Alaska/Cassiar by Kawasaki EX 500 (June 1995)
(c) 1995 Bruce Clarke
The following is a transcription of a journal I kept while touring northern British Columbia on a 1990 Kawasaki EX-500 motorcycle. I rode up Vancouver Island, took the ferry to Prince Rupert, rode the Yellowhead Highway to Prince George, then rode the Alaska Highway to Watson Lake, and finally returned to Prince Rupert via the Cassiar Highway. The total distance travelled was 2670 miles by motorcycle plus 600 miles by ferry (4450 KM plus 1000 KM).
This journal may be freely distributed so long as it is unaltered. Since most of the audience reading this is American, I have converted to imperial measurements and American dollars.

Thursday, June 1, 1995:
(Victoria -> Port Hardy: 300 miles by motorcycle)
I left Victoria, B.C. at about 7:30 AM. The traffic was fairly heavy, but at least the weather for riding was sunny and warm. From Nanaimo to Parksville (about 75 miles) there were many signalled intersections. It was maddening to stop just as the light turned green, sprint a couple of miles, then have to stop again for the next intersection.
North of Parksville the traffic level dropped off and there were few of the annoying intersections. The town of Campbell River was a mess of new road construction. Here I almost became lost a couple of times and got stuck following an Old Dutch potato chip truck over a stretch of dry dusty gravel.
I stopped at the site of the Ripple Rock blast and snapped a few pictures - it was a pretty viewpoint. Back in the early 1950s an underwater mountain that was a shipping hazard was destroyed by the largest non-nuclear man-made explosion ever.
The sky clouded over and the temperature dropped to about 55 Fahrenheit. I found the cool weather to be somewhat depressing and wondered if it would improve soon.
I stopped for gas in a little logging town called Woss. The station had one rusty old pump of regular gas. After putting a few bucks worth in, I could see specks of dirt floating in my tank: oh great.
I found the campground 'Wildwoods' a couple of miles from the Port Hardy ferry terminal. It was $5 US for a tent site. The site had showers with hot water, but unfortunately the pressure was very low.
Brrr. It was a nice setting on the water front but the weather was kind of cold. I hoped the weather would warm up. I was tired, so I read for a while and then went to bed early.
Friday, June 2, 1995:
(Port Hardy -> Prince Rupert: 300 miles by ocean ferry)
I woke up at 4:30 AM: it was already getting light out. I stayed in my cozy sleeping bag for another hour. The bag I use is a Woods brand that uses 3M Thinsulate "Thin Loft" stuffing. The bag is only two pounds and packs to the size of a loaf of bread, yet it is rated to 22 Fahrenheit. During the night the temperature had dropped to within a few degrees of freezing and yet I found the bag (combined with a foam pad) to be very toasty.
The sky was clouded over still. I packed up my gear and rode to the ferry terminal. The ferry is an 8000 ton German-made ship, "The Queen of the North." This ferry is a cut above the regular B.C. ferries between Victoria and Vancouver: nicer carpeting, licensed lounges, wood decking, etc. There are many private cabins. The lounges also have fancy seats similar to a first class airplane seat.
Other ferries I've ridden on usually load motorcycles first. Today they first let on all the RVs that stayed overnight in the parking lot. This struck me as rather unfair as I booked my ticket several weeks ago.
Most of the vehicles onboard were campers or RVs. A fair number were rentals and most of these seem to be rented by Germans. There were also a lot of backpackers and bicyclists: roughly one-third to half are German. I had the only motorcycle out of 150 vehicles. I end up stuck at the back of the ferry, behind all the RVs and buses. I used tie-downs supplied by the ferry workers to secure my motorbike against any rocking of the boat.
In the cafeteria I eat a hearty breakfast as all I had to eat yesterday was a 7-11 submarine sandwich and a cold can of Alpha-geti food substitute.
The view is very pretty - if cold and cloudy. We head out into the open Pacific ocean; the sun comes out and it starts to warm up a bit. The ferry is moving at a speed of about 19 knots or 30 KM/H.
