“We can never have enough of nature.
The sight of it must refresh us with inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic features. The sea coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and decaying trees, the thunder-clouds, and the rain, which lasts for weeks, and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.”
British Columbia. Its mountains span the horizon in every direction. Pine trees march across the landscape, scaling lofty peaks, stopping only at the tree line. Rivers rage from beneath gargantuan glaciers. Trout and salmon swim through crystalline waters and leap over waterfalls that splash through old growth forests. The vast wilderness swallows your imagination.
Pam and I had cranked our way west from Prince George toward Prince Rupert on the coast of British Columbia, the rainiest city in the world. At Kitwanga, the Cassiar Highway, Route 37, led us north toward Stewart. A big sign on the highway read, “NORTH TO ALASKA.” Within a few miles, the pavement dropped off onto gravel. Our loaded mountain bikes kept our full attention as we navigated the rough road. Many times, the gravel turned to sand, which left us pushing through the soft spots.
We had to stop often–take off our shoes and shake out the sand. Each day, we found ourselves deeper in the wilderness. At one point we stopped on a ridge overlooking a valley. The ground fell away from our wheels, stretching into tree-covered ripples that reached up to glacier-covered mountains. On the far side of the valley, waterfalls tumbled over cliffs and splashed into frothing white-water that flowed into emerald lakes.
“Look at the distance to that glacier,” Pam said. “It must be over five miles and it still looks big.”
“Yeah, but look over your left shoulder about thirty yards away, in the trees,” I whispered.
“A bald eagle,” Pam said.
On a branch of a dead tree, a glistening black feathered eagle with a snow-white head sat preening itself. When the bird noticed us, it flew over the valley.
“What a beautiful bird,” Pam gasped.
“Yeah, and we’re gonna’ see more as we go along.”
We crossed the Cranberry River by midday.
Hard gravel made riding easier as we rode one day to reach Meziadin Lake Junction. Two gas pumps stood out of a concrete slab in the middle of a muddy parking area. Puddles, tire ruts and holes dotted the lot. We stopped for lunch in a rickety mobile home. Some of the most weathered looking men we had ever seen, sat around red and white checkered vinyl covered tables, smoking and drinking coffee. We ordered sourdough pancakes, which were offered even though it was evening.
The cook was so impressed with our bicycling up the Cassiar that he gave us all we could eat. My hunger told me I could eat a dozen, but when the cook came out with the first stack, his pancakes rivaled a medium sized pizza. We slapped on butter and drenched them in maple syrup. It dripped over the sides of the steaming cakes. By the time I finished my plate, I knew three more would stuff me and Pam was full with the first stack. The men realized that we were riding bicycles. They craned their necks looking out the window at the bikes leaning against the railing.
One grizzled man pulled on his dusty beard. He wore leather from head to toe. He puffed a pipe between sips of coffee. I could tell he wanted to talk with us. I looked him in the eye, which gave him an opening to talk.
“Where you two headed?” he asked.
“Up the Cassiar,” Pam said.
“You gonna’ head over to Hyder?” he asked.
“That’s forty miles out of our way,” I replied.
“I don’t think you wanna’ miss that interesting side trip,” the old man said.
“Cuz you would miss the best part of this road,” he said. Be sure to visit Hyder. It’ll be the best experience you’ll have on the Cassiar.”
“You game Pam?” I asked.
“Yeah, why not? We have the time, and that’s what we came for.”
“Heck yes, we’re gonna’ check it out,” I told the man.
“You’ll be glad you did.”
“Thank you sir.”
We loaded up on water and more food.
Lake Meziadin made a perfect camp setting that night with mountains rimming it, and trees growing down to the water’s edge. We took sponge baths after our feet rebelled against further advancement into the glacier fed lake. A campfire kept the mosquitoes at bay. That night, the temperature was heading into the low 30’s. We dove into our sleeping bags and zipped them up around our faces. I kept my wool socks on for extra warmth.
