Buffalo or Bison

I decided to take a day off at Liard Hot Springs after six days on the road.  It was proving harder to put kilometers under the wheels of the Dummy than earlier in the trip.  Hills, icy roads, colder temps, and headwinds were taking their toll on daily distances.

I started out down the highway when I noticed that the drive train was making a strange noise.  I looked down and saw that I had broken one side of another link on my chain.  I turned around and headed back the two km to the lodge at Liard Hot Springs.  This time I decided to replace the entire chain (I picked one up in Fort Nelson).

Broken chain

Broken chain

I had been hearing about the Liard Buffalo for weeks:  “They are monsters, some weighing 2,000 pounds.”  “They hang around on the road cause they like the salt.”   “they will not move for anything.  You just have to wait for them to leave the road.”  How would they react to a lone cyclist when a 50 ton semi does not phase them?  Needless to say, I left Liard with a great deal of apprehension.

Bison Herd in search of salt on the roads

Mmmm salt.

I was not 10 km down the road when a guy I met at the lodge drove back to warn me of a herd on the road 5 km ahead.  He offered to put the bike in the back of the truck and give me a ride through the danger.  I told him of the importance, to me, of riding every meter under my own power and I asked if he had some time and if he would wait where they were for me.  He agreed and I met up with him 5 km ahead.  He would drive along side me and at any sign of danger I could jump in the truck.

My escort through herd of Bison

My escort through herd of Bison

It turned out that bicycle is much more scary to a bison than a semi and the sight of me sent them running for the ditch.  Thank goodness the instinct of flight is much stronger in herbivores than the instinct to fight.

For the next 200 km I encountered bison.  They would run along side the road at approximately the same speed as me until they found a clearing in the woods to run into.  At one point I “chased” three for a couple of kilometers until I hit a down hill stretch where I could out run (ride) them.  This was somewhat disconcerting as I wondered if eventually they would decide they could not out run me and turn to confront me.  I slowly passed them. A couple of kms further up the road I looked back.  Now the the three were on the road and still running, towards me.  Had the chaser become the chased?  The hill ahead meant that they could catch me if that was their intent.  I struggled up the hill looking back every minute.  Eventually they gave up their pursuit, or whatever it was that led them to continue running.

At times I was startled when a lump of snow in the ditch started to move then got up and ran into the bush.  The guy below barely acknowledged my presence as I stopped to take his picture.

Bison near Liard River

Bison near Liard River

I was treated to a colourful display as the sun slowly descended the evening I left Liard.  Colours here contrast sharply against what is a very black and white world.

Fiery sunset in a black & white world

As I have made my way north the increasing snow cover has made camping in the woods a difficult prospect (dragging my gear through waist deep snow is no fun).  I have therefore had to find alternative camping sites.  Mostly that has meant camping in rest stops, but these offer little protection from the wind.  In Coal River I camped behind a lodge that was closed for the season.

Camping on way to Watson Lake

Camping in Coal River

In Contact Creek I camped near a gas station.  It was nice to get out of a cold tent and warm up in the store straight away.

Camping in Contact Creek

Camping in Contact Creek

From Contact Creek I made my way to Watson Lake and my Couch Surfing hosts Barry and Sue, and their dog Robie.

Barry and Sue, and Robie

Barry and Sue, and Robie

When I took off my socks, I suddenly realized that I had been careless with my feet.  They had been numb for days.  I managed to get frostbite on three toes without feeling a thing.



Spent the next few days in Watson Lake worrying about my toes, preparing for the next leg of the trip, and seeing the sights.  The most famous of the sights is the Signpost Forest.  The guy at the Northern Lights Centre said it is the largest collection of stolen public property in the world.

Signpost Forest

Signpost Forest

I was also treated to a winter storm.  Love them.

Watson Lake

Watson Lake

Before I left for my next leg of the journey I made sure to stock up on 7 days of food and extra treats, as the snacks on my way to Watson Lake had run out, and during the day I was munching on dry pasta.

