A mini cruise, Highway 16 and back road fun

(Giant gnats, grumpy grouse and gravel)

The two days on the ferry from Skagway to Prince Rupert allowed us to see some absolutely stunning scenery of the Alaskan islands and fjords.

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It has given us some ideas for future holidays that will involve paddles rather than two wheels.

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British Columbia greeted us with darkness (we had become used to the 24 hour daylight) and rain. It was, however, warmer and we could console ourselves with Dairy Milk, choccie digestives and liquorice all sorts (all available in Canada). The road from Prince Rupert promised some superb scenery, had the mist lifted….

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Every so often I would disturb a grouse that was close by the roadside. The first one I encountered gave me quite a fright when it puffed out it’s feathers, hissed and came chasing after me. They certainly are angry birds. The further eastwards and towards the interior we went, the drier it became and eventually the sun came out. It was needed to dry the three days of solid rain from us. At last we could see the tops.

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We stumbled across the most idyllic campground near Burns Lake. The area had received some grants for a project to create some mountain biking trails and had also made camping spots around the lake in the middle of the biking park. We chose a spot at the far side of the lake that could only be reached by riding 2k of trail to get to it. It was private, quiet and had it’s own jetty into the lake. It would have been rude not to have had a swim.

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As we were steadily trending eastwards along Highway 16, the traffic was increasing and the hard shoulder was decreasing in quality. We had been spoilt on the roads up north. We reached Vanderhoof and spotted on a map that there were some back roads between there and Quesnel. We asked in the Tourist Information about the roads and were told that they did not recommend them as they were very difficult to navigate and we could get lost in the wilderness. Challenge accepted! We bought the appropriate maps and headed off gleefully into the unknown…… and what a good decision that was. Quiet roads (one day we saw one vehicle in six hours and the total for that day was 4), stunning scenery (forests and lakes, what’s not to like?) and basic but tranquil campsites that were free (the Forestry Service provides a tree free camping area with an outhouse and somewhere to hang your food from for no charge).

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Oh, and plenty of free firewood. Turns out I have some pyromaniac tendencies.

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And basic facilities meant we were back to washing/swimming in lakes. No ice to break through here though.

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The gravel quality was variable which made for interesting riding. The crunching of our tyres helped to alert the bears that we were around. We did see a black bear. Unfortunately there is no photo of it as it was the closest we had been to one and I was too scared to get the camera out. We saw moose, osprey, chipmunks, deer, eagles and, surprisingly, cows.

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Being in the forest meant that the mosquitoes were fierce and did cause a bit of discomfort. The gravel roads have been tough on the tyres.

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It’s been a superb four days of back roads and we are eagerly planning a back road trip from Quesnel to Williams Lake for our next stretch. Nothing like a road less travelled.

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The Klondike Highway

Dawson City, Yukon Territory, to Skagway, Alaska

Northern Klondike – Dawson City to Whitehorse

The northern part of the Klondike Highway criss crosses with the mighty Yukon, Klondike, Pelly and Stewart rivers; rich with gold mining history and stories of pioneers to the last frontier.

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However, this is mainly what we saw for several days…

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Trees, and lots of them. We had been warned about the endless roads lined with trees in the Yukon but until you have cycled them for a few days, it’s difficult to understand just how crazy they can send you. At one point Badge leapt off his bike to perform emergency first aid on a car injured butterfly on the road. What had traumatised him most was the circling and flapping of its friend, therefore destined for the same fate.

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No birthday beer for me, just a birthday bear; fortunately seen swimming away from us across a river that had a current so strong the bear was moving fairly quickly downstream away from us. Thank you so much to the Agombars and Chris for my birthday quiz, it helped to occupy our minds through the dark times in the woods! Services were well spaced out (though well worth the 60k ride for).

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Food was scarce to get so after 4 days on the road (200+ miles), at the sight of our first cafe, Badge walked up to the counter and asked for the biggest thing on the menu! Campsites were non existent or very basic so showers did not feature. Washing involved a dip in the lake, even the frozen one…

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The northern Klondike was tough and tried to break our spirit. But we did not let it. I had plenty of opportunities to navel gaze and ponder at reaching the grand age of 40. My main conclusion is life is generally better with a hot shower and food.

Southern Klondike – Whitehorse to Skagway

We had a good stopover in Whitehorse. We stayed with a couple of cyclists we had contacted through warm showers. For those not in the know, it’s not as dodgy as it sounds. It’s an online community for cycle tourers where you can arrange to stay with other cyclists. They gave us a bed, fed us and let us use their washing machine. I would highly recommend it to any other cyclists. It’s a great way to meet new people.

We also had to find a bike shop because Badge needed a new chain for his bike. He claims it’s because he’s carrying all the weight….

The first two days out of Whitehorse had a pretty strong head wind and what should have taken us one day took us two. It did mean that we stayed at a place where the whole family (on bikes), plus two dogs, accompanied us out to the highway for a proper send off. Then we reached Carcross and the scenery just exploded into mountainous beauty.

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The road wound it’s way round lakes and gradually took us up to White Pass, the border between Canada and Alaska. It was a mixture of Norway and Scotland and was an absolute joy to ride.

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We encountered some furry ‘friends’ along the way

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Towards the top of pass we hunkered under a small shelter whilst a hail storm threw icy chunks at us and thunder and lightening boomed overhead. Then, a black bear sauntered by about 15 metres away. My heart was in my mouth. He looked at us but was a lot more interested in the willow shoots that were on offer all around. To be fair, they probably smelt a lot sweeter than we did. For about 30 minutes we had the privilege of watching a wild animal go about its daily business. The perfect birthday gift for me.

It was a white out at the top of the pass which made for interesting riding. The landscape was arctic-like again and I was excited to see purple saxifrage and mountain avens. We put on all our clothes at the top in preparation for the 10 mile descent to Skagway – what a ride! We flew into US customs but could barely fish our passports out of our bags due to numb fingers. She had to repeat everything she said until I took off my two hoods and a hat.

To finish off a most extraordinary day, we had an earthquake in the night of 5.8.

We are now in Skagway and to conform to all middle aged tendencies, now that I am 40 we are going on a cruise. Well, we are going to catch a ferry that will take us 2 1/2 days to get to our destination. A Claire and Badge style cruise.

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