Morning. The sun was out as brilliant as ever. I showered again and headed out to find some breakfast. As I came out of my room and started walking to the street the hostess came out of a room she was cleaning and asked me how I was and how I slept. She said I looked refreshed and I honestly felt quite refreshed. I walked along the highway and headed to the town center and came across the restored beauty of the Wells Hotel. Dang it....why did I have to get to Wells in the dark. I would have loved to have stayed in this 150 year old beauty of a hotel. I walked into the restaurant for breakfast. The waitress came by and I asked for a Chai Tea. The waitress looked at me and said nothing....I forgot where I was. I asked again to see if that was something she might have. She went and looked and surprise....no Chai Tea. I finished my breakfast went to my hotel, checked out and headed the 3kms to Barkerville.
Just being in this area was wonderful. Time has stood still here. Wells is a tiny town and Barkerville is a living museum. I tried to get to the Wells Museum but it was closed and that is the shame. It looked like it was closed permanently which is a real shame because this area is heart of the Caribou Gold Rush. There were three major rushes that happened, the Klondike, the California and the Caribou. When the California rush came to an end all of those miners who were pandering around San Francisco rushed up to Victoria and then over to the Caribou. The Caribou filled with miners by the thousands and they staked the creeks and streams all around the Wells/Barkerville area. When you come here you feel like you have stepped back in time. The feeling is incredible and you can’t help but be a little lost. Coming into Barkerville there is now a gate and a visitor’s center which is different from when I was a kid. Inside the visitors center you can learn about Barkerville’s history. From May until August they charge a small fee to spend the day in Barkerville and its well worth it. I started my personal tour right at the beginning. I stopped into the general store first and walked around then made my way from exhibit to exhibit enjoying every minute of my tour. At the far end of town is China Town. The Chinese had a huge influence on British Columbia and there is a whole history to the Chinese achievements alone. I was following two beer bellied dudes...I don’t know what else to call them...wearing their favorite Harley Davidson collectable t shirts talking very loudly and being completely ignorant to the Chinese Culture and oblivious to the Chinese period people over hearing their blatant racist comments. I had to get away from them. I wish people would understand that being in these types of places are opportunities to learn and not to continue their ignorance. I couldn’t stand it and walked away as fast as I could. I went to the other wonderful exhibits and made my way down to the bakery. I don’t remember much from being there in the early 80’s but I do remember the honey glazed donuts. They are made the same way as they were in 1865 and they taste delicious. I had a good chat with the proprietor about my last visit there when I was a kid. She had a good laugh that it took me 30 years to return to her bakery. I also talked to another one of the people who work there and she and her husband travel around Canada and Australia and work these types of jobs all over. They don’t settle in one place long and enjoy working these period museum jobs. The best part about this trip so far has been meeting all these great people. Dinner with strangers and donuts with gypsies, how much better could this trip get?
One of my goals when I decided to come to Barkerville was to gold pan like my Dad did (and still does now and again) when we were up with my Uncle. To say that there is gold in the creeks of the Caribou is a complete understatement. You can still drop a pan into a bed of creek gravel and pan up some gold. There are about a dozen creeks in the area and Williams Creek was one of the most productive of that time. Barkerville and two other towns rose up on Williams Creek. Barkerville itself was built on stilts because the amount of gravel raised the town by feet every year. So as the road bed rose up with waste gravel they jacked up the houses to meet the height of the road then backfilled the raised pilling with more waste gravel. By the end of the mining days Barkerville had risen about 50 feet from when it was founded. I wandered down to the general store and bought a trinket for James who also has an affinity and incredible memories of Barkerville. We both are heavily drawn to these portals to the past. Both of us visited when we were kids and it has lived in our memories for so long. I found what I was looking for, a stack of different sized gold pans. These gold pans are made in Barkerville and are stamped with the Barkerville mark on the bottom of the pan. I purchased my pan and the guy at the till was an American also working a claim about 4 kilometers from Barkerville. He looked at me and said “this is what I like to see someone coming here to do some real panning. Good luck!” I walked out of the store quite happy. The sun was shining and it was nice and warm. The bugs were almost nonexistent and I walked up Williams Creek to a point where a smaller creek converged with Williams Creek. I found a nice little patch of gravel and filled my pan. Carefully and slowly I sluiced the water into the pan letting the gravel flow out with pan. Over and over I repeated the process until all that was left was a few small pieces of....gold. Yep, just like that I had gold in the pan. I was ecstatic. I was about 1km from the town site and there I was panning and getting gold. I enjoyed the best afternoon in many years panning in an area that has been made rich men poor and poor men rich for over 150 years.
