Friday, August 15, 2008

A few stats

Kilometres driven: 16,368
Nights in parking lots: 3
"Where to Eat in Canada" meals: 14
Pounds gained: 3 (only!)
Money spent on gas: $1918.18
T-shirts bought: 3

Day 35: Englehart to Toronto, ON

Technically, the day started in Kirkland Lake, which is where our hotel was; thus adding a half-hour on to my day's drive! My Mom insisted that my Dad try driving the bus. She said that otherwise he wouldn't understand just what a feat it had been for me to drive halfway across the country in it. So, Will went with Mom and I went with Dad, and after I started it for him (Bobby does love me best) he drove me as far as North Bay.

We stopped at the Thornloe cheese factory, where we always stopped when I was a kid for cheese curds. The factory had been bought by Parmalat, who then decided to close it. Fortunately for me, it was bought out by area milk farmers, and they're still producing those toothsome, slightly rubbery cheddar cheese curds that I love.

We also made the absolutely obligatory stop at the Highway Book Shop, in Cobalt, ON. They have 350,000 books in a delightful warren of additions to the original building, still presided over by Dr. Pollard, the same gentleman who founded the store in 1957. I'm not sure Will really thought it lived up to all the excitement I'd felt about going there, but I did help him pick out a few books to get him through the final hours of the trip.

Lunch was in Temagami, where we had the worst meal of the trip at a restaurant I won't name for you. We drove on to North Bay, where Mom and Dad were splitting off from our route. There I discovered that I'd left my bag - including my camera - at the restaurant. Driving back to get it would easily put another two hours of driving into my day, getting me home after dark, but Mom and Dad wouldn't hear of it. I'll feel guilty about this for years, I'm sure, but I let them go back and get it, and I drove on! They put in the extra kilometres (thanks, folks), and mailed it express to me the next day.

Will and I got McDonald's, which we hadn't done since the first week of the trip, and cursed the slow road at the top of the 400. It turned out to be a fender-bender that everyone was gawking at, and after that we moved quickly, despite it being a long weekend and tons of people coming back into town. We were home at 8:30pm and had time to unpack a little bit, bathe and shower before going to sleep in beds that had grown unfamiliar after so much time!

Total: 13,638km.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

DCMF writeup on CBC

CBC has a writeup on the Dawson City Music Festival, with the typical snarky user comments.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Day 34: In Englehart ON, August 3

We started the day at a church service held jointly by all the churches in town, big enough to be held at the arena - mostly my Dad and I wanted to hear the choir! We did meet up with some of our cousins there that we hadn't seen yet, so it was good to catch up with them. In the afternoon we drove out and through all my dad's old stomping grounds; down to the farm, where all the outbuildings are gone, but the house he helped his dad built when he was 12 is still standing; to the cemetery, where I told Will about his great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents that are buried there; and through a bunch of the surrounding countryside.
The evening ended with a drive back down to Charlton, a lovely beach where the fireworks were held. The town of Englehart had gone together with Charlton and Dack (local counties?) and bought a TON of fireworks - I think I heard that they went for a solid 45 minutes! It was certainly long enough that the little girl sitting in the next group lost interest, but I loved it.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

We're home!

Will and I arrived home at 8:30pm yesterday, Monday August 4, as scheduled.

More later as I get used to being home again...

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Day 33: In Englehart ON, August 2

This isn't supposed to be a blog about the Englehart reunion, so I'm not sure how much to write here. We attended the parade today, which had some really wonderful old cars and tractors, and even snowmachines! The high school was open and my Dad got to meet up with some of his old friends from his youth, and it was neat hearing them reminisce about their families and hijinks. By the time we'd seen everything and everybody there, it was 4pm, and time for Mom and Dad to get ready for tonight's dinner-dance to be held at the Arena. There were only 500 tickets available, and they sold out early; apparently there were 1400 people at last night's event, so there are plenty of attendees here. So, Will and I are hanging out at the hotel in Kirkland Lake, conserving our energy for tomorrow's events, which will wrap up with fireworks at dusk.

Day 32: Hearst to Englehart ON, August 1

Driving the extra distance to Hearst made it reasonably easy to reach Englehart in good time, our destination for this leg of the trip. My father was born and raised on a farm just outside of Englehart, and went to high school in town. The town is celebrating its 100th anniversary this weekend, and with Mom and Dad going, Will and I thought we'd join in the fun if the bus held up and we made it there in time.

As it happened we arrived around 3pm, beating Mom and Dad here! I picked up their registration packages at the town hall for them, so that once we arrived we could just go straight to the hotel. We're actually staying 30km away in Kirkland Lake, since there was nothing available in town.

After a nice prime rib dinner at the dining room at the Howard Johnson's, it was early to bed for all tired drivers and their passengers.

There's a very pretty little church in Val Rita. It's odd for me to be back in a French- speaking area of Ontario again; when you're in Kapuskasing, for instance, you're more likely to hear French spoken around you than English.

Total so far: almost exactly 13000km!

Day 31: Ignace to Hearst ON, July 31

When crossing the provincial border the day before, I still felt a long way from home when I realized we still weren't even in the same time zone as home! When I gassed up in Upsala I was confused by their clock, but they told me they keep Thunder Bay time rather than Winnipeg time. There didn't seem to be much more than a gas station and three houses in the town, so I guess they can feel free to do that.

We got to Thunder Bay a bit after lunch and got to visit again for a couple of hours with Jon and Rebekah, and admire Jon's trophies from his weekend of observed trials biking in Duluth. I think he's there again this weekend, riding in a class up from last time, so I'm eager to hear the results from that. Hot running water has become a bit of a novelty for me, so I also took the opportunity to wash our dishes in their kitchen sink, and by 4pm we were off again; of course, I'd managed to forget my keys again, and Jon had to deliver them to me in the north end of town. (Thanks, bro!)

Will and I stopped in Longlac for pizza and to fill up on gas (brother's orders - it's 200km to the next gas station), and I felt I could still drive for quite a while. I figured if there was a campground, we'd stop, but it's just the same as I remembered it; for 150km there's almost nothing at all, just an art gallery/store that I didn't remember. There aren't even houses, just countless trees on both sides of the road. I watched carefully for moose and deer, but the only wildlife we saw was a rabbit that wisely hopped off the road, and a partridge-like bird that unwisely flew right across our nose, but didn't get hit.

We reached Hearst about midnight, and I thankfully pulled into the Husky parking lot to put down the bed in the back and collapse into sleep. The humming of the refrigerated truck next to us didn't even keep me awake.

Total so far: 12611km.

Day 30: Virden MB to Ignace ON, July 30

After an uneventful morning's drive into Winnipeg, we managed to get to a restaurant close to lunchtime. Will picked the Bistro Dansk from Where to Eat in Canada, and I ended up with a great schnitzel while he ate a chicken and vegetable soup with dumplings. "This is like yours!", he complimented me.

I had a bad case of yellow line fever by then and couldn't seem to stop driving; I pushed us on and we covered a record 750km by the time we stopped for the night in Ignace, stopping just briefly in Dryden for supper at the Husky. Our night's stop at the Davy Lake Campground was one of the nicest we've stayed at; along with a nice new comfort station we had a huge lot with dozens of trees around us. I was sorry to arrive so late, when there was a nice beach too.

Looking at my camera card, I see that I was so busy driving that day I didn't take a single picture. Will took this one of his new woolly mammoth helping to navigate, so I'll have to give you this one instead!

Total so far: 11846km.

Day 29: Herbert SK to Virden MB, July 29

We've been pushing to get an earlier start to our days, but lost a half-hour looking for my bus keys this morning. I eventually gave up and left a note for the hotel owners, and used my spare keys to drive off with. Fortunately there is a spare fuel cap key too, or we wouldn't have gotten far.

The view of Regina from the west; those buildings in the middle are 20-30 stories tall.

In Regina we stopped for lunch at the Willow, a fancy restaurant on the shores of the Wascana River in town. Everyone there looked like they were on an expense account, so Will and I in our grubby shorts and sandals asked for a table on the patio. I needed coffee, and fortunately theirs was excellent; so was the "land" chowder, the cucumber panzanella (bread salad) and Will's short ribs, which came with a sweet potato and jalapeno salad and swiss chard.

