles. It was time to look for a spot to camp; what little sunlight we had that day was disappearing.

A black bear, standing on an embankment just above the road, tracked us with its head as we rode by.

We found a spot just off the road and cooked dinner. Ramen, peanut butter, and some chicken from a deli.

Trucks and the occasional car went by on the nearby Yellowhead, but most of the time it was quiet.

We carefully strung all the food and garbage up between two trees and went to bed.

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We woke up and checked to make sure our food was still there. It was, thankfully. This was the first time we’d tried stringing our food up back-country style (campgrounds around here all have bear-proof food lockers).

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Rain started to fall in the early morning and persisted throughout the day.

We had noticed these massive cedar trees at our camp in the morning. We were wondering why and how they were so large. We discovered later in the day that we were in B.C.’s inland wet belt; a temperate rain forest 500 miles from the ocean.

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We passed through the Sugarbowl Grizzly Sanctuary.

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We didn’t see any in the park. I assume they had the good wits to stick out the rain in their dens.

Later on, though, past the grizzly refuge, a grizzly cub ran into the road a few dozen feet ahead of us. We stopped immediately, and quietly got our bear spray out. We assumed the sow (momma bear) grizzly must be nearby. Making lots of noise, we slowly rode on; one hand on the handlebar, the other on the trigger. The treeline was close to the road and concealed by bushes. My heart was pounding. There were no cars or trucks nearby. No one. Just us, the cub, and – presumably – the mother grizzly watching us from somewhere hidden, torn between fear of us and fear for her cub. As soon as we cleared the immediate area, we accelerated rapidly and removed the safety on our bear spray. We made it out safely.

We found an abandoned B.C. Railcar along the highway and stepped in for some shelter and a snack.

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A lodge at Purden Lake 56 miles into the second day was a pleasant surprise. We were still 40 miles from Prince George – the nearest town –  so this was an oasis.

We walked in drenched, cold, and with a formidable appetite (We burn upwards of 6,000 calories a day, biking). The store owner saw how wrecked we were and invited us to dry out by the fireside. We were so relieved to have found the place. We ordered hot cocoas and a bountiful dinner.

We stepped back out into the rain and set ourselves to the last 40 miles of the day. We had to make it, no matter how tired we were, because there was nowhere closer to resupply.

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We made it. 96 miles. Sodden and covered in dirt from logging trucks spraying us with muddy water all day, we checked into a motel in Prince George. This was the first bed we’d had since Belfield, North Dakota, over a thousand miles behind us.

The road to Jasper

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A man named Brad stumbled (drunk) into our camp at Mosquito Creek campground. He invited us to his fire for a beer, and I accepted; he seemed fairly harmless. After chatting for an hour or so, he was so enthused by our trip that he gave me: his Winchester knife, his bear spray, and some food. An unusual character to be sure, but a nice one.

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We broke camp at 6:00 a.m. and made for the Num-Ti-Ya Lodge for breakfast. A beautiful place for a lodge, on the shores of Bow Lake

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Then off to the Saskatchewan river crossing, where they’d closed the road due to the Highway 11 wildfire. The smoke thickened the closer we got; it became hard to see and breathe at one point. We were met with a low-visibility stretch of the wildfire and had to push through it quickly.

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On we went, climbing first Bow pass, and then Sunwapta pass.

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We arrived at the famed Columbia Icefields once we’d claimed Sunwapta

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The water flowed south down the Saskatchewan until we summited Sunwapta. On the descent, water flowed North from the glacier above, forming the Athabasca River. Seeing the water change direction from this peak onward was very strange.

We set a mileage record on this long day. 110 miles. Our last record – 106 miles – was set with a tailwind in North Dakota. This kind of mileage in the Rockies was a challenge. Still, we found our legs fresh at the end of the day. We agreed that we’ve never felt so in shape in our lives.

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We saw the above black bear family in the evening. An hour later, we saw a grizzly sitting on the tree line by the road. An unexpected wind picked up a few minutes later. As the sun set, we heard a cracking sound just behind the tree line. A fifth bear? Who knows, we raced away as quickly as we could.

In light of seeing four, maybe five bears on the roadside in a single day, we figured it best to call it a day A.S.A.P. and camped at Mt. Kerkeslin, 20 miles south of Jasper.

Kooteney to Banff

From Radium, B.C., Raphael and I crossed to the Alberta side of the Rockies, ending in Castle Junction. To get to Banff, we crossed the Kootenay National Forest. Gorgeous mountains, rivers, and forests.

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Raphael and I almost ran into a black bear cleaning him or herself around a bend on the shoulder. We waved as we passed by, spooking it away.

More photos coming soon… I have to do some bike riding now.

Wildfire

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Raphael and I have been enjoying Banff National Forest for two days now. The first, a (planned) day off in Lake Louise. Swimming in the Lake, under the Queen Victoria Glacier, was something for sure. The second day (today), we were supposed to head up north to a campground near the Columbia Icefields. However, a wildfire burning a little northeast of Banff waylaid us. The authorities shut down the Icefields Parkway (our road to Jasper) for most of the day.

