After a refreshing nights sleep the adventure began - we left Fairbanks mid morning for the first stop at the Yukon River Crossing and our first taste of the Dalton Highway.
Neither of us were really nervous- just keen to get going!
After leaving all our camping gear in storage, we strapped the tool / tire kits to the tank bag and streamlined our panniers down taking only necessities - one set of clothes and washgear only. This meant that we could fit two 20 litre petrol cans in each pannier, keeping the extra weight low and avoiding having to strap them to pannier tops, making it harder for me to get on and off (this makes a real difference when on slippery surfaces as just me getting on the back can pull the bike over if Darren can't keep his footing and I get my weight placement wrong). Yes it is that technical getting on and off as a pillion - the weight we are carrying is unbelievable- if we dropped the bike it would be nearly impossible for both of us to lift it back up again.
After the scare stories we had heard from everyone we spoke to in Alaska about the Dalton Highway, we had resigned ourselves to the fact that at some point we would have an off and having petrol strapped next to you might not have been a good idea. We had heard a lot of bad things about the Dalton and I came to the conclusion that it was locals trying to scare us away...the comments ranged from;
'you are nuts doing it 2's up with that extra weight'
' the biggest grizzly bear ever seen at mile marker 240'
'the steepest off road slopes ever seen, it took me half a day to work up the courage to go down Atigan - it still scares me to this day' (This from a Dalton Highway trucker veteran of 30 years).
'the highway regularly gets washed away in heavy rain - make sure you have enough fuel to turn around and head back'
Well it wouldn't be an adventure if the road was going to be easy we thought!
As soon as we hit the Elliott Highway heading toward the Dalton it was bumpy wih potholes and poor attempts at filling them. I was already begining to wish I had velcro on my backside to stop me sliding around. Then we saw the James W Dalton Highway sign and I started to feel apprehensive - I had tried very hard not to let my imagination run away with me and to make my own mind up about the road.
After rounding the bend 100m after the sign we hit the gravel and the awful feeling of the bike sliding side to side under you, then a huge truck passed us at 60mph and showered us in gravel- talk about baptism of fire!
Darren described this gravel section as "like riding on marbles on glass".
There were a few tarmac sections mixed in between the gravel. We called them 'tarmac teasers', they never lasted for long and would seem out of place in the middle of nowhere.
After four hours we reached the Yukon River and crossed the huge bridge to our lodging for the night.
This was a truckers stop with very basic facilities but really friendly service, just as well I brought the wet wipes as there was no way I was getting near the shared bathroom!
After a hearty truckers breakfast we set off for Coldfoot Camp and another 5 hour ride, crossing into the Arctic Circle.
Next stop top of the world
This section of the highway was mainly off road with some gravel sections, then some really horrible slippery mud sections made worse by the onset of rain.
Heading up from there we crossed into the Arctic Circle and stopped for the photo opportunity then examined the back of the sign as it was covered in motorcycle stickers from past travellers.
A coach load of american tourists made a fuss of us when we arrived (it was like being famous for all of 30 seconds) taking photos of us and standing around us looking in awe. By this time we were covered in mud, wet from the rain and had a cloud of mossies hanging over us.
We arrived at Coldfoot camp mid afternoon and were pleased to get cleaned up and into our civvies. First impressions of Coldfoot Camp aren't great -
A warm welcome at Coldfoot
However, this place really is good, with clean, basic accommodation all en-suite, a great cafe with a full on buffet most nights, friendly staff and a full bar.
I joked to Darren about needing a big glass of chilled chardonnay after a hard days ride and to my amazement I got one! This must be the furthest bar north.
We were up early next day in anticipation of a long, hard day to Deadhorse/ Prudhoe Bay which is the furthest point North in Alaska. We had estimated it would take us 9-10 hours based on GPS stats and advice from locals on weather and road conditions.
After giving a fellow biker some epoxy resin type liquid metal to fix his leaking radiator, we headed off.
It was a hard days riding but amazing. The views are astounding especially when you start to climb higher. The road itself has no shoulders or edges and their are a lot of steep drops. It is certainly not for the faint hearted.
A rare tarmac teaser
The vastness of this place is awesome and a little scary, you really do feel in the middle of nowhere with pine trees stretching as far as the eye can see in every direction. The road climbs higher through forest valleys with twisting roads and very little tarmac now, it is all gravel, mud and worse still some awful black stuff which is slippery as hell- worse than the gravel 'marbles'. Add into the mix at intervals road works or to be more precise- grading. This is when they literally re-cut and level the road after trucks have worn away the surface or it has been washed away, or the road moves because it is on a permafrost patch. This happens alot and is by far the worst experience so far. As they re-cut the road they layer up a mound of loose stuff which, depending on which side of the road you are on, can get tricky trying to pass trucks. We then had to ride over the mounds, some were 2 foot high and with our weight it wasn't pretty.