The Science Centre was only a couple of blocks away, so we could hardly pass up the chance to go, even though we'd gone two years ago. That had us leaving Regina pretty late, and we debated whether to stop in Indian Head for another Where to Eat in Canada meal that day. Will convinced me to do it, although I worried when I realized that it was actually at Katepwa Point, 25km off the main highway, adding more than half an hour to my driving day (depending on the condition of the road). To add to that, the restaurant when we found it was closed; their "spring" hours are only on Friday and Saturday. "Spring"? Is it not the end of July? Is that not summer pretty much anywhere?

Fortunately the view, the scenery, and the beach made up for it. Saskatchewan is flat and a yellowy-browny-green, as you probably know. Fifteen kilometres up the road we found ourselves driving down into the Qu'Appelle River valley, lush and green. It's the same type of valley we were seeing in Alberta, but without the crazy striped layers of rock; it's all grown over with trees and grass. We sat on the beach and ate peanut butter sandwiches, leftovers from lunch, and Fudgee-O's.

I managed to drive for a few hours longer, and we ended up across the border into Manitoba. The night's stop was a Lions campground in the tiny town of Virden, MB. Once again we set up in the dark and didn't end up seeing any of our fellow campers, all of whom seemed to be tucked up in their 30-foot rigs watching satellite TV. You can camp there for $15 a night, or $1550 a year; with flush toilets and free showers, I started wondering why Mike and I didn't just sell the house, retire, and live there. I decided the road was starting to make me crazy.

Total so far: 11096km

Friday, August 1, 2008

Day 28: Drumheller AB to Herbert SK, July 28

We took the scenic route out of Drumheller, stopping at the World's Largest Dinosaur statue at the information centre in town, then at the Hoodoos that aren't too far away. They were smaller than I expected, but still pretty neat formations; pretty quickly I got fed up with the tourists who wouldn't observe the plentiful signs asking us to stay on the path and not touch them, and we took off back for highway 1.

We came into Medicine Hat in time for a very late lunch at a place called Zucchini Blossoms, which Where to Eat in Canada describes as "a casual cafe with someone in the kitchen who knows how to cook". We had grilled sandwiches that were delicious (mine had marinated pork tenderloin, Will's was provolone and salami), and since they were closing momentarily, took dessert with us to go on our own plate from the bus. I quite liked Medicine Hat from the quick look at it I got, although I did wonder at first at a city that would choose as its motto "The Gas City".

We made it quite a ways into Saskatchewan and stopped for the night at the Lone Eagle Motel in Herbert, which also has camping out back. We were the only campers there, and had good first-base seats for a baseball game on the diamond on the other side of the fence. The bathroom had the oldest coin-operated controls I've ever seen outside of a museum, but for five minutes of hot water for a quarter, I wasn't going to complain!

Attractions included a playground for Will with entirely homemade toys, and two alpacas in a pen that were receiving special attention from the owners. As well as the motel and campground, they keep a herd of 90 alpacas. They get anywhere from 400 to 500 pounds of wool from the herd each spring when they shear them, the owner said.

Total so far: 10554km

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Solar car

CBC has a story about the solar car we encountered during our trip. We followed it for a while northbound (the bus isn't quite fast enough to easily pass even a solar car on the highway), and even got a photo with both the solar car and a moose in the same shot.

On the way back after the music festival, we encountered them again, at a gas station this time, with us going south and the solar car still headed northbound. Kirsten and Will went over to talk to the driver and crew, and found out that they were headed to Inuvik.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Quick note

We're in Dryden, so we've made it into Ontario!

As we passed the "Welcome to Ontario" sign, Will said "yay! We're home!".

Of course we still have five days and 1800km left before we actually get home...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Location update

Kirsten asked me to post an update tonight so all of our loyal readers know that she and Will are safe and sound. They are in Virden, Manitoba, hopefully making it to around Dryden tomorrow, going through Thunder Bay on Thursday, and arriving in Englehart on Friday.

A fun time was had this afternoon at the science centre in Regina after lunch at another Where to Eat in Canada restaurant, but it's contributing to an ever-increasing "must-drive" distance every day in order to get to Englehart on time!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Day 27: Calgary to Drumheller AB, July 27

Will had specifically wanted to see the science centre in Calgary, so we did that first thing on Sunday morning. I tried hard to like it, but it was all too juvenile (mostly aimed at 3- to 7-year-olds) and mostly too old; lots of exhibits were broken or otherwise not working. They've got a big fund-raising campaign on for a new science centre to be completed in 2011, and even Will ended up asking if we could come back then.

There's big money in Calgary these days, which means lots of good restaurants; unfortunately most of them are still closed on Sundays. We topped up at a grocery store and headed to Drumheller.

As you head up highway 21 from the Transcanada, you suddenly start to see these big (perhaps 20 m tall?) holes in the landscape. The sides are worn away, and the bottoms are flat; I'm still not sure what causes them, although I hope to find out tomorrow. The road started dipping into them, and by the time we were in Drumheller they were spectacular, and we were surrounded by the walls of these crazy formations. The town itself was bigger then I expected, and far too commercial and touristy for me to like. I managed to get us lost on the way to the big museum I wanted to go to, but fortunately it's an absolutely world-class museum and I was happy again moments after walking in. The Royal Tyrrell Museum houses some of the most magnificent specimens of dinosaur bones found in the Canadian Badlands, and they're displayed very well. (I couldn't help but remember the poorly-curated Costume Museum).

Here's Will hamming it up with a Dunkleosteus skull.

I had wanted to stay in Midlands Provincial Park, since it's in the middle of the Badlands, but it's day-use only. Instead we're at the "Dinosaur Trail RV Park"; everything is named about dinosaurs here and has statues of them all about. Will was particularly fond of one painted to look like a robot. He finally managed to find some kids to play with in the playground, and I'm finally up to date on our blog!

Total so far: 10 007 km!

Day 26: Jasper to Calgary AB, July 26

Today was running hot and cold attractions, starting with the hot springs at the north end of Jasper National Park. It was a bit out of our way, but Will desperately wanted to see it, and I figured a hot soak would do me good too. I'm glad we went to the Liard Hotsprings in the Yukon, because there you get to actually go in the natural springs; in Jasper they pipe the hot water into a regular swimming pool, and it's just like going to your local community centre for a swim, except for the 40 degree water. After half an hour we were bored and took off back to Jasper and the "Icefields Parkway", which I had read was the prettiest stretch of roadway in Canada.

It's certainly hard to beat glacier-topped mountains with their icy blue-green creeks. I had carefully not mentioned the Columbia ice field to Will, since I figured things would have changed since I was a kid, and you wouldn't be able to actually go out onto the glacier anymore. And of course you can't; the receding glacier has formed a large lake and river underneath, and the toe is unstable now. Will was disappointed not to have a chance to pelt me with glacier snowballs, but the big graphic poster about a nine-year-old boy who fell in a crevasse and died of hypothermia before they could get him out seemed to convince him he was safer where he was. They have markers showing where the glacier used to be, and there was one for 1982, pretty close to the time I was there. It's amazing how much it has shrank.

For the record, we reached the highest altitude just before the ice field; at 2035m above sea level, it was the highest we'll get on this trip! Bobby did just fine, although there were hills we were climbing at 30 km/hr, and the dipstick for the oil was a bit too hot to comfortably hold, for the first time ever. The cylinder head temperature never got higher than 350, though.

From there it was off to Lake Louise, although by then we were getting a bit saturated with scenery. I didn't attempt to show the lake to Will; he has been converted to the Where to Eat in Canada way, and had picked a restaurant on the "old road" from Banff to Lake Louise. This is probably the road we travelled when I was a kid, so we headed off on it to find the Baker Creek Lodge, which did indeed have marvellous food (I had the lamb, Will had mac'n'cheese, and we split a chocolate paté for dessert). I drank two cups of coffee, which I estimated would get us as far as we needed to go that night.

The road was winding and dark, although there was still light enough to see a confused-looking wolf on the side of the road. We took the first opportunity to get back on the main road, which south of Lake Louise is a major highway, rather than the simple two-lane road we'd been on since Jasper. Most of it is fenced to keep wildlife off, so they've built these crazy wildlife bridges they seem to think will give the deer and what-not a safe way to get across. Perhaps they work, but if I was a deer I think I'd find them a bit too exposed.

