The Frozen North. British Columbia and the Yukon

Trip Start Sep 19, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Canada  , British Columbia,
Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Canada is expensive, as well as wet and although it is still technically in recession there is enough money here to keep prices and exchange rates high. The main thing we noticed is that nothing is cheap, not even the basics like milk bread, eggs and beer, and the idea of a supermarket doing a loss leader on say sugar is not part of part of the MBA syllabus from Vancouver Business School. However with careful husbandry from yours truly (this mainly means keeping Janet out of tourist souvenir shops) we squirreled away enough cash to take us up the famous Inside Passage on a horribly expensive ferry. We had to travel to the top of Vancouver Island for the departure and took the opportunity to try to find more clement weather at a place called Campbells River half way up the Island. We failed miserably and finally realised that when the newspapers here give the details Rain 40%.. they don't mean there is a 40% chance of rain they mean it will rain for 40% of the daylight hours. Campbells River would have been a fantastic stop, if the rain had, and we parked on a windy spit which at low tide looked like an idyllic meadow, but left us 10 yards of dry land either side of us when the tide came in.

Port Hardy (The Ferry Terminal) was an utter dump noteable only for the owner of a motel who took 15 minutes to answer his bell and then greeted us with "Well waddya want". We said “nothing actually” and walked out, and bush camped since we had to be at the ferry terminal at 5.30 a.m anyway.

The journey was scheduled for 15 hours and was going to cost us C$ 800 dollars but our luck was out and we measured 2 inches over the height limit. We could still travel but for C$ 315 more, so an expensive 2 inches one way or another. Driving on board we noticed there was only one car deck and that was 30 feet high so we felt really shafted. Still we were full of excitement, and raced to the passenger decks laying articles of clothing “German style” to reserve seats everywhere we thought there might be a good view. 20 minutes after the ship sailed we realised there were about 40 people on board a ship which took over 500 passengers, so we collected our belongings. We started off in fog but luckily it cleared after about an hour, and we were treated to some lovely views which you had to admit paled a bit after 15 hours since they were all the same. So the verdict from both of us was that going up the inside passage is not all it’s cracked up to be.

 There was a new experience waiting for us in Prince Rupert since the ship docked at 10.30 at night, too late to find anywhere to sleep. So we camped in a Walmart’s Car Park. You can do this for free, the downside being you are likely to be woken at 2.00a.m by a hooker plying her trade across your front wheels  Fortunately it was too cold and we passed a peaceful night, and awoke next morning for chats with the early morning Walmart shoppers.

 For us, who had seen no wildlife of any size to hear that some very rare Kemodo Bears (they are white) had been spotted just outside the town was exciting news, and I was on spotter duty for 250k as we travelled east. We saw diddly squat. Then some disturbing news…..the road to Alaska had been closed owing to severe flooding caused by unusually wet weather (oh really…we hadn’t noticed). Estimates were that it could take up to 2 weeks to fix, and there were we stuck in a town that didn’t even have one horse. We really couldn’t envisage staying here and the detour was an extra 1500 miles. It is pretty sobering to think that if a road into Cranleigh were closed the detour would be via John O 'Groats. Still our heroic South African friends came to the rescue. They had ponced some free accommodation just down the road in a town called Smithers, and invited us to share for a few days until the road opened. The Canadians we met here were really lovely and their hospitality was munificent. The Jones’s gave us a few valuable  tips on securing free accommodation from people you meet for 5 minutes in a Safeway Car Park.
It was in Smithers that as I went to the kiosk to pay for petrol the lady said "Are you First Nation". I looked bemused and she said "you know...are you Indian, because if you are you get an 8 cents discount per litre. I cheered up immediately, and told her yes , and the name's Tonto When I told this story to our Canadian hosts they were appalled at my treating a serious social problem with such levity, so heigh ho I step over the line of good taste once again.
Near to Smithers there is a small town called Kispiox and they were having a rodeo on the Saturday and Sunday. So we all went and it was hugely eye opening to see that nearly all the people around this part of Canada seem to have horse or cattle ranches, and since summer is only 3 months they play hard. The rodeo was fantastic, the skill and danger breathtaking, and best of all the kids participated as well, often putting dad to shame in the ropeing competitions… and to see 3 and 4 year olds riding sheep was illuminating  (they can really shift with an alsatian up their rear end.)  There are probably downsides to this way of life, and the fact that Miss Willow Lake 2012 insisted on having  her photograph taken with me, possibly indicates a shortage of eligible men who are not her cousins. ( Janet here…In his dreams)

We could have stayed a month in Smithers so nice was the town and our abode, and we were secretly sorry to hear the road to Alaska had been opened. However overlanding is what we do and so we set off. Foolishly our first stop was in the place reputed to be the mosquito capital of Canada, and this was an exaggeration. More like the mosquito capital of the World. I have never seen so many voracious insects in my life. They came at you in waves, and they were big and took 5 seconds from settling to biting. The only saving grace is that once they have a pint between them they seem to inject you with a serum that tells the others that you have already donated, so a total de-sanguinisation (there’s no such word) does not take place.

The beauty of travelling is variety and the next days bush camp was idyllic. Here we were menaced by bears rather than mossies, and from an experience of zero bears we shot into double figures within 24 hours. We even saw a Grizzly  but fortunately this was from the car. Although it was huge it was easily spooked, and Cecille B De Mille to my right missed the shot.

Here also technically our trip ended as in error we strayed into Alaska,  a town called Hyder. The road was a dead end, but as we returned we had to go through Canadian customs, who asked if we had bought any goods whilst in Hyder, which was a bit of a joke because it doesn’t have any shops that we could see.

Since Alaska proper (Anchorage etc ) is many miles to the North we were soon on our way to a place called Watson Lake in the Yukon would you believe, and here the locals are rough and tough and all look like Gabby Hays. It’s still not cheap though and although the distances are large we are travelling fast on a daily basis. We intend to take our time in Canada on the way back, and getting to Tok in Alaska is the number one priority at the moment.
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