We stopped for lunch (a twix and red bull) by the farthest North Spruce tree which was a couple of hundred years old and had been stuck back together again after a vandal had cut it down sometime before.
If you think the bike was muddy you should see us!
Then began our climb up the Atigan Mountains and onto the Atigan Pass itself. This was the point I had been dreading and we set off with trepidation.
As you approach the higher section the road curves up and to your right giving you a clear view of it's steepness, ok hold on tight - this is it.
As we climb steadily in second gear on the gravel the steep drop on our right increases showing the road behind us. We head into the pass and the view is amazing with mountains either side. Dodging the crazy goats that like to jump out at you then over the barrier, we continued through. The descent then started past a sheer plataeu and winding down and round into the valley. The valley continues through the Atigan range of mountains either side for a good 2 hours before flattening out into arctic tundra and low skies.
Again nothing on the horizon except the road and the oil pipeline.
Pipeline and road
This section of the road was really quiet and we stopped for another half hour break in which time no vehicle passed us in either direction. It was eerily quiet.
This is true wilderness.
Another scenic twix break
Due to the vastness of the views we could see the weather closing in on us making this stretch of the road with more grading work particularly fun! We pushed on steadily to Deadhorse through the rain with no mishaps.
When we reached Prudhoe Bay, it was such a relief , we had made it without any incidents and the sence of achievement was amazing. There is very little that is welcoming about Prudhoe - It is what it is - a working area where countless teams of men work on the oil fields supplying gas and oil to the USA via the pipeline.
Our 'hotel' was little more than a metal shack that exsisted to house the workers, meaning that not only did we feel very much out of place, but that also facilities were bleak to say the least.
We got cleaned up and went to bed with our heads full of an incredible day, then it hit me - we have it all to do again tommorow...
Ready to leave Prudhoe Bay - top of the World
Its interesting for me to read Ems account of the trip up, I guess just like the road is different for each rider, it's also different for two people on the same bike.
With Em perched up on the back of the bike and not in control the feeling must be different (and scary) to say the least. Hats off to her, I could not have ridden pillion on that road.
The weather has a large effect on what you ride on when tackling the Dalton Highway, on the way up the "road" was either wet from past rain or was very wet from a current downpour, making things very tricky for me to keep things upright.
Slippery when wet
We did have one or two moments, mainly the front washing out due to ruts in the gravel that had been filled in by the grader (one minute you think you are riding on firm, wet slimy gravel and the next the front drops into a soft section), but thankfully I managed to keep things in a straight line.
When re-grading the road, the workers wet the surface with tankers (bowsers) then they apply a granule that "bonds" the road together when rolled. This is great for the road I'm sure, but not so great for bikes - everything gets covered with sticky road surface, then bakes hard from the heat of the engine, you quickly get into a routine of stopping and scrapping off the muck from the engine before things start to overheat.
The road sticks to everything
I definately found the trip up a challange, but next day the section from Prudhoe back to Coldfoot proved to be the most demanding riding I have ever done.
We left Prudhoe with the clouds heavy and the road surface awash from overnight rain. The next few hours passed with very little conversation over the intercom as I concentrated like never before on the road ahead, while always looking in the mirrors for the terrifying view of an 18wheeler coming up on you out of nowhere.
The phsyical input required is difficult to explain, but with fear comes tension and the tension starts to make your muscles scream after a while. I constantly had to tell myself to relax and let the bike do as it wanted - dont fight it, then you have another slide and the tension returns, this cycle continues until we get to Coldfoot.
The fear is more out of respect for what you are doing, but more importantly where you are.. even a minor accident could leave one or both of us in major trouble due to the remoteness of our situation - it could takes hours for anyone to come by, then further hours for a helicopter to reach you from Fairbanks.
For me the responsibilty was to ensure that I did not put Em in a situation where she would be injured or helpless if I was the one with the injury - mobiles don't work out here, hence the fear, hence the tension.
But the remoteness of this road and this area is what we came for and believe it or not, despite the rain and fear of hurting the other half, I was having the time of my life.