I had wanted to get to Calgary before night, and amazingly, we did (it helps that Calgary is so close to Banff). It was late and I was exhausted, though; fortunately it was easy to find the Calgary West Campground, which is inside the city limits and right off the Transcanada. The noisy neighbours (who were all there for a folk festival, coincidentally enough) didn't bother me in the least.

Total so far: 9820 km

Day 25: Vanderhoof BC to Jasper AB, July 25

I had planned to send postcards to a few people from Prince George, since I figured it was a recognizable town that people know. From what we saw, it's pretty ugly and populated by drug addicts; we ate at a Where to Eat in Canada restaurant on the corner of a street lined with pawn shops and payday loan providers. Will and I beat a hasty retreat out of town and soon saw the Rockies ahead. Here's our first glimpse, taken by Will through the windshield;

We made it into the actual town of Jasper while it was still light, and found a Where to Eat in Canada restaurant. My oat-crusted salmon was unbelievably good, including the bacon & spinach frittata that came on the side. My enjoyment was blunted a tiny bit by not being sure where we were going to sleep that night, and sure enough we ended up in overflow camping. Unfortunately we did some extra miles driving to a campground we had been told had spaces, which didn't by the time we got there. It was dark by then and I was driving with a white-knuckle grip on the wheel, convinced somehow that this was going to be my night to hit a deer. On the way to the overflow lot I saw an oncoming car suddenly veer off onto the shoulder; I braced myself and sure enough, there was a downed deer in my headlights a second later, sprawled over the centre line. I guess I'm glad it was the other car that actually hit it, but I felt bad nevertheless.

I still haven't gotten used to the fact that when it gets dark, it's actually dark; you can't see to do stuff like back into a parking spot. This made getting set up for the night annoying, and all we really did was put down the bed and collapse onto it. It was a cold night and I regretted not getting out all the sleeping bags later.

Total so far: 9294km (2632 of them by myself)

Day 24: Meziadin Lake to Vanderhoof BC, July 24

All too soon in the morning we had finished the Cassiar highway and turned back onto 16, the Yellowhead highway, eastbound and away from the coastal mountains. We seemed to be in civilization fairly soon, with small towns and then farms appearing. We tried to find a Where to Eat in Canada restaurant that was supposed to be in the vanishingly tiny town of Telkwa, but had no luck. (We assuaged our disappointment with the A&W in the nice little town of Houston).

At some point around dinnertime I noticed that the coastal mountains were no longer visible behind us, but at the same time, there was no sign of the Rockies up ahead. Clearly central BC was a lot bigger than I'd realized!

Vanderhoof, BC is the home of "Dave's RV Park", and Dave has got to have the newest and nicest facilities I've seen this trip. You pay for laundry on the honour system; give him $4 per load in the office and you get the code for the door, and have the run of the place. The showers and bathrooms looked like he'd just finished grouting them the week before; no rotten wood and cheap vinyl here! It actually got dark enough to see stars, which made me realize that it had been quite a while since I'd seen a proper night sky.

Total so far: 8734km

Day 23: Boya Lake to Meziadin Lake BC, July 23

I got to spend the entire day driving the Cassiar Highway, which was a delight. It was rough in spots, but nothing worse than the road to Dawson City. We were driving alongside the Cassiar Mountains, then eventually next to the BC Coastal Mountains, which are also beautiful; pointy and snow-topped.

Our first stop was quite early on, in a community that calls itself "Jade City", but really only has a population of 12 and one business, a jade store. Apparently this one site supplies 90% of the world's supply of jade; up from 75% a few years ago. People expect to buy jade souvenirs when they visit Asia, so now Canada exports jade figurines to Asia for the tourist trade!

We stopped again to see and take pictures of a couple of dozen totem poles that are in a little village whose name I have to look up. There is a museum there, unfortunately closed, but under its porch roof are a huge pile of old totem poles, presumably awaiting restoration.

Dinner was the Bell 2 Lodge (named for the fact that it's the second place the road crosses the Bell River). It's the newest, and possibly the swankiest, spot to stay on the whole Cassiar; their main business is heli-skiing, so the people who come have serious money, I guess. My pan-fried trout would satisfy the pickiest of expensive appetites.

We stopped for the night in another beautiful provincial park, this time Meziadin Lake. The park had pit toilets and no showers, but they had wifi access available! Of course, that was only until 10pm when they turn the generator off for the night. There was a Westfalia from California in the site next to us, and the owner came over to chat and discuss routes with us, since they were considering going to Whitehorse. I was able to point out where the gas stations were (two that were listed in the Milepost were closed, causing me some slight worry earlier that day). They carry an extra 10 gallons of gasoline with them, which seems excessive to me, but I guess services must seem far apart to them up here.

Total so far: 8185km

Day 19 (filling in the blanks)

Kirsten's vague recollection of the Whitehorse Blues All-Stars makes sense, because we only stuck around for a couple of their songs. We left the main stage tent and collected Will from the playground where he was happily playing on one of those giant platforms that spins around, and went back to the bus to get it ready for bedtime. We left Will there to read, since he wasn't too keen on more music that night, then Kirsten and I arrived back at the main stage when the Good Brothers were a couple of songs into their set.

Kirsten and I left after that and she went to Diamond Tooth Gertie's, as she noted. Will was still reading at ~1am when I arrived back at the bus, and we went to sleep.

Day 22: Whitehorse YT to Boya Lake BC, July 22

Mike had to set a 5:30am alarm, which was a bit of a shock to everybody's system. His flight was at 7am, and I believe had three parts; to Vancouver first (which seems like the wrong direction, but it's the only place Air Canada flies to from Whitehorse), and then Calgary or Edmonton before finally getting to Toronto. Will and I saw him off in our pyjamas, then had breakfast in the airport parking lot before getting on with our day.

The first part of the day involved the Beringia Interpretive Centre in Whitehorse, which is pretty awesome. I had no idea that large parts of the Yukon and Alaska were not covered in glaciers and ice in the last Ice Age; in fact, although the temperature was cold, the grasslands supported the big Ice Age creatures we think of, the woolly mammoth and sabre-tooth cat.

Here's Will on a model of a baby mammoth outside the centre. It was quite chilly out; even in our sweaters we were cold that day.

After that it was back east on the Alaska highway, the way we had come, until we were almost at Watson Lake. Where the Cassiar highway starts, there was a little place called "Sally's Cafe". It seemed to be in a trailer and had only three tables, but the soup was good. The son of the owners introduced himself and was making small talk with me while we waited for our food. I told him about the trip and asked him some questions about how high school is handled in that remote region (he went in Watson Lake, but the school bus only took him partway home, so he hitchhiked the rest of the way).

As I left the restaurant he handed me an envelope and said it was a gift, but I was distracted by Will not feeling well and opened it up only a ways down the road when I remembered it. I was astounded to find three $100 bills in it, with a note. I guess with my moth-eaten sweater and our 30-year-old vehicle, we must have looked destitute. I'm still trying to figure out what to do with the money, but every time I think of it I'm amazed by the kindness of complete strangers. Maybe I don't need the money, but I probably did need the reminder that not everyone is out for whatever they can get in this world.

By then it was getting late, so we stopped at the first provincial park on the Cassiar highway, which was at Boya Lake. The road was rough and under construction for the first 20km, then winding and narrow, so I was glad to knock off for the night. It was still light quite late, of course, and I took a dozen pictures of the ridiculously beautiful sunset and scenery from our campsite. I mean, really; is this not a spectacular country we live in?

Total so far: 7706 km

Day 21: Dawson City to Whitehorse YT, July 21

Three weeks into our trip, and the dawned bright and sunny - heartbreakingly for the festival organizers, I'm sure, who had three straight days of drizzle over the weekend.

Here's a picture of Bobby in the campground; the blue thingies sitting on the ground are dredge buckets, of which there are so many left over in Dawson that they use them as planters, and in this case, as the markers that have the campsite numbers on them. The hill in the background shows the "moosehide slide", an iconic site in Dawson that can be seen from everywhere in town, and was used by First Nations peoples for generations as a useful landmark.

