June 30 1977.  Sense and Nonsense

A few weeks ago we went on a camping trip up the Alaska Highway and into the Yukon Territories. On returning home we took the Stewart – Cassiar route to Hazelton, B.C. First of all I must insist that we had a good lime despite the weather. The reason I am emphasizing our enjoyment is because of the difficulty we had in convincing other people of this. I had written a day to day account of our travels and recently read this journal aloud to some friends.

One person remarked “Sounds like you had a great time, glad I wasn’t there.” He added “You should have left mailing addresses along the way. Then we could have sent you postcards from home reading, ‘Having wonderful time. Wish you were here!’”

As it was we were unlucky weather-wise in the Yukon. We camped near the Rancheria River for three days while the weather gradually worsened. A tent can be very comfortable in the rain with the proper use of plastic tarps and a little heat. However when the rain is combined with a multi-kilometer-per-hour wind gusting off the snow covered mountains it is a different story. Still I cannot understand why our friends misinterpreted the mood of my journal. On pages 1, 2 and 3 and again on page 14, I mentioned the sunshine. I also described the spectacular scenery, the wildlife and the interesting things we saw and did.

On every page I pointed out exactly where my husband tried to catch a fish. On the final page I devoted a whole paragraph to the scene where he finally did catch a fish. That this fish dwelt in waters quite close to home should have been incidental.

I would like to relate some excerpts from my journal which drew chuckles (mostly sympathetic) from our friends. “We camped just south of Chetwynd last night. We were starving and yesterdays’ stew sure tasted good. We used the gas lamp for heat in the tent. However it ran dry before 3:00 A.M. when Fern (our small daughter) decided to throw up (too much pop & ice – cream). It was at this time that I remembered where I had left the flashlight – at home naturally.”

“The road to Ft. Nelson was rough, rough, rough and it rained steadily. This morning Leon discovered his power-saw was nearly floating in the plywood box on top of the car. We stopped and he drilled a small hole and let out about 15 gallons of water.

“Last night we camped at Muncho Lake, a lovely, blue-green lake surrounded by snow covered mountains. A little wind during the night woke me up. It was stirring the plastic tarp on the tent. I suppose the ancient bear turd we noticed earlier prompted the dream I was having. The rattle of the plastic scared me half to death.”

Note : Some people have hinted that we were a trifle foolhardy to go on an extended camping trip with merely a tent between us and the bears at night. We decided not to invite the bears to our home-away-from-home for a midnight snack. We methodically wrapped every particle of food and any dirty dishes. Before retiring we placed it all in the trunk of the car. I refused to succumb to the urge to throw food particles and pour grease on the campfire at night. We gift-wrapped the garbage and deposited it in a far off garbage can. I hopefully believed that the hissing of the gas-lamp which burned all night (except the first night) was repellant to our furry friends. As an added precaution my husband kept his “bear tranquilizer” (an axe) handy.

“Yesterday we had our first car trouble. The signal lights quit flashing and Leon was fiddling under the hood trying to locate the trouble. All of a sudden I noticed smoke rising from the steering column. I switched off the key, grabbed Fern from the back seat, yelled “Fire” and hit the pavement in my bare feet. As it turned out it was no catastrophe. The signal lights had burned out and who needs signal lights up here.

At Laird hot-springs: “We hiked up through the woods, past the second pool to the first pool. The water in this pool bubbled up like a gigantic witches’ cauldron. A sign proclaimed that this water ‘may be injurious to your health.’ I suppose being parboiled would be “injurious to your health” as even the second pool was plenty hot – especially on the one end (It was nice after we got used to it.)

“At Watson Lake we heard the news of the outside world – that Pierre and Maggie have split up. The radio reception up here has been intermittent – mostly not. All along the Alaska Highway there are liquid outlets at regular intervals – gas for your car and booze for the driver. You can’t always buy food but there is no way you have to stay sober.

“At Rancheria they insisted that bait was not necessary to attract an arctic grayling. They told us a naked lure was all we needed. I bought a can of shrimp anyway (we ate it later) I also bought hamburgers to go (plain $2.25) a dozen Yukon eggs (the same eggs Robert Service wrote the poem about) and a pound of coffee. The coffee was only $2.50 a pound, a pre-inflation price for pre-inflation coffee. (We just used twice as much).

“The fish would not bite – bait or no bait. This morning we both had the same idea – let’s leave! It poured rain all night and the icy wind threatened to blow our Yukon based canvas home back to B.C. We have seen at least three motor – homes towing smaller vehicles. These vehicles are a mess. Smashed headlights, mud-splattered and rock pitted. This morning Leon noticed one big outfit with trail bikes strapped on the back. At least he thought they were trail bikes – completely mud encrusted with mud stalagmites hanging down.

“At Cassiar we could find no motels or hotels or even a laundromat. There were no stores to speak of at all. The 1500 people who live there must have their food and clothing handed out on payday. We finally found a gas station a few miles out of town.

“Well we did it! We said we could probably sleep in the car if we had to. Leon in the front seat and Fern and I in the back. Aside from the fact that my rear end kept going to sleep (Fern hogged the bed) and Leon was about a foot too long for the width of the car, we managed about 4 hours of sleep.

“At Tattogga Lake we found a small laundromat. Clean clothes! I don’t know if I can stand it!  Thought about a shower too. However, I had had a sponge hath at our breakfast – stop lake this morning. Decided that and clean clothes were enough shock to the system for one day.”

Near Stewart. B.C: “Fern could hardly believe her eyes when she saw a Volkswagen “bug ” caught up in a tree. Don’t know how long it had been there, but it was nestled up there quite snugly. Not far from there we passed an enormous piece of ice which extended down the mountain almost to the road. The sign said “Active Avalanche. Don’t Stop.” We didn’t.

“The Kitwanga Country grows the most enormous cottonwood trees. Every swamp contained huge prolific skunk cabbages. Also lots of mosquitoes and blackflies. Our B.C. mosquitoes are only ½ the size of the Yukon ones but they are much quicker. The size of the Yukon variety makes them more awkward and therefore easier to catch unawares.”

[Note 2018] My neighbor recently filled me in on the history of the Volkswagon in the tree. On a long ago road trip my neighbour’s daughter and her young friends had hoisted the “bug” up into the branches after its motor died. [So much for my theory that it had been caught up in an avalanche]

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