Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Swan Lake Campground

Clouds. I'm from California. We don't see these.

12:05 a.m. Swan Lake Campground, south of Dawson Creek.

Started the day in Fort Nelson. Up around 8:30. Did laundry, worked at the computer. Asked if I could have extra time to check out, since I had come in so late last night.

"How long?"

"Until 1:00?"


Hotels can be nice, but they're sterile. And you can't escape the ubiquitous sugar water and salt dispensing machines.

Found the "L.A. Coffee Brewers" in a funky little backstreet office building. (I knew there had to be something like this in town.) The proprietor is a woman from Saskatoon. I had to admit I had no idea where that is (other than somewhere in Saskatchewan. A well-dressed visitor was being shown around the building. It struck me in this environment that clothes do not distinguish us. Only something much deeper.

Enjoyed some coffee and a sandwich, taking a muffin to go. Outside in the parking lot, I met “Jody”, from Newfoundland (“Newfund-LAND”). When she heard I would be going there, she told me the places to see: “You’ll take the ferry from Sydney. You must see Marble Mountain, in Steadybrook, and Deer Lake and Pasadena, they have beautiful beaches and go to George’s Cabins in Steady Brook just by Marble Mountain and of course Gross Morne National Park."

Wind at my back, the quiet hum of the engine. All the road songs come to mind: “America”, “Helpless”, “Long May You Run”, “Take it Easy”, “Desperado” and of course, “On the Road Again” and then there's “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Feet,” still hanging on from Alaska.

Highway obligingly skirts around a thunderstorm. Enjoyed slaloming on the great straightaways, to remove the edge from long straight driving, break the boredom and practice maneuvering. Decided to do it when approaching oncoming bikers, a kind of greeting, “here I am!”

Along the roadway, I notice there are plenty of tire carcasses, but, remarkably no animals. Then, minutes later, I come upon the moose. (See photo)

Such occurrences some say are a sign we’ve lived this life before. Others, that it indicates the connectivity of all things.

An all too frequent tragedy.

These animals are seen by many as merely obstacles.

Behind the treeline, there is a presence paralleling The Alaska Highway. It appears to be British Columbia's version of the Alaska Pipeline, though evidently this one transports natural gas. There is a great deal of exploration and drilling activity here, with mud-encrusted trucks constantly entering or leaving the highway.

And up here they have Ravens, not the wimpy little crows we have at "home." They're big!

To gain anything from being on the road, one must be in touch with the senses and the emotions. All the receptors. Otherwise, stay home. Some days, I feel the connection, others it's totally absent, and I just go through the motions.

In my case, "right hand" is more apropos.

Had to refuel at Sasquatch Crossing, "Mag and Mel’s" place, where I paid the painfully-high price of $1.20/L. Out front of the store, I met "Roger", who had been cutting the grass, but was now sitting with a trucker. They warned me about the animals on the highway north of here. (But I was heading south.) At great expense, the trucker installed a "moose rack", a huge tubular guard, to protect his “rad”. He left us and I soon learned that Roger is an endless talker. He sounded like a mix of explorer, inventor, philosopher and eccentric. He told me to be sure to contact the World Explorer Club or World Center for Exploration, 46 East 70th Street in New York. "They just might assist you with your journey." He said at one time, he built boats for the great explorers, Thor Heyerdahl, Jacques Cousteau and others. Inside, the cashier said "so, you've met Roger."

“He’s interesting.”

Everyone in the room seemed to roll their eyes. I wasn't planning on staying, but the young chef asked if I was going to order anything from his kitchen. I looked at the chalkboard and said, "sure, I'll take the #1 Special:" Spicy sausage, mashed potatoes, turnips and carrots, garlic toast. It was actually quite good, if a bit greasy. Real down-home cooking. Huge portions (three LARGE sausages.)

Dawson Creek, the beginning (or for me, the end) of the Alaska Highway. This is where it all started in 1942.