The rain continued, the Atigan pass was thick with low cloud and visibility was down to about 10 meters, I was using the metal barrier as a marker as to where the road went, then remembered that near the top of the pass the barrier dissapears for a section, just in time I steered into the middle of the track as the barrier stopped and I briefly stared into cloud and quite possibly a bit of a drop.
Up in the clouds
I dont remember seeing too much scenery on the way to Coldfoot, but I do remember the weather and road conditions inproving for the final hour and was really happy to see Coldfoot Camp - we were both wet and cold and covered in crap, the bike looked like it had been to hell and back, but we were here again without incident.
Time now for a clean up (all three of us) before a meal and a couple of beers in the bar with some fellow bikers who were also tackling the Dalton.
After a restful nights sleep (with my mind replaying every incident of the last few days) We leave Coldfoot Camp for the last leg of the journey, the sun was out and the road was now firm and progress was much quicker - before we know it we are at the refuel stop of the Yukon Crossing and enjoying lunch.
Its here that we meet up with two of the bikers from the bar the night before and ride the rest of the Dalton Highway together with the sun out and the road now as firm as tarmac.
Good company and finally a dry road
I watch the last few miles count down on my GPS and realise that an awsome adventure, one of huge personal fulfilment is about to end and I reach round and touch Ems leg "well done mate, we made it".
Tarmac at the end of the Dalton
We both felt that we needed to experience a boat trip to see the ice flows and wildlife before we left Alaska, so with that in mind, we left Tok and headed south down to Valdez.
The road was a suprise, it took us through some amazing scenery and we even caught site of our first Grizzly. We had just topped up with fuel and had exited the station behind another bike, as this bike sped off I noticed something jump from the roadside, as we came alongside I realised it was a fairly large Brown Bear.
He looked at us a little suprised and we looked at him a little suprised - with about 30 ft between us, he then turned and walked back into the trees - an event that made our day.
After that the road just got better, finally ending with a series of mountain passes and stunning glaciers, but before long we reached the southern port of Valdez and were greeted with the awful stench of rotting fish.
We had arrived just in the middle of the Salmon spawning season, those fish that were not dead were frantically trying to continue the species while running the gauntlet of numerous Black Bears and even more numerous fisherman who had arrived on mass in there RVs.
After finding a cheap motel (Em refused to camp due to the high number of bears!) we organised the boat trip for the next day. I was more than a little apprehensive, as anyone who knows me will tell you, I am not good on water!
We left Valdez port on the boat with me a little happier as I had found out that our skipper owned the company and had navigated this route for over 30 years. As you leave the harbour you catch site of the oil terminal - and get a last glimpse of the pipeline that we had followed to Prudhoe and back.
The harbour was heavy in fog and mist, but that cleared to allow us the chance to watch the Sea Otters floating by on there backs. As the morning continues we also see Bald Eagles, Puffins and Sea Lions on the shoreline as well as the now expected Alaskan scenery. The only disapointment is that so far we had not seen any Whales, but on the plus side I was managing to keep my breakfast down.
As the boat neared our destination for the day - the Columbia glacier, numerous icebergs were now around us and looking up to the glacier itself we could see the iceflow meet the waters edge, unfortunatly the skipper could not get too close as the ice was too restrictive - and I for one was not going to argue with him.
As we turn to return to port, I realise that the numerous mini icebergs had surrounded us and the skipper had to negotiate a path through - occasionally we would hear and feel the bang as a big lump of ice scraped down the boat, reminding me why I prefer not to be on the water.
We arrived back at the harbour with no further issues, but had still not seen any Whales - nevermind, hopefully we will catch site of them later in the trip as we follow the Pacific Coast down.
As Darren says we headed out of Fairbanks after a 'day of rest' this was actually spent desperately trying to scrub dalton mud off our kit and the bike instead of 'chilling out'.
The road from Fairbanks to Tok was pretty boring as it is probably the straightest road I have ever been on. The highlight was a town called North Pole which is decked out for Christmas all year round. There was a forty foot Santa that I tried to get a picture of to give you folks at home a giggle but I wasn't quick enough with the camera- sorry!
Tok is actually pronounced Toke and is really just a crossroads of a town. We spent the night in a campground on the edge of a forest and didn't get much sleep as we were woken by howling wolves nearby at 3am which is really scary as it echoes through the trees. That morning I remind Darren that we need to buy a big knife.
We head off for Valdez taking the Highway South. This road cuts through vast forests of pine trees and all you can see is trees in every direction.
