La Tête Jaune (the Yellowhead)

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From the Pacific Ocean at Prince Rupert, also a stop on the Alaska Marine Highway, the Yellowhead Highway traverses the Canadian Rockies at Yellowhead Pass near Jasper, AB.  I intersected the Yellowhead from the Cassiar at Kitwanga, about 60 miles west of Smithers.  Smithers was a welcomed oasis after the desolate Cassiar and my body’s strike against food and sleep and sanity.  Safeway and it’s infinite bounty calmed my symptoms and a half-gallon of orange juice washed it away.  A generous warmshowers host just east of Telkwa was also essential, for a shower and laundry was overdue by about three weeks (since Alaska!).  Leaving the cyclist’s cabin at the Rainbow Trailer Park near Telkwa, I was rested and ready for a full round.  Assorted tailwinds and blue skies made for classic summer road touring, interspersed with swimming and ice cream.  Enter four hundred-mile days in a row to put me a lot closer to Missoula than I was a moment ago.  Having put in some miles, I’ve now got time to ride some of the Divide, and to relax.

In good weather a week on the Yellowhead is a treat.  Ample shoulders with towns every 60 miles make for a nice time; lots of coffee and pedaling until sunset made sure that some ground was covered.

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Just married, this young couple from nearby B.C. was out to see some country in their refurbished VW bus.  In the final light of day, they paused to cool the engine following a steep ascent– such is the manner of an old, underpowered, air-cooled vehicle on a hot day.

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The Robson Valley near McBride might have been Montana or Wyoming, and was a perfect showcase for this country.  The land was in heat, throbbing with wildlife and greenery and mosquitoes.  The mountains cooled the views with lingering snow from a mighty winter.  This stream provided a cooling, if only a slightly cleansing bath.  My camp alongside was properly air-conditioned by it’s waters.

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Furher up the Robson Valley, Mt. Robson comes into view as a remarkable introduction to the Canadian Rockies.  It is the tallest peak in the range at over 12,000 ft, although Canada’s tallest peak is just across the border from Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.  Rising up to Yellowhead Pass past milky glacier waters, I swam before and after almost every climb.  On a hot day, there is no better way.  A quick descent into Jasper ends at the grocery straightaway.  I’ve become accustomed to planning exactly as much food as I may need for each section of riding.  It’s not as tortuous as it may sound, but allows me to avoid hefting excess baggage over mountains.  I almost always end with a day or two of basic supplies such as nuts and grains, so there’s no hazard.  I have also begun to buy meat at the grocery when I reach town, as I;m finding it helps balance digestion and is a good way to put some figurative meat back on some weathered muscles.  The challenge is to find something fresh and cheap and easy to cook.  One night it was a rosemary seasoned pork cutlet, while another it was fresh, local sausage.  On this occasion, three chicken legs are seasoned and stewed to perfection.  I was unsure how the experiment would fare, but with time the fats dripped from the meat into the water, garlic and spices.  A delicious broth cooked through the meat and made for some savory dipping with fresh bread on hand.  It’s amazing what can be done in a 0.8L cookpot over a beer can stove with a liter of methyl-hydrate (alcohol, fuel).  A nineteen year old at the Canadian Tire superstore was required by law to warn me of the flame hazard of my purchase.  I told him I was quite aware of it’s capacities; next time I will tell him it makes a nice chicken dish.

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John Neff is the warm showers host east of Telkwa; there is free camping at the municipal grounds on the shores of Burns Lake, in the town of Burns Lake; and free camping is a real cakewalk all the way to Jasper.  The mosquitoes were especially bad between Prince George and Jasper, although it may simply be due to a period of rain followed by hot summer weather.  I’ll share some from Icefields Parkway soon, but for tonight I say goodbye to Banff and head south on the Great Divide Route.  While the Divide is something different for everyone, it has been, or will be my cycle-touring sanctuary now for two summers.  Riding to get here is half the battle, while riding the Divide is much more that half the fun.  There is something special about turning off the pavement, off of Banff’s bustling streets and onto a dirt route to Mexico.  It all might be too good to be true, so don’t wake me.

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5 thoughts on “La Tête Jaune (the Yellowhead)

  1. YES!!!! I had little doubt that you would make it to Missoula on time…. a little. However, It looks like that is exactly what is going to happen. I am stoked that you are finally on the GD, and that I will be there soon to join you. Still on my North Carolina/ Virginia/ Maryland/ Pennsylvania/ Delaware “vacation” until thursday, when I fly back to Washington. Not riding my bike for about a month might put me a little behind the curve, but I’m sure all the ice cream and beer we are going to consume in Missoula will help me catch up! Cheers!

  2. In the summer of 1992 i traveled around the US in a 1977 VW camper bus, Pepe’, so your shot of the newly-weds bus made me smile. Great Scenery enjoy BC.

    • I don’t have any affection for the behemoth RVs on the road, but the miniaturized vans, truck-top campers and converted Subarus all hold a special place in my mind. Some commitment to minimalism is required to travel; taking your home with you seems to defeat the point of travel. What are you riding these days? The Handsome Devil?

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