Saturday, June 30, 2007

Diamond Tooth Gertie’s town

Saturday, June 30, 2007

DAWSON CITY, YUKON — Wooden sidewalks, leaning shacks with tin rooves, emporiums with gold for sale and the raw backdrop of the rugged Yukon hills have captured our imaginations this evening, after a short drive through this historic town. As I sit here and digest my dinner of Pacific salmon and sourdough bread, the midnight sun hovers well above the horizon. We are in the town that the Gold Rush built, on the eve of Canada Day!
It’s a hopeful sign for tomorrow that the sun is up there shining — we saw very little of it on our journey today. More low clouds and plenty of steady rain washed over our rig as we pulled away from our free night’s campsite in Pelly Crossing. Our late night with the Mounties last night gave us a bit of a later start, but we didn’t have a huge distance to cover this time anyway.
The highway was surfaced with oiled gravel most of the way, which gives a solid base on which to roll, but is a bit harder on the tires than asphalt. There were a few "dipsy-doodles" in the road, as one camper we spoke to called them, when the rig rocks fore and aft over a dip in the road and the couch jumps six inches from the wall in the trailer behind us. For quite a few kilometers, the brush was growing fairly close to the shoulder of the road, and every now and then a stalwart fireweed plant would pierce the hard shell of the road and sprout defiantly a good six inches inside the traveled portion, seeming to say that Mother Nature could easily take over if left for a couple of years to her own devices.
Road crews put an end to that kind of thinking further down the road, where a wide swath was cut into the bush on either side of the highway, and huge piles of shredded trees and roots stood, every 100 feet or so, like giant bonfires waiting to be lit by some unseen torch. We wondered if this wasn’t done to provide a firebreak; there was evidence of several forest fires at various stages of regrowth along the way.
We trotted through the drizzle and in the door of the Moose Creek Lodge for lunch, and were presented with bowls of hot tomato-basil soup and thick sandwiches made with home-made bread, as we sat on wooden benches in a cozy nook of the log-cabin style building. The gift shop carried little jugs of local birch syrup, and there were gooey butter tarts and date squares for sale by the cash.
Once on our way again, we passed a lot of stands of black spruce and poplar, growing in sandy loam or gravelly soil. Every now and then there was a small creek or stream, bearing the names of early prospectors and other characters; Stewart, McQuesten, Barlow, Hunker.
As we got closer to Dawson, we pulled over at a couple of turnouts to take in some sweeping vistas to the west as well as to the east. The most spectacular one was the Tintina Trench Lookout — this geological phenomenon is the largest fault in North America. It was laid out before us like a huge trough, spreading miles and miles to the north and south, fringed on either side by pine trees, and off into the distance to a row of purple-blue mountains over which hovered anvil-grey thunderclouds. Looking at it made us feel very small and insignificant.
Once we had unhitched from the trailer at the Bonanza Creek RV Park just south of town, we drove in to look around and get our bearings, plus find a spot to eat dinner. The town is nestled between two mountain ranges to the east and west, and in front of the western range flows the Yukon River. There was a crowd of people gathered next to the river, and we realized that these were friends and relatives of the paddlers we had seen setting off in Whitehorse last Wednesday on the Yukon River Quest. A large board displayed all the teams’ names, and most of these were crossed off indicating that they had either been eliminated or arrived yesterday, but there were stragglers who still hadn’t made it through, including the all-female longboat team who were in the race for the first time this year. We spoke with two relatives of this group, and they said there was no way of contacting them en route, so all they could do was wait. They were still waiting there when we had finished our dinner and headed back to the trailer park.

Aboriginal warmth

Friday, June 29, 2007

PELLY CROSSING, YK — Today is the day Aboriginal communities set aside to make their concerns about treaty agreements and other issues known to Canadians. Our contact with the Aboriginal people in this community today was welcoming, informative and warm.
We headed north from Whitehorse this morning, turning from the Alaska Highway onto the Klondike Highway that stretches from Skagway, Alaska at its southern end to Dawson City at its northern one. The morning was cool and foggy, with the clouds clinging to the tops of the trees and, in some places, obscuring the highway only a few yards in front of us. Val drove very carefully so as not to surprise any moose that might be wandering up ahead.
It was a bit of a disappointment to be socked in — especially as it was Mum’s first foray into the Yukon countryside. I was thinking this quietly to myself when the highway started to rise, and, as if a light had been switched on, around the curve was a brilliant sunlit sky with towering white clouds, blazing down upon rolling hills and flowered plains! I’ve never seen such an abrupt transformation!
There were a few more foggy bits that we had to travel through, but then for the remainder of our trip, it was clear sailing. We caught a glimpse of the famed Lake Lebarge (where Sam McGee met his fiery end) and paused at a couple of lookout points to gaze upon Fox Lake and the mighty Yukon River.
Then we reached the roadside stop Val had been waiting for ever since we left Ottawa: the Braeburn Lodge at Mile 55 of the Klondike Highway, renowned for its amazing cinnamon buns. Several people had recommended this place, and Val had been salivating in anticipation for more than 7,000 km! The building itself was not at all ostentatious, but once inside we saw on the counter a huge, coiled delicacy, oozing cinnamon, drizzled with icing and still warm and fragrant from the oven. Let me explain what I mean by huge: its circumference was as large as a luncheon plate, and Val, Mum and I snacked heartily on it when we sat down at the Lodge, wrapped the remainder up to bring along, and enjoyed two more cin-ful sessions later in the day before it was all gone! Yum!
Our route took us past the Montague House and Carmacks, two of a number of stations along the route that served in earlier days as waypoints for travellers heading north to Dawson. Carmack was one of the people who sparked the Klondike Gold Rush.
We also stopped to see the Five Finger Rapids, a section of the Yukon River that is combed by rocky finger-like islands, although we could only figure out four of them. We looked down on them from a great height, but passed up the possibility of descending 219 steps on a wooden staircase to look at the rapids up close, realizing that it would mean climbing the same number back again with a load of cinnamon bun in our bellies! The panorama was reward enough.
Pelly Crossing was our end point today; it is a very small community of about 300 people, all but about six or eight of them Aboriginal. There is a gas station grocery store and, next to it, an interpretive display of native lifestyles, artifacts and handicrafts. Our host was Nancy Alfred, a friendly Aboriginal woman who proudly showed off the handmade doll made from moose hide by her grandmother, and the beautiful fur-trimmed, beaded moccasins her daughter had made. Her daughter was playing solitaire at the computer behind the counter, and came over to tell us it took her only took a couple of hours to complete the beading and slipper construction.
Our campsite overlooked the Pelly River, and we had the place almost to ourselves. It is an unserviced campground, but nicely laid out with picnic tables, firepits and outhouses, and we were allowed to camp here free of charge. Val happily set out our new Honda generator to provide shore power — our first chance to put this new toy to use.
Just as we were about to call it a night (or rather, a day!), the RCMP pickup truck arrived at the site with the two members serving here. Val had dropped in to see them earlier and invited them to stop by, but we figured they’d been called out when they hadn’t shown up by 10:30 pm. Corporal Dave Wallace and Constable Cody Willoughby came in and spent nearly two hours with us, telling us all about service in the north and giving us tips for our journey. It was great chatting with them and we were astonished when we realized it was past midnight when they got up to leave!

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Klondike cancan

Thursday, June 28, 2007

WHITEHORSE, YK — Technically, our day began just after midnight when we went to the Whitehorse airport to pick up Mum. She had flown all the way from Ottawa to Vancouver, switched planes and headed north to Whitehorse, so it was a very long day for her! Even at that late hour (12:30 am) there was light in the sky when we brought her back to the trailer.

Our real day began in leisurely fashion, to make allowances for our late night. It was great to catch up on Mum’s news and show her a bit about trailer life. It’s quite luxurious compared to the camping days of the 50s when she and Dad took us five kids to Algonquin Park in canvas tents.

We drove in to town when we were all ready and visited the MacBride Museum. It’s built like an old log cabin complete with sod on the roof, but laid out artistically inside with dioramas of the local wildlife on the main floor and, in the basement, a display explaining the whole gold-digging process from the early days. Outside they had a model NWMP detachment, where prisoners were kept from fleeing by a large lead ball clamped around their ankle and chained to the constable’s desk! There was also a large steam train locomotive with a conductor’s cabin made of wood.

We strolled over to look at the Yukon River just across the street. In the earliest days someone compared the white froth thrown up by the river to the manes of white horses, giving the fledgling community the name it bears to this day.

After a hearty lunch in town, we drove over the river to see the fish ladder. At the time that the river was being dammed, engineers built the fish ladder so as not to interrupt the migration patterns of the salmon that swam upstream every year to spawn and die. The dam was constructed so that the fish would be guided by the current toward the series of terraced pools that would carry them past the obstruction and on to their reproductive fate. The water pours through the dam and swirls over a couple of barriers at enormous speed, churning up white, splashing foam and tumbling on toward the town. More recently a fish hatchery has been added to the facility to ensure the continued survival of the fish. We weren’t able to see any salmon jumping up the ladder because it was too early in the season, but we did see a grayling fish in one of the holding pools; it has a very large dorsal fin unlike any other fish I have seen.

It was time for a rest after our tromping about, so we returned to the trailer for a break, followed by supper. Then it was back to town to attend the Frantic Follies, a wonderful vaudeville-style show about the gold rush days, performed with much energy and humour. The cast did the best rendition of Robert Service’s wonderful poem The Cremation of Sam McGee I have ever seen! I laughed till my sides ached when Sam’s companion tried to stuff his frozen dead body into the furnace on the marge of Lake Lebarge, where he had begged to be finished off rather than to be buried in the frozen north. The men recited corny jokes, the old belle sang nostalgic songs, and the cancan girls kicked up their heels and waved their ruffled skirts to everyone’s delight. It was a great show!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

ATM jackpot!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

WHITEHORSE, YK — We had some errands to take care of this morning, so we went in search of the Ford dealership to see about an oil change on the truck, which has covered nearly 7,000 km since the last one and has earned every drop. They couldn’t take us, but recommended a place around the corner, nicely located near the Tim Hortons, to Val’s delight.