An hour later we saw a moose at the side of the road. The jeep in front saw it first and skidded to an abrupt halt with a loud screech. Then a foot long camera lense was thrust out of the window at the poor moose, who turned tail and ran off. We were disappointed that it had been scared off and continued on our way, only to come across a pond with a Moose taking a dip 5 mins later.
Much better looking when not stuffed
Then to our amazement an hour later we see the grizzly bear. Just as we passed he jumped back into the brush and I got a good look at his rear end- talk about heavy- you could almost feel the earth shake when he jumped!
It was nearing 4pm and we hadn't eaten anything all day. Finally we come across the Tiekel Lodge and decide that we have to stop for some food before we pass out.
Do I smell like a bear?
After batting off the hoards of mossies, we get inside not really expecting much as we were in the back of beyond. To our suprise we are greeted by the warm, inviting smell of cookies. A really cool guy who must be 25 is behind a counter baking the most amazing cookies I have ever eaten! We are surounded by cookies - I joke to him 'are you expecting a coach load or something?' At that moment we are besieged by American tourists. We try to make a quick getaway, but end up getting accosted by several.
Finally back on the road and an hour from Valdez, the scenery becomes amazing. We stop for a picture at Worthington Glacier.
No Darren, you can't ride the bike up the Glacier!
Then as the road winds down into the valley we follow the river as it cuts through the rock. We come across the prettiest waterfall ever and stop for the photo opportunity.
Bridal Veil Falls
As we get to Valdez it's early evening and a fog descends. We pass right by the estuary and sight of lots of dead fish, how inviting. The we notice a black bear cub in a corner, playing with the fish. A large iluminated sign on a trailer promptly reminds us not to approach bears in the area and we move on.
Our lodging for the next two nights is rustic and a real hunting and fishing lodge. The restaurant is full of every dead animal you can imagine stuffed, needless to say I didn't eat much.
The next day we head out to Prince William Sound on the boat trip. To say Darren isn't a good sailor is an understatement, I have lost count of the number of times he has embarrassed me by spewing down the side of boats. I pack a spare carrier bag in my jacket pocket ready for the inevitable. He does me proud however, passes on the clam chowder lunch and all is well.
'Thats alot of martini's" Comment by American Tourist
The trip was a real highlight and worth going to hideous Valdez for. It was good to get off the bike for the day, but we were getting itchy feet at this point. Alaska had taken us 4 weeks to cover and we were looking forward to something different in Canada, the border was calling us...
The next day we left Vadez to the bears and headed back to Tok, happy in the knowledge that we had seen and experienced what we wanted from Alaska. After an overnight stop at Tok we excitedly headed for the Canadan border via the rather strange gold mining settlement of Chicken.
From Chicken, my adrenaline starts to flow as we ride the "Top of the World Highway" - a very windy gravel road that seems to climb to the heavens, once again things go quiet on the autocom as Em concetrates as hard on the sheer drops as I do the roads. After a while the Canadian border appears, a small border post at the top of the road signals the end of our Alaskan adventure. Bring on the Yukon!
Top of the world highway
When your trip hangs on whether countries will actually allow you in, borders seem to become quite nervous affairs. We pull up and confirm to the nice lady that yes we are Brits and that no we dont have any firearms or drugs and after checking our passports we are waived on our way - why was I so nervous I thought? I guess that its because we are new to this, but we are to get plenty of practice on this trip.
From the border the highway of gravel and big views (and even bigger drops) continues until we reach the Yukon river and cross over to the town of Dawson.
Dawson City grew up out of the gold that was found in the area and is like going back in time, as you approach a paddle steamer is moored on the river and the streets are gravel / mud that disect buildings that look straight out of a John Wayne film. As we take in the sights of main street, a local walks out in front of us determined to join the thousands of other road kill splatered across the front of the bike - not the best start to our visit, I manage not to hit him, but then his response makes me wish I had.
It takes us a while to secure a bed for the night, which turns out to be caused by the fact the town is full of goldpanners! Apparantly gold panning champions from around the World had decsended on Dawson for the World Championships - I kid not.
We take a couple of days in Dawson, getting some rest and probably more importantly giving each other some space and time away from each other. This gives me the chance to enter the swing doors of the saloon and sample the local ale while talking all things gold with those around me - this really is a very strange town, but as the beer flowed, I kinda started to like it.
The Downtown Hotel
All too soon I get that feeling again - I want to get back on the bike and see whats down the road, without the help of alcohol Em has not warmed to Dawson so is as eager as I am to hit the tracks. Once again we find ourselves heading south, this time on the Klondike Highway to our campground near Carmacks, with another 250 miles completed - this is turning out to be our average - we set up the tent alongside the Yukon river and settle down with a brew and enjoy the setting.