Since it will be 10:30 PM (about 15 hours one way) before we dock in Prince Rupert, I decide to use the radio phone to reserve a hotel room at the Totem Lodge in Prince Rupert. $50 US plus taxes - yikes! Oh well, at least it's only a mile from the terminal and I won't have to fumble around pitching my tent in the dark.
I find that the stern outdoors lounges on the Promenade deck is fairly warm and sheltered from the wind, so I park my butt in a deck chair. The open water seems sunny, but banks of clouds cling to the mainland and islands on either side. It clouds over and becomes chilly so I go inside and sit in the licensed "Prince of Wales" lounge.
Around 10 AM, someone points out a pod of whales far to the port side. They're swimming north and e can see the white foamy water as they breach the surface. Fifteen minutes later we reach Calvert Island: from now on the ferry will be moving through the island channels instead of the open ocean. The sky is dark grey and it is raining. The shore on either side is partially shrouded in fog. As we move north in the Inside Passage the rain lightens up but it is still very foggy.
Near Hunter Island we pass the streamlined cruise liner "Regal Princess" coming south from Alaska.
At noon the fog has lifted and the sky is starting to clear. I notice a bald eagle sitting in a tree. As we reach the small native fishing village of Bella Bella a floatplane takes off in our wake, swooping low over the Queen of the North: show-off!
The ferry lines up beside the old wooden dock to allow foot passengers on or off. A hose for the hydraulic boarding ramp pops, causing the crew to work hurriedly on it.
Looking ashore I notice a bald eagle perched on the church steeple's cross. I see that Bella Bella has a large hospital - I guess that it must serve all the logging camps in a large radius. Two of the largest buildings in town are the Heiltsuk Hotel (it looks like a big old red barn) and the "Bella Bella Band Store" (as in native band). As we pull away from the dock a passenger points out that the large brown apartment building is actually the teachers' residence for the local schools.
Although the ferry has been underway for six hours, we have only travelled about one-third of the total distance of 300 miles (500 kilometers).
About 2:15 PM, we pass a Canadian Coast Guard ship testing out its fire hoses: the boat is spraying a giant arc of water out to both sides. Half an hour later we pass very close to a humpback whale swimming south. It looks like a brown wooden telephone pole that keeps floating up to the surface, then submerging with a splash of its tail.
The lounge shows the video of the movie "Thunderheart." I've seen it before but decide to watch the movie anyhow. By the time the video ends, the sun has come out and the sky is mostly blue. The temperature was warm if you could get out of the wind.
The scenery is beautiful. Since Bella Bella we have seen no towns, only the occasional lighthouse or channel marker. The Inside Passage is a V-shaped trough cut out by glaciers from the last ice age. High in the tree-covered hills the winter snow is melting, creating several waterfalls. I see many places where landslides have torn away the old trees and bright green bushes have sprung up in their place.
We pass Butedale on our port side. A salmon cannery abandoned in the 1950s, this small town sits next to a scenic waterfall that still has an active generator. A Canadian flag is flying: this is because a handful of research biologists spend time on the island studying a rare white bear called the Kermode. Right near this old port, we see a pod of small black porpoises playing.
I am amazed by the remoteness. Except for Bella Bella and Butedale, there have been no signs of habitation. Once every 20 minutes or so we pass a fishing boat or a cargo barge. The ferry has now been underway for 12 hours; three more to go.
For dinner I eat a vegetarian lasagna that was actually pretty decent.
10 PM: by now the sun is starting to set. The ferry is late getting into port because of the hydraulic hose repair in Bella Bella.
After docking, I have to sit in the back of the ferry breathing diesel fumes as I wait for the buses and RVs to unload. I talk to a guy who used to ride a motorcycle but broke his leg while riding last year. Now he and his wife are going to bicycle tour Alaska. As he stares wistfully at my Kawasaki his wife tells me how she has convinced him to ride a bicycle because it's much safer. Yeah, right: been there, done that. I'll stick to my motorcycle, thanks.
Finally I ride off the ferry at 11 PM and quickly find the hotel. After treating myself to a nice hot bath I hit the sack.
