Days 36/37

Elliott’s Post

I’m just going to pick up where Geoff left off – I was trying to finish this book called Shantaram while Geoff was dutifully writing the last blog update. The book is so good I literally could not put it down and neglected by blog writing duties.

A lot has changed in the past few days. Most notably, there’s no rain (and sometimes sunny) and it’s warmer. I kept meaning to write down what my typical outfit was in Northern Alaska and Yukon Territory. For much of the time up there, I have been layering (all at once) a tshirt, long sleeved tshirt, heated vest, sweatshirt, waterproof windbreaker, riding jacket, (sometimes another outer waterproof jacket), long underwear, pants, riding pants, (sometimes another set of outer waterproof pants), wool socks, balaclava, and rotating among three pairs of gloves (depending on which were most dry). That’s just a lot of crap to put on and take off everyday. Now that things are warmer it’s much easier and more comfortable. However, my panniers are now overflowing with all the stuff that I used to wear.

I think the last time I wrote I was saying goodbye to Alaska. I lied. We’ve now been back inside of Alaska two more times and there’s about to be a third. You can read Geoff’s previous post to hear about our trip to Skagway. It was a really cool (although touristy) town and we almost crossed paths with Annette and Don (they were coming in the day we left to hike the Chilkoot trail).

Anyway, from Skagway we jumped on to the Cassiar highway. This is the alternate route to the Alaskan highway (which we drove up). The Cassiar, in my opinion, is way cooler. It’s so much more remote and the “stops” along the way are very few and far between.  It looks and feels like a country road.  Where on the Alaskan you actually drove through towns, on the Cassiar there just appear to be a few small clusters of houses that resemble a town.

Our first night, we camped at an immacuately clean British Columbia campground with stunning views and on a crystal clear lake. The only drawback was that it felt a little too perfect and clean and there were RVs there.

The second day we wanted to take this road that we had heard about from a crusty old trucker on our way up – probably about a month ago – that goes down by a place called Telegraph Creek. To get to Telegraph Creek you take a 70+ mile dirt road that branches off of the Cassiar by a “town” called Dease Lake. We went shopping at the little store in Dease Lake. Since there’s no other stores for hundreds of miles they can charge whatever they want. For example, a bag of shredded cheese was $12. Upon leaving the store, I had a bit of a mechanical problem. There’s a bolt that holds on my kickstand and a little sensor that only lets you start the engine when the kickstand is up. This bolt had loosened up and actually fell off right at the store (luckily). I was able to get it back on but there’s a little clip that holds on the sensor which was definitely lost on the road somewhere. With a little of Geoff’s ingenuity we were able to secure it back on with the most useful of all tools, the ziptie.

Anyway, during the repairs we met another guy on a bike, Ben, from Alberta. He was going to Telegraph Creek as well and we all rode down there together. The road itself was usually really smooth but it’s narrow. There’s also a lot of twisty parts and 180 degree downhill/uphill switchbacks. Although there’s not much traffic, if two trucks were coming at each other around these turns I don’t see how there wouldn’t be a collision. The road eventually emerges from the forests into huge expansive views of sheer cliff walls. This area is called Canada’s Grand Canyon and you can see why. It looks just like a mini version of the one in the US.

We eventually get out to the town of Telegraph Creek. Nuts. I thought it would be just a general store but there’s quite a few houses. This is all native land. It’s pretty run down and there’s a lot of abandoned houses from where the town used to be to where it is now. During the gold rush, 10,000 people lived here! We talked to a guy from Ohio that was working at the general store and he told us about a camping area another 6 miles down the road. We eventually found the place and were soon greeted by one of the most interesting characters from the trip – a native guy named Darrel.

Darrel stopped by thinking that we might be here to steal the salmon out of his nets that he had set up on the bank. Darrel and his family have a plot of land next to where we were camping and people had been stealing his fish lately. He soon realized we were harmless and a friendship evolved. He took us on a tour of his “compound” which included his smokehouse, his washing machine, his hot water heater, and his tent city. Darrel was a seriously cool guy. He had us sign his door and gave us some dried salmon and later that night gave us a partially dried whole salmon (which we cooked the rest of the way) – super generous. We gave him some beers in return.

