Cycling the Stewart-Cassiar

After a month on the road, we have now pedalled into the Yukon!

Departing from Prince George and hitting up the last Walmart for the primary purpose of stocking up on $0.97 bags of chips, we continued up the Yellowhead Highway towards Smithers.  Trying to veer off the main road, we were excited to reach Burns Lake, where we would then take a side route along Francios Lake.  Coming into town we rode hard, watching the dark sky closing in on us.  We needed to resupply on food, but wanted to do so in a hurry, as it had begun to pour rain and we had yet to find a place to pitch our tent.  

After grabbing food, a local man was intrigued by our bikes and began chatting with Brandon.  No more than two minutes of meeting Billy, he had invited us to stay the night at his house on the reserve to avoid the escalating storm.  After meeting his lovely wife, she hastily prepared us a warm meal as we were serenaded by Billy and his guitar.  It was incredible, being taken in from complete strangers and cared for so deeply.  We truly appreciated every moment we spent with them.  Upon leaving the following morning, we savoured the slower and longer route towards and along Francios Lake.  

 Photo by: Brandon Hartwig

Photo by: Brandon Hartwig

smithers.jpg

Connecting again with the Yellowhead a couple days later, Smithers was within reach.  Smithers has been on my radar of places to go in British Columbia for a while, so the thought of reaching the area soon gave me an additional burst of energy.  We had been in contact with Vanessa, an alumni from our university program in ecotourism & outdoor leadership, and were planning to spend the weekend with her family.  We had met briefly before and nonetheless she was more than willing to have us stay.  

Once we ventured into Smithers we were wholeheartedly welcomed by Vanessa along with her husband Brad and new son, Grayson.  Although we had only just connected, it felt as if we had been longtime friends, having endless, inspiring conversations and similar passions.  We had a wonderful time over the weekend; touring around Smithers, taking the quick hike up to Twin Falls, roasting dinner over a fire with Brad’s lovely family and taking a rest day from the bike.  I instantly fell in love with the quaint town, and together with Vanessa and Brad’s generosity and immediate friendship, I could have stayed longer.   Come Monday morning, however, we departed and carried on our way.

 Photo by: Brandon Hartwig

Photo by: Brandon Hartwig

We  ventured along another backroad, avoiding the highway and witnessing amazing views.  We soon reached New Hazelton, where we continued towards the older townsite and beyond into the Kispioux Valley.  We  had a Warmshower host (think couchsuring for cyclists) lined up a ways off the main road.  Knowing it was at an organic farm and homestead, along with meeting the owner in Smithers, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity.  

Coming up to the farm we were greeting by Mia, the playful farm dog.   We soon met Johnathan and shortly after were introduced to his partner, Jolene and a the farmhand, Felix.  We were given a quick tour of the property and accompanied to the guest cabin to drop off our belongings.  Soon after, we were invited back to their house for an impossibly delicious home cooked meal along with overly inspiring and intriguing conversation.  Johnathan and Jolene are almost entirely self-sustainable, growing their own produce, making their own butter and creams with milk from the cow, brewing beer, making soap, raising chickens for eggs, butchering their own meat, and so on.  It was remarkable to discover and learn from their lifestyle, and although we only spent one night, both Brandon and I left feeling inspired. 

 Photo by: Brandon Hartwig

Photo by: Brandon Hartwig

We continued cycling up the valley and taking another forest service road to reach the Stewart-Cassiar Highway.  Stretching over 700 km long, this route is a haven for cyclists and road trippers alike.  The vast wilderness and splendour in every direction of this route was unfathomable with its towering peaks, windy roads aligning perfectly with the landscape, immense open skies, rolling hills and lakes that seemed unending.  Witnessing the beauty unravel before our eyes, we felt exhilarated and tremendously grateful as each day presented itself.  

As we rode up to Meziadin Junction, the turn off towards the town of Stewart and the Alaskan border, we had a decision to make.  We had ridden 100 kilometres during the day and knew an intense storm was on its way.  We agreed it would be better to spend the following day in Stewart, 60 kilometres away, instead of socked inside our tent waiting for the storm to pass. So with tired legs and a setting sun we decided to hitch a ride into town.  Within minutes our bikes were strapped to the back of a pickup and we were headed to Stewart.  

Once the bikes were unloaded into town, we found internet to learn more of the coming storm.  As we sat on a bench contemplating our next step, a friendly, older German man approached and began chatting with us.  He chucked at our undetermined plans of where to camp for the night, but only moments later invited us to spend the night at his house.  Before even getting his name, we were trailing behind his van towards the house.  

I can sincerely say the night we spent in Eike’s home was one Brandon and I will never forget.  Seventy-six years old Eike was an honest, humble man with a lifetime worth of experience, memories, and stories to share.  He was incredibly generous and curious of our adventures, wanting to learn more.  As conversation continued, we were informed that the storm (calling for endless rain and 20 cm of snow) was not coming until the following evening and that further up north along our route, the storm would not be so violent.  

Eike was more than willing to drive us back to where we left off on the Stewart-Cassiar the next morning, in hopes that we could pedal past the storm. For a moment we regretted ever leaving our route, however, we both acknowledged the incredibly rich experience we had meeting Eike. In his own words, “Everything happens for a reason and I believe our paths were meant to cross”.  We were thankful for a hot shower and meal, a safe place to rest our heads, but most importantly a total stranger who quickly became a true friend.  

 Photo by: Brandon Hartwig

Photo by: Brandon Hartwig

After parting ways with Eike the following morning, along with his gifts of cheese, hard-boiled eggs and oranges in tow, we continued north leaving behind the gray sky and in pursuit of the sunshine.  While stopping for lunch, we were greeted by Antoni.  A Spanish cyclist who has been on the road for over two years, coming up from South America.  We had met briefly on the road before and were more than happy to meet up again.  After chatting over lunch, we decided to continue up the Cassiar together.  It made the entire experience of cycling along the famous highway so much better.  We were inspired of each others travels, laughed excessively, and ultimately enjoyed the company of one another.  It also seemed that every day we stopped to camp, the three of us agreed that it was ‘another perfect day’!  

The Stewart-Cassiar gifted us with some of the best views and cycling in Northern Canada, and as each day passed we learnt to be grateful for so many moments, whether big or small.  Some of the highlights along this last stretch on the road include:

 Photo by: Brandon Hartwig

Photo by: Brandon Hartwig

  1. The people we have met and genuinely connected with.  We can not thank you enough for your hospitality and support - you know who you are!  
  2. The indescribable, jaw-dropping views along the road.
  3. Being given free homemade muffins and loafs from a small cafe along the road (they may have been ‘day old’ but this means nothing to a hungry, penny pinching cyclist). 
  4. Feeling noticeably stronger with each passing day. 
  5. Riding up to the priciest general store on the (725 km) stretch and finding a bin of brown bananas for free - if you know me well you know there is nothing I love to eat more than overly ripe bananas.
  6. Swimming in the stunning but icy lakes after a days worth of riding - the worlds best bath. 
  7. Allowing myself the time and space for self-reflection, curiosity and the ability to grow along this crazy journey.

I truly feel as if I’m just scratching the surface of what we have all experienced, and while we have been on the road for over a month now, it has gone by in the blink of the eye.  We are currently resting in Watson Lake and will be making our way up to Whitehorse with Antoni before parting ways and heading to Dawson City.  I am so excited to be in the Yukon and see everything it has to offer!