Stage 7

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Related Photos The Dawson Creek, BC to Prince George, BC Stage (via the Hart Highway) Back


June 24, 2004

Overnight, our hand-washed clothes hung on our clothes line strung between two trees. Barb checked on them at 4 AM and they were still damp, so we put them on and got back into our sleeping bags, hoping to dry them out a bit before we got up in two hours. While eating breakfast, a couple from Orlando, Florida who live along US 27 (our planned route) offered to have us over when we get to that area. As we were breaking camp, a second camper also asked where we were biking to. She said her aunt was the famous “Cookie Lady” based in Virginia (featured in past issues of Adventure Cyclist magazine). We were familiar with this story (the lady has served thousands of touring cyclists her cookies) and were pleased to meet a cycling enthusiast who was related to the Cookie Lady. We stopped for breakfast 10 miles down the highway. The cook was curious about our trip and said she would print out the story for the others that worked there. She was very thrilled that we stopped at her location for a meal.

The Hart Highway (finally, something different from Alaskan Highway) started out very straight and was somewhat flat. It was definitely an agricultural setting with lots of horses, fields, and numerous dirt side roads. A railroad track paralleled the route and we saw a long east bound train in the morning. This route was not as crowded with traffic as the Alaskan Highway has been. Most traveling to Jasper from Dawson Creek go east through Grande Prairie and some locals questioned our route selection. But it is a beautiful area and we don’t have as many RVs to contend with.

As morning was closing out, it was time for a snack break and a convenience store along the route was an opportune stop. As we were checking out the snack selections, the clerk offered that there was a cafe just a few miles down the road. Appreciative of that scoop, we bought some Gatorade and headed for the cafe. Ordering a hefty lunch at the Pine River Cafe, some locals at a neighboring table asked about our trip. Given that the elections were just a few days away (June 28th) the conversation turned quickly to politics. There wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm to vote for many of the same reasons given in the states. As we were leaving, Barb asked the cafe operator to fill a water bottle. The response was, “We pay for our water around here.” Don’t doubt that they do. We had tried some of the water and it has a lot of iron taste to it. We saw a lot of pickups hauling water tanks.

Leaving the cafe, we continued a long descent, reaching the Pine River bridge, a pretty setting. The railroad bridge to the east is as impressive as the highway bridge. After crossing Pine River, we had a 4 mile climb with rare switchbacks. Most river valleys we’ve seen have not had the real estate to accommodate switchbacks. This allowed for a moderate climb to the top of the hill. The terrain remained mostly flat until a steep descent into Chetwynd. Chetwynd claims to be the Chainsaw Sculpture Capital of the World (with 45 sculptures throughout the town). It was also the Forestry Capital of Canada in 1992. That must have been before the chainsaws turned everything into sculptures. We stopped for groceries at IGA and later had dinner at A&W. An older man at the restaurant asked a lot of questions about our trip. When we mentioned we had a website with all the details, he said he didn’t have anything to do with those new fangled things. He added, he didn’t even have a Slinky when he was younger.

We went to the visitor center to confirm the existence of a campground 10 miles south of town before we biked past the closer campgrounds. The lady there insisted that it was not only downhill to that campsite, it was downhill all the way to Pine Pass Summit even though according to our guide book the pass was 800 feet above Chetwynd. She knew it was downhill because “You always get better gas mileage driving to Prince George than driving back.”

We set up camp at the RV park. There were only six other campers (all RVs). The tenting area was a grassy area to the east side. The operator of the campground said that they had not seen any bears around and that the bears usually show up on the neighboring hill first, so we did not hang the food but just packed it in the trailer. Since the nearest trees (for hanging our wet clothes) were behind a barb wire fence, we dried the clothes in the Laundromat at the site. We were asleep soon after 9 PM. About 10:25 PM, we were awaken by a tremendous noise and shaking ground as the train roared by on the tracks we had paralleled all day. Fortunately it lasted only 3 minutes and we were soon asleep again. In the morning we confirmed that the tracks were only 100 feet away, just beyond the fence and a row of trees.

