Once again a reminder; unlike so many video series I’m not going to waste space and the reader’s time recapping ‘Part Two’. If you are new to this blog or you missed it please read the previous entry. I’ll pick this up on our departure from The Super 8 motel in Fox Creek, Alberta.
I awoke early on Saturday morning (09/23) to a deep rumbling sound; I staggered to my feet and peered out the window to see thick fog and the ghostly silhouettes of numerous semis parked on the access road in front of the motel. One of these was the source of the noise; had I known I might have tried for a different motel but Fox Creek is not large at a bit less than 2,000 people and most of the motels face the aforementioned access road. Deciding I was up for the day I figured it was good to get an early start and we hustled across the next ninety minutes to get our morning routines handled and everything collected, packed up and loaded into the Escape. I gave the kidz one last chance to take care of business, stopped in the lobby to grab some coffee and we were off.
My goal was Fort St. John (BC) which was 248 miles (399 km) distant. While not a long drive staying there was based upon the next town with any real lodging being Fort Nelson and that was another 237 miles (382 km) or almost double the distance. In addition, I would pass through Dawson Creek in 201 miles (324 km) and thus start my 1,264 miles (2,034 km) on the fabled Alaska Highway. Although the eastern two thirds of this road had been ‘okay’ on the trip down, at least by Alaska Highway standards, I hadn’t been pulling an 18 foot (5.5 meter) travel trailer. Therefore, I decided discretion is indeed the better part of valor and elected to reserve a room in the Fort St. John Super 8.
At this point many of you are probably wondering why I wasn’t using the R-pod to overnight. I could have done so as the water and battery issues had been repaired but this late in the season I was finding many RV/trailer parks were closed and most of those still open were offering limited services as in just electricity. Under such conditions I elected to continue to spend money and stay in motel rooms. In addition, my canine companions were spending most of each day confined to the back seat of the Escape. To then confine them to the almost as small floor area of the R-pod overnight just seemed unfair; while motel rooms are hardly palatial they offered much more room than the R-pod. Finally, my poor ‘little’ angel – Anana – is really struggling with arthritis so giving her a warm place to sleep with at least a rug to sleep upon was the least she deserved.
The fog was with us for the first hour or so and then the sun burned it off and we saw partly cloudy conditions. The Garmin led me on some very ‘back’ roads through northern Alberta and when we finally popped out onto a larger road we were crossing into British Columbia. I dutifully shifted my clocks to from MDT to PDT, stopped to fill up the Escape’s tank and we continued onward. We reached Dawson Creek around 11:00 and, as usual, the town was bustling with traffic. I never cared for Dawson Creek; the place reeks of being a ‘tourist trap’ and I just wanted to get through it ASAP. We did navigate it fairly swiftly and were soon heading WNW on The Alaska Highway with minimal traffic.
I had my first real scare regarding taking the R-pod downhill as we approached the Taylor River and the town of Taylor. The incline is 9% plus and it has a couple of sweeping turns before crossing the bridge over the Taylor River which uses that open steel mesh surface. I HATE such surfaces as it makes the vehicle feel as though it is shifting back and forth far more than it actually is which is disconcerting to say the least. I knew of this portion as I’d driven it while relocating and on the way to Montana but somehow I managed to space out regarding its approach. By the time I saw the Taylor Bridge in the distance and realized I was on the steep decline I was already doing 77 mph! In this moment I had another key learning; when driving downhill one must switch from driving with the tachometer to driving with the speedometer!! I shifted out of overdrive, checked my rear view mirrors and began to apply the brakes. Thankfully the descent covers a long distance and with no traffic behind me – at least in my lane – I was able to get our velocity back under 50 mph (81 kph) before the final sharp turn onto the bridge. I really berated myself for not paying more attention to my surroundings!! I knew this situation was coming up yet I allowed my attention to wander and almost ended up in a very bad situation. I’d like to blame it on fatigue but that would be a lie; I just became complacent and almost paid a nasty price.
We made Fort St. John in the early afternoon but the kind staff at the Comfort Inn gave us our room even though it wasn’t even 14:00 local time. I unloaded, gave the kidz water and then loaded ‘em into the Escape and drove to a small park on the west end of town. There we played, ran around and generally reveled in the sunny weather and cool temps. I then hit the local grocery for some food and we returned to the room for any early evening.
Sunday dawned partly cloudy and cool; we were on the road by 07:30 which was pretty early considering we were ‘only’ going as far as Fort Nelson which was just 237 miles (382 km). However, once again this choice was predicated on the knowledge the next lodging beyond Fort Nelson was just a single facility in Toad Creek which was another 117 miles (188 km) distant. This is ‘life’ when traversing The Alaska Highway; one must balance the distances with the weather, road conditions, vehicle capabilities, traffic and especially the availability of lodging. I also knew that road conditions were going to deteriorate once I was west of Fort Nelson and we’d be heading into the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. The weather remained partly cloudy and seasonal with limited traffic so I was able to make good time with a stop for gas. A bit further I found a small pull-out and I stopped so the kidz could stretch their legs, take care of business and drink water. We were entertained by a flock of ravens who are the equal of any Mockingbird I’ve ever heard with regards to a huge vocal repertoire. We made Fort Nelson in the early afternoon but the great folks at the Super 8 recognized me – actually, they recognized the dogs whom they adored – and allowed us to get into our room just a bit after 13:00.