It was a cold and mainly sleepless night thanks to the locals enjoying a party nearby but we quickly got packed up - I am really starting to enjoy the routine of making and breaking camp, I guess with no work to manage, I have set about managing and organising much of the daily routine. I realise that this need to control everything is not good teamwork and after discussion we work out who's skills are best suited to what tasks and I promise Em that in future I will share the toys.
The scenery we have rode through so far in the Yukon has been the familiar trees, rivers and big mountains but now mixed with more lakes and the odd open space. Our destination for the day is Whitehorse, a fairly large city where we plan to take a couple of days to catch up on emails and for me to give the bike some much deserved tlc.
In Whitehorse Em gets to work on our kit, while I go downtown to find a new rear tyre, tyres are fairly easy to find on route, but if you are fussy and looking for a particular brand then you have to be prepared to wait a couple of days. As it turns out after a bit of a search I get lucky, a Yamaha dealer has the TKC 80 I am looking for - they keep them in stock due to the amount of travellers passing through, but they could not fit it.
So armed with my new tyre I do a deal with a local tyre centre (they will fit the tyre if I remove the wheel) and second time lucky (first time they put it on the wrong way round) after refiting the wheel we are good to go.
Our next stop is Watson Lake where we grab the pictures of the signpost forest - it was started by a guy in the army who was posted here during the war, he put up a post showing the miles to his home town and people have been adding to it ever since. Its a fun stop, but more of a overnight stopover getting us ready for another of those roads that I just have to ride - the Stewart Cassier Highway.
Darren and I were keen to leave Alaska and move onto pastures new, as Darren mentions above we set out on the road to Chicken on the Taylor Highway. The road soon turns to gravel and is completely desserted, however the views are better as the brush isn't as thick.
I was really looking forward to visiting Chicken as they are a completely self sufficient community. The town was supposed to be called Ptarmigan after the state bird, but the local who went to officiate the name couldn't spell it so it got called Chicken instead.
I have to say it was a bit of a disappointment, and I managed to refrain from buying the 'I got laid in Chicken' sticker.
As soon as we leave Chicken and continue, the road turns nasty, it's thick in loose gravel, one lane wide with tight turns up the mountainside and sheer high drops to our right. We are about a foot away from the edge and I am perched precariously on the back with all the weight, feeling the familar slide of the bike side to side and starting to feel rather sick.
Thankfully this doesn't last too long before we hit the Top of the World Highway, which is an amazing road. You really do feel like you are on top of the world looking down. Again it is high with big drops, but they aren't as sheer and there are a few trees to break your fall.
We cross the border and start to descend into the valley with Dawson City in the distance and the Yukon River in between. Rounding the corner expecting to find a bridge into the town we stop abruptly in a queue of RV's and trucks only to find out that we have to catch a ferry across the river to the town. The ferry is about two trucks wide and three trucks long. They shoehorn us in on the end between the trucks and before I have time to jump off it has set sail. The ferry floor is wet and slippery and we have no choice but to sit as still as possible as it swings around to the other side. Give me sheer drops anyday- the thought of the bike going over and me toppling into the river was terrifying -especially considering the weight of my bike kit and boots - I would sink like a stone.
Waiting for the Ferry
Once off the other side, we take 5 mins out before continuing into Dawson.
Finding a room was difficult and I started to worry that it was because we were bikers and covered in mud. After a helpful visit to the Visitors Centre, we get into a basic B&B in town.
As Darren says this place is weird like you are in a western. Add to that the 'Gold Panners' everywhere in odd outfits and strange hats, it really is surreal. Again, I was disappointed by the place, mainly because you couldn't get a decent drink and was keen to move on.
We camp on the Yukon River that night and wake up to a freezing morning, which thankfully means no mossies.
Yukon River Sunset
Our stop in Whitehorse the following day proves useful as I persuade Darren to let me buy a laptop (finally I have my own toy!) which turns out to be even cheaper than we expected thanks to the exchange rate in our favour.
We spend another day uploading photos and blogs then head on to Watson Lake.
We stop at the sign post forest and have a good look around before heading to our lodging, the local campsite was closed for the season already so we find a motel.
Sign post Forest
Next day see's us heading out and across into British Columbia on another infamous road - the Stewart Cassiar Highway...
From Watson Lake we head off for Stewart on the Stewart Cassiar Highway. After a detour at the Post Office to mail home another box of stuff we don't need, we turn onto the highway.