After panning I went to the saloon for a drink where low and behold the two Dudes were sitting in the saloon complaining about the Barkerville beer. Barkerville brews its own beer in the old brewery. It’s a traditional beer with a bit of a bitter taste. It tastes much like European Pilsner hoppy notes on the end. They were complaining as loud as possible about the terrible taste and how it was nothing like a good old Bud. Dang that rubs me the wrong way...I finished my beer and headed out trying to cast their bad energy away from me. I fired up the bike and headed back towards Wells and stopped at the Cemetery. I wandered through the boarded headstones and looked at each one. None of them lived much older than 50. They died tragic deaths from various illnesses like TB and disasters like mine cave-ins, grave after grave showing a different tragedy but similar deaths. Life was hard, to say the least, in these times. The people who moved and settled here were strong and tough people. Walking through that cemetery was a somber experience and I enjoyed my time walking amongst the head stones and thinking of the people resting there. What their lives were like, what their families were like and what life was like in the town they lived in. I could imagine a miner racing up the street yelling GOLD GOLD at every strike and that same miner having lost or gambled his fortune away that same night in one of the pubs. Like that miner who now had lost his fortune and was back on the creek I got back on the bike and headed back towards Wells where I fueled up with gas from a above ground tank and then onwards to Quesnel about 160kms away. This would be my shortest day on the bike.
The trip back to Quesnel became smoke filled about 50 kms outside of Wells. The smoke was bad as more wildfires raged through the interior BC. This made my shortest day also probably one of the worst. I finally made Quesnel in an uneventful ride. I checked into one of my favorite places, the Sandman, had a bite to eat and went to bed. I should have stayed an extra day in Quesnel as the day after I left was Billy Barker Days. That is a weeklong fair and festival celebrating the legendary Bill Barker an English waterman who came to Williams Creek in 1846. In 1862 he struck it rich by pulling 124 ounces of gold from the creek in 10 hours. Flumes, claims, water wheels and support buildings sprung up along the creek. Teams of oxen and miners flooded the area and Barkerville, Cameron Town and Richfield were born. I will return to this area that is so rich in history and spend more time exploring the area. So with my gold pan wrapped in a waxed paper bag strapped to the side of my camping gear I headed north to Prince George which is the largest city in northern BC. It was a quick ride north and I even found a ghost house on my way. I stopped at a beautiful abandoned log cabin homestead with about 5 buildings. I turned down the access road and then waded through hip deep grass to explore these ancient buildings. As I walked through the grass I could see the patches where the deer have flattened the grass and bedded down. It was getting very warm outside and after taking some pictures I headed back to the bike and onwards for lunch in Prince George.
Not much changed in the town of the Prince. I ate at an Arby’s and headed out again this time heading due east to McBride and then to Jasper. The weather was beautiful again and no rain for the last 5 days. Between Prince George and McBride there is 225 kms of forest and between McBride and Jasper another 180kms of forest. Turn after turn hill after valley I road that day. I enjoyed the incredible scenery and the wonderful roads. I came to an ancient rain forest. Wait...I rain forest 1500kms from the coast? Yes. I pulled in and went for a mid day hike enjoying the coolness of the forest. The trees are massive. The forest floor is covered in ferns and cedar needles. When you walk through a forest like this with its trees that are 8 to 10 feet in diameter it feels like you are in Natures Church. The canopies give a roof to the cathedral that is the forest and the trees the flying buttresses and columns. I hiked up to a waterfall and sat in that cathedral for a little while enjoying nature. I walked back down to the bike and headed to McBride. I fueled up in McBride after a ride through the town and looked over my shoulder and a big black family of rain clouds coming my way. I filled up and headed quickly east. By the time I got to Mt Robson Park I had to stop to gear up. I spent the next hour and a bit riding in pouring ugly rain. The world was dark and wet. You always know you are back in Alberta because of the semi trucks no matter what time of day are a never ending convoy going from town to town. I was sprayed and rained on, wet and miserable and pulling into Jasper in July without a reservation. I road past a few hotels and motels and pulled up to the Astoria. I walked in and the receptionist said they had one room left. I took it and pulled out all my gear to start the drying process. The rain covers for my saddle bags were far too big because I bought the wrong ones so everything was wet. A nice warm shower and I was out on the prowl for some food. I went to the Jasper Brewing Company and enjoyed a meal with a really delicious Vanilla Blueberry Wheat Ale. I love craft beers and this was a real gem. Satisfied and satiated I walked back to the hotel and wrote in my diary for a while the off to bed.
