Introduction by Matt Schiff
It’s been a while since we’ve given a good update, but you can’t blame us, we’ve been outdoors having fun (the story of our golden year – 2010). We spent the last two weeks passing through three National Parks and countless provincial parks in Canada but before that we were hammering out pedal strokes in rural country trying to make up a bit of time. We’ve been REALLY busy for the last month.
Great news! Patriots listen up. We’ve crossed the border and been welcomed home. Life is once again experienced in Red, White, and Blue (with the eagle flying high). We’re back in the United States. That means we enjoy nationwide cell phone coverage, cheaper food, even cheaper beer, and no more distance or temperature conversions. But don’t get me wrong; we loved Canada. We learned bits and pieces of French, described distances in clicks, and were so close to adding “eh” to the end of our sentences. Furthermore, people in Canada are some of the friendliest. That’s a challenge to the rest of our American compadres. Show us your hospitality, open up the doors to your house, and feed us a meal we can’t stop talking about. With one chapter of the trip done and another now beginning, we’re in the middle stage of looking forward, but continually digesting what has happened over the past 6 weeks.
For that duration of the trip we have all selected a few memorable stories of our time in Canada (so grab a map and follow our journey). Here is what we came up with:
On a rainy day we stopped in Jade City, nothing more than a small gift shop luring travelers with free hot chocolate and coffee. Here you could find just about anything you wanted made with jade. As I soon learned, British Columbia mines most of the world’s jade and the company that owned the gift shop was one of the larger ones. They exported most of their loot, and sadly, all of the crafted pieces of jewelry were first shipped overseas to Asia to be formed into earrings or bears before being brought back to Jade City for sale. While in the gift shop I was thinking hot chocolate and coffee, and chatted with a guy riding 600 miles a day on a sport bike, but later I thought of the implications of all this mining, shipping, and refining of these treasure stones. After being warmed up by at least 3 cups of hot chocolate or coffee we left high on sugar and caffeine. Now we were warm. The rain had even stopped.
Another stop found us in Kitwanga, BC. In Kitwanga the grocery store was closed. It had been for the past month as the owner had died and no one was ready to work 7 days a week to take his place. This meant a missed opportunity for a well needed rest day despite the free in-town camping. We had the place to ourselves, but in the evening a van pulled in with a talkative old man. I think he was full of jokes and told lies or else he was just crazy. He said he’d just picked up his wife at a casino. He talked about knowing where the gold was. He talked even when we said “good night” and walked away. This was just another normally unique night at the junction of the Cassiar and Yellowhead Highways.
We traveled over 2,000 miles in Canada, and thus there are a lot of epic stories. As we discuss our favorite moments in Canada we remind each other of stories forgotten in the whorlwind of travel. Thus picking a few of my favorite stories was tricky. I’ll tell you about a day hike we did near Hazelton, BC.
When we rolled into Hazelton we were ready for a rest day. At the grocery store we asked locals about good hikes in the area and Blue Lake was mentioned several times. Blue Lake was off the highway on about 5 miles of 4-wheel drive road, followed by 5 miles of hiking trail. We figured we would find a campsite on the dirt road. Let me tell you that it is hard to find camping along a road that goes straight up a mountain. The trouble was that the mosquitoes were thick enough to make you go crazy, so there was never a point where we could calmly discuss the situation. None of us could sit still, so we just kept pushing our bikes up the steep road. Finally we found a nice pullout and called it home for the next two nights.
In the morning Matt, Alyssum, and I packed our lunches in our bike panniers (yeah, we don’t have backpacks) and headed up the mountain. The trail to the lake was nice. It wandered through hemlocks and passed by boreal toads, leading us to Blue Lake. Blue Lake was more of a glacier till emerald than blue. Alyssum and I ran through the shallows and jumped in for a few moments. Blue Lake was cold!
Next we took off cross country; up talus slopes, rock outcrops, mossy hills, boulder fields, snow shoots, and snow fields. We aimed for a peak, that hours later offered us an amazing view of our Blue Lake, layers of jagged ridges covered in rusty reds, and scattered peaks shadowed with ribbons of snow. It would have been easier with ice axes, crampons, and backpacks- rather than tennis shoes and bike panniers- but we made do with what we had. Thus that hike sticks out in my mind as a favorite moment in Canada.
Canada is a wild place, and it is full of wild things. The story I want to tell is not necessarily my favorite story from Canada, but it is one that I still feel the excitement course through my veins as I begin to remember the details.