Straight away the road is really patchy and bumpy with the usual gravel every mile or two. The brush or forest here is really thick - straight away it feels like bear country. It is really enclosed as the trees are tall and the road is one lane wide. I feel isolated and in the middle of nowhere straightaway. This feeling gets worse the deeper we go and the less traffic we see.
After about 2 hours of trees and nothing else, I start to see glimpses of blue between them -some really big lakes. Then the views start to open out with mountains, lakes and trees, the combination is beautiful.
There is nothing on this road at all, no services, no petrol, no cafes - nothing. Just as we are starting to panic about fuel and the amber light confirms we are nearly out, we hit a small village. We stop for the fuel and a drink, then realise that there is a restaurant 50 feet away. Stopping there for a nice meal of the house buffet, we then head off at just after 6pm to our stop for the night in Iskut. The sun is getting low behind the mountains and I start worrying about it getting dark quickly out here. Then we come across awful road works, it is gravelly, muddy and very wet for some reason. We slide around for a while whilst trying to get up the steep hill, then down it, then we hit a bridge which is by far the worst. It has a metal gauze/ grid type floor which you can see the river 60 feet below through, it is shiny and slippery and basically every gap in the grid doesn't work with our knobbly tyres so some bits get stuck in the holes as we traverse it.
We finally decide to set up camp in a campground at the foot of a Mountain. It is a lovely and quiet spot as we are the only campers there.
Em has just mentioned the first day, but it actually took two days to complete the Stewart Cassier Highway, the second day from Iskut dawned cloudy and wet and after packing up the tent we set about trying to dodge the rain.
No luck though, we spend the next 4 hours riding on roads that get worse in tune with the weather. At one point we are riding on a road that is still under construction and is very wet, visibilty through the visor turns to zero - no fun when you are trying to pick the only line that will keep you upright. I keep a close eye on the fuel gauge whch has been flashing yellow for the last 30 miles, I know we need a fuel stop within the next 14 miles or a difficult day could potentially become a nightmare.
A fun road
Add into the fact that hands and feet are starting to become numb, the prospect of putting up the wet tent at the end of the day doesn't fill me with glee, I tell myself to get us first to a gas station then a motel to get warm and dry - this lifts my spirits in time for another metal floored bridge like the one Emma mentioned from the day before. What a surface, the combination of wet enduro tyres on the metal grid makes for interesting riding.
Thankfully around the corner we find the only fuel stop in the area (one other is closed for work) alongside the pumps is a rather posh fishing lodge complete with spa. After filling up with fuel we grab a hot drink and drip copious amounts of water onto the lodge floor as we sit, all the while I try to convince Em that maybe this would be a good place to stay.
Shes having none of it however, with an eye on the budget Em tells me that I should have wired up my heated vest (she has a point) as with her vest on, her mood and temperature is a great deal better than mine and insists we press on to Stewart in the rain.
Several hours later after passing through more stunning scenery that made an appearance through the rain occasionally, we reached Stewart.
Cold and wet we find a cheap motel to get ourselves and kit dry. In the hot shower, I think back to Ems commitment to the budget and smile - she was right of course.
Next day dawns with a bit of a luxury - a full breakfast and with full stomachs we ride out of Stewart some 3 miles to the border of Alaska. We cross from Canada back to Alaska and its one of those borders were the difference between the countries is vast. From tarmac and well built buildings we cross over to mud/gravel tracks and wooden shacks.
The reason for the detour is to visit the town of Hyder, it is here that the wildlife trust has an area that you can safely view bears in the wild as they feed at the river. We spend about an hour waiting and see nothing, I start to think back to the boat trip and not seeing the Whales and think that the Alaskan wildlife has something against us.
Then Em grabs my arm and points to a nearby tree, I look on in amazment as a Sow chases her two cubs up the tree before joining them. She is protecting her young from a male down by the river, so for the next 30 mins we watch the three bears sit in the tree, not 20ft away from us (maybe 40ft from Em as she is now backing away!) - a real privilege.
Bears in the woods
After another 3 mile ride we are back at the border once again telling the nice Canadian lady that we don't own a firearm, two minutes later we are back in Stewart and looking at the GPS for our next destination - a campsite in a native indian reserve called Moricetown.
As we leave Stewart I spot something crossing the road in front of us and slow down, its a Black Bear and Em gets the pic.
Bear crossing (just!)
