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We woke with a leisurely start to the morning that included writing up the previous day’s adventures and looking at our pictures when we realized that checkout time was nearing. The camp Gestapo lady could be heard warming up her truck for an 11:01 intercept of anyone still in their campsite past checkout—an obvious intent on exploiting the British Columbia park system that she would clearly not tolerate. We quickly prepared for departure, retuning the awning to the upright and locked position, securing the aft cabin and triple checking that the outside hatches were secured. As we pulled out of our campsite at 32 seconds past 11:00, the blue truck with “Camp Host” written on the side rounded the corner of the far end of the campground. At maximum maneuvering speed of almost 7 miles per hour we headed for the camp exit passing by the “poo dump’’ station knowing that would be an easy trap. We did manage to exit the threshold of the campground where I am sure the pursuing camp host truck screeched to a skidding halt and with fists raised in the air the camp lady was cursing us in her defeat. Whew! Time: 11:02. That was close.

We continued on south, clearly refugees from the BC park system. After topping off the fuel in Clinton, we took another side tour. With the work week already shot, though we were both eager to get back to the office (and no sarcasm there, really, honest), we decided to take the Sea to Sky Highway south through Whistler. Kat had never been there. I have skied Whistler may times, albeit many years and 50 pounds ago. However, I had never seen Whistler in the summer nor been north of there either.

Farming Along the Fraser

The road (Highway 99) from Cash Creek south towards Whistler was awe inspiring meaning that many portions of it induced clenching of the glutes as the road wound along cliffs. The scenery was spectacular—when you dared to steal a glance. During the construction of the Alaska Highway from Dawson Creek to Fairbanks, a sergeant stationed at a relay station on the road wrote in 1942: “The Alaska Highway winding in and winding out fills my mind with serious doubt as to whether ‘the lout’ who planned this route was going to hell or coming out!”. The Canadians obviously took this as a challenge to build a road with even steeper hills, more curves and punctuate it with an absence of guardrails along the sheer vertical drops. The canyon which we traversed was quite spectacular with the river channel carved out several hundred feet below and with a scattering of plush farmed plateaus amongst the dry ravines. The contrasts made it one of the most interesting views of the trip—when you dared to steal a glance away from the road.

Duffey Lake, BC

Little did we know that this was just the warm up to the punchline of road building. In the town of Lillooet, the Fraser River, Highway 12 and any sane or rational person heads east to Lytton. We, however, continued south on 99 though the canyons towards Whistler. Kat actually held her breath for 32 miles as we traversed down winding 20% grades to the creek side. She only took a quick breath to exclaim “What?! We are going back up?” just as the road then climbed back up the opposing sheer cliff so that we could enjoy another roller coaster ride down. After the worse was behind us, we stayed at the Nairn Fall Provincial Park.

Nairn Falls, BC

That evening we took a 1.9 km hike to the Nairm Falls with Kat vigorously ringing her bell to thwart off any bears. It must have worked, since we didn’t see any…or any other wildlife…or any other people for that matter. The falls were amazing, cascading down 197 feet though tortuously carved rock. Unfortunately, like much of what we have seen this trip, the sheer impressiveness of it cannot be sufficiently captured with a few snapshots. Following the hike, we unwound by snuggling up on the couch and watching moving back in the RV. Tomorrow we make the final leap home.

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We woke to an eerie fog that had settled over the provincial campground at McLeod Lake and found ourselves to be the only remaining tenant out of the total of three for the night.  The campground was nice with lots of grass parking areas which was a welcome change from the seemingly endless supply of mud that we track into the motorhome.  After a walk down to the lake’s shore, we motored on leaving the resident squirrels to fend for themselves. 

Somewhere but Still Close to Nowhere

The road from this point on was much improved.  Apparently the Canadian highway improvement crews haven’t gotten around to installing the potholes yet.  We made good time with a stop in the town of Prince George for a latte.  According to Google Maps, there are three Starbucks in Prince George.  However, we only took the time to visit one after squeezing the RV into a parking lot that was designed for only compact cars.  With a bit of skill and luck, you can actually park the RV while only taking up 14.5 parking spots and on top of 3 Priuses.