In the morning, we broke camp for an early start. I wasn’t quite sure what our mentor had in store for us, but he didn’t want to spoil it by giving us any further information. His mysterious approach piqued my interest enough that I wanted to see what was out there. Pam checked the map only to see the road led to the coast, and ended in the town of Hyder, Alaska, the southerly most city reached by road in Alaska. It looked like it was located deep in a fiord.
As we pedaled, the lake swept south of us and west toward a snow-covered mountain range. We rode through canyons with steep rock walls rising on both sides of the highway. Well past the lake, we threaded our way through tightening canyon walls that led up to pine covered slopes. The terrain rose to dark tundra grasses that led to rock and snow. After a hard pull on a steep, loose gravely incline, where our back tires slipped out from under us, we crested the hill, lathered up with sweat.
“Look at that,” Pam exclaimed.
“That’s incredible,” I said.
“That old guy did us a big favor,” she said.
Above us, three glaciers hung from their mountain perches. The tip of one glacier melted over a cliff. A waterfall dropped 1000 feet to the canyon floor. The white spray from the windswept water burst into a rainbow that waved back and forth as if someone was cooling themselves with a Japanese hand fan. Melting water from the largest glacier tumbled into white froth down to the road. Small icebergs floated like corks in a lake formed by the melting ice. As we stood astride our bikes, a one hundred and fifty-foot high block of aqua blue ice separated from the main body of the glacier.
“Pam, look at that thing break away!”
“Get that shot.”
As I pulled my camera, a crunching, ripping sound echoed across the water. The large chunk toppled into the lake and a wall of ice splashed into a semicircle. A wave rolled across the surface until it crashed against the beach below us.
“Look, it’s popping back up,” I said.
“It looks as big as a battle ship,” Pam added.
“There goes another one.”
A white column of ice two hundred feet high split from the main glacier. The ensuing wave washed into a silt-laden river that frothed over a rocky bottom. A steam cloud lifted off the water and settled into the low spots along the road.
“This is something like I’ve never seen before,” I told Pam.
“Yeah, let’s go see more of it.”
We coasted down the incline toward the glacial lake. The jagged toe of the glacier resembled a Great White shark’s mouth full of teeth–impressive but foreboding at the same time. Hundreds of waterfalls fell from snowfields a mile above the road. Farther along the route, we spotted a large glacier bottlenecked between two steep cliff walls. It resembled a moose’s face painted aqua/white.
“You see that glacier up there,” I said, pointing.
“Yeah, it’s pretty big.”
“How far do you think it is from here?”
“Maybe a mile.”
“Let’s go climb it.”
“I like you, you know that?”
“Only because I cook for you.”
“HEY,” I said. “I wash dishes don’t I?”
“You can carry the water and food, too.”
“Of course dear….”
We loaded two quarts of water and food into my daypack.
In minutes, we dropped down from the road into a field that grew steeper as the slope neared the base of the mountain. Gophers scurried along the ground and jumped into their holes when we surprised them. We may have been the first human beings they had ever seen. With each step, the incline grew sharper. Half way up we reached a gray-silted river that cut us off. We had to keep our shoes on to ford it because sharp rocks lay everywhere in the streambed. The frigid current rose midway on our thighs, so we¬ held hands to help each other. One slip and we could be swept down stream. I tested the bottom with every step. Once across, we crawled over a steep rock pile left by the melting ice.
“You feel the wind?” Pam said.
“It seems to be swirling and it’s getting colder. I can¬ feel the moisture in the air,” I said.
We climbed another hundred yards to the base of the glacier. Water drops pelted us and a chilling wind slapped at our faces. We zipped up our jackets and pulled our hoods over our heads. From under the glacier, a swift, icy stream eight feet wide boiled over the rocks as it cascaded down the slope in a bubbling froth.
“Yiee, this is great,” Pam yelled.
“Can you believe how cold it got?” I asked. “I’ll bet it dropped twenty degrees. This wind is whipping around because of the temperature changes.”
“Yeah, it’s incredible,” Pam said. “It looked peaceful from the road. Now, we’re in the middle of a miniature storm. Look at this blue color in the ice. It even feels cold. Can you smell what I smell?”
