The Yellowhead Highway
Originally constructed in 1970, the Yellowhead Highway stretches across the four Western Provinces, starting just outside Winnipeg, Manitoba and going all the way to Prince Rupert, B.C. The highway is named after the Yellowhead Pass, which gets its name from the french explorer Pierre Bostonais, who just so happened to have yellow streaks in his hair.
After a restful day hanging out with Matt and Oceania it was time to get back on the road. Luckily my day off didn’t have much affect with regards to distance because we had driven about 130km from the previous day’s camp. Day 7 started out after a nice wholesome breakfast with me leaving Cobb Lake and heading for Burn’s Lake. With a total distance of 172km it was going to be a long day. By the time I made it to the main road and off the gravel it was already 9am. By the time I finished calling my wife and parents to let them know I was alive and to record a couple Ridecasts it was 10am. It was going to be a long day.
Luckily there wasn’t much climbing to do and I spent the majority of the day down on the aerobars, eating up the miles. At around the 100km mark I met Jeff and Joe, who were biking from Smithers to Prince George. After a quick chat I learned that there was a Slovakian guy somewhere up ahead of me riding a mountain bike with lots of luggage. Although the view wasn’t as exciting as the mountains, I did get to see a sign indicating a spot close to the spot where the last nail was driven on the Grand Trunk Pacific railroad. Close enough for me. I also passed a cairn where the central stone was taken from the Norman Walls of Tintagel, the reputed birthplace of King Arthur.
After a long-ass day I arrived at Burn’s Lake and no sooner did I roll in to the free municipal campground than I saw a bike tourer stretching beside his tent. Turned out to be Fedoor the Slovakian. After some dinner, chats, and a shot of Slovakian alcohol it was time to sleep. Although we had slightly different routes in mind, we were both planning to ride the Cassiar Highway and decided to discuss it in the morning and see if our plans would match up with one another.
Day 8 started with Fedoor and I having breakfast and making plans for the upcoming Cassiar Highway. During breakfast, Fedoor decided to skip the detour he had planned and to try to make it to Smithers, a city about 150km away, where he had already received a positive reply to a Warmshowers request. He messaged them and said he was bringing another cyclist.
The day went well overall. It was chilly in the morning but got pretty warm as the day went on. I could see that Fedoor was struggling with my pace so I took it a little easier and tried to slow down. The main difficulty was on the downhills, as my bike is much more aero and descends really fast. I would end up having to wait at the bottom of the mountains for him, but that was cool as it allowed me lots of opportunities to take pictures and videos of the area. At noon we took a 45 minute break as I had to go online to watch a friend of mine get married over a Zoom call. It was pretty cool to get to witness it.
Arriving in Smithers, Fedoor and I were greeted by Lothar and Debbie and shown where we could pitch our tents. Because of Covid, they were trying to minimize how much we went in the house so we camped in the yard, but I was fortunate enough to get my first warm shower in 8 days, eat some amazing burgers and home fries, and shared some wonderful stories of our bike travels. I also got the chance to try out Lothar’s recumbent bike. Fun fun fun!!!
Day 9 & 10
Day 9 of the Bikepacking Canada Adventure took me from Smithers to Terrace, and with a short detour to a historical village, a total distance of 218km and an elevation gain of 1400 metres. Fedoor decided to stay in Smithers until Thursday and to meet me in Kitwanga, where we would start to ride the Cassiar Highway together. I wanted to ride along the Skeena River to Prince Rupert and thus decided to skip the rest days in Smithers. The ride to New Hazelton during the morning was pretty rainy, but there wasn’t too much wind and it was a quite fast ride. After rounding the corner and heading towards Kitwanga, the rain stopped but the wind picked up, giving me a pretty strong headwind for the remainder of the day.
Riding along the Skeena proved to be one of the most beautiful parts of the trip. With big mountains in the distance and high hills on both sides of the river, the fast flowing Skeena river provided nonstop beauty. The Skeena is the second longest river in B.C. and is completely free from locks, power stations, etc., which allows for a lot of natural beauty and lets the salmon swim upstream without being inhibited.
I arrived in Terrace at 9pm and went to the municipal campground for the night where I met Owen, an Irish cycling out on a bit of a tour, making his way towards Prince Rupert. I decided to take a rest day and to get a hotel the next day, so as to recover and prepare for the Cassiar Highway. I originally wanted to hitchhike to Prince Rupert and cycle back to Terrace, but this proved to be impossible, as it was nearly impossible to hitchhike in the region due to Covid.
In preparation for the Cassiar I bought a week’s worth of food and some G3 Voile Straps to attach an extra food bag to my bike.
Day 11 started out with me getting up way too early to pack up the rest of my stuff that had been drying. I went down to breakfast at around 7am. First thing my eyes locked on were the bagels so I started toasting one. No sooner had I started that than I noticed that they had a Belgian waffle maker. Just as I was about to start making a waffle, a kitchen staff member came and told me that they also make scrambled eggs, omelettes, sausage, hashbrowns and have baked beans. I asked if I could please have some of everything and then to her disbelief started to make a Belgian waffle with maple syrup and whipped cream on it. I sat down to quite the feast, but knew full well this may be one of the last big breakfasts I have for a while.
I left all my bags with the hotel for safekeeping and started to cycle west out of town. Because it would be impossible to hitchhike I decided to cycle 40 or 50km out of town and then come back in again, and then to cycle the 100km to Kitwanga to meet up with Fedoor.
Everyone talks about how beautiful the ride or drive should be, but unfortunately it was so cloudy I really couldn’t see much, and ultimately decided to turn around at the 40km mark and arrived back to the hotel at around 1pm, where I repacked my bike, ate my lunch and called my family.
The ride back to Kitwanga was just as beautiful on the way East as it was going West. Following roads just up from the river, it lent to spectacular views and it was great to not be riding into a headwind. At 7pm I rolled into the gas station at the junction of the Cassiar Highway and just as I was about to message Fedoor I saw him rolling around the corner. Talk about perfect timing. While at the gas station we had our first person ask us if we knew how many bears were in the mountains and tell us that they aren’t scared of cars. It honestly made us feel a little apprehensive. We then learned that in the town of Kitwanga, 5km up the highway, they have a donation based municipal campground. The perfect location to start the journey. It also gave us a small sense of security during our first night on a highway with the densest population of bears in Canada.