Somewhere South of Prince George, BC

The surround landscape continues to be rolling farm land and reminiscent of eastern Washington.  There is a notable increase in traffic and most of the roadside roadhouses are intact–most are even open.  We camped at another provincial campground, this one at Lac La Hache (of which, like several of the places we have stayed, I am not entirely sure how to pronounce it).  Many of the campgrounds we have stayed at also have a camp host as well as a self registration station or a shack at the entrance with a staff to help empty your wallet.  This site was alittle different. 

Lac La Hache, BC

Lac La Hache has a resident camp host who is responsible for going from site to site collecting the fees.  Shortly after picking our campsite, a blue pickup with “Camp Host” written on the side rolled up and a skinning little old lady got out and swaggered on up to our RV.  One downside to having and actual camp host collect fees is that you cannot pawn a US personal check to cover the cost.  Though I do suspect I may still get a nasty-gram from two Canadian Provinces regarding foreign checks left in the camp drop boxes.  But in my defense, it wasn’t posted to the contrary! 

After refusing the personal check, the grey haired host actually seemed genuinely disappointed that we did have cash.  After engaging her in a bit of conversation, it turns out that the sole driving encouragement for her to keep living is to catch people trying to sneak by without paying.  She gladly elaborated how she would block the exit with her truck in the morning if she suspected that a late arrival the previous night was trying to sneak out early and dodge the fees.  Her techniques had been honed with training stemming from what I concluded as actual WWI interrogation experience.   She was even proud of being crafty enough to feel the hood of the vehicle to see if it was still cold—indicating that they had stayed a while and the driver was not just passing through. 

Like many campgrounds, this one has a fee for the dump station.  The tenacious camp host also watches this like a hawk to see if anyone is try to “sneak in a poo dump” without the 5 dollar cover charge.  Anyone skimping would be confronted and “sometimes ey just wanna to shoot ‘em” she pronounced.  Since we had pulled through the loop past “poo dump” station to the far end in order to top off the potable water, she inquired as to where our receipt was from the self-pay box and cheerfully exclaimed that there was an $89 fine for not paying.  The sign at the “poo dump” station, however, stated: $5/discharge (seriously).  Conversely, potable water was free.  I challenged her to go ahead and pull the cap and drain lever on our holding tank and if two days worth of “discharge” didn’t spill out into the campsite, I would gladly pay the $89 fine.  She reluctantly backed off and upon hearing another RV pulling into the park and raced off fearing they might try to skimp on the “poo dump”.

Enjoy the Outdoors; Step Out and into the Food Chain.

We can really see why retirement is so attractive.  Even being a gypsy beats working—though the reality is that the careers still beckon us to continue south.  Well, actually it is all of the financial obligations that beckon us to return to our careers.  Nonetheless, we are making the most of this experience and spending the night listening to the symphony of the babbling Sikanni river punctuated by the opera of the distant coyotes is definitely another of many indelible memories.

We took advantage the facilities at the RV park to enjoy a hot shower.  While we do have shoe-box sized shower in the RV, it is always nice to take advantage of an unlimited supply of water.  Especially since the quart-sized hot water tank on the RV encourages promptness in order to avoid frigidness.  We also discovered that 6 days is probably 1 day too many for the black water holding tank.  After a bit of fussing, plunging and cursing at the resulting mess, I am now well on my way to being qualified to operate a honey bucket if my fall-back job as a Wall Mart greeter doesn’t pan out. 

Farm Land Along the Peace River

We have left the mountains far behind and entered rolling hills and farm land with the occasional canyon carved out to ensure that there is neither a straight nor level stretch of road.  We took a bit of a detour just west of Dawson Creek and cut south to the small town of Hudson’s Hope.  Prior to reaching town, we stopped for lunch at a rest area overlooking the Peace River and corresponding canyon with rolling farm land stretching out for miles…well, kilometers.  We took another break from driving to see the WAC Bennett Hydro Dam which is one of the largest earthen dams and created Canada’s longest lake.  The hydro plant here also produces 1/3 of the electricity for British Columbia, which is almost enough for all of Vancouver’s Starbucks.  The tour took us 500ft underground to see the cavernous room cored out in the bedrock in order to house the 10 hydro-electric generators.  As an engineer, I found it pretty cool.  Kat found it mildly interesting. 

WAC Bennett Hydro-Electric Dam

We continued on south only to discover that the Canadian approach for building dams by creating a big pile of rocks is also how they build roads.  The stretch of highway 97 south of Chetwynd was by far the worst stretch of road we have encounter in spite of there being approximately 40 miles of road working equipment scattered along the road.  Apparently the key to road repair here is to completely decimate the existing road with a variety of heavy construction equipment to the point of being questionably passable.  The drive south was slow, muddy, and bumpy. 