Next stop was the bank for an infusion of cash. We’ve been living on plastic pretty well the whole way, but they kind of look at you funny if you try to buy a pack of chewing gum on Visa. So we needed a bit of the paper stuff. Well, believe it or not, when we stepped up to the ATM at the bank, it spat out a wad of cash before I even got my card out of my wallet! There was $120 in cash that the previous customer had, amazingly, forgotten to retrieve. The bank staff was very pleased to take the money off our hands in case the panicked owner should return. Too bad there wasn’t a lottery counter somewhere nearby; I was feeling pretty lucky.

Truck oiled, Val caffeinated and the wallets warmed, we headed for the Yukon Visitor Centre to get some recommendations on what to see. There is no shortage! There are four museums here, a wonderful sternwheeler, the SS Klondike, to tour, a fish ladder where you can see the salmon leaping upstream and the Miles Canyon near the town. We picked a good day to be near the river, because the annual Yukon River Quest was starting at lunchtime, so we hung around to watch.

Dozens of teams, ranging from one to a dozen paddlers, were gathered at the start point at the centre of town. They were to sprint from there to their canoes or kayaks, jump on board and start paddling like mad down the river all the way to Dawson City. They had three days to get there, with only one mandatory stop of seven hours, according to a photographer, who was waiting for the race to begin. He told us these people have some kind of mania about the race, and some push themselves to the point of hallucinations. The contestants — young people, old people, dressed in all kinds of gear including tights, foreign-legion-style caps, fleeces, straw boaters, some with great whiskered chins, some with dreadlocks — were a raggle-taggle bunch indeed. We went down to where the canoes were tied up and waited for them at the end of their sprint. Soon the whoops and hollers of bystanders told us they were on the way, and they came bounding down, leaped into their crafts and pushed off. The swiftly flowing current scooped them up and before long the flotilla was out of sight.

After all that excitement, we came back to the trailer to make ready for our houseguest. My mother joins us tonight from Ottawa to spend a week in the Yukon with us. At nearly 82, she has the gumption to pack her things and fly out on her own to Whitehorse, and bunk in with the two of us in our RV as we venture yet further north! When we invited her to do this, as our Mother’s Day gift, she didn’t hesitate for a minute before saying “yes!”

We have a pull-out couch, so Mum will have the master suite upstairs, as it were, and we’ll be down at the other end where we can get up and make coffee and whatnot if she prefers to sleep a little longer. Val and I have a sort of ballet worked out for our morning and evening ablutions at the sink, so it will be interesting to adjust our duet to a trio for a few days.

Our plan is to look at some more here in Whitehorse, take in the Frantic Follies tomorrow night (a Klondike can-can show) and travel the Klondike Highway to Dawson City on Friday. We’ll be up there for Canada Day, so that should be fun. Then we’ll head back so Mum can catch a plane next Thursday to Vancouver where she’ll visit my brother John, and on to Victoria to see my brother Alan, before returning to Ottawa. She arrives just after midnight tonight, but it will still be daylight, so that will be her first northern exposure!

The Way to Whitehorse

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

WHITEHORSE, YUKON --- I nearly have to pinch myself to be sure I'm not dreaming --- we've actually made it all the way to the capital of the Yukon Territory. And no, it's not a frozen wasteland encased in perpetual ice and snow! We took a drive around town after supper today and saw suburban neighbourhoods with lawns and gardens and busy commercial areas just like any other town.

The setting, mind you, is beautiful; the town stands next to the mighty Yukon River and on the other side the land rises up in pine-dressed mountains, the more distant ones capped with snow, and the tallest ones still catching rays of the lowering sun at nine o'clock at night. We'll be doing some more exploring tomorrow but it was nice to figure out the lay of the land.

Our morning began with a clear blue sky and sunshine, and before we left Watson Lake we stopped to check out the sign village, a local tourist phenomenon. In an area the size of a city par, there is a forest of tall 4x4 posts on which visitors have posted hundreds of signs --- street signs, highway signs, and homemade signs from all over the world. We saw some from Germany, lots from the US, one from Napanee, Ontario, and even a hand-lettered one from Zimbabwe! It was fun to stroll between the rows, but we had to head out, so we restrained ourselves from doing every row.

Our route took us west, north and south at various points in the day, and even back into BC for a few miles before the final swing northward to Whitehorse. It may sound boring by now, but time and again we rounded a bend and gasped at the magnificent vistas before us. There were wide, fast-flowing rivers, spiky pine trees, rolling hills and blue and purple mountains on the horizon in one perfect calendar scene after another. Today, the only wildlife we saw was a pair of prairie dogs!

We stopped at a roadside turnout to take a picture and started chatting with another couple from Saskatoon, who had been to Delta Junction at the end of the Alaska Highway and were now on their way home. The husband told us some scary stories about rough roads and someone whose fifth wheel hitch had been ripped right off the bed of the truck --- just the kind of thing that Val had been imagining when we went through the Kicking Horse Pass! Sometimes it's better not to share stories like that.

Our guidebook recommended a stop at the recreation site by the Rancheria River (pronounced Rancher-EE-a), so we combined that with our lunch break. After eating, we followed the boardwalk through the woods to see the rushing falls. It was a pretty sight, and the woodland flowers and mosses on the way there and back were equally lovely. There are so many clumps of pink wild roses, clusters of bluebells and scatterings of buttercups everywhere!

The Nisutlin Bay Bridge was an impressive sight as we rounded the bend just outside the town of Teslin. It's the longest bridge on the Alaska Highway and we had to take it slowly because the steel grated surface was not that smooth, and caused us to bob along. There go my dishes again, I thought to myself. Teslin is the largest Aboriginal community in the Yukon, and the Tlingit tribe (pronounced klinkit), and many follow traditional ways. A bit further along we crossed the Teslin Bridge, the third longest on the highway and a bit less of a threat to our WalMart Corelle heirlooms.

The highway paralleled Lake Teslin, a huge body of water 86 miles long and two miles wide, and its Aboriginal name means "long, narrow water".

When we turned away from the lake, we were finally nearing Whitehorse, and to our right, or eastward as we headed north, we could see the Yukon River, the fourth or fifth longest river in North America, depending on which source you refer to (I love spouting all these facts; they make me sound so smart, but all it means is that I can read the guidebooks!!). Before we knew it, we had pulled into our reserved campsite and had a lovely chat with our new neighbours, Spencer and Carol Free from Windsor, Ontario. They are full-timers --- living in their motorhome year-round --- and they shared all kinds of good tidbits about the places we plan to go.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Swamp donkeys, hot springs and the 60th parallel

Monday, June 25, 2007

WATSON LAKE, YUKON — We’re in the Yukon! We’re set up in a lovely campground with tall, lodgepole pine trees. There’s a rumble of thunder and every now and then we can hear spattering raindrops on the roof of our cozy trailer, where we’re relaxing with mugs of hot tea after a long day’s drive.
What a day it has been. We had our earliest departure ever from Fort Nelson, at about 7:40 am, and covered some 540 km — our longest drive of the trip.
Our Mileposts guide describes the entire length of the highway, with the origins of lake and river names, roadside turnouts, snippits of history for certain landmarks and information on every town and campground and lodge we passed. "CAUTION: bears in area" or "DRIVE SLOWLY: buffalo wander onto the road", it said, whetting our appetites for wildlife. We were not disappointed.
A large black bear was the first — it was off to the right so Val didn’t see it, but a couple of miles further on, we both saw another one on a dirt road, looking right at us! I was so excited that, when I saw a caramel-coloured creature up ahead with large humped shoulders, I shouted "Look! A grizzly! No, two grizzlies! Over there!" However, they turned out to be horses grazing. I felt a bit less embarrassed later on when Val noticed something dark on the road near the horizon, thinking it too was a bear, but it was a small car!
We drank in the beauty of the rolling hills studded with pine trees, aspen and poplar, and every now and then a huge valley with a wide rushing river passing through. Some river beds were shallow with lots of gravel shoals and a small amount of water, while others were filled to the brim with great torrents. There were many rock cuts, and at one point we even saw some snow on the side of the road.
Speaking of torrents, today was our rainiest day ever. In the early part of the day the clouds were so low we could hardly see the RV two vehicles ahead of us as it disappeared into the mist. Fortunately the ceiling heightened before long.
Other wildlife that we spotted included a cow moose and her baby and two other moose further on. They were all right beside the road, so we got a couple of good photos. I had seen a poster somewhere that jokingly described moose as "swamp donkeys"! We also saw a handsome fox sauntering up a slope, a rabbit, and some 50 buffalo in three separate herds. One herd grazed onto the roadway, forcing us to stop. Three of the large, horned creatures were licking puddles on the pavement, in no rush to clear a path for us. After several minutes they slowly ambled off. There were several female buffalo with calves as well.
Not long afterward we stopped at the Northern Rockies Lodge for a hot lunch in a beautiful log dining room with vaulted ceiling and an enormous stone fireplace in the middle. The lodge is next to Muncho Lake, a large body of water coloured milky green by copper oxide deposits.
At our parking area next to Liard Hot Springs Provincial Park some RCMP officers were doing road checks. The young constable we spoke to, Ryan Hennig, said he was based in Fort Nelson but had a large territory to cover and really enjoyed all the neat toys (such as the radar gun he held in his hand) he got to play with.
The rain kindly held off while we walked along the boardwalk toward the hot springs. There was quite a bit of flora unique to this area, such as orchids and other plants that only survive here because of the warmth. The forest was lush with large ferns and other plants with leaves as big as dinner plates, and there were some of the largest Queen Anne’s Lace I’ve ever seen — flowers at least four inches across and stems up to my waist. There were two bathing spots, with a busload of senior citizens taking the chill out of their bones at the Alpha site. A little further along was the Beta pool with only three brave ladies — the water there is much deeper and we could actually see it bubbling near the middle. Both pools sent off clouds of steam into the air. It was a fascinating visit and well worth the stop.
Later, we passed Contact Creek, the spot at which the northern and southern Alaska highway construction crews finally met in September 1942.
As we neared Watson Lake, the GPS locator hovered back and forth between the 59th and 60th parallels. The highway meandered in and out of the Yukon about three times before we got to the "official" border of the Yukon territory and its welcoming sign. So technically we can say we’ve been to the Yukon four times already!