It took us quite a while to get ready and out of town, since we were all tired from the weekend. We also wanted to take advantage of the hot showers one last time, get Will's "passport" stamped at the Museum, and get a picture of the three of us. It was probably noon before we were rolling down the Alaska Highway back to Whitehorse. We had a late lunch at the Moose Creek Lodge, where they managed to make a simple grilled cheese sandwich a thing of beauty, not to mention the homemade cream of mushroom soup. I had a cunning plan in Whitehorse, which was to park at the Wal-Mart and walk to Giorgio's; I thought it was probably the only Where to Eat in Canada Restaurant we'd get a second chance to visit, and also gave us an opportunity to split a bottle of wine. Their steak is excellent, as expected, and Will liked his linguine with meatballs so much the first time that he had it again.

Sleeping in a Wal-Mart parking lot is fine, and there were literally dozens of RVs in the parking lot of the one in Whitehorse. Since we don't have a 'real' RV, we have to plan our washroom usage. Fortunately this one was next to a Starbucks that opened at 6:30am, but I forbade Will to drink anything in the late evening anyway, just in case.

Total so far: 7208 km.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Day 20: DCMF day 2, July 20

We didn't have anything on our schedule until 12:45 on Sunday, and that was the Gospel hour workshop at the Palace Grand Theatre. The theatre is a reconstruction of a vaudeville theatre that was built in Dawson at the height of the gold rush, and it's a lovely wooden building, carefully finished, holding about 500 people on the main floor, balcony, and boxes. It's a wonderful intimate setting for concerts, although the stage was a bit small for the 10 or more musicians they had crammed on it. Nicole Edwards was the de facto host, but Ken Whiteley's enormous good nature made him for all practical purposes the actual host. There was a woman seated at the piano that hadn't been mentioned in the program, but I knew who she was from the "Fiddle Rush" posters in the lobby; her name is Annie Avery, and she seems to be the artistic force behind those Yukon musical plays.

Ken Whiteley started things off by picking a song, and calling out people's names as he invited them to improvise a verse on their instruments. Annie was one of them, and I was happy to see that she got a huge round of applause as she finished up; she beamed a huge smile out at the crowd, never missing a note. I don't remember much from the middle of the workshop, just the usual round of tunes with everyone on stage joining in either at the beginning if they know it already, or as they figure it out. Justin Rutledge showed up late and tried to hide behind one of the speakers, but Nicole brought him out to play a tune; he deferred to David Baxter, the bassist he plays with, and David played a great gospel tune (I remember he said it was the only one he ever wrote for his mother) and got everyone involved as well. The workshop finished up with the Good Brothers, with one of their wives singing a version of "I'll Fly Away" that grated on me; perhaps I've been too influenced by the Alison Krauss version. The three people behind me were very clear that they didn't like Justin Rutledge, and all but boo'd when Nicole asked him to play a song; they were there for the Good Brothers, it turned out.

Mike and Will had gone off early in the gospel hour for the main tent, where there was a rock'n'roll workshop scheduled that Will wanted to see. I stuck around and kept our seats for the next Palace Grand event, which was a taping for CBC Fuse involving Basia Bulat and the Done Gone String Band. We hadn't seen any more of Basia yet, and we knew the other band from two years ago when they played; Mike wanted to see a bit more of them. The show was good, although it went a lot longer than expected; you can't tape a 50-minute radio show in any less than 70 minutes, it turns out. I think they really only did four songs; two of each group's, with the other group joining in. The Done Gone String Band has only been together three years, and I could see a clear difference in their playing from two years ago; the two kids in particular are not only taller but better players, although the fiddle-playing daughter still looks sulky most of the time to me, not to mention flat on her high notes.

The run-on taping made us late for the potluck, an event unique to the DCMF. They randomly assign all the individual band members to groups of about 7 or 8, and each group has to come out and play a song. I'm not clear whether they have time assigned to them to get ready, or if they have to fit it into their weekend; it's often clear which is the driving force in each group. They often do covers of popular songs but put a slant on it; all I really remember from this year is a group calling themselves "At Your Service" who did a re-telling of "The Cremation of Sam McGee" in musical form. (It's a Robert Service poem, if the pun is escaping you, and particularly appropriate for Dawson City, of course). I was hungry and heard a good deal of the potluck through the tent out in the concession area while I waited for my chip truck fish & chips, which were "crispy cajun" flavoured and excellent when I finally got them.

After a break back at the bus it was time for the final evening of the festival, which had crept on us. We planned to go the Palace Grand first, if we could get a seat; the smaller venue tends to have less emphasis on music one can drink and dance to, and we'd already done the main tent the previous night. Checkout time at our RV park was 11am, and I was astounded at how many sites had emptied out Sunday morning; it looked to me like half the sites were empty. Mike pointed out that many were just parking on the street instead, but I think the third straight day of rain was sending many people home early.

In any case, seats for the evening were no problem, even though there was a huge lineup at 6:45pm just before they opened the doors. At just after 7pm they started with Torngat, a trio made up of two Franco-Ontarians and one Anglo-Quebecer; the announcer pointed that out to explain that there would be no lyrics in the music. The horn player in the group is Pietro Amato, whose other group Arcade Fire is, to put it mildly, more well-known than Torngat. I used to play the horn and I was astounded at the things he made his do; strange noises with no explanation I could see, taking the mouthpiece out, and playing it with one hand while he played the snare drum with the other. He also had bare feet so he could work the pedals they made extensive use of. It was inventive and riveting stuff, and the audience loved it.

8pm brought Nicole Edwards out, and I was happy to see that Annie Avery was her piano player. She also had a drummer, plus a bass player who apparently came from France to do this festival, and she did a set of jazz standards; "Someone To Watch Over Me", "La Vie en Rose", and the like. It struck me that Annie looked just like - and I can't find a way to make this sound like the compliment it is - Fozzie Bear when he plays the piano. She has a big mop of brown curls and when she gets going she bops back and forth, occasionally looking out at the audience and beaming a big smile.

The Done Gone String Band was up next, but we had seen them earlier in the weekend, so we headed out for a bit of a break back at the bus. We tuned in the radio to the live broadcast and heard a bit of Threat from Outer Space in the main tent; enough to know we didn't really need to be there to hear it live. By 10pm we were there in person to see Basia Bulat again and see the crowd's reaction; I still hadn't heard more than three songs of hers in a row, and wondered if her voice would grate on my nerves after a while. It turned out to grow on me, and I quite enjoyed the set. She started out with a solo rendition of "Hush, Somebody's Calling my Name", which my choir did in our last concert. The rest were all songs from her current album, which is shortlisted for the 2008 Polaris Prize. Let me assert right now that I believe she'll win it; Owen Pallett was the festival darling two years ago just months before winning the 2006 prize, and Basia's on the same path for sure. I do think the Weakerthans album is stronger, but I haven't heard them out and about at festivals, so I don't think they'll win. The audience certainly liked her, and were even crowd-surfing!

The last act was the Good Family; comprising the Good Brothers, the Sadies, and the spouse that had sung at the Gospel hour. (Mike said she thinks she's Emmylou Harris, but isn't.) It was a perfect way to round out the festival; and once again I was transported back in time when they played "Fox on the Run". After getting everyone back on stage for one last number, the festival wrapped up promptly on time at midnight with one last thanks to everyone who came and who helped.


I mentioned that it was pretty light out in Dawson City at midnight; here's a bit of data to illustrate what I'm talking about.

This is today's time of sunrise and sunset in the major centres we've been through, together with the length of the day:
Toronto, ON 5:59am 8:49pm 14hr 50min
Winnipeg, MB 5:48am 9:21am 15hr 33min
Saskatoon, SK 5:17am 9:09pm 15hr 52min
Edmonton, AB 5:37am 9:42am 16hr 5min
Dawson Creek, BC4:53am 9:21pm 16hr 27min
Whitehorse, YT 5:19am 10:54pm 17hr 35min
Dawson City, YT 4:57am 11:49pm 18hr 52min

As you can see, the days are about four hours longer in Dawson than they are at home. That's only part of the picture, though; twilight lasts far longer up there, so the effect is magnified.
Tonight (it's actually the 24th as I write this) I'm seeing stars for the first time in over a week. It's midnight, and I'm in central BC, so it's dark enough out to see them.

Day 19: DCMF, Day 2; July 19

The Saturday festivities were supposed to start with KidsFest at 11:15am in the main tent, but with all the rain and mud it seemed a bit empty. Will and I went and looked at the concessions to kill a little time. There was a guy selling organic teas in a tent with a blue-and-white VW bus of the same type as ours parked beside it; I asked him what year it was, and he said he didn't know! I checked the registration number and let him know it was a '72, the first year of our type.

