019 - canada | part two
Updated: Sep 27, 2018
Canada, oh, Canada.
You have taught me so much. It was with you, that I learned to listen closer, see further, smell richer, and feel deeper.
It was with you, that I learned to simply be.
We were stoked to leave Jasper, not because we were anxious to leave, but because we were awaiting our next "formal destination". From here we were headed to Prince Rupert, where we would meet up with Melanie and Martin, our close friends from Switzerland. Little did we know however, some spots along the way, were going to take our breaths away.
It started with our first overnight spot after leaving the national park. LaSalle Lakes, a free recreation site right by the lake, that we had stumbled upon on iOverlander. Now its fair to say here, that there are generally no photos on iOverlander, just simple two liners describing the situation, with a couple of icons pointing out the amenities. Usually there are a few people that leave reviews, but most of the time, we find them to be from previous years. Nonetheless the app is great, and has led us to find most of our overnight spots, especially the free ones.
After having spotted a huge grizzly on the highway only about a mile before making the sharp left turn, we headed down the steep and pothole heavy gravel road. Upon arriving at the bottom we were immediately greeted by the calm lake and a large gravel lot, with about two other cars and a claimed camp set-up. We noticed that the road continued beyond the lot, so we followed it in search of some solitude. Down the road we found multiple camping spots, all with fire rings and tables but all spaced out at a nice distance from each other. None yet taken. We saw one right at the waters edge and of course decided that would be the one. As soon as we got out of the camper, we could feel this incredible serenity. From our spot, we had a direct access to the water. And a little to the right, you could walk through the trees, and behind them, there was the most idyllic little gem. A fallen tree surrounded by waterlily's and tadpoles allowed us to literally walk out onto the placid water. I spent quite some time out on that tree, taking it all in, just simply being, returning multiple times throughout the day. The mosquitoes were the only thing that could disturb me at this point, not even the loud teenagers down by the lot. We had found the perfect oasis.
Unfortunately because we wanted to meet our friends on time and still had a few miles ahead of us (550 miles) we only stayed for one night. Nonetheless we watched a beaver swim by and at times we shared our space on the log with an undisturbed duck. I got on the water with my newly acquired flotation device, a blow up donut, we both read a lot, and we ate a delicious dinner outside. All in all, a marvelous day, made even better by the incredibly needed warm weather and the golden sunset it brought with it.
The following day we continued our drive toward Prince George. While the run-down city didn't quite impress us, it had this awful smell from all the sawmills, a stop on the way did. We decided to visit the ancient forest or Chun T'oh Whudujut Provincial Park. Extremely tall, old, and very luscious green trees were surrounding us from all sides. An ancient cedar rain forest. The massive tree trunks were hugged by the thick, rich green fern, the air humid and hot. Though we almost ran the entire boardwalk trail to keep the bugs away, it was worth every step. And shortly before we had pulled into the parking lot, we spotted a huge grizzly walking down to the riverbed and right after we pulled out we saw a black bear mother with her tiny cub on the side of the road. Boy were we lucky when it came to seeing bears, at this point our count was at 20. We finally pulled into our free, again mosquito infested overnight spot in Vanderhoof, where we had a quick chat with our neighbor from Colorado who was also heading to Alaska. We've come to really appreciate quick exchanges, especially when we can get some pointers from people who have already done this trip.
The next couple of days consisted of a lot of driving and of more free and also awesome overnight spots. One was at Sunset Lake with our own private dock and one was in Kitwanga where we spotted the emerald green Toyota camper for the first time (details will follow), and where we also got a taste of how close we actually have come to Alaska. Although the sign at the gas station in town pointed out only the very southernmost tips of the state, it did get us excited for what was to come. We took a quick detour to Hazelton, which quite frankly was only cool for its bridge, before finally arriving in Prince Ruppert.
In PR we did our obligatory laundry in a very sketchy laundromat, but hey, it did it's job, and reserved two spots in the Provincial Park campground about 20 minutes outside of the city for the following night with very happy faces. The next morning, we ventured out to the notorious Cow Bay in PR, named by a fellow Swiss, enjoyed a long and late breakfast at Cowpuccino's and explored the shops and marina surrounding it. We also drove down to Port Edward where we got attacked by what we later came to know as black flies and I picked a nice wildflower bouquet down by the North Pacific Cannery historic site because the entrance fee to the buildings was above our interest in actually seeing them from inside.