The $10,000 beard

Sunday, June 24, 2006

FORT NELSON, BC — The sun was already up this morning when we woke up, and when we fell asleep last night, it was shining too. I could read my book last night at 10:45 pm by the daylight coming through the window! It’s taking some getting used to, and we’re finding we don’t turn in at our normal time because it doesn’t feel like bedtime yet. Val was the one to notice on his cell phone this morning that we had crossed into the Pacific Time unawares some time yesterday, so we adjusted our clocks back yet another hour.
After breakfast we drove in to town to log on to the Internet and post last night’s blog and check e-mails as we sat parked outside the visitor centre. This type of wi-fi "poaching" was legit, as our visitor guides had told us we were welcome to use their service.
Val dropped me off at Our Lady of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church for the Anglican service at 11:45 — the two denominations share the same building, but the Anglicans get the later time slot! It was right next to the RCMP detachment, an attractive, modern building. In the Fort Nelson News we had read that Constable Rutledge had just helped a class of Grade 5 kids complete the DARE program, and there was his photo with the kids.
In the town today there was a run-a-thon and bike-a-thon fundraiser, so there were runners and cyclists being cheered on near our wi-fi site — and there on the corner, directing traffic, was Constable Rutledge! I recognized him from the paper!
We decided to have a look at the Fort Nelson Museum, a cluster of several buildings by the main highway with a huge array of old trucks and cars outside, as well as chunks of machinery on display. Inside the main building is a fascinating collection of historic items, including a Mountie in Red Serge and, further on, a female figure in a fur-lined bikini! There were heads of moose, Dall sheep with huge curved horns, antelope and caribou hanging high on the walls, old telephone switchboards, cameras, firefighting equipment, a canoe made of a single piece of spruce bark with photos showing the old hand building it in the bush — it was eclectic and fascinating! We also watched an old videotape of an even older documentary, made during the Second World War, of the building of the Alaska Highway.
Val had a short conversation with an older gentleman with a gentle face and a full white beard and white hair flowing from under his ball cap, who turned out to be the founder of the museum. He is there every day tinkering in the various buildings and talking to the visitors.
When we strolled around to the other buildings, I poked my head into a tiny post office with a mannequin at the wicket and wooden post office boxes behind her. On the bulletin board was an old newspaper article from the 1970s telling about the shindig they held to raise funds for museum. It described founder Marl Brown and his trademark beard, and the photo showed a younger version of the gentleman Val had spoken to. Someone at the shindig suggested they take bids for him to shave off his beard, and before the evening was over, the bare-faced founder had generated $10,000 at the stroke of a razor! Not only that, but he grew his beard back in due course, and it’s been his trademark ever since. We had a great time looking at Marl’s old car collection (there were more than a dozen from the 20s, 30s and 50s) and his humorous signs. Outside the door of the car building it said "May contain nuts". It was a fun visit!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

North to Alaska

Saturday, June 23, 2007

FORT NELSON, BC — Tonight we are camped just east of Fort Nelson, situated at Mile 300 of the Alaska Highway. The mile count begins at Dawson Creek, where we were yesterday, and ends some 1500 miles later near Fairbanks, Alaska (there are conflicting claims for the "true" end of the highway). We learned that the Alaska Highway was built in 1942 by 11,000 US soldiers, supported by 16,000 more Canadian and US civilians, in the space of nine months, working from both ends toward the middle. The pressure was on to complete it so there would be a supply road to defend North America against the Japanese in the Second World War.
We had lots of company on the highway today, as a caravan of RVs from our campground, as well as others, are headed in the same direction. I said to Val we should get better acquainted with the group as we will probably be bumping into them at every campground between here and Alaska! The rarest type of vehicle in these parts is the ordinary sedan.
The scenery we passed was varied. We caught some marvelous sweeping vistas of rolling hills, valleys with rivers or creeks at the bottom of them, and, as we got further north, more views of the Rockies at quite a distance to our left. The vegetation included clumps of deciduous trees, but more and more we saw large tracts of land bristling with pine trees — very dense and spiky, like stalagmites, column-shaped instead of cone-shaped, and not very tall. I kept scanning the roadsides for wildlife and came up almost empty, until a lone deer made a brief appearance by the road.
We chuckled at the display some wag had made on the roadside, selecting two evergreens of a more traditional Christmas tree shape, and draping them with tinsel garlands and decorations that glittered in the sun! They stood out like Dolly Parton at a nunnery!
At one turn of the highway, as we descended into a valley, we could see the town of Taylor on the other side, with a suspension bridge between us and it over the mighty Peace River, and the whole community spread out before us, complete with its huge $40 million natural gas scrubbing plant that supplies western Canada and the state of Washington with what I suppose is really clean gas. Still haven’t quite figured out how you scrub a liquid, but that’s what the tourist brochure says. There’s gas and oil all over this part of the province, and lots of heavy machinery and services for them. It’s very manly environment, with muddy trucks, tattoo parlours, beer establishments and truck stops that serve plain, good food in large quantities. "10,000 truckers can’t be wrong!" boasted the gas station-restaurant we stopped at in Pink Mountain. They charged us $1.30 a litre for our diesel fuel, which caused Val’s jaw to drop. The man at the counter said we should fuel up next in Fort Nelson because there were some real gougers further up the way... we wondered what he was if he wasn’t one himself.
There’s no wi-fi connection at the Fort Nelson Fifth Wheel Truck Stop and RV Park, where we are camping tonight and tomorrow, but we learned, during our short jaunt through town after supper, that the tourist information centre and public library are both so equipped. So we’ll post this tomorrow and check our e-mails when we get within range. The most noteworthy thing we saw was the local arena and recreation centre, all barricaded and closed because heavy snow and ice this past spring caused the roof to cave in. Work equipment was on the site starting the repairs. The large arena looked like a giant foot had stomped on the corrugated metal roof. The student staff at the visitor centre told us that on the day of the cave-in, some kids were playing hockey inside when they noticed a crack developing. They went ahead and finished the last two minutes of the game before vacating the building. Fortunately, no one was hurt!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Jumping dishes junket

Friday, June 22, 2007

DAWSON CREEK, BC — Whenever we encounter some rough highway, and the truck and trailer go over bumps, in my mind’s eye I picture all the dishes in the trailer jumping up in the air and crashing down again. The din inside must be incredible, but there’s never anyone there to hear it. We have placed rubber-cushioned shelf liners in every cupboard, and each time we put a glass or cup away, we plant it firmly in the rubber to keep it from shifting around. It’s really quite effective for keeping stuff in place. The other place I’ve put it is on each shelf of the medicine cabinet, but in spite of that, the first one to open the door after a day’s drive usually has to have lightning reflexes to catch a flying toothpaste tube or aspirin bottle before it crashes into the sink below.
Today’s drive from Whitecourt, AB to our current location was a dish-tester par excellence. For some reason, the Alberta highways department has let the northern route get pretty worn, and in addition to cracks, patches and potholes, there is a series of crosswise ridges and depressions that makes everything bob up and down! Mind you, we passed miles and miles of construction work where the divided highway is being re-paved as well as extended, so it’s not like they’ve neglected the region entirely. They just didn’t get to the part we were driving on.
Northern Alberta is a vast land, with many flat prairie vistas, but with gulches, streams, creeks and trees aplenty. A huge sky still stretched above us, with a thin cloud cover in the morning, burgeoning into cauliflower bunches by afternoon that smouldered into a dark, bluish grey and spat some fat, wet raindrops on our windshield for part of the way. Luckily this never happened when we were outside the vehicle! There was quite a lot of traffic on the road in both directions, mostly trucks or 18-wheelers but a few RVs as well.
We followed Highway 43 through Little Smoky and Valleyview, turning westward to Grande Prairie after lunch. Now that’s one bustling town. Our route took us right through the centre of it, and we must have seen a thousand RVs in one dealership or another. Everything was set back from the road with huge parking lots and big box stores like WalMart, Zellers and Costco, as well as car dealers, trucking equipment stores and other industrial service centres — it was a huge shopping centre from one end of town to the other!
It was good to be in the countryside again after that. We drove through a couple more small towns, including Beaverlodge, where a huge figure of a beaver with large white buck teeth greeted us by the roadside, and then said farewell to Alberta as we crossed the provincial border to BC. Dawson Creek boasts its claim to fame: Mile Zero of the Alaska highway. We turned off just at that point to get to our campground, but will return and start our real northward trek at that spot tomorrow.
The evening’s entertainment tonight is going to be a small repair job we have to do to the drain system of our grey water. At one of our pit stops, Val noticed a small pool of water under the trailer and saw that it was dripping from a spot that had supposedly been repaired for us by the dealer nearly four years ago. So we picked up some sticky goop that should plug the drip till we can get some professional attention. It will do the trick for now.

