From Whitehorse to Fort St. John, Days 14-16 of #MikeandTobyTravels

After the bear encounter, we drove on toward Haines Junction, planning to stay overnight, but the series of dive motels at the dip-in the-road of town were either full or too scary or both, so we pressed on toward Whitehorse.

I’m enamored of that name. It sounds romantically rugged. Whitehorse, Yukon. I decided I’m getting a t-shirt. Just outside of Whitehorse, we spot actual wild horses, a band of them, trotting by the side of the road—paints and Appaloosas, fat and sassy. Which probably means they weren’t really wild, but they were loose, no fences anywhere, and they eyeballed us with suspicion.

After falling into unconsciousness at eleven p.m. at the first motel we found in Whitehorse (a Days Inn, with musty dusty hallways smelling of mildew) we spent a little time exploring this historic and interesting town and I was on a mission to get my t-shirt. The Cultural Center was having a festival, filled with First Nations folks in clusters, groups and seminars. We checked out the canoes, which are higher and wider than Hawaiian canoes but also made from a single tree.

“No outrigger,” Mike said. “Probably didn’t need one because they had bigger trees to work with and could make the boats wider and more stable.”

We have our first really bad meal of the trip at the Edgewater Inn in Whitehorse, with bad service (a snooty young man who acted like he had better things to do and forgot us in a corner) and cold, nearly inedible food which we ate anyway because it was getting so late. (I mention this in case this blog has seemed like we’ve leaped from one rose patch to the next. No. I just usually focus on the positive. But this meal was also overpriced, so now you’ve been warned.)

The distance between Whitehorse and where we finally fetched up now, in the grubby trucker zone of Fort St. John, BC, is 827.5 miles, 29.6 gallons of fuel, and an average of 20 solid hours of driving through roads that vary from smooth, wide, and empty to bumpy, narrow, steep and covered with slippery mud and gravel. Our van is caked from axle to roof in a hard gray layer of dried-on clay mud.

We picked up a hitchhiker. I know, I know. It was Mike's idea. Two men waved frantically from the side of the road where a huge black truck with one of those giant steel trailers with a load on it was pulled up.

I was apprehensive, with my crimewriter mind, but the man was a beefy side of everything that's Canada: red-faced and hearty, a tad stout, wearing a T-shirt with a maple leaf on it that said, CANADA, eh? I relaxed and we opened the door.

“Oh thank God. I promise I'm not a serial killer,” the man, name of Kent, exclaimed. A fountain of information flowed as Mike moved the camping gear (there was no seat for him) and he crawled inside. He was a contractor, he and his workman were delivering stuff to a site, he had no cell service and needed to get to the nearest bump in the road to make some phone calls. Hearing we were from Hawaii, he told us he's been going to Kauai for decades to the timeshare his family has, and he has seven grandkids, and on and on.

We dropped him at a gas station/store so decrepit we were worried for him, and wished him the best.

All of the trucker-stop roadside restaurants we pulled into for my daily attempt at eating vegetables (laughable I know but necessary for my delicate personal septic system) have been colorful. My favorite had a store and cafe manned by a large beefy red-faced dude missing front teeth, with an accent so broad we had to ask for everything to be repeated (or perhaps it was just the missing teeth.) He made my chef salad with a handful of lettuce and buried under four piles of chopped lunch meat.

“Man-salad,” I whispered to Mike, who was having better luck with a burger. In the corner was an impressive array of pro-gun bumper stickers, everything from “We don't call 911”(with illustration of a gun pointed at the reader) to Gun Control Means Holding it Two-Handed (with illustration of Glock being held by two hands) I tried to take a picture of the rack of stickers without being obvious, but the shine on them ruined the photo. It's just interesting to be in a place where people love their guns so passionately.

We were supposed to camp a second night (last night was at the Liard Hot Springs, a very nice campground. We liked the hot springs at Liard, really truly hot, and such an interesting experience to be in the outdoors with that almost-boiling water raising steam all around, and ferns and flowers bending over to the pool, and lots of chubby Canadians lolling about with us, socializing.)

After 10 hours of driving today, feeling stiff and tired, we pulled up among the reveling Canadians (it’s Canada Day) with their happy loud children filling the Beaton Lake Provincial campground, got out, looked around, got attacked by flies and disappointed by the muddy edge of the lake, got back in, and drove to the Holiday Inn where we had showers and the Internet. I even swam laps in the pool, which felt amazing. I do miss swimming.

But back to the travelogue.

That 827.5 miles was mostly glorious, a sweeping vista of forest-fire-smoke-tinted, graduated shades of blue hills, stretching into infinity, and covered with the dark green of pines and spruce. The ribbon of gray rippled road has wide, treeless shoulders in Canada, maintained by the provinces. This wide belt before where trees begin is filled with grasses and flowers and that’s why, we speculate, it’s so easy to see all the wildlife we spotted, beginning with bison—first one, lolling about in a sandy patch on a bluff, then a whole herd of the massive creatures, complete with calves.

The babies were light-colored and wooly as lambs, and just as cute. We watched one nursing, his mom getting tired of it and sitting down, and how he relentlessly head-butted and bugged her to nurse some more, nudging and bucking and pushing on her. The cow’s long-suffering expression was priceless.

Mike spotted a brown bear eating clover in a roadside field, totally cute and not scary at all, and even a fox, trotting along through the grass verge with one of the prairie dogs we’d seen in its mouth.

The best thing about the long, long day of driving was the unspooling of the road, the green, flowered shoulders, and the sky with its ever-changing clouds. Tiny cottonball poufs, fluffy cumulous mounds, veiled traceries of reversing herringbone brushstrokes in fans and swirls made an ever-changing backdrop.

“I feel like we’re not really moving, but this scenery just keeps flowing by, never changing,” Mike finally said. We were getting a little punchy by then, and I said, “That’s just how I felt on the ferry.”

Even he feels the vastness of this country.

But really, it was a lot of driving, and more tomorrow all the way into Jasper—so I’ll go to bed now, and enjoy the feeling of clean sheets.

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