Northward bound: an easy ride

by Raymond Parker on August 23, 2012

in Adventure, Cycling, History, Photography, Touring

“Free Camp,” near Endako, B.C.

The rest stop pictured above, on Highway 16 near Endako, British Columbia, was one of several clandestine campsites shared by Irish cycle tourist Conor Ahern and I, 18-years-ago.

We met several times; first in Whitehorse, Yukon, finally joining forces for a three-day traverse of the Yellowhead Highway (16) between Smithers and Vanderhoof, where we parted company.

Yesterday, I drove that stretch, east to west, in about 5 hours, not counting stops to photograph those sites and other roadside attractions.

A short drive today has landed Amanda and I in Terrace (not part of my original “Three Borders Tour” in 1994) with the intention of visiting Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park, which was established as part of the “Nisga’a Final Agreement,” between the Government of Canada and the Nisga’a Nation, in 2000.

The road to the park and the village of New Aiyansh, joins the Stewart Cassiar (37) at Cranberry Junction. I’d wanted to include this loop on my bicycle journey, but time constraints intervened. Instead, I took a short detour off #37 into Gitanyow, site of an extraordinary group of totems, copies of which reside near the Parliament Buildings, in Victoria.

Strangely, I’m feeling the same pressures by car, with only two weeks, instead of months, to spare.

Duffy Lake Road (99), joining the Sea to Sky Highway (99), between Pemberton and Lillooet, with Highway 97 and the desert climes of the Interior went by in darkness, and a blizzard of bugs in the headlights.

Driving over Pavillion Mountain via “Rattlesnake Grade,” part of the historic Cariboo Wagon Road between Pavillion and Kelly Lake, had me exclaiming “How the hell did I ride up this thing?” The switchbacks on either side (14% up from the Clinton side, which was my direction, in ’94) certainly merit the serpentine comparison.

More than a few mules expired on the arid flanks of Pavillion Mountain. Why not try camels? ventured one Gold Rush entrepreneur.

The weather plays its part on any adventure; after scorching temperatures through Lillooet and the Cariboo-Chilcotin, today has been stormy in the mountains, making it easy to rationalize the retreat to a motel … hence the access to WiFi.

Here’s a half-dozen snapshots from the journey so far.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add your spin! }

Randobarf September 2, 2012 at 9:46 am

Ray, you were ahead of your time riding the Stewart-Cassiar Highway 18 years ago. It now has a hard surface and is a popular cycling route. Your fellow Victoria-ite Jeff Kruys rode it recently:

While your motorist-caused injury is preventing you from enjoying epic bicycle tours you may wish to consider motorcycle touring. On a motorcycle you can use your bicycle camping gear, you can be exposed to rain and cold and you can be mauled by bugs just like a bicycle tourist. With knobby tires you can ride the Nisga’a Highway and even the Dempster Highway.


Conor Ahern September 3, 2012 at 4:47 am

All the gravel roads that made cycle touring the remote areas of Canada such a great adventure are slowly disappearing. All in the name of progress, judging from personal experience on my two visits to Canada, in 1994 and 2004, it seems to be for the benefit of the oil companies.


Raymond Parker September 3, 2012 at 8:49 pm

I figure if I’m going to rely on the infernal combustion engine, I might as well be fully-enclosed. Met lots of bug-encrusted motorcycle tourists along the way. None of them looked happy.

The Nisga,a Highway, at least the southern end, was paved and fairly tame. Glad I got to see New Aiyansh and the lava beds, at last. Planned that on the bike trip but time constraints intervened.

Indeed, I realized on this trip that I (and Conor Ahern) caught the final best years to cycle tour the Cassiar. However, quiet times will return soon.


Randobarf September 3, 2012 at 7:41 am

Conor, you will have to visit Canada again while cycling is still allowed. It’s our objective in Canada to become a successful petro-state like Nigeria! These days cyclists have to go further north to escape the madness. The route from Whitehorse to Inuvik is still good and hundreds of kilometers of it are dirt and gravel:

Cyclists are a threat to Canada because environmentalists can ride bikes and environmentalists are enemies of oil companies and therefore enemies of the state (according to the Government of Canada, which is beholden to oil companies). Here is a peek into the future of cycling in Canada, from the Calgary Herald newspaper, May 19, 2011 :

‘We discourage cyclists on Alberta highways,’ said Trent Bancarz, a communications officer with Alberta Transportation. ‘It’s legal. . . but it’s not something we encourage.’ Why? Several reasons, most to do with safety, liability and maintenance of highways, Bancarz said. ‘If you start putting all kinds of things into a right-of-way, where does it end? Someone wants a cherry stand or something like that?”


