A room with a jacuzzi tub was not needed. I finished writing then rolled over and went to sleep. The alarm went off at 4:30 but I spent the next 20 minutes not wanting to get up. When we laid down I had felt the wiriness of the bed and the pillows used to be fluffy but were now flat unless crumpled into a ball. These in no way disturbed my sleep. Sunrise was due at 5am and when we walked out of the room we were met with light, a rainbow of cloud colors, and a heavy fog that was thick on the road and through the trees.
We learned of Barkerville yesterday via billboard and were told last night that it’s worth a visit. We will head that way this morning – north on 97 and a right on the 26. Before leaving Quesnel I see the Fraser River foot bridge and quickly park. It’s the longest wooden truss bridge in the world at 831ft – over the longest river running 854 miles through BC. It’s part of their lake park with over 8km of walking trail available. The fog is still thick and we’re possibly distracted by the train when we make the turn and pass the largest gold pan. The Cottonwood House is still closed when we get there, but we feed the two white horses some hay before leaving.
We are driving down the road like we do anywhere – glancing everywhere to not miss anything. I start to get hungry and begin my breakfast of sesame garlic bread with peppered brie when Caleb screams, “A FUCKING BEAR!” This wasn’t just some ordinary brown bear, this was our first bear sighting in nature ever, and in Canada! I love this country. I pull over quickly, take a picture of it in the side mirror as we wait for a car to pass, and we are thrilled that it’s still there eating grass when we turn around. I pull over to the half shoulder available and inch the car closer. We are able to get within 30 feet of this wild animal before he scampers off into the trees. Sparky wanted to make dying noises at the bear – part of me wanted him to so that it would attract the bear for a great photo, but the other part finds his whining annoying and possibly detrimental to the rest of a successful trip.
At this moment we are almost in agreement to turn around. We’ve been traveling for six years now and always looking for bears. Today we saw one and were satisfied. Thinking that was the end of our luck I continued on… slowly. I got back to eating when Caleb screamed, “A MOOSE!” I thought he had to be kidding, but that didn’t stop me from whipping the car around causing bread and cheese to go flying around the car – the brie leaving a skid mark on Caleb’s pants as it made its way to the floor. He pointed to the long-nosed, four-legged creature standing in the clearing next to the river among the trees. He was right, and I quote myself, “I just saw a moose pee in the wild, giggle, giggle”. He had now spotted two animals that we had never seen together – he’s seen moose before, and beavers while we’re on the topic.
Our day was great, grand, fantastic. I wanted to pinch myself to know if it was real, but before I can I see a furry butt go into the ditch of the road and a bear head pop up on the other side. This guy is hauling ass and I don’t get a good picture, but this is proving that less sleep is more proficient to a better vacation. I’m thinking we will load up on legal uppers and spend a night looking for animals. We stop at Jack of Clubs Lake to let the dogs eat and to get a picture of the layer of ice with snow on top of the water. There is more snow on the roadside and the temperature is 38 degrees.
We make it down to Barkerville, the largest historic site in B.C., and though it seems closed the gate is open as are some of the doors of the buildings – museum, church, house, blacksmith shop. Employees are stocking the candy shop on our way out. It’s nice to walk around town and imagine what life was like here, which is easy because the wagon could easily hook up to the large stallion in his stall eating oats, the preacher could take his place at the podium, and families could be waking up from their beds, getting their hairs repaired, and their teeth pulled (painlessly). There is a stream of melted ice flowing by as a makeshift moat for minnows and I enjoy listening to the running water and the chirping birds in the trees – what a magical place.
The road we took to get here looks different on the return trip – obviously, but instead of bears this time we see construction, and lots of it, but it doesn’t slow us down much – the RVs that the semis are trying to pass do. We also see lots of rabbits, two grouse, a bald eagle, a turkey, and a fox that we are able to turn around and wait for three vehicles to pass before getting close to him. As we drive away I recall to Caleb that we are Jr. Rangers and should remember to keep our distance, not see how close we can get before they run away because that ruins their natural schedule. He reminds me that that’s only for parks and the States and that we happen to be in neither. We agree to disagree.
Also along the road are fields of fat Hereford cows and horses frolicking and a few deer. All this excitement and nice weather (58-65 degrees) has worked up an appetite and we stop at Thanh Vu, a Vietnamese restaurant, for lunch. We are the only customers when we walk in and get seated along an empty wall of booths. Before I can get discouraged about the quality of the place we are quickly joined by retirees, a lovely couple, some guys on break from work, other foreigners, and some locals that know what they want without a menu.
I get rice noodle, tofu, and onions. Caleb got flat noodle with stuff, the most outstanding ingredient being the pineapple. I enjoy experimenting with different fruits and veggies in meals where they are not expected and appreciate that they do too. We get half of mine to-go and continue north. We drive for another hour or two and then stop at a grocery store to stretch our legs and buy salad and stuffed red peppers and more food for the dogs.
