Stage 6

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6 Jul 04 – 28 Aug 08
Related Photos The Fort Nelson, BC to Dawson Creek, BC Stage (via the Alaskan Highway) Back


June 19, 2004

Our departure out of Fort Nelson was a fairly late one at 11:30 AM. We had worked in earnest earlier that morning to finish the latest website update. We still made a decent biking day out of it however as we had a slight tailwind and the terrain was somewhat flat with some hills. As we were rolling out of town, we discovered that the 9V battery on our intercom (called Tandem Talk) was dead. Since the tandem does not operate properly without the intercom (voice and emotional levels are elevated), we quickly stopped at the last convenience store opportunity to pick up a battery. Life was good!

This day looked to be a scorcher. The convenience store display in Fort Nelson read 30 C (86 F) and we didn’t expect to be wearing just shorts and jerseys until we reached the states. Fortunately, the soft breezes cooled us a little. Immediately south of Fort Nelson was the Mushwa River Bridge, the lowest point on the Alaska Highway (at a elevation of 1,000 feet). Although much of today’s ride looked flat, we were actually climbing, gaining 1,000 feet elevation overall. As the setting changed to a more flat terrain with fewer hills, we saw that we no longer had the open range as fences were now consistently placed along the road.

By mid morning, Randall was experiencing “knots in his stomach” as he suspected his body was reacting to the water he had packed in his Camelbak earlier in the day. We threw that water out and drank the water we had stored in the trailer that we had gotten a few days earlier at Tetsa River. Randall recovered after a couple of hours and we later gave the Camelbak a good cleaning.

We did not see any bears but motorists we talked to said they saw some along the highway. Perhaps the tailwind tips off the bears that some humans are coming down the road. With the heat, most of them would rather be in the cooler woods.

There were no services for this stretch of 50 plus miles so reaching Lum ‘N’ Abner’s at Prophet River was quite satisfying. The establishment claims to be the first in operation on the Alaskan Highway, opening in 1938 four years before the highway was built. We are the only tent among six RVs. Two guys from separate campsites approached us after we set up our tent to ask about our trip. We showered, washing our clothes in the process. We hung the wet clothes on the clothesline, hoping they will be dry in the morning. Randall went to the cafe to get some cold pop to drink and spent a while talking to the operator of this establishment.

Miles cycled – 56.7

June 20, 2004

We woke up to a slightly cooler morning to find that our clothes were completely dry from the warm breezes during the night. We had breakfast in the cafe with Randall having his favorite, French toast and bacon and Barb having hot cakes and bacon. At around 8:30 AM, we started biking as we were the last ones out of the RV park. It was already warm out so we wore just our jerseys and shorts.

The shoulder was fairly wide but had a rough surface most of the time so we biked on the highway when we could. There was very little traffic southbound in the morning. No significant wind today and not enough breeze to keep us cool. Guess this will help us for transitioning to the hot plains states!

We are seeing more hills today and they seem bigger than they really are because of the heat factor. Pedaling up a half-mile long hill, a small white car with plates from British Columbia pulled onto the shoulder of the road about a quarter mile behind us and then slowly drove along. Eventually they passed us (they on the shoulder and we, on the edge of the highway). That seemed kind of odd as they just smiled and waved at us as they passed by on the wrong side at 10 mph. Were they just curious about how fast we were moving or did they not trust their car’s ability to make it up the hill?

By 3 PM, we had had enough of the heat. Having climbed a few hills, we stopped at a small stream along the side of the road and doused our jerseys and feet in the cool water. Our shirts were dry again after 8 miles but it was nice to be cool again. It was really a sluggish day as it seemed like we were always climbing. The hills were not too long (1/2 to 3/4 mile), but they never went away! No flat roads to enjoy on this day but one long descent about one mile before we stopped for the night. No caribou or moose were seen but signs warned us more than once about their presence on the highway. We figured that they were like the bears, hiding out in the cool shade. As the afternoon progressed, the traffic got very heavy in both directions as everyone seemed to be in a hurry to get somewhere.

At the service area at Buckinghorse River where we spent the night, two helicopters were shuttling firefighting trainees back and forth. The trainees had an “open base camp” facility which are trailers with small rooms for one person each and common shower areas to accommodate work crews. Along our travels down the Alaskan Highway, we have seen several trucks hauling these trailers. They may not appear to be much in the way of housing but in a remote area, they’re nice to have. The copters hovered around into the night but we were tired enough to sleep through the noise.