Dawson Creek seems like a rough town. Lots of young men exhibiting their manhood via cars or trucks, people on the street who look like they’ve had a rough go of it. Definitely a cowboy town. Stopped at the official "Mile 0" marker for the Alaska Highway. Another mandatory photo op.

1,520 miles to Fairbanks! The original "Mile 0" post in Dawson.

Another. With better sky.

A mini-van pulled in. A man with strange accent and unusual old-fashioned attire, asked if I knew where the colony is.

"Excuse me?"

"The colony. You’ve never met Hutterites?"

He said there’s 4 or 5 colonies in the area.

"We're mainly farmers."

He was a man of few words, and they were soon gone.

Reaching Dawson Creek, I realized there will be no more worries about gas, but camping just became more complicated. More competition down here.

The only campground I saw was right on the highway in town and quite full. But a spreading thunderstorm covered the entire southern half of the sky, and the next campground on the map was Swan Lake, about 25 miles south.

Stalled, partly to give the storm time to move eastward. Went to “Tim Horton’s”. Most towns in Canada seem to have one. This one was funny. When I entered, of the 20 or so tables, about 6 were occupied and the rest had dirty dishes or trash on them. I looked around and saw one young man busing tables – very slowly.

Coffee and a brownie. Their coffee is terrible! Brown water. Looked around the room and realized “who am I to judge these people?” Each is trying to make their way as best they can.

Finally left town, after 10:30. Driving south under the speed limit! Very wary of deer now.

Surprised to see a community campground at the first small town, Pouce Coupe. It was adjacent to the town park. Pulled in and found a scrubby patch that looked like a site. Stood beside my bike in the dark, listening. The highway was 100 yards away and carrying a lot of freight even at this hour. (truckers at Tim Horton’s were hauling 2x4x14 Douglas fir.)

“I can’t settle for this.” Got back on the bike, wondering if I were making a stupid mistake.

Continued toward Swan Lake, reaching the lake before the edge of the storm. And two good signs: “vacancy” and “3.5 Km” off the highway.

Followed the dirt road off into the darkness. The campground was virtually deserted. The host’s trailer and one pick-up with a shell. In the dim light I could see the lake, and hear the rush of a river that sounded like it was going over a falls. I had my choice of sites in this idyllic setting.

The host drove over to welcome me and collect the $14 fee (more expensive back in civilization!) He said it would start filling up tomorrow for the weekend. There was grass on which to place the tent, mosquitoes were almost absent. I could take my time setting up, even enjoy the luxury of taking my boots off outside and changing into sandals. Further north, my feet would have been a feeding ground.

This was too good to be true. I can hear the trucks, but FAR off, nearly masked by the water.

Heard a clip-clopping along the creek – probably a moose walking down the stream.

Some sprinkles forced me to put out the rainfly.

“Petzl” ran out of juice after a month. Replaced the batteries, which will probably now happen more often in the sunlight-challenged lower latitudes.

Realized that I actually have to think about the route now, and what to see next. The trip was only very roughly sketched out.

Fort St. John for me marked the exit from the wilds. Just north of the city, the forests opened up into beautiful, rich agricultural lands, lush fields and pastures, the first cattle I’ve really noticed in a while. Some stands of trees were left, often in rows demarcating property, and mostly birch, it appears (no commercial value?)At the edge of town, the green fields were mowed along the highway. It almost looked like a golf course!

“FSJ” has Walmart, Safeway and Tim Horton’s. A lot of civic pride evident. A "blooming" city, very much in a growth phase. Heavy emphasis on agriculture, construction and mineral extraction. All the major truck and tractor companies present.

Softball games in the parks.

Duke Energy has a huge refinery complex just south, in Taylor.

In contrast, Dawson Creek seems much rougher around the edges. A large Louisiana Pacific mill dominates the west end of town.

Until Mexico, no more challenges?

1 comment:

Laura said...

Canadian coffee is the WORST!!! And what sucks, is that if you're doing a marathon drive of the Alcan (I did it in 3 1/2 days from Anchorage to Springfield Missouri, and was halluciating!) you really need your coffee!