Geoff, Ben, and I hung around the campground and ate and talked and tried fishing later that night to no avail. In the morning we did have some luck though – Darrel gave us salmon eggs which are an amazing bait and the fish were going for them in a big way. I caught my first fish – a nice sized rainbow trout and I gave it to Darrel as a parting gift. We did get our hand slapped though – a person from the fish and game department told us we couldn’t fish on the river as it is native only. She knew that Darrel had said we could so it wasn’t a big deal but thankfully she didn’t ask to see our fishing license…

Yesterday we had a big ride down to Stewart, BC.  We had to ride the 70 miles of dirt back to the Cassiar (which took 2+ hours) then beautiful trip down the Cassiar to a 40 mile spur road that leads to Stewart. That whole 40 mile trip you’re basically surrounded by glaciers so that was cool.

We got into Stewart – nice enough town and then drove the two more miles into Hyder. So now were back in Alaska…again. Not much going on in Hyder but we did stop for a beer in a bar, where there are thousands of signed bills posted on every square inch of the walls, going way back (apparently a miner tradition). Also talked to a woman in the bar who has never been across the road to Canada! You could walk to Canada in 15 minutes from this bar. Reason is that she had a DUI in the US a few years ago and Canada won’t let her in.  It’s interesting that’s there’s actually only Canadian customs at the border because you can cross into the US but there’s no where to go as Hyder is not connected to anything so therefore the US saw no reason to put a customs agent there.

Geoff’s Post

OK- where were we… a lots gone on in a short while.

We left Jade City for a quick stop at Dease Lake for food then we were
off on a side trip.  The side trip was to an old mining town called
Telegraph Lake.  It’s mostly deserted but there are a few businesses
like a B&B trying to make it and also some of the local tribal lands
are there.

They new government never named the tribal lands anything very…
Indian.  Tahltan Area # 9 is not very inspiring and I doubt the elders
were very impressed either.  They probably could have gotten the
marketing department involved in that decision….

Sorry- I digress.  We are at Dease Lake fueling up and buying the most
expensive groceries ever to stock up.  We are headed out a 70 mile
dirt road that dead ends in the ghost town. There is supposedly fuel
there but so far we have noticed that about ½ of the fuel places that
are supposed to be there actually are.  Some are closed and some are
closed down… either way, you are SOL.

As we are leaving, Elliott’s bike decides not to start.  Been working
fine.  Just won’t start.  Turns out the bolt that holds the kick stand
on the bike has decided to stay in Dease Lake and there is a safety
mechanism that will not let it start without the kickstand in the “up”
position.  Long story short… I loan El my tools and all the management
advice I can muster (while eating fried chicken) while he fixes his
bike.  I also meet Ben.  Ben is solo on a KLR from northern Alberta
exploring for a week.  We are headed towards the same place, with
approximately the same mission(camp and fish and tell lies over a
fire), so we team up.  The road is awesome… everyone who recommended
it was spot on.  It is a one lane dirt/gravel road and there is a
point in the road where there is a river canyon on each side that
drops vertically 300’ straight down.  The rivers I think are the
Tahltan and Stikina) and the tiny thimble of land that the road is on
is amazing.  There are at least three or four 20% grades with switch
backs which are really hairy but really fun.

The Ghost town of Old Telegraph Creek is really cool- it looks like
everyone just packed up and left and not that long ago.

We find a local that gives us a map and tells us a good spot is called
6 Mile, just a few miles past town along the Stikine River.
Supposedly the local Indians (we are on and off Native Lands the whole
road) are catching Salmon and smoking them and some will let you check
it out(some aren’t as friendly- we’re all human, right?)

Elliott finds the spot and it is very primitive (we are now 75 miles
from a paved road).  The river is awesome and there are some local
nets in the river just below us.  They use what looks like a 30’ long
log straight out into the river and held in place back to shore by
ropes at 45 degree angles.  Then there is also a net back to shore at
the same 45 on the upstream side.  Looks cool but I don’t get it… yet.

As we are setting up camp, a big Indian guy walks up and introduces
himself as Daryl.  Tells us that he is in his family fishing camp just
across the creek from us (the creek is crystal clear and 30’ away and
empties into the river below).  He also informs us that there has been
a bear around lately and if we see or hear anything, honk our horns
twice and he’ll come over.  I decide that if I see a bear, I will take
my chances with him versus an Indian shooting a shotgun into our camp
in the middle of the night!!!!

Curiosity gets the best of me regarding the nets and the fishing camp,
so I later invite myself over and say “hi”.  I tell him I’d like to
see how it all works and that when he needs to check the nets let me
us know and we’d happily help out with the non-techincal parts.

Daryl and his family have an awesome set up.  They come out to the
Stikine for about 10 weeks every summer (some people longer, some
shorter) and they catch salmon and smoke it in the smokehouse right
there 60’ from where we are camping.  He makes me sign the door to the
smokehouse which all people to enter have to and gives me the full
tour and insists I go back with some smoked salmon and butter.  Yum-
damn that’s good! We check the net- nothing.

