Driving to Alaska Day 8: Cassiar Highway

Welcome to post 8 of 18 in our Driving to Alaska series. We hope you enjoy the stories from this unforgettable 4,000 mile road trip!

Hazelton, BC to somewhere on the Cassiar highway

From our camp in Hazelton, Canada’s highway 16 took us to highway 37, the narrow and winding road that would eventually take us to the Yukon Territory.  Upon joining 37 (also known as the Cassiar highway), a sign warned of frost heaves.  It was then that I learned about this naturally-occurring speed bump of sorts. Frost heaves are created by an upwards swelling of soil that occurs during freezing conditions causing the pavement to rise.  In addition to frost heaves, there was no shoulder and rarely any center line.  These conditions would slow us down.

Somewhere between gas stops (we stopped at every opportunity as stations were becoming fewer and farther between) we realized we’d completely lost track of time.  Had it been an hour since the last stop?  Two?  Each hour and each day was seamlessly blending into the next.  Signs of civilization were few, the vastness of northern North America becoming something I could feel with every passing mile rather than just see on a map.  Our total lack of cell signal for hundreds of miles drove that point home.

The goal for the day was to stop a little earlier and allow ourselves the chance to enjoy an evening decompressing.  We’d driven until after 9pm the last few days leaving little time to enjoy our surroundings.  However, with the approach of evening came snow.  The temperature had dipped to 37 degrees when we arrived at Dease Lake.  While we had thought this would be the place to look for somewhere to camp, that no longer made sense.  If the wet weather were to continue through the night, we would likely wake up to an icy highway.  Earlier in the day while descending a steep gravel section, Mark confirmed that the anti-lock brakes were not working.   We decided to keep driving in hopes of outrunning the weather.  

While that seemed like the best decision at the time, we were still contending with a cocktail of risks that included no anti-lock brakes, temps hovering around freezing, snowfall, and the potential for wildlife in the road.  With all that, it was slow going.

When a large falcon flew out in front of us and grazed the grill of the truck before managing to fly away was when all the aforementioned risks felt real.  With the spike of adrenaline our speed declined even more.  Thankfully we began to drive out of the snow.  Our nerves settled, slivers of sunshine peeked through the clouds, and the Cassiar mountains stretched out before us.  Driving after 8pm was proving to be the most beautiful time of day to be on the road. Mesmerized by the beauty all while respecting the fact that we were on a hard deadline, I did my best to document my experience from inside the cab.  Stopping for photo ops wasn’t part of our timeline.

In an instant, a flash of dark brown darted across the highway at lighting speed, right in front of Cade & Becca’s truck.  What was that? I thought.  Becca called over the radio… “that was a wolf”.  I was awestruck.  I may not have seen it in detail but I saw enough to realize a wolf is much larger than I’d thought.  By this point we’d seen three black bears and now a wolf.  Mark & I are always seeking wild places and none in our life so far had felt quite this wild, uninhabited, and free.  It made my heart flutter from equal parts fear and wonder.

Right before arriving at our campsite for the night we spotted black bear number four for the day.  He or she was happily grazing on the grass alongside the highway and couldn’t care less about us.  Two minutes later we parked for the night at a nondescript spot ever so slightly hidden from the highway. While the previous night we had decided to move locations after spotting a bear near our campsite, tonight I had to concede that we were in bear country. Having seen 9 bears in the last two days, I understood there was no such thing as a bear-free camp zone. We kept all our food inside the trucks, made loud noises when we ventured into the woods to go to the bathroom, and hoped for the best. We never saw another bear that night and dozed off with ease after another long day on the road.

If you’ve never heard of frost heaves, check out the video below. Luckily we didn’t encounter anything this severe.

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We’re Mark & Michele, modern-day nomads perfecting the art of slow, full-time travel.  Our tiny home on wheels and slow-paced travel style allows us to minimize our expenses while maximizing our freedom.  May our unconventional way of life inspire you to design a life that you love.


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