The Challenge Rewarded

If my trip down the Dalton Hwy in Northern Alaska was a rude, painful, and challenging awakening, then my trip down the Cassiar Hwy in British Columbia has been my reward. I was exposed to how challenging the road can be while pedaling south form the Arctic Ocean. How it will call the shots, and dictate the tempo of your trip. Following those lessons, many of which are still being properly absorbed, I was sent into training mode as I progressed towards the beginning of the Cassiar Hwy. Training to establish rhythms and routines on the road; to deal with heat, cold, and rain; to pace yourself and cover considerable distance day-in and day-out. After 850 miles of emotional and physical ups and downs I turned south onto the ribbon of road known as the Stewart-Cassiar Hwy and away from the monotonous Alaska Hwy.
The Alaska Hwy has become a well traveled and well groomed route through Alaska and Canada, and as a result has lost much of the charm it once possessed for weaving through rugged, untouched wilderness. With every update the road has undergone, to carry an ever-increasing number of commercial and passenger vehicles, it has smoothed out and carved through the landscape that it once rested upon. Spend time on the side of the Alaskan Hwy and it quickly resembles an arterial passage to and from something, not a purposed destination in itself as I assume it once would have been. I see similarities between the decline of Native cultures all over the world as they were brought further and further into contact with the outside (and often disease ridden) world, and the slow degradation of the natural environment as the roads dig deeper and wider into the wild landscapes they are meant to highlight and “support”. (Perhaps more on that in another post). Depending on the time of the year, the passenger motorhomes, complete with hot-tubs, satelite dishes, and an extra truck being towed along, outnumber the truck traffic bringing necessities and non-necessities to the northern communities of the arctic. On a bike this constant barrage of large, destination driven traffic is overwhelming.
In contrast, the Cassiar welcomed us with narrow, unmarked roads. The “wilderness” was only pushed back a few feet from the edge of the road. It immediately felt more intimate and enclosing, and the idea of “being in the wild” was restored. In truth, it would slowly unfold into a more populated road as we ventured deeper south into the heart of British Columbia, but the character of the Hwy was established at the beginning and stuck with me through to the end. A double rainbow punched through the rainclouds as we pedaled over the first ten miles of rollercoaster rolling hills to set up camp just before the burned area of the 2010 forest-fire season. Recently re-opened, the ride through the still smoldering, blackened forest was mesmerizing. Every so often an Aspen would stand strong and in start contrast to the burnt out spruce and pine that surrounded it. Each rise in terrain, or bend in the road, could reveal a new lake pocketed into the gently rolling hills. The road was not flat and easy, but the movement it made through the landscape was as close as you can get to riding singletrack on pavement.
It had either rained or been cloudy and threatening for the first few days down the Cassiar and we (Nathan and I were a reformed biking wolf-pack once again) had resigned ourselves to cool and wet conditions for the remainder of our Canadian tour. However, as we sat next to the Tanzilla River south of Dease Lake on our rest day, the fog lifted to reveal blue, clear skies. Everything came out to dry, including our soggy spirits and our soggy bodies following a refreshing plunge in the cool river. Rain drifted back in as we prepared dinner, but the positive affects of the sun had already taken hold. A crisp, foggy, chilly day greeted us as we resumed our journey south and up and over Gnat Pass, the highest point on the Cassiar, but as we descended down the backside of the pass the sun returned and brought with it our first bear encounter. The day had many ups and downs, but the legs and attitude held strong and it turned out to be one of my favorite of the trip. That is until the next day.
After a beautiful fall day culminating with a lakeside campsite (lots of photos in the album) we woke early to make the most of the dwindling daylight and were met with long valleys and dramatic colors highlighting the mountain landscape filled with rivers and lakes. (Note: green valley panoramic photo is from this day). It was fun. It was beautiful. It was dramatic. I loved every minute of it, and often slowed the pedaling to allow more time to take everything in. I was so raptured by it all that I knew the challenges of the previous month had just been rewarded. One day for one month’s effort seems small and insignificant, but at the time it was all I needed to realize why I am doing this. Not just to see such beautiful and amazing places, but to realize that renewed strength and purpose comes when you realize and follow your passions. This is what we look for every day. Some of us are lucky to find it frequently, while others never realize it is even possible. Purpose and passion are interchangeable. To be passionate is to have a focused purpose in what you do, and to focus your efforts with intensity and purpose is to be passionate towards life.
I have a lot of time to think on the road, often spending 7 hours a day on a bike, but didn’t put it all together so well until I wrote it down here. None of this will probably last as the steadfast truth. I will rediscover many meanings to life as I continue on this journey, but what I have learned on the Cassiar has provided me with an understanding of the purpose of my trip and the passion that I am attempting to tackle it with.

One Response to “The Challenge Rewarded”

  1. Martha says:

    I have to say that of all the unique and exciting things you’re sharing, the quiet campsite lakeside has me the most envious at the moment. I so miss that way of spending time.

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