DAY SIXTEEN: SATURDAY, JUNE 27
As usual, we awoke way before the planned time that we had discussed the night before and got ready to depart. Jeffrey and I were the only people moving around in the Teslin hotel parking lot at roughly 6 AM this morning; no traffic was seen and the fuel stop was empty. Having full tanks of gas from pumping the previous evening, we simply climbed on and headed east. It would be well over two hours to reach another desired riding road, the Cassiar Highway, and the morning’s fresh brisk air was a welcome delight. As usual, the ride involved heated gear for comfort, and a few pull-offs were utilized for photo taking needs.
The distance from Teslin to the Stewart-Cassiar Highway, also known as the Dease Lake Highway to some but to be what I simply refer to as the Cassiar, is roughly one-hundred and fifty miles. It was a good morning ride; the sky and the weather showed it would be a nice day today.
The time flew by quickly and I knew we were getting close to the Cassiar. Getting close to this intersection, one has a choice between two fuel stops: Junction 37 Services right at the intersection of the Cassiar and the Alaska Highways, and the Nugget City Northern Beaver Post located about a mile west and would be the first that came into our view. I chose Nugget City…and man, did I choose wrong.
The Beaver Post works on a card-lock system like many fuel stations do up north. It takes credit cards, goes through an authorization process, and then allows you to pump fuel. We had not had any problems with this type of system until this morning. I inserted my credit card, waited, and finally the “card not read” error appears. Okay, I try it again. A minute later, same error. Fine, I’ll go ask somebody for assistance as I know all my credit cards are easily read by these machines. I walk into the structure closest to the pumps and it’s the restaurant section of the multi-building complex on the property.
Inside is an older man working as the cook, server, and cashier. Apparently help did not arrive this morning and this one-man show was very ticked off about it. I asked about the pumps; he picked up a walkie-talkie and asked for several different people in a tone that easily shown that he had done this before already. Nobody responded. He looks up, and says “you just need to keep trying the card, sometimes it takes four or five tries to be read”. Okay, no problem, I’ll just go back out and try a few more times. A couple sitting there waiting for food chime in and said it took them three tries for their card to be read.
I go outside and try for the third time. Same problem. Fourth time. It works finally. Great, I fill up as usual, move my bike to the side for future traffic, and go inside to sit down for breakfast. I prefer my breakfast an hour or two after riding while on trips; I get to ride in traffic-free areas and get to enjoy the cooler fresh air. Two hours later, I’m ready to eat.
Order a plate of three eggs, bacon and toast from the guy behind the grill who is now repeatedly yelling at every person walking in with gas pump credit card problems that they just need to keep trying. He’s talking under his own breath about the junk pumps, the missing help, and the fact that it’s BS that nobody is answering the walkie-talkie calls and he is being ignored by the rest of the facility staff. It’s sad in way; I just wait for my food which eventually comes with one incorrectly made egg, ham or something looking like it, and no toast. I say nothing…the poor guy is just frazzled and it’s barely 8 AM in the morning of what would obviously be a very long day for him. I eat the food which I cannot at all recommend, and go to the cash register to pay. Guy makes a comment to somebody over my shoulder who can’t get their credit card to take at the pump and he then rings me out incorrectly charging me two dollars more than the menu price for the full breakfast I never actually received.
I can let things slide…this is one of those times it was best just to let the guy be wrong. This guy is one second away from going postal and I have no interest in being there should he decide to reach under the counter and pull out a machine gun on the next person coming in and reporting credit card problems.
Had I known this stop of a few gallons of gas and a badly cooked egg would cost me over $800 today, I would have stayed there just a little bit longer and tried to enjoy that one egg a little better. We’ll come back to this later today.
Of course, as soon as we pull out of Nugget City, we realized how close we were to the Cassiar (I had enjoyed the morning ride and had not looked at my Garmin Zumo the entire leg). One “S” curve later and we turned right onto the Cassiar (which is about fourteen miles of Watson Lake), which is at the intersection of the other gas station.
As soon as I turned onto the road, I groaned loudly. What I saw was a road of gravel, as you can see on the left side of the picture above. The Cassiar is 543 miles long….and I had thought that it was asphalt. In fact, I remember people saying it was asphalt and when I zoomed in on Google Earth, it showed that it was paved as well. What the heck was going on? I wasn’t sure my ribs could take a five hundred plus mile journey on gravel today. In fact, I had visions of falling off the bike and waiting on the ground for a grizzly to come eat me when it would be impossible to ride one more inch further.
Sure enough, about a mile later, it turns back into the pavement I was expecting. Obviously it was old unmarked construction that they tore up but never came back to finish. My ribs, and behind, breathed a sigh of relief (take that however you like).
