If there’s one thing that’s a certainty about bicycle touring, it’s that Things Will Go Wrong!
Equipment will fail, uncooperative weather will foil carefully laid plans, the cycling companion with whom you thought you’d be a perfect match will turn out to be an insensitive lout who cowers at high passes, whines as soon as the first raindrop splatters and expects you to whip up gourmet meals on the camp stove while he (or she!) lounges in the tent.
As you’d expect, things going wrong is nothing new to us.
A short list of sufferings
We’ve dealt with tropical diseases in remote corners of Africa, roads that suddenly peter out into deep, dark jungle, surly officials in dodgy third world countries threatening to lock us up, and even the theft of a fully-loaded touring bike.
So when we finally pulled into the town of Dease Lake, stumbled into the grocery store and spotted the notice that read:
Highway 37 Closed in Both Directions
Equipment is on site and working at various sites through the Ningunsaw Pass continuing to clear debris and restore traffic. Repairs to restore traffic flow at Burrage Creek Bridge are in process, and restoration with rock armouring continues.
Estimated date of re-opening: unknown.
we weren’t completely beside ourselves with worry.
We’re counting on you, Canada
The road was closed. So what? It would re-open eventually, wouldn’t it?
I mean, we were in CANADA after all.
We weren’t stuck in some place like the Congo where one might expect a washed out bridge to remain that way until some undetermined point in the future when some entity (probably not the government) got around to coughing up the money to mend the infrastructure.
But the Canadians, we were certain, would have dispersed determined crews who, with the help of heavy machinery, would be busy clearing debris and rebuilding the bridge. Traffic would be flowing in no time, we reasoned.
More serious considerations
In any case, we had more immediate worries than a washed-out bridge, asphalt tumbling down the mountainside and a few stray pine trees floating across the passing lane.
Namely, we were in desperate need of shelter.
After a long, wet and mostly miserable ride from the deceptively-named village of Jade City (population 12), we were soaked to the bone.
The Cassiar…a delightful ride under drier conditions
We were spinning our wheels south on Highway 37 (better known as The Cassiar Highway). It’s a favorite amongst cyclists and it’s not hard to figure out why.
While the Alaska Highway is little more than a soulless trunk road frequented by retirees in super-sized RVs plowing north to Alaska, the Cassiar Highway retains a frontier feel to it.
The only settlement of any size along the entire 600 kilometer route is Dease Lake (population 650). The road winds its way over hilly terrain, through dense forests of pine and hugs the banks of fast-flowing rivers. The autumn scenery is spectacular as the spruce and cottonwoods lining the road burst into bright oranges and yellows.
And there are bears on the Cassiar. Plenty of them. Before our ride down Highway 37 comes to a close, we will have spotted 25 of them roadside.
Back to my story
As we huddle together in the relative warmth of the general store, in stride three young cyclists decked out in short-sleeved jerseys and tight-fitting shorts looking more like racers in the Tour de France than cycle tourists in the Canadian bush.
I’m buried under at least six layers of clothing and still shaking and shivering.
“Aren’t you cold? I blurt out.
“No, not really,” comes the reply.
Humph. Who are these hardy creatures, I wonder.
“Found a place to stay?” I question.
“Yeah, guy at the restaurant next door invited us to pitch our tents at his place.”
Not only hardy, but lucky.
“Oh, how nice,” I say, forcing a smile.
In reality I want to shout, ”And what about us? Isn’t there room for a couple more exhausted cyclists? Can’t you see I’m freezing, night is falling and we’ve no place to sleep?”
So much for cyclist’s solidarity, I think, plunging into my very own pity party of one.
Eric and I wander out into the cold, wet night and ponder the possibilities.
There’s an RV park in town, purportedly run by a couple of curmudgeons who regularly turn down cyclists. “This is an R-V park,” they insist, “tent camping’s not allowed.”
I silently run down the list of possibilities: Police, Fire Station, churches, city park, random individuals with a penchant for acts of kindness.
And there it is. A house with a car park: the perfect shelter for the tent.
A rather cheeky request
Eric raps on the door. The porch light switches on and a middle-aged woman appears at the door. I catch snatches of conversation as Eric explains our situation to the woman. He gestures to the car park, which to my eyes seems the Shangri-la of all camping spots. It’ll be a reprieve from the rain lashing down on us, and that’s all that matters.
In a few moments he’s back.
“Come, on…there’s room for us inside.”
And within moments I’m peeling off wet layers of clothing and basking in the warmth of a cozy, heated living room. Our host trundles off to bed and I slip into the shower, relishing every single drop of hot water.
Back on the road?
In the morning we pack up the panniers and head off down towards Highway 37 South to check out the situation. I’m confident the Canadians have got the road cleared and open to traffic.
But, no: “Highway 37 closed until further notice,” is as detailed as the information gets.
Looks like we’re stranded in Dease Lake. Indefinitely.
As tempted as I am at the thought of another night with a roof over my head, I’m loath to impose on the generosity of a stranger for a second night.
We set our sights on the Fire Station, and what do you know, we’re in luck. Fire Chief Cathy Pitre welcomes us with a warm smile.
She strings up a tarp to protect us from the intermittent deluges, lets us in for a hot shower and allows me to throw in a load of dirty wash. There’s even WiFi at the Fire Station.
Things have gone seriously wrong on our ride down the Cassiar Highway. But with the intervention of some extra-kind Canadians, being marooned in a two-horse town miles from nowhere isn’t turning out too badly.
After two nights camped out at the Fire Station we make our escape. The road’s still officially closed, but the really rough spots are a two day’s ride further south. We bank on the road re-opening by the time we roll into the area of the bridge wash-out..
And it does. Well, sort of.
Vehicles are being piloted through once a day. The officials in charge force us to throw the bikes in the back of a pick-up and snake our way through the ‘danger zone’ in the safety of a 22-vehicle convoy.
The scenery we pass is, I’m certain, the most beautiful on the entire Cassiar Highway. The sun has finally made a showing after a 14-day strike and I’m held hostage in a mighty Dodge 4WD.
Nope, life’s not always fair. Things go wrong, Roads flood, bridges collapse and cyclists miss out on the ultimate day or riding.
“When things go wrong, you’ll find they usually go on getting worse for some time; but when things once start going right they often go on getting better and better.”