Saturday, June 3, 1995:
(Prince Rupert -> Burns Lake: 320 miles by motorcycle)
After waking up early, I pack and get on the road by 7 AM. The scenery is spectacular. The Yellowhead Highway follows the Skeena river: craggy cliffs rise up thousands of feet on both sides of the river. The vegetation is lush and bright green. I see a group of bald eagles swooping into the Skeena to fish. The first hundred miles is a cold 40 Fahrenheit.
Around 9 AM the temperature eventually starts to climb. I stop for gas and coffee in the scenic towns of Terrace and Hazelton. The surroundings are too wonderful to describe - the roadside is picture postcard perfect.
Along the Yellowhead I stop at the Glacier Gulch viewpoint. Looking south I see two granite mountains with a huge U-shaped valley: a classic glacier is sitting high up in the trough.
Further on I see a sign on the side of the road advertising a towing service for "all vehicles including RVs and motorcycles." I think that it's good to know that there is local towing available. As I round a corner not one mile from that sign I see the same towing service pulling a big twin Harley out of the ditch.
Heading into the interior, I notice the snowy mountains are dying away. I was now into rolling hills and farmland. Traffic was generally light and the pavement was in good condition.
Reaching Burns Lake, I decide to camp out at a KOA. After a quick shower, I borrow a hatchet and get a fire going to heat up a can of baked beans.
Sunday, June 4, 1995:
(Burns Lake -> Mackenzie : 260 very soggy miles by motorcycle)
I woke up a couple of times in the night. I noticed that the sky was not completely dark, even in the middle of the night. I get up early and pack under a gray sky. Just as I leave the KOA a light rain starts to fall. I pull over later in Fort Fraser to eat breakfast and to warm up from the cold rain.
The scenery is now rather ordinary hills and trees. The pavement is okay but wet, so I ride slowly and conservatively. The cold rain keeps falling. Passing through the city of Prince George, the rain stops and the temperature rises. This cheers me up and I decide to keep on riding to Mackenzie, another two hours or so.
As soon as I head north of Prince George, the rain pours in bucketfuls. It starts falling so hard I can hardly see more than fifty feet in front of me. I think of stopping but I have told my Dad I will be visiting him this afternoon in Mackenzie. Visibility is so poor I start riding the shoulder so that I won't run into any cars stopped in the road. At one point I see a small car overturned at a corner with a police cruiser in attendance; the driver had slid off the pavement on a very mild, very wet curve.
At this point I'm getting thoroughly miserable from the cold and rain. It's a 180 degree change from yesterday's great ride. Finally I pull into Mackenzie just as the rain stops. As I get off the Kawasaki, I can see a little bit of blue in the sky. (Mackenzie is a forestry town of 5000 about halfway between Prince George and Dawson Creek.)
I phone my pal Vince in Dawson Creek. He will be attending a business seminar tomorrow but has Tuesday off from work. I stay at my Dad's home for the night.
Monday, June 5, 1995:
(Mackenzie: no miles ridden)
3 PM: It started raining last night and hasn't stopped all day. I went to the local hardware store and bought a two man dome tent for about $40 US. Until now I have used a little one man cycling tent and it is just too small.
I also spent an hour cleaning the mud of my EX-500. The chain and sprockets are particularly dirty, so I wiped all the muck off with an old rag and oiled the chain. I also checked the coolant and oil levels.
Around 4 PM the rain slackens off. For dinner we order in some Chinese food. The TV weather forecast claims that tomorrow will be cloudy with showers followed by a few days of sunshine.
Tuesday, June 6, 1995:
(Mackenzie -> Dawson Creek: 175 miles by motorcycle)
After a bowl of Shreddies I say good-bye to my Dad and take off. Just one mile east of the Mackenzie junction with Highway 37 I see a black bear sitting about 40 feet from the south side of the road. As I ride by he sits up on his haunches and watches me pass. I consider stopping to take a photograph but decide that'd be unwise on a motorcycle.
