Monday, May 30, 2005

Rainey Creek Campground, Stewart, BC

11:30 p.m.

Just bedding down in my tent. A hot shower for a "looney" (Canadian dollar) was worth ten times that! It's still light enough to see the snow-draped mountains encircling this inlet. In the background, the roar of the Bear River and its tributaries, the occasional call of Canadian geese, the crackling of a fire and quiet conversation of three young Canadian travelers nearby.

Underwhelmed by the working class, almost impoverished community I found here in Stewart. No sign along the highway of the Provincial Campground indicated on my map, I slowly drove through town, past closed, and some boarded-up businesses. Nothing inviting here.

One campground I found stated "no tents or soft-sided campers." "Bear River. I wonder why they call it that?" I began to be concerned. Continued beyond Stewart, around a huge estuary, wherein floated an odd mix of logs and small fishing boats. Some kind of freighter lay at anchor out in the deeper water, listing to one side.

Past a dilapidated receiving station of some sort, I found signs indicating proof of citizenship would be required to re-enter Canada. Was I about to cross into Alaska? I hadn't even looked closely at the map.

Beyond a small modular Canadian customs office, the streets of Hyder, Alaska began. The pavement ended and I bounced down the almost comical main street of Hyder. It is something out of the Old West. I was coming to the end of the road, and my options, when I found "Camp-Run-A-Muck". Ramshackle, worn and lifeless, no one was in the office (9:30 p.m.) No tents could be seen; only a couple of motorhomes. "Maybe tent camping is unsafe out here? Am I totally naïve?"

Rode back through Hyder, standing up on my pegs. An officer was waiting for me outside Canadian Customs. I asked him about tent camping. He related the story of a Hyder man partially eaten by a bear. A local chef who, getting off work, went straight to the bar. He later passed out while walking home, to awake never again.

He suggested I try the Rainey Creek Campground up the road in Stewart. Sheri, the manager, came out of the office as I drove in. She said I had passed her and her girlfriend an hour earlier at Meziadin Junction. "I'll bet $10 he'll be looking for a spot in Stewart," she told her friend.

I asked Sheri if it's safe to tent camp.

"Sure."

"Aren't there bears?"

"Yes, but we haven't had any problem," and she told me how they'll occasionally pass through the campground.

I was reassured. I think.

Pulled into my assigned campsite, passing three tent campers sitting around a picnic table, completely covered up except for small openings around their faces. Soon I found out why; the mosquitoes were swarming. I offered the two men and a woman some of my "Jungle Juice" (DEET mosquito repellent), which they gladly accepted. They in turn offered me a beer, an "I.P.A." from "downeast".

I never asked their names, but learned of their travels. One from Vancouver, one from Manitoba and one from "all over Canada." This last young fellow told of working on the ice, beyond Inuvik, surveying for gas and oil fields. He said minus 55 degrees Celsius was their limit up there. Any colder, they get the day off.

The two men operate equipment in Alcan's copper mine, south of Terrace. The copper concentrate is delivered by truck to Stewart (and deposited at that dilapidated depot), loaded onto ships, then sent to Japan.

The two fellows had also traveled to Peru and Ecuador. One had gone to California, even meeting a friend in my hometown, Santa Rosa. I never did hear much about the young woman's travels.

***

Back in Prince Rupert, the day had begun for me at 5:30. Emerged into a fog, everything soaking. It was cold for a change. I was on the road by 6:40 and drove straight to the Alaska Ferry queue. Officials were walking the line of vehicles. "The ferry's broke down. You'll need to go to the office for a refund. You might be able to go stand-by tomorrow with that motorcycle."

Inside the terminal was a line of concerned, but not distressed travelers. I realized that this kind of adventure attracts resourceful people, who expect challenges. This was just one such opportunity to find a solution.

The agent said it was correct that I could wait to go stand-by tomorrow, but I would need to take the bike off at each port, then re-board on a stand-by basis. He said there was not a high likelihood I'd make it to Skagway without being stranded. "Or, you could wait for a confirmed reservation...June 4th."

"Or, you could drive there; I think it's about a thousand miles."

Forced to decide, I asked for a refund. Was I taking the path of a "victim", giving up a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to see some fantastic scenery? Or, was I just choosing another, equally exciting adventure? I wasn't sure. Pondered my options for a while, then headed into town.

