Oh look, thar she blows! Out in the distance a whale blew, and a column of water fountained up. My eyes widened at the humpback’s gentle beauty. Calmly voyaging for two days from Juneau on the panhandle to Prince Rupert—our port gateway to a week of Canadian wilderness—first became a foray into Alaska’s Inside Passage. Taking a poor man’s cruise gave us the opportunity to experience life as any budget-conscious moto traveler might along this coastal connection of communities. All I needed to do was to bring Mr. Jangles, a 2001 Suzuki DR650, my marvelous other, Jason, and a stack of memory cards for the camera.
People of the Place of Rabbits
Rolling off the ferry on British Columbia’s coast, we departed and made a beeline to Kitwanga, 150 miles away on the Yellowhead Hwy. First up was a meet-and-greet with a black bear and her cub. Shuffling past me, I slammed on the anchor to watch the little one promptly reunite with the safety of the forest.
The mama bear eyed me with as much warning as she did with caution. Hoping I was projecting a feeling of warmth upon her, I heard Jason, my partner, through the intercom: “Just be careful, Lisa.” A Cheshire cat-sized grin beamed across my face, so huge was my smile. I relished the experience all evening as we made camp at a pretty spot just off the highway.
Also known as Gitwangak, meaning “people of the place of rabbits,” Kitwanga is located where its namesake Kitwanga River runs into the Skeena. Fluffy-tailed critters aside, the salmon-fishing village marked a convenient halfway point to Salmon Glacier on the outskirts of Hyder.
Due to its geographic isolation, Hyder functions as the only de facto Canadian outpost in the U.S. There’s no requirement to stop on the way into this stamp-sized town. All businesses (barring the post office) price in Canadian dollars. The electricity comes from a Canadian utility, and the nearest police are Mounties—the famous red-jacketed Canadian mounted police. It’s the only place in Alaska not to use the state’s international dialing code.
Teddy Bears’ Picnic
Punctuated with “Wildlife Corridor” signs, we wound our way up the Cassiar Mountains. Sure enough, we spotted another big black bear, which sent my heart racing. “Lisa, wait until another vehicle comes past before you start your engine—don’t startle that bear, okay?” Jason instructed me.
I nodded silently and, giving the bear a wide berth, followed Jason’s sage advice like a student in nature’s grand classroom.
Plenty more bears emerged on the roadside before the day was out, although most seemed indifferent to the staccato hum of our bikes. They cared only about keeping their noses in the grass. It took half a heartbeat to fall in love with the wild euphoria brought about by the bears. A real first for us Brits, something that was better than good!