Canada (Grizzly Bears)

Posted by on Sep 29, 2012 in Travel Blog | 0 comments

Canada (Grizzly Bears)

I had visited Vancouver 5 years ago and was excited to see what the city looks like without snow. And fortunately for both Dale and I were traveling through Canada at the perfect time of the year.  It was Autumn and the leaves on the trees where changing colour.  Bright yellow Aspen trees sat juxtaposition to green pine trees that lined the roadside. We stayed at The Cambie hostel, accommodation above a pub. A combination that could only lead to a good night. The venue is an institution to locals and travellers and has been round or years. Vancouver is one of my favourite cities. Not only was it a chance to celebrate crossing USA, it was also a chance to buy supplies for the colder weather we would hit in Northern Canada and Alaska. We purchased thick wet weather gear from the Army Disposal store. Not only would this ensure we would stay dry, it would also provide a wind break while riding through the freezing  conditions. Not many international motorcyclists travel as lightly as we do. For eg we bought a pair of gum boots which we could wear in the event of rainfall. We only carry the bare minimal which is great for the end of the day. 2 straps hold down our bag that detaches in seconds. Sea planes landed in Vancouver harbour as we crossed the Lions Gate bridge on route to Whistler. Highway 99 has been ranked by UK’s The Guardian newspaper as the 5th best road trip in the world. It has been nicknamed Sea to Sky highway as the mountains terrain makes for some amazing views. The 120km trip took us half a day as we stopped on multiple occasions to take photos. The last time I visited Whistler was 5 years ago and that was in the middle of winter. It was 25 degrees when we rode through and people strolled the streets in shirts and shorts. It was September and luckily for us North America was experiencing what is known as an Indian summer. A heat wave that occurs in the autumn. We were told that it would last for about another 2 weeks. This would be perfect timing as we travelled further north into an area which should be normally under 10 degrees celsius. The grass was green and the flowers were bright. Instead of people walking through the village with boards and skis under their arms, people pushed mountain bikes.  During the summer time the lifts are open to take visitors to the kilometer of trails that lie high above the village. We stayed in a hostel built for the purpose of housing athletes for the 2010 winter Olympics. It housed 84 guests and was only at about 25% capacity when we stayed. The kitchen was something from a large restaurant, the DVD room felt  like a cinema  complex and the pool room was something from a large Beverly Hills mansion. All of this for $34 a night. I really enjoyed exploring the area around Whistler. Pine trees line the edge of aqua coloured lakes. Snow capped peaks can be seen on the horizon. With a location that caters for 2 extreme sports in both summer and winter, I can see why people end up staying at Whistler for longer than originally planned. The tread on our tyres was running low and we hoped that it would last the rest of the journey considering we were only 1700kms from the finish line of Anchorage, Alaska. When Dale stopped at a fuel station, I could see a faint line of canvas, meaning there was little left on the tyre. Our next major city was Prince George and following that we would ride for over 1000kms of remote Canadian wilderness before hitting another major town. We couldn’t run the risk of being stranded so we decided that we needed to change the tyre. Unfortunately for us it was a Monday and all motorbike shops were closed. We stayed a night in Prince George and visited the Honda motorbike shop first thing the next day. Our tyre size was quiet unique in Northern America as the bike we were riding was specific to South America. Luckily they had 2 tyres that could work. They where soft knobby motocross tyres and would wear down fast on sealed roads. But at the end of the day they only needed to last 1700kms. We had the mechanic install the tyre on our motorcycles, something I would later regret doing.  When I rode out of the shop the back brake would not engage. The mechanic had not installed the wheel properly. I corrected this problem and only 30mins down the road is when I had a very close call. I was travelling at 100kms per hours on a straight section of the highway when all of a sudden “Bang” my tyre blew. The pressure went instantly flat. The back end stepped out and it required all my strength from being thrown off the bike. Within a split second I was facing 45 degrees to the road and had washed off little speed. I was about to leave the road and my heart was racing.  