With a little help from the Alaska Marine Highway, and 7 days of rest, I’ve made my way to the little mountain hamlet of Smithers, British Columbia. Legs fatigued from a day and a half of heavy lifting on a ‘construction site,’ I decided to take today to recover. My guilt over riding only 3 of the last 11 days is quickly being washed away with the relentless morning rain.
A week off the bike in Southeast Alaska left me with restless legs, ready for the road east as my ferry pulled into Prince Rupert. I was also anticipating the freedom of traveling solo once again.
Riding in a group has its obvious advantages: the camaraderie of a shared journey, endless upbeat energy, split costs for camping, stories around an open campfire. It was tough to part ways after such an incredible week, with a group that bonded so quickly and traveled together so well. On the other hand, I find that traveling alone allows for a more whimsical flow to each day. I decide when the day begins, how far I’ll ride, where to eat and make camp–if I decide to ride at all.
A solo rider is also far more approachable than a menacing mob of misfits. Doors open with less hesitation, conversations with locals are more frequent, meals are shared without fear of the hungry hoard cleaning out the camper cooler. Invitations to stay with Warmshowers.org hosts (a CouchSurfing for cycle tourists) are also far more likely when alone.
Overall, I’ve found that riding solo allows me to connect with local people and places on a much deeper level. But that’s not to say I don’t get lonely. Long, uninspiring stretches of quiet, wet road can sink even the highest of spirits. Upon landing in Prince Rupert with fresh legs, I charged 150km along the Skeena River on the Yellowhead Highway with blue skies overhead. The high of beautiful, effortless riding and my sense of freedom on the open road didn’t last long.
Rain returned the following day. The freedom I felt just one day before was slowly being overtaken by loneliness. I recognized this transition while riding (another benefit to solo travel is the time it affords for processing) and remembered the feelings from my first week on the road. Adjusting to the solo life isn’t easy, but I’m gradually learning to balance the emotions and appreciate the challenges involved. Gaining perspective often takes time. Sometimes it magically appears around the corner.
Late that rainy night, Thom Henley magically appeared around a corner. That chance encounter was a reminder of why I’m once again on the road alone, embracing each day as it comes — open to Soaring Spirits, and otherwise.
Oh, the temptations of rest days. In Skagway, it was quarts of ice cream and Season 1 of Mad Men, with a run and workout thrown in for good measure!
Monkey in the middle. Blue skies and free beer on the ferry to Juneau.
I spent 4 days in Juneau, mostly relaxing in town, spending time with friends Mari and Dan, who I trained with at Backroads.
When not on a cafe couch, I was swimming in Auke Lake and grilling with an incredible group of friends. Dan sells tours on the docks as passengers file off one cruise ship after another and was able to arrange an incredible whale-watching tour. I've spent plenty of time viewing humpbacks in SE AK but never while bubble-net feeding. Typically solitary creatures, for a brief few weeks during the summer--and only in SE AK--groups of up to 30 humpback whales gather and begin herding schools of fish to the surface with air bubbles from below. In an amazing display of synchronized aquatics they all reappear at the surface, heads bobbing out of the water, in a feeding frenzy. The little ones typically pass the time nearby, breaching and showing off their whale tails.
I hopped the next ferry from Juneau, along the inside passage, to Prince Rupert, BC. With a 30-hour ride ahead of us, passengers adventurous enough to sleep outside under the solarium quickly became close friends. Looking for some early morning refreshment as we neared Petersburg, Mira, Taira and I spotted this empty dock ...
...as our launching pad.
You can't spend too much time thinking about how cold it will be...
It wasn't as bad as we expected. All three of us even took a second plunge.
Sisters originally from Oregon, and more recently Ketchikan, they're riding a single motorcycle from school in Fairbanks, AK to San Diego, CA. From there, Taira is off to Puerto RIco to study abroad and Mira is entertaining the idea of riding back, solo.
We passed the hours on deck practicing yoga, reading aloud from Spanish-written books, and taking in the surrounding beauty.
Being back on the bike felt like a million bucks. Blue sky broke through the clouds and a gentle breeze followed me inland along the Skeena RIver.
With towering granite cliffs and snow-capped peaks behind every sloping ridge, the stretch of highway along the Skeena River attracted a crowd. Though light by most standards, I wasn't accustomed to normal levels of passing traffic. And most of those vehicles were large trucks carrying fishing boats. The second longest river in BC sees plenty of recreational use but remains a significant source of life for native communities. Aside from boasting one of the largest salmon runs in Canada, the Skeena has long been an important transportation artery, from passage on the river to the Canada National Railway and more recently, the highway. It's also possible the river has greater historical significance than conventional archaeology suggests: First Nations lore tells of pre-Ice Age settlements along the Skeena.
As the sun disappeared behind the clouds, so to did my perspective on solo travel. While cleaning up after a roadside dinner though, I was greeted by Thom Henley. Curious as to where I'd sleep that night, he suggested I pitch my tent at his camp a few kilometers down the road....
With a name like 'Soaring Spirits,' there was no way I could turn down his offer. Thom Henley runs "'International Rediscovery Camps' in over a dozen countries around the world. Founded on Native principles, these camps allow kids to reconnect with local cultural traditions and gain an appreciation for the natural world, while teaching respect for the self and others.
Before I could set my bike down I was welcomed inside for a warm cup of tea and a plate of salmon with curried vegetables, straight from the garden. The following morning Patch, pictured at the open window, was at it again. Fresh eggs, pancakes, toast with homemade strawberry rhubarb jam and all the fresh berries I could eat.
Just a day prior to my arrival, Wade Charlie, a longtime friend of Thom's from the Kwakwaka'wakw nation, brought back 67 salmon from a brief afternoon on the Skeena. While the generator hummed day and night keeping the freezers cold, these were being prepped for the pressure cooker.
After breakfast I took a walk through the camp, in complete awe of the surrounding landscape: the Skeena River and Frog mountain framing the north border of the property, dense Poplar and Cedar forests east and west and the Seven Sisters mountain range to the south.
Despite the long break just days before, I was compelled to lend a hand that morning. Wade's son Eli, 13, is hard at work measuring support beams while Walter digs a hole for a 12-foot cedar piling.
The project? With 67 fresh sockeye salmon to move, construction of a smokehouse was made a priority. With an emphasis on tradition, most materials were sourced locally--on property, if possible. The design was based on a traditional longhouse and called for 12-foot yellow cedar pilings, which we later stripped to the sap ring and burned, to preserve the buried portion of the wood.
A few modern touches to speed things along. Wade Charlie was quite the character: jack of all trades, his true passion lies with passing on the traditions of his people, which he finds are slowly being swallowed by Western culture. He's currently earning his Certificate in Aboriginal Language Revitalization at the University of Victoria and, once fluent in his native Kwak'wala, hopes to begin teaching his outdoor education courses using the native language.
A hard-earned spot on the rocker! Elijah,17, was there as a carpenter's apprentice. He's saving money to someday join the ranks of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The one morning I planned on spending in camp turned into two! My warm, dry home for the two nights at Soaring Spirits. I was in the Frog Clan tent.
Experiences like this don't come along everyday. It was truly inspirational. (And dark; this was the first night I needed a headlamp)
Without a timeline to stick to for the near future I would have stayed for the first smoking -- perhaps longer. After one more morning on the job, though, I said goodbye to new friends and was on the road to Smithers, BC.
Open fertile pastures have been a nice change of scenery from the heavily forested land west of Smithers. I bet Photoshop could really bring out the double.
It doesn't get much better than this!