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The Cassiar Highway


I had heard about the Cassiar Highway almost a year ago from my next door neighbor – a guy who went up with the fishing boats in the winters and I’d heard that it was by far the more treacherous way to get into Alaska with a lot of unpaved sections and ripped up roads from the bad winters.

We stopped at the intersection with the Cassiar for a quick break and were shortly joined by a group of KLR riders. As we stood and chatted, a passing hitch-hiker came up to us with a gigantic watermelon, which he offered to share with us. Not questioning the surrealness of the situation, a knife was quickly produced and we proceeded to slice open and divide it amongst us. It was disposed of very quickly, after which we dispersed and went our separate ways,






After this brief, magical interlude, we saddled our horses and took off – up north on the famed Cassiar Highway. After months of dreaming and mixed expectations, there we were finally on it. If any road in the United States could be considered to be a destination in itself, this was it.

Time was when travellers would need to pick which route they would need to take to get to Alaska and the choice lay between the Alaskan Highway and the Cassiar. The former was by far the popular route – scenic and safe, a straight line path through thousands of miles of wilderness that stretched between Dawson City to the east and end at Fairbanks, AK in the north west. As a popular tourist destination, it was better maintained and fixed at the end of every winter. There were more rest stops and towns along the way.

The Cassiar on the other hand had a reputation for being the more treacherous one. It stretched from south east in Hazelton to north west to the border between BC and the Yukon, where it met up with the Alaskan Highway. It was 350 miles of a narrow, twisting road with few stops for gas and food along the way, very few turnout spaces and next to no shoulders for stopping in. I had heard that it would get really torn up each winter and be ravaged by frost heaves. Travellers on this road needed to make sure that their vehicles were primed and have plenty of spares in case of eventualities. Rest stops were few and far between and there was at least one 200 mile stretch where we would encounter no gas stations.

As far as road conditions went, we were in luck. By July, a major part of the highway had been fixed. We had been warned of one bad stretch about 40 miles long towards the end of the Cassiar, but that seemed very far off now.

It was almost mid-day by the time we got on the highway, so our hope of getting to the end within the day was alas not to be. We hoped to make it as far as possible before energy started to fade and hoped that we would find a place to camp down at at the end of the day. I had packed some of the leftover pizza from the SeaAlaska Inn for lunch, along with some fruit. I had also filled up my extra gas can and strapped it down to the pannier. I knew this time it wasn’t just insurance – I was going to need it. I was a little worried about my tire pressure from that morning, especially with not having my air compressor working, but there was little I could do about it.

The weather that day was brilliant, as it had been from the start of our journey, and for this I was grateful. We set a good pace when we started off as we were eager to cover a lot of ground. The Cassiar was narrow but well kept and we flew through the miles.

The highway stretches for a good 350 miles, so we didn’t have much hope of finishing it that day seeing as it was well after noon, but we were determined to cover as many miles as we could. It was beautiful, remote, complete wilderness with barely any traffic. This is where we started seeing bears and elk.

As usual, I had tunnel vision and I focused on nothing but the road ahead, while admiring the scenery in my peripheral vision. Sarah on the other hand saw every black bear, deer and caribou there was to see on the sides of the road. When she was in the lead, she’d point them out and even take pictures, while I had a mild stroke at watching her comfortably steer the bike with one hand, while looking off to the side and focussing to take an image, all the while going 70mph.

I remember one surreal moment when I happened to sense something in the distance and I braked gently. A few seconds later, a gigantic elk cantered out across the highway and disappeared amidst the trees to the left. It was almost a magical moment, fraught with danger on one level – if  hadn’t braked,  wouldn’t have seen it in time and it would have been a head on collission. This was when I started to feel like I was almost in a fairy tale.

The one memory I have of the Cassiar is that it was littered with lakes, amidst its gorgeous wilderness. At first I had the urge to stop at every lake and take photos, but soon I found myself getting blase about them. This was of course in part because we needed to keep going.

We did stop a few times at the more scenic ones when we needed to take a break for a snack, only to find that taking our helmets off for too long was not a good idea as we were swamped by a deluge of insects.

We passed few cars and were passed by even fewer. There were few RVs that crawled along at a snail’s pace, as is their nature, but they didn’t hold us back for very long.