The scenery is definitely nice to look at, especially if you like trees:
Before I go further, I wanted to go back to something I had written about days ago regarding the difference between the Alaska Highway and Stewart-Cassiar routes. Each offers something unique; motorcycle riders should do both in my recommendation. Each excels in different ways. I personally would not tell somebody to just ride one road or the other both ways. I’m glad I did the Alaska Highway going north…and the Cassiar going south. I saw two different environments and two different types of roads.
The Cassiar is very intimate feeling. Much of the road feels like you are actually riding through the wilderness as the road is paved and actually narrow. To the sides of the riding surface, it not seem to have a very big cutout of vegetation. The forests were very close to the road, especially on the northern section. It felt confining, like a bear could run out and you wouldn’t have time to react (which happened several times). The Cassiar is more “tunnel” like in riding effect as you could not see the scenery very far off unless you were at the top of a hill. And opposite heading traffic was very, very light the entire day.
The Alaska Highway is very open and you can see scenery for miles on each side. The vegetation was cut back much further and it has more traffic so you do not feel so isolated. You knew there were lots of gas stations and places to eat.
It just feels like the environment was more wrapped around you on the Cassiar, which leads to many people preferring the remoteness of it and stating you should do that road in both directions. I like variety; I’m very glad to have ridden both the Alaskan Highway and the Cassiar.
About three miles south of the turn-off from the Alaska Highway, we got our first sighting of wildlife for the day on the Cassiar:
Then another one:
And what felt like eight million more over the course of the day; especially before noon. Not even half way to Dease Lake had passed and I had already stopped taking any more pictures of bears. We saw tons of them. And most just kept bumbling along, ignoring us as we got close. The only ones that ran seemed to be the ones that wanted to cross the road. Unlike deer in Indiana, these bears were smart to get out of the road as fast as possible.
The familiar red angled-square SLOW sign to mark road problems, which were a lot harder to spot when daydreaming than the much larger orange cones and flags used elsewhere:
A view on the Cassiar of a previous forest fire location:
I was riding along for an hour through the non-stop forest when I decided to just randomly stop. I got off the bike and to Jeffrey’s amazement, just went limping off into the forest without warning. I just walked straight in until I could not see the Vstrom or the road anymore, and just stood there in the wilderness. It had to do something with just being one truly with nature on my own…or perhaps to see if I could find a bear…I don’t know. Just felt like something I should do after riding so far to see it. I was wondering if this was perhaps land never touched by man.
Regardless, I did not get attacked by anything and as I started walking back, I kicked a discarded plastic soda that had been lying in the dirt back there for years. So much for that remote feeling. You can find trash just about anywhere on this planet.
You can see some mountains in some of the limited open view on the north end of the Cassiar:
About seventy-four miles south of the Alaska Highway intersection and seventy-two miles north of Dease Lake is the Cassiar Mountain Jade Store. I had heard that it’s a touristy stop that is actually worth seeing so I led us into the parking lot. About 90% of the world’s supply comes from the nearby Cassiar Mountains, which is only mined part of the year due to the extreme winter weather.
This store is featured on Discovery Channel’s television show, “Jade Fever”. I never saw the show, but there’s a sandwich sign board out front of the establishment letting you know they are actively taping for the show and that by going in you agree to possibly be on the show without payment. I didn’t see any cameras in there but I had already forgotten to look for them as I walked around. I did find some gifts and passed on the free coffee offerings the ladies were harping to each entrant.
Side note: The creations in the store are pretty neat and they do make for a good gift. Talking with the ladies working the store, they make it out to be a great place to buy jade creations and that you aren’t going to get these kinds of deals anywhere else. Well…let me tell you…some of that is true, some isn’t. When we got to Jasper a couple of days later and walked the tourist shops, there were quite a few stores selling the exact same items as offered at Jade City. And, some of the same pieces were 20-40% cheaper in Jasper. Take their claims with a grain of salt.
We stopped at the Dease Lake gas station, a Petro-Canada Super 8, a very busy establishment in the middle of the long highway. With no other competition around, this station can set whatever prices they want. We paid $1.55 a liter, which works out to around $6.58 a gallon at the time. Of course, no matter what they charge, you need the gas and will pay whatever they wish. Considering its hours away from an intersecting highway and many more from a big city, it’s actually pretty reasonable.
South of the Dease stop, I grabbed photos of the seemingly thousands of streams that are visible:
The different road surfaces of the Cassiar and some of the views at the curves in the road:
The Bell 2 Lodge has a Meziadin Junction address but is located approximately fifty-seven miles north of this town. Designed as a helilodge (stay, take helicopter to top of mountain, ski down), it was pretty empty when we stopped for gas.
As we munched on a snack and had a bottle of water, a north-bound motorcycle rider appeared. He was very excited; probably the same as we were two weeks previously when our excitement grew immensely once we hit the Canadian border. I immediately felt like a veteran of the north as he asked questions about many of the highways we had previously ridden.
