Thanks. If you're talking about the gerry can on the back, Canadian Tire. Since I'm assuming you're talking about the air tank, I actually traded it for my old 13 gal compressor tank I had kicking around. Since the trade was free I went that way. Ask at any trucking parts/repair shop. Otherwise I would have spent the 30-50 and bought one about 2-3 times bigger, but not hard to swap later if I want.
Again, sorry for the delay, it seems it's going to take longer to write the story than it took to do the trip!
OK, well we were in Smither's now and our plan was to spend a few days at "base camp" acclimatising to holiday mode and spending time with some old friends. Figuring we'd leave on the following Monday, the 30th, we settled into relaxation. I don't know about you, but when I'm at home, I have avery hard time "not doing anything". I can't seem to sleep in or have a midday nap, especially in Summer. I have this ever-present guilt that I should be doing something, anything. Add to that the previous year of my life where I was balancing school and a bit of work, with a truck build. Well, when you go "away" for your vacation (and it doesn't matter where), you run out of things to do very quickly. The guilt just melts away. Since the only thing of mine I had with me was the truck and it's contents, I decided to make some work for myself, re-organizing the interior and painting the remaining parts of the bumper that had been welded a couple days prior to departure. Oh, and can't forget the photo shoot afterwards, cuz for one, well fresh paint just looks good, even out of a rattlecan. (Which I might add is how anything got painted on or in this truck, with the exception of truck bed liner, which was actually rattlecan as well, but used on many parts under the truck). Secondly, when you have a skull and antlers from something big and dead, well you gotta put it on your hood and take pics!
Unfortunately we had a bit of a setback and Ellen got sick. Being the workaholic that she is, I assumed it was just work depravation. So, much like some of the climbers at Everest basecamp, we realized we had to stay put and slip a little deeper into vacation mode before we would make our push for the summit. Since Canada Day was coming up in a couple of days we figured to stay till the 2nd and leave on the 3rd. This meant that our initial 21 day time frame, which had been reduced to 19 due to initial preparedness and departure delays. Would now be down to 16. We took a day getting to Smithers, and we had intended to lose another 3 at basecamp, leaving us with 14 days to cover roughly 7000km/4349m. We now had 11! This had boosted our daily average from 500km to 650km. Not a huge deal, but it meant around 2 hours a day that we would not be sitting around or doing touristy stuff, or sleeping.
At this point, there were some rumors of mutiny amongst the crew. Hobie, the dog in the backseat, while loving roadtrips and being in the truck back home, had decided she had grown tired of adventure and longed for the lazy days lying around her backyard. Ellen, (weakened I assume from her battle near the brink of death) was now realizing she was now gonna be stuck in the truck for 2 more hours a day with me, the lunatic that had dragged her on this road to hell, and the mutinous dog. I think she was tempted to join the dog in what I'm sure would have been a very violent and blood-filled overthrowing, had I not gone into diplomat mode and hammered out an agreement. I promised them both more stops for stretching, snacking, peeing or what have you. I told Ellen the whole point of a vacation was to relax and if going further was gonna stress her out then we could stop here for all I cared. To Ellen's credit, she saw through my lie and realized that what I had really said was "How about I leave you and the dog right here and pick you up on the way back?"
So There we were, 1pm on Thursday July 3rd. What we figured was day 1 of 11 in our push to the northernmost driveable point in Canada(in the summer). Oh right, we have to go back as well. Ok, so day 1 of 5 to get to Inuvik. We were still ahead of the game on gas since we hadn't driven much in Smithers, but we had spent a bit more of our personal budget than we had planned. All in all we felt pretty balanced as we set off on the remaining section of the Yellowhead Highway which would take us to the start of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway. The remaining section of the Yellowhead was more impressive than the peceding section from Prince George. One range after another with snow-capped peaks and awe-inspiring plunges down to scenic river carved canyons. And starting in on the Stewart-Cassiar, you couldn't help but feel like it was all getting bigger and bigger. Having the Altimeter was cool because it let you have a handy reference to put things in persective. One minute you'd be driving right next to a shore of a lake and another the river would be running way down below the cliffside you were driving along, yet both times you could be at the same altitude. Either way, there was a lot more up and down and twisty sections than we had experiencedso far as the highway picked its way through pass after pass and river crossing after river crossing. Before long we got to Kanaskan Lake where we would spend our first night. It was a pretty short day 500km, but the up's and down's combined with the twisty's and "occasional" sections of bad highway had meant it had taken us 6 hours to cover the distance. Not bad really, but being day one of setting up camp, we figured an early stop would leave us plenty of light.