“Yeah, I can almost taste a fresh coolness within the ice,” I answered. “It smells so fresh. It feels like having my lungs¬ cooled off with peppermint.”
“Look at the layers in this chunk of ice,” Pam said. “It’s full of rocks and sand. It looks like the rings on a tree–only they’re flattened out like a birthday cake.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Look back at our bikes. They look like specks on the road. This is a great view of the canyon.”
“Let’s get off this glacier,” Pam said. “My feet are freezing and I’m getting soaked from these raindrops.”
“Okay,” I said, digging into my pocket. “I want to leave a penny to show we were the first to climb up here.”
“Sounds good, but who would ever find it?”
“Who cares? We know it’s up here. That’s all that matters.”
I placed a penny in the crack of a large boulder. Pam took my hand as we made our way back down the rock piles and crossed the stream. Along the way, Pam stuck a pink fireweed flower into her jet-black hair. She looked like a princess making her way down from the throne room of the mountain gods. We started running like the
“SOUND OF MUSIC” as we neared the bikes. We scrambled up the road embankment toward the bikes.
“Did you feel different up there under the glacier,” she asked.
“Yes, I felt cold, wet and alive.”
“That’s it, me too, like every cell in my body wanted to¬ jump out of my skin.”
For the rest of the day, we cranked down a narrow dirt road. Dozens of glaciers hung from their perches as much as a mile above our heads. Waterfalls dropped out of the clouds that hung along the mountain flanks. We reached Stewart before dusk. At the western edge of town, a wide ocean bay opened up before us with cliffs dropping vertically into the sea. Waves crashed against the rocks. A mile over our heads, glaciers clung to the summits.
We rode through town toward the American side, to a tiny fishing village named Hyder. A sign going into town read, “The Friendliest Ghost Town. Population 87.” Hyder featured a main street and lined with broken down houses. It was like walking onto a movie set. We stopped at a place called ‘The Alaska Inn.’
“Let’s have dinner,” I said.
“This looks like the only place in town,” Pam added.
We walked into a bar with stuffed animals adorning the walls. Hats, horseshoes, traps, bumper stickers and life preservers hung from the rafters. Several tables were filled with couples. Two bearded men at the bar were talking, but watched as we walked to a booth. When we sat down, Pam noticed dollar bills covering the walls. A person’s name was written on each one. A waitress walked over to us.
“Where did this money come from?” Pam asked.
“Everybody asks that question,” she answered. “We’re so far from civilization, we don’t get many visitors. For some reason, people think it’s an honor to be here. They leave a little memory of themselves.”
“How much do you figure is on the wall?” I asked.
“We’ve got over $25,000.00 tacked up,” she replied. “Now what would you like for dinner?”
“I’ll take this bill-covered wall, to go,” I said.
“You can only have the evening salmon special,” she said, not appreciating my stab at humor.
“We’ll take two specials,” Pam said.
“Two specials coming up,” she said.
“Have we seen the sights today or have we seen the sights TODAY?!!” I said.
“Yeah, that hike was one of the best things I’ve ever done. That storm at the edge of the glacier was amazing.”
“Hey, you folks over there,” one of the men at the bar called out to us in a drunken voice.
“Who? Us?” I replied.
“Of course you two, that’s who, come over here to the bar,” he said. “I’ve got a surprise for you.”
“I think that guy is a bit drunk, so maybe we should humor him,” I told Pam.
“What if he…”
“Hey, you folks come over to the bar and get Hyderized,” the man said. “You’ve got to be Hyderized before you can officially be welcomed into this town.”
“What’s he talking about?” Pam asked.
“I don’t know…”
“Come on you two,” the other man said, motioning.
“They’re coming over to our table,” Pam said.
“Are you steppin’ up to the bar to get Hyderized or ain’t ya?” the first fellow hissed through his missing front teeth.
“We’re not drinkers,” I said.
“That don’t make no difference,” he crowed. “This is special. Now come up and meet my fren’ Jed.”