Our energy started to flag towards late evening by when we had covered about 250 of the total 350 miles and we neared the first major sign of civilization – Dease Lake. As we neared town, I noticed that Sarah wasn’t behind me anymore. I pulled over to the side of the road to wait for her to catch up. As I turned my engine off and looked around, I happened to spy a movement on the other side of the road. My eyes caught sight of a black bear and I froze as I tried to recall every piece of advice I had ever read about what to do when within the vicinity of a bear. Should I stay put? Or start the engine and take off and risk it chasing me? They say that bears are surprisingly nimble for their size and can get up to 35mph. I knew that it would take my fully loaded GS at least a couple of minutes to get up to that. After a few minutes of indecision, I snapped the ignition off and took off down the street like my life depended on it and didn’t stop until I came to civilization – or what passed for it up in these parts anyway.

Thankfully the bear had had other things to do and hadn’t given chase. I recall seeing a couple out for a walk about 50 paces from the bear and wondered to myself if they were all quite mad up in these parts. Perhaps bears hanging around the town outskirts was such a normal phenomenon that they’d just walk past it and possibly tip their hats to it as it grunted back.

As these thoughts passed through my head, Sarah pulled up beside me laughing and asking me why I hadn’t pulled over earlier. As I pulled my helmet off, a little irritated, she showed me a picture on her camera. Apparently someone had spray painted over the “Welcome to Dease Lake” sign to make it read “Welcome to Dease Nuts”. It has amused Sarah enough that she had turned around to go take a picture, and I believe she was giggling about it for days later.

I told her my bear story and suggested that we might want to camp in a more populated part of town.


We stopped at a restaurant to eat where we met a woman called Frida. She belonged to a First Nation tribe and co-incidentally also used to ride an F650 GS. It was her birthday and she invited us to meet her later at a nearby pub for drinks. She said that the food there was good too.

Since the restaurant we had sat down in looked to be a little on the expensive side, we shamelessly got up and left and went in search of the pub she had menti0ned. She had been right about the food – we ordered some salmon and rice. It turns out the salmon had been caught fresh from the neighboring river and it was the tastiest fish I had ever eaten. Hunger might have added to some of the taste, no doubt, but I realized now that  previously frozen salmon from the neighborhood grocery store would never quite satisfy me.

Frida turned out to be a lovely person – intelligent and knowledgeable, and she told us a great deal about the town and its politics. We spent a good couple of hours talking before calling it a night.



We asked Frida if it would be okay for us to camp on the police station lawn. There had been nobody inside for us to ask permission from. She said that it probably wouldn’t be a problem, which is all we needed to hear.

We were really tired by now and decided to just pitch Sarah’s tent and go to sleep.

I slept well that night.



Day6: 37N, Yukon Border, Gold Nugget, 97W (Alaskan Highway), Teslin, Whitehourse (Beezkneez Backpackers)

We woke up the next morning to the sound of pouring rain – not the most pleasant sound to hear from the inside of a tent. I walked to the gas station across the street and used their bathroom for a good long time to clean up and look somewhat presentable. A bit of a losing battle because this marks the point where we started looking permanently bedraggled, unclean and unwashed. I hadn’t changed my clothes in at least a week and the reek was beginning to settle in. It was so much a part of the adventure though that at some point I stopped fighting it. In a way, it felt like my own little rebellion against society and the images of perfectly made up women we get bombarded with day after day. I stank, I hadn’t washed in days, I was muddy and filthy, but I felt glorious and was having the time of my life!

I scrounged for something edible in the store attached to the gas station and sadly settled for a couple of Power Bars and trail mix. Sarah and I ate while loading up the bikes and gearing up in the drizzling rain. A police car pulled in just then and the cop got out and walked towards us. We weren’t in any shape to make a run for it though, so we just stood there with sheepish expressions. He was rather pleasant though, in spite of finding out that we had camped on his lawn without permission.

We did the final unpaved sections of the Cassiar in pouring down rain and got the bikes well and truly dirty for the first time. I was a bit apprehensive about this stretch because of my complete lack of experience in dirt but it was pretty easy and we went a good 60-70mph clip.

In a few hours we found ourselves crossing over from British Columbia into the Yukon.



The Yukon! We were finally here. We were still too tired to truly exult but my word we had ridden our bikes from Seattle to the mighty Yukon!