Oh by the way, I've decided I'm tired of doing the math for you people that are still working with Miles. Most of the world has adopted the metric system and I'm a firm believer that you should too. That being said, Since I'm also sure you're all bright enough to turn a wrench, drive a car or log onto a website. I'm also sure that you can find a conversion site or use a calculator to. Sorry, didn't mean to be preechy or anything.
Kanaskan lake was gorgeous and our site next to the lake was great. It was also our re-introduction to the mosquito. Perhaps I should explain. Both of us are from Ontario and have dealt with mosquitos before in a big way. I've travelled all over Mexico, to Africa and I've seen bugs. Fortunately living in Victoria pretty much surrounded by water, I've seen a few dozen mosqitos during the 12 years I've lived out here. They just aren't around Even when you go camping, they're pretty minimal on the island. Well, not so once you're back on the mainland it seems. They we're in Smithers, but we had a house to go inside so no biggy. Once we had gotten out of the truck to setup camp, we were set upon by swarms. Quickly we remembered bug spray and covered up. I should point out at this point that Hobie is from Duncan a town just North of Victoria on the Island. She has no experience with mosquitos. Least not like this. Poor dog. We tried spraying a bit on our hands and rubbing her coat where she couldn't chew, but her face was the issue and she was in constant defensive mode. This is where our tent decision really shined through.
Since we had originally planned to built a RTT, but switched to buying a tent, we found one that had both a tent and a screenroom in one. the plan was to forego use of the poles supporting the screenhouse portion and using rope and bungy, attach it to the back of the truck. Unfortunately, this didn't leave as much room as we'd like and it didn't get sealed up as well as we'd have liked for mosqito protection. So instead we just set it up as a normal tent, and we loved it. We had bug spray, so going out to get stuff from truck or table or cooking etc...But it left a place where we could sit and eat or read and not have the bugs constantly around us or the dog. When moving, she was ok at dodging the skeeters, and it gave her something to do. But when we were at camp she got destryed. Unfortunatley she like to see what's goin on with Dad, so the screenroom gives her the best of both worlds. We picked a Coleman tent, affordable, relatively compact, and frankly it was more than worth the $250 we paid for it's usefullness. It has a pole supported D-door on the side to go easily in/out of the tent, but you can also enter through the screenroom. It also came with a lighting system that runs off 8 D batteries. Having started our day late at 1pm, and only driving for 6 hours, we would have to wait a few hours before trying out the lighting system to see how well it worked in some darkness.
Let me rephrase that. We would have to wait many days before we would be able to see how well it worked in the darknes. Assuming your all familiar with the axis and rotation of the earth in correspondence to the sun, and consequently the seasons and daylight we deal with, I'll skip any detailed astronomical talks and get on with the lack of darkness. It wasn't untill almost 11pm when we were sitting there reading, without any lighting, and it dawned on us, it feels like bedtime, but it doesn't look like bedtime. Being up North of 55 meant that it would not be dark enough by the time we were headed to bed to ever try out the lighting. This realization also meant that my choice to forego additional lighting for the truck was also a irrelevant. Oh, and regarding lighting, did I also meantion I had forgotten to fix my high beams? They worked, but only on flash. More about that later on. So, I started a routine of trying to take a picture around 10:30-11pm every night to show the difference in lighting. Thus bring us to the end of Day 1 and consequently Part 8. Part 9 takes us to Lake Laberge where they Cremated Sam McGee!