The rest of the day was spent reading and waiting until shortly before midnight when Mel and Dini would arrive with the ferry from Vancouver Island. When we noticed the traffic picking up again, we knew the ferry must have docked. It was only a matter of time before they would pull into the campground with their rented RV. As naive as we were, we jumped up and ran outside with the first RV that drove in. After two more, we started feeling silly, and the other guests must have thought we were crazy. But soon enough, the fourth was the one we had so anxiously waited for. Long hugs were the quiet proof that we had all missed each other. We helped them back into their site that we luckily had reserved (at this point the campground was full), got a tour of the interior of their luxurious rig including the slide-out, which just about doubled the interior space, and of course showed them our modest Henry as well, before we settled down with midnight beers to chat about all the things that couldn't wait until morning.
With a late start, we slowly made our way to Terrace in convoy, where we stocked up on some staple items, before heading to my uncles fishing lodge, the Skeena Mountain B&B Lodge (fischen-abenteuer.ch). My uncle Christy and his wife Barbara have spent their summers (April through October) here since 2004, offering their guests a homey stay in between their fishing trips. We of course, had to include it on our journey. Although I had been here before, Mattia hadn't and Mel and Dini were also very curious, since they both also knew them from our hometown in Switzerland. Upon our arrival, we were immediately greeted with their very fruity delicious signature drink and we then spent the afternoon sharing stories and getting tips for the road north. We got a private tour of the interior of the lodge from Barbara, while Christy gave us a tour of the exterior, including the carport and the smoking hut. We met the Swiss TV star, Hermann Schönbächler, who lives about half an hour north from where my uncles lodge is, here this is considered being neighbors (he is exactly the same in person as he is on TV) and enjoyed a very savory BBQ over a good number of beers for dinner and the hours to follow.
The next three days were spent at a lake with Mel and Dini, where we parked our rigs right next to each other, the cozier the better. We drank, laughed, ate great food, played a Swiss card game called Jasse, and enjoyed the easy flowing, unfiltered, and effortless conversations. We simply enjoyed being in each others company. We also rented stand up paddle boards one afternoon and a kayak and a canoe another to finally get onto the water. We hiked a short trail through clearly marked bear territory (we saw plenty of fresh scat as well as claw marks on trees) to the small town in search of the unfortunately closed ice cream shop and burned through a large amount of firewood well into the nights. In the end we of course, (or at least I did) shed a few tears saying our goodbyes. The time spent with Mel and Dini was much needed, more than we even knew or allowed to admit, and we were glad to have a little bit of home and familiarity in the middle of our trip after having been on the road for four months.
From the time we parted ways with our friends, our route took us northwest and they were headed south. We spent our first again solo night in Kitwanga, where we spotted the same emerald Toyota (keep in mind this is a week later), before embarking on the very scenic Cassiar Highway toward Watson Lake. At the last gas station, we had a chance of spotting the Toyotas Instagram handle, and found out that Tyler and his girlfriend, about our age, Californians, were in fact headed the same way as us, but unfortunately had run into some mechanical problems and were now waiting for parts in the tiny 400 person village with one gas station. Yikes.
En-route to the Yukon, we spent one night at a peaceful lakeside spot on Lake Edontenajon and another at the mesmerizing teal Boya Lake. In Dease Lake we had our worst yet gas fill-up experience, when all the customers had to pre-pay an exact amount inside, and the pumps were all getting mixed up. And in the end, although the cashier held on to my Amex, I couldn't in fact pay with American Express.
In Watson Lake, we of course visited the famous Signpost Forest, where there are now more than 80'000 signs from all over the world, even some familiar ones from Switzerland and a Florida State license plate. And with one more overnight at Teslin Lake and the captivating drive now officially on the Alaskan Highway we were thrilled to arrive in Whitehorse.
In the largest city of the Yukon, where 30'000 people of the 40'000 population of the territory reside, we splurged with one night at an RV park, where we traded in most of our books for new ones, did our laundry, and enjoyed being plugged-in and having reception. The second day in the city, we had the guys at Canadian Tire take a look at Henry's tires (all for free), a few looked a little run down and they agreed, and received a very fair quotation for new ones. They had even insisted that we would try to get a similar offer in Alaska, and if we couldn't we should stop by on our way back down. With the promise that we would think about it, we went on to explore the city. We went on board the renowned S.S. Klondike, a historic stern wheeler that ran on the Yukon River in the early 1900's, strolled through downtown, and ate a hearty lunch at the local Klondike Rib & Salmon. We then parked Henry in the riverfront park parking lot to relax for the rest of the afternoon before heading to Walmart for a complimentary overnight.