Miles cycled – 54.0

June 21, 2004

We awoke this morning with the helicopters hovering back and forth, did they fly all through the night? The day looked to be cooler as the clouds to the east and north looked like high potential for rain . Noticing the trend that the hills were getting more and more challenging, we made it a point to get an early start. Now, we had another incentive. We want to be cooler but we don’t want to be soaked with rain. For the first twelve miles, we climbed up and down the curvy road with a sense of urgency as the clouds behind became darker. Turbulent winds (the kind that are at the leading edge of a storm) blasted us unexpectedly at 30 to 40 mph at four different occasions, nearly blowing our tandem over. As we reached the top of a hill, we viewed a dark blue front over our southern path. Now, we are surrounded! We resigned ourselves to getting drenched and stopped to put on our rain booties and jacket sleeves. To our surprise, when we reach the dark area before us, it turned out to be a thick haze. We only felt a couple of rain drops. So we biked on, both dry and cooler!

After a steep decent, we stopped at a rest stop at Sikanni Chief for a drink and a snack. This scenic, river valley site offered RV and tent camping and was earlier considered for a camp site before we faced the heat and the hills. This location had one of the more distinctive outhouses that we had seen.

As always, when you drop into a river valley, you must climb back out. We had no idea what lay ahead. Crossing the river bridge, we could see the road curve steeply to the right. A sign warns, “No Stopping, Rock Slides” and we wondered, was 4 mph fast enough? After 100 feet, we were already shifting to our third lowest gear. The shoulder was appreciable at 6 to 8 feet but there were some large and small loose rocks from previous slides to dodge occasionally. In another 50 feet, we are shifting to our second lowest gear, one of the loneliest gears on the tandem. Exasperated after another 100 feet of climbing, we shifted to our lowest gear (last used this gear for a hill north of Muncho Lake). After climbing 1 mile, Barb called out the traffic update. “Semi back… no, that’s two semis back!” It was an intriguing time for a large truck to pass a tandem. The tandem was going 3 mph. The truck was going 10 to 15 mph. We HEARD the truck for what seemed like an hour before we actually SAW it. After climbing a couple of miles, we get a good view of a curvy, paved road to the side which was the old route. The full extent of this hill was not known until after four miles of climbing. There were initially, two curvy miles at 9% grade, 1/8 mile at 5% grade (for a breather) and then one more mile at 9% grade before tapering off to 5% grade for the last mile. What was the toughest hill to climb on southbound Alaskan Highway? This hill wins, no question at all. This hill would have been an even greater burden if we did not have fresh legs and cool temperatures. While we were recovering at the top, a northbound SUV carrying bikes on the backend stopped and offered us Gatorade packages. We had plenty of Gatorade, but appreciated the offer.

Guess we really were in hill country now. It was up and down, up and down. The shoulder became a real disappointment as the traffic picked up in the mid morning. There was 6″ to 18″ of good pavement to the right of the white edge line. The balance of the 3 foot shoulder was a combination of pavement and loose gravel. Barb was very busy with traffic updates as we tried to stay on the smoother part of highway as much as possible. If there was no oncoming traffic, we would hold our position, riding over the white edge line. Most motorists gave us a wide berth. As semi traffic and large RVs (which have unpredictable wind blasts) passed us, we would take the rugged ride on the shoulder.

At 11 AM, we reached Mae’s Kitchen which advertised home cooked meals. Seeing a long climb ahead of us, it was time to refuel. Just up the road was a competing cafe called Sasquatch Crossing which we passed on as we figured the promotion was better than the food. Knowing that Pink Mountain summit was ahead of us, we asked the waitress how the climb was. She said it was no big deal as she had biked up it. Wow, we had met someone who could relate from a cycling standpoint.

We advanced up Pink Mountain without issue, stopping halfway up to enjoy the scenery. A motorist in an extend cab pickup stopped and asked if we were OK, which was nice of them. After days without anyone inquiring about our wellbeing, we have two vehicles do this in one day. Are we meeting people who are not weary from weeks of travel or are we beginning to look weary ourselves? Who knows, but we do feel we are getting stronger as our tour progressed. We made it to Pink Mountain summit at 12:30 PM. The mountain was named for its predominant fall color. It was not a challenging climb especially after having faced the Sikanni Chief River hill earlier.

Having completed the summit, we noticed that the shoulder was now in pretty good shape and about 6 feet wide. This was nice as the number of wide loads passing us was higher than usual. One small annoyance was the asphalt filler placed to fill in the payment cracks. Wide seams of filler extended over onto the shoulder as well. Since this shoulder does not see enough traffic to get the filler flattened out, it felt like a speed bump going downhill. Another most precarious situation was about 1/8 mile of a 1.5 mile hill we were climbing was bordered with concrete barriers which left only 1.5 feet of shoulder. We were relieved that no one had to pass us on this stretch. When we had reached just 10 feet beyond this tight fit, a string of 3 RVs, 2 semi-trucks and 2 cars passed us against oncoming traffic. Someone was looking out for us!