The weather is overcast and about 55 F. The road is dry but badly cracked in places from frost heave. As I leave the Pine Pass and enter the Peace river plains, the terrain changes into low rolling hills and pastures. The evergreens disappear and are replaced by deciduous trees. Three times a plain white RCMP "ghost car" passes me (as I oh so carefully obey the speed limit), hides off the road, then catches up to me and passes me again.
I stop after two hours and gas up in Chetwynd. As I pull out of town and pass the exit to Tumbler Ridge, the rain starts to fall. Within a few miles it is a downpour, and there are no overpasses or buildings for shelter. I grit my teeth and decide I can do the remaining hour non-stop.
At times the rain is coming down so heavily that I can't see anything in front of me. There's not much traffic, but sometimes a semi going the opposite way sprays me with dirty water from the road surface. The rain soaks through my rain suit and leathers, making me very cold.
A few miles short of Dawson Creek, I realize my hands and feet are going numb. I pull over to the shoulder. I can't work my left foot to downshift because it has "pins & needles", so I pull in the clutch, let off the throttle and coast to a stop. As I try to plant my numbed feet on the ground I almost drop the motorcycle. I climb off and stomp back and forth for fifteen minutes to warm up. Passing vehicles spray muddy water on me and my poor little Kawasaki.
Finally I ride the remaining distance into Dawson Creek (passing a coyote) and find my buddy Vince's music store. My motorcycle, luggage and riding gear are sopping wet and splattered with mud and silt. I wander around Dawson Creek after changing my clothes. About 3 PM the rain finally stops. I walk to the Mile Zero signpost and check out the old grain elevator that has been converted into an art gallery. Here I find an exhibit of old newspaper clippings and photographs showing how the US Army built the Alaska Highway in 1942 to rush military supplies to bases in Alaska.
For dinner I went with Vince to the Alaska Pub. While eating some red snapper a la Louisiana, I read a little about the pub's history. During the Highway construction, a dynamite depot in the center of town blew up, destroying every pub in town except this one. (Hmmm...) To get a beer, US servicemen had to line up for hours in the cold, using bonfires to keep warm. When they finally got into the building, they could each order only one beer and then had to go to the back of the queue to get another.
Afterwards we went to see the movie "Rob Roy." I parked my EX-500 in town, and stayed in the guest room at Vince's house.
Wednesday, June 7, 1995:
(Dawson Creek -> Fort Nelson: 280 miles by motorcycle)
I slept in until 8 AM, then ate bacon and eggs with Vince's family. At 11 AM we went back into Dawson Creek, where I fueled up and started riding the Alaska Highway. Vince had warned me that there is a dangerously windy bridge only an hour or so north of Dawson so I kept my eyes open for it. The landscape of the Peace river region is very pretty: low foothills patched with various shades of green from different trees and crops.
The weather started off as a (thankfully) dry hazy overcast. The temperature was about 60 F. Through the day the sky cleared and the temperature rose to a pleasant 75 F. The pavement ran in long straight stretches with an occasional smooth sweeping curve. I found it very easy to maintain a pace of 110 KM/H (65 MPH). (The speed limit on most BC highways is 80 or 90 KM/H - about 50 to 55 MPH.)
I reached the bridge Vince had warned me about while crossing over the Peace river roughly 35 miles out of Dawson Creek. As I descended a winding road to the river I saw a bright blue suspension bridge roughly half a mile long. Approaching it I realized it had a metal grating surface. The cross-winds were not that bad but were definitely noticeable. I fixed my eyes on the far end and rode over. I found my front wheel squirmed a bit but it wasn't too bad.
After passing through Fort St. John I noticed that the level of traffic dropped dramatically (and it wasn't that busy to begin with). Another vehicle might pass in the opposite direction once every five or ten minutes. I stopped to gas up in Wonowon (population 150). Here I scrounged an old bottle of 10w40 out of the trash to oil my chain.
I pass by Pink Mountain and reach Sikanni Chief Hill. Wow - a steep downhill of gravel that winds along the side of the mountain. Most of the gravel was packed hard by the passage of heavy trucks, but I found one section of fresh loose gravel a bit tricky - especially when watching out for the deer that ran across the road at the same time.