When we got back in the main tent "Soir de Semaine", a Francophone group from Whitehorse, was entertaining a small crowd of kids. They did a good job of getting all the little kids playing along with shakers and cymbals. After that Ken Whiteley got up on the stage and did a kid's concert; he looked like a slightly slimmed-down Santa Claus with a jaunty black beret, rather than a red hat, topping his white curls. He did some toe-tapping numbers with his son Ben Whiteley on bass backing him up, getting everyone to sing along; now there's a dude who can play his instrument (make that plural; acoustic guitar, dobro, and mandolin) and sing. By the final number, which I think was "This Little Light", I was caught in some kind of time warp and taken back to the festivals my parents used to take us to when I was Will's age. I had a chance to ask him later if he'd played those Sudbury concerts in the 70's, and he assured me he had!

"Tricky Business", a father-and-son juggling and magic act, was back at the festival again, and they did a routine for the kids. Will got to go up and be a volunteer for the first part of the act, which he liked, except for the part where the guy thought he was a little girl. (I keep telling him he needs a haircut.)

We had a break after that where we found out that there was no salmon dinner this year, disappointingly; we did manage to find the back-alley pizza place and order a pizza, even though Mike had to go back an hour and a half later to pick it up, they were so busy. We had happy hour back at the campground while we waited, and still had time to get to the main tent for the evening show.

First up was "The Magic", from Guelph, three young musicians with a computer as the rest of their backup band. Two of them are sons of James Gordon (of Tamarack fame), also appearing at the festival, as part of this year's "Fathers and Sons" theme. (I may rant on the apparent sexism of the festival later, or perhaps you can fill in your own.) They played decent pop songs, but they started to all sound the same, so the 30-minute set was enough. James Gordon came on after that and did a solo song, then his sons (after a quick change out of their safari outfits) joined him. As I recall they were pretty straight ahead rock/folk songs, all about serious issues like the environment; as James himself said, 'happy songs about depressing subjects'.

According to my program the next act was "Brandon Isaak and the Whitehorse Blues All-Stars". I'm drawing a complete blank on that, and wondering what I was up to... perhaps Mike will fill in the gap there for us all.

The Good Brothers and the Sadies were the next two acts; continuing the "Fathers and Sons" theme, two members of the Sadies are sons of one of the Good brothers. The Good Brothers used to play the old 70's bluegrass festival circuit as well, and I was curious to see what the largely 20-something, Belle-Orchestre-adoring crowd would make of them. Well, the audience adored them too, and I don't think it was just the beer garden; those guys can play, and they've been together so long their harmonies and playing are spot on and tightly together. Each song got huge rounds of whistling and applause, and that continued for the Sadies. By then it was a bit past midnight, and they weren't more than about okay after a couple of songs, so I took off for Diamond-Tooth Gertie's to see what the poker action was like.

There weren't as many drunken festival-goers as I had hoped, but I sat down to play a little anyway so I could keep a chip for a souvenir. In the first round I called in with a suited 86 in last position and ended up with a straight on the turn; the one drunk guy at the table stayed in with an Ace that hit on the river, and he spent the next half hour or so being pissed off at me. Every time I folded he'd say sarcastically "got something worse than 8 6 offsuit?", since he'd apparently missed the fact that they were suited... not to mention that every person at the table was in every hand, and top pair was never winning the pot. It was great for my table image, but I never got any decent cards again, and was pretty much even for the hour or two until 2am when they closed. I kept a $2.50 chip when I cashed out and walked the two blocks back to the campground in the long twilight.

P.S. I haven't been taking pictures since Dawson is still under light rain all the time, and I got so many good pictures two years ago. I'll give the link to the gallery when I get home, for those who haven't already seen them.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Over so fast...

I'm a bit behind on the blog, but to tide you over here's two pictures that capture the festival for me:

1) The main tent at quarter past midnight on Sunday night, just after the last act...

2) The same angle from the same spot, just before noon the next day.
Note that I didn't have any form of artificial lighting for the first picture; no flash, no streetlights. They don't call it the land of the "Midnight Sun" for nothing!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Day 18: Twin Rivers to Dawson City YT, July 18

We awoke at Twin Lakes eager to get to Dawson, and by eating lunch on the road (actually in the bus, because it was raining a bit) we were rolling into town at 4pm, right on schedule. The road from Whitehorse to Dawson is only about 450 km, but my parents allow seven hours to travel it; there is always construction, and it's not all exactly what you'd call paved. The scenery wasn't quite as stunning as previous days, because there are often just trees on both sides of the road. That's only where there hasn't been a forest fire in the last 30 years, though, and there are helpful signs telling you when the last fire was in various parts, so you can see just how little has a chance to regrow in five years in this climate.

The music festival was set to begin at the gazebo on the waterfront at 4pm, but as we drove into town there was no sign of life there. We went to our campground and checked in, walked over to exchange our tickets for wristbands, and found that due to the rain, all gazebo events were moved to the Oddfellows Hall. So, off we trooped back there, to find a lineup out the door. We had missed the first group, and stood on the stairs to listen to Julie Doiron, who didn't strike us particularly either way on first listening. We managed to get into the hall and stand at the back for Justin Rutledge, who we've heard before, since he's from Toronto. Apparently NOW Magazine declared him "Toronto's best songwriter" recently, and that may be true, but he's no Jonathan Byrd or John K. Samson. The final half-hour segment was Basia Bulat (pronounced BASH-a Boo-LAT), from London, Ontario. I got the feeling she was going to be the festival darling just from the three songs she played. I guess the DCMF-goers like their music a bit "out there", based on the way they loved Owen Pallett two years ago, and she bears it out too - although I saw her playing piano and guitar, her main instrument is the autoharp, and along with drums, the two other bandmates play viola and an eight-stringed ukelele. A strange mix, but her songs were infectious toe-tappers, and she's just so young and full of excitement on stage that it's hard not to smile along with her.

Back at the bus we set up and had some supper, and then it was off to the tent and the main stage for the evening. Evening main stage tends to be a bit loud at the beginning and a lot loud at the end, with the more rock-oriented bands on stage and more dancing in front. The starting act was the Tr'ondek Hwech'in Singers, from the local First Nations, who were involved in the festival for the first time. They sang a few traditional welcoming and celebratory songs, knowing enough to leave the crowd wanting more. Next up were "Plaid", a Whitehorse band of young guys in plaid shirts. They were must have been there to get the crowd warmed up, and there's always a good smattering of Whitehorse bands at the festival; it gets the Whitehorse community up to the festival, I guess. These guys have been trying to channel the old 70's rock bands (they started with Cream's "I'm so Glad", but they need to practice a bit more. And maybe learn to sing. Julie Doiron was next, and one woman with a guitar doesn't really follow a rock band well, even if she does have a drummer accompanying her. She's supposed to be an amazing songwriter, but I couldn't make out any lyrics, and remained unimpressed.

Lest it seem I don't like any of the festival music, from all my negative comments, let me reassure you that I loved the next act; Belle Orchestre. I don't have any idea how to describe them. Instrumental only, from Montreal; it's what I always imagined when someone mentions a 'soundscape'. The crowd loved it too, and blissfully danced away in their own little trances (by then it was 10pm and the beer garden had been open for a while). The last act we saw that night were called Immaculate Machine, and have been compared to the New Pornographers; I didn't think they were nearly as good, and I was tired of hearing people who couldn't play their instruments very well and couldn't sing very well either, so we went back to the bus to sleep.

It drizzled rain off and on all day, and the unpaved streets of Dawson were wet and very muddy. Everyone had light-coloured mud spattered on the back of their pants after a few minutes of walking, and we saw lots of people wearing rubber boots. I was reminded how much I like the town every few minutes when I saw familiar buildings and views from the last trip. Our campground is on Fifth St, which is the same street the main location of the festival. We just have to walk about ten minutes from our bus to be in the main tent, which is pretty convenient; we plan to leave the bus parked and set up for the whole weekend.

