–Hard up on the same gravel road that leads out of Hyder to the Salmon Glacier is a superlative salmon-spawning stretch of streambed that is also in great bear habitat. The result is that for a few weeks in late July and August, you can get an up-close view of salmon-feeding bears.
So, I got up early today and rode out. It was late in the spawning time, so up and down the stretch of stream you could see the partly decomposed bodies of dead salmon, and others lethargically swimming in pace with the current. It didn’t take long before a black bear mother and her cub came wandering up the stream. Like kids in a candy shop, they’d eye what was on offer, swat a fish up for a bite or two, drop it, and move on to a more attractive specimen. They both sported a healthy layer of fat and seemed eminently content to take their time.
Back in Stewart I settled down at a likely breakfast spot, the Rookery, on the ground floor of the former bordello.
Like other readers who have seen or are in their mid-40s, I’ve come to realize what age does to your metabolism. So, I strive to think about what I eat and make “healthy choices.” The waitress comes up to my table:
“So, what will you have?”
“Well, I’m torn between the salmon and bagel, and the granola with yogurt. What do you think?”
Silence. She frowns.
“Hrm,” I stall, looking higher up on the menu. “Maybe I should have the eggs, toast and potatoes…”
Her face brightens, but still the silence.
She smiles broadly, “That’s what you should have. Give you energy for the day.”
The bread and sausage are both homemade. It’s delicious.
After breakfast, I take off back to and up the Stewart-Cassiar. The road has been fully-paved for a few years now, and winds up and down valleys through thick, coniferous forests that gradually shrink and thin along the course of its 400 miles, passing through two mountain ranges along the way. They’ve cleared right-of-way along a few dozen miles of the road for power line construction, but otherwise the forest closes in close to the road though the sight-lines are good. I’m kind of interested in checking out the abandoned mining town of Cassiar
, but I miss the turnoff and keep heading north.
I see four more bears along the roadside coming up the Stewart-Cassiar. The first lets me pull up within 50’ or so and watch him munch on roadside plants for a few minutes. The others scamper off before I can slow down for them.
By late afternoon I pull into Boya Lake Provincial Park, near the Yukon border. I’ve thought of spending the night here, but there is plenty of daylight left and I’ve got an urge to keep going. The lake though, is a standout even among the brightly colored glacial lakes in the north. Boya is a particularly striking shade of green/blue, and notably clear. I find a campsite, get off the bike and relax for a while eating a powerbar lunch. “Stay or go,” I think. After a few pictures and washing my face off in the lake water, I decide to go.
Not long after crossing the border into the Yukon, I intersect the Alaska Highway and turn west. The Alaska Highway, I find, is a two-lane highway graded like an Interstate with expansive, mown right-of-ways that stretch for more than 150’ on each side. Low, forested hills surround with occasional views opening up. The result is less appealing than the Stewart-Cassiar, and I’m happy to find a campsite at Dawson Peaks Resort after a two-hour ride, squinting into the setting sun.
Salmon in prime spawning habitat, aka bear-breakfast
Salmon-feeding black bear and cub
The little guy in all his glory
Abandoned storefront, Hyder
– When I rode in the evening before, I wondered whether the resort was closed up for the season already. The motel rooms and cabins were empty, and the main building had the closed sign up more than a half-hour before closing time. But there were a few others in the campground, so I had picked a spot and set up.
This morning I meet Dave at the front desk. At 65-years-old he looks young and spry, but he is winding down a bit early this year, and after more than 20 years of operation this is his last season. He built the resort with his own hands, and runs the place with his wife, Carolyn, through the summer season. They spend their winters in warmer climates, often Thailand. “We live in a house on land adjoining, so we’re going to hold on to the place for a couple of years and take our time selling. We want to find folks that we’re happy to have as neighbors.”
After my camp breakfast of oatmeal and coffee I ride off, following the Alaska Highway for another 60 miles before taking the turnoff for Skagway, Alaska. Now I’m following the path (in reverse) of the Klondike gold rush, where men came streaming up the Chilkoot Pass from Skagway, making their way to Dawson. It’s a beautiful ride, through forests and alpine meadows with glacier carved lakes and rough stone outcroppings. The road passes back into British Columbia and then into Alaska at the top of the steepest section of the pass. Minibuses disgorge cruise ship passengers who then mount bicycles to coast the 15 miles back down to town.
An Alaskan I met in Hyder said I had to take Dyea Road out from Skagway. The road makes an easy nine-mile ride out to the old townsite of Dyea where many of the Klondike gold-seekers geared up before tackling the Chilkoot. It’s peaceful walking around old Dyea, which hardly resembles the rough and ready town in the pictures I see. All that remains are a few, quickly decaying wood facades and foundations and the occasional piece of detritus among the trees.
Skagway is another story entirely. While the outlying town is genuine enough, downtown resembles nothing so much as Mainstreet USA at Disney World. With thousands of cruise ship passengers ambling up and down three or four blocks of curio shops, “saloons,” and jewelry stores. The cruise ships themselves sit hulking and improbable at the edge of town. I’m lucky to arrive just 45 minutes before the daily ferry to Haines departs.
Haines is a sharp contrast to Skagway, oriented more toward a hard-core of local commercial fishermen and an outdoor adventure industry (the local newspaper features a story about heli-skiing permit controversy). Walking around town there’s a combination of young, skinny hiker-types and older, stouter residents. I set up my tent in one of the town’s campsites and while starting up a load of laundry nearby I meet a young couple from Ohio. They’re working summer jobs leading tourists on rock-climbing outings. “My older brother works for the same company leading expeditions in Asia. This is how he started out,” the young woman says. I ask if they’ll make a career of it. “Why not?” she says. “For a while, anyway.”
There’s a chill in the air as I eat dinner on the deck at Fireweed, a hip restaurant with good beer and pizza; a view of Portage Cove below and towering, snow-capped mountains beyond.
Approaching Teslin on the Alaska Highway
Another global adventure rig on the road to Skagway
Southern entry to the Canol Road
(I'll have to save it for another trip)
Views from the Klondike Highway
Skagway license plate
Downtown Skagway with cruise ship and mountain
– I wake up to rain, but manage to pack the tent up under the partial shelter of a thick spruce tree. Today I’m thinking I’ll make a short ride up to Kluane National Park. There’s supposed to be a hike near Kathleen Lake that gives a great view into the heart of the roadless mountain park.
The ride up the Haines Highway reminds me of the Scottish Highlands. Cool rain, snowy mountain tops, and wide treeless valleys, with mist and cloud playing at many levels. Very few other vehicles on the road today and I just sort of bliss out on the scenery, stopping frequently to turn off the bike, take off the helmet and enjoy the silence.
When I reach Kathleen Lake, however, the clouds sit low and it’s clear that the hike would only give me a view of mist. So, I stay on the road, gas up at Haines Junction, and continue on the Alaska Highway. This stretch is more engaging than the last, with the Kluane Range seeming to maintain an almost impenetrable wall to the south and west for more than 100 miles. I wonder, what’s behind that range? The answer, I later learn, is a massive system of mountain glaciers and snowfields extending well into Alaska – thousands of square miles.
I ride on into the day. I can’t even recall the border crossing, but I do pass back into Alaska and eventually make my way to Tok. After 450 miles on the saddle I’m ready to settle in, so I grab a likely motel room, buy a few local beers and cook up a camp dinner before turning in early.
Views from the Haines Highway
Stewart BC to Tok AK