Too Quick to Judge

It was a grim sight. The long green building with smeary windows and peeling paint brought only one word to my mind. Creepy. I tried to repress any thoughts about staying there, despite the fact that we had a reservation.

We made our way around back where the sign directed us to the office. A doorless shack marked “Landromat” and another unkempt building did little to bolster my confidence. I tried to put my faith in the flowers that adorned the office doorway while Rich rang the bell. It was then we noticed the sign with the little clock – Back at 3:00. An hour hence.

Leaving to explore the town, I could contain myself no longer. “It's seen better days,” I ventured cautiously. To which Rich replied, “But it's the only game in town.” A depressing thought. On a cycling tour, moving on to the next town is not an option.

I insisted we stop at the Information Center. Inquiring about restaurants, we received more disturbing news. “Just about the whole town has shut down for the holiday,” she informed us. Holiday? BC Day or Civic Holiday as it's known in the rest of Canada. Little matter what it was celebrating, we could be facing a food shortage.

Our only hope was the local pub. Approaching the entrance, there was a sign on the door. I was sure it was going to say Closed. Instead, it said Open at 4:00. Hallelujah! We had it made. Or so we thought until the owner came by. She confirmed that they were indeed open that evening, but the cook might not be available. They'd be serving drinks, but perhaps not dinner. Our dismay poured out and she quickly came to our aid. There were a few sub sandwiches in the refrigerator. If all else failed, she promised them to us.

We cycled back to the motel under the weight of gloom. At 3:00pm sharp, we heard a cheery voice call out. I allowed myself an ounce of optimism. Soon Diana let us into the office, which was small but neat and recently paneled in light wood. Add several more ounces – enough that I let Rich proceed with checking us in. Diana directed us to a building behind us and suggested we move in our things while she finished the paperwork. Stepping onto a balcony with hanging baskets of flowers facing a freshly mown lawn rimmed with trees, we entered a simple but tidy room with a vaulted wooden ceiling. Relief washed over us.

Returning to the office, Diana explained about breakfast. Her Swiss chef was off fishing for the day, but would return in time to serve us breakfast in the room next door. By this time, we no longer raised our eyebrows. We were beyond trying to second guess this place.

Our good fortune continued, and the pub's cook also materialized. By this time we were in good with the locals sitting at a long table with the owner. We had plenty of company as we dined. And we met the man who runs the grocery store. “Oh, we would have opened up for you,” he informed us.

Morning introduced us to Urs, who was there to prepare our breakfast choices. Since we were his only customers, conversation flowed as freely as the food. And it wasn't long before we gleaned that he really was a trained chef. We savored the local flavor as well as our food.

Cycling away, we passed the neglected front building that clearly bore the name of the motel. It still gave me the willies. But by then I'd learned my lesson. Not everything is what it seems. And given a chance, the local folk will take care of us. I mustn't be too hasty in my judgement.

Molly on wharf

 

Final Push to the Sea

We had no right to such perfect conditions. We were headed to the rainiest city in Canada. Sandwiched between the mountains and the ocean, Prince Rupert is well situated to be cool and wet. No doubt it has earned its reputation legitimately. But we experienced the opposite.

Loading up our bikes in front of the lodge, the sun’s golden rays were just crawling down the trees as it emerged from the mountaintops. We would soon feel its heat under yet another cloudless blue sky. The short driveway returned us to the Yellowhead Highway where the weekend squelched heavy traffic, replacing it with trucks pulling large fishing boats.

For 31 idyllic miles our bicycle wheels turned effortlessly. Perched on the edge of the Skeena River, the road was as flat as the water’s surface. We rounded every headland and circled each inlet with the river. With a hefty wind at our backs and smooth pavement for our tires we sailed as if riding the river’s current.

Rich in cycling heaven

The railroad also enjoyed this shoreline bliss. A long line of colorful freight cars passed, reminding us of our own train journey along these tracks just 10 days ago.

Train along Skeena river

Reaching the point in the river where it mixes with the ocean’s salt waters, we could see the impact of low tide. Sandbars emerged and the calm shallow tidepools made reflecting ponds of the river’s surface.

Skeena sandbars
Skeena reflections

Looking back, the sun turned the receding mountains into shadowy images. We left the sharp peaks behind while the remaining pinnacles smoothed into softer mounds. Their shrinking outlines were reassuring knowing we’d soon cycle over not around them.

Shadowy mountains on Skeena River

It was clear when this nirvana ended. The road turned inland, abandoning both the river and the train tracks to make its final 24 mile approach to Prince Rupert.

