STEWART ACCESS ROAD
I woke up in the barn the next morning, relieved to find that neither my food nor I had been eaten or even nibbled at by the Bear. Perhaps it had taken the night off. I unpacked my Ursack and put the contents away back into my panniers. We ate a rude breakfast of fruit and protein bars before getting an early start out. It felt good to be back on pavement again. We only needed to ride about a hundred miles this morning to get to our destination for the day – Hyder, AK. Yes, we would finally be in Alaska, and we would enjoy one day of light riding and plenty of rest. Now that we had put enough distance between ourselves and our homes, we felt entitled to do this.
It was brisk morning’s ride. The weather was crisp and a little cold and foggy. Enough that I broke out the winter gloves for the first time, which performed superlatively. My heated vest and the gloves kept me warm and toasty as I whizzed through the mostly straight beginning end of the Cassiar Highway.
Before long, we had hit the intersection with the Stewart Access Road, a 40 mile long stretch of road that led to the little town of Stewart. Little did I know then that this road would also turn out to be the twistiest, most scenic and delightful road through all of our Alaska travels.
We turned west onto the Stewart Access Road and within a few miles we were greeted by the sight of the most enormous snowcapped mountains amid gorgeous scenery. After the first few twisties had passed, I pulled over and told Sarah that I was going to have to take a much more spirited pace and I would meet up with her at the end. She nodded and said that she would probably take a more relaxed pace. That decided, I took off and roared through the landscape, leaning the bike over as much as I dared to and gradually warming up to this brilliant road, the remoteness only occasionally broken by a few meandering RVs that I impatiently overtook, and reveling in the scenery that unfolded before me. This is where I reached pure riding nirvana becoming one with the road, dancing with it, taking on each exciting turn, ripping through it and looking excitedly forward to the next one, and the next, and the next, until…
Until I turned right onto a downhill corner and was slammed in the face by the sight of the first enormous glacier I’d seen in all my life. I did the only thing I could do – pulled off the road, slowed to a halt, stopped, ripped my helmet off and stood and gawked. A quarter of an hour later, Sarah turned up and pretty much did the exact same thing and we screamed in delight at each other at the breathtaking sight in front of us.
We took quite a few pictures here, but no pictures could do justice to the sight and presence of this – our first landmark in a journey that would bring forth many wondrous sites.
THE SEALASKA INN
When we had finally had our fill, we rode the last few miles to Stewart. We stopped here briefly to fill up our tanks with gas. I went inside trying to find a connector to my tire pressure gauge but didn’t have much luck.
From Stewart a mile long gravel road leads into the town of Hyder, AK. A dead-end town as it were, and this is also the road that leads out of town. This was our second border crossing back into the United States, although curiously enough we did not have to go through customs to get in. We were finally in ALASKA! This was of course a minor triumph because no roads lead from Hyder to the state of Alaska, and you have to come back out and ride north for about a thousand miles north before getting to Alaska again, but even so, it was something. The only reason for us to go here was that we had consistently been told by riders to visit here and get “Hyder-ized”. We didn’t really know what this entailed but were keen on finding out. :)
Half a mile after crossing the border, I pulled in at the first inn I saw that had motorcycles parked outside it – the SeaAlaska Inn. It was a modest affair with small, clean, affordable, ancient rooms. We walked into the bar to talk to the bartender about getting a room and got one on the ground floor.
The bar is where we ended up being Hyder-ized. I am unfortunately not allowed to say any more about this outside of the fact that I was in state to do any more riding for the rest of the day after we were done. We also ordered some of the most delicious pizza I have eaten and devoured it like we had been starving for days. I believe this was the first real meal we had had since we had started off.
