Today we left Lillooet at the @ss-crack of dawn and got on the road for Barkerville, a historic gold rush town maintained in total period authenticity. Mike had booked a room in the historic town, and we’d bought a good, old-fashioned map at the Lil’Wat gas station run by the industrious First Nation ladies ( I was informed of the proper term) so today went much smoother in general. We found beautiful Marble Lake on the way out of that “rugged” town, and fished the glassy green waters, enjoying the haunting cries of a family of loons.
The land was smoother and calmer after the mountains we’d passed through with their thirteen percent grades, “Check Brakes” and “Avalanche Zone” signage, which, even in June, can lend to a certain nervous jumpiness, and I’m proud to report that today, we didn’t get lost once.
Notable events included breakfast in a place called Clinton, where we had a huge, delicious and greasy breakfast at the Cordial Café which provided free wi-fi, so I was able to check my email and post a photo of the giant pair of moose antlers I regretfully had to pass up at a nearby junk shop, where I was wondering how Canadian “antiques” might differ from American ones. (Answer: not much)
Cold continued to cut through the “jacket” I'd ordered online that turned out to be more of a sweatshirt, so we increased our efforts (which had begun in Seattle) to find me a coat and Mike a pair of new hiking boots. We were finally in an area that was consistently cold enough to still carry winter clothes in June, and I was relieved to find a serious-weather waterproof jacket with a hood and liner that the thin-lipped woman at the counter with the broad Canadian accent recommended as something she wore herself.
It turned out to be a good thing as we continued on and it began raining. Heavy drops splatted on the windshield like exploding water balloons, and the great weather we’d been blessed with came to an end. I took a turn driving, and reflected on why I love road trips in general. I think, for me, it has something to do with living on an island. There's only so far you can go, over and over again, on an island. To be somewhere where you can strike out in any direction and drive for thousands of miles feels like freedom.
And driving an unknown road with The Eagles blaring, clouds roiling, and acres of daisies and lupine rolling by, is simply sublime.
We ended today's jaunt in Barkerville, the historic replica town, and discovered we couldn’t park our car near the inn where we were staying. Apprehension ensued as we spotted the authentically muddy unpaved central street, peppered with horse manure. “The security staff can drive it up in the buggy, or you can take your luggage yourself in the cart,” the ticket-taker said.
“We’ll take the cart,” Mike and I said in unison. As happened on our last trip, we’ve begun to have what I call a Vulcan Mind Meld, sending each other texts at the same time and finishing each other’s sentences (twenty-nine years of marriage will do that to you.)
And that’s how we ended up hauling a sopping wet metal wagon up the middle of a the dirt street, literally running with water. I wore my new weatherproof coat, tearing off the tags at the entry gate, and was grateful for it as I pushed from behind and Mike hauled from the front and we made our way uphill through the mud, being commented upon by the scads of schoolchildren swarming over the place.
“Whose idea was this?” Mike panted as we reached the St. George Hotel, a former saloon and bordello, squatting in semi-restored bawdy charm amid buildings of similar era.
“Yours,” I said with a triumphant grin. By having Mike plan the whole trip I managed to avoid responsibility for any disasters that might ensue, a fact that he called me out on as we agreed yesterday that we wouldn’t grumble about anything that happened, no matter what. We were met by our landlady in period costume, and installed in a tiny room.
“Oh, what these walls have seen.” I looked around at the Victorian wallpaper, pressed-tin ceiling, and gold-cherub lamp of the former whorehouse bedroom, so small only the bed fit in. But then, that’s all it had needed.
I shuddered at the thought of being a woman of that era. Choices for women were slim to none back in the day, and wandering the period town I was reminded again how small and hardy people were a hundred years ago. (I already know I’d likely have died with the appendicitis I got at sixteen if I’d lived then, or from the complications I had with my first child. It’s humbling to remember I owe my life, several times over, to modern medicine.)
As I did my perambulation around the town, Mike went off on another of his fishing-and-photography hunts, and came back just as all of us guests were assembling at 7:00 p.m. in the parlor for tea with our (changed into a lovely evening gown) hostess/landlady. I was a little anti-social, sitting at the wide dining room table typing away as everyone else socialized in the parlor, but that’s how it is being a writer. You can’t get the words down while talking to people.
Barkersville is definitely worth visiting if you come up this way. The staff are wonderful, the costumes fun, the businesses full of authentic and hard-to-find merchandise. The determination needed to extract gold from the earth is impressive, which I was more than boggled with as I browsed the museum in one of the buildings. And if you stay at the St. George Hotel, be aware it’s a bit of a schlep with your bags and better done by the staff (especially when raining) and it’s a sociable B&B environment, with a very knowledgeable innkeeper who makes a mean cup of tea and wears a period costume with panache.
Mike returned in time for a cup of tea, having seen a couple of osprey, two bears, and had found another great lake for fishing, though he hadn’t caught anything.
I’m okay with missing some adventures.