My apologies to anyone who I managed to get sucked into my truck tale and then seemingly abandon. I've had a bit of unfortunate family circumstances that naturally take priority over such things. However, I am back and in a position where I can finally sit down and continue if anyone still cares. If no one cares, well, fair enough, but I figure I should finish what I started anyway.
Maybe the fist thing to get caught up on is the numbers. When we left Smither's we filled up and the truck read 362159.Keeping in mind the odo is only recording 85% of the km's since 360k. Gas wasn't too bad in Smither's, and it wasn't untill our next gasup 345 km further north that gas started to get up there. Before we got to Kanaskan Lake, we had hit $159.9.
Day 2 would have to be a much longer day if we hoped to keep up our quota. So we were packed up and on the road by the crack of dawn. Well actually we wouldn't have been on the way by the crack of dawn even if there had been a crack of dawn. But 11:00am saw us on the road and headed North.
Today was supposed to be the first of my adventure days. On certain maps there was a trail connecting the highway to the next highway further on. Picture a triangle. The road we were on went one way and connected to the Alcan(Alaska-Canada Highway) which formed the top third of the triangle. What I wanted to do was explore the trail that went left and basically formed the third side of the triangle. Our plan was to spend the day getting across the wilds and rejoining the highway up n the Yukon. If need be camping somewhere in there for a night. Unfortunately, this wasn't to be.
Our first stop of the day was gonna be in Dease lake, which in case you didn't know, is the Jade capital of the world. We went into a few shops to get some advice on how to attack the crossing. We had GPS loaded with topo of the area, but I wanted to pick up a backroad mapbook for the area. My trail wasn't listed there, but a road up to the Tuya mountains was. Tuya's are a small range of volcanic mntns. They are located up and around Tuya lake and a Provincial Park has recently been formed in the area. Unfortunately, the word we got back from locals wasn't very positive. The one guy who seemed to know the most said that we'd be able to get maybe 1/4 of the way and we'd be stopped by river crossings. He proceeded to go on about he fact that we'd need "something serious", as he said this he pivoted to see what we were driving. His tone changed dramatically when he saw the truck. Man I built my truck for me, and I've spent my life not giving a "f#*k" what anyone thought of me. But when you see someones jaw sortof gape a little, it's a good feeling. He still felt that it could well ruin our trip. He said the small fist river was over the seat of his largest quad. No biggee I thought, but then as we thought about it more we realised that even if water wasn't getting into the cab, it could easily do something just as bad, or worse.
So, unfortunately, what was to be my funnest day became a day of compromise. Ellen didn't like the idea of getting past the first smaller river only to be blocked by the next and have to come all the way back and cross the first one again. Or that we broke down or got stranded out in the middle of grizzly country. I agreed that though I had no problem trying to cross a river that deep, with the speed and size of rivers in the area, we probably shouldn't chance it. Oh yeah, this brings me to point out that when you get up this way, the names seem to be on a different scale. What would clearly have been a river, a big river, back on the island, was merely called a creek up here, and river's well, they were like really long lakes half the time, but moving fast. Even in July, there's a ton of water coming down from those mountains.
So with a sadness in my heart, we decided to stick to the highway and reach our goal, then on the way back, we could decide how much extra time and money we had to play with. It seemed quite reasonable and responsible, so naturally I hated it, but gave in to the greater good.
Being the only highways in the area, you kinda figure when one met another, it was a big deal. Well aside from a small gas station back on the other side of the river, there wasn't much. Welcome to the ALCAN.
Unfortunately, I have to cut this episode in half. I'll finish the trip up to Lake Laberge tomorrow. I promise to get back on this right away, it's just that, well, it's my Birthday and Sunny, so I'm goin wheelin!