Elliott now needs a tour and gets the same treatment.  They are very
warm and have lots of fun colorful stories.  There are usually more
than 20 family members at the camp every year but apparently the human
scourge of crack and general family infighting has caused drama to me
up and attendance to be down.  Sad.  In addition, it’s late in the
run, so they are not catching much anymore this year.

Ben then gets the tour… good times!

Ben and Elliott are all set up for fishing but there is some
uncertainty about if we can fish there.  Both have decided that
licenses are overrated, but there are signs along the road saying “no
hunting, no fishing, no etc… on native lands”.  We delay a decision.

As we are debating the merits of fishing and global politics while
digesting dinner, Daryl comes over again and dumps a big sockeye
salmon on the table.  He says that if we came all this way we need a
fish to eat.  It’s HUGE and we just ate.  Well, it’d be rude to say
“no” so we cut it up and cook it while Ben and El take salmon eggs
that Daryl gave them and go fishing.

At one point I told Daryl that we weren’t going to be able to eat it
all and that we’d put some in the cooler for tomorrow but what about
the bears he told us about?  “Awww… I was just making that up to mess
with you guys!”  Gotcha- we’d been had.

By 11pm they have not caught anything but we are all mowing down our
second meal of the night straight out of the foil it was cooked in!

Ben is a cool guy- like 26, married and two toddlers at home in the
sticks of northern Alberta.  It’s fun to get to know new people over a
campfire. As we get to know Ben better, I am glad we didn’t let him
lead on the ride in Telegraph Creek Road.  He can’t drive in
California anymore.  Something about a ticket he didn’t take care of
for driving on the sidewalk.  I guess the officer didn’t like his
reasoning that if the street is paved and the sidewalk is paved…
what’s the diff?  There was another unpaid ticket as well but I can’t
remember that one… seemed to pale in comparison.

This morning Elliott is up early (earliest I have ever seen him up the
entire trip) fishing.  Within 3 minutes he is back with his first fish
ever… a decent sized Rainbow Trout.  Ben is inspired to join him and
Daryl goes down as well for color commentary.  The very lively
commentary bounces mostly between his uncle (who is also the chief)
but was apparently born in Wrangell Alaska (“f-ing Yankee go home… not
even a Canadian and wouldn’t give me a job as a teenager!”) and his
girlfriends current menstrual state playing havoc with his plans… I’ll
leave it at that.

I leave the fishing derby in full swing and go to camp.  A gal in
regular clothes and a pick up shows up at Daryl’s camp and they have
words and then she goes down to Ben and El.  Apparently we aren’t
allowed to fish here.  To make matters worse, Elliott thinks I am
playing a joke and that I put her up to posing as a game warden.
Oops.  Double bad!!!

Everyone apologizes and as no one actually asks for a fishing license,
it’s all good.

The ride out is gorgeous and the Cassiar highway is also beautiful.
We are headed to the communities of Stewart and Hyder.  They are at
the end of the glaciar highway and it’s an amazing ride.  Stewart is a
normal enough looking town of like 600 people.  Hyder is at the end of
the road past Stewart and is actually in Alaska.  It’s probably the
second oddest town we have seen next to Chicken.  It’s about a dozen
building and a small pier and dirt roads.  I don’t think there is much
in the way of law enforcement, much like in chicken, so you can pretty
much do what you want.

All roads lead through Canada….

We met a local gal at the bar.  She can’t get into Canada because she
has a DUI on her record and they won’t let her in (it’s a felony in
Canada).  You can’t get out of Hyder without going through Stewart so
she is effectively a prisoner in Hyder unless she pays $400 to fly to
Juneau.

There are no customs to get into Alaska here… because Canada has more
sin taxes(alcohol, tobacco, etc) but there is a customs agent to get
into Canada.  If you bring alcohol or tobacco into Canada you have to
prove you spent 48 hours in Hyder or you pay 150% tariff on its value.

So we are off today for points east… we still have not decided what or
where we are going yet but as it is nearing noon, we probably should!

1 comment to Days 36/37

  • JIM MOUNT

    Hey Elliott, I saw that about the chain breaking on the bike your Dad was on….that could have been bad news. Anyway, BMW has had a big problem with chain failures, and their is an active recall on the chains, your bike very well maybe part of the recall…fyi. If you make the trek to Wisconsin, we call talk more about a trip the Baja in November!
    Later, JIM

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