We again had two driving days ahead, with a stop in Pelly Crossing, to finally arrive in the long anticipated Dawson City. The small town (population of about 1'400), though it doesn't look like much from the outside, has a whole lot of chapters. Filled with it's summer only tourists, it has stayed completely authentic, unpaved pothole rich roads, dirty slanted worn-down buildings and the accordingly matching locals included. We loved it. Tired from the drive, we quickly explored the few streets in town before heading back out onto a campground in the woods. The next day, we drove down a long dirt road to get to the free claim #6, so that we could try our own luck in the historic Klondike Gold Rush base. Though we only found remnants of gold dust we had a great morning by the river. In the afternoon, we headed back into town, and sat down outside the ice cream shop, with each one in our hand. An older, white-bearded, long haired, gentleman, whose red suspenders held his pants as well as his tummy in place, decided to join us. The quick exchange turned into a two hour conversation, and we couldn't have spent our afternoon better.
Lets name the kind gentleman Jack, since we failed to ask for his name throughout the entire conversation. To recap only a few topics of our lengthy talk: Jack is from southern BC, the desert, as he calls it. He was in the army in his earlier years, but now works as a ranger, jail guard and tour guide. He has a 22 year old daughter who lives in Whitehorse, who is still in high school, but doesn't do any drugs, doesn't drink and isn't boy crazy, so everything is alright. She loves spiders and is coming up to visit him at the end of the week, so he definitely has some cleaning up to do. Jack lives outside of Dawson, because he likes it quiet, he can sleep with the sun being out all night, but not with excess noise. Dawson City is the kind of town that accepts everyone, the natives and the 'white Canadians' all live harmoniously together. The 'white' kids are even invited to join the natives on their first fish and hunt, a very traditional ceremony in their culture. The Yukon river completely ices over starting in mid. November all the way through spring. The ferry, which is the only way across the river, stops running around mid. October, leaving about a gap of a month, where there is no passage. But the 200 people that live on the other side, wish to not build a bridge, as that would probably also bring electricity. The toes which end up in the famous sourtoe cocktail (I will get to that a little later) are all donated these days, mostly by runners who become victims of frostbite. There is also a humane society event, where one can eat canine testicles (from neutered dogs) to raise money. Jack loves the winters in Dawson, he says the entire surroundings turn into fifty shades of grey, the snow reflecting undertones of all the other colors. He said we should picture the scenery like a over-watered watercolor painting. The northern lights of course, are spectacular. Even the fog sometimes manages to freeze. Across the river apparently lives a guy named Caveman Dan, and yes, he lives in a cave, also throughout the winter months. Jack mentioned that in the winter, the mail is faster being delivered to Fairbanks by sled dog (10 hours to be exact), than by post, because through the latter it has to ship all the way south first, to dispatch, to make it back up north to Alaska (ten days). And last, but in no way least, there was a native chief, who also worked as a ranger, who before he died, wished to claim back land for his people by nailing quarters to every tree he would pass. This was his way, or attempt, to 'buy' back the land. This is Dawson City, you either love it or you hate it.
In the evening, we took a seat at the Downtown Hotel bar (a must when in town) with two beers, listened to the greatest piano player, and Mattia ordered an extra shot of whiskey for the celebrated sourtoe coktail. This cocktail, as the name implies, has a real human toe in it. Yes, I repeat, a real human toe. Why do people order it, you might wonder? Well, lucky as we are, back in 1920 two trapper brothers got stuck in a snow blizzard. One unfortunately became a victim of frostbite, and in attempt to reduce it from spreading, his brother cut off his toe and conserved it in a glass of whiskey as a nice little reminder. Years later, in 1970, a captain named Dick Stevenson found the preserved toe, and decided to form the so called Sourtoe Cocktail Club, where only the bravest who drank from it, would become members. Mattia became a member that night. The rule being: "You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips must touch the toe."
We ended the fantastic day at the Diamond Tooth Gertie's Gambling Hall, where we dropped a few left over Canadian coins into the slot machines and watched the old-school vaudeville show that definitely managed to take us a step back in time. Upon leaving the casino at half past ten, we even saw the sun finally vanish behind the treeline across the river.
Overflowing with forever memories, Alaska was the only thing left on our minds as the sun set.