It was another warm and beautiful day leaving New Hazelton. The trees lining the highway (aspen?) are a vibrant green and snow-capped mountains dot the horizon. We make quick work of our final miles on highway 16 and soon reach the junction with 37, the Cassiar Highway, marked by a large quantity of slightly redundant road signs. We pull over for a photo op and have lunch at the lone gas station at the junction.
The town of Kitwanga sits at the base of the highway and I stop to pick up some bear spray from the general store in town. We’ve been hearing horror stories of bears for the last few days and I want something to put my mind a bit at ease. Heading north into the wilderness and wind, the scenery does nothing but become more impressive. Mountains continue to line both sides of the road as it snakes through the valley, moving from ponds and reeds to dense pine forest and back again.
As evening approaches we begin searching for a campsite for the night and soon find a pulloff on the side of the road that goes back far enough to offer some privacy from the highway. After setting camp and cooking some freeze-dried meals we put our food up in a tree for the night. I have a bit of trouble trying to apply my mountaineering knots to the situation but manage to keep the food aloft somehow.
Though the sun has a couple hours left, the mosquitoes begin coming out in force and we retire to our tents. Reading my book, I count nine of the blood suckers on just one of my tent walls. Sleep comes and goes as I am awakened by rustling in the forest. A bear is trying to get our food, and its attempts go on for hours. Luckily we find in the morning that our food is still hanging from the tree.
There is no civilization here. Rest stops with pit toilets and trash cans (called “litter barrels” here) are spaced about fifty miles apart, and the towns are much more infrequent. We fetch water from a stream in the morning and get on the road late. It’s hot again and we climb over hills, winding our way north. Soon larger mountains than we’ve been seeing appear on the horizon and the constant up and down turns into just up as evening approaches and we reach Meziadin Junction. The road here splits and heads off towards Stewart. One part of Alaska is only thirty miles away now but we have nearly a thousand miles to go before we reach our border crossing.
At the junction there are two separate pairs of hitch hikers trying to make their way north, and a black bear and her cubs is a hundred yards up the hill, right next to the road we need to take. We talk to the hitch hikers a bit while waiting out the bears and eventually head into the hills, bear spray in hand. Over the next three miles we run into two more black bears right on the side of the road, but waiting at a distance for passing cars to scare them off seems to be a good strategy. One truck driver is especially helpful, stopping his truck and repeatedly honking to scare off the bear.
The hill keeps on rising and the sun dips briefly below the steep side of the mountain, causing the temperature to plummet. My legs feel fresh but Donald is flagging [ed. note: because he didn’t eat enough food] so we begin to hunt for a campsite. There’s another pullout a couple miles later; it doesn’t have much privacy from the road but we need to stop so we take it. Treeing the food is much easier this evening after I’ve had some time to think of the proper way to do it. Perhaps the nearby river simply muffles the sound, but I don’t hear any bears trying to get at our food here.
Rain and cold greets us the next morning. While fetching water the rain nearly stops, teasing us with the prospect of a decent day before returning to a downpour. After a bit of sitting in our tents in dread we set off once again into the hills, climbing higher through the miserable weather.
There are feet of snow in the forests and meadows on either side of the road now and a mist comes and goes. On my left pine trees dot a snowy lake, a light mist covering it all. I want to take a photo but between my reluctance to bring out my camera in the rain and the fact that my clumsy heavy gloves make operating it time consuming I settle for burning the memory into my head. A flock of small birds sits in trees on the side of the road, flying further down the road with us as if leading the way.
These scenes are able to remove me from the cold briefly but soon reality returns. I am now experiencing the freeze-thaw cycles of the seasons every twenty minutes – as we race down hills large drops of rain pelt me as my legs and face freeze, only to once again feel warmth while climbing steadily up a steep hill.
This continues on for a couple hours before a long descent brings us out of the mountains. The mist has lifted and snowy mountains are visible very close on either side as we follow a river towards the town of Bell II. Eventually we arrive to find the town consists of a lodge and only a lodge. The rates are exorbitant but the shower and bed are worth it.
The next day is rainy and cold and we decide to take a rest day in Bell II.
Back on the road Monday and we have to be out by ten, super early for us. The bridge in Bell II was damaged by a truck last summer and they are repairing it now. As such the bridge is closed for much of the day and we have to make a certain time window or be stuck waiting.
We cross the bridge in front of the cars and soon it begins to rain. Climbing over multiple small mountain passes, the rain eventually relents. There are more snow covered mountains all around us, the peaks shrouded by clouds. We pass a black bear that just stares at us and get warned of an upcoming grizzly but never see it. The bear spray makes its way into my handlebar bag.
Eventually some blue sky shows itself and a tailwind picks up. Cars are far and few between as they cannot pass the bridge at Bell II and the highway becomes a bike path. Over another pass, the road comes upon a wide valley. The mountains are getting smaller now, or less snowy at least and we begin making good time. Another few hours in the saddle lands us in the outskirts of Iskut.
Day 17: 67
Day 18: 64
Day 19: 52
Day 20: 0
Day 21: 96