The road to Moricetown cannot live up to the sights and fun of the Stewart Cassier Highway, but does have two more furry highlights. Rounding a bend a large male Black Bear sits looking at us as we pass, then a bit further down the road I spot something else black beside the road - as we approach I slow down and eventually stop and can't quite believe our luck. Another Sow with two cubs, she is not worried about the bike and sits looking at us, while the two cubs stand up on their hinds as if to pose, just 10ft away. Not wanting to put them or us in a situation that could be uncomfortable, I release the clutch and we ride off.
Our camp for that night is the Canyon Falls campground, which is again desserted.
Canyon river falls
We attempt to build a big fire to keep the mossies away, but the wood is too wet so we retire to the tent to play cards. After a good nights sleep we pack up and head off for a short ride to Smithers where we had planned some time out.
We are up fairly early and away from the Moricetown campsite, stopping to admire the Canyon falls as we leave.
The road is nothing special and after an hour or so we reach Smithers.
This is a nice town as it has one main drag (road in and out) and a small high street with interesting shops. Darren finds a great motel just near the high street and as the room isn't ready till mid afternoon we hang out in Macdonalds drinking coffee. We meet a really friendly canadian (trust me there weren't many) who tells us this bear story...
A giant grizzly that lived on the hills just out side of Smithers for years eating the cattle. He was the scourge of the farm world and farmers tried to catch him for years to no avail, he was too clever.
Finally 2 National Park Ranger's (one was this guy's cousin apparently) were put on the case. After months of tracking they manage to trap the bear in a wire leg noose, as the Rangers appoach, the bear broke free and ran for them, with only 7 feet between them they shoot the bear dead.
This bear is now stuffed and on display at the local airport, so we decide to head off and see it to kill some time.
One very large gizzly bear & me
We then return to the motel, stopping at a local falls which look pretty. The road up is- you guessed it- crappy muddy gravel and wet!
We hike up a mile to the falls in our biker gear which is hard going, then wonder why we bothered as the view is obscured by trees.
The stop in Smithers was a good one, as Em had some girly time (read, long baths, get away from bike & Darren) I took a walk around. It was actually the first time that I had time to myself where I wasn't doing something for the bike or trip - so I made the most of it by sampling the local bar and enjoyed a few pints. I also purchase the big knife that Em insisted we have for camping - just in case I can summon the courage to "check what that noise was" outside of the tent at 3am.
Feeling rested, we decide that the next destination, the town of Prince George, could be reached in one day if we pushed it, meaning a day closer to 300 miles in the saddle - a bit more than our average.
The road is tree lined for large areas meaning our view is limited, this makes the day drag a little and I am thankful for the ipod connected to the Autocom. We stop for lunch in a small town and manage to find a Chinsese resturant and so after a good chinese beef curry we set off for the final 170 miles to Prince George.
Along the roadside I see a placard advertising a place called Fort St James - an historic site that featured exhibits and people in period dress and I know this is right up Ems street, so after a quick chat, I thumb the left indicator and a high mileage day becomes even higher.
Fort St James is in a lovely spot on the edge of Stewart Lake.
It was a centre for trade and commerce in the 19th Century, chiefly the fur trade. It has been restored to a snapshot in time of 1896, with everthing as it would have been including period costumes worn by staff and many interesting items, set out in different buildings of the Fort. It was a lovely place to visit and the staff were very friendly and interesting to talk to.
Back to Darren:
After Fort St James, which turns out to be a good day out for all, I realise we still have a long way to go to reach Prince George and the clouds look rather unfriendly. We managed to skirt the weather front for the next 2 hours, but inevitably the final hour run into town was to see us get soaked, by this time its dark and we have covered well over 300 miles - so a motel it is then.
The motel room looks more like a chinese laundry as we try to get kit dry, but with the heating cranked up next day we are able to put on dry kit, ready for the days ride which should be exciting as we are heading for Robson Park and eventually Jasper in the National Park.
The sun is out, the scenery no longer obscured and we have a good run to Robson Park, the road to it gives some perspective to the size of Mount Robson itself, its north Americas highest peak and today just the top is shrouded in cloud.
Approaching Mount Robson
The final part of the day sees us heading for Jasper, on the way we cross into Alberta and pay our entry fee into the park - the scenery is breathtaking and gives us a glimpse of what the run down to Banff from Jasper may have to offer.
We camp just outside Jasper in Whistler state campground and use this as a base for the next few days as we explore Jasper park and the town itself. The town is more upmarket than we had seen so far, being a ski resort out of season and a tourist trap during the summer months.
