Doug Grosjean's
Alaska Trip Report

June 1999

Day 17; Monday, June 14th, 1999
Start: Dease Lake, British Columbia, Tanzilla Campground
End: Orange Valley Area, British Columbia
523 Miles

Tanzilla River
Tanzilla Campground
In the morning, the weather is perfect as I break camp, just a little bit cool.

In fact, the weather has been nearly perfect the entire trip! Has rained only once hard enough or long enough (all day, in Idaho), to put a rainsuit on over the 'Stich, and three brief wet periods here in the north.

About 60 miles later, I gas up and eat breakfast at Tattoga Lake Resort. After ordering breakfast, I send some postcards home while I wait for my food. It's becoming a habit, it makes me feel connected somehow to the people back home, and keeps me from being lonely if I'm somewhere that the people aren't so awake or talkative.

After breakfast, I motor south on the Cassiar, it's very pleasant. The scenery continues as a mix of thick forests, lakes, and snow capped mountains. Periodically, there will be signs on the trees in the forest, telling how this area was logged out in 1980, or that area was burned by a forest fire in 1992, etc. Very neat to see how quickly the forests heal, although in all fairness when they're logged they're often replanted, so the healing should be quick in that case.

Now and again, I cross over one of the wooden bridges and see whitewater rapids, very enticing to me - I end up wishing for my whitewater kayak as a run down some of these rivers would be an incredibly good time with the right group of friends.

I come to a long gravel section, down some long steep grades to the Stikine River. Wow! The Stikine River! At the bridge, the current is slow; but there's a long, extremely difficult whitewater canyon on the Stikine River, National Geographic did a TV special about a kayak expedition down the Stikine back in the mid-80's; if I remember correctly they ended up using a helicopter to scout the rapids they were going to run each day. Must be nice to have that kind of backup on a river trip, I can only imagine it! I've also read about extremely skilled kayakers, the best of the best, running it self contained, their boats stuffed with dehydrated food and camping gear. I think that section must be just downstream of the highway bridge, as there's a canoe take-out next to the bridge and a huge sign telling boaters not to continue downstream, with some strong language regarding big rapids and such. I'm in awe just crossing on the bridge, knowing what's below, somewhere around the bend.

I continue up out of the river valley, in gravel; basically there's about 10-20 miles of gravel on either side of the Stikine River crossing. But it's dry, so the dirt and gravel are no big deal, just requires a bit of care is all.

Then it's pavement again, and a bit after that I enter a construction zone.

At one point in the construction zone, the dirt / gravel mix is wet (from watering trucks) and a touch slick, and the road is going up a mild grade. An oncoming RV stops, and thinking good thoughts about it's driver (What a guy, he's giving me the road because he somehow knows my loaded BMW is a handful in the wet dirt and gravel...!!), I start up the hill. All's well, aren't people great, just glowing with good feelings about my fellow man and the wonderful weather and scenery, when I look to my left and slightly forward and there's a black bear cub, maybe 15' away, and another 5'-10' away is mom, and they're both looking curiously at me.... Holy crap!! That's the reason the RV stopped! I stop, the bears and I look each other over too damn closely, and then with the clutch pulled in I let gravity help the bike backwards down the grade. The bears go back to looking for whatever they're looking for in the roadside grass, the RV driver goes back to watching them, and I sit patiently.

Big lesson here: if an RV stops for no apparent reason, assume there actually is a reason, and be cautious...

Eventually the RV driver has seen enough, as he comes down slowly past the bears I go up, using his vehicle as a shield. Whew!

It might be appropriate here to repeat what we were told aboard the ship about bears, particularly regarding black bears vs. grizzly bears, by the USFS ranger. The ranger who gave the talk said that grizzlies can kill you, but that they have nothing to prove, you're not a threat to them, and if you provide no resistance, there's a good chance they'll get bored and go away. But the black bear is completely the opposite, they're only a little bit larger than a human, and so they're a bit insecure. If you're confronted by a black bear, grab a club, a bar, a rock, whatever is handy and fight like hell! If you give much resistance, the black bear will realize that you're not worth the trouble and go away - in theory. Fortunately, I don't have to test that theory.

BMW R80gs
Hodder Lake, Cassiar Highway
A little further down the road, at Hodder Lake, I see an airhead BMW GS, white bodywork, blue frame, metal bags; very, very nice; an R80GS final edition maybe...? I stop, and we talk. The bike is heavily loaded, way overloaded most likely, and is being ridden two-up by a German couple. They explain that all that they have is wrapped up in that bike and this trip, that they sold their house, quit their jobs, that they started in central Canada and are heading up to Alaska, then down to South America... If they run out of money, they'll find jobs and work until they can get going again. How much time do they have? However much time it takes, they tell me. They speak very good English, so I assume they know Spanish as well. They don't, so I ask what they'll do in the Spanish speaking areas. Answer: they'll simply learn Spanish when they get there! I should have known.