Total so far: 6663km, and no driving for the next two days!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

a few cool things on our trip so far

Watson lake:
today we went to sign-post forest which had some really cool signs,like this stop sign with gratiffi:
we also went to the mac bribe museum in Whitehorse,which has a variety of 'stuff' like a stuffed martin, a small carnivore(meaning it can only eat meat):

Day 17: Rancheria YT to Twin Lakes YT, July 17

The mosquitoes were still bad in the morning, and we were itchy all over. We took advantage of the hot showers, coffee, cinnamon buns and Internet in the lodge café, then headed out a bit late for the day's drive. It was our day to see Wood Bison (see the picture); there are thought to be 250 of them alive today, and we saw a good dozen of them today. There was really nothing else to stop for on the way to Whitehorse, so we hit there by mid-afternoon and had some good time to spend.

Our big goal in Whitehorse was to get the oil changed. JON - this is for you! The oil change my brother did in Thunder Bay had held up well, but just as we were going through the hilly parts of BC, we started to notice a bit of burning oil smell at the top of hills, just for a moment as the bus shifted from 2nd back to 3rd. (Not sure why we could smell that inside the vehicle.) I check the oil level, colour and smell each time we fill up with gas, and the day before it had suddenly started to change colour from amber to dark; not black yet, but just starting to smell a bit burnt. The EnviroLube in Whitehorse took good care of us, letting us poke our noses into the whole process, changing the filter but also cleaning the screen. There was no grit in it at all, never mind the flakes of metal that were there when Jon cleaned it in Thunder Bay. So that seemed to be all good, and we were happy enough to do the oil change even though it had only been about 3000km.

We were out of the oil change in plenty of time to go the MacBride Museum of Yukon History, which was a destination Will particularly wanted to hit. He has been reading Aurore of the Yukon, a book written by a local author that my Mom and Dad had bought for him a couple of years ago. The author used the MacBride Museum heavily for research, and it was neat; they have a whole gallery full of taxidermy specimens very well done, including a rare albino moose. They had all kinds of stuff in a nice-size museum; we could see everything in a couple of hours and feel like we'd learned about lots of different things.

I keep thinking we've hit our last Where to Eat in Canada meal, and new ones keep coming up! There is only one place listed for Whitehorse, and we managed to get there early enough to get a table. As we walked in, the guy at the next table said "didn't we see you this morning in Rancheria?" Sure enough, it was a guy in a Yukon Parks pick-up that we'd been passed by several times that day, because he kept stopping at campgrounds along the way. Giorgio (of Giorgio's Cuccina) seems to have some Greek in his background, or at least in his cooking. The baked goat cheese I started with was amazing, with basil, tomatoes, and red onion. I was intrigued by the idea of smoked salmon on a Caesar salad, and it really worked; especially with the addition of slightly warm snow peas. Will's linguine with meatballs showed that a Where to Eat in Canada restaurant really is "true for its name", as he says; I can't tell you what was in the sauce that made it so good, but it tasted just like pasta, only more so. Mike said his seafood cannelloni was good, too.

We wanted to get a bit further in our driving so we didn't have to do a 7-hour drive the next day, so we headed out of Whitehorse and ended up at the Twin Lakes campsite. Like the other Yukon campgrounds we saw, it was small, basic, but well-maintained. Free firewood, too! We got the last spot there, but it didn't seem to be full of other music festival attendees; in fact, most of the southbound traffic we saw seemed to be big RVs.

Total so far: 6265km.

Day 16: Muncho Lake, BC to Rancheria, YT

Today was our day to enter the Yukon; several times, actually, because of the way the highway meanders up and down as it heads generally west.

We started with a stop at the Liard Hotsprings. How hot could it really be, I wondered? Since the weather has been cool (it's 11 degrees Celsius in Dawson as I write this), it was hard to imagine actually putting on our bathing suits, but we did it. As I found out, the springs are HOT! I never did manage to get up to the hottest part, where the hot water comes into the pool. Plants grow there that don't grow anywhere else in the Yukon, because the springs keep the air temperate a couple of degrees higher than natural. There are also wacky rock formations called "tufa", where minerals dissolved in the waters solidify when the water bubbles up out of the ground. It was pretty neat, and I was glad we'd stopped, even though it was early in the day and I wanted to get driving.

Our only big town of the day was Watson Lake, just over the border into the Yukon Territory. It's the home of the Signpost Forest; a homesick soldier put up a signpost there once in the 40's giving the mileage to his hometown, and travellers have followed suit ever since. There are apparently more than 60,000 of them now. It's fun to wander around them and spot signs from places we know or have been.

Watson Lake is also home of the Northern Lights Interpretive Centre, which I really wanted to go to; neither Mike nor Will have ever seen the Northern Lights in person, and we're not likely to on this trip with so many hours of daylight. It's a full planetarium, and after a short content-light film on the planets, there was a decent-length presentation on the Northern Lights. It had a little bit of science explaining what causes them, but was mostly video footage of the lights. It's not the same as the real thing, of course, but I think it gave them a bit of a flavour of it. It's one thing I miss about Thunder Bay in the wintertime.

After that it was on to the Rancheria Lodge for the night. I'd been saying ran-CHE-ria, but the locals say ran-che-REE-ah. (It's supposed to be Spanish in origin - can anyone knowledgeable perhaps comment on whether that's how it would properly be pronounced?) We had the campground completely to ourselves, which was not good; we were the only target for the mosquitoes, which found us and drove us crazy. We stayed in the bus with the doors shut, but when Will and I came back from the bathroom, there were hundreds of them sitting on the sides of the bus, just waiting to get in. It took all night to kill them all, and it made us a bit fearful of how many mosquitoes might be lurking ahead in the Yukon (I know you warned us, Autumn!)

Total so far: 5818km.

Day 15: Pink Mountain BC to Muncho Lake BC, July 15

Today was the star day of the trip so far; combining wildlife, stunning scenery, and a little bit of high-tech too. Gas is $1.55 a litre – that’s not quite such a big favourite, but it’s what we expected.

We saw a black bear shuffling along by the highway before long, and we also spotted a mother with two cubs; or more accurately, she spotted us. She loped out to the shoulder of the highway, reared up on her hind legs, and looked straight at us as we slowed down to avoid hitting her if she made a dash across. I guess she didn’t like the looks of our bus much, because she turned around and ran for the bush, her two little adorable cubs heeling one at each side.

Mike had wanted to see a moose on this trip, never having seen one in the wild before, and today was the day for moose. We saw at least seven, mostly young ones grazing by the side of the road, but also one big old female in a pond.

The road had started to be distinctly hilly yesterday, as we travelled through Alberta and toward northern BC. Today we could see beautiful mountain ranges in the distance, some with little bits of white near the top that betrayed the snow hiding up there.

We stopped for lunch in Fort Nelson, which I had always been interested to see. Somehow I managed to neglect to get even a photo of myself there, even though I’d intended to, and get a postcard or two as well. How many times do you find a town that shares your name? (Twice, actually, for me, with Nelson, BC as well). We did have some good fried chicken there at a highway-side shack.

By the end of the day we were driving through the Rocky Mountains, in their northern-most end. We saw sheep in a roadside turnout that politely moved off the road to let us past. We also saw a solar car, presumably taking advantage of the long days of sunlight. The scenery was just stunning, and I kept feeling how lucky I was to be on this trip, at this time, with this company.

There’s a biggish provincial park around Muncho Lake, and we had targeted their “Strawberry Flats” campground as being a possibility for the night. We saw the sign for the turn into it as we drove a winding road with a sheer cliff on one side of us and water on the other; where could the campground possibly be, we wondered? As it turned out, the campground was all of 15 sites squeezed into a rocky promontory into the lake, between the water and the highway. We ended up on a little lakeside site with wildflowers all around and the most perfect view you can imagine. With all the wildlife on the road, there seemed to be very little nighttime traffic, so our sleep was peaceful even so close to the road.

Total so far: 5430 km.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Day 14: Simonette AB to Pink Mountain BC, July 14

We’ve branched out from our normal bus fare of sandwiches, and attempted to make perogies today at a quiet campground called Hommy Park. They weren’t terribly successful – not much control with the bus’s stove. Also, the drinking water from their tap was a surprising shade of rusty red.

However, Beaverlodge, Alberta more than made up for it with their giant beaver statue. Soon after we crossed into northern BC and were in Dawson Creek to visit a pioneer village museum and buy postcards. Mike had the sudden realization that some of the houses in the museum had been built a decade after our house, which put things in a weird sort of perspective. Later on, in Fort St. John, and after seeing the third “Mr. Mike’s Steakhouse & Grill” in as many days, we decided we had to try it out. (Think of the Keg, but a little less formal, and you’ve got it – apparently it’s a west coast chain.)