The afternoon was just filled with hills. There must have been at least a dozen hills with lengths exceeding a mile of climbing. We thought our toughest day would be the one going along through the Northern Rockies. Not so. This segment of the Alaskan Highway was giving us a workout. We reached our target destination of Wonowon (pronounced one o one) just before 7 PM. We were never so happy to see services in this small town of 150. Time to rest our tired legs!

Miles cycled – 72.9

June 22, 2004

Leaving at 7:45 AM, it looked to be a warmer day. From the start, it appeared to be another hilly ride but after 10 miles, the hills became smaller and we were averaging 10 MPH despite a 15 MPH headwind. Traffic continued to be heavy, if not heavier. There appeared to be more local traffic, not just the tourists traveling the length of the Alaskan Highway.

We saw a farm field about 30 miles north of Fort St. John, but couldn’t determine what they were growing. We also saw some llamas in a pen near the highway. There was much oil and gas industry between Fort Nelson and Fort St. John. It was quite a smelly operation when traveling on a bicycle, but lots of fuel was needed to run all the big RVs.

After 10 AM, we stopped along the highway to make a couple of calls on our satellite phone. We were still trying to connect with the package Barb’s sister mailed to us on June 10th. The box of bicycle supplies had finally gotten through customs and was now at the Purolator office in Fort Nelson. However, we were now nearly 200 miles south and the company rep for Purolator said it would take two days for them to get it to Dawson Creek. The Fort Nelson Purolator office was located in a home decorating supply store. It was a family run business and they agreed to take the package to the Greyhound office two blocks away for transport to Dawson Creek tomorrow.

The shoulder got real wide 133 kilometers north of Dawson Creek where (according to a sign), there is a change in road maintenance jurisdictions. Nice. Getting within 10 miles of Fort St. John, we could tell we were reaching a larger town (17,000 population) as the billboards became abundant and the dusty side roads were more frequent. Traffic got very heavy as we entered the Charlie Lake area just north of Fort St. John. The petroleum fumes from vehicles and nearby processing plants, the speeding motorists that crowd you off the road and the smell from the grass mowing along the highway (something we haven’t seen for awhile) were a bit overwhelming. These are all things we dealt with while living in the Detroit area, but having six weeks in more remote areas had isolated us from these annoyances.

A Charlie Lake elementary school was getting out and kids were getting on the school buses. Later, a local said that it was the last day of school (June 22nd!). We rode through the Fort St. John business section and stopped at the library to check for local bike shops. Two were listed. The first was more into hockey. The second was truly a bike shop but did not have a replacement helmet mirror for Randall. His current mirror was staying in place as long as the duct tape will hold. We did get their card so we have a phone number to call if we need them to send us bike parts by bus somewhere down the road (via our new best friend, Greyhound).

We stopped for dinner at Wendy’s and it was now quite windy and dark to the north. A storm was coming in so we opted for a nearby motel in Fort St. John. After unloading our bike and trailer, we headed to the local grocery store for breakfast items. It started to rain as we came out of the store and later poured. The TV weather forecasted possible golf ball sized hail so we were glad to be inside.

Miles cycled – 57.6

June 23, 2004

Barb was not feeling well in the morning so we stayed in the hotel later to snooze and be near plumbing. We only needed to go 47 miles to get to Dawson Creek. Because of the overnight rain, it was still cool when we started. Heading out of town, the traffic was heavy as expected. A truck load of logs pulled out in front of us at the outskirts of town which created some photo opportunities as Randall squeezed the brake levers a little bit. Just down the road, the railroad crosses the highway on an overpass with a 5.2 meter clearance. It is the only overpass we could remember of on the Alaskan Highway. Reflecting back on some of the cargo we have seen go down the road, yep, some of those loads were pretty high. How convenient that must be for those hauling heavy construction equipment. All they have to worry about was losing the load on a curve! For this particular overpass, there were very conspicuous signs pointing out an alternate route.

Before reaching Taylor, the setting was becoming more and more agricultural with pastures and some fields. Later, we could actually smell the petroleum plant in Taylor before we saw it. A local mentioned about how bad the smell was when they drive by with the windows up. Well, we went through Taylor with our windows down.