The last leg, Jasper to Sherwood Park, a nightmare of 4 lane madness. For four hours I rode like a madman trying to dodge semi trucks and Dodge Rams. Minivans filled with kids going home from vacation trying to run me off the road because mom is texting and dad is changing the DVD from the one Pixar nightmare to another. I took a well needed break in Edson stopping at the Dairy Queen for a break. As I rode I thought about my trip and thought about how much I will miss the anticipation of getting on the bike and meeting new people each day. At some point in the trip you stop going forward and start going back. Not backwards, you aren’t retracing your steps but you head back to where you started. That point for me was Quesnel and now I was in the final moments of my 6 day adventure and all I could think about was when I could start my next 6 day adventure.
So far I had ridden over 1500kms with no issue. I noticed coming down into 100 Mile that the bike was shifting poorly. By 108 Mile House I almost couldn’t shift at all. I pulled into the Museum that is 108 Mile house and found a nice tree to park under. The smoke was getting to my head and making me sore. I had my tool kit and pulled out my tools and started to get to work. I was nervous that something was internally binding but if the Kawasaki was anything like my Bonneville the chain tension is very important to proper shifting. I looked down and the chain that I had adjusted before I left was as tight as a guitar string. I have no idea why but maybe it’s the way the adjusters work on the Versys but it was tight. I lubed and adjusted the chain back to where it should have been. I also took apart the shifting linkage and lubed it with chain lube since I had nothing else with me. I decided to check the oil and low and behold it was overfull. I was scratching my head to this. I checked it before I left and every morning since....or did I leaving Kamloops? I couldn’t remember. I walked over to the garbage and found an old salad container. I drained about ¾ of a liter into the salad container and bolted everything back together. Just as I was about to leave a lady pulled up with her windshield gasket hanging out of her car. She was heading back to the coast. I took some time and used a screwdriver and some electricians tape to get back on the road. Now I was behind. I still had the most adventurous portion of my trip ahead of me today and it was getting to be late afternoon. I headed north to 150 Mile House planning to get gas there but I was so happy to be on the road again, bike shifting properly and the smoke starting to thin out that I forgot to get gas. I looked down about 35 kms out of 150 Mile House just to see low fuel light on. Whoops. Do I turn around? How much farther to Likely? There was no cell service out here and the GPS didn’t give me enough detail and this area. A sign said Big Lake. Big Lake? What an ambiguous name for a lake. Low and behold another gas station slash grocery store slash liquor store slash post office was waiting for me. I pulled in and kissed the pump. They only had regular but that will do perfect. The Versys as it seems will burn kerosene if needs be. It’s that great of a bike. I paid the cashier who was absolutely stunning. I was in the middle of nowhere and here is a cashier in the middle of nowhere who was a true beauty. I bumbled with my payment and left. ½ hour later I was in Likely. Nothing really could have prepared me for riding into Likely. You wind down the hill and this picturesque little village sits right on the lake on the other side of a beautiful low bridge. The whole lake facing portion of the town is a green park with a little pub/hotel and general store. Hungry and wanting some info on the next part of my ride I walked into the pub for dinner. What a cool place. It looked like an old trapper cabin with crazy taxidermy, antiques and characters. There were one or two locals and two others having dinner. I sat down at the table and the next thing I know me and the table for two were talking. They are modern miners up in the mountains mining just like they did before but with some modern machines to shovel in the gravel. It was my bike that started the conversation. We all had dinner together and I got some good information on the road ahead. I left the pub at 5:30 pm with about another 160kms to go....all off road. The miners asked me: “Are you going to head to Wells this evening?” My response was something like: “Sure why not. I have about three and a half hours of daylight left”. They replied.... “You’ll need it”.
