Good Neighbour Tour launches from Haida Gwaii

Chris and Heather Hartridge from Quesnel have set out on the road again

  • Aug. 12, 2016 5:00 a.m.
Heather Hartridge explores the dock at Port Clements on Haida Gwaii

Heather Hartridge explores the dock at Port Clements on Haida Gwaii

Hi again!  This story is the first in a series about our “Good Neighbour Tour” of Western Canada and, we love to tour on our bicycles. We’ve been doing it for almost 10 years now and it really is our passion –  Our “happy place”.  For this tour we’ll start on the first day, July 7th – a pickup truck ride to Prince George to catch the Via Rail train to Prince Rupert.  We wanted to make the official start of the tour from a beach on Haida Gwaii but first we had to get there.

The train ride was really enjoyable – the varied and beautiful  scenery of “Super Natural B.C.” on the way to Prince Rupert is worth the trip, even if you’ve lived in this area for a long time. The train follows the meandering Nechako River and along the way you get to see those hard to reach places you’d never get to. The only real problem with the trip was the poor business relationship between Via Rail and the landlord of the tracks, CN Rail. In short, due to delays along the way precipitated by CN, our train was five hours late getting into Prince Rupert.

The late arrival ended up with a strange encounter at the guest house where we reserved a room. Upon checking ourselves in at 2:30 a.m., we took the key provided to open our room. When we opened the door, we discovered two hairy legs (attached to a man) leaping out of his (our) bed saying, “Hey, what’s going on!”  We shut the door immediately and ended up sleeping in the basement storage area with our bicycles.

It was all worth it once we arrived in Haida Gwaii. Needless to say, we were concerned about the weather. Would it rain the whole time? In the end, we were blessed with the best weather we could have hoped for. Only one rainy night out of seven and the remainder were sunny beautiful days of exploring Graham Island. We spent the first night in Queen Charlotte City in the backyard of a home that belonged to a friend of a friend. Alanah made sure we had everything we needed – but all we really needed was a good night’s sleep after the train trip, a very short night in the basement of a guest house in Prince Rupert and day long ferry ride.

Waking up refreshed the next day, we rode our bikes up to Tlell along the eastern coast of the island and stayed with a Warmshowers host. (Warmshowers is a worldwide reciprocal hosting program just for cyclists). We thoroughly enjoyed their hospitality and an after dinner walk on the beach gave us our first look at the incredible eastern coast line and the wide expansive beaches. Beautiful! The next day we embarked on a slightly longer ride all the way to the north coast and the town of Masset. Our destination was a full-service campground in this little northern town. It became our headquarters for the next three nights. The first day of exploring took us to Old Massett where we were fortunate to witness the carving of a huge totem pole – destined for the UBC grounds. The designer/artist in charge was Jim Hart and he explained the story behind this particular totem. We noticed a strange box-like carved section in the middle of the pole. It looked like a European style, old-fashioned building. It was actually the representation of a Residential School and all the figures on the totem were the survivors of the schools. It was a very moving moment to be on site as this important piece of art was in its early stages. It became clear the totem was designed to make a seriously profound statement – about the injustice of this chapter in our history and how the survivors are coming to terms with it all. We left the site feeling enriched and in awe of the traditional skills we witnessed.

We took a moment as we rode back to Masset to find a spot where we could steer our bikes into the ocean just enough for one of those “ceremonial” photos at the start of a major journey. This tour is Part 1 of a cross-Canada tour. Part 2 will come as soon as we are able. We found the special spot and took the photo for posterity.

The next day we rode our bicycles to the most easterly part of the north coast. The ride out was incredible as we found ourselves pedalling through moss-laden forests and boggy swamp areas. As we passed standing water we couldn’t help but think of the term “Primordial Soup”. It all looked very prehistoric. Agate Beach is a rugged, fascinating destination where agates abound right under your feet. Just past Agate Beach you can  walk up the hundreds of metres to the  top of Tow Hill. This is not to be missed!  With such good weather, we could even see the mountains of Alaska!

Soon it was time to make our way south to get the ferry back to the mainland. We made one stop in Port Clements, a really interesting and welcoming old logging town. Further south we were lucky to arrange an overnight camp spot at another friend of a friend. Susan has lived in Tlell for many years but has many mutual friends in Quesnel! It was wonderful to stay and reminisce about the past 40-odd years.

Turns out, Susan is one of the “Gumboot Girls” as documented in a book of the same name. It tells the stories of 34 gals as they moved from being city dwellers to the raw and untamed north coast of B.C.

The next day was a long one. We rode south to Skidegate and visited the Haida Cultural Centre/Museum. It houses an absolutely stunning collection of Haida cultural artifacts.

After a quick dinner in Queen Charlotte with our new friend Alanah, we rode to the ferry landing and were on board before we knew it.

As it was a night sail, we took a cabin and found out what it’s like to try to sleep on a small ferry crossing the Hecate Straight.

It’s hard! So, we arrived in Prince Rupert at 4:50 a.m. and while waiting for restaurants and laundromats to open we rode around the streets and watched the city wake up.

The end of the day saw us

riding to a Provincial Campground just east of town where we set up camp and

went to bed early – ready for the next leg of our Good Neighbour Tour – Prince Rupert to Prince George.

Chris and Heather Hartridge are long-time Quesnel residents with a passion for cycling the North American continent and beyond.

Quesnel Cariboo Observer