Generally the pavement was very good. Sometimes I would reach a section of hard-packed gravel. These were easy to ride over, as long as you weren't following another vehicle: I found that along one gravel section a convoy of three RVs stirred up a thick trail of white dust. I had to pull over and wait for the dust to clear so I could see where I was riding.
I stopped about 200 miles north of Dawson Creek to rest. It was eery; the only sign of civilization was the highway cutting through the trees and hills in a straight line from one side of the horizon to the other. Once every few minutes a semi or an RV came rumbling down the road. When I couldn't see another vehicle, it was so quiet I could hear myself breathe. There was no wind in the trees, no song birds or insects, just utter quiet.
When I stopped in Prophet River for gas I saw an extremely attractive school teacher buying ice pops for a class of a dozen kids from the local schoolhouse.
About 5 PM I decided to stop and pitch my tent at a Good Sam RV park in Fort Nelson. I grab a shower and a clubhouse sandwich. I also buy a copy of the 'Province' newspaper to find out the weather forecast: $2 US per copy. Ouch - that's three times what you pay for it in Vancouver!
Thursday, June 8, 1995:
(Fort Nelson -> Watson Lake: 335 miles by motorcycle)
I quote the 'Milepost' annual guide for the roads of the Northwest: "All of the Alaska Highway ... is asphalt-surfaced. Surfacing of the Alaska Highway ranges from poor to excellent." Yesterday was excellent: 280 miles in about six hours. Today I took ten hours to do 335 miles. Uggh.
I left Fort Nelson at 7 AM and made fairly good time for about one hour. I usually rode at about 90 KM/H as the asphalt was bumpy and rougher than yesterday.
As I reached Steamboat mountain I reached the first of several long stretches of rough gravel. Sometimes the gravel would run for only a few miles; other times it would run for twenty or thirty miles. I would guess that at least one-third of the miles I rode today were gravel.
Sometimes it wasn't too bad: the gravel gets packed down into a hard clay as the heavy trucks keep passing by. Unfortunately sometimes I would encounter freshly laid gravel that was loose and fluffy. These sections were very hard for me to ride.
I stopped for breakfast at Toad River in a log cabin restaurant that had 4000 baseball caps hanging from the ceiling. Passing high through the Stone mountains I saw several Stone sheep - similar in appearance to bighorn sheep. Here there was a beautiful bright blue lake called Summit Lake.
I also saw a couple of caribou on the side of the road. Strangely I saw something that looked just like a scorpion running across the pavement. I will have to check and see if there are any scorpions in B.C. - I hadn't thought so.
I rode alongside Muncho Lake - yet another scenic lake backdropped by snow-capped mountains. Here I saw two or three herds of bighorn sheep. Just north of Muncho I started to run into gravel that was not only freshly laid, but a tanker truck was also busy spraying it with water to help it pack down hard. Someone should point out to the Ministry of Highways that most motorcyclists do not enjoy riding through wet muddy gravel.
I passed over the border into the Yukon Territory at Contact Creek, about 40 miles east of Watson Lake. Fully half of that last 40 miles were new dusty gravel: what a nightmare. I reached Watson Lake a good three or four hours later than I had planned.
After settling into camp, I went to check out the Signpost Forest. During the construction of the Alaska Highway in 1942, a US Army soldier named Carl K. Lindley put up a signpost pointing out the distance and direction to his home in Danville, Illinois. Since then another 25,000 signposts have been put up on the side of the road.
I have a hamburger and beer at the Watson Lake Hotel and then start to walk around Wye Lake Park. After seeing a bird called a red-necked grebe (not a red-neck geek), I realize I'm extremely tired. Riding over all that rough gravel really beat me up.
Friday, June 9, 1995:
(Watson Lake -> Bell II River Crossing: 315 miles by motorcycle)
What a day! I saw what was easily the best scenery yet. I left Watson Lake early and had to waste an hour waiting for the gas pumps to start up at the Cassiar Highway junction. There's no fuel available between here and Dease Lake, a distance of 150 miles.