Leaving Watson Lake

For the next stretch of the road I will be heading to Whitehorse, passing through Rancheria, Teslin & Marsh Lake.


25 thoughts on “Buffalo or Bison

  1. Brek, I have been following your progress! You may have set a new crazy canuck standard for cycling, I,m impressed ! Did you abandon the laugh sign, because frost bitten toes are no laughing matter.Heres a contrast , I’m off to Cuba in feb. Cheers

  2. FANTASTIC BISON STORY ! ! ! They would have scared the crap out of me. It is unfortunately going to get colder this weekend around Whitehorse. Get your toes checked at the walk in clinic.
    I look forward to your next post Brek. Keep mentally strong.

  3. Your experience with the buffalo made me smile and also cringe. I just got out of a full arm cast this week after hitting a deer during my bike commute. Thanks goodness we don’t have bison in Chicago! Keep riding strong and stay warm. I have enjoyed following your progress during my recovery and time away from my bike. Be safe and keep the updates coming.

  4. My boyfriend and I bike toured a chunk of Canada this past summer and saw bison in Elk Island, outside of Edmonton. They were not afraid of our bicycles at all, and we were nervous because it was their mating season and the males were cranky. We ended up doing the same thing you did, riding behind another vehicle!

  5. Concerned about your toes. Please have them looked at as soon as possible. You really don’t want to end up losing your toes.

    Otherwise your adventure sounds great. Wishing you the best!

  6. Awesome. We didn’t talk about Buffalo in our discussions. I look forward to your posts and have given out alot of your cards, so alot of my friends are following you also. Look after your feet and your knee. You are 2/3 of the way there. love Dad

  7. I am following your trip via the internet and can almost feel the cold and wind in my face as I read about your adventure. Best of luck. You are fabulous!

  8. Lots of boys in men,s bodies. You,re a terrific example needed today for the male species. I,m 83 and lots of cycling and keeping in top shape. BIG CHEERS for your masculen Challenge. I,m with you in Heart and Prayers. J.P.

  9. Hey Brek,

    My husband, myself and my son met you at the CGC with Scott and kids. I’ve scanned a bit (great writing) and got to the frostbite section and wanted to let you know that one of the local leading doctors on frostbite, Peter Steele. He’s retired but can certainly give you advice, as he did for one of my friends who found himself with some bad frostbite after summiting Logan (no other local doctor could help my friend). I’m sure Peter’s in the phone book or online – he x-c skis almost daily too.

    P.S. for some light and interesting reading here’s my daughter’s blog: boutthere.com

    Enjoy your stay here!

  10. Yes, we wonder where you are too. Hope you get checked out in Whitehorse. We drove up to Dawson City and Tombstone Mountain (Dempster Hwy) in the summer of 2010, so can’t imagine cycling the YK in winter! We saw those buffalo too, and they sure are enormous but beautiful. Here’s our trip up there: http://stampalicious.blogspot.com/search/label/trip You have to scroll down to start at the beginning of our trip. Please take care and keep us posted when you can. Deb 🙂

  11. the weather up here got cold for a bit – 40 below cold. it’s been warming a bit for the last week or so but that cold snap was a good solid week of 30-40 below.

    i can only begin to imagine trying to peddle in temperatures like that!

  12. Try keeping some high protein snacks and see if that doesn’t help if you feet start to feel the cold.

    Mostly I never have cold hands or feet, I’m very cold tolerant, but I’ve notice that there’s a huge difference in my tolerance which seems to be related to my diet. At times when I’ve eaten less protein, my hands and feet can get cold at relatively warm temps while my body is actually perspiring from too much heat.

    Be real, be sober.

  13. Wow – I am reliving the trip I did across Canada on my bicycle when I stumbled upon your trip. I have only just started to ready about your travels and am in awe! Those bison/buffalo are insane! Love how you rode along with them til a clearing opened up. Did that once with a couple kangaroos – very scary as I had no idea which way they were going to go! Glad they found a clearing to head in to to! Happy trails. Looking forward to reading more.

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