Monday, September 23, 2013

Northbound on the Cassiar Highway

 While the Alaska-Canada Highway (The Alcan) is the generally accepted, much more populated and easier route for getting into the Yukon Territory, it's also . . . well, populated and easier.  Anyone who knows better avoids it, in favor of the much more remote, and much more beautiful Cassiar Highway.

View Larger Map

It's better than the Alcan in almost every way imaginable; While the Alcan mostly stays out of the mountains until very far north, almost until Fort Nelson, the Cassiar snakes it's way through the Rockies and provides breathtaking veiws for it's entire 500+ mile length.

But I started the monring still a good ways from it; I was only a bit west of Prince George, and had many more hours of gentle contryside before I would head north.

Just as I pulled over to snap this photo of the clouds in the distance that had me slightly worried, I was startled by an excited bark as this guy ran up to say hi.

Hello friendly dog!

His owners called him back across the street before he and I could become friends, sadly.  I've decided I need to make more friends with people who have dogs; all the upsides of dog ownership, without any of the having to pick up poop.

I rode for a few more hours along the Yellowhead Highway, passing through the towns of Huston and Smithers, before coming to the gas station turn off for Rt 37; the Cassiar Highway.

More pictures of my bike in front of things!

I'ts a long way to anywhere from here; not so long that one needs a spare gas can, but far enough that you have to be very mindful of your fuel situation.  If you've got anything less than 2/3rds of a tank and you pass an open gas station, you should probably fill up, just to be safe.

The weather was the usual finicky and unpredictable mountain weather; it's a crapshoot what it's going to be minute to minute.  I'd go from 80f+ and sunny, to torrential downpours and back to 80f within the span of 15 minutes.  And even when I was in the sun, there was always a troublesome storm somewhere on the horizon that I had to keep my eye on.

But any storms that I did get stuck under were usually brief; so short that I didn't bother with rain gear.  Any dampness that did get through the suit would soon be dried by the sun when I rode out from under the rain.

There was a lot of construction activity in the area; what looked to be new power lines where being strung along the road, and as I went north I passed pylons in various stages of construction and erection.  Sometimes they were visible from the road, but often they weren't and there were a myriad of service roads snaking up into the hills to wherever they were currently building.  And as usual, I found them completely irresistible.

The only way I could have found these roads more appealing than they already were, is if someone had stuck a "Road Closed" sign in front of them.  Something that that takes control over my handlebars, and I'm almost unable to stop myself from exploring.

You couldn't have designed a more perfect road for me.  Very solid and well packed from the trucks and equipment, but still fresh and free of deep ruts and large rocks.  I followed it for a few miles up to the top of a ridge line, where the pylons were being erected.

I really hope they leave these roads in place once they're done with construction.  I'd imagine they would have to, so that they can maintain the towers.  It's going to provide endless camping opportunities for many motorcycles in the future, with amazing views.

It was late in the day when I found myself poking around this area, and given that work was obviously done in this section until it was time to string cables, I figured there was no better place to set up camp. 

I figured I was far enough away from the active construction sites that I wouldn't be in the way, and I couldn't imagine I'd get any grief for setting up here. 

"Besides," I though to myself was I was pulling off my riding suit. "I'm just setting up a tent for the night, I'm not causing any trouble.  It's not like I'm some idiot climbing up the towe . . . HEY THAT'S A GREAT IDEA!"

I tried to get in closer for a better picture of this guy, but any closer than this and he rear up and bared his fangs when I did.  I'm not fluent in spider, but I'm pretty sure that translates to "Back the fuck off".
Motorcycle you're starting to look very small down there!

Someday I might realize my own mortality and develop a fear of heights and death.  This day was not that day.


Construction resumed on the lines early the next morning; I was awakened by a helicopter flying back and forth, back and forth, in very close proximity.

Either they didn't notice me, or most likely they didn't care.  They have more important things to deal with, like shuttling loads of tools and materials back an forth.  Some guy camped out on a motorcycle probably doesn't rate high on their list of stuff to worry about.

I rode out of the maze of service roads, and pushed on farther north.

Wow, I really needed to clean my lens and sensor.

While I managed to avoid the temptation of more power line service roads as I passed them, I still found myself getting distracted by old and long disused paths.  Every so often I'd spot them at a scenic vista, a horizontal line cut into the landscape way off into the distance.

Left hand side, that line cut into the trees just at the tip top of where that tree on the edge of the foreground is.
Once I see something like this, it grabs hold of my brain and I can't stop looking for signs of how to access it.  A bit further north on the road, and I could see it even more clearly as it's path came closer

Finally, I found a little side trail that seemed to head in it's direction, and after just a few incidents of crashing blindly through bushes and small trees at speed, I found myself perched on what was clearly a long-disused rail bed.

It looked like someone had tried to be a buzzkill many years ago, and gouged out large sections of the rail bed with an excavator, no doubt trying to dissuade people like me who have little sense of self preservation.  But I was able to get through them with liberal applications of throttle (and prayer), as long as it looked like I'd have someplace on the other side to turn around if the going got too "adventurous".

I finally got to one large gouge-out that looked much more serious than the priors.  I didn't doubt that I could have gotten the bike through it, but as I walked a few hundred feet up the path to scope it out, it seemed to get more and more minimal.  If there was a clearing or something past this where I could have turned around I likely would have given it a go, but this was looking too sketchy for me.  

I marked it's GPS location though, just in case I'm ever passing through this area on a light-weight dirt bike.  I'd really like to see how far I could follow this trail, just to see how long it goes on for.

I picked my way back to the main road and kept heading north, being blessed with more spectacular vistas the whole way.

Sometime in the middle of the day I stopped at a rest stop, which looked like it at one point had been an old bridge location.  I took a break from riding for a couple hours to cook some lunch and generally relax.

 It was very warm today and the yellow suit was pushing it's upper limits of comfort, compounding the fact that I hadn't had a shower in quite a few days.  I took a look at the river and considered hurling myself into it, but dunking my hands in to wash the dishes put an end to that idea.  Too damn cold for a swim; I'll just deal with being stinky.

Onward I went.

The very northern end of the highway had evidently seen fires recently.  The pavement was in good shape and had either not been damaged by the fire, or had been recently repaired.  The last time I was up here, in 2009, I remembered vast stretches of dirt and gravel roads, upwards of at least 100 miles of the northern end wasn't paved.  That seems to be long gone; aside from a few patches of construction, it was asphalt or chip sealed for the entire ride north into the Yukon.