Thursday, July 31, 2008
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
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
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
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!
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
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)
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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):
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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...
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.
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
(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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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).
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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!
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
After a couple of hours standing who knows where on Highway 7, I'm home safely, to rejoin Kirsten and Will in Thunder Bay on Saturday. There's no word from them yet, and I'll take that as a good sign!