Summer solstice

Thursday, June 21, 2007

WHITECOURT, AB — The magpies are yapping crassly outside our trailer, in great contrast to the elegance of their black-and-white plumage and sweeping tails. It’s a warm evening and soft white fluff is floating on the air; I’m told this comes from poplar trees this time of year but it reminds me of milkweed fluff in the fall.
We left the Calgary area this morning, with its boom town atmosphere. We couldn’t believe how many new homes were being built everywhere, all carefully positioned to capture both the views of the Rockies, and the handsome selling prices as well. You can easily add $100,000 to the price of a house for the view alone, on top of a substantial, six-digit price tag.
As we headed north on Highway 22, the Cowboy Trail, I though we’d see more of the Rockies to our left as we went, but there were rolling fields instead with grazing cows. It resembled anywhere in Ontario.
Just before we reached Sundre, AB, we came up behind a large building being transported up the highway by truck. It took up a good three extra feet in the oncoming lane, so it had outriders front and back with flashing lights to warn people a wide load was coming through. Val remarked that this motor home had gone a bit too far! All the oncoming cars were clinging to the shoulder to get past, and us folks behind had to just crawl along. Then we came to a full stop, but that was because of some highway repair up ahead. A few miles after we got moving again, the oversize caravan found a place to pull over so that the long string of cars behind could finally get past. Not before one smart-aleck jeep driver impatiently pulled out and bombed up the wrong side of the road.
Clayton called us this morning before we left the campground to say he had been called away on business unexpectedly, so we did not, in the end, turn off to the ranch. There is still a chance we might cross paths, as he is in the area where we are traveling. If not, we’ll just have to arrange to come out specifically to see him when he’s free.
Just before we reached the highway turnoff toward Breton where the Hoffarths have their ranch, there was a herd of buffalo peacefully grazing. I also saw some llamas by the highway and three hefty-looking pigs. No deer or moose though, despite highway warning signs.
The Cowboy Trail ended at Mayerthorpe, the town where four RCMP members were killed on the same day by a cop-hating wacko named James Roszco a couple of years ago. The first large building we saw had "Roszco Farm Equipment" painted in large red letters on the side. We drove in to town and found the RCMP detachment so we could find out where their memorial was going to be situated. I knew it wouldn’t be ready till 2008, but thought the beginnings might be there, and we could also make a contribution toward it. When we pulled up beside the detachment, which is at a T-intersection, there was a large sign right in front of us that said "Future Site of RCMP Memorial". The detachment receptionist told us it is going to be a park area in memory of all fallen members; they expect the total cost may come to $1.5 million. She also told us the Roszco enterprise represented the good side of the family.
At Mayerthorpe we turned from Highway 22 to Highway 43 and headed toward Whitecourt. The Athabasca and McLeod Rivers intersect at the town, and as we came over the rise of land we saw a huge pulp and paper mill by the river. Our campground is called Sagitawah RV Camp, an Aboriginal name which means "where two rivers meet". I always thought that is what Ottawa meant. Maybe it’s in another Aboriginal language. Speaking of which, Happy National Aboriginal Day! The summer solstice is the day to celebrate the heritage of our Aboriginal people — and, incidentally, the longest day of the year. Up here near the 54th parallel, we expect it will still be daylight when we head for bed!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Stampede stomping grounds

Tuesday, June 19 and Wednesday, June 20, 2007

COCHRANE, AB — Time with good friends is time well spent, and yesterday and today we did some good spending. David Fox came to our campground yesterday and reminisced with Val over the days of their youth. Just as Dave arrived, Val’s brother John came online, so I wrote back to him to stand by while we set up the web cam.
Moments later, with the small round camera mounted on the laptop, Dave and John looked at each other for the first time in 38 years. When your memory stores the image of a twenty-something kid for that long — smooth-faced, dark-haired and youthfully built — and it encounters the face of a wrinkled, white-haired sixty-year-old, the only thing you can do is laugh. And laugh they did! It was a magical moment to behold!
Later that afternoon, we headed in to Calgary to visit Len and Deb Babin. Len is a retired RCMP member who has always had a keen curiosity about the world, and an avid interest in new-fangled gadgets, so he proudly showed us around their beautiful home, with heated concrete floor downstairs, remote-controlled awning on the deck, and a sound system fed with music from a data stick which he had filled up from the Internet. Deb’s talents were wonderfully demonstrated in a succulent meal; lamb chops in balsamic sauce, lemon-laced asparagus, new potatoes, a beautiful Parmesan-garnished salad, warm, crusty bread and, as a finale, a cloud-light lemon-filled roll.
We talked until very late, and then turned in, as we had been invited to spend the night. In his e-mailed invitation, Len had suggested we do this to avoid collisions with wildlife on the way back to the campground in the dark. Besides, this would allow an early start to the walking history tour of Calgary he had offered to provide for us today.
And so, this morning, after a refreshing sleep and a gourmet breakfast, we headed downtown. Len had researched the history of the area when he arrived five years ago, and armed with some really interesting material, he decided to give walking tours to visitors. He and other volunteers start them just outside the Glenbow Museum every Thursday morning at 10 – or on special arrangement, as we had today.
It was a fascinating tour. He started with a timeline that went back 225 million years ago, when marine creatures lived and eventually provided the material for today’s oil deposits. He went on through the dinosaur age, the wooly mammoth age and the time of the first peoples who migrated across the Behring Strait land bridge. He talked about the whisky traders from Montana and parts south and the North West Mounted Police, who came to lay down the law and ensure the safety of settlers who were drawn to this wide open land. Len showed us a copy of the letter, written on February 29, 1876, by Commissioner Irvine to the department of justice, suggesting that the new fort built by the NWMP at the junction of the Bow and Elbow Rivers be named Fort Calgary.
We saw sandstone buildings stamped with dates from the early 1900s, and strolled through Chinatown, where descendents of the 17,000 labourers from the national railway still live. He took us through the "plus-fifteens" — a network of pedestrian overpasses, 15 feet above the street, and to the Devonian gardens, a huge third-floor section of an office building full of tropical plants and ponds with giant goldfish and turtles. What a haven for the winter-worn! We also saw the beginnings of stampede fever as local artists began painting office windows with cowboy themes. It was a terrific tour and a great visit.
We arrived back at the campground just in time for the serviceman, who came to install the safety kit on our fridge as part of the Dometic factory recall. We can now breathe easier, with the new kit and the assurance of the serviceman that the chance of fire was slim before and non-existent now.
Tomorrow we hit the road again, taking the Cowboy Trail, Highway 22, north to the Hoffarth’s ranch near Breton.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Domestic affairs

Monday, June 18, 2007

COCHRANE, AB — Every now and then on a trip this long, it’s nice just to stop. We’re doing that here in Cochrane, and it’s a pretty nice place for it. This morning the weather was sunny and fresh, so we took a stroll by the edge of the Bow River (sort of figures that a campground called Bow RiversEdge would have a river next to it) along a nice walking path. The river is pretty wide, and right now it’s full and rushing with quite a current. I would not like to fall into that; you’d be swept away in no time.
With the excellent internet connection here we were able to set up our web cam and have a face-to-face conversation with Val’s brother John in Ottawa. It was great chatting with him, and true to form, he provided us with some important information about our trailer which we are following up on; apparently the propane refrigerator in our unit has been recalled by the manufacturer, Dometic, because of a problem that can cause it to explode and burst into flames! After our chat we went on the net and found out how to check if our unit was affected and what to do. Sure enough, it is on the list. The same website helped us locate an RV service in Cochrane that can install the kit which will correct the problem. We called and the fellow even does house calls; he’s coming by Wednesday afternoon! Of course, Dometic will pay for the work as well. So all we have to do is hope that in the next 48 hours we don’t experience a complete conflagration and we’ll be fine.
We did a complete housecleaning job, that took about ten minutes to do — another nice thing about living in small quarters — and then headed off to pick up a few groceries. Cochrane has a large square area that makes up the business section, and all the architecture follows a western cowboy theme. It looks to be a fairly prosperous place, and I imagine before too long it will become a suburb of Calgary, as it appears to be growing eastward and Calgary is growing westward.
This evening we drove in to Calgary and had dinner with David and Sandra Fox at their lovely townhome in Sunnyside. David was Val’s best friend from his high school days, and was best man at our wedding. We’d seen him in Ottawa two years ago, but before that there had been a gap of more than 15 years, so it was great to pick up the threads again.
Our Streets and Trips program brought us right to the Fox’s door, and when it was time to come back, I pressed "Reverse Route" and it took us back to the campground. Even though it was after 10 at night, there was a blush of red sunset on the horizon and the pale, ghostly outline of the Rockies in the distance against a sky that was still bright. No wonder we’ve been turning in past our bedtime these days.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Kicking Horse Pass

