Bell II showed up right where it was supposed to be. Bell II is a funny name for a stop in the road, it is really a beautiful log structured heli-ski lodge set beside the highway that offers fuel, a restaurant and lodging to travellers when they aren’t booked with skiers. This time of year there were rooms available but with lots of light left in the day, I was soon off to my next fuel stop at Dease Lake.
Leaving Bell II the road winds along the Bowser River and numerous lakes eventually climbing to the top of Gnat pass nearly reaching the treeline (which is not as high as I am used to due to the northern latitude here).
From the summit of the pass, the road winds down a bit tighter than on the way up the last being a 7% gravel grade down to the Stikine River crossing. Although the Stikine is viewed as being one of BC’s last truly wild rivers, the steel bridge takes us over waters that appear peaceful and placid.
From the Stikine crossing to Dease Lake there are numerous construction stretches but at this hour, the workers have left the jobsite for the day. I arrive at the Dease Lake gas station at eight pm, just as it is closing. I manage to sweet talk one last fill from them which will carry me to the top of 37 tonight. As I am leaving, truck and camper arrive and manage to squeak in under the wire as well.
For the next hour, the road is a little rougher than it has been further south. Here it is primarly seal coated rock chip rather than proper pavement. In the dimming light, sometimes there is the appearance of loose gravel on the road but traction remains consistent and strong.
By 9:30, I’ve been on the road for about twelve hours and I’m looking at my GPS more frequently to figure out how long it will be before I get to pitch my tent. As I round a corner in the road, my jaw drops inside my helmet. The road straightens out and as far as the eye can see, both sides of the road are lined with blackened toothpick trees and charred grass. The transition from lush green to burnt remnants is instantaneous and the desolation is haunting, particularly in the dusky light of the evening. I ride for miles through this depressing devastation awed by the impact of a raging and uncontrolled forest fire. The odor of death and decay is heavy in the air.
Just after 11 PM, the junction of Highway 37 and the Alaska Highway appears ahead of me. A rustic and nearly empty campground at the corner has tremendous appeal and I set up my tent by the light of the twilight sky.