The cool bridge next to the Bell 2 Lodge:
I got to the Meziadin Junction intersection and pulled off the road. Another decision needed to be made.
Had we continued west, we would go to Stewart,BC and then cross over to Hyder, Alaska; where up the road contained a very famous Salmon Glacier. This was one of my main reasons I came to Alaska. We would motel in Stewart, cross over in the morning, and ride the long gravel road about twenty miles up to one of the most spectacular glaciers on the planet. From where I sat now on the side of the road, it was only sixty miles away. And I know I’ll probably never get here again. And I had already envisioned the picture that would be taken of me standing in front of the enormous field of ice, my arms stretched out to my sides, my head titled back, eyes closed. This would be the picture on my computers’ desktops for years to come.
Looking to my left, I saw the road that continued as the Cassiar and was the pathway home. I had seen so much on this adventure and created many thousands of memories I shall never forget. I quickly went through my trip checklist and realized that even after the accident, I had done almost everything on the list. I had to skip the Hatcher Pass ride due to the same day injury that made riding too excruciating. I was becoming accustomed to the pain somewhat and I knew both Jeffrey and I really had wanted to see Salmon Glacier.
Sitting there for another moment, the answer came to mind. I started the bike. And turned back onto the Cassiar.
As the bike gained speed once again on this highway, I realized just how tired I was. Not just from today’s ride or from the lack of sleep because of the accident, but just that I was ready to go home. This was the first time I felt like this the entire trip. While this had become the best trip I had ever taken, I wished my wife could have seen it with me. She had made a lot of sacrifices as I planned this adventure and while I was gone so that I could do this trip; it was time to get home and get back to my life with her.
I will most likely never have the sight of Salmon Glacier to recall…but I was given plenty of other great memories. I learned sometimes you just have to fold the cards and walk away with the winnings you have already accumulated.
The ninety-five mile ride from the decision point to the southern ending point of the Cassiar at Kitwanga was uneventful. We had ridden hours to get to the Cassiar this morning and then rode this entire highway in one day. We were both tired. Kitwanga offered fuel but no good motel choices. We jumped onto the Yellowhead Highway (Canada 16) and pushed on eastward for about thirty miles to the town of New Hazelton, where we rode into the Bulkley Valley Motel parking lot. A few minutes later and I was unloading my gear into my own room.
Dinner was within easy walking distance at Rob’s Restaurant on Highway 16. Definitely recommended; great food, cold refreshing drinks, and great service. We both liked the log cabin styled ambiance inside. Went with the lasagna and very glad I did. The owner even chatted with us for a while when we were leaving.
We returned to the motel and separated into our own rooms for the night. As I usually do when I get into a motel, I jumped on the wireless and checked out my bank accounts. I had traveled with two different bank account cards, a separate credit card, and a Paypal card. I varied up the usage, spreading the expenses around so all would retain balances in case of problems in the future. Remember that first fuel-up this morning at Nugget City? Checking my Paypal account is where I almost had a Canadian heart attack.
What I found out later after many calls to the the owners of Nugget City, Paypal, and the actual pump management company is information that should be required by law to be posted onto the pump. Each time you insert a debit or credit card into their card lock system, the fuel company running the pump automatically puts a $202.50 hold on your card. The error of “card not read” doesn’t mean it wasn’t read by the pump management company; it means that some component of the information somewhere along the entire process was not read by some machine. The pump company saw the four swipes come through, and locked me out of $810 on my debit card.
That evening, I Googled Nugget City, and called. And got the old guy that was the cook that I dealt with this morning when the phone was answered. He did remember me, or so he said. Apparently it’s my fault that I swiped the card four times even when he told me to go out and keep repeatedly trying…something he also told the half dozen people that walked in to ask about the same problem while I was there waiting on my one egg breakfast. When I asked why he didn’t put on the pump the warning to travelers of the $202 hold any time they swiped their card, he replied it wasn’t his problem, and hung up on me. Sorry, still cannot recommend the Nugget City for gas or food.
So, Paypal had a hold on the funds for over a week. Eventually I got it freed up, and I didn’t actually lose $800 once the funds were released. But for that person traveling with just one or two debit cards, this policy can really screw you. No other Alaskan or Canadian establishment did this. My local gas station does a hold when a debit card is used but is smart enough to realize two sets of two swipes in two minutes is one transaction trying to activate. And they don’t hold $202.50 for the transaction to process either; I believe none of the stations around here charge more than $50 on a hold.
Canada may have the computer chips on their bank card and be up to date with the recent banking changes…but the USA has much better regulations of how consumer funds are handled.
Tomorrow, we continue east and aim for Jasper. We get sticker shock at a trading post. And we find out that some famous hotels have discounted hidden rooms for rent simply for the asking.
Mileage: 627 miles
Areas traversed: Cassiar Highway, New Hazelton, BC
Gifts: Yes, but keeping this cost a secret since my wife is reading this ride report too 🙂