I had one last obstacle to overcome before I could safely say that the worst of the deserted roads were over for the foreseeable future. I’d be travelling down the Stewart Cassiar Highway (Highway 37), 718 km’s to the small town of Kitwanga, where I could be safe in the knowledge that from then on I’d be on well serviced and populated roads. Life on the road would be getting that little bit easier.
This highway has an daunting reputation as a demanding but scenic route cut through the most isolated stretches of Northern British Columbia. I’ve been called crazy by more people whilst on this road then during the entirety of this journey so far. One man even went so far as to ask me if I was mentally disabled, before trying his hardest to convince me to buy an eco friendly car to continue on the rest of the journey. I had a little difficulty in conveying back to him that my $15 a day budget probably wouldn’t cover the expense of a car and even if it could, sponsorship for the charity might dry up a little to see me comfortably cruising to Argentina.
I set off in glorious sunshine, little did I know that was the last I’d see of it till the end of the road 6 days later. This road is narrow and icy and has a reputation for being a snow magnet due to the heli skiing country it passes through. One trucker advised me if I was caught between two trucks on either side, to get myself over the side, however far the landing, as they won’t move for anyone.
It’s a tough road, with constant steep, rolling hills that started to climb up into the mountains on Day 1. After a long day pushing against strong headwinds, I reached the tiny native town (30 people) of Jade City, where they allowed me to roll out my sleeping bag in their tiny church for the night. The next morning started off so cold, the door had frozen shut in the church and I ended up having to climb out of the window to get breakfast cooked on my little stove.
The first stretch is 240 km’s with no services until you reach the only town on the highway, Dease Lake. The snow came down heavy on the second day and I was again battling the headwinds as I rode into a blizzard. Fortunately it only built up on the sides as it was just a little too hot to settle onto the road. When I reached Dease Lake, I got chatting to the local post lady, the amazing Jadrenka, who offered me a cabin at her place and also fed me with more food then I’ve ever eaten in my life (a big statement for those who know me well). Her equally amazing daughter and son in law also sponsored the charity and 2 days later, stopped me on their trip back from down the highway to give me a cookie and hot chocolate they’d bought for me in the hope of seeing me along the way (it had been raining all day and literally made my day). If you’re ever in Dease Lake be sure to check out their cozy motel, ‘The Artic Divide’.
On the third day it was time to take on Gnat Mountain Pass, a big climb over the mountains to get across to the other side of the range. The roads were treacherously icy and thick fog had covered the glorious views I’d hoped to see. Jadrenka said she’d counted 12 bears along the pass the last time she drove it, so I was on bear watch as I moved up over the pass, depressingly slowly. I reached the next open lodge 100 km’s later at Totogga Lake, where they were closing up for the winter, and offered me food and lodging if I helped mop the floors and carry some logs in. Awesome people again, who also sorted me out breakfast the next day and some food for the road.
The moment I’d been dreading for a while finally came on the fourth day. Bears on the road, with no one around me for miles. I played by the rules, gave the bears all the time in the world (let’s face it they get right of way) and each time they ran off the minute I came close. The moose on the other hand were a different story. I’m more afraid of moose as it’s rutting season and these animals are huge. 10 km’s from finishing the day, soaked through in the pouring rain and I ended up in a moose, cyclist stand off, 30 metres apart. I knew I couldn’t move forward for fear of spooking the huge, moronic creatures, so we just stared at each other…for 30 minutes. Apparently they had all the time in the world and were in no rush to let me end my day. In the end this duel was broken up by a passing car, which after a thankful wave to the driver, gave me the time to head back on my way and to Bell 2 heli skiing lodge. These guys were incredible, taking pity on me as I walked in dripping wet, popping soup and a sandwich in front of me and sorting me an incredibly comfortable room, on the house, to dry off for the night. I embarrassed myself a little at the buffet breakfast the next morning, all the empty plates on the table would have been acceptable had I been in the company of 4 or 5 other people instead of on my own.
Day 5 was another drenching and I ended up finding a shed in the woods to attempt to dry my stuff for the night. A great idea, until I woke up in the night with rats crawling on my sleeping bag. Safe to say a sleepless night was had and I popped on my wet clothes the next morning to finish the remaining 130 km’s of this stunning road. The last days riding was an easy one, heading downhill through a majestic, winding valley. The sun came out in the afternoon and was so strong I even got to don a t shirt for the first time as I rode into the beautifully quaint, 20th century throwback town of Kitwanga. I got to camp out for the night for next to nothing at Roads End Ventures, overlooking the jaunting peaks of the 7 sister’s mountains in the background. Tony and Kerry who run the place are a wonderfully down to earth couple, who provided lovely company for the evening.
All in all, despite the pounding headwinds, rain and snow, I was very lucky to be able to take on this road during this time of year, with few problems in the end. With more bears per km than any area in North America, I was also lucky not to run across too many, especially as they’re looking to get some last easy meals in before the long sleep of winter. Even with the weather, I got to appreciate the huge diversity and endlessly epic views this road provides. I’ll come back again one year, but next time with a car (maybe an eco friendly one as my friend suggested).
Over 1200 km’s ridden in 10 days along some tough roads. If you’re reading this and are keen to donate to this amazing cause, this might convince you to add to that growing total. Thank you to everyone that’s donated so far, its an incredible team effort to be at 42% of the total already. Please share these stories, spread the word and keep following this journey. I’m off west now for 480 km’s before I start to head south again.