The guy grabbed me by the arm and pulled me along with him. I could have resisted, but I didn’t want to create a scene. Besides, there wasn’t much he could do to me physically. Pam followed us to the bar.
“This is my fren’ Josh Clayburn and I’m Jed Decker,” he¬ hissed through his teeth again. “We saw you were new in town and wearin’ those funny shorts, so we wanted you to get the official greetin’ of Hyder.”
“That’s right,” Josh said. “Jed and I have decided to help you two with the keys to the city, er, I mean keys to the….”
“Keys to the village Josh, ain’t you got no mind, man?” Josh admonished his friend. “Now, are you two ready?”
“What do we have to do?” Pam asked.
“Now you’re talkin'” Jed grinned with a mouth full of gold teeth. “You see these two glasses of clear liquid?”
“Can’t miss ’em,” I said.
“All you have to do is knock it back in one gulp and you will be officially Hyderized for the rest of your natural born lives. It’s truly an honor,” Josh said.
“What’s in the glass?” I said, picking it up and sniffing the contents.
“NO,NO,NO, you can’t smell it,” Jed said.
“So what is it?” I asked, realizing that it was liquor.
“Um, it’s………GLACIER WATER, that’s what it is, just a little glacier water, won’t hurt ya’ none,” Josh said. “Now just take the glasses and throw them to the back of your throats in one gulp.”
“I don’t know about this being glacier water,” I said, holding the glass.
“Me either,” Pam said, grabbing hers.
“You gotta’ drink it to be Hyderized,” Josh urged.
At that moment, I looked at the bartender, and two other patrons who had come into the bar. They nodded in agreement. It wasn’t more than a swallow, so it wasn’t going to kill us.
“Here goes nothing Pam,” I said, throwing the drink back into my mouth.
“Me too,” she said, raising her glass to her lips.
“Arghhhhhhh,” I yelled as the drink burned my throat.
“This is awful,” Pam gasped. “Water please, bartender, water, get me a glass of water.”
Everyone in the bar laughed at our reaction to the glacier water. As I drank a glass of water to rinse the booze down, tears filled my eyes. The bartender thought it was cute when he put a match to my glass and watched it light up in a blue flame. Pam and I had swallowed some 151 proof rum.
“I feel like I’ve just been kicked in the throat by a mule,” I told Pam.
“I feel like my brain got run over by a train,” she added.
“Are we Hyderized now?” I asked Jed.
“Yup, you and your lady are officially welcomed to Hyder, Alaska.”
Back at the table, we drank two more glasses of water to rinse the taste out of our mouths. Everyone seemed to enjoy the show. Our waitress arrived with our salmon dinners.
“Is there such a thing as Hyderization?” I asked her.
“Oh yeah, it’s a visitor’s official celebration for being here. Since you two drank your glacier water, I’ll get your cards to prove it,” she said. “But just remember, don’t drink more than one glass or that stuff will knock you for a loop.”
“I feel like I stuck a blowtorch into my stomach, so why would anyone drink a second glass of that firewater?” I asked.
“I guess folks don’t have much to do around here,” she answered, walking away.
“I don’t understand that one,” Pam said. “You could climb mountains, fish, sail, backpack, camp, and more in a place like this.”
“It’s probably easier to drink,” I said.
“I don’t understand why,” Pam said. “That stuff is poison.”
“What the heck. We’re Hyderized. Did you see the sign above the street when we drove in?”
“Yeah, the one about this being the friendliest ghost town?”
“Maybe this the perfect place for Jed and Josh. They’re a couple of characters.”
“Yeah. Let’s eat, I’m starved.”
“Boy, this fish tastes good. How’s yours?”
“Good, real good.”
Read more posts by Frosty Wooldridge here. Frosty is a blogger for JenningsWire Online Magazine.
The online feature magazine, JenningsWire.com, is created by National PR Firm, Annie Jennings PR that specializes in providing book promotion services to self-published and traditionally published authors. Annie Jennings PR books authors, speakers and experts on major high impact radio talk interview shows, on local, regionally syndicated and national TV shows and on influential online media outlets and in prestigious print magazines and newspapers across the country.