After climbing out of the Stikine river valley we were hungry and it was about lunch time so we decided to find a place in the shade to hang out and eat. Not but a few moments after sitting down we heard a rustle in the trees overhead. “What was that? A big bird, maybe a raccoon?” Then the powerful yet slinky silhouette of a Pine Marten emerged from the leaves just above us. The Pine Marten is a member of the weasel somewhere between the wolverine and the mink in size. It spends most of its time up in the tree tops making a living on squirrels and songbirds. The sighting was so unexpected, like many wildlife sightings, that before I could fully realize the rarity of this encounter…it was over. Luckily, Sara and I were able to grab cameras for a few quick shots.
To give you an idea of how rare it is to spot one of these animals, I spent a whole summer studying the Fisher, a close relative of the Marten, and its habitat in California and never saw a single one.
Seeing something so amazingly agile, so strong and so wild reminds me of how important wild places are. We knew that choosing the Cassiar Highway was the remote option with less food refueling stations and rougher roads but we also knew that it would bring us more wildlife and wild times.
As Aaron said, our route through Canada was the most remote section of our trip. We traveled through miles of forests, mountains, and endless lakes. People living here are used to the remoteness and their distance from other human beings. After crossing the Cassiar we headed east on the TransCanada highway towards the rocky mountains. Farmers were out bailing their hay and the occasional fisherman sat by the river. One evening when we were pulled over at a rest stop talkingabout where to cook dinner and camp, a local man, Keith, pulled over and before any sort of introductions he offered to have us camp in his yard. What good timing! We were shocked and extremely grateful. After brief introductions we took down directions to his house, found our way up the hill, and down a few forest service roads to what seemed like the only house for miles. At the end of his driveway he greeted us in front of his house. There was a beautiful garden full of salad greens, vegetables and all sorts of berries, a view of the river valley, and hundreds of acres of forests. That evening, to our surprise, we enjoyed the luxuries of showers, beer, and dinner outside in a shaded bug free gazebo. In the morning we caught the end of a Tour de France stage, enjoyed pancakes and even rode away with fresh vegetables from Keith’s garden.
People have been incredibly generous to us. Another memorable day was when were stopped in Bell II (along the Cassiar Highway) eating lunch and doing laundry. Unexpected rainy weather had brought a BC road construction crew inside as well, as they couldn’t work on surfacing the road in the rain. We chatted with them a bit as we waited for our laundry. They were happy to have the afternoon to relax even though they would be behind on work. They ended up offering us their government prepared lunches. We left with a bag full of extra food: sandwiches, apples, oranges, granola bars and best of all an Oh Henry! Candy bar. Thanks for your generosity!
We saw some fantastic scenery all throughout Canada. The Canadian rockies were so beautiful it became hard to bike more than 50 miles in a day, not because the climbing was too much, but because we had to keep on stopping just to take it all in. I think the pictures can tell most of those stories.
Some other moments are harder to get the full story with just a picture though. One of those moments was one of my favorite campsites on this trip. After battling a fierce headwind most of the day, we were haggard and ready for a place to gather our composure. The one problem was that the Canadian Rockies had just spit us out into the farm lands of the great plains on the east side. Finding a place to camp was going to be slim pickings. We pulled into the small town of Cowley to inquire about a good place to rest our bones. Sara happened to strike up a conversation with a local and he said “the gazebo would be an alright spot to sleep”. Sara then proceeded to ask whether we would get kicked out in the middle of the night by the local sheriff. Our new friend answered “it will be alright, just tell anybody that asks that the mayor said it was ok”. Sara then asked “are you the mayor?” He answered “nahh but no one will know the difference”. With that we had a place to sleep in the gazebo.
It turned out to be a nice little city park, perfect for cooking and sleeping. It was a classic warm summer night and it sure felt good to be off the bike. Matt and I went for a walk to find some water and we ended up cruising the whole town. Most everybody seemed to be out either watering their garden or just hanging out on their porch. It was a great small town feeling! Other than the extremely close proximity to a railroad tracks it was a fantastic campsite that popped up out of nowhere.
There was also a bit of night entertainment when a cowboy in full suit, including a 10 gallon hat and cowboy boots (with spurs) rode by extremely fast on a bmx bike a few times. I think we all said to ourselves “now that’s something you don’t see every day!”