Our next stop will be the park in Houston with the largest fly-fishing reel, with an 800 pound rod, where there is plenty of grass available for Sparky to play ball. There is a 3-tonne grinding stone that was used to crush silver into fine particles for a mining company in Mexico from the 1500s to the late 1850s. It was presented to Equity Silver Mines in Canada in 1983 from its sister company while they visited to study the northern methods while their mine was under construction. There is also a wooden carving that looks like a dog and stone salmon on a rock.
Across the street from there is an A&W where we finally succumb to the call of a root beer float. What we get is a soda with a scoop of ice cream on top. After we pulled up to the window I tried to order curly fries with it, but when we drove away realized they were just regular with one sweet potato fry that Caleb got. Not the best either of us have had and it’s been so long since I’ve had fast food so it was a bit of a disappointment.
We stop to see the view at Moricetown Canyon where salmon are still caught on long gaff hooks and smoked at the hatchery by Indians. Near New Hazelton we see a beautiful dog standing in the road. In town, I enjoy the view while Caleb goes inside the gas station. We pass a sign that says North to Alaska and lists some distances north. We are surprised to see a sign for Gitwangak Battle Hill – a national historic site that we must’ve missed on the map. We take some photos and I see the long staircase – we’ll bring the dogs anyways.
There are probably some 200 steps – some to take you into a valley and more to take you to the top of a hill with quite the view. There’s the Kitwankul Grease Trail nearby known for the thousands of people, including children, carrying large boxes on their backs of rendered grease of the candlefish connecting the trade route between the Skeena and Nass rivers. On top of the hill was found remains giving proof to five houses having been there – the ones on the end on stilts to accommodate the edge.
The story is that Chief Nekt was an infant when his mother killed the guy that kidnapped her and ran away. He led successful raids against other tribes and his defines for their revenge was rolling spiked logs down the steep hill. When he was killed the place was burned to the ground and obviously abandoned. The descendants still live in Gitwangak and celebrate his history and have built a totem pole to commemorate his infant-hood.
This will keep us going until Kitwanga where we stop to buy more gas and pee again and wash the windshield one more time. The bugs out here are ferocious and we are thankful that I remembered the DEET and that the moving company didn’t pack it, but I have yet to put any on. I’ve only gotten bit once on my arm and another on the cheek. I would hope it was cold enough to keep them away, but I have to remember that this is the warm season. While waiting at the pump I texted my mom.
After I listened to her voicemail, J: 20cents/min for calls from Canada w/limited signal areas. M: How’s the texting? J: Free. Saw my first bear today! M: Awesome are you there for one night? Did you get a pic? J: It’s been 2 and we should reach Alaska tmrw. Lots of them! We got w/in 30ft. M: Just one bear J: 2 bears, 1 moose, 1 fox… M: What a great day. J: My thoughts exactly. (end messaging). I need to take a picture with my phone so I can post to Facebook.
Slowed down on the road, going from 60 to 45, growing more tired and cautious of the turns in the dark. While watching the third wild black bear we’ve seen eat grass a car slows down to pass us and then pulls over at the next opportunity. Instead of just turning around in the road we drive to where he is at. We are excited to see another bear and he has lived here long enough to tire of bear sightings, except for the Kodiak that evades him. We tell him we will keep an eye out as we continue.
Seven black bears on Hwy 37, five on the 37 and two on the 37A. Thought about asking to sleep at RCMP station and Caleb found motel, but it wants us to register elsewhere….so tired. The light is hard to adjust to. It was light before 5am and there was still light after the sunset at 10:30pm which caught us off guard and as we began to look for a place to stay the mountains got closer, the fog got lower, the sky got darker, the roads got windier, and my eyes began to get heavier. It’s cold and wet out and I got to drive by a glacier on the other side of a river while driving through multiple avalanche zones. I was trying to have a romantic moment with the glacier when I let out a one second burp that sounded like echh. Caleb thought it was cute and we both laughed.
We pulled up to a motel that told us to register around the corner at the motel, King Edward, that told us to register at the hotel across the street. We walked into the lobby and there was a metal door over the window with a sign that told us to check in the back, and if that wasn’t available we could call the night watch with the phone outside. We walked back and heard loud, drunk conversation as we made our way into the bar. There were four guys and a woman chatting about something and as Caleb filled out the form the words blurred on the page.
Tonight’s room cost $99 plus taxes. We went back across the street to grab the dogs and make our way to room 110 – the one across from the stairs. There is a nice mini-fridge with plenty of space that we won’t be using, a bathroom green from the 70s, and a bed that reminds us of home. Sleep will come easy, but I’m not sure about being up in time for the sunrise – that I may or may not be able to watch from our room window. Then we can go back to sleep for a couple of hours. We have another long day of driving ahead of us.