Jasper park has a lot to offer and we rode most of the scenic byways to each of the numerous lakes, mountains and rivers - on route we saw a very large Stag by the roadside and the odd moose but very little other wildlife, this place seems to be more about the scenery.
After two nights in Whistler campground we pack up ready to ride down through the National Park to Banff, I manage to get this pic of Em doing her moisturising etc - who says a girl cant look after herself on the road!
I had been really looking forward to the ride to Banff and we had a full day ahead of us as we first stop at the stunning Athabasca Falls.
Its then onto the road itself - The Icefields Parkway, words cannot do this place justice, wherever you look you see high snow covered peaks, glaciers, lakes that are so blue that they look almost unreal and round each turn in the road it gets better.
We arrive at another stop - the Columbia Icefields and get the oppurtunity to walk out to the glacier itself and even to walk onto it. At this point it starts to snow and your breath is short giving some indication of the altitude we are at.
Walking on the Glacier
The day from there is full of "wow" and "look at that" comments over the autocom as we try to take in the scene.
Another twisty road
We come across an area of road that is virtualy blocked by tourists who have stopped to look at a Black Bear thats close to the roadside, its all camaras and people running around trying to get a look - until the Bear starts to eat one of the wing mirrors and everyone panics. In the melee, one fleeing pedestrian manages to run out in front of us - I thought it was the wildlife I had to look out for...
We arrive at Banff fairly late, the town is similar in feel to Jasper and after the recent camping we feel that an Inn with a hot bath might be a priority, before trying to get something to eat in the many bars.
I am more than happy with finding a curry house and Em finds her Estee Lauder in a posh shop so all is well. The plan is to use Banff as a base for a couple of days as we explore this end of the National Park.
First up we ride through the Bow Valley back up to Lake Louise before taking some time looking at the town.
Lake Louise is another stunning location and we have a picnic on the lake edge, its a hot day and we get some very strange looks due to our bike clothing - its a second skin to me now, but we must look out of place to some.
That night back at the town, the clouds thicken and next morning the mountains have turned white - the first snows of the season have arrived, its time to head south...
After Darren and I having a great time in Jasper and Banff and feeling that we had seen everything they had to offer we moved on.
This was actually a detour which I wanted to make to Calgary in Alberta as I have always wanted to go there, although I couldn't tell you why that is. Maybe it's just a place I have heard of so many times which made me want to visit it.
We decide after looking at the map that we can do a day trip there and back, then pass back by Banff on our way down to the USA.
We pass through the Rockies and along a straight road, which after 2 hours brings us into Calgary. This is by far the biggest city we have been in since the trip started and I have to admit that being in so much traffic with tight turns and traffic lights is quite unnerving after being in the back country for so long. I think I much prefer being 'out in the sticks' if I am honest.
After a drive round and visiting some local attractions we head back.
The scenery going back to Banff was worth going to Calgary for alone, from this direction you can see the Rockies stretching across the horizon and gradually getting larger as we approach.
The Rockies seen from Calgary
After passing Banff and continuing South we reach our stop over that night at Radium Hot Springs. We stop at a really nice restaurant called 'The Old Salzberg' and enjoy some German/ Swiss food which is a welcome break from giant burgers and fries. After helping Darren eat his pudding, it's off to find a campground for the night.
We follow a sign which takes us on a small track high above the town itself and find a really nice State campground in Kootenay National Forest. As we start to unpack the tent and get pitched a really friendly guy from the Netherlands comes over and says he thinks we could use a beer, then gives us two cans of ice cold lager. We are touched by his gesture and travellers spirit, helping out other travellers far from home is always a nice thing to do.
Two cans of lager = 1 happy Darren
After a restful night's sleep and another freezing cold night, we head back into town to the Radium Hot Springs.
This is a large outdoor swimming pool filled with hot water drawn directly from the thermal springs. It was lovely, like a hot bath and very relaxing, we stayed in there for over an hour!
After shoehorning ourselves back into our bike kit, we set off South once more.
This was a nice road that had lots of twisty turns, trees and now started to open out into parkland. The grass here was a straw colour and it was turning warmer now that we were leaving the mountains behind.
We find a campsite for the night in a ski resort called Fearnie. The site is in a forest on a hill and a state park area, which is a nice place to be with tall trees, but very limited facilities.
That night is freezing and neither of us get much sleep. A train further down in the valley keeps us awake with it's eerie whistles which echo through the trees like a horror movie.
That morning we pack up camp early and head for the USA border with warmer weather in mind as we chase the sun south...
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