There was 1 metre of gravel before the edge of the road dropped away into a ditch about 6 foot deep. I rode down along the side of the slope and was able to steer the bike along the bottom of the ditch that now ran parallel to the road. I applied the brakes and attempted to slow down. The grass and shrubbery sat about a metre high which did help to slow my bike down slightly but also meant I could not see if anything lay in the gutter. Regardless I had nowhere else to go. I had almost come to a stop when my front tyre hit a rock causing the bike to suddenly stop. The back lifted off the ground. I was nearly thrown over the handlebars before the back end come back to rest on the right side of the embankment. I brushed myself off and was thankful that I did not hit a pine tree. It was an effort to drag the bike back up to the roadside. I took the tyre off the rim and noticed that the mechanic had not aligned the valve with the correct hole in the rim. This caused extra stress at the base of the value. So instead of a usual flat being a small pin like puncture, the base of the value that meets the inner tube had blown out causing an instant flat. With the hole being the size of a 50 cent coin, it was unrepairable. I had to back track 50kms and found a mower shop that luckily stocked a replacement tube. By the time we got back on the road 2 hours had passed. Once again I had been very lucky. I guess a trip likes this requires a bit of luck. We had befriended a couple in Mexico that lived in northern BC. So on our way north we stopped off at Tom and Karen’s small hobby farm in a town called 100 Mile House.  The town acquired its name during the Cariboo Gold Rush where a roadhouse was constructed in 1862 at the 100 Mile mark up the Old Cariboo Road. Luckily for us, Tom was a keen fly fisherman so we went out to a lake nearby. Unfortunately luck was not on our side. It was fun nonetheless and we got the chance to cast using a fly rod. We ate some great home cooked food during our stay, as they were self sufficient not only in the garden but also breed cows, turkeys chickens etc. We headed further north and stopped off at one of their friends house at Burns Lake. We had never meet them before but I knew that any friend of theirs would be good company. And I was right. Another good feed, some red wine and a comfortable bed meant we were recharged for another day riding. Up until this point of our Canadian trip, we had not had the opportunity to see any bears. The time of the year was perfect as bears would be sourcing food in preparation for the hibernation period over winter. I scanned the shore line of every river we crossed, just hoping to see one. It was late afternoon when I noticed a man standing on a bridge with a professional camera. I pulled over and was lucky to see 2 grizzly bears slapping salmon from the river.  It was great to see them in the wild. Our intended destination that night was a glacier town called Stewart. Sitting on the boarder of Alaska, this town is renowned for bear sightings. The town on the Alaskan side is Hyder and is only accessible via Canada. Both locations are remote and turn into ghost towns outside the 3 months of summer. The official Alaskan boarder was about 1500kms north so we hit the road again and completed a long day of riding stopping off at a small roadhouse for the night. The weather was nice during the day but once the sun sets behind the mountain range the temperature drops below 0.  We were constantly reminded by locals how lucky we were to be riding in such warm conditions. Since the end of summer they had received snow fall and only a week prior to our arrival there was snow on the road. They predicted that snow would most probably be back on the road next week. From here on in we would only use the tent if we were stranded. We stopped off at Whitehorse and stayed with friends of friends again. We visited their farm house, had a BBQ and enjoyed some Moose sausages, and burgers. The next day I visited the local motorcycle shop and bought some supplies. I did the usual service. The back sprocket on my motorcycle was wearing down so much that the chain would slip on occasions. I knew from my motocross racing days that when a tooth on a sprocket breaks, the others will soon follow and I could not risk being stranded in remoteness of Alaska. I bought a spare sprocket and left it in my back box just in case.  We also stopped off at a second hand clothing shop and purchased some layers that we could wear underneath our rain jacket. As you can see in the picture we were prepared for the snow and cold conditions. 250 kms later we crossed back into America. We had done it. We had made it to Alaska. We stopped at the sign that signified the border crossing and enjoyed a break to savour the victory. But this was not the finish point of our trip. Our end point was the city of Anchorage.

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