 

Are we there yet?

Passing rain showers ensured that not a single inch of the exterior on the RV would skate grime free.  We did see another black bear standing at the threshold of the forest along the road but didn’t have an opportunity to stop and test the effectiveness of Kat’s bell.  In between rain showers we were treated to a rainbow arching over the canyon of trees; taunting us with its hidden pot of gold which would have come in very handy at the next gas station.  We also had a fantastic sunset as we pulled into the campground for the night.

This morning started off with quite a surprise. We made camp at the provincial campground at the Liard River Hot Springs which was another nice campground; near capacity but spread out in the woods enough to offer each site some privacy.

I was sitting at the table typing up the previous days exploits, being sure to capture all of the details without any exaggerations at all. Kat was sitting on the couch with her back adjacent to mine reading a book. We both sipped our first cup of coffee as dawn was starting to cast light on the wilderness around us. Halfway through typing out a thought on the laptop, I heard a scratching on the side of the RV just under the window I was sitting at. It sounded as if a tree branch was scraping back and forth but I dismissed the noise in fear of losing track of where I was in my fable. It was about this moment when Kat asked “Was that you?”

Now the concentration on the keyboard was fading and it takes nearly 100 percent for me to watch the keys while I type to ensure that the fingers don’t go rogue and start hitting keys at random. My mind took the opportunity of the distraction to declare mutiny and completely abandon the task at hand. “No.” I replied.

The Brownest Black Bear I Have Seen.

If it wasn’t Kat…and it wasn’t me…and we didn’t park THAT close to the trees…. I sat up a bit and peaked out the window only to be met by a black bear sniffing around our RV. A frantic search for the camera ensued as we watched the bear lumber on from campsite to campsite in search of treats left out by careless campers. The bear had apparently stood up on his hind legs and put his paws on the side of the RV to take an inquisitive peak, as evident by the muddy paw prints. If I had bothered to look up when I first heard the noise I would had been nose-to-nose 8-inches from the bear! Who needs coffee to get the blood moving when you have a bear?!

Laird Hot Springs, BC

After the adrenaline wore off and breakfast was consumed, we took a walk up to the hot springs—Kat donning her bell. Bells are apparently effective at annoying bears to the extent they would rather chase down a caribou. The pool at the springs was..well…hot. At one end you could see the water bubbling up and hot enough to cook a lobster in while the far end it was more temperate. Kat even rolled her pant legs up and waded in. She said she would have dressed down to her skivvies and gone in further if it weren’t for me grinning and wielding a camera with a fresh battery. Oh well.

Back on the road we saw another lone buffalo just past the hot springs. A bit further in our journey south was another bear, this one with three cubs. The bear had attracted the attention of several RVer’s but continued grazing along the side of the road with her cubs indifferent to the gaggle of tourists. However, I doubt that a warm meal would be turned down if any of the gawkers got out of their vehicle to get better pictures—unless they wore their bells.

Mom Standing Guard

Another brake check occurred several miles further down the road when we happened upon a herd of about dozen mountain goats–correction: Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep. We watched as they scampered up the near sheer cliff adjacent to the winding road. More wildlife came in the form of three reindeer a bit later. I am sure glad the motorhome has antilock brakes so we can capitalize on these photo ops.

Prancer or Blitzen?

From there, the road continued winding down the east side of the Canadian Rockies and past several more abandoned inns, truck stops and gas stations to Watson Lake where we fueled up. Our days trek concluded at the Sikanni River, about 2 hours south of Fort Nelson. We had a campfire and gorged on s’mores as we listened to the chorus of coyotes in the distance—substantiating that we were glad that we were not camping in a tent.

Enjoying the Wilderness

From the US-Canada border south, many of the small roadside services and business are either closed for the season or appear to have been closed and abandoned for many consecutive seasons. The prosperity of the Klondike is apparently over. It does not take much imagination to draw a correlation between stopping at an all-but-deserted gas station and a scene from a Stephen King book. In Haynes Junction, the building adjacent to the awning over the gas pumps was void of any occupants, with the exception of a few rats, and appeared to have been so for quite awhile. Garbage was strewn about with very large crows picking though it looking for hidden treasures. There was no attendant on duty as the office had been boarded up, although, the pumps were still active and the automated card readers were still very effective at charging up your credit card. While pumping gas in to the RV and looking up at the one remaining, flickering florescent light barely hanging from the awning above, a person does have to wonder about the quality of the fuel that they are pumping into their tank at $1.44/litter. Moreover, this was luxurious compared to today’s stop for fuel and to do a load of laundry at another RV park.