Molly heading inland

Fearing the worst, we discovered the best. A number of pristine mountain lakes graced the forest land. The voices of children playing in the water floated up to our viewpoint. I longed to join them. A campground introduced us to another couple cycle touring. Occasional sea breezes cooled our journey but left the sunshine in tact. And a wilderness viewpoint greeted us as we crossed the waterway to reach Kaien Island, home to Prince Rupert.

Mountain lake
Molly Kaien Island view

We caught the port city of Prince Rupert at its sunniest best. Arriving at the same time as a huge cruise ship, we sought out some ice cream and watched it dock and disgorge its passengers.

Prince Rupert Harbor 1
Prince Rupert Harbor 2

Avoiding the trendy tourist-favored restaurants in Cow Bay, we had a delightful dinner outside on the deck of Cargo Kitchen overlooking the harbor and marina. The sun still reigned over the city, but in the distance we could see fog rolling in. By bedtime it enveloped our motel. We completed our final push to the sea just in time.

Molly and Rich at dinner

 

Wilderness Cycling

No services sign

The sign says it all. Our last 218 miles to the coast are wilderness. Period. I thought our travels were remote for the first portion of our trip. But the last three days have pushed beyond those boundaries.

Besides leaving civilization behind, we have also lost most of the traffic on the highway. The bulk of the vehicles likely turned north to Alaska. Better yet, we have had smooth wide shoulders. Cycling doesn’t get much better than this.

Towns may in short supply, but scenery is not. We spent one whole day chasing the Seven Sisters peaks. When we first saw them from the train they were shrouded in mist, and only a few of the gals were visible. The conductor told us that it was rare to to have a day clear enough to see all seven peaks at once. This time we had one of those days. Anxious to get a good picture, I constantly scanned the horizon seeking a photogenic view. When the peaks loomed high in the distance, ugly power lines always marred the image. As I moved on, the sisters invariably sank behind the trees. The road twisted frequently and the peaks kept reappearing in new directions, only to repeat their disappearing performance. The next day when we entered the Seven Sisters Provincial Park, I finally got my photo.

Rich and Seven Sisters peaks

In New Hazelton we joined up with the Skeena River. This wide, fast flowing river is one of the longest undammed rivers in the world. It has become our constant companion, and our “ticket to the sea” as Rich puts it. If not for the river, we would not be doing this. By virtue of the river cutting a swath through the mountains and the Yellowhead Highway following it’s path, we have been granted a very reasonable route to the sea. I was skeptical before we came. But I can now attest to cycling right through the mountains with minimal climbing.

Skeena River and mountains

Numerous side rivers and creeks flow into the Skeena, adding to its volume and providing pretty views.

Side river

Our accommodations on this stretch have required imagination. I have Rich to thank for finding some gems. We spent a quiet night in a municipal campground, followed by staying in a treehouse on a farm. Tonight we have a room at Kasik’s Wilderness Lodge. It is the only stopping point in the final 94 miles, which we deemed too far to conquer in a single day. The folks at Kasik’s are have gone out of their way to take care of us. Tonight June prepared a hearty pasta dinner and served up a tasty apple bread pudding a la mode just for us.

Rich at Campground
Treehouse Resort
Dinner at Kasik's

The biggest surprise of this whole trip has been the weather. We packed for cold and rain, and instead we landed in the midst of a heatwave. Each morning starts out brisk and clear at 50 degrees. As the sun climbs over the mountains the temperature soars, reaching the high 80s by mid-afternoon. To compensate, we start cycling before 7:00 each morning to finish before the height of the heat. The payoff is having consistently blue skies as the backdrop for the wilderness.

Molly cycling with mountains
Rich cycling with mountains

Tomorrow is our final push to the coast. We already know that will bring cooler temperatures and greater chances of rain. But we can hardly complain. We have had wilderness cycling at its best.

Yellowhead progress map

May we stay the night?

Imagine contacting someone you don't know and asking to spend not one but two nights with them. Not only do they agree, but even before meeting they offer us the use of their car! The home is in the countryside outside of Smithers, 2 kilometers down a dirt road. We arrive to find a secluded location with mountains looming over the back deck. We are in awe.

Our hosts are not home from work yet. But they have informed us where to find our bedroom and shower, and told to make ourselves comfortable. It doesn't take me long to clean up and install myself in the sunshine on the deck.

Back yard view

When Kirsteen and Andy get home we immediately fall into conversation and click right away. It seems we can't talk fast enough, trading cycling stories, filling in our life status and sharing the common bonds of family and love of the outdoors. Such are the friendships forged through Warm Showers, the organization of cyclists who host cyclists.