I was able to do a couple loads of wash, get the kidz to a park for exercise and hit the grocery store. I also spent a few hours downloading my still and video files, organizing and cataloging them and creating yet another email update. A couple of the housekeepers stopped by to see Anana; she reveled in the attention and proceeded to get both of them covered in dog fur but they didn’t mind. We settled in for the evening and I decided Monday’s goal would be Watson Lake.
We were up and off Monday morning at 07:00 after I grabbed a cup of coffee in the lobby; I wanted an early start as Watson Lake was 319 miles (514 km) distant and portions of the road had been in rather poor shape on the trip down. Additionally, this portion would take us into the Canadian Rockies with all the steep inclines and the narrow sections around Muncho Lake (YT) were exacerbated by numerous blind curves. I also knew this was the first of two long throws of driving with very limited services. I knew I purchased fuel in Muncho Lake while heading to Montana but that was about the only open gas station on this leg. Thankfully there was almost no traffic and the weather held up although we did hit rain around Muncho Lake (YT), where I gratefully filled up with gas and we saw a rainbow, but we quickly drove out of it. The trip was quickened by the gorgeous scenery but I remembered my Taylor River experience and didn’t allow myself to become too enthralled! By mid-afternoon I found a scenic pull-out maybe 60 miles south of Watson Lake so we availed ourselves of the chance to stretch our legs and savor the view. The kidz took care of business and drank copious quantities of water. I was looking at the gas level as we turned into this pull-out and noted I might not make Watson Lake; as there’s no services in that stretch I elected to empty one of the 2.5 gallon Jerry cans into the Escape’s tank.
In another 75 minutes we made Watson Lake and began to look for lodging. The facilities were very limited but I found a motel (Andrea’s Hotel) which accepted pets. They had metered internet service but I was never able to get my laptop to connect. We went through the now well-oiled routine of unloading our stuff, getting the kidz water and exercise and settling in. The room wasn’t much even by Alaska Highway standards but it was serviceable. Having driven such a long distance in good stead and needing just one 2.5 gallon Jerry can of fuel to finish the leg I was feeling very good about making the remainder of the trip in fine shape. I’d been very careful to hold my rpm’s below 3,500 even when it meant slowing my speed to 40 mph (64 kph) or less on the inclines. I’d dealt with a couple of 8% plus declines and hadn’t had to brake much at all by planning ahead and kicking the transmission out of overdrive on such descents. I awoke very early, as in 04:00 early, the next morning and decided to take the kidz out for some solid exercise. We walked around 1.5 miles (2.4 km) and I watched the fog roll across the town. I was very annoyed to see a car with Quebec plates had pulled in front of the Escape leaving no more than maybe two feet (0.61 meters) of space. I’d parked away from the hotel along a sidewalk in an effort to leave the single vehicle spaces available but apparently they had filled up later in the evening. A large pickup had pulled in behind the R-pod but left almost 4 feet (1.2 meters) of clearance. I hoped the car would be gone by the time I needed to depart; sadly, this was not the case so I spent a frustrating fifteen minutes jacking the Escape/R-pod combination back and forth until I could finally clear the offending car. As it was very frosty that morning I left a: “Thanks for NOTHING!” note on the windshield frost and we departed.
Well, I guess this tale is going to require yet another installment as I’ve reached well over 1,900 words and there’s still almost three days remaining. Once again, I’ll leave you with some images from this portion of our adventure:
I can’t tell you how many times I parked my rig far back in an empty part of the parking lot of a store and come out to find it surrounded by little cars. It’s like they think my rig can protect their wee cars or something. People who have never driven a rig have no idea how often their thoughtlessness make life tough for us. I hope the Quebecers spoke enough English to get the message.
You hit the ole nail right on the head! The offending vehicle was a smaller car on the order of a Ford Fusion or a Chevrolet Cruze. I had a couple of other similar instances as the one at Watson Lake but not as egregious. I concur; if people who do such parking had to extricate their vehicle from a similar situation I bet they’d think twice before repeating their thoughtlessness. However, it might have been they arrived very late, were very tired and just didn’t even think about the consequences of their actions. That’s no excuse; maybe an explanation? I thought about a more ‘direct’ message but decided since I didn’t know the whole story my less ‘inflammatory’ note was sufficient.
What a huge scare! I love your photos- It is like being with you on your trip all over again!
Thanks Kris! I have much better imagery in the form of video but I cannot even think about posting it until I render it into the MP4 format and even then it might be too large. I will be pulling out ‘frame grabs’ from the video and posting at some point. Right now I have my hands full just getting the story pieces written and posted! Hah, and I thought I could do the entire story in just a two part series..!?!?
I am getting old… I called the Taylor river the Peace river when I wrote to you before your trip and warned of the steep hill one has to go down. Glad it went well with you because all I can remember of my last trip down that hill was me sandwiched between big rigs in 2nd gear tapping my breaks.
Hey Pete – I kinda thought you were writing about the Taylor River; that whole drop down into the river valley and then claw your way back up is beautifully scenic but also a potential death trap. I cannot image being sandwiched between two big rigs while making the descent! I was all by my lonesome (there was traffic in the left lane but no one was close to me in the right lane) on the descent and I was still really concerned. And I was mad as a wet hen because I was the one who had put me into this position! If I never drive that stretch again with a trailer, or anything like it, it’ll be too soon!