To start let’s talk gas, or diesel in our case. For those about to travel the cost of diesel in Canada varies dramatically, more so than the cost of mince pies either side of the festive season! Also, such a purchase will generally be regarded as “a bargain” when compared to that in the UK, For example a litre of diesel for £1.30 is approximately $2.16 Canadian. Since our arrival we have paid between $1.01 – $1.50 per litre, which, when you are buying 200 litres make a substantial difference (In this extreme case about $100). It mainly stems from the amount of tax levied in each province but is also subject to how far from civilisation you are. Alberta is by far the cheapest where as BC is the most expensive. We have used a site https://www.gasbuddy.com/ which has saved us a few quid. Plan ahead and then you will have more to squander on the important things like genuine English Heinz Baked Beans at $3.49 a tin and can be found in most supermarkets!
Anyway we were on our way to Edmonton, and specifically, to visit the West Edmonton Shopping Mall, apparently the biggest Mall in North America. I was here about 30 years ago and was astounded by the size and variety presented. I had a good chance of scoring some major brownie points by bringing Mandy here for a visit.
We arrived and popped in to have a quick look and get some food. This was to be a flying visit with the full expedition to commence the following morning when a full day of shopping could commence, such fun.
As we made our way to BRBN St, an area that boasts over fifteen of Edmontons best restaurants and bars, and which is actually based within the shopping centre (Not your Lakeside Food Court!) we passed the full sized ice rink at the central point. This is more relevant than is sounds as when we returned the following morning said Ice Rink had become a car showroom for about thirty vehicles. Impressive logistics. We dined Vietnam style and then retired to an area in town where we could park up for the night.
The following morning we returned to the Mall, Mandy was very excited and dived into the first shop upon entry. She initially pointed out a couple of items that, although not on the shopping list, were desirable, but we quickly moved on.
What makes Edmonton unusual is that not only does it house a substantial quantity of the worlds retail outlets, it also boasts the biggest indoor theme park with roller coasters and other rides, a huge water park, a petting zoo and a life size replica of the Santa Maria, Christopher Columbus’ ship which you can hire for parties. In the “sea” surrounding the ship was a live Sea Lion show. Not all my cup of tea but each to their own.
A few purchases were made during the day at “bargain” prices, although I have not been authorised to know the exact products, to whom they are purchased for, or their “bargain” cost to the coffers.
We stopped a second night in Edmonton before heading north and toward Dawson Creek.
We had a couple of nights on route before arriving in Dawson Creek and the historic beginning on the Alaskan Highway. We took the appropriate photographs and then immediately left town on the route 52, an alternative route north.
This was planned as we had been highly recommended, by one of the visitors centres, to visit the are around Tumbler Ridge and Chetwynd. We got about 30 km from town and found a place to stop for the night. This was about 2km from the highway along one of the forest tracks and a large open space that is clearly a lake in the winter. This was where we got out first signs of wildlife and all around the water hole was evidence of it being very close by. Now, I am by far any sort of expert and happy to be corrected, but Google has led me to label the tracks below:
The next day took us to Tumbler Ridge, a small town that is famed for its discovery of dinosaur footprints in rock close to the river. As we arrived we were passed by a Landrover Defender, unusual for Canada where they are rare, that immediately turned around and followed us into town, someone who had heard of Mandy’s legendary cooking and was after some….. no! It was occupied by a great couple, Mike and Michelle, local residents, who promptly invited us to park the truck on their drive and have some home cooked food (They had heard of Mandy’s legendary food, it was a rescue mission!). We agreed to go over later but wanted to hike over to see the dinosaur prints which were a pleasant 2 mile walk from the road.
Over at Mikes we chatted about his extensive travels around the world and how he had met Michelle in Australia. He then wanted to have a look at the truck, very fortuitous, as it turned out, as he spotted some of the welds on the bike rack that had cracked because of the road conditions, and the bike (and spare tyre) was in danger of becoming separated form the main body and bouncing off down the road. This could have well scuffed the paintwork! Mike leapt into action and within 30 minutes the whole rack had been secured with 2 inch ratchet straps and an appointment had been made with a colleague of his in Fort St John to repair the damage. (The Canadian way apparently) Mike then cooked all of the dinner, prepared a “yard” fire and we wasted the rest of the evening drinking beer and talking rubbish in good manly fashion, whilst the ladies discussed far more sensible things of course. This retirement lark can be difficult at times. A great night was had.