Sunday, June 17, 2007
COCHRANE, AB — It’s been a full and busy day. We woke up in Golden, BC and I did our second and final load of laundry and gave Val a quick haircut. We set up outside, so Val could gaze at the Rockies while I buzzed away, plugged into the trailer’s exterior power source. Easiest haircut ever — no sweeping up! In the midst of the job, Josh called to wish his Dad a Happy Father’s Day, so I trimmed around the other ear and then got him to switch ears with the cell phone.
With our Streets and Trips program we located the little Anglican church in town so I could attend the service. I was amused that two weeks in a row I attended a St. Paul’s church, though there were hundreds of miles between them!
Soon we were hitched up and heading east again toward Calgary. I’ll let Val describe the journey through Kicking Horse Pass, as he was the one at the wheel for this equipment-challenging phase:
Well, I've got to tell you about today and our trip from Golden to Cochrane. More specifically, that haul up the Kicking Horse Pass. I wouldn't have missed it, but let me tell you, I was thinking mighty hard about the bolts holding the hitch to the truck frame, those four little pull pins, and that tiny king pin! The diesel just hummed along merrily, probably saying to itself: "Well, finally, that dude has given me a challenge!". On the way up, we saw the remnants of a tractor trailer which had burned down to its frame. There were some mighty sheer cliffs on my right that seemed to fall straight down to the centre of the earth - and no curb! We also saw the unbelieveably high concrete supports for the new piece of highway. The whole trip was spectacular. It is true that there are no words to adequately describe some things, they just need to be experienced.
At one point along this precarious route, we slowed to an abrupt stop as two mountain goats trotted across the highway in front of us, unhurried but purposeful, hopped over the concrete edging and headed down the mountain on the other side. They were no more than eight feet in front of us. It was fortunate that there wasn’t much traffic at that point, as later on even on a Sunday afternoon the highway was well populated with vehicles, both private and commercial.
We pulled over for a quick lunch just at the entrance sign for Yoho National Park, and continued on through to Banff and on to Canmore (with a thought for the late Mike? From Canmore? of Royal Canadian Air Farce fame). By this time some inclement weather was setting in, and the last of the snow-capped mountains were shrouded in wisps of cloud. Then, with the Rockies at our backs, we passed through the Stony Indian Reserve and arrived at our destination, a small community just 15 minutes from Calgary. The Bow RiversEdge Campground is the nicest one we’ve stayed at so far, with neat, gravel pads for the trailer and each site edged with a little hedge and a patch of grass. The owner has been managing parks like this for 16 years, and it’s clear he knows how to please his clients. We’ll stay here for four nights (our longest stopover yet) so we can visit our friends Dave Fox (best man at our wedding almost 35 years ago) and Len Babin, a retired RCMP member.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

A visit to Fort Steele

Saturday, June 16, 2007

GOLDEN, BC — It was another quick getaway morning, as we didn’t unhitch from the truck overnight in Fernie. We headed west on Highway 3 and then north along Highway 93 toward Fort Steele, always with the Elk River on our left, flowing wide and swiftly in the same direction as we were going. I watched the banks closely for a lot of the time, hoping to spot a mountain sheep or an elk or even a grizzly bear stopping for a drink, but they all watched us and waited till we were out of sight before coming out in droves.
It’s hard, when faced with calendar-quality vistas of snow-capped mountains at every turn of the road, not to replay great sweeping music in your mind like the French horn soundtrack of Dances with Wolves, or the overture to The Sound of Music, or even America the Beautiful despite our Canadian venue! Anyone who hasn’t been here yet MUST put this on their list of places to go before you die.
As we journeyed north, we arrived at Fort Steele, a replica of the fort named after one of the North West Mounted Police greats, Sam Steele. The staff are all dressed in period costume (1890s) and the village is laid out with blacksmith, hotel, schoolhouse, bakery, harness-maker, barber, dry good store and three little churches. We took a tour around the village on a bright red cart hauled by two massive Clydesdales, John and William, who plodded patiently along and paused in the right places so that Mr. Geary, the blacksmith a.k.a. cart driver, could tell us a bit about what we were seeing. Then we set off on foot to look more closely and go inside the buildings.
Much of the village was restored or carefully replicated, but there were one or two vintage buildings that had stood the test of time. One was a lovely wooden house with dovetail joints at the corners, built in the Finnish style and furnished inside with sturdy tables, braided rugs and vases of fresh flowers. We were still early in the season so some things hadn’t opened up yet, but it meant we didn’t have to contend with huge crowds either. The spot where you could try panning for gold would have been open but the person who runs it was gone for the weekend to give demonstrations in Cranbrook where every year they celebrate Sam Steele Days at this time. The heritage of the North West Mounted is greatly cherished and celebrated in these parts.
We had lunch in the village hotel, ordering buffalo stew with bannock and corn bread. They also had huge home-made oatmeal cookies for dessert. Between the two of us, we fished out five small pieces of buffalo meat in our stew bowls, but aside from that it was a tasty meal!
On we went toward our final destination of Golden. We passed a number of growing communities where houses and condos were being built, all carefully oriented so that residents could enjoy the spectacular view as they washed their cars or peeled potatoes for supper. I wonder if they ever forget to look.
We are staying tonight at the Whispering Spruce campground just east of Golden on Highway 1, and it is a beautiful location. The spruce trees tower above the trailer, and a few feet away the height of land drops away and you overlook Golden and the mountains beyond. There is a camper van in the next row between us and this amazing view, and this afternoon when we pulled in, the two campers were sitting in lawn chairs gazing at it, while between us and them they dried their laundry. It consisted entirely of brassieres and panties, all neatly pinned on the line like the pennants at a car dealership! It made for a rather incongruous display!

Super, natural British Columbia

Friday, June 15, 2007

FERNIE, BC — Tonight the vista from any one of our trailer windows reveals glorious, snow-capped, rocky mountains. We are camped right in the middle of this small town, across the street from the arena and down the way from the Subway restaurant. Fernie is a mecca for skiers in winter, and for cyclists, hikers and fishing enthusiasts in summer. We took a stroll through the town, and it is small!
We had a leisurely start this morning in Shelby, Montana (not like some of our neighbours; I could hear them driving past to the highway at about 6:30 or 7 a.m.!). Our departure routine involves stowing away everything that’s loose inside the trailer, from the toothbrush holder (stash it in the basket under the sink) to the dining room chairs (secure all four together around the legs with a bungee cord), pulling up all the blinds so they don’t swing around on the road, pulling in the two slide-outs (by hitting a switch on the wall) and bracing them with aluminum poles as a mechanical insurance that they won’t slip out accidentally en route.
Outside, we reel in the electrical cord and water hose, fold up the stairs and shut off the propane. Then we open the truck tailgate and Val performs the exacting task of backing the truck so the hitch opening aligns with the tiny fifth wheel pin, which is the single contact point between the truck and the trailer. If all goes well, the hitch will clamp around the pin on the first try. (For many husband-and-wife traveling teams, this and other trailer manoeuvres can be a good test of a marriage.) Then we can retract the jacks, lower the full weight of the trailer onto the truck, and collect the chocks from the wheels.
We have a laminated checklist that we go through each time we do this so that nothing is forgotten. Our last item is for me to stand at the back and let Val know if the left, right and brake signals are working. Then we can hit the road!
We had a bit of a wait at the Canadian border, but no problem getting back into our homeland. They asked us at both borders, Sault Ste. Marie and this one in Coutts, AB, whether we had $10,000 or more with us. I’m thinking, if we had that kind of free cash with us, our driver would be wearing a tux and jaunty cap and we’d be sipping champagne in the back seat, but that’s just me.
We drove north to Lethbridge, passed Fort Macleod where we’d taken the kids in 1992, and saw the signs for Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, although we didn’t go there this time. Then we headed for Crowsnest Pass, the famous route that allowed the railway to reach all the way to the Pacific coast. Our route paralleled the tracks most of the way and afforded some breathtaking vistas.
Even before we got to Canada we could see the Rockies on the horizon. Driving through the pass, we felt their full impact working its magic on us once again. Such grandeur! We saw a number of windmill farms in the area, where huge white three-armed turbines stood reaching up for gusts of wind to turn them and generate power. They are really tall when you get up close to them.
For the third day running, we have no Internet. Service is down for the whole area, we were told, so even cruising around for a connection would be a waste. So we’ll post when we can.

Peaks and valleys

Thursday, June 14, 2007

SHELBY, MONTANA — We’re here for our second night; I wasn’t able to post our blog last night because I couldn’t get on the Internet, and it’s not looking too hopeful for tonight either, although the signal is "excellent" according to my computer. I just can’t log on, either here in the trailer or at a picnic table right next to the router. Very frustrating.
Our host gave us a password to get on which would be valid for three hours only. Each day they give you another password. There’s also a special code you need to get in to the showers, and once inside you read "anyone caught taking paper towels or soap except for normal use will be prosecuted. STEELING IS A CRIME." I keep forgetting to bring my pen with me to correct the spelling.
We headed for the hills this morning and boy, did we get hills. Great soaring hulks of hills, clawing the sky with jagged peaks and laced on their craggy faces with streaks of snow. Our destination was Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park northwest of Shelby, but we started off by heading south to avoid some messy construction on Highway 2 which would have slowed us down and coated us with mud as well. We passed through the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, but the only black feet we saw in the vicinity were on the cattle grazing in the fields by the road.
There were two roads into the park that were recommended to us, both dead-ends. One is always like that, but the other normally goes right through the park, except that avalanches and snow washed away the road and it’s impassable. But the 12 miles in that we took were probably the prettiest anyway. We took the northerly one from Babb first, which brought us to the beautiful Many Glaciers Hotel, a Swiss-chalet style building next to a green lake and surrounded on all sides by snow-capped peaks. It was built in 1917 and looks very much like Chateau Montebello near Ottawa, with lots of dark wood and a central lobby that opens up three floors high with a huge fireplace at the centre. We ate in the palatial Ptarmigan Dining Room overlooking an unbelievable vista of lake and mountain, served by Katie, a young student from Indiana who found her summer job by looking at a website called Cool Jobs.
After a tasty meal we headed back to the park gate, down the highway a bit and in to the second road from St. Mary. The road twisted and turned, and at every turn we gasped at the magnificent views of turquoise green river, spiky dark pine trees, rising rock-strewn hills and black summits streaked with snow. Above was a blue sky with puffy white clouds, and at the roadside was a glorious array of delicate wildflowers — yellow buttercups, red Indian paintbrushes, bluebells and tiny white starflowers. It was breath-taking. We stopped several times to snap photos and gawk. At one such stop, to see the Jackson Glacier, another tourist kindly took a shot of the two of us together.
In all today we covered about 400 km (250 miles), which was a lot, but well worth it. I have enough material for about 50 watercolour paintings all in one day! While we’re talking about pictures, we have tried to post some from our digital camera on the Flickr website, but so far without success. We will work on it again when we’re sure of a strong signal, so eventually we can link you to some illustrative supplements to my verbiage. A picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words. Today I’d venture to say a million.

Antelope sighting en route to Mongolia?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

SHELBY, MONTANA — There was a coolness in the air at Malta this morning, and as I headed for the shower building I relished the thought of hot streams of water warming my chilly limbs. We have a small shower stall in the trailer, but the ritual of wiping down everything afterward to prevent moisture buildup is not worth the hassle when there’s a free shower thrown in with the site.
So I stood in my cubicle, got ready, and, still slightly a-shiver, stepped in to the stall to figure out how the hot and cold knobs worked, with the jet aimed to the wall so I wouldn’t freeze to death on the first spurt of water. A feeble, fine spray sputtered out, and as I risked terminal goose-bumps, I worked both knobs in every direction to warm the water, with no success. Oh! Heat! It finally started coming but yikes! It was scalding hot! Turn the knob the other way, quick! Ack! Freezing again! After a good five minutes of alternating hypothermia and being boiled alive, I settled for a tepid, low-pressure spray that took forever to wash away the suds. Well, at least with all that dancing around I wasn’t shivering any more.
We packed up and readied ourselves for the road, but then headed off on foot to the Dinosaur Field Station in Malta to see the mummified dinosaur. Having learned on the net all about this unique find, we figured this was not to be missed. We got a tour all to ourselves. First we saw the fossilized remains of a 150-million-year-old baby plant eater. It had recently undergone a CAT scan to reveal an injury on its upper back that was the exact shape of a T-Rex tooth. Next was a full skeleton of Roberta, another vegetarian dinosaur. Our guide explained the process of unearthing it after 11-year-old Robert found part of it sticking out of the ground. Finally, we got to Leonardo, and you could actually see the scales of its skin, and some of its muscles and tendons. He was 77 million years old, and scientists even found pollens of ancient plants in his stomach. The facility is a working field station where staff reconstruct and clean specimens; people can even sign up to participate in a dig if they want. The whole area is rich with the possibility of new finds.
It was just past 11 when we got on our way, but the visit was well worth the delay. As we continued west along Highway 2 we passed similar topography to the last couple of days. Later, purple mountain majesties appeared on the horizon and our altitude continued to climb. Still, there was lots of flat, and the fields alternated between green and tan where farmers planted or left land fallow. On one of the tan strips I suddenly caught sight of an antelope, set well back, standing and staring at us passing by. Then Val saw another next to the first, lying down in the stubble. A few miles further along we passed a third antelope with a tall, sturdy pair of black horns, just a few feet off the highway! He ambled calmly away from us, unperturbed.
We decided to stop at Shelby, so I looked up an appropriate RV campground in the vicinity and found one that advertised its location by latitude and longitude, rather than the usual street address and zip code. So I found the place in our Streets and Trips program where I could plug that in and get directions. Longitude111.85945 and latitude 48.52400, I typed in, and then pushed Enter to get the proper spot on the map. "Mongolia", said the map title — huh? Did I get the numbers wrong? Double-checked; no, all correct. Then I noticed you had to put a minus sign in front of the latitude if you meant "west", which I had not done! So, in case you needed to know, if you were to drill through the earth at our campsite in Shelby, Montana, and crawl through, you’d be in Mongolia! The things we are learning!
We will stay here two nights; our hosts advised that to visit Glacier National Park we’ll have to leave the trailer behind (it exceeds the maximum length allowed on the park highway). Severe snowfall and rain over the winter washed out some of the road so it is not possible to drive all the way through, but the most scenic parts are on the section we will see, so we’ll make an early start and enjoy the day.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Teepees and tumbleweed

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

MALTA, MONTANA — We’re in cowboy country now for sure. We’ve passed through little towns that look like Wild West movie sets with flat-fronted saloons and dirt roads and old pickup trucks cruisin’ through. Out in the country, a huge sky with billowing clouds arches over vast expanses of green fields or dry tracts, and in the wire fences at the side of the road you can see clumps of grey, brown and ivory-coloured tumbleweed, snagged like so many giant dust bunnies.
Every now and then the flat plain is grooved by an old river, resulting in dark shadowy folds, sometimes fringed with a few trees. Off in the distance we could see some hills and way off, the blue pointed shapes of real mountains. Our GPS locator told us we are already on fairly high ground – our altitude is over 2,000 feet. Those numbers are sure to get much bigger from here on in. It also warned us that we were entering a different time zone; we’re now in Mountain Time.
A good portion of our route today was through the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, and as we drove through one or two small settlements the Aboriginal people we passed by the road were very dark-skinned; the guide book tells us they are mostly Sioux and Assiniboine tribes here. Some of the truck stops and gift shops advertised Native art, and there were even a couple of teepees on display.
We stopped very soon after entering Montana this morning to see the Culbertson Visitor Information centre and museum. Inside a kind lady filled a whole bag full of maps and brochures about the state and invited us to mark our hometown with a pushpin in their map (ours was the only pin in Ottawa!). Then we toured the museum, looking at tiny school rooms with slates and inkwells, the chemist shop with jars of remedies lined up on the shelves, an old kitchen with wood stove, butter churn and preserving jars, another room with farming tools — where I was astonished to see a display of more than two dozen different kinds of barbed wire! We saw scratchy First World War uniforms, gas masks and guns, and even an area where children’s toys were on display. I actually recognized an old tin doll house like one I used to play with, and Lincoln logs we had as kids for building little log cabins. You really know you are getting on when stuff you’re quite familiar with is being displayed as museum pieces.
When we came to the end, the ladies offered us coffee, lemonade and home-made cookies in their little kitchen area, next to an ancient washing machine and handmade quilts. The museum was great fun to visit and the friendliness of the staff was an added delight.
Our site tonight is at the Edgewater Inn and RV camp, and we have a pretty spot next to some shady poplar trees, with a river flowing behind us. There’s a railway trestle spanning the river and already at least four or five trains have whistled by, causing the trailer to tremble a little. There are some huge grain elevators by the tracks, so freight as well as AmTrak trains pass through, our host warned us. At least they don’t blow their whistles as they pass, so it won’t be that bad, I’m sure.
We had time to visit another little museum where, in addition to artifacts of yesteryear, they display dinosaur bones that were discovered in this area. "Elvis" is a completely intact plant-eating dinosaur skeleton, and in a second museum we’re going to visit tomorrow, we’ll check out "Leonardo", a mummified meat-eater that’s the pride of the town — complete with flesh and skin.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Pelicans on the prairies

Monday, June 11, 2007

WILLISTON, NORTH DAKOTA — It was a longer drive today; the stop we had considered as our end point seemed to come too quickly and we had more juice to go on, so we continued till we got here, a small town just near the border between North Dakota and Montana. We’re camped at Buffalo Trails Campground, which looks like a used trailer lot to me – not a twig of a tree on the whole lot and scrubby grass squared off by dusty brown dirt roads with weatherbeaten posts to mark off the sites and provide the power and water. No matter; we’re just spending the night and driving on. We haven’t even unhitched from the truck. It’s 92 F and we’ve turned on the AC for the first time. Whew!
Our journey today took us from Grand Forks right across the state. The land looks much like the prairies in Canada; mostly flat with a few trees and, by the road, quite a few small ponds with reeds and rushes, and a few clumps of trees here and there. I spotted a lovely little bird perched on a tall reed that our bird book identifies quite accurately as yellow-headed blackbirds.
Val was the one who spotted the pelicans first. There were several large white birds with s-shaped necks and long, pointed beaks in one roadside pond, and sure enough, they were pelicans. A few miles further on there was a whole flock of them, bunched tightly together on a muddy bank and looking from a distance like the incongruous snow dump you see next to hockey arenas in summer. Our bird book also confirmed their presence in this region, so we weren’t seeing things.
We got some relief from the flatness of the land in a couple of places where rolling hills developed, carpeted in bright green grass that looked as groomed as a golf course. Some of the vistas were so lovely I had to roll down the window and attempt a photo. The process was more complicated than it sounds.
I’m sitting in the passenger seat with the laptop on a lapdesk on my lap, wired to the GPS sensor on the windshield, wired to the power pack, which is plugged into the power inverter and wired into the power point of the truck (formerly known as the cigarette lighter). Looped over the headrest behind me are the binoculars and the camera case. So, when an interesting vista comes along, I have to reach over my head to reel in the correct strap for the camera case, untangle it from the binoculars, unzip and remove the camera, try to avoid crashing into the computer screen in front of me, turn the camera on and wind down the window. I was doing all this as these beautiful rolling hills whizzed past. Buffeted by the influx of hot, humid wind (in contrast to the cool air-conditioned truck), I pointed the camera out, trying to avoid getting an extreme closeup of the rear-view mirror in my frame, and panning to my right to find the shot I wanted.
At that precise moment, a bank of land rose up and blocked the entire scene, and we drove up an incline to reveal.....a huge expanse of flat prairie, stretching ahead for miles! Some time later we did come across some more rolling hills, but none quite as beautiful as the ones that got away.
One interesting spot we passed was in a small town called Rugby. It has a large stone cairn that marks the exact geographical centre of North America. So there’s just as much continent north, south, east and west of Rugby, North Dakota and there we were, smack dab in the middle of it. And now, westward ho!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Day of rest

Sunday, June 10, 2007

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – We had a thunderstorm last evening that passed quickly and left us with a lovely rainbow off to the east. A beautiful fresh-washed morning greeted us today.
After a bit of sleuthing I found an Episcopal (Anglican) church to attend this morning, and the route seemed quite easy as well. We drove eastward past a lot of businesses and malls that were empty of cars and made us wonder about Sunday closing. Then we turned north on Belmont Avenue, and what a beautiful, stately avenue it was; tall elm trees arched above the street the whole way like a green canopy, and set back from the curb were beautiful homes with verandahs and American flags fluttering in front of them, and wide green lawns.
After the service we wandered toward the Red River where an arts fest was in full swing, with artisans’ stalls and a bandshell where a fantastic live band was belting out a lively version of "Making Whoopee", accompanying a talented lady who fingered the keyboard as she sang. It was fascinating to see all the different types of artistic expression, from jewelry to stained glass, with baskets woven with deer antler embellishments, paintings and wood carvings. We bought a bright wind sock for our deck back home.
The Red River is the same one that flows north into Manitoba and causes a lot of flooding every spring. Even now it was brown and swollen, with trees at its edge surrounded with water. People we spoke to said there had been a lot of rain lately, and at church they told me that part of the building had been destroyed by flooding in 1997, so I guess they are very conscious of the state of the river.
Back at the trailer, we had a leisurely afternoon, taking care of the last of the laundry and discovering the New York Times Sunday edition. It’s a very meaty paper! It was nice having a free and easy day.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Big sky country

Saturday, June 9, 2007

GRAND FORKS, NORTH DAKOTA – We said farewell to Cloquet and were on the highway before nine o’clock this morning, driving under a clear blue sky. Our route westward brought us to Warba, La Prairie and Cohasset, and some larger centres as well, such as Bemidji and Cookston. We passed a couple of Indian Reservations, as they are called here, and a number of big gambling casinos. There seem to be quite a few place names in French – Fond du Lac, for example.
It’s interesting to see the billboards and signs by the road. In terms of eats, they advertise "pasties", which we figure must be pastries, as well as beef jerky, smoked fish and wild rice. One coffee shop we passed had a great name: Brewed Awakening.
We started getting hungry near Cass Lake and as we entered the town we saw several joggers by the road. I figured this was natural on a Saturday morning, but then I noticed they had numbers on their bellies, and there were larger clumps of them behind. Soon we spotted a Rest Area sign and decided to pull off for lunch – picking, in all innocence, one of the major points on this jogging event where families had brought their lawn chairs and water jugs to cheer on the runners. Fortunately there was a pull-through parking space available for our rig, and even an unused picnic table where we could sit, so we enjoyed a nice meal al fresco and headed on our way.
Not long after lunch we crossed the Mississippi River, but it wasn’t until we passed a sign by the road that we learned this was the starting point of THE Mississippi River, that flows all the way to the Gulf of Mexico!
As we got closer to the state line between Minnesota and North Dakota, the terrain flattened out completely and we were in the kind of place where you could see your dog run away for three days! Some clouds had rolled in, towering up in great white cauliflower billows, grey at their flat bottoms and a golden white at the top where the sun caught them. It was a magnificent sky and we drank it in for miles.
We also noticed more cultivated fields and even a few herds of cattle. Our list of animal life today included cows, horses, sheep, goats, donkeys and a lone deer, smart enough to scamper away from the roadside rather than on to it.
We have arrived at Grand Forks, North Dakota, which is connected to East Grand Forks, Minnesota by a bridge over the Red River of the North, that forks into Red Lake River. Our campground is right next to Interstate 29, so we can hear the 18-wheelers whizzing by. To me that’s a comforting sound; the world is turning as it should, and heads of lettuce and crates of corn are getting transported to supermarkets for hungry families.
I did a load of laundry this evening, carefully setting the timer so I’d be back to get the stuff out of the dryer before lock-up at eight o’clock. At 7:50 I got to the door of the building to discover it was locked already with our clothes inside! Fortunately I snagged the young staffer just as she was climbing into her parents’ car to leave. She sheepishly confessed she didn’t have a key, but called her boss to explain the problem. Not long after he came by our site and let me in, so all was well. However, our student friend may have some explaining to do to her boss about cutting out early!

Friday, June 8, 2007

An ironclad route

Friday, June 8, 2007

It’s not hard to figure out what one of the main resources of northern Michigan is; you just have to read the name of every other town! Our starting point this morning was Iron Mountain, and our route took us through Iron River, Iron County, and Ironwood. As well, you could see the rust colour of the soil by the roadside and know that there was iron all around.
We were spared the overnight tornado that we’d been warned about – in fact, before we turned in the sky had cleared and the sun was shining. We both noticed that it seemed quite light for nine at night, and that’s when I remembered that the map showed us crossing a time zone and it was only eight, Central Time! Still, we were tired so we turned in. The neighbouring campers must have thought we were a lively pair.
The highway was really lovely today – beautiful, tall trees, some of them pines but lots of deciduous trees, banked either side and we passed many clumps of purple and pink lupins, buttercups and daisies in the grass by the road. There were lots of wide expanses of fields and we were surprised almost none of them were cultivated; we guessed maybe the iron in the soil made them less desirable for crops.
Closer to lunch time we caught glimpses of Lake Superior to our right, and when we got to Ashland the highway was right next to the shore in places. We spotted a stretch of curb big enough to park at easily, so right there in the town we stopped and made our lunch in the trailer as the day’s traffic whizzed past us. When we finished, less than half a mile beyond we discovered a lovely waterside park with plenty of room for our rig, and grass, trees and a beautiful view to enjoy. Oh well. We were hungry!
Duluth, Minnesota, the largest American port on the Great Lakes, was situated just at the point, more or less, where we wanted to get off the highway in terms of mileage – having decided to cover about 200 or 300 miles, tops, per day. That meant we had to look at campground possibilities just short of Duluth or just past it, and Val was still fresh enough to choose the latter, so I flipped through our KOA directory and our Woodall’s and found a spot just a short jaunt off Highway 2 south on Interstate 35 in a place called Cloquet (we thought the locals might call it "clock-wet", but discovered they used the proper French pronunciation after all).
Once I found the spot, I had to rejig the Streets and Trips program to guide us there – all while the truck was steadily eating up highway and bearing down on Duluth. We could see evidence of the large, industrial metropolis, with factories, smokestacks, cranes and black-girdered buildings that only added to my anxiety. I could just see us snarled in some huge turnpike cloverleaf while I tried to figure out which exit ramp to take with seconds to identify it and get our rig pointed in the right direction!
I needn’t have sweated it. The program plotted everything beautifully, gave the directions (in a pleasant female voice – "in four point five miles, turn left at interchange 239") and we found our campground without one wrong turn. I love it!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Boats and floats and Canada geese

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

No highway travel today – we decided to spend a day looking at Sault Ste. Marie. Val is charmed with the friendliness of the people here, and lumps them in with all other northern Ontarians, such as himself, as a breed apart. He’s right – everyone has been very pleasant!
Today we learned how the town got its name. "Sault" is an old French word for rapids, and the Ste. Marie part refers to the river that runs between Canada and the US. So now you know.
This morning we visited the Bushplane museum near the St. Mary’s River, and checked out float planes with rollover tanks on top of the pontoons that could deliver cascades of water onto forest fires. There were more than a dozen planes of various vintages in a huge hangar, as well as mock campsites, and some old Ford trucks and Model T’s. We had the small cinema all to ourselves as we sat in salvaged airplane seats to watch a video of early pilots, daredevil wing-walkers and brave firefighters. It was quite interesting and we would have spent more time there, but we had to get moving in order not to miss the boat that was next on our agenda.
The boat provided us a tour of the locks between Ontario and Michigan, where we saw some huge ocean-going vessels and actually were lifted from one level to the next in a lock designed for one of these. Our tour boat was so small we hardly occupied any space in the lock, but we were amazed at the speed at which the water churned up from conduits beneath us and floated us 21 feet up to the higher level. When we sailed through the open gates, we could see, far off to the right, Canada’s biggest wind farm with hundreds of huge white wind turbines. We could only see a few and they were just tiny on the horizon. We also sailed right up to the Algoma steel plant and saw the heaps of limestone and coal and other materials that go into the making of steel. We passed under the International Bridge which we will be taking tomorrow into the US. It was a terrific tour, and the guide explained everything really well.
Our next destination was to see the Pancake Bay campground that we had originally planned to stay at. It was a lovely drive of about an hour to the spot and we passed three beautiful, sandy beaches that stretched almost for miles by the side of the road – with not a soul on them (it was only about 13 degrees, so a bit cool for swimming). They must be popular places in the hot weather! Lake Superior was constantly on our left as we travelled to the park. There was lots of evidence of the Aboriginal communities in the area, with teepees by the road from time to time, and trading posts with wood carvings and moccasins for sale. We got to the campground and drove through it – it’s huge, with more than 400 sites, all arranged in rows parallel to the water’s edge. The beach reminded me of Sandbanks park, gentle and sandy and fringed with grass at the edge before you get to the trees. We were mosying down one of the narrow roads between the campsites and there we spied Farid and Georgette, the Swiss couple we met at Chutes! We knew they were camping there but in a campground that huge we figured it wasn’t that likely we’d come across them. So we had a brief chat and promised to look out for them in the Yukon when we get there!
Back to Sault Ste. Marie we drove and stopped for supper at our trailer. I remarked that we’d been gone three days and had yet to live up to the promise we had made to take a healthy walk each day, so after supper we went back to the river’s edge and trotted along its lovely boardwalk to redeem ourselves. There were dozens of great big Canada geese grazing in the grassy park next to the river, and we had to be careful not to step in goose poop as we headed back to the truck. I’d hate to be under one of those birds when they decided to let loose, let’s put it that way.
It was a fully packed day – I didn’t mention the couple of small shopping stops we made for bits and pieces – so we’ve earned our night’s rest tonight. Tomorrow we’ll break camp early and head to the US of A.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Samuel and Chutes

Yukon - Alaska trek 2007

Sunday, June 3

We’re off! Our long journey has finally begun, after weeks of preparation, researching, planning, checking, acquiring, packing, and dreaming. It’s great to get out on the open highway at last. I’m sure once we’ve been at this for a few days everything will be routine again, but we feel a bit rusty on some aspects of this process. Good thing we have our laminated checklist with every step of the hitching up outlined. Before long, we’re pulling away and leaving the busy city behind.
The added new feature for this trip is having the laptop with us, equipped with Streets and Trips and GPS locator to track our every move. Literally! We stuck the locator to the truck’s windshield with its little plastic suction cup and plugged the other end of the wire into the back of the laptop. When I opened the program, there was the map of the highway with the arrow, following the route along. A sliding switch allows you to view your progress from very close range or from somewhere so far above the earth’s surface, you can see the entire continent onscreen. I opted for a little closer to the ground, so we could read the intersections as we passed by them. The GPS locator finds its bearings from three or four of the 24 satellites orbiting the earth so you can read your exact location by degrees, minutes and seconds. Not only that, but it tells you how fast you are going and provides a little compass pointing your direction as well. Not too well versed in kilometers? No problem, switch to miles – and the program will tell you what kind of gas mileage you’re getting as well.
When I wasn’t glued to the screen I actually did get to take in some of the beautiful countryside, with peaceful cows grazing in the fields, rolling green hills and, as we got further north, the tall, asymmetrical pine trees towering above the others against a hazy blue sky.
It was a gentle first day in terms of distance; we arrived at Samuel de Champlain provincial park around 2:30 in the afternoon and found a site we could back into fairly easily. We’re next to a small river that tumbles over some stones nearby. As we set up, we could hear the rumble of thunder in the distance, so we felt a bit pressured to get everything in place before the storm hit. Our quickened pace made us quite warm, so we thought we’d put on the ceiling fan to cool us off . Which switch was it to turn on the fan? Oh yeah, this one...but it’s not working! Then we looked over at the microwave and there were no green digital characters on the screen – our power cord was not delivering any juice.
Well, it is early in the season. Maybe they don’t turn on all the electrical connections when there are relatively few campers. Since we didn’t want to unhitch the trailer totally from the truck, I volunteered to walk back to the registration office and report the problem. The storm was still at some distance and besides, a little exercise would do me good, so off I went. Funny, it seemed a lot closer when we covered the distance by truck. Ah, there it was! I stepped up onto the porch and approached the door – and laughed out loud as I read the hand-lettered sign: "Temporarily closed due to power outage."
Back at the trailer, we stowed away some of our last minute bits in suitable spots and took a bit of a rest. Since the rumbling thunder still seemed a ways off, we decided to look around the park a bit and set off on foot. Before we’d got too far, the rain started! It wasn’t too heavy at first, so we stopped under a beautiful pine tree and were quite sheltered. However, it was obvious the rain wasn’t going to let up, so we headed back to the trailer before it got any worse. We were just a little damp, but had we hesitated any longer, we would have been soaked to the skin! It poured!
Despite the promise of the park warden that the power would be on very soon, we were still cut off as supper time approached, so we opted for cold chicken sandwiches and raw veggies. At least there was propane for the stove so we could boil some water for tea afterward. Just as I got that underway the little green lights appeared on the microwave display to announce that we finally had power! So here we sit, quiet and peaceful in our home on wheels, listening to the thunder fade in the distance, and to the little birds chirping from the dripping branches, and to the steady gurgling of the stream nearby.
That, and the clicking of the computer keys as I record Day One of our long journey! Signing off!

Monday, June 4

Val slept in this morning – all the way to 7:30! For a guy who has been known to rise at 4:45 without aid of an alarm clock, this is a feat. He guessed it was because it was so quiet, but I also think it could be the quality of the air. It’s so clear and crisp!
It was still quite wet out, and pretty buggy, so we didn’t linger outside for long, going about the business of striking camp. We left the trailer hitched to the truck, so leaving was a cinch. Just pull out the chocks from the wheels, stow the stairs, unplug and drive off (well, there’s a bit more, but I don’t want to get too technical).
The park was quite near North Bay, so before long we were there. I couldn’t guess how many times we’ve passed through North Bay on the way to Haileybury, Val’s home town, and I always liked our pit stop there because you could breathe lungs full of clear northern air and know the sparkling lakes, craggy rocks and stately pine trees were just a few kilometers ahead.
This time was different, though, because we didn’t swing right onto Highway 11, up the rise and on toward Temagami; we drove straight ahead on Highway 17 toward Sudbury. It sort of felt like you were walking past the door of a dear friend and not dropping in to visit, as we crossed the familiar intersection and didn’t turn.
Our destination was Chutes Provincial Park on the other side of Sudbury, and as we drove along we could see we were getting closer to this mining centre just by looking out the window. No, not at the highway sign saying "Sudbury 150 km", but at the rocky surface of the earth, like a huge grey breastplate of some giant knight.
We had visited Sudbury with the kids in 1991 when we headed west for the Calgary Stampede, and in that space of time the vegetation had really changed the landscape. Before, it looked as barren and grey as the surface of the moon, but this time there was quite a bit of scrub bush and even a few pine trees that had managed to probe their roots between cracks in the rock and survive, even flourish. You were still very much aware of the expanse of rock, but the hard grey edges were softened with green.
Our computer program flashed red when we took the turnoff to Highway 17B that bypassed the city. "Off route" shouted the screen, with a large red exclamation mark! Still, Streets and Trips plotted our rebellious route with a blue line ringing the city and graciously restored our directions when we returned to our proper place on the other side of town. Of course, by doing this, we missed seeing Sudbury’s giant nickel. I made sure Val realized this was a grave oversight in the planning of this particular leg of the itinerary.
No one was at the kiosk at the entrance of Chutes Provincial Park, but since Val had reserved and prepaid our spot, and downloaded a map of the park noting our chosen site, we proceeded in and found it fairly easily. We felt a bit better when we saw the Reserved sign posted there, knowing it was for us. This early in the season, we could have picked any number of sites. Only two other couples spent the night in our area, and they both arrived after we did.
We decided to follow the hiking trail behind our site, as we could hear, and then see, the park’s namesake; a tumbling river frothed with white foam where it cascaded over the rocks. There was a quiet pool at the lower section where a flock of Canada geese were resting. That may have explained the next creature we saw – a handsome and rather large red fox ambling happily up the hiking trail ahead of us, in our direction! We stopped and watched, and if he saw us he didn’t seem to care, although he did trot off to the left into the field we had just crossed instead of meeting us. He had a big bushy tail. He was about the size of a German shepherd. Was he contemplating goose for dinner?
Back at the site after our stroll, we met a young woman who asked us if we could make change for a twenty so they could put exact change into their self-registering envelope to leave at the empty kiosk. She had a recognizable lilt in her accent which I correctly guessed was Swiss. She and her partner were from the Lucerne area and had scrimped and saved for months ("no socializing, no cinema") so they could take a year off to tour Canada and the US in a rented camper van.
We invited Georgette and Farid to have tea with us after dinner, and had a great time chatting about everything. They too are headed for the Yukon and Alaska, so we may encounter them again in our travels. They’re taking the Canadian route, so it will be interesting if our paths do cross again. We had a pleasant evening, but got to bed after our bedtime.

Halloo to the Soo

Tuesday, June 5
We're connected to the Net! Today was our first chance to log on, check our e-mails (thanks John and Johan), and post the first two days of the blog. How did we manage this? We’ve pulled in to a KOA Kampground with free wi-fi. It’s great – not just because of the net connection, although that is a great plus – but because it’s pretty, clean and quite close to Sault Ste. Marie. We had planned to go to Pancake Bay, but discovered it’s a good hour’s drive out of the city, which we’d have to do in reverse to continue on to the US of A, and we had some business to attend to in town.
The first thing that needed looking at was the trailer’s propane fridge. We’ve never used that power source for it, and the instruction book told us to switch to propane on and off several times to prime the pump if it hadn’t been used in a long while. We did this several times with no result, so we wanted to ask an RV specialist to take a look. Boy, did we choose the right spot for that. Just down the highway from the campground was an RV service centre, and the guy dropped everything and followed us back to the site to see what the problem was.
Well, just like when you take your kid to the doctor about a cough and the kid stops coughing in the waiting room, the service man did what we had done half a dozen times before and poof! The propane kicked in. He smiled and said we had done all the work for him – no charge! And off he went. So now, when we get way out into the hinterland, we’ll be able to chill our food without need of electricity. (Mind you, when we get that far north, we could do that by stashing all the food in a snowdrift, but we’d rather not invite grizzlies for dinner!)
Our next service call was to a propane place to see about getting an attachment for our gas BBQ. We have been using small green disposable propane bombs for it up to now, but they are not environmentally friendly – in fact, the owner at Propane Depot where we stopped said soon there will be a five dollar surcharge for them when you buy them to pay for their safe disposal. So we wanted to be able to connect to a refillable propane tank instead – and we needed to buy a small one as well. Too bad, the owner said, they’d just had a sale and were fresh out of them. Val said, "we’d be happy to buy a used tank – any chance you’d have one?" Guess what the guy did? He sold us his own personal one for $15 – when a brand new one of the same size would have cost us $50. As Val said, a beat-up tank looks less attractive to steal, so this suits us just fine.
We’ve taken a bit of a look around town and have decided to spend a couple of days here. Our trip from Chutes to the Soo was quite short, but we saw Manitoulin Island to our left and passed quite a few Aboriginal communities. There are fewer pine trees and more deciduous ones, and quite a bit of farmland as well. It was quite cool still but at least today we saw some sunshine. I swear the little white things that drifted past our window when we woke up this morning at Chutes were snowflakes, but they might have been seed casings from the trees. It felt cold enough to be snow.
Val was forgiven for bypassing the Sudbury nickel when we stopped for lunch. We did way better than five cents’ worth – we pulled off at a parking area next to a little park and right in the middle was a giant loonie! Of course I had my picture taken next to it. If anyone doubted that the loonie was growing on the market these days, I can attest to the fact that one of them, anyway, is a good eight feet across. Just a bit too big for my change purse, but anyway. Tomorrow we’ll tell you about the Soo.