Monday 10th July
Riding the glorious Cassiar-Stewart Highway to Stewart BC
If I don’t write this now there’s a chance it may be lost forever. And the Cassiar-Stewart Highway, Hwy 37, deserves a paean to itself.
(The internet service is now good! More photos at the end.)
On leaving Whitehorse Ian and I headed south on the Alaska Highway which then took us East. Huge distances – forests, hills, mountains, rivers and lakes. And nothingness. After six or seven hours we stopped for the night at Nugget City, still in Yukon Territory. And well named, a nugget only for the owners. Dreadful accommodation, and sky-high prices. Supply and demand – there was nothing else for 100 miles in either direction.
On Sunday we headed south, joining the Cassiar-Stewart Highway immediately. What a fantastic, joyous road, despite the rain. More hills, and therefore views, and bends. A huge sense of space, and distance.
We aimed for Dease Lake, only 250 km, but the first and only place to stay of any comfort within 550 km. We arrived early afternoon – excellent hotel with an English owner from Hampshire, Alison. In the afternoon I rode alone down the 112 km dirt road to Telegraph Creek. So glad I did – I got filthy but the off road skills are coming along slowly! And I enjoyed more fabulous scenery, different this time, and culture too. At the confluence of two rivers, one a grey and muddy torrent and the other a crystal turquoise race, local First Nation inhabitants fish with long poles tethered horizontally in the water, nets hanging down beneath them.
So today, on southwards on the Cassiar-Stewart, named for the Cassiar mountains at the northern end and a now abandoned asbestos mining community there, and Stewart, the tiny townlet from where I write this at the border with the southern-most tip of Alaska. There is a border with the USA here; Hyder, the most southerly town in Alaska which is so small it barely exists at all. The route is even better than yesterday with the added delights of wildlife; we saw a couple of Moose and several large black bears just at the side of the road – not very cuddly at all.
We arrived in Stewart at about 3.30 pm and checked into the Prince Edward Hotel. Then I took my bike across the border into Alaska, and on up the only road which leads to a viewpoint overlooking the most spectacular Salmon Glacier. The road quickly deteriorated to a wide gravel track with lots of dust and very poor traction. I began to enjoy this, standing on the pegs for much of the 37 km to the end of the road. I began to feel I was really getting the hang of riding the gravel, using pressure on one peg or the other to get the bike to turn. It was so well worth the physical and mental effort. Initially the track followed a river, coming down as the road went up. The road became steeper and more interesting. After about 25 km the glacier suddenly appeared below me to my left, with nothing at the edge of the road but a steep drop.
The glacier from here was certainly spectacular, reminding me strongly of the Mer de Glace from Montenvers. I was intrigued however that the road went on up, making a scar on the hillside to which I could see no end. So on I went, for what seemed like an eternity. The road was constantly enjoyable, so long as I managed to control the bike on the gravel and ignore the drop off to my left.
After another 10 km or so with remnants of snow now at the roadside it became apparent that the valley the road was shadowing was merely a branch of a much larger valley descending from the clouds away to the south, to my left as I climbed. The full expanse of the glacier then became apparent – simply immense. Having seen many glaciers, I was not prepared for this.
After 20 minutes of gawping and taking photos, I headed back down, constantly telling myself not to get too confident and that pride in my riding could so easily precede a hubristic and painful fall. But all was well and I got back to the hotel in Stewart in one piece with a thick covering of dust for me and the bike.
Before joining Ian for a beer, I thought it would be wise to brush the dirt off the chain and apply a dose of lube. It takes but a few moments, easy to do. So I tried to heave the Tiger onto its centre stand, forgetting that I usually need to remove the heavy laden panniers first. It was heavy and didn’t want to go, but I just needed to heave harder, with my right foot pushing down on the projection on the stand to lever the bike up as I hauled the bike up and backwards. And that is when I heard, and then felt, what I took to be my Achilles tendon being torn apart. The bike now back onto its side stand, and me rapidly on the ground.
Ian was walking back from an exploration of suitable bars and saw it happen. As he joined me, the pain and irritation of having injured myself so stupidly quickly gave way to uncontrolled mirth, bordering on hysteria as we considered the course of our magnificent adventure – so many calamities just three weeks (to the day) since we liberated our bikes from the freight terminal at Anchorage, and each one of them potentially terminal for our individual participation.
And now for some good news: Tom is having a good time in Calgary it seems, and has progressed the transport of his KTM. It should be in Calgary at the weekend, as will Ian and I – all being well.
And on further examination of my right lower leg, I conclude that the Achilles tendon is in fact intact, and it is the calf muscle (gastrocnemius?) that I have torn. I can hobble about, but not plantar-extend my foot (point my foot down) with any force. Tomorrow will show what limitations this poses but I’m optimistic. Off road riding entailing standing on the pegs may be on hold for a while. This may be good news for reducing the attrition rate of the team.