It's exactly this kind of adventurous spirit and "can-do" attitude that is so refreshing to me, so prevalent back aboard the ship on the rear deck, and so obviously lacking in the people that I've seen having a bad time further north. Attitude is probably more critical than exactly the right bike, exactly the right tools, exactly the right route, or exactly the right gear for the trip. With the right attitude, almost any other adversity can be met and dealt with, and the person ends up stronger and hopefully wiser. Without the right attitude some of the "normal" things encountered up north might just drive you crazy, such as gravel, dust, construction, wildlife encounters, long distances, stone chips in the paint, etc... With the right attitude, these are all taken in stride.

Funny - this trip started off as a vacation to see the scenery up north, to go all the way to the end of the road at Inuvik, but bit by bit it's becoming a lesson in people, human nature, philosophy. I can't imagine how a person could take a trip such as this, and not be deeply affected by it - I know I have been. The scenery on this trip is absolutely incredible, but it's becoming merely a backdrop to a series of much bigger lessons.

After the encounter with the bear and the GS riders, I start seeing lots of black bears, so many I start to keep a tally of sightings. In a half-hour, I spot over two dozen black bears! This is really, really cool!

I stop at Meziadin Lake General Store to buy some food, soups, instant oatmeal, noodles. While there, a Suburban-type vehicle pulls in towing a rubber raft on a trailer. I can't resist taking a look, and one of the people in the truck is a First Nations woman in her twenties, I'd guess. She asks a bunch of questions about my BMW, then tells me she's just bought a BMW F650, she really likes it, that it's perfect for "around here", though she doesn't have many miles on it yet. I'm surprised, I wouldn't have ever guessed her to be a motorcyclist, and I suddenly realize that I've just stereotyped the woman, or motorcyclists, or maybe both, even if only in my thoughts. I promise myself to try to do better in the future on being open-minded. I tell her that the 650's a great bike, everybody that has them loves them, hope that she enjoys it; and then we each go our separate ways.

Near the southern end of the Cassiar, the pavement is brand new, and perfect. I pull over at a roadside rest next to a fast flowing river, and make my supper, or maybe it's a late lunch since I skipped a meal. I have the place all to myself, just cooking a can of chili on the campstove, and pondering what a wonderful place this is to enjoy a meal. I'm thankful to be able to pick and choose where I want to eat, few restaurants could compare to the scenery here in this little rest stop. I'm not against restaurants, I'm using them often on this trip, but it's very nice to have the choice. I'm just about finished when a retired couple in an RV pull up, the RV barely fits into the rest area, and what was a nearly empty rest area is now rather crowded. I wish them well, and continue on my way.

The road is dropping in elevation now, the rivers that have been playing tag with the Cassiar on the southern end have all gained momentum and merged into one large mass of water. The river is out of it's banks and flooding the forest, with water just laying around in the grass, maybe a foot deep. Not a big flood, probably happens this way every June, but I tend to notice water levels for some reason...

Shortly after that, I'm off the Cassiar, and headed east to Prince George, British Columbia on Route 16. While pretty, Rte. 16 is certainly not the Cassiar, and I simply make time, hoping to make it to Prince George tonight.

At 10:45 PM, I see a planet ahead in the east, it's the first "star" I've seen in about 10 days, and it's like seeing an old friend.

A little bit later, I nearly hit a moose in the dark. It isn't very visible, just a shadow in the roadway at the limits of my headlight, and all at once I'm braking as hard as I can, relying on ABS to catch me if I guess wrong about available traction. We miss each other, but not by much, and the moose acts as if he doesn't even care, there's no evasive action on his part, he never even broke his stride. When people ask me what was the most dangerous animal up north, my opinion is that it's the moose. Why? They're dark-colored, they aren't afraid of you, and they cross the road as if they own it. They're also damned big animals! Bears generally run away, moose don't.

It's late; at 11:30 PM I'm still about 100 miles out of Prince George, I've covered well over 500 miles today on a mix of pavement and gravel, and I find a little kitchenette-motel that looks "affordable". It's the most "affordable" place I've ever stayed in, so run-down that it's got it's own charm, with a coat-hanger antenna in the black and white TV, chairs at the kitchen table that I remember from my youth in the 60's (they were wore out when we owned 'em), worn out linoleum and carpet - everything is definitely tired. But the owner, an older gentleman, seems like a nice guy. The room is clean, the heater works, and there's an electric stove; so I whip up some Oriental noodles and hot chocolate before going to bed.

That hits the spot, and I go to sleep happy and content.

Doug Grosjean
Pemberville, Ohio