OK, where were we. Ah yes, the ALCAN. The junction at the end of the Stewart-Cassiar as I mentioned is nothing but one road ending in a T junction. You're in the Yukon now, and have been for a bit. 22km to the right is Watson Lake, home of the signpost forest, and 135km to the left is Swift River home of the, well, umm, gas station? maybe. OK to be fair, I don't even remember Swift River, but it is the last place listed on the map before the Highway takes you back to BC. That's right, for obvious geographic and historical reasons, the highway dips back down into BC for half an hour or so before turning NorthWest again and continuing back into the Yukon and onwards to Whitehorse. It's probably been a bit since I've gone on about the majesty and the beauty of it all, and for good reason. Every time our jaws dropped as we came around one curve or another, we were slowly running out of words to describe what we were seeing. This left us with the occasional period of dead silence as we just took it all in. In my own avoidance of any descriptions, I am trying to recreate for the reader that quiet solitude. Also, I'm too lazy to get the ole thesaurus going so hopefully the pics are worth a thousand words.
Wonder where that leaves us in the numbers dept? Well, it's Friday July 4th, 2008. We had gassed up in Dease lake that morning and, despite being "the Jade capital of the world", gas cost $159.9/l. 362669km is what the odo had to say. That was to be our last gasup in BC for a while. We'd gone around 1750km (adjusted) so far and spent $340 on gas. In my rough estimates, we were about halfway through our second third of the trip which I figured meant we we were roughly halfway and at this rate our budget for gas should come in around $1500. $500 under our alotted amount. Things were looking good except that gas was gonna get more expensive, but we figured we were sitting pretty as far as making it either way so we didn't stress too much.
works out to 20.5 MPG or 11.4L/110km
No complaints there either. For being in a fully loaded 4Runner and averaging over 80km/hr for the distance, I was quite happy with the little truck.
So onwards to Whitehorse! Well actually past Whitehorse since it was our intention to hit all the touristy places and other stuff that takes up extra time on the way back down. So a few "towns" later we were heading past Whitehorse. The lack of sunset really really helps with driving later into the day. You don't seem to get drowsy as quick and before long we realized Whitehorse was behind us and we would be stopping at Lake Laberge. We pulled into the campground beside the lake at 10pm, despite the sun being up in the sky, we noticed that most sites were sortof shutdown and sleeping for the night and so we had to force ourselves to keep quieter than the daylight would dictate.
Lake Laberge-Immortalized by Robert Service in his poem "The Cremation of Sam Magee". This lake was major portion of the Goldrush journey from Whitehorse to Dawson City.
Some luxuries- Some Organic Fair Trade Coffee we brought with us from Vic along with our little inverter and electric coffee grinder. It's amazing how many of those little "cons" of a trip can be offset by something so little like a really, really good pot of coffee.
On the way out-Another 11 am start for us. I'm awake by 5:30 almost every day anyway, on vacation it turned out to be around 7 each day. I can busy myself for a couple of hours each morning with the coffee and dogwalk, a little 420 time and a book. That can usually buy Ellen another couple of hours of blissful sleep. But then I'm ready to start dismanteling camp and packing up so I get Hobie to do the dirty work and around 9 she wakes Ellen up. 2 hours later and we're on the road.
So we were on the road by 11, but immediately stopped before we had even hit the highway. On the way out, one of the houses is the location for "Mom's" a small backporch bakery and coffee shop. Since it was breakfast time we indulged in a massive cinnamon roll and filled our travel mugs up and continued North! We didn't know it yet, but this was gonna be a hell of day.
By this point, we must have been getting acclimatized to our overabundance of scenery. Looking back at our pics, we didn't seem to take a whole lot between Lake Laberge and the Dempster. In fact having left at 11am that morning, we didn't take a picture for 8 hours! Well not entirely true. All the pics you've seen so far were taken with my camera. Ellen did manage to snap off a few here and there on her 1.3mp cameraphone, but we haven't really gotten around to getting them off her phone yet. Anyhow, she took one pic of the sign at the start of the dempster, 6 hours after departure. So the general point here is that we didn't take many pictures, but the scenery was still absolutely beautiful in a very much similar to Northern BC sortof mountain and valley kinda way! Oh one thing to note. When stopping for gas in small remote areas that just happen to be right next to rivers or river crossings. THE MOSQUITOS WILL FLY OFF WITH YOUR CHILDREN! It was crazy, nothing I had ever experienced could have prepared me for that, and since we weren't setting up camp, we were totally unprepared for their onslaught. That was the worst fillup yet, made all the more painful by the 166.9 price tag on gas. So on we went, windows up and licking our wounds, just being thankful we hadn't let the dog out of the truck.
