We woke to a menacing sky so packed up the dry tent first, just in time we rolled the bike under the camp shelter. Bear and Steph joined us in our makeshift garage and we enjoyed breakfast in the dry before we set off in the rain back on the Stewart-Cassiar highway described as the northwesternmost highway in the province and very scenic. It passes through some of the most isolated areas of B.C (Canada) before it crosses the 60th parallel into the Yukon province. At 874km or 543miles in length it has few gas (fuel) stops along the way and no towns to speak of. We had travelled approximately 100miles of its length when we arrived at Meziadin junction. Being so isolated it was not a road to take lightly and indeed we had heard that a recent rain fall had caused a slip closing a bridge off for a few days (now re-opened), the rain would not be a welcome guest if it caused another slip it. To find another route north would be a huge detour.
With Bear and Steph behind us we rode into increasingly heavy rain, we also found more of the steel grate bridges to cross. At one point a motorcycle overtook Bear and Steph but remained behind us, they recognised the UK plate and became curious. Steph and Bear had a bluetooth intercom to communicate to each other whilst riding and it was at that moment Steph said to Bear “and three become four” and so it came about that Ray and Karen joined our little band of merry travellers.
At Bell II, our next fuel stop it was revealed over soup and buns Ray and Karen were three months into their big trip around the Americas, they did notice the number plate as they like us were an English couple riding with UK plates. The rain had stopped by then and after saying farewell to the barn swallows nesting in the roof we all left the fuel stop traveling together. We were still just in-front of a gathering storm and wanted to stay that way.
We paused later in the day for one more quick fuel stop, the impending storm still chasing us. When we left Dave in Smithers he said while you are travelling the Cassiar highway drop in and say hello to my friends Willie and Grace. His directions were cross over the big iron bridge in the valley and then their drive cuts back sharply on the left.
The directions sounded a bit vague in hundreds of miles of wilderness but sure enough we crossed a big iron bridge and there on the left was a dirt road which cut back sharply. We stopped and discussed the notion of all of us showing up en-masse. Of course we initially thought we would be on our own but now there were six of us on four bikes and we were all a bit concerned about showing up unannounced. Having had many good experiences from gut feelings we assured them if it felt right we would go with the flow, otherwise we would pop in say hello and leave again.
It turned out Willie and Grace had just had a large family wedding over the weekend (hence the sign) and a few people were still around. Once we explained how we came to be there Willie and Grace welcomed us and offered tea and biscuits in one of their cabins. We all sat down and started chatting each with our own story to tell, within minutes the rain that had been chasing us all day finally caught up and the heavens opened in one almighty storm.
Sheltering in the cabin we could do nothing but watch as we witnessed a storm of epic proportions, the tree tops swayed beyond their capabilities and one or two snapped their tops off, the skies darkened to almost night and the marquee blew upside down and turned into a swimming pool. Thunder roared, lightening crashed and the rain was so heavy that the paddocks flooded and we had to shout to make ourselves heard. We looked at each other and all gave silent, grateful thanks as we realised this was one storm we would not want to be out in. There would have been nowhere to hide on the Cassiar highway and the wind and rain was ferocious. Willie said there hadn’t seen a storm like that in years and as he surveyed the aftermath he offered us his old cabin for the night. Bear went out in the dying rains to see if the bikes had survived and were still upright. We were most surprised to hear they were having fully expected them to have toppled like dominoes.
After the storm had passed we saw the horses returning to their paddock, they roam free during the day and we joined Willie as he surveyed the carnage left from the storm. Luckily there was nothing too serious but a few tents left over from the party had blown down and a few other things had been scattered around, the good thing was the new barn stayed watertight, its roof had only just been completed. Inside Willie showed us some of Grace’s handicraft. We helped take down some of the tents and stack the chairs back on the truck ready to take back to town.
The cabin that we were to sleep in was the first home that Willie and Grace built here. It is filled with memories, decorated with numerous photos and memorabilia and it had a beautiful feel to it. We all mellowed out and pooled our food to produce dinner. Kev lit a fire in cabins stove, we chilled out and the friendship between us strengthened.
Next morning we all found our way to the main house where Grace and Tamara were making coffee and breakfast. Here Willie recounted stories of his early youth, he ran the ferry across the river for many years before the bridge was built. While working on the river he saw this tract of land vowing one day it would be home to his family. He cleared it by himself back in 1967 and has lived here ever since, Grace and Willie are now celebrating 54 years of marriage. These days besides being the host for a yearly 3-day gospel music festival held at his ranch, Willie also organizes horseback riding trips through the wilderness of the nearby provincial parks, Stikine River, Spatsizi Plateau & Mount Edizia. Each trip is unique and many clients return. Willie showed us an amazing book of landscape photography by a German photographer that was taken on a trip that Willie guided. With no website and no email it’s a wonder how Willie gets his clients. “I don’t know, somehow people seem to find me” Willie said wistfully.
We got the guided tour of the property with no mains water or electricity Willie is inventive, the cold house is dug in the side of the land and large cold storage really is like a fridge, water comes from a natural spring at the rear of the property.
We set about with a little housekeeping of our own, here Steph cleans up.
Willies grandchild was rather struck with our bikes and with Ray’s help was soon trying them all out for size.
We felt like we had found a little Eden, saying goodbye was hard and although we began as strangers we left as friends, thank you Willie and Grace.
Next up – Leaving BC for the Yukon province