Parked in front of "javadotcup". Over a cappuccino and toasted bagel with cream cheese, composed an update to "my followers". "Well, there is still the website I need to create..." The tools were here. The time was now available. I just needed the will.

"I don't have a schedule any more, so why not just park here and get it done?" Muddled my way through "Yahoo Web Hosting", "blogger.com", "Hello" and "Picasa2" programs to figure out how to have my domain ("timtraveler.com") forward to "blogger", then how to upload photos to "blogger".

It took hours to "get the hang of it," but by mid-afternoon, I had a rudimentary site going; certainly nothing as refined as "Dusty's" site, which had inspired me, but it was okay for "Day One". By 3:00 p.m., I felt I was over-staying my welcome. I was beginning to recognize the staff (and they, me.) I had sat at my computer while various groups had come and met in the "living room" area, then moved on. (I loved listening to the lilt in their voices; almost a Scottish sound.)

As I was putting my things away, three motorcyclists, wearing rally gear, came in and were talking with the staff. I went up to pay my bill and check in with these guys. They were doing a loop from California, around the West, up into the Canadian Rockies, then out to Vancouver Island before turning south.

I first talked with a rider from San Diego. He had a strong stutter. When his companion came over, I learned the other two were from Cotati (just south of Santa Rosa!) I never asked their names, nor introduced myself, a weakness in my character, I think. They were checking into the "B&B" connected with the cafe.

On the road again, I had decided to drive to Skagway. A gorgeous afternoon for a ride; cool and sunny, a few puffy clouds and the wind at my back! Now on familiar highway, returning to Terrace.

The clutch felt "spongey". Played with the adjuster screw, but it never felt quite right. (I would later - much later - discover that this was due to the plastic hand guard interfering with the clutch lever operation. This occurs when the guard gets twisted slightly out of its normal position. The same can happen on the right side, with the brake lever.)

Paced a Subaru traveling at 75 mph, using it as my "front door", to alert me to any approaching police. Considered camping again at Kleanza Creek, but with a good six or seven hours of daylight still, I decided to push north. Fueled in Terrace, then stopped by the gravel pile, where I had met Roy two days earlier. Thought, if I waited, I might see another bear. But I didn't wait long. Onward!



Kitwanga, the southern gateway to the Cassiar Highway. At this point, all these names (except Alaska) were meaningless to me.


In Kitwanga, topped off my gas tank and photographed the "North to Alaska" sign. Turned north on highway 37. I saw a sign for a town called Cassiar. "Is this the famous Cassiar Highway?" I had not even studied the map far enough ahead to know I was traveling one of the favorite motorcycling highways. I was simply looking for the shortest route to Skagway. A bit further along, I photographed the "Seven Sisters", now behind me.



A backward look from the Cassiar Highway: the Seven Sisters.


Over high, rolling hill country, the road was all mine! There was only an occasional passing truck or car. I was on the alert, however for deer, moose or bear, but there wasn't a creature to be seen. "Maybe these harvested forests are not as inviting to wildlife as the timber companies would have us think?"



It appears that forests have forgotten how to take care of themselves. Thus, man's intervention.


Remembering that this is supposed to be an adventure, I decided to drive out to Stewart, which on the map looked to be on an inlet, perhaps a fjord. Maybe there I would get a taste of what I was missing, not being on the "Inside Passage" cruise?

Turned west at Meziadin Junction and learned I was now on the "Glacier Highway". (All the highways seem to have names up here.) Rugged, snow-capped mountains lay ahead. Driving into the sun's glare, with thick brush right up to the roadside, I was especially anxious about animals jumping out. In fact, I saw only two or three rodent-like creatures dart out and back, and another mammal I've never seen before - a beaver, badger, wolverine, or what? Its fur was two-tone, brown and ivory, and it was fairly large. I was amazed how quickly it ran across the highway.

Suddenly, I came upon Bear Glacier and was shocked by the sight of the massive frozen river of baby blue ice pushing down a canyon, a milky green-blue lake beneath it. A flash in time. I stopped in one of the few areas not marked an "avalanche zone" and just marveled. It was all too quiet.



Along "The Glacier Highway", the Bear Glacier. Taken at 9:00 pm, about an hour before sunset.


Following the river down toward Stewart, eyes darting in the fading light, I began to notice big piles of scat along the shoulder. Bears? Really BIG bears???

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