Warm Showers dinner

Friends often ask how can stay with strangers. While we understand their perspective, we don't see it that way at all. In the case of both hosting and being hosted, we know we already have cycle touring in common. That translates to a certain outlook on life, a commitment to physical activity and an openness to meeting others. We feel a strong connection before we even meet. This is our third Warm Showers stay on this trip, and each has been equally warm and hospitable.

The best part of staying with hosts is the advice they provide. From cycling routes, to road conditions and local sights to see, their suggestions invariably enhance our stay. For our rest day today, we make good use of that car and take Kirsteen's advice to hike up to Malkow Lookout.

It is a short, family friendly hike yet with varied terrain. We start out crossing a meadow populated with noisy cows, then enter a section of forest. It is the ground plants that draw my attention more than the trees. They are thick and abundant, threating to overtake the well trodden trail. I have daisies at my knees, yellow and purple flowers brushing my shoulders and deep pink fireweed towering overhead. In between is a crush of greenery. Even Rich looks overwhelmed by the flora.

Rich hiking to Malkow Lookout

A little used dirt road takes us to the top, no doubt the route that foresters used to reach the lookout tower originally perched on the summit. Now it must be the maintenance road for the cell tower that has taken its place. As promised, we can see peaks in all directions. Under the hot noon day sun, each mountain stands unencumbered by clouds. We don't remember the names, we just enjoy the view. And of course take pictures.

Molly at Malkow Lookout
Malkow Lookout view

Evenings are the highlight of our stay. Upon Kirsteen and Andy's return from work, we linger over happy hour while they prepare a sumptuous meal. There is no shortage of conversation, as we find that we share a passion for not only cycling but cross-country skiing. We are also interested to learn more about their sawmill.

Andy spent two years building the mill, and it has now been in operation about a year. They mill “dry balsam” which are trees that are harvested after they have died. Left behind by normal lumber operations, they usually become waste. But Andy has developed a way to process them for construction purposes.

The finale of our visit is a tour of the mill. Since it is right on our way, we eagerly accept the invitation. Never having been in a sawmill before, we are fascinated by the process. And it is amazing to think that the whole operation makes something out of nothing.

Sawmill 1
Sawmill 2
Sawmill 3

Our goodbyes don't feel final. And we hope they aren't. It wouldn't be the first time we came full circle with Warm Showers friends. We look forward to a future day when they come to our house and stay the night.

 

Pleasant Surprises

The morning was getting long and our reserves were running short. The light snack we'd eaten before leaving was a faint memory. We knew it would be 31 miles before our first opportunity for a real breakfast and we were anxious to reach that milestone. There were several good climbs to conquer en route, and one of them seemed particularly appropriate.

Hill sign

Despite our cravings, the ride was exceptional. With clear skies we could see forever, particularly the wide vistas that spread out from the hilltops. It was obvious that we were getting closer to the coastal mountain ranges.

Molly and mountain view
Rich and mountain view

When we reached the small town of Telkwa, the options were iffy. Our target cafe turned out to have a new closing day – that day. The only other choice was a bakery on the far end of town that Google said was closed.

Resigned to cycling another 12 miles for food, we continued on. By this time we expected little from Telkwa. So it was a pleasant surprise to find an attractive town park. It immediately beckoned. Crossing a carefully manicured lawn with flower baskets erupting in a rainbow of blooms, we reached the Bulkley River. Its wide expanse churned as it rippled over rocks and flowed onward toward the mountains. Like most rivers we have seen on this tour, it was light green in color and extremely clear. Rich said that just the sight of that water was rejeuvenating.

Rich and Molly Bulkley River
Park in Telkwa
Bulkley River Telkwa

Google's picture of the bakery was a bland building attached to a gas station. Not at all appealing. But Google was wrong on all accounts. Upon approach, not only was the Baeckerei Kaffeehaus a well kept place decked out with flowers, it was open and served meals. Little did we know, the best was yet to come.

The Caribbean proprietor did all the baking himself, and had a menu of imaginative and locally sourced organic dishes. Everything was freshly prepared, and Rich raved about his breakfast sandwiches which oozed hot ingredients on crusty homemade English muffins. My quiche was hot and fluffy with a light flakey crust that melted in my mouth. We also shared an enormous decadent multi-berry muffin. Some meals leave you filled and merely satisfy your hunger. This one fed our souls. It was so unexpected. I'm glad we didn't trust The Google.

