Friday, August 15, 2014

Done With the Cassiar, August 12-14

August 14, 2014
On the road again.  We hadn't had a rest day since Whitehorse, over ten days before, and we were feeling it today.  But we had a relatively flat road and a tailwind!  Yayyyyy!  
Few things make us happier than a tailwind, especially considering the near-constant headwind of the preceding weeks.  Another touring cyclist approached us from the other direction, and we talked with Melissa for a few minutes.  She told us that she had seen our friend Jess just up the road!  We had biked with Jess way up north, on the Dalton Highway in Alaska, and we were excited to see her again.  But the day was hot and we took a long lunch, including a nap, and when we started again, the sun was low enough to partly shade the road.  We finished the 20 miles to Kitwanga in pretty good time and, even though the store was closed (no ice cream for us tonight), we were overjoyed to see Jess and her biking partner Ricky next to the campground!  
We shared a site at the free campground in Kitwanga, a nice place off the main road with water and a pavilion, and enjoyed hearing their stories, including one about getting chased by a bear.  Tomorrow to Smithers, the first town with cell service we will have seen in almost two weeks.
Bears seen today: three, including a cute little cub!
- Danny

August 13, 2014
Heading back to the main highway from Stewart was just as beautiful as yesterday's ride going there.  
The Bear Glacier

Tam and I watched the river whenever we could and talked about how we would run the rapids.  Next trip: bikes and backpacks and packrafts.  When we crossed bridges over side creeks entering the main river, we got a refreshing blast of cool air on the hot day.
 We made it to the junction by lunch, leaving a goodbye note on a sign there for Pam and Monica since we were ahead of them and they were heading the opposite way from the junction.  Our paths will cross again someday!  
Pam and Monica

We ate lunch at the campground next to the junction then sleepily hit the road under the sun.  Perhaps our luck on the Cassiar had changed; we had a tailwind!  We rode for awhile and were going to camp in an open gravel area by the side of the road, but decided we should take advantage of the tailwind and did another 15 miles.  We found a little grassy area off the road with good visibility.  We're both a little more on edge than usual tonight since we saw four bears along the road today, all black bears, and the last three named areas we passed were Grizzly Creek, Brown Bear Creek, and Brown Bear Rest Area.  Not exactly heartening names when you're camping in the area.
- Danny

Bears! August 12, continued
Around 4:30, we set up our tents at the Municipal Campground in town and drop our bags off.  Then we head off to Hyder, Alaska, to see the bears.  
It's wonderful to ride without all our stuff, and the weather is perfect.  We're not far from the border, and there are no U.S. Customs.  Hyder is even smaller than Stewart, with only a few shops along the main street.  Most are already closed.  We bike a bit out of town and out to the public boat launch, a spit of land out into the inlet.  The tall mountains form a sharp contrast against the water.  Big barges and little ships decorate the docks, and the wonderful smell of sea water fills my nose.  The scenery is striking, to say the least.  It's a little farther out to the bear viewing platform.  We follow a big glacial river past more deep forests and waterfalls, then find a clear creek filled with salmon.  It's $5 for a pass to go on the platform, and totally worth it.  The "platform" is a long wooden boardwalk that parallels Fish Creek maybe 15 feet above the water.  At first we just watch the salmon.  There are two main types: chum salmon, which can weigh as much as a small child, and pink salmon, which are smaller but are the most abundant type of Pacific salmon.  Both look strong and powerful in the water.  How amazing to think about how far they've come to get here!  You can see on many of them how their bodies have started to deteriorate.  
It's so exciting when the first grizzly comes around the bridge.  We follow him on the "boardwalk" with a group of other people as he splashes through the shallow stream, each step sending salmon splashing and skittering away.  We watch him hunt fish and munch on the brush alongside the river.  When he catches fish, he only rips out the roe, the eggs, then discards the rest.  The grizzlies here are spoiled by such good fishing.  
After an hour or so, another grizzly appears.  This one has a thick, dark coat but is easily distinguished as a grizzly by her huge shoulder muscles.  She ambles downstream and stops right in front of where I'm standing.  Then she pounces and catches a huge chum salmon.  She drags her prize up onto the bank right in front of me.  People are racing towards where I am, cameras at the ready, but by simple luck I already have the best spot.  Unfortunately, a camera flash startles the bear and she moves out into midstream with the fish.  Luckily we still have a good view.  
I watch as she holds down the still-wriggling salmon with one paw, as if it were a limp rag.  Then with powerful jaws, she rips of pieces of skin.  I hear the skin ripping; I hear the backbone break.  This grizzly isn't just eating the roe; she rips out the salmon meat in huge chunks.  It's incredible to watch such a wild feeding!  Then another camera flash startles her (the ranger reprimands the person doing this) and the bear moves off into the brush.  We stay until 9:30 or so, amazed by both the salmon and the bears.  Then we head back to our campsite before it gets dark to have some of our own dinner.  
- Tam

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