8/14 – 8/16
Woke up to funny neighbor roger making us delicious coffee. Seventy kilometers of riding with gravity but against the wind to Stewart and Hyder. Bike came to a standstill on 8% grade downhill due to 30mph wind. Bear Lake Glacier looming over the road. Haunted forest of old growth pines covered in moss dripping from branch tips.
Met a guy that had been touring for 4 years. Didn’t smell fantastic and seemed skittish. Pants too big held up by shoe string. He had ridden across Africa, Asia, Australia, and was currently just sort of meandering around Canada.
Stewart is on the western edge of BC about halfway between the top and bottom of the province. 10,000 inhabitants before the great depression. Down to about 500 today. Quaint little town. Doing the best they can to keep that high end feel and grab those high end dollars. Homemade chocolates, B&B’s on estuaries, art galleries……. Hyder is a little town on the Alaska Panhandle that can only be reached by going through Stewart. Hyder is on the wrong side of the tracks depending on who you ask. As soon as you cross the border there is a rundown zombie apocalypse sort of feel to it, although Alaska sort of has that in every town. That is just the way it is when there are only two Home Depot’s to serve a place half as large as the rest of the United States and Amazon doesn’t offer free two day shipping. We met a truck driver from Stewart named Jason. “Oh I don’t go to Hyder, that place is crazy. They all have guns and they drink too much.” As far as I know, the border between Stewart, BC and Hyder, AK is the only US border that has no customs, border patrol, or security of any kind. You’re really not sneaking into much if you get there I guess. The only road out is back through Stewart and it is really expensive unless you know how to clean a fish. The locals are red white and blue blooded God fearing American Patriots and would likely be quick to take a matter such as a border hopper into their own hands.
The main reason to go to Hyder is Fish Creek. The salmon run there all through July and August. Typically grizzlies come and gorge themselves on the fish. It is easy to see why. For the most part they really don’t gain much ground swimming against the current. It is a bit hypnotic really. You sit and stare at a fish for five minutes as it makes a foot or two of progress. At first I thought this was an overly taxing way to live one’s life, then I thought about how we had been riding against a headwind for close to 4 weeks and when looking at a globe it really did not appear as if we had made any progress.
We didn’t see any bears. Apparently there had been an “event” earlier in the season that had caused the bears to go elsewhere for food. There is a native Alaskan name for this event, but I don’t remember what it is. Basically the glacier that feeds the river creates an ice dam that slowly releases water from a lake that builds up behind it. Every now and then the lake water works its way under the glacier and causes it to float up a bit. When this happens the lake drains and causes a flash flood through the river and all the fish get pushed back to sea. The bears come up looking for fish and there are none. They go somewhere else and don’t come back to this spot until they run out of food at the new place.
We did end up seeing a small black bear. We went to eat at a broken down school bus that had been turned into a food truck. In the middle of dinner a young male came roaming across the road and around the back of the bus. The owner, a little old lady, came running out cussing with a can of bear spray in hand. Never to miss an opportunity to do something stupid I yelled, “You need backup?”
“Sure do,” she called back. I followed her to the rear of the property. We could hear the little bastard rummaging through the weeds. Everyone was following with cameras. A man from Indiana kept talking about how he didn’t chase anything without his gun. The woman was telling me about how this bear had killed her chickens and wrecked some of her bee hives. I can’t lie, I was mostly there to get a video of little bear in a garbage can getting loused with military grade pepper spray just like everyone else. The only difference was that I was hoping I would be the one to spray it. He got away though and I went back to my fish.
There are only two other things to do in Hyder. One is Salmon Glacier. I’m told it is a river of ice carving through the mountains. I’m also told that it is 30 miles up a steep four wheel drive trail and we just weren’t interested in that with the bikes. Instead, we went to the Glacier Inn and I got “Hyderized.” Like all things Alaska this involves alcohol. I don’t want to spoil the surprise though, so I will leave it at that.
We woke up late (8:30) Wednesday morning in Hyder and rode into Stewart for Breakfast. The ride to Stewart had taken a total of 4 hours. Considering that it is mostly downhill, this is a pathetic time. Riding back up the hill with a tail wind, it took the same amount of time.
Back at Meziadin, we met Bogdan. He was frantically throwing chicken breasts onto a foreman grill. I wasn’t super interested in talking to him, but he seemed nice and I have grown a bit more accustomed to the fact that we’re just going to have a lot of silly small talk sort of conversations about what we’re doing. He offered some chicken and then began to tell us about how he had organized a tour for some Polish tourists. Part of the trip involved a flight over Denali. The plane ended up crashing and his tour guide, pilot, and 3 tourists died. He was a bit of a wreck. Still going through that stage of grief where he was thinking that it should have been him. There isn’t much that you can say to somebody in a situation like that except, “I’m sorry.” It dawned on me a bit that as a fellow traveler, you sometimes have to be the shoulder to cry on for people that you don’t really know because at some point you’re probably going to be that lonely person.
After our chat with Bogdan we went down to the lake to wash and eat. An older couple in a nearby campsite appeared to be both repulsed and intrigued by our lake bathing.
Our plan was to cycle out to a construction area we had heard about that over looked the lake to camp. As we were leaving, Todd and Rowan were cycling in. Todd was from Australia and Rowan was Irish. Good young lads working in Canada planting trees. Cycling from Vancouver to whatever the hell is at the top of Canada. Decided to split the cost of a site and spent the evening talking about bike gear and drinking whiskey. They gave us a rundown on the tree planting industry.
|Payment per tree||$0.12|
|Trees planted per week||17,000|
|Hours worked per day||12|
|Days worked per week||6|
|Hours worked per week||72|
|Trees planted per day||2,833|
|Trees planted per hour||236|
|Trees planted per minute||3.9|
|Time required to plant a tree||15 sec|
1 tree every 15 seconds. They said that the key is to become some kind of machine man. You have a bag of saplings on your hip, and a shovel in your right hand. You walk bent over holding the shovel low on the handle near the spade. As you slam the shovel into the ground you twist it to open the soil a bit and drop the sapling in. You step on the ground to pack it down a bit and immediately swing the shovel again to plant the next one six feet over. They work for logging companies that are replanting forests for future cuttings. They say it is the second hardest job in Canada.
Thursday was a slow day to Bonus Lake. A bit of a headwind, but not bad, mostly just not looking to ride hard I suppose. It was there that we had the pleasure of meeting Trevor.
Interesting tree planting data. Breaks down to about $29/hr. Not bad if food and lodging is included. No doubt character building. I have a few friends who did that in their youth and all talk fondly of the memories.
If by lodging you mean a place to camp, then yes it is included. Not sure about food. They did include a guy with a gun to walk the area and fend off bears…..
I love your posts. Reminds me of my time in Alaska, except you’re much more fit. It’s a magical place. You manage to convey that. THANKYOU
Great way to start my day…(reading your blog}…keep em coming…
Wow! What a fascinating day and evening full of insights. I am learning so much from your journey. Thank you for sharing!