It was 450km from Lake Laberge to the start of the Dempster. Average speed so far today 75km/hr(45mph) At the junction there's a gas station, store, restaurant, motel. We gassed up there and filled the gerry can. Well we didn't actually fill the can at first. I had brought it with our off-roading section in mind. Up until now there had been a gas station every few hundred k at the worst so we didn't fill it. We were apparently into that habit since we drove off from the station with fresh coffees and snacks, started down the dempster, and before the pavement ends, there's the sign reminding you this is a dangerous area and that there's no services at all for 375km. We thought we might be able to do it, but remembering that it was all gravel road from here on, and the fact that it was already 5pm and we didn't really have much of a plan from here on in. So back we went to fill up the gerry can. Oh and might I add, including the extra can, we purchased 63litres of gas, @1.75/l So before starting the dempster, We had used $575 on gas and heck we were damn near there, we had driven 2975km adjusted and used 376l dropping me to 18.5 MPG. Expected though since we had really given her and there was a lot more up down and slow cutbacks with loss of speed, so what can you do but sit back and enjoy the scenery.
This was to be by far my favourite part of the trip. This "highway" was to be our last leg on the Northward journey. The complete and utter solitude is amazing and makes it seem very weird when you do see another vehicle. But worry not, cuz it's rare. That being said, you also catch on to the notion that there isn't any form of law enforcement in any direction for a long long way. Speeding however is barely an option.
The Dempster is almost like a living creature. It is constantly being worked on and repaired as sections are washed out from rain and winter runoff in the spring. We went through 5 construction zones on the way up, but only one on the way down. And a section of the highway had washed out a day before we came along. Since we didn't know what our plan was going to be, we stopped in and checked out various spots along the way. There are 6 Territorial Parks along the Dempster and most seem quite nice. Something changes when you hit the Dempster, you start to come out of the mountain ranges and before you know it, your in the middle of a valley on a massive scale. Looking around you in all directions are mountain ranges and valleys spreding out in all directions and you get the feeling of being very much in the middle of the beginning of the mountains. Well, you're on the continental divide. For those that don't know what a tectonic plate is, I'm not gonna go into a Geology lesson, but suffice it to say that we were driving along down the middle of two massive plates of the Earths crust. The pictures here are from our stop at Two Moose Lake. The first is looking back south at the mountains, the other two are of the lake and the foothils that roll along for a bit before starting another mountain range as we leave the continental divide. We'd be seeing it again 2 more times though before we got to the end of the road. The mountain ranges further north are very different. For one the obvious lack of trees as you are up in a giant valley, that itself is entirely above the treeline. Also, some of them seem like giant grey sand piles that have hardened. Either way, the lack of growth on these Higher latitude mountain ranges makes them seem even cooler and allows you to get a better look at the actual shape of the mountain ridges etc.
OK, this will be my last apology for the delay. Not because I won't be delayed again, but because you're probably as tired of reading my apologies as I am of writing them.
So without further ado,
After stopping briefly to wonder at the Continental Divide, we continued North on the Dempster. Slowly we started back into the mountains, only this time as previously mentioned, they were pretty much treeless. As we got a bit further into the mountains, the road started to follow the Peel River and the canyon it had been carving for however many millenia. It was here that we really started to get a top of the world feel to the drive. Stopping at a lookout that faced the Ogilvie range, which we had just driven through, it seemed like you could see across this massive divide and over the mountains and could still see range after range in the distance. Sadly our pictures really don't do it justice. There is something to be said for being able to see a long way. It might sound crazy, and living beside the ocean, I am frequently able to look out to the open ocean and see "forever" but it's really quite finite despite the appearance of infinity. When you look out over the mountains, much like when you look at mountains from an airplane, you get that sense of how small you are, and how small the piece of earth is that you spend every waking day in.
OK, enough waxing poetically to fond memories. You poor people trying to read this are real troopers, this vacation took us 3 weeks, but it's taken you months!