We crossed the Peace River at 13 miles into our ride. The Peace River Bridge was very impressive. When we arrived at the start of the bridge, we could see that it had a metal grate decking so we decided to walk the bike along the available 4 foot wide walkway. Thankfully, the side railing was about 40 inches high as the see-through decking and the distance to the water below made this stroll across the bridge somewhat unnerving. Also impressive about this setting was the width of the river and the suspension bridge for the gas pipeline to the east. The bridge was built in 1960 after some pillars of the earlier suspension bridge washed out. After the bridge crossing, a four mile climb awaited us. It was portrayed as a steep descent for the northbound motorists in our guidebook, but we found only 1/4 mile at 9% grade and the balance at 4 to 7% grade. There was a passing lane for 3/4 of the ascent which was a mixed bag for cyclists. Motorists have the passing lane to get around you but if there are two vehicles side by side, the cyclists gets crowded out with the shoulder being nonexistent because of the space needed for the second lane. Because of varying shoulder width, stopping to rest was not safe. We stopped after one mile of climbing but did not stop again until 1.8 miles later which included the tough, 1/4 mile segment. We were more than ready for a rest then.

Later we crossed a bridge over the Kiskatinaw River. This deep, river gorge crossing produced strong, cross winds. Because of that, we slowed a bit and stayed in the middle of the lane. After the river, we had a 1.5 mile climb. As we got a mile up the hill, we saw a bear in the right shoulder ditch quite a ways ahead of us. We were not sure of its size as it quickly ran into the woods. When we got to that area, a vehicle heading north pulled over to the shoulder and honked at a black bear cub (about a year old) who was on the left shoulder. The cub ran back toward the woods on that side then reversed and crossed the road behind us. As he darted into the ditch, he apparently catch sight of us and made a sharp turn back onto the shoulder we were riding. He was now following us (playfully?) and did so for about 500 feet before finally heading into the woods. We suspected that the earlier larger bear that was fleeting was the mama bear. We had planned to stop for a break at the top of the hill, but decided to keep pedaling a bit longer.

We stopped at the Farmington store for lunch. This was the local community center and traffic was heavy with vehicles filling up with gas, diesel or propane and kids getting treats to eat. There were lots of community notes posted on the bulletin board. Agriculture has been more prominent with many fields and lots of horses along the side the highway. Lumber operations were also more numerous with a huge lumber mill just north of Dawson Creek.

We arrived in Dawson Creek and headed straight to the Greyhound Bus station, not knowing when it would close (the station closed10 minutes after we arrived). There, we picked up the long awaited package of bike supplies. This included two new bike shorts for Randall (which we could not get before we left Michigan in May) and two 37 mm Continental Top Touring 2000 tires, the brand we prefer. It was like Christmas. We strapped the box to the top of the trailer and headed to Mile Marker “0” of the Alaskan Highway.

Much to our surprise, the historical marker was in the middle of a busy downtown intersection. We couldn’t get our bike near it for a photo, but did get a passing lady to take a picture of us standing next to the marker. A local mentioned that there was also a sign near the visitor center. This man looked our bike over for quite awhile as he also had a tandem. His mother had bought it because her husband was blind and they could ride it together. He recently was given it and he enjoyed riding it with his girlfriend around town. He gave us a donation for Habitat. Going further east a couple of blocks, we found the glorious, “You are now entering the World Famous Alaska Highway” sign. So we pointed our bike in the direction opposite of the arrow because we have been there and done that and got the desired tandem-trailer-cyclists photo for proof. A motorcyclist also wanted his photo taken as he was just beginning the Alaskan Highway. He carried a rubber chicken with him which belonged to his niece. He said that the chicken had been around the world traveling with various relatives and each was obligated to photograph it along the way.

We had now completed the famous Alaskan Highway. Wow, wow, wow. Soaking in the achievement for a few minutes, we then continued our journey by heading back north a mile and then turning east onto the Hart Highway. We stopped at a campground a couple miles outside of Dawson Creek for the night. Once again, we were the only ones tenting. The campground was full of RVs. Most them were retirees just starting the Alaskan Highway and many were quite curious about our trip. We cooked one of our freeze-dried meals for dinner. This meal was one of four that we purchased back in Fairbanks. We had held on to this reserve (only 1.2 pounds total for the 4 packs) for the entire length of the Alaskan Highway in case we got in trouble in the very remote stretches. Randall changed out the tires to the new ones. We kept the best two used tires for back-ups. The Nokia tires purchased back in Fort Nelson had some good rubber and got us to Dawson Creek. However, at 35 mm, they were too narrow as we tended to “float” over the road more frequently, creating unstable situations.

Miles cycled – 50.4

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