Just north of Watson Lake, we stopped at the Nugget City RV Park to do a load of laundry—at least enough laundry to ensure we that have a clean change of clothes without having to wash them by hand and hang them out to dry and potentially leading to a naked exposure of our own. The RV park here consists of a dusty dirt lot without a single occupant. The sign on the office door says to check-in with the gift shop that doubles for a café and is staffed by a girl that is assuredly the descendant of parents that are more closely related than genetically recommended. Missing teeth and all. Behind her is a row of well used coffee pots, an espresso machine that is out of order, and other equipment that hasn’t been cleaned since Nixon was in office. In all, this place is one squeal away from being the scene for the remake of Deliverance and I was glad to put it in the rearview mirror.

A bit more civilization was found down the road at Watson Lake, though not enough to include a Starbucks. Here there was a signpost forest with thousands of signs, license plates and other mementos people had nailed up to announce they had been there and were X-miles from home. It was definitely interesting and unique.

Big Buffalo

As we left town, signs along the road—both written and in the form of piles of manure —stated: “Caution: Watch for Buffalo on Roadway”. After miles of manure sightings, we began to wonder if there really were animals to be seen or whether the local farmer was just disposing the excrement from his cows in a cruel joke to us tourists. Finally, we came upon a lone buffalo bedded down alongside the road and another RV pulled over to take pictures. Following suit, I pulled over as well and parked precariously on the shoulder of a narrow two lane road with semi-trucks racing by and likely cursing us. I got out with camera in hand and walked back to where the other RV was parked; starved for some good wildlife pictures since this was the first animal other than a squirrel that we had seen for two days. All was fine until the other gawkers finished taking pictures, mounted up in their motorhome and motored off leaving me eye-to-eye with a 1000lb buffalo and no shelter other than my own RV which was 50yards away. Feeling rather venerable, I returned to the steel and fiberglass sanctuary of our rolling homestead and continued on.

Yield to Buffalo or They Will Leave a Big Dent

Several more solo buffalo sightings had us slowing down and shooting pictures out the windows like true tourists. As we continued, I made a comment to Kat that there sure were a lot of signs of buffalo for only a half-dozen stray animals. It was about this time, and as I was rounding a corner, that she replied in a cautionary “WHOOOOOOA!” that was more of a gasp than statement. The road and both shoulders ahead were filled with a herd buffalo. I guess about 70 in total–sufficiently answering my prior question. It seems kind of silly now to have risked my neck for a picture of a single buffalo when they now entirely surround the RV. Many, many, many more pictures ensued to capture the moment as will scraping the manure from under-cage of the RV.

Cute, But Probably Not Too Cuddly.

Further down the road we saw a black bear with two cubs and another lone bear a few miles further yet. This made for a great wildlife picture day. Our final destination of the day was the provincial campground at the Liard River Hot Springs in BC. We are now also less than 1200 miles from home.

We listened to the wind whistling through the trees throughout the night and woke to cloudy skies this morning.  The Congdon Creek Campground is a right on the shores of Kluane Lake and is a government run site and is quite well kept.  However, it is also the scene of one of the most frightful sights.  While sipping the first cup of coffee and trying to pry the eyes open for the day’s drive ahead, movement from the corner of my eye caught my attention.  However, the source of the movement turned out to be far more frightening than perhaps even meeting a bear head-on along a dark and narrow path.  The occupant of the site next to us was darting from his camper over to grab his cloths that were hanging from a line that he had strung between two trees.  The trouble was that his clothes were on the line—and NOT on him.  It is a shame that, in spite all of the wonderful scenery and gorgeous vistas that we taken in for the last two weeks, this image is now burned indelibly into my mind.  Moreover, I found myself pondering a question that I had not–and could not have, until this moment–even contemplated or conceived as a matter of inquiry:  Why is it that the hair on the head turns grey and not the hair down below?  And, no, please don’t perpetuate this with replies offering theories.  I really don’t need to know.  As I now try to claw the residual imprint of the old naked man running around his campsite from my retinas, I can only hope that time does indeed heel all wounds. 