So we checked out the two Territorial Parks on the way up, but decided we were gonna push to Eagle Plains. Essentially this was the halfway point on the Dempster so it made for good planning. Also, it's not far from the A.C. And again, the long days meant that we could pull in to Eagle Plains at 10:30 with plenty of light to do well, anything really.
Pulling into Eagle Plains is, interesting. Having no idea what to expect from the halfway town of Eagle Plains, we made the rookie mistake of expecting a town. Eagle Plains, like many a gas station before it, has ended up on the map strictly as a "stop" for supplies etc... To be fair there is a portion of the side parking area that has been made into a camping area for 4 or 5 sites. There are a few apartments/living quarters(I assume for employees), a motel a restaurant/bar, gift store, gas station and garage. It is basically all one building that has sprung up around the old bar which was originally located in Whitehorse but after changing hands many times from gambling was relocated up to Eagle Plains. We decided at first that we would splurge and get a room, but to no avail as they were booked up. Let that be a warning to any of you planning this trip, if you want a room in Eagle Plains, perhaps book early.
I'm not sure if the sun ever set that night, but it never got dark. We set up our tent and made a bite then went for a walk around. Unfortunately I don't know the full history of the area, but it stands atop a hill that is the tallest hill of the plain. You can look off into the distance in every direction. The picture of the map is of the area above the Arctic Circle from 1855. Eagle plains is 37km from the Arctic Circle so we would be making our final push to the "Summit" tomorrow. For those of you who have been reading this from the start way back when I began writing this, might not remember the analogy I made about this road trip and climbing Everest, in case some were wondering when the hell I had been planning on climbing a mountain, I'm not. And so with thought of our turnaround South dancing in our heads, we made for the tent and headed to bed. We had setup late, like 11ish, and there were campers next to us that were on bicycles! Well they were up pretty early and so we didn't get a chance to cross paths, as such we had no idea yet how far they had come or would be going. I was up around 9ish and felt good about "sleeping in" I did my morning routine and since we weren't really pressed for time, started looking over maps. We had done the first half of the Dempster in 5 hours! With only a half hour drive to the A.C. we would be back down near Dawson well before dinner. Well, I guess that bothered me a little. Not sure why, just didn't feel right. We had come all this way planned and spent so much on this that it seemed a shame to not push for the Northernmost point the road could go. Distance-wise, it was another 375km to Inuvik. As Ellen slept, blissfully unaware of what was about to befall her, I planned and did some math and came up with a sales-pitch that would have to work.
Ellen got to sleep till just past 11 and we took our time gettng our acts in gear. We had some help from inquisitive Jays. So sitting down to a wonderful coffee and "fresh air", I pounced! "So, what do you think about heading up a bit further and camping one more night somewhere above the Arctic Circle?" I asked. The look was predictable, but it didn't last long and I think she realized she too wanted to keep this thing going a bit further. So with very little trouble we decided we'd head up and see how it goes. For now, the Arctic Circle awaited!
We packed up and gassed up and headed out. We passed the Cyclist on the way. Made me wonder how early they had left. Shortly we were there. It's an intereesting thing. Since really it's just a marker for a lattitude that was arbitrarilly picked with no concern for Geography, you'd think it might be a bit boring. Luckily however, the A.C. crosses the Dempster in one hell of a scenic spot. You're still essentially in a giant valley between two mountain ranges and this valley is still almost a km above sea level. So we stopped, stretched and took pics of ourselves as best we could. Luckily, just before we decided to head out, the cyclists made it and we chatted a bit and took pictures of each other for each other. Turns out he had ridden from San Francisco to Vancouver and met up with her, and together they had ridden all the way up to there, and they too were heading all the way to Inuvik! It blew my mind. I like riding a bike as much as the next guy, and really enjoy a good mountain bike trek. By trek, I mean 3 days of downhill and singletrack while camping. The thought of being on a bicycle seat for months and months on end just killed me, not to mention the logistics of bringing the gear you need and food etc...
So eventually we decided we should maybe get on our way and see where this day was gonna take us. Next episode, Arctic Circle to Inuvik, the final day North!