Our continuing journey then took us the Chetwynd that hosts the annual world chainsaw carving championships. Following each championship many of the carvings are donated to the town and displayed along the streets. The carvings were amazing, and are completed in three days, here’s a taster:
Onto Fort St John and our appointment with a welder. We pulled into the premises and met Austin of Militia Muffler https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mulitia-Muffler/156548724391432). Austin got straight onto it and within a couple of hours, with the expert assistance of his new labourer, he had completed an outstanding job, without completely dismantling the truck, and we were ready to put the bike back on the rack and be away. Unfortunately as we strapped it up the bike toppled, to prevent another potential paintwork catastrophe I stuck my arm out to support it!!!! Ouch that’s gonna hurt. Still, the locals did not seem that offended by my language, they put it down to an English thing.
Back on the road proper, all repaired and raring to go, well Mandy was, as the next stop was due to be Laird Hot Springs on the Alaskan Highway. We trundled off along this famous road heading North. The area is renowned for wildlife and Mandy maintained a close watch on the surrounding countryside/woods. She was very soon rewarded and it was all I could do to stop her leaping from the cab when we saw a bear. I was not so quick the second time when, camera in hand, she was down and towards a large furry mammal feeding on the side of the road and for which there are numerous warnings everywhere about NOT APPROACHING THEM. I supervised from the vehicle!!
We saw other mammals for which I used the “big” camera so we didn’t have to get so close. After the initial flurry of activity and excitement we then saw several bears all happily trying to get fatter for the winter hibernation whilst members of the public continue to try get the perfect shot of them. There was also lots of Bison and some sheep just wandering around. They seem to get on perfectly well without mans interference.
There were lots of signs for Moose but they continued to evade Mandy for several days to come.
We are not sure how the following news was reported at home, it was very big here. Two young travellers, Australian Lucas Fowler, 23, and his 24-year-old American girlfriend, Chynna Deeseone were found murdered on the Alaskan Highway on 15th July 2019, a few weeks before we arrived in the area. A further local man, Leonard Dyck (64yrs) was next discovered close by. The suspects, two teenage boys were found dead a few days later, apparent suicide. thedailybeast.com/canada-murders-kam-mcleod-and-bryer-schmegelsky-teens-suspected-in-bc-killing-spree-found-dead
This has had a huge impact on us, and the other travellers we have met. There is a camaraderie on the road and if you are seen to be in distress others will always stop to help. Generally everyone is looking out for each other. People had stopped and offered assistance to the pair who had apparently broken down. All was under control and they were ok, a day later they were found dead. Whilst heading north we came across this small memorial. We wanted to offer our condolences to the families involved and say that our thoughts are with them.
Liard Hot Springs proved very popular with the Sparks family and having staked our camping spot Mandy was off with the speed of a young Gazelle in her haste to get to the sulphured, 40 degree, water. The thought of a hot soak had her in a frenzy. Effectively the springs are a river which is fed from the bubbling spring and therefore the water is ever circulating and fresh/clean. The temperature can be regulated by moving further away from the source. A great place to stop over, and worked out about £15 which included overnight camping in the Provincial Park. http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/liard_rv_hs/ I do concede that it was very nice.
Next, The Yukon.
We arrived in Yukon Province. The plan is to hit Watson Lake and then head west, crawling south and taking in that wilderness before the winter weather turns up in force. It is apparent that autumn is well under way this far north and the leaves have started falling in numbers. Mandy has added some additional layers and has the emergency fluffy blanket next to the passenger seat. I still have my shorts and T shirt on, you have to make a good impression in the Yukon where every red blooded male has a selection of axes and chainsaws mounted on the wall. A National Rail, “Leaves are falling, Looks like snow, quick shut down the service” attitude just will not cut it.
Watson Lake appears abruptly and we can see the far end of town from our entry point. This is a small community, one main street in fact, and looks a bit desolate. We can just imagine what this would be like at -35 degrees under a couple of meters of snow and ice, AND no pub. Er, no ta.
The place is however well known for one main feature, the Sign Post Forest that has sprung up in the middle of town. Started in 1942 by the US Army, Corps of Engineers, who were building the first Alaskan Highway, they put up a couple of directional signs, one of their number, feeling homesick, created a sign to his hometