Saturday, August 2, 2008

Alaska Highway: British Columbia Log

Under drizzle and low cloud cover, we pull out at 6 AM from the Mile O campground in the frontier town of Dawson Creek. Both kids are asleep in the back of the very lived-in van; clothes, books and gear packed around them as they snooze comfortably in sleeping bags on the reclined rear bench seat. Dave and I sip coffee in excited silence, punctuated (in my case at least) with a hint of cautious fear/concern. Armed with “The Milepost,” an essential travel planner for the Alaska Highway, we head north into vast wilderness!

Almost immediately the road climbs, albeit gradually, and signs warn emphatically that truckers must carry chains from October to May – NO EXECPTIONS. We pass a huge lumber processing facility and a scattering of outlying trailers and small homes. A few cultivated fields, yellow with soon-to-be harvested canola oil and cereal grains, are etched out of the thick boreal forest. I am thankful for the wide 60’ mowed shoulders, giving us a chance to spot and avoid contact with any wildlife that might emerge from the dense black spruce, lodgepole pine and aspen forest.

Many still refer to this highway as the ALCAN, the name given by the US military when they completed the pioneer road in 1942. My mind drifts: imaging what it must have been like for the then 600 residents of Dawson Creek when 10,000 wartime American troops and civilian workers poured in, unannounced, ferrying all the necessary hardware and provisions to build a road through uncharted mountainous terrain to the Alaska Territories. For soldiers and civilians working 12 hours shifts, seven days a week, the eight month construction project was a true test of endurance made more challenging by mosquitoes, muskeg [thick marshy soup covering much of the northern forest], loneliness and freezing temperatures. Images from the PBS film on the Alaska Highway construction [viewed while in Dawson Creek] brings this history alive and helps me to appreciate the relative comfort with which we are traveling this rugged region.

Much of the company we are keeping these days, however, travels in slightly bigger rigs. Despite gasoline prices between $5-6/gallon [of course Canada, which switched to metric in 1975, sells the stuff by the liter], the vehicle of choice seems to be an RV the size of a Greyhound bus, towing a vehicle roughly Philomena’s size. Imagining the comforts of our fellow travelers, Kim frequently notes well-appointed motor homes that she’d be willing to “trade-up” to. In the meantime, our little Philomena chugs along with us and everything we need, stopping at well-spaced highway lodges for gas, groceries and provisions. For some this may be a long drive, but for us it is a great adventure.

In five days, we have covered 613 miles through the Northern Rockies of beautiful British Columbia and are now 14 miles into the Yukon camped at a very tidy RV park called Nugget City [with much appreciated hot showers, laundry facilities and WiFi]. Along the way we have soaked in luscious hot mineral springs, hiked cliffs above raging whirlpool rapids, and seen Black Bear, Wood Bison, and Stone Sheep. A steaming pile of scat is, thus far, the closest I’ve come to Grizzly. The other morning – armed only with binoculars – I was heading up the boardwalk at the Liard Hot Springs in search of moose, when I noticed a fresh pile of scat consisting mainly of grasses and seeds. “Hum, I wonder what shat that scat,” thinks I continuing down the trail. Later that day, Will met a camper who shared photos of a Grizzly Bear on the boardwalk that must have been there moments before I arrived! Again, Kim’s apt observation sums things up, “Mommy, we haven’t seen any Grizzly Bears, but they have probably seen us!”

There is so much to see. Even traveling slowly in our old VW on this long trip, I often feel as though we are passing though too quickly. I’m aware of things we are missing along the way and conscious that this will likely be the only time I’m up this way. The success of our “SOL [Secret to Life] Tour” comes from balancing forward motion [a.k.a. the long drive] with outward exploration and discovery, all of which must be accented with a smattering of creature comforts [like pie for breakfast] keeping everyone happy!

So far, so good! Well, we’re off to explore the Yukon… I will write more at our next WiFi hot-spot. Until then, thanks for reading [and keeping us in your thoughts!] You know that we miss you [but not enough to come home!]

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