We continued on to a place called “Pink Mountain”, where we stayed in a privately-owned campground. These tend not to be our favourites – too cramped, usually, and often noisy. They do tend to have hot showers and flush toilets, though, which is nice every night or two! There’s no BC Hydro on the Alaska Highway between Fort St. John and Fort Nelson, so this campground had to run everything off a generator. I heard it faintly all night.

Total so far: 4548km.

July 13: Edmonton to Simonette, AB, July 13

We were awoken by an insistent peeping noise that was so loud, Mike and I briefly wondered if a bird had managed to fly into the bus during Will’s bathroom trek. It turned out to be a prairie dog, whose holes we had noted not to step in the night before, but hadn’t realized were actually occupied. He didn’t seem distressed to have us there, but did have something to tell us, which he continued to do for some time. I’m sure the locals think of them the way we do squirrels, but he was a really cute little guy, with his pipe-cleaner tail straight out as he scurried away from the site.

After finishing our laundry and blogging a bit more, we headed for the West Edmonton Mall for their opening time of 11am. We checked out all the crazy stuff – the replica of the Santa Maria, the hockey rink, the waterpark, and the amusement park. We settled on “glow in the dark” mini-putt (which was really black-light mini-putt) as our activity, after eating food court food (I couldn’t resist the pun of the “Butter Chicken & Naan Stop”).

Leaving Edmonton meant that we were now in territory covered by the Milepost, a massive 800-page magazine. It was originally conceived of as a guide to travel in Alaska, but the 2008 60th edition covers both Territories, BC, and the western half of Alberta as well. The mile-by-mile highway logs seemed like they would be pretty useful when I originally saw the publication in the bookstore.

We also left highway 16 for the first time in days, headed north on 43. After a quick grocery stop we ate at the visitor centre at Fox Creek, a tiny town with a big information centre; apparently bigger than they needed, because half had been turned into a gym with weight machines.

DeBolt (pop. 150) was supposed to have a campground, but we couldn’t find it, so asked some locals outside the hotel/bar and they suggested a campground a ways along the highway. It involved taking a logging road for 9km, down a pretty steep hill. It was worth it – once again we were in a tiny campground of only a dozen sites, right beside a river, far from any noise except our neighbours playing charades by firelight.

Total so far: 4131km.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A quick note (not an update)

Just in case anyone was worried about the blog being out of date, rest assured that we are fine and on track!

We are mostly staying in provincial campgrounds, which don't have internet access. It takes much longer to craft a blog post than I had anticipated. And typing in the car makes me carsick, it turns out.

We're currently in Watson Lake, having just entered the Yukon Territories just hours ago. More updates to come soon, I hope...

Day 12: Maidstone SK to Edmonton AB, July 12

Our big push of driving for the day was in the morning, to get to Edmonton in a reasonable time. We went straight to the Telus World of Science, Will's big destination for this leg of the trip. There were three big galleries open, plus a planetarium where we watched a mediocre movie about the planets. Will had a great time, especially in the "crime scene" gallery, where he got to try and solve a dog-napping mystery while learning about forensics methods.

Edmonton has no fewer than seven Where to Eat in Canada restaurants, so after trying one that was too busy to take us (and a bit fancy, frankly), we found a great place called the Blue-Plate (hyphen theirs, not mine). After that it was time to find our campsite - which we had reserved ahead of time - and get set up for the evening. The RV Park was just that - a place for people to park their RVs. The family in the next site had taken over ours, and we had to ask them to move. They did, but kept walking through our site whenever it suited them. We took the opportunity to use the laundromat and free wifi.

Day 11: Lanigan SK to Maidstone SK, July 11

The first stop today was in Saskatoon, where we had to make three tries to find a Where to Eat in Canada restaurant that was actually open for lunch. Fortunately “Calories” was just up the street from the second unsuccessful search for a sushi restaurant. I wanted to order about six things on the menu, but settled on lamb ravioli; Mike shared his beef tenderloin salad with me, and we both helped Will finish his gourmet grilled cheese sandwich. I think it’s the first restaurant I’ve ever been to where the kitchen makes their own ketchup, and they did it without making a fuss about it on the menu.

Afterwards we headed to the south end of town to the Western Development Museum’s 1910 Boomtown. There were enough old buildings and vehicles out front that I thought at first it might be the Boomtown; we watched a blacksmith working for a while, and saw some folks operating a horse-driven well digger.

The actual Boomtown turned out to be inside the huge museum building, and consisted of at least 20 reconstructed buildings lining a dirt street. The number of artifacts the museum has is just staggering, and the venue gives them lots of space to display them in room settings. We were distressed to see some of the information about the government’s handling of Aboriginal issues at the turn of the century, such as their insistence on farming, then imposing restrictions and controls that made it impossible to be successful. Partly we were distressed at how much of it we hadn’t already known, such as the pass system being implemented into the 1940’s.

We finished up with two more major galleries, both of which were spectacular; the antique cars, of which they have 250, and the farming implements. The original founders of the museum were farsighted enough to realize that war effort calls for metal were going to mean that early farming technology was going to disappear, with no examples left for posterity. It looks like they collected one of everything, and we were astounded by all the machinery we’d never seen before. Their old car collection was neat, going back to Ford Model A's and T's, with many "survivors" that haven't needed to be restored. One car had only 100 original miles on it!

After that it was time for more driving, and we made it as far as the tiny campground in Maidstone, Saskatchewan. We were using Mike's Blackberry as our GPS, and it was a little odd to see the little blue dot that was us diverging from the highway - they've recently built a bypass around Maidstone, which made navigating a little tricky. There were only about a dozen sites, again in a circle around a comfort station, and although there were big RVs in about half the sites we didn't see any other people walking around. It was a nice quiet night.

Here's a typical view of Saskatchewan prairie; an old wooden grain elevator beside the railway.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

July 7 pictures

(left) Fort William Historical Park, from the lookout tower. The Great Hall is the raised white building in the middle back.

(right) Kakabeka Falls, just west of Thunder Bay. The drop is 40m, the second largest in Ontario. The TransCanada highway crossed over that bridge you can see just past the top of the falls.

Nathan Caswell's CD "Pulp Town" is named for Thunder Bay, so we listened to it as we rolled through the wilds of Northern Ontario west of these pictures.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Day 10: Neepawa MB to Lanigan SK, July 10

We started the day in Neepawa, Manitoba, breakfasting at the Prairie Seasons Bakery. Where to Eat in Canada particularly recommended their whole-grain cinnamon buns, which were indeed wonderful.

Afterwards we toured Margaret Laurence's childhood home, a charming tour by an older gentleman who supplemented the taped tour with tons of stories about "Peggy" and her life.

After crossing into Saskatchewan, lunch was supposed to be a second Where to Eat in Canada meal for the day, but the restaurant turned out to be open only on weekends; the teenage girl in the tourist office in Langenburg told us all about how the owner works two jobs now and doesn't have time to open during the week. She recommended a place that she said was "similar", and the food did turn out to be quite good.

We pushed on to Lanigan, SK and found a small campground run by the Lions. It was attached to a golf course (a trend we're noticing out here) and eerily quiet, with a bunch of RVs and tents but no sign of people. Registration was on the honour system, and after setting up we walked back out to the highway and Jan's Steakhouse, our third Where to Eat in Canada stop for the day. It was a crazy place - small and cluttered, with paintings and prints piled on half the tables, Avon merchandise taking up a ton of space, and kitsch of all kinds for sale all throughout the little room. There was a big gas grill with a brick surround and massive chimney right at Mike's elbow, and we speculated as to when it might have been in use. Of course she came out soon afterwards and turned it on, and put our steaks on it! The salad bar was amazing, especially since the three of us and one potash worker were her entire clientele that evening. I can't imagine putting all that work into an evening when you don't even know if any customers will show up; hence all her Avon and antique sidelines, I guess.

It was our one chance in the trip to split a bottle of wine over dinner, since we were able to camp so close to the restaurant. It was also the friendliest town we've been in, by far; on our walks to the restaurant and back, almost every person who passed us, whether on foot, on a bike, or in a vehicle waved, smiled and nodded, or said "good evening" to us.