Miles cycled – 70.9

June 25, 2004

Leaving at 7:30 AM, we were hoping for a lot of “flat miles” today so that we could reach the distant lodging options as there was not much in between. We begin by chasing the Pine River and the railroad tracks. Will we catch up with that noisy train? Unlike previous riverside roads we have been on, this one was fairly flat. We saw deer dancing across the road on a couple of occasions but they were too fast to catch on camera. The road was quite curvy in places and the river in a mountain setting gave us spectacular views. After 25 miles we got our first glimpse of the massive power lines which transport power from the hydroelectric plant in Hudson’s Hope down to Prince George, British Columbia’s fourth largest city (80,000 population in the town itself and twice that in the area).

At a rest stop, we met two couples traveling in smaller campers. They asked if we had seen the moose in the creek up the road. Unfortunately, we had not. They commented that there weren’t as many big RVs on this highway. This was OK with us as about 20 miles into our ride, the shoulder disappeared completely and did not reappear until forty miles later. Soon after this stop, we were climbing a moderate hill on a curve with a rock wall to our right and limited visibility. A king size RV came up from behind us and had to brake as there was oncoming traffic. They blasted their horn at us for holding them up for 10 seconds and reducing their gas mileage (our first irate horn and probably not our last).

At 11:15 AM, we reached the only service stop and had grilled cheese sandwiches. This establishment, like about half of them we have seen, was for sale. The operator said after 19 years it was time for a change. He indicated that the Hart Highway traffic was down because of the higher gas prices. When he learned that we were leaving Michigan, he said we could buy his place!

Heading on, the scenery was really picking up now with the river and the mountains closing in on us. The area next to the highway was filled with wildflowers. The quantity and variety was greater than anything we had seen before. These road side flowers were white, yellow, orange, red, blue and our personal favorite, purple.

A few miles before the pass, the shoulder returned and was 6 to 8 ft wide. Yeah! When riding on a shoulder-less highway with moderate traffic, steering is really a burden. Randall’s hands became numb at twice the frequency as he was more intensely gripping the handlebars. It didn’t help that one semi driver decided to pass us with oncoming traffic. With numbing hands, more frequent rests were needed but on this 40 mile stretch of shoulder-less highway, the opportunities to stop were rare.

Surprisingly, we did little climbing as the only serious climb was only 1/2 mile at 4 to 6% grade to reach the pass. Although this is the highest point on the Hart Highway, it is the lowest pass over the Rocky Mountains in Canada. Our guide book said it was 2,868 ft (874 m) high, but the sign at the pass claimed it was 933 m (3,062 feet). After reaching the pass, we had 4.5 miles of downhill. At 3 miles of downhill, we zoomed by the Bijoux Falls and then slammed on our brakes. This waterfall was too pretty to pass up, so we turned around and peddled 200 feet back to the falls.

The road beyond the falls continued to be very curvy as we were leaving the mountains behind us. There was just a continuous, slight up and down in the last 20 miles which we used to our advantage. We made very good time as we were able to “slingshot” down the short slopes and then hold our momentum so that we would reach the top of the next slope and still be going in a double digit speeds (10 mph or faster).

We reached McKenzie Junction Cafe which advertised tent camping, but the operator would not allow us to tent camp because bears were said to be in the area. She recommended another service area a couple of miles down the road. That’s one mile down to the river and then one mile up to the Windy Point Inn. They had a bed and breakfast option for a reasonable price. The room was on the 2nd floor (that’s the 3rd floor for those that spell color without a “u”). So we carried things up two steep flights of stairs and then locked up our bike and trailer behind the building.

