13 July, 2012

Day 7, 490km: Into Alaska

Set off in the early morning from Smithers, headed for Stewart, along the HW37.
The objective of the day was to set foot in Alaska at Hyder, south of Alaska. I know, that's cheating :D

Leaving Smithers, nice sight along the road
Soon I was on the highway 37, one of the two roads from British Columbia into Yukon. I expected this road to be challenging (dirt? gravel?) so planned an average of 60km/h. How did it go?

Something is weird with this photo. No, my legs aren't 2 meters.
It went well thank you! The second bike you see on the picture is that of Arturo, a 70 years old (!) American from Oregon who I met along the road. His KTM was out of gas! As I had a 5L "emergency tank" with me we fueled his bike and headed together to Stewart, along the (majestic, more on that later) highway 37A. That road led to Hyder, Alaska!

Headed to Alaska for a month!

Southern Alaska
So I made it to Alaska! Ok, I have to admit its 1,300km from Anchorage ... but still! The town was interesting, a 500m stretch of road where people use US dollars, speak with a different accent and the sole "official" thing is a post office (no customs sadly I couldn't get my passport stamped - though it was stamped coming back on the Canadian side).

Main shop in the village/road
The town is a tax free zone and apparently a major liquor store for the whole region thanks to that!

A booming city
So the visit was pretty short, although fun! They were apparently paving the main road which was dirt. Oh and the road is actually a dead end, the only way out is via Canada. Strange place. As the sign on the general store said, "A town of about a hundred happy people and a few old shit heads".

Imagine how strong that river gets when the glaciers are meting!
We bid farewell with Arturo as I wanted to take some photos of the road on the way back from Stewart. Though that wasn't the last time I would see him.
So that road is called "Glacier Highway", it follows a river for about 60km and connects back to the Cassiar highway (37). It was simply stunning! Glaciers everywhere along the road, deep gorges and the impression to see nature at work.

The bridge on the left was destroyed by the water, please use the new one!
So the amount of roadwork here was pretty heavy, I guess it goes on all year round to make sure the river doesn't wash the road away.

That mountain was probably a kilometer high, impressive sight. See the size of the boulder in the river?
Choosing a spot for a lunch break was difficult with a view such as this one on every corner. Eventually I got too hungry and found a nice place to boil some noodles.
Look it up on google maps (link to that spot) and you'll get an idea of the size of the moutains each side of the road. 

We'll agree I should stop my attempt to grow a beard?
Really amazing views! Last one of that highway
So after being back on the road north, that turned to a forest road with tall and slim pines (are they pines?) that reminded me the boreal forest I learned about in school. Not sure if it was, but it certainly felt different.
I saw 2 bears that day, but was too scared to take any photo. They were sitting on the road, kind of indifferent to me, but passing them I didn't really want to stop for pictures!

Long way north ...!
Eventually made it to a place called "Bell II", not really a town just a camping/lodge/gas station (as I would see many going up north), apparently famous for helicopter skying.
So I went on to pitch my tent there (the lodges were $190 a night FYI). And who was there? Arturo!
Great so I would have a buddy for the evening.

Not quite there yet (look the rain cover...!)
There I dropped the bike for the second time while making a u-turn in my campsite so I would face the exit the next morning. Well, no damage. It happens often to be honest, the same day I helped Arturo pick-up his and another guy at a gas station. It's so heavy when loaded that it's kind of hard to walk it around.

Made a fire to fend off mosquitoes, thanks Hubert ;)
It was a fun evening talking with Arturo, gave me a lot of tips on campsite setup, camp food and bike maintenance. Certainly I have a lot to learn so that was welcome. We talked over a few beers until dusk. The campsite was shared with a few other travelers (a Slovakian couple on their honeymoon and Germans in their German registered Land Rover...!) as well as Canadians working nearby.

That was really weird talking to the Canadians there. They were working on a power line/highway construction project that would go up north somewhere a 2 billion dollars (according to them) mine was being built. Obviously they were excited to be part of the project and certainly making good money. The guy we talked to introduced himself as the "owner" (of what?) and certainly didn't care much for the forest we spent the day in. Felt kind of sad to imagine that in 20/50 years the mine would be empty, the cities and road abandoned and people would move on to the next "gold rush". But that's not my country, who am I to judge?

I should have gotten a 2 person tent to put all my stuff inside ...
So off to bed we went, for what would be a cold night again.

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