Smoke and mirrors

As I was leaving Teslin, I remember seeing a bulletin on the post office wall that said people should avoid the forest fire smoke and, if possible, shut themselves indoors. “Ha,” I thought to myself, “I can bike through anything. Forest fires be damned!”

Smoke from a forest fire near Teslin Lake in the Yukon Territory.

A flare up near Teslin, Yukon

So . . . that really didn’t work out for me.

My first day back on the road was awful. My sinuses felt like they were going to explode and everything – my eyes, my teeth, even my hair – was throbbing as I wheezed down the highway. It was the worst head cold I’ve ever had and it went from zero to green-snot in a matter of hours.

After 40 km, it was all I could do to get myself to a day-use camping area and set up my tent in aching slow motion. I stared dead-faced over my supper and collapsed into my tent for the next 13 hours.

Thankfully, the smoke from the Teslin fire cleared a bit overnight and I awoke feeling slightly better. I still couldn’t breathe out of my nose and I had to pee so bad I could barely tie my shoes, but all in all things were looking up.

And so was I. As I took my morning leak and tried to focus my too-much-sleep Cookie Monster eyes, I saw a grey wolf padding its way down the river below my camp site. It stopped on a grassy sandbar and peered downstream for about a minute before crossing back over the water and disappearing into the trees. I stood there, pants unzipped, for a lot longer, and I think now, just as I did then, that that wolf was the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen in my life.

Seeing it gave me a charge and I set off with a renewed sense of energy. I had to honk the goo out of my nose every 10 km, but by the end of the day I’d made it 120 km, all the way past a tiny village called Rancheria and right to the coziest gravel pit you’ve ever seen.

Bicycle in front of Welcome to British Columbia sign at the British Columbia / Yukon Terrritory border on the Cassiar Highway.

Standing at the Yukon / BC border on the Cassiar Highway

From there it was just a short dash to the Yukon / British Columbia border and the junction of the Cassiar Highway. I could be a blustering liar and say I gritted my teeth and turned south with aplomb, but of course that wouldn’t be true. The fact is that the Cassiar has intimidated me since day one of my trip and every time I saw it glowering up at me from my atlas, I quickly turned the page to look at anywhere else. Delaware, for example.

I don’t know why. No one actually told me the Cassiar was tough, but somehow, over time it evolved in my mind into a 740 km stretch of flying monkeys and apple-tossing trees. The moment I crossed over the border, I set up camp and hid in my tent. I was slightly tired and the Cassiar, I thought, demanded nothing but superhuman strength.

Or not. When I departed the next morning, I found that the lion in my head was actually a kitten and more importantly – in keeping with the feline analogy – I had been acting like a complete pussy. The highway wasn’t scary at all. There were some hills, of course, but for the most part the ride was actually quite pretty.

River as seen from the Cassiar Highway in British Columbia.

The view from the Stewart Cassiar Highway

I’m in Dease Lake right now, just under 500 km from the Yellowhead Highway. Later today, I cross the continental divide for the fifth time, and from there it should be smooth sailing south. Bit by bit, I’m slowly making my way back to the Prairies . . .

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6 responses to “Smoke and mirrors

  1. Hey Mike, love your blog! Sounds like you’re having a truley enlightening experience. Keep loving life and living in that moment. I bet that old saying life is a journey, not a destination never had so much meaning. Just be careful when living so freely that you don’t go crazy. It feels a lot like enlightenment. Peace my brother!

    • Sound body, sound mind so far, but I would appreciate a chat when I’m back in Regina. You’re about the only person I know who understands a trip like this, and I’d like to pick your brain. All the best, Jeff – see you soon.

  2. Hey Buddy, still following your insane/increadible journey!
    Always thinking about yah, and can’t wait to see you, if even for a brief moment to give your rosey pink cheek a kiss!

    Live to ride, ride to kill! Beeyow!

    • Thanks for following along! The pink cheeks are gone, but I’ll gladly dole out a whisker rub!

  3. Hey Mike,
    Looks like I’m about a week behind you. I started off on the Cassiar with Baptiste, but got sick and he kept going, so I’ve been on my own the past two week. After getting better came incessant headwinds. A tough week, but so very worth it.
    Just got into Prince George today. Was Jasper that bad? I’ve been planning to do the Icefields Parkway and then head south to Montana, so I guess I don’t have much choice.
    Safe travels,
    Matt.

    • Bent rim, illness. You’re really going for the adventure side of cycling! I hope all is well, though.

      Right now I’m in Edmonton. And yes, to me, Jasper is that bad. I hate touristy stuff and I didn’t find much else in that town. But I hear the Icefields are worth it . . .

      Best of luck!

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