Day one on the Cassiar Highway –Watson Lake to Boya Lake (89k/1505k)
(June 10 – written by Nancy)
We slept well in the motorhome provided by our Warmshowers hosts – nice to be inside something a bit more substantial than a tent as the temperature dropped substantially from the warm sunny afternoon. We had a special breakfast treat – JM made pancakes for all of us, encouraging us to be very liberal with the Canadian maple syrup. Pancakes and good coffee were had over discussions with JM and Natalie about politics, health care, and other interesting topics.
Dave shared some of his Vegemite so that the family could have a taste of it in the traditional Aussie way – on toast. Sam gave it a neutral rating, not thumbs up but not thumbs down, and the rest of the toast disappeared with some thoughts about where it could be purchased so perhaps it will show up in the future as a spread option in the Suavé household.
As we had already ridden the 22 kilometers in from the Alcan Hwy/Hwy 37 junction to Watson Lake JM offered to give us a ride back to the junction with our bikes – much appreciated, as the wind had actually shifted the other way and we would have had a headwind on the ride back out, which seems really unfair after the last 5 days of headwinds. The 22ks were over so quickly and soon we were saying thanks and goodbye to JM. Watson Lake was absolutely a great stop for us – meeting people like JM and his family are one of the things that make this kind of riding worthwhile.
Highway 37, or the Cassiar Highway as it is known, is much narrower that the Alcan Hwy with very little rideable shoulder (what should there is is covered in gravel). The narrow road is not really a problem though, as there is not much traffic – much less than the Alcan. The vegetation and forest is much closer to the road, so it feels a bit more closed in. Normally this would be a great road for a bike ride – and it is, really, it’s just that all that vegetation means the possibility of bears very close to the road, which makes it a bit difficult to fully enjoy the ride (for me anyway). Especially when you have heard from everyone that there are numerous bears along this road.
So, bear spotting activities today – we saw one very large black bear on the right side of the road about 20 kilometers in from the junction. He (or maybe she, I didn’t slow down to look too close!) sat up and looked at us as we rode by but didn’t move from his/her cushy snacking spot. There was a pickup just behind us that went around us and looked like it slowed down a bit to make sure we were okay. Then, around the next couple of turns we saw a camper van stopped on the other side of the road and another very large black bear on our side of the road. The pickup was there as well, stopped just before the bear. The bear seemed to be heading back into the woods but then turned around and came back and sat right on the edge of the road. Hmmm, looked a bit troublesome.
We stopped a little way up and the pickup reversed back to us. The driver jumped out and came back to tell us that this bear was a momma bear with some cubs nearby and she was known to be a bit ‘ornery’ or very protective. He said it really wasn’t safe to ride past her and that we should put our bikes in the back of their truck and they would give us a ride around her and up a couple of kilometres. Well, who are we to argue with the locals? So, we got the bikes in the back of the truck and Dave and I climbed in and held them while we went around her. It felt a bit surreal, and while I am sure she wouldn’t have chased the truck it was a bit scary being out in the open in the back with the bear right there! But all’s well that ends well, and we were very grateful that they were there and offered the ride.
As you can imagine, lots of adrenaline was running at that point and fuelled the next kilometres at a good pace. We had lots of loud conversations, made up some stupid songs (I finally told Dave he had to quit using the same tune over and over and think of something different) and kept an eagle eye on the sides of the road. It was actually difficult because there had been a forest fire through this area some time ago and there were lots of blackened stumps which, to a paranoid foreigner looked like bears. The fact that there haven’t been any attacks on cyclists along the area does provide some comfort but you never know if you are going to be the first!
No further bear spotting after that, thank goodness, just a smooth road (actually paved, not chip seal), led us through the forest with lots of ups and downs but nothing too steep. The weather is very unsettled and the rainstorm that was predicted hit us on and off. We did get our rain jackets out for a bit when it looked like it was really going to come down, but we had them off not much later when the storm seemed to move around us.
Despite our relatively late start (11am at the junction) we made it to Boya Lake about 4pm, just as another squall came through. We hung out in the pavilion for awhile, chatting with some folks there (one a RMCP from Dease Lake, where we are headed in a couple of days) and when the sky cleared somewhat and we ran and set up our tent at one of the specific bike/motorcycle spots right on the lakes edge and near the pavilion and the food storage lockers. We just got the rain fly on when the rain belted down so we rushed to get all of the bags under cover and then sat in the tent as the rain came down. There were a few breaks to allow for a quick wash in the lake (well, just a quick scrub of any skin that was showing – the water was cold!).
Boya Lake is beautiful – very clear and a bright shade of blue. They do have canoes for rent here, which would be fun on a warmer day but I think we will pass on it this time. Time for dinner now, and then off to an early bed, I think. I expect we will have some rain overnight but hopefully we will have some dry weather in the morning to pack up. The covered pavilion is nearby though, so we can always use that to stage our pack up if it is raining. Too many photos of Boya Lake follow – pick you’re favourite!
Tomorrow we have a relatively long day planned to the Sawmill Recreational Site, a BC Recreational Site about 72 miles from here. There isn’t much in between here and there – no food or anything, and nothing at the Sawmill so we will just ride and try to enjoy the scenery. If the weather is too bad there are a couple of bailout points and lots of lakes along the way where we can camp so we should be fine. Now we just need to come up with some more interesting songs to keep us occupied and loud along the way!