The road runs south through forests on a good chip seal road. The amount of traffic is very low: I see only three other vehicles in the first hour. The highway passes many small lakes and jagged snow-covered mountains. Just south of Good Hope Lake I see a moose on the road. The scenery is sunny and spectacular.
I reach a 16 mile stretch of hard-packed gravel road. The passage of trucks has pounded the road into firm clay. Sitting on the side of the road near Dease Lake I see a large plump beaver sunning himself. I surprise him with my approach and he trundles off into the bush in a hurry.
I stop for breakfast and fuel in the small town of Dease Lake, then head south through the Tanzilla river and Stikine river valleys. Again, the scenery is amazing - it is among the best I've ever seen while motorcycle touring.
I reach another ten mile stretch of gravel: this one is rougher but serviceable. Before towering mountains I gas up in the native village of Iskut.
I reach a third long stretch of gravel. This section is tough; I have to ride through several switchbacks of fresh wet gravel. As I round the bend to cross the Stikine river bridge, I feel the rear wheel sliding around in the dirt.
Eventually I reach Bell II River Crossing (this is a small gas station/restaurant at the second northern crossing of the Bell-Irving river). I am tired and don't feel like riding the sixty miles to the Meziadin Junction campground. I decide to stay in a cabin at Bell II: the price is $45 US + tax for a pre-fab hut. At least it has a bathtub full of hot water and a color TV. "Satellite TV," the clerk tells me. Yeah it's satellite TV all right - one whole whopping channel, CBC North. Woo hoo.
I read in my 'Milepost' that the northbound traffic is supposed to yield on the numerous single lane bridges. This explains something: I reached a one lane bridge several seconds after a northbound truck got there first. I had to honk several times and make waving gestures before the driver would go first.
Saturday, June 10, 1995:
(Bell II River Crossing -> Kitwanga: 230 miles by motorcycle)
I slept fairly well and left Bell II by 6:30 AM. I ride about 10 miles of pavement before reaching the longest section of gravel yet: 33 miles. When I reach it I am pleasantly surprised: it's hard-packed clay and fairly easy to ride. I ride over it at about 50 KM/H until halfway, when the gravel changes to very loose fresh stones that squirm underneath my ties. Along here I saw a red fox on the road.
After a few tough miles I reach a construction site where the gravel is watered down and is thus better to ride on. I finally reach pavement again - what a relief. The scenery has become more mundane as I reach the Meziadin Junction. I turn west and ride towards Stewart and Hyder, Alaska.
Within a few miles the surroundings change dramatically as I enter a V-shaped valley. Waterfalls cascade down on either side of the road. I round a corner and am so stunned at what I see that I exclaim "WHOA!" out loud.
I see an enormous beautiful blue sheet of ice sweeping down from the mountains. The leading edge of the glacier is fractured as large chunks break off to form icebergs the size of cars in Bear Lake. I stop to take several photos.
I continue on down the road to Stewart: this is a pretty little town on the Portland Canal. It used to serve as a port for coal hauled down from the Cassiar Mine, but since the mine closed Stewart now survives on tourism, fishing, and forestry. The year-round population is about 1000. I fill up my tank and ask about getting breakfast in Hyder, Alaska.
I then ride two or three miles to the border and cross into Hyder, a tiny town of just 85 people. I eat a scrumptious breakfast at the Border Cafe. It was really good - you could tell everything was made from scratch, including the sausage patty, baking powder biscuits, and gravy. It was huge too for only $5 US!
I leave town and ride back to the Meziadin Junction. Here I turn south and head back to the Yellowhead Highway. As I zoom along the 100 miles to the Junction, the sky starts to cloud over. The scenery is rather plain; it consists of low hills covered with various trees and bushes.
As I reach the town of Kitwanga at the Junction, the winds pick up and I can see a storm is blowing in. I fuel up and then find a campground four miles west of the junction. After paying $5 US for a site, I pitch my tent just as it starts to rain. As I look to the southwest I can see thick black clouds and sheets of rain boiling over the Seven Sisters mountains.
I have 150 miles to go to reach Prince Rupert. I only hope the weather is better by tomorrow! I can hear thunder booming like a cannon high up in the mountains. It's raining very hard and the drops hitting my tent sound like an out-of-control popcorn machine.