Conor Ahern September 3, 2012 at 12:28 pm

I noticed that sections of the Trans-Canada Highway in Saskatchewan had the paved shoulder removed between 1994 and 2004. I had to double check my old photos just to confirm it.


Randobarf September 3, 2012 at 1:56 pm

I am trying to discourage people from cycletouring on the Trans-Canada Highway. It was never great and now it is quite unacceptable, especially through Manitoba and Ontario. There are narrow to nonexistent shoulders, rumble strips and heavy traffic. People (myself included) have an irrational urge to cycle across Canada, even though much of the Trans-Canada Highway is simply awful. For a lovelier cross-Canada route I recommend taking the ferry from Victoria, British Colombia (“mile zero”) to Anacortes, Washington then riding on the Adventure Cycling Association Northern Tier route to Bar Harbor, Maine and then Saint John, New Brunswick, North Sydney, Nova Scotia and St. Johns, Newfoundland. That route includes a 6,912 kilometer section that is technically in the United States but it’s a lot more fun than cycling the Trans-Canada Highway.

For decent cycling routes that are strictly within Canada, cyclists must be selective these days. Some of the north-south routes in western Canada are very nice for cycling. Quebec has fabulous cycling routes. Parts of the Atlantic Provinces are ok. I would avoid the middle part of Canada (and southern Vancouver Island!).


Conor Ahern September 3, 2012 at 2:57 pm

In 1994 I started my journey in Marathon,Ontario in late march, my next port of call was Calgary before heading north to Whitehorse and Skagway, from there it was south again to Calgary via the Cassiar Highway. After a few days in Calgary it was south to Vail, Colorado and then east to New York, where my journey ended after 5 months, on the border of Pennsylvania and New York. By the end I was exhausted physically and mentally, I met my brother, who took me home and put me to bed and I finally woke up 3 days later. No problems with traffic but on my 2004 visit traffic was scary even on the Alaska Highway it was non-stop all day, so I turned around and went east to Ontario and a plane back to Ireland. Things had changed drastically in just 10 years.


Randobarf September 3, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Indeed, traffic has changed drastically. There has been an absolute explosion of RV’s in Alberta and British Columbia. For that reason alone the Trans-Canada Highway and the Icefields Parkway (in Banff and Jasper National Parks) should be avoided in the summer. A couple of weeks ago I did a circle tour of British Columbia and Alberta, including Vancouver and Jasper and there was a horrible plague of giant RV’s. It was the worst tour I have ever been on. The RV’s have caused a drastic reduction of cycletourists in the mountain parks in Alberta.

The RV’s on the Alaska Highway are seasonal so it possible to avoid them by cycling very early in the spring and late in the fall. Many of the biggest, most dangerous RV’s are driven by demented old seniors who migrate to Alaska from the southern States in the spring and return south for the winter. Another benefit of cycletouring in the shoulder seasons is the absence of bugs! There may be a little snow but snow is a lot better than bugs.


Raymond Parker September 5, 2012 at 3:08 pm

RB, as a demented old senior myself, I resemble that comment. Good thing I don’t have an RV. That’ll be the day it’s time to get a rocking chair and a shawl.

One thing I noticed hasn’t changed (yes, there are more of them) is RVers preference for the confines of their travelling homes to the Great Outdoors that lay at their doorstep, and the infernal thrumming of the generators that power their comforts.

At least I took my laptop to the picnic table to watch home movies! 🙂


Randobarf September 5, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Ha, ha! I am sure I am now permanently banned from Victoria for that remark about seniors. However, seniors are out of control! The most insanely demented seniors are buying giant RV’s and terrorizing the highways with their dementia! I mean they are doing things like driving on the wrong side of the road, driving on the highway with the pop-outs open, driving at night with nighttime driving restrictions, passing cyclists without moving over, knocking over trees in the campground, running their generators so they can make microwave popcorn, etc, etc. These people should not be allowed out of the house. They definitely should not be allowed to drive a vehicle the size of a house.

I apologize to all the seniors who are not demented who are not being as reckless and irresponsible as they can be by driving an RV,

Ray, please post some pictures of Victoria because I am obviously never going to see Victoria again after posting this comment.


Raymond Parker September 5, 2012 at 8:52 pm

Look for an upcoming post. I will endeavour to include some demented seniors.


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