Bakery in Telkwa

 

The Many Faces of the Yellowhead Highway

Tour Map

Progress to date: 4 days, 204 miles

We step out into a crisp clear morning, with a definite chill in the air and low sunshine casing long shadows. The wind is calm, and the road deserted. The only sound is that of our tires rolling over the pavement. We are cycling down the Yellowhead Highway flanked by wilderness with lake views and mountains looming beyond. Most peaks are forested, but in the distance we see bare rocky pinnacles laced with glaciers.

Yellowhead Highway

Although Rich insists that this highway loses elevation overall in its course to the ocean, we find plenty of undulations along the way. Today's summits yield a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains. And we are not even close to the coastal mountain range yet.

Molly at summit
View west of Burns Lake

If only it could always be this way. Not every day on the Yellowhead Highway has been as serene as this Sunday morning. Clearly we are benefitting from the weekend lull.

Our first couple of days were quite the opposite, and we soon learned that we had totally underestimated the traffic we would encounter. The Yellowhead is a major highway. It's the only road to the coast in this part of British Columbia. In fact, there are few other roads to the coast period. So the heavy population of semis, logging trucks, RVs and car traffic is no real surprise. We just hadn't dwelled on that in our idealistic concept of this tour. The trucks thundering by are distracting and at times highly intimidating. But we have gradually adapted and learned to deal with it.

Rich and Yellowhead sign

Despite the traffic, the area is much as we expected – largely unpopulated and abounding in natural beauty. This is wilderness at its best. Towns are few and far between. In fact, our daily distances are entirely dictated by their location, generally 50-60 miles apart. In between, there is very little. We have to plan our food and water needs carefully, as some days there is not even a convenience store en route. My infamous bagels have come in handy now and then. And Rich is proud of his foresight to carry four water bottles this trip.

Molly approaching Fraser Lake
Molly's bagel stop

Surprisingly, we have passed through thriving farmland. The area west of Prince George is known as the high plateau, and it yields rich farm soil, something not found elsewhere in BC.

BC farmland

We haven't seen many other touring cyclists along the way. Perhaps that says something about our choice of route. But each time we cross paths with other cyclists it is cause for an impromptu gathering on the roadside. Meeting a couple from Spain we asked the usual question – how long are you touring? Their response – they've been on the road since 2007!

Meeting tourers from Spain
Our entire tour will be spent on this single road. It certainly is not boring; each day it delivers something new. Mile by mile we are experiencing the many faces of the Yellowhead Highway.

 

Worth the Effort

Sometimes you just have to go out of your way for a good thing. Even if it means extra miles and lots of hills. We could have stayed in a humdrum motel in Lake Fraser, but instead Rich found the Stellako Lodge. The only catch was straying off the highway for an extra 8 mile stretch each way.

Turning down the local road was instant relief from the busy highway. Rolling down the well paved byway we practically owned the road, luxuriating in its quiet width with only the occasional need to give way to a car. Typical of small roads it followed the contours of the land, which in this case meant going up and over a major hill between the highway and the resort. But the sunny afternoon and woodsy surroundings mitigated the pain.

Stellako Lodge proved to be as picturesque as its website photos. A rainbow of bountiful flowers with well kept cabins told us we were in the right place, and soon Trudy was checking us into the cabin “with the best view.” Indeed, we were right on the shore of Francois Lake.

Rich at Stellako Lodge
Cabin on Lake Francois

Our early start to the day paid off, giving us several hours to relax by the lake. As the afternoon wore on, the wind dropped leaving the lake still and peaceful. Situated next to the outlet, we could also hear the rush of the water flowing rapidly into the Stellako River. It was lovely white noise. The lack of internet also contributed to the quality of our downtime.

Finding dinner required little effort. A short stroll took us to the lodge dining room overlooking the lake. As in most mom and pop resorts, Trudy and her husband were cook and server, and their Swiss roots were reflected in the menu. Rich immediately went for the schnitzel while I savored the prawns in curry sauce. We strongly suspected that they lavished us with extra side dishes knowing that we had cycled our way there.

The low sunlight was warm and inviting on the bridge over the river after dinner. We lingered and watched the fish that were hanging in the current waiting for dinner to come their way. Our final hours were spent appreciating the view from our cabin.

Molly by Stellako River
View of Lake Francois

Morning brought clouds and a short shower soon after we started cycling. We took a different route back to the Yellowhead Highway, but inevitably it too was hilly. And we'd been warned. Almost immediately after leaving the resort we encountered the first hill – a 12% grade. It was followed by a second such climb. I'm proud to say that I conquered them both! The payoff was coasting downhill nearly all the rest of the way back to the highway.

Bike at Lake Francois
Molly 12% grade

The resort was a lovely oasis away from the busy highway. And far more memorable than a motel. Yes, it was definitely worth the extra effort.