{Later} Wow - it it ever raining hard! I'd have never made it to Prince Rupert today. I cross my fingers as I worry that my tent may soak through. Oh well, at least the mud is washed off my motorcycle now.
I only saw two other motorcycles on the 500 miles of the Cassiar (not that there was a lot of traffic anyhow): a BMW R80-GS and a crusty old Honda CB-750. I also saw a Gold Wing go by while I stopped for gas at the Yellowhead Junction.
Sunday, June 11, 1995:
(Kitwanga -> Prince Rupert: 150 miles by motorcycle)
7 AM: It has been raining non-stop since 3 PM yesterday. If I were to head to Prince Rupert I would be soaked before I even finished packing. The tent is keeping me dry and warm so far. Since the ferry runs south on odd-numbered days in the summer, I have at least a full day to wait out the rain.
10 AM: It's still pouring rain. This really sucks. I haven't eaten since breakfast yesterday and I'm starting to get hungry, but I don't want to ride back to the gas station to buy food. I decide to stick it out here until the sun comes out or tomorrow morning, whichever comes first.
Around 11 AM, the rain stopped. I decided to pack while it was dry enough. Sure enough, five minutes after I got back on the road, the sky started pouring again. After about an hour of riding through the wet forest, I reached the town of Terrace. Here I stopped at an A&W restaurant for hot coffee and a "Triple Decker" hamburger: three greasy patties and three layers of processed cheese. It's a vegetarian's nightmare. Normally I steer clear of this kind of greasy food but I was so hungry I ate two of them.
The rain lightens up and I start riding. After a few miles the rain stops completely and I can even see a few patches of blue sky. About halfway to Prince Rupert I see a black bear sitting on the side of the road. He calmly watches an RV go by, but when he sees me coming on my motorcycle he turns and runs back into the trees.
The Skeena river is swollen and brown from all the rain. I see literally dozens of waterfalls crashing down from the mountains.
I saw more motorcycles just today than I have seen in the previous two weeks: a lot of Harleys, some Gold Wings, a custom Japanese chopper and a restored Triumph Bonneville.
Finally I ride into Prince Rupert. I check into a hotel room and spread all my gear out so it will dry. I phone and book a reservation for the ferry on Tuesday morning.
Monday, June 12, 1995:
(Prince Rupert: only about one mile rode)
I slept in until about 8 AM, then packed and rode to a campground nearer to the ferry terminal. I was thinking of staying in the hotel but it's booked full and the tent site is only $7 US. The weather is nice and sunny as I pitch my now-dry tent.
I walk into Prince Rupert. While visiting the floatplane harbor I watch a large plane take off over the water. During the course of the day I then walk around town and check out Roosevelt Park, the Museum of Northern B.C., the Kwinitsa Railway Museum and various other sites. The weather stays warm; Prince Rupert is a very pleasant town in a beautiful location. I notice that there are a lot of Harley riders here for a town of 20,000.
After eating dinner, I walk out of the restaurant into pouring rain: oh joy, rain again. This is the sixth of twelve days that I have encountered rain on my trip so far. This is really starting to bite my ass.
I was planning on seeing a movie but instead trudge back to my tent, getting soaked in the process. I find that some rain has leaked into the corner of my tent, dampening the foot of my sleeping bag.
Sitting at a campfire, I meet Ross, a Vancouver photographer who has spent the last two years touring all over North America on his KLR 650. I also met Mitch from Edmonton, riding around on a Kawasaki 440 twin. In addition, two Germans who couldn't speak English showed up on an R100-GS.
Late that night I was woken by a van full of German tourists arriving late from the Port Hardy ferry. They were yelling and laughing as they pitched their tents. I had a good mind to tell them to shut up.
Tuesday, June 13, 1995:
(Prince Rupert -> Port Hardy: 300 miles by ocean ferry)
Thankfully it didn't rain during the night but it was cool and cloudy. As I packed my wet tent and gear I noticed that a second KLR 650 had arrived in the night. These motorcycles are popular here; I have seen about five KLRs in the last day.