Northern Yukon Territory, Canada (Somewhere)

We headed out fairly early this morning only to realize later that we had actually crossed time zones and effectively lost an hour.  This also explains why it seemed to be getting dark notably earlier than previous nights.  We stopped at Haynes Junction for fuel and pushed on to Whitehorse where we found civilization: Starbucks.  The Starbucks was across the parking lot of a Walmart–I never said it was high-class civilization– which was littered with ratty old RVs, trailers and campers who had apparently set up long term residence.  In fact, the Walmart lot even had a RV dump station, potable water, and propane available.  At least now I know where we can go if we have to succumb to permanently living out of the RV.  Heck, with my cheery and positive disposition perhaps I could even get a job as a greeter too.  Starbucks was refreshing as well as humbling as they firmly corrected my order to a “Grande”.  You just can’t win.

We also took this opportunity to fill up the potable water tank since most of the water had abandoned ship though the sloshing induced by the pot holes and frost heaves the previous day. The next destination was the Dawson Peaks Resort and RV Park just south of Teslin.  There we found a mostly empty RV Park; the restaurant was closed for the season and the owners told us that they were closing up entirely for the season next week.  Winter is coming quickly here and people are hurriedly packing up a closing down as evident by the numerous closed roadside businesses along the way.

Fishin' -- Alaska Style

Last night was spent under clear skies providing the first view of the stars for the trip with the big dipper filling the stateroom window.  Not having to rely on navigating by the stars is truly a luxury when they are typically hidden by clouds.  If Capt. James Cook (explorer of the pacific; not to be confused with Capt. James T Kirk) had bothered to use his GPS, I am sure his travels along the Alaska coast would have been more relaxing and with a fewer wrecked ships.  Likewise, he should have referenced Google or Wikipedia; in which case he would have known that the natives of Hawaii were likely to kill him. 

Kat and Kraz Make it to the Border

With a stop in Tok for our last gulp of gas and to top off the propane before hitting Canada, we ventured on and put 375 miles behind us.  Along the way, we saw a moose that crossed the road ahead of us so we were able to slow down and get some good pictures (finally!).  Further down the road there was a brown bear, but at 90km/hr, (we are in Canada now) it was more like: “is that—oh, that was a bear”.  With no one behind us –and in fact we hadn’t seen another vehicle in about the last 10 minutes—the anti-lock braking system of the rolling homestead was put to the test before backing up to where the bear was.  The operative word being ‘was’ because we only got a glimpse of it moseying off into the brush muttering :“Damn tourists, eh.”

The Alaska Highway is has also proven to be a contrast between countries.  The Alaska side is far from perfect and has numerous repairs on it including some rough patches.  The Canadian side, however, is litter along the sides with little orange flags indicating that there is either a pothole (generally the size of a Volkswagen) or a frost heave which will assuredly jar any loose molars out.  Since the ground is frozen only a few feet down from the surface, the road is subject to buckle into nature’s version of the speed bump (aka frost heaves).  The primary job of the Canadian road crew, armed with only a garden trowel and dust broom, is apparently to remove the debris that has been torn off the vehicles of inattentive drivers; like axles, transmission, wheels, etc.  It is easy to lose concentration for a split second to look away to see if that shadow is a moose: BAM! [pothole], or to admire the mountain rising up on both sides: KAPOW! [frost heaves!].  Defensive maneuvering is out of the question when driving an RV.  Steering input general only results in the vehicle listing to the opposite side for about a half-mile before any notable course changes actually happens.

Moose, eh. Near Beaver Creek, YT

As we neared the end or our day’s travels, we encountered 40km/hr winds along Kluane Lake.  This added to the challenge of the roads by buffeting us with crosswinds and making for some very exhausting driving.  The camp ground we stayed at was nice and surprisingly near capacity since we didn’t really see any other traffic on the roads.  A sign at the entrance announced that due to increased bear activity in the area, tent camping was prohibited.  This didn’t really factor in until sun set when we dashed down to the shore of the lake to take pictures only to realize after crashing through the brush that darkness was falling AND there was heightened bear activity.  However, armed with my trusty bear repelling whistle (which sounds more like an injured squirrel), we made it back to the RV without having to disable a bear by sending it in hysterics over us trying to chase it off with imitations of injured squirrels.

Sunset Over Kluane Lake, YT