After spending six days island hopping in South-East Alaska, I re-entered Canada in Prince Rupert. From there, I got back on the road to start the long crossing of British Columbia (B.C.) following the Yellowhead Highway all the way to Jasper National Park in Alberta Province.
That Yellowhead Highway is a major east-west connection linking the four western Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. The highway is named after the Yellowhead Pass, the route chosen to cross the Canadian Rockies. That pass got its name from a fur trader and explorer named Pierre Bostonais. He had yellow streaks in his hair, and was nicknamed “Tête Jaune” (Yellowhead).
In the late morning of July 26, the Alaska State Ferry, which I had boarded at Sitka docked at Prince Rupert. Since my bike had been stored in the back of the ferry, I was one of the last getting ashore and, thus, was pretty much at the end of the immigration queue. I was clouded by the exhaust of all those RVs (“Recreational Vehicles” – those massive motorhomes popular in North America) that all had their engines running. That was indeed not a pleasant welcome to Canada. I saw a customs officer walking by and asked him whether I could push my bike through the pedestrian counter. I wasn’t allowed to but he said as a cyclist, it’s no issue to jump the queue and just walk up to the front. What a relief! As expected, two elderly couples got upset at me. I smiled back at them and said that I had clearance from the customs officer. He definitely saved me 45 minutes of my time queuing and passing through the stringent Canadian customs work. I assume one of the reasons for the thorough border control might be the Americans’ obsession with fire arms. Although Americans are permitted to carry certain guns into Canada, they must abide by the strict gun control laws enforced by the government. After being cleared for entry, I jumped on my bike and once I noticed I had tailwinds, my legs were going strong. I felt like a sled dog finally being unleashed. 🙂
For the next 300 km, I had to cruise along the massive Skeena River. Today’s destination was Terrace, the first town after Prince Rupert. I was so focused on the road and feeling quite dehydrated, when out of nowhere, I heard a loud bang. It took me a second to realise that it was my back tire, which had just gone bust. Damn it! I was about 10km away from the campground, but I was obviously compelled to stop and fix my tire.
Frankly, I had been very happy with my tires which suited my terrain perfectly since I commenced pedalling in Anchorage. But I guess on a trip like this you have to face such a blow out at some point. I unloaded my stuff, checked the tire, and soon realised why it had been so noisy and deflated instantly. My tire and tube had a 3 cm cut, which meant I had to replace both. Luckily, I was carrying a spare. 40 minutes later, I was back on my bike rolling into Terrace, thirsty and starving. The first gas station definitely made good business with my visit.
On the following day, I smoothly rode to Kitwanga, a small Native Indian town further up the Skeena River. The highlight of that day, however, was not related to cycling. After I had set up my tent and started to cook my dinner I had my very first close bear encounter. I heard some noise in the bushes and initially suspected some wildlife, maybe squirrels or birds, but what walked out and by was beyond my expectation. It was a mommy bear with her two excitable cubs who slowly walked by and checked me out at about 10-15 meters distance. I carefully armed myself with the bear spray in one hand, and my camera, in the other. It was a mixed feeling of excitement and nervousness since I had never been that close to a bear family before. I was relieved when they disappeared in the woods again. Later, I chatted with the campground owner and told him about the incident. He laughed and explained that this campground is located adjacent to this bear family’s turf. 🙂 Before going to sleep, I had to secure my food supplies in the shower room of the campground to avert any possibility of the bears returning and snooping around near my tent. Needless to say, I slept with one eye open that night.
The following days went by fast. I cruised through familiar looking scenery that I used to see around my German hometown as well as in the Alps. The highlight was a neat little town called Smithers, where I stayed at Lisa’s place, whom I had met in Alaska in June. She is such a hospitable person that we ended up having a group of cyclists and campers in her backyard. Originally, I planned to have a rest day but thought it would be nice to team up with Kirstin from Germany and Matteo from France, both cyclists, for a couple of days since they were also headed towards Prince George.
Everywhere we went we met really lovely people at campgrounds. They were genuinely curious about our trips and always offered us goodies such as snacks, fruits, s’mores, drinks, or they invited us for a full breakfast. One of those instances happened at the campground in Vanderhoff, a small town just before Prince George. A family who had a reunion over a long weekend didn’t want to let us go unless we tried their pancakes with homemade jam and maple syrup, boiled eggs, and coffee. It’s amazing how many warm and kind people you come across especially when you travel on bikes. Do we really look so pitiful? 🙂
On August 1, I arrived at Prince George. It wasn’t of any particular interest to me, even though it calls itself the capital of Northern B.C. I took one day off from biking to relax, read, do my laundry, and stock up with food, fuel, and daily utensils such as sunscreen, mosquito repellent, and snacks. Since I still had to cover about 400 km to get into the heart of the Canadian Rockies (Jasper National Park), I moved on the following day. The first 300 km until Mount Robson Provincial Park were a real piece of work, I have to say. Besides the fact that there was only one town (McBride) in between, I faced rolling hills, head winds, and a mix of heat and cold short rain showers. At this point, you might think, well, the latter actually sound pleasant. They are not. Particularly when you are on a bike and you have to keep on changing your apparel constantly to manage your body temperature. Brief ordeals like this are expected and part of the journey itself, of course.
Eventually, all the mental and physical stress was forgotten once Mount Robson appeared right before my eyes. You get a great view of the majestic peak right from the Yellowhead Highway. Mount Robson in the most prominent mountain in North America’s Rocky Mountain range with the south-west side of the mountain rising 2,975 m to the summit. It is also the highest point in the Canadian Rockies with a total elevation of 3954 m.
I could immediately feel that not only I was attracted to this mountain’s beauty. After the last junction from where you head east into the canyon, traffic triples with many vacationers from the south joining the Yellowhead Highway. I decided to stay right at the campground opposite the Mt. Robson visitor center, and pulled into the access road when suddenly a couple shouted over to me: “Hey, biker, we saw you earlier climbing up the hill.” I am sure you can tell by now that we, bikers get a lot of attention. Some call us insane or bold. While others feel nothing but envy since they would also love to ride bikes but don’t do it on this particular trip of theirs. 🙂
This Canadian/Belgian couple was of the latter type. They went: “You know what…. don’t waste 28 CAD on the campsite. Stay at our spot. There’s plenty of space. We would love to hear your story.” Hey, how could I turn down such a generous invite. There was more to come though. I had barely set up my tent and the first bottle of Corona was passed over to me followed by a second only 5 minutes later. These guys knew how to make a cyclist relax after a sweaty ride. I had eaten but you can imagine that two beers can easily make you extremely sleepy in minutes. We kept on chatting for a while since there was a lot of common interests in the outdoors. The couple indulged in smoking some pot while mixing a few other drinks, and for me the point had come to just slide into my sleeping bag dozing off in minutes.
I had one more day to bike before I finally made it to Jasper. On my way, I ran into Seiochirou, a Japanese biker with whom I made it across the border from B.C. to Alberta. Time to take a couple of days off after 1,100 km across B.C.