Riding onto the Queen of the North ferry was rather interesting: the metal grating ramp was at a steep incline and was wet from the rain. I get on the ferry behind four middle-aged guys on two Gold Wings, a Venture, and a Virago. Man, these guys were inept: they took about 20 minutes to tie down their motorbikes. (I had to wait for them to finish before I could get mine tied down as well.)
The weather is cool and cloudy with frequent heavy showers. The scenery is hard to see. At one point we see a deer swimming across the inside passage from one of the islands to the B.C. mainland. All we can see of him are his antlers jutting out of the water like a submarine's periscope.
All over the Queen of the North are signs that say "Seats may not be claimed by leaving personal items on them while vacant." There are plenty of empty seats, but all the best window seats are taken. One Englishman in his 60s moves a fanny pack from a window seat so that he can sit there. A few minutes later, a German woman of the same age arrives and starts demanding her seat back. The Englishman calmly points at one of the signs and refuses to budge. The woman becomes irate and starts yelling at him while waving her fanny pack in his face. She then stomps off in a huff and returns with her husband. Both start yelling in German and shaking their fists in the interloper's face. Some crew members then show up and try to tell the Germans they are out-of-luck, but the Germans just keep shouting and getting red-faced. In disgust the "seat thief" grumbles "Oh, I give up," and hobbles away on his cane.
About 3 PM we see some porpoises. What lousy weather; it has been raining pretty much all day long. Just as we reach Bella Bella the rain pauses.
Until now Bella Bella has had a foot passenger-only ramp. Today the ferry docks for the first time at a brand new vehicle ramp. A crew member tells me that this is only a test: the ramp won't officially open until July 1st.
Apparently there has been a giant cloud formation off the coast of B.C. for the last couple of days. From space it looks like a gigantic 'pinwheel' spinning counter-clockwise. As we head south we keep moving from arm to arm, causing alternating rain and brief (very brief) periods of sunshine. I wish I'd booked a hotel room in Port Hardy. It will almost certainly rain tonight. This crummy weather is really depressing.
I see a couple of black and white killer whales while eating my dinner.
At 7:15 PM it suddenly becomes "Porpoise Night in Canada": the ferry is surrounded by dozens of leaping black porpoises about six feet long. Sometimes three or four leap up out of the water simultaneously. A few of them come within fifty feet of the ferry: they seem to showing off.
I get into Port Hardy at 11 AM and pitch my (wet) tent at the first campground I find.
Wednesday, June 14, 1995:
(Port Hardy -> Victoria: 300 miles by motorcycle)
I got up early, threw my (still wet) tent in my dufflebag and started riding. The first hour or two I was moving through a very cold fog - brrr! By the time I reached Campbell River the temperature was finally starting to warm.
The Island Highway from Campbell River through Nanaimo was kind of nuts. There is a lot of heavy truck traffic on this road, but it is a fairly twisty single lane each way: it looks more like a back country road than a major highway.
I rolled into Victoria and reached home early in the afternoon after a rather uneventful day.
I saw a lot of wildlife and outdoors scenery while on this trip, but there's not a lot to do in the way of nightlife or non-outdoors activities. If you enjoy camping or fishing it's a great area but forget about partying at the local nightclub. Make sure you bring a camera with a lot of film and also bring a pair of good binoculars.
Before I left I was a bit worried about riding the gravel sections of the Cassiar, but it turned out that the Alaska had the worst sections of road. I did okay riding on my EX-500 and I don't have a lot of experience with dirt riding. If you feel comfortable with the idea of riding about 20 or 30 miles of okay gravel road on your motorcycle, you should do fine riding on the Alaska.
Hotels are very expensive, so I strongly recommend tenting. You can find lots of good campgrounds in the May-September time-frame. Although it is readily available, gasoline is also very pricey - about $2.30 US per gallon. Sometimes gas stations would only have 87 octane, but most also had 91 octane.
I also took lots of bug spray but didn't need to use it much; apparently this has been a very warm dry summer (at least before I got up there).

Bruce Clarke