I walked down the lake a little bit just soaking up the honest beauty of the whole area. It was a wonderfully sunny day and the evening was cooling and lovely. Out here there was no cell service and the hustle of the outside world had not penetrated this lakeside paradise. I swung my leg over the bike and headed north into the mountains on a gravel road with no map and no idea what was ahead. In hindsight I really should of stayed the night in Likely but I did have my camping gear strapped to the back so if I needed to camp because it got too dark I would stop. As soon as my front tire hit gravel I felt excited and the adrenalin started flowing. I saw a marker that said “Barkerville” and an arrow. It’s a start I thought to myself. I hadn’t taken the Versys on gravel before now. The road deteriorated quickly. Five kilometers up the good gravel road, I came to a cross road with a large billboard that had a map of the area. I took a picture of it and looked to my right where the good gravel road wound its way and the left where a narrow grown over dirt road headed in what appeared to me in the wrong direction. I looked at the map and it said go left. Everything in my brain said go to the right but I headed to the left. That little seed of doubt stayed with me the whole trip over the mountains. I took that road far less travelled to the left and what a ride it became. The road instantly headed up the side of a mountain. I rode up that dirt road getting used to the bike and how it was going to handle. I had to navigate around trees, under trees and over trees. I came to my first peak and off to my left was a giant moose. He crossed in front of me and headed down a road. I just sat in the sun on my bike watching this magnificent animal wander down the road into the horizon. I kept riding and little Barkerville signs kept popping up. I would ride after seeing one of those signs anxiety free and then slowly my anxiety would build and build until another one of those old wooden signs would make an appearance and the cycle would repeat itself. The first of three bears made an appearance. It was a lovely black bear that stopped on the road ahead of me, stood up on its hind legs and stared right at me. I stopped and stared back. I was a decent distance away and enjoyed the moment of him looking at me and me looking at him. Just like that he was off and into the woods. Within two bounds he had disappeared into the bush and I was back on the road. I really got into the rhythm of the ride and the bike was performing perfectly. The road was good and my confidence was maybe a little too high but the universe has a way of taking us down a peg. I was lost in the beauty of the small tight valley I was in with a lake opening up to my right and the granite walls of the mountain to my left. The road was compact dirt but I went into a corner where the dirt changed quickly to gravel....deep BC gravel. I hadn’t started my turn but the front wheel of the bike dug in the steering the bike right or left would have taken it down. I stepped on the rear brake and cringing I stopped. My front wheel was 3 inches from going over. If I had gone over I would have been on my own, possibly very hurt or dead, no cell service and by this time about 250kms from any sort of hospital. Welcome to Adventure Riding. I had to calm myself and remember where I was. I struggled with the bike back from the side of the road got back on and slowly road away. It took me until my next bear sighting to calm down. This was a small bear and it just bounded into the bush when I came by. It was a nice reminder that maybe I wasn’t as alone as I thought. I went over and across probably 4 more valleys and mountain tops. It was starting to get dark. I came to a major crossroad. 4 dirt roads converged. The Barkerville sign was gone but on the other side of the road was a sign in the opposite direction saying Likely so I was took that road. Just as I was going to cross I looked over to my right and there was a gorgeous huge black bear feasting on some wild blueberries. I watched him for a while then had to get going.
I was starting to get nervous. I had been on the road for three hours now and I was getting nervous about how far away I was. I came to an abandoned sight that I had no idea what it was. The buildings were made out of logs there were 3 to 4 feet in diameter. It was fascinating. I took some pictures but felt pressed to keep going. I was starting to really worry that I was going to be lost in the dark. The last bit of light finally vanished just as I came to the Bowron Lakes camp site. I knew that I was about 20 kilometers away from Wells. I passed a sleeping grader and to my total dismay the last stretch was all going to be in freshly graded gravel which was about 3 inches deep. It slowed my progress right down and made for a hair raising last 20 kilometers in the pitch black. I was very grateful for the very bright headlight on the Versys. Finally....yes finally my wheels touched pavement. I wanted to get off the bike and kiss the pavement. I headed west into Wells. Riding into Wells right on the highway were a few little business all lit up with colorful lights. It was a beautiful site. My oasis for the night turned out to be Hubs Hotel. There are very limited accommodations in Wells. I wheeled in and went up to the office. There the hostess came and took one look at me and knew that I needed a room. They only had one left and she apologized that they had two channels that didn’t come in very well. I was happy with a hot shower and a warm bed.