The glaciers and mountains surrounding the small village of Lake Louise have been obscured since this morning by smoke. The air smells of conifer trees burning.

Apparently the prevailing west winds are keeping the fire from spreading over the highway, but the smoke is  everywhere.

We are riding 20 miles to Mosquito Creek tonight, and then when the highway reopens at 9:00 a.m.; we’ll attempt to ride through the 20-30 mile section near the fire before it closes again at 2:00 p.m. If the wind turns east, however, we will have to turn back toward Lake Louise.

We’re hoping for the best. The only other road north to Jasper is a major detour requiring us to head back into British Columbia.

We are riding to a campground, 20 miles north.

Grizzly Ridge

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We spotted our first bear yesterday evening. I can’t say for sure whether it was a grizzly or a brown bear, but I’m sure it wasn’t a black bear.

We were riding North along the western shore of Windermere Lake, through a place called “Grizzly Ridge”. The bear was young, probably an adolescent. It was sitting down behind a barbed wire fence a few feet off the road. Turning quickly, it bolted into a thicket and disappeared.

The sun was setting and we still had a dozen or so miles to go. We scanned the darkening roadside carefully and rode on, probably a little bit faster than before.

Canada

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Raphael and I crossed into British Columbia (B.C.) yesterday.

This post will serve as a log of our plans and preparations for the third leg of our trip: British Columbia (BC) and Alberta.

Here is a map of our route:

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Raphael and I are traveling North along 93 from Eureka to Jasper, and then North-West along highway 16 from Jasper to Prince Rupert. Then taking a 24-hour ferry to Port Hardy

We’re most concerned about the stretch between Jasper (Alberta), and Prince Rupert along the Yellowhead Highway (16). Specifically, between Jasper and Prince George, and Prince George and Prince Rupert. There isn’t a whole lot of civilization up there in terms of towns and supplies. We’ve mapped out the longer stretches, and we will bring on extra water and food for those periods.

Here is a list of our capabilities:

1) We have rudimentary first aid equipment, including a snake-bite kit. I have a 200-page field medicine guide,  the us army survival guide, and a bike repair guide, all on my phone.

2) We have the capacity to carry enough food for 2-3 days. Our fuel carrying capacity is 30fl.oz of gasoline. We have a flex-fuel camp stove. We have the capacity to carry 200 fl.oz of water per person. We also know how to purify water with sunlight, and hope to pick up water purification tablets soon.

3) We have detailed maps of the entire region.

4) I have a small amount of Canadian data and call time. I have a reserve battery that could last me up to a week if I put my phone in emergency power mode.

5) Each of us is carrying a 10oz can of bear spray.

Going to the Sun

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While flying down the western side of Glacier National Park, Raphael and I locked eyes. No words needed. This park was the most beautiful place we had ever seen.

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Snowbound peaks. A craggy rock face jutting up thousands of feet; a glacier beneath it.

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The 90+ degree sun was tempered with cool mists drifting off roadside waterfalls

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Raphael and I took a shower in this glacial melt-water. It would been several days since our last shower, so cold as it was, it was welcome. People driving by stared at us from within their heated cars stared at us as we walked into the frigid waterfall. A cute girl stopped and jumped in as Raphael and I were finishing up. Coincidence? Perhaps.

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We ascended to Logan pass, at 6,647 feet.

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We met people at the top who had passed us as they went up in cars. Everyone figured we had driven to the park, and then biked to the pass. They were surprised, to say the least, when we told them we’d ridden from New York – 3,000 miles – to get here.

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And then down we went. Flying, it seemed. We descended into the West Glacier valley at 30 miles an hour, down all the elevation we had just gained. Past the weeping wall: a series of misty waterfalls that spilled over the road. Raphael turned his head skyward as we rode underneath them and screamed around a corner at top speed. Our strong tires had no trouble keeping us in line through the soaked tarmack stretch, even after three thousand miles on the same set.

We arrived in Apgar Village, West Glacier, after fifty miles of the most incredible riding of our lives.

Blackfeet Nation

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After about 1,000 miles of The Great Plains (or as Raphael and I took to calling them, “the great pains” because of the strong west winds), we arrived at the Rocky Mountains. From 100 miles away we could see at first a thin blue line. As the day wore on, the blue line on the horizon became snowbound peaks. and as the definition increased, they reared up suddenly.

Raphael and I climbed thousands of feet of vertical as we crossed Blackfeet Nation. A reservation that we learned through experience is known for it’s feral dogs. Four different times, we had dogs come bolting into the road after us and snap at our heels. Raphael and I went hoarse yelling at them to back off. We made it through unscathed, but exhausted. Climbing elevation into a 15 mph headwind while peddling away furiously from wild dogs did the trick.

Yet as we descended into St. Mary, we bumped into a group of young people heading off to a wedding after party. We ended up going with them to a campground fully rented out for the wedding and celebrating with them until 3 am. They had leftover food and beer that needed finishing. We were happy to oblige.

We got up fairly early the next day regardless. We had the day of a lifetime ahead of us. The mood as we packed up was electric.

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I found these two signs within a few miles of eachother. Loring is our grandfathers name, and Bowdoin is the name of his Alma Mater. A funny coincidence!