Fed and watered, we now looked to the other bikers to socialize and exchange notes. As with most riders we had met, they too were travelling south and had already ridden through all the terrain coming up ahead of us. I pulled out my map of Alaska and they gave me copious amounts of information on the conditions of the roads ahead and what we could expect in the days to come. What we heard was not very good – they had been rained on for the past two weeks and had been cold and wet and miserable. They hadn’t been very much impressed by Alaska and were glad to be leaving it for warmer climes. They had ridden through most of the country and the fact that this had been their least favorite stretch didn’t bode much good for us. They had also made it to and back from Prudhoe Bay – that holy grail of destinations for adventure riders – worth riding to just to say that you had done it, but not very much fun to and back. Much like the riders who had ridden to Inuvik up the Dempster Highway, these riders described the Dalton Highway as wet, sludgy and with slick, dangerous mud. They had had an encounter with a herd of caribou, which fortunately had ended well for both man, machine and caribou in question.
Our bartender told us about a spot up the road where one could go look at salmon in the river and bears that came to catch the salmon. They had had a bear sighting earlier in the day, so there was a good chance that there would be more. Seeing as I was still not keen on riding, I hopped onto the back of Sarah’s KLR, resolving to keep my eyes firmly shut and imagine happy thoughts until we reached our destination. We stopped a bit earlier than we had intended, when she saw another rider on an 08 KLR. As she pulled over next to him, he turned out to be a kid of about seventeen years of age who was traveling with his dad. This was the second father-son pair we had encountered in this town. We told him where we were headed and he cheerfully agreed to follow us and come along.
Before long, we got to the salmon watching site. The ride itself wasn’t too bad except when we came onto more and more loose gravel.
We dismounted and paid for our tickets to go onto the observation deck and lo and behold – another first for me – the sight of enormous salmon swimming through the river or resting. We waited for quite a while, but the bears never showed up though.
Sarah and the other dirt bike riders, in the meantime, were hatching plans to ride the dirt roads to go see another glacier. I opted out of riding along, choosing instead to hitch a ride with another ride to go back to the hotel and rest.
I got back and took a long shower, trying to feel clean again. I then went back out to the bar and sat with a group of riders (Miles and ?). We got beers and pizza and proceeded to spend the evening exchanging riding stories, embellish some details and fabricating others from scratch.
Sarah rolled in later in the evening with Andrew, Jody and Derek with stories and pictures of the gorgeous sights they had seen and a video of a grizzly they had encountered.
We stayed up for a couple more hours before I decided to go crawl into bed for some much needed rest. Sarah – in keeping with being Sarah – partied into the small hours of the morning.
The next morning I woke up feeling refreshed and rested. I got out of bed, yawned and stretched, and got cleaned up before heading out to the bike with the first armload of things that needed to be packed away. I also took the opportunity to give the bike a once-over and it was probably a good thing that I did because I found that my rear tire pressure was almost 20psi, well below the recommended 35psi. I splashed it thoroughly with water to check for a slow leak, but it didn’t uncover anything.
We rolled out of Hyder that morning to cross the border back into Canada. I had a bone chilling moment there when I realized that my passport wasn’t in my jacket pocket as I had expected. It turned out to be in the innermost pocket under the waterproof lining though and I was able to breathe again. The customs officer looked at the passport and informed me that my visa had expired. Umm… no, it hadn’t, I said. It expires on the 6th of November. No, we use month/day/year here, he informed me. No, you don’t, you’re Canadian – you use day/month/year. Apparently, the good folks in Stewart are used to using US standards instead of Canadian, leading to this misunderstanding. Thankfully we were able to clear this up and I was soon on my way, looking forward to once again riding the twisty goodness of the Stewart access road back to the Cassiar.
We stopped at Stewart first to get some much needed food. This was the best breakfast I had had in a long time and I wolfed it down hungrily.
Outside the hotel in Stewart, we saw a BMW parked with an ADVRider sticker on it, which excited us considerably. We met the riders and chatted excitedly with them. All we had in common was that we posted on the same discussion forum, but out here in the middle of nowhere, it was enough to forge a bond of kinship. We talked and exchanged email addresses and promised to establish contact when we got home.
Leaving Stewart, we were finally ready to tackle the next leg of our journey – the mighty Cassiar Highway.