Miles cycled – 84.0

June 26, 2004

The restaurant was late opening up in the morning, but we stayed to eat as the next services were in Bear Lake, 49 miles away. Some of the restaurant’s tables had data ports so we were able to retrieve email while we waited for breakfast. Two hummingbirds were observed flying outside the restaurant. They put on quite a show for us with their high-speed wing flapping and their ability to dart around. Just as we were leaving, a couple pulled along side our tandem and inquired about our adventure. Impressed, they quickly give us a donation for Habitat.

Our road today turned out to be wonderfully flat with occasional slight ups and downs (more fun slingshots like the day before). The first 18 miles even had a gloriously wide shoulder and most of the rest had at least some shoulder. We followed McLeod Lake and the Crooked River for several miles. There were more colorful wildflowers along our path as they were quite a treat for our eyes. Also along the way, we could see lily pads floating in the nearby pools of water. For a Saturday morning, the traffic was surprisingly light. Naturally, as we got closer to Prince George, the traffic thickened.

As we approached Bear Lake, its main industry, lumber products, was very prevalent. We saw four road side signs along the way which cautioned about log trucks pulling out onto the highway. We saw a lot of log trucks. Two-thirds of the town’s 300 population are said to be connected to the area’s two saw mills. Every now and then, Randall would have to steer around a piece of bark or small chunk of wood which had fallen off of the log trucks (reminded us of the time we biked through Sebewaing, Michigan during the height of sugar beet harvest). After 49 miles, we were ready for lunch in Bear Lake. The restaurant listed in our guide book was closed. The nearby gas station had sandwiches and tables to eat at so we bought 3 liters of fluids and enjoyed our lunch at 70 F (as opposed to the mid 80s outside). Heading south of Bear Lake, we continued to see a lot of log trucks and even saw a string of railroad cars loaded with logs. You could see the trucks coming down the side roads from some distance as they made a big cloud of dust.

After several miles, we had a short, moderate climb to Summit Lake. This is actually a continental divide although it is lower than the pass we crossed yesterday. Between Swift and Rancheria rivers in the Northern Rockies (about a 900 miles earlier), we had crossed from the Pacific Ocean watershed to the Arctic Ocean watershed. Now we were reentering the Pacific Ocean watershed. This continental divide was not marked with a sign nor mentioned in our guidebook. It was noted on other maps we have.

Getting closer to Prince George, we had a fast descent to the Salmon River and then had a long, gradual climb (about 10 miles), before reaching the outskirts of town. After 90 miles, we very much welcomed the four mile descent into Prince George (even with the traffic being heavy). Since the bypass to the downtown area was not obvious to us, we continued on the main highway and ended up a mile to the west so we had to weave our way back east to the downtown area and our hotel. We checked in, showered and began to determine what was within walking distance. We strolled over to a nearby Chinese restaurant and pigged out on their smorgasbord. There were lots of veggies, meats and even ice cream to choose from. Early to bed for us!

Miles cycled – 96.0

June 27, 2004

We got up at 6:30 AM and walked around to check on the library hours (closed on Sundays in the summer) and available eating places. We had a nice breakfast at the White Spot which is similar to a Bakers Square in the states. We later walked to the 9 AM service at Sacred Heart Cathedral. Father John talked about freedom of choice. He started with a question that had been asked of him, “Why did God create us if he knew that we would make choices which would cause us pain?” He answered, “Because God loves us,” and drew an analogy to bike riding. “Why would our parents let us bike without training wheels knowing that we would fall down at least a few times and get hurt? Why would our parents let us bike away from our own house knowing we could get hurt? Because, they loved us enough to let us grow up. And wouldn’t it be boring if we didn’t venture out?” We talked to Fr. John afterwards and told him how we could relate to his message. He was interested in our trip and even gave us a donation. We returned to the hotel to work on our journal and website. While Randall selected photos, Barb walked to a nearby Laundromat. It was now pouring and the rain would continue for most of the day (we picked the right rest day!). We ordered pizza in for dinner to close out a restful day.

Miles cycled – 0

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