Total so far: 3273 km

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Day 9: Winnipeg to Neepawa, July 9

We started the day at Dalnavert House, an 1895 house in downtown Winnipeg that was owned by the only son of Sir John A Macdonald, and has been restored to its early glory. I like any old house, but this was particularly good; we had a personal guided tour by a young man who clearly knew his stuff and loved the house too.

Afterwards Mike walked around the Forks while Will and I checked out the Crafts Museum. It was smaller than we expected - just one room - and had an exhibit on recycling in crafts, which wasn't the kind of thing I'd hoped to see. Their "Try Me" activities for kids were excellent, though, and Will and I did some weaving and carding, and learned about finger-weaving and a few other crafts.

We met up with Mike's friend Billy for lunch, at the very posh Palm Room at the lovingly restored Fort Garry Hotel. The food was excellent, and not terribly expensive by Toronto standards. Winnipeg has an astounding 12 entries in Where to Eat in Canada, and I was wishing we had time to try them all.

After lunch we went to the Costume Museum, which was a bit of a bust. Only one gallery of three was open, so it only took a few minutes to see everything. It was an exhibit of wedding gowns, and I was a bit taken aback to see the curator's wedding dress in the exhibit. It seemed to be run by a handful of young women who were interested in fashion, (or at least in being fashionable), but with no interest or knowledge of curating a museum.

On our way out of town we stopped at Canadian Tire for a new battery for the fridge, since the one that was in the bus never lasted very long at a time. We needed a new taillight bulb to replace one that was out, too. Some ice cream entered the picture around this time, which tided us over to dinner at the Lions campground in Neepawa.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Day 8: Dryden to Winnipeg, July 8

This was the first morning I used our newly-hooked-up stove to make tea, which I (for one) appreciated as part of the routine. We continued west on 17 to Egli's, a wool and sheepskin shop and animal farm between Dryden and Kenora. They had all kinds of animals, from emus to bison to llamas (the baby llamas are incredibly cute and playful at this time of year). We resisted the temptation to buy wool sweaters and sheepskin slippers, and continued on to Kenora.

The Plaza restaurant in Kenora is in "Where to Eat in Canada", and it was odd, but great, to get such good Greek food so far from the Danforth.

After that we continued to Winnipeg, arriving in time to catch the last guided tour of the day for the Canadian Mint. I hadn't known that they produce all the coins for circulation in Canada, not to mention coins for 60 other countries. It was pretty cool to watch the coins being made.

We picnicked and bunked down at the Traveller's RV park just outside of Winnipeg, where the decrepit mini-putt was free, along with hot showers.

Total so far: 2615km.

Day 7: Thunder Bay and Kakabeka Falls, July 7

We started the day with a trip to Old Fort William, which seems to have rebranded itself as "Fort William Historical Park". I used to work there, I think in the summer of 1983; I worked in the kitchen and bakery as a historical interpreter.

The Fort was as good as I remembered, with none of that alarming tendency of fondly-recalled places to be shabbier and cheesier than they used to be. Will liked the apothecary and the armoury, and tried his hand at axe-throwing with the cooper in the Tradesmen's Square. The cantine has been closed for a few years due to flooding, which is a shame, but we got our fix of stew and bread in the visitor's centre at the end of our visit.

We dropped Mom off in town and traded our "town car" (Jon's BMW) back for our bus, and headed west along highway 17. We stopped at Kakabeka Falls, the waterfall that spoiled Niagara Falls for me when I was a kid. It's also as spectacular as I remember, with water roiling and roaring over rocks on the way down.

We continued on as far as Dryden and stopped for the night in a Wal-Mart parking lot, which turned out to be a comfortable night's stay. Although they're not open 24 hours, the Tim Horton's was, so it was our "Comfort Station"!

Total so far: 2265 km.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Day 6: Bus repairs

We had breakfast at the Hoito, a co-operative restaurant in Thunder Bay that's been around since early in the century. (The pancakes are highly recommended). Afterwards Jon took Mike and I and the bus out to his buddy's shop, where we made some minor repairs.

We've had an oil leak, and Jon had earlier determined that the two Phillips screws that hold on the oil pan cover were stripped. His buddy had some "helicoils" in his toolbox, which I had never heard of, but seemed to do the job quite nicely. We ended up draining the oil completely, getting a new filter, and cleaning the oil screen - there was a ton of junk, including lots of metal shavings, under the screen. Coming back into town the oil pressure was higher and the cylinder head temperature was a bit lower, so that's all good. We'll see if there's any sign of oil tomorrow.

Jon also hooked up the propane hose, so we have cooking capability now!

Here's a completely gratuitous picture of Will, just because Mom's camera takes such great pictures.
(If you click on it, you'll see a bigger version).

Day 5: Thunder Bay

Mike flew into Thunder Bay at lunchtime; they've put up a fence where you used to be able to stand and watch the airplanes come in, but it was still more fun for Will than the Toronto airport. Small airports really are easier to deal with.

Here's our bus parked outside Jon & Rebekah's; you can just see Jon's Mini Cooper parked in the driveway. After a tour of their place and some lunch we walked around their neighbourhood, looking at all the old houses and my former high school. I frankly didn't remember there being so many nice old houses in Thunder Bay, but I guess I didn't much care at the time.

We stopped at McKellar Confectionery for sliders, which is almost exactly as I remembered it. The old cooler for glass pop bottles is gone, of course, but the food tasted just the same.

Supper was at the excellent Masala Grille in the Port Arthur end of town, and then we all went to Hillcrest Park to show Will and Mike the Sleeping Giant.


Finally some pictures...Here's a terrible shot of our starting mileage: 57621 on the dial.

A nice building in Pembroke, where Will and I stopped to take a break on Day 1.

Our campsite in Samuel de Champlain park in the morning of day 2.

Mom, Will and I just ready to leave Blind River on day 3.

The classic Northern Ontario picture - the Wawa Goose! Roadside stop on day 4.

My former high school, which closed at the end of the school year in 2005. They're supposedly turning it into condos.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Day 4: to Thunder Bay, July 4

We were underway by 9:30am this morning, and made good time during the day. Stopped for lunch in White River, and to take pictures of the goose in Wawa. Mom drove between Marathon and Rossport, getting used to the bus pretty quickly.

Made it to Thunder Bay by 8pm, and are currently having a relaxing evening visiting with family.

Hopefully tomorrow I will get some pictures onto the computer!

Total so far: 1937km.

Day 3: to Lake Superior Provincial Park, July 3

Will and I had a lovely morning near Blind River, getting a guided tour of the neighbourhood, gardens, and lakefront. Morning coffee was on the deck overlooking the North Channel, with blue water and even bluer sky overhead.

Mom showed up around lunchtime, and by 3pm the "women and children" section of the trip was underway. Highway 17 continued to be our route (as it will for several days yet) and we went first through "the Soo" (Sault Ste. Marie Ontario) to pick up a propane hose for the stove in the bus. My uncle had kindly sourced the hose for me through his mechanic, and they gave me exact instructions how to get to the store and what I was looking for.

The drive around Lake Superior was far prettier than I remembered; lush greenery and harsh rocks, and deep blue water. We got into Lake Superior Provincial Park and ended up on the north end, staying at Rabbit Blanket campground.

Total so far: 1362km.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Day 2: to Blind River, July 2

After sleeping in and admiring the rapids at the park, Will and I got on the road at 9:30am and headed further west on 17. We stopped at various rest stops and coffee shops along the way for me to stretch my driving legs, and by 3pm we were in Blind River to stop and visit with my aunt and uncle on the beautiful shore of the North Channel.

The radio has conked out in the bus, so we had only the rattling of the vehicle and whistling of the wind for entertainment this day. Murray took us to his mechanic to look at getting our propoane stove hooked up, but they didn't have the required part; we'll stop at the Soo on our way through tomorrow to pick up the hose, and hopefully get it installed in Thunder Bay.

Total road so far: 1090km.

Day 1: Toronto to Ottawa to Mattawa, July 1

All three of us left Toronto at 8:30am on Canada Day, headed to Ottawa for a gathering in honour of our friend Caia Miller. Leaving the nation's capital on July 1 for a cross-country driving adventure seemed appropriate, so after dropping Mike at the bus station Will and I continued on highway 17 west of Ottawa.

We stopped for an hour to walk around Pembroke, then continued on to Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park for the night, arriving before dark. Slept soundly after a long day of driving 750km!