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a temporary companion

Finally I get on the road and see the boy that dropped by my camp last night and we agree to ride together for a while. He is good company, happy to stop and explore, to pick berries. We talk all day about our trips, the people we have met, adventures and the road. Our present way is climbing a steady ascent with the occasional downhill run through the continental divide. The mountains are beautiful, rising about the tree line – spruce covered on their lower slopes. For the most part the sun shines as we ride.

The Cassiar Highway.

The Cassiar Highway.

Mountains and sunshine.

Mountains and sunshine.

Talk and berries make for a short day, only 45 kilometres, maybe the shortest yet. We cross a river and turn into a rest stop set off the main highway. The area was clearly built to service the old highway which now serves as the access road to it. There are a couple of semi-derelict outhouses and a grassy patch in the middle of a turning circle. We discover a prolific blueberry patch. Walking down to the river, we see another open area on the opposite bank where a second river joins the larger one. It looks inviting and so, in a sudden rain shower, we ride a kilometre, or two, back down the main highway to find the access road.

I set up my tent and then submerge myself briefly in the cold, cold river water. Fish are jumping, the water so clear that they are visible swimming in the fast moving stream. I remember the lure that Lea gave me in Whitehorse and toss out the line, hooking a sizable fish in an instant but as I land it the knot gives way the fish flops back into the water, swimming off with the pink lure still visible in its mouth.

Another perfect campsite.

Another perfect campsite.

Tents by the river.

Tents by the river.

We try to make another hook and lure with a sewing needle and a piece of tin from a drink can but it is not a success and I end up losing the line in the water – so it is pasta again for dinner. We light a fire and sit and talk, shifting occasionally to avoid the smoke.

Campfire by the river.

Campfire by the river.

Campfire.

Campfire.

I wake in the morning and cycle back to the other side of the river to collect blueberries for breakfast. The boy has still not emerged from his tent by the time I am packed and ready to be gone so I sit by the river and write.

Fresh wild blueberries for breakfast.

Fresh wild blueberries for breakfast.

Eventually we leave the campsite, late in the morning. He is keen to get to Dease Lake, 90 kilometres of rolling hills with a steady rise in elevation, for the bank. Cycling with the boy, I push myself a little more than usual. The last section of highway is under construction. It is muddy and wet, with gravel trucks constantly to-ing and fro-ing with their loads. As we top the summit, black clouds gather, the sky opens and we race downhill in to the icy rain.

Storm on the hills on the descent into Dease Lake.

Storm on the hills on the descent into Dease Lake.

We arrive in Dease Lake wet and chilled to the bone. Dease Lake, like most of these tiny settlements, is something of a disappointment. There is a store and a restaurant but neither quite measures up to some indefinable ideal. We go to the restaurant, more to warm up than to eat but food is also welcome. The boy is sullen, only reviving a little with the arrival of a substantial pizza. I eat a burger and I am still hungry. After eating, we find a place to put up the tents on the edge of town. I hide myself in the woods as best I can but this area obviously gets a fair amount of use – condom wrappers and other debris dots the area. I don’t like camping so close to town but we both need to restock our food panniers in the morning.

Even an inadequate campsite has it's own beauty.

Even an inadequate campsite has its attractions.

It rains all night and I wake from uneasy dreams to the sound of a frantically barking dog a little way off. The boy is up and says he heard something around our camp, a bear, maybe… We break camp and head for town without breakfast. I wander the supermarket looking for things to replenish my supplies and breakfast on some overly sweet apple turnovers and then we seek out the local community college to use the Internet.

Leaving town, the boy and I go not separate ways but at our own pace which separates us.

The road rises again out of Dease Lake. Clouds hang ominously but I feel good. Snowy mountains lie ahead. Rain comes down again after I cross the Arctic/Pacific divide on the long steep descent to the Stikine River. On the other side of the bridge the boy is sheltering from the storm – he has no waterproof gear. I go on, climbing seven kilometres out of the valley. The snow topped mountains pass by and the boy catches up to me. We end up seeking a camp not together but at the same time and place and find ourselves neighbours in a paddock beside a motel/restaurant. It is too late and dark to cook, the location unprepossessing, and so I dine on a tin of tuna, peanut butter and pita bread. It rains again during the night.

I leave early without breakfast and set off with low clouds draped over the mountains, a greyscale landscape. Fifteen kilometres down the road I pass a ‘wilderness resort.’ I enter, hoping for a bakery but find myself in a luxurious lodge restaurant, packed with well-heeled patrons. I order pancakes; the woman at the grill is struggling to feed the crowd and looks exasperated. I sit amongst the stuffed moose and loud bombastic Americans patiently waiting as the room empties. I am the last person served. I eat my pancakes and talk to three female parks and wildlife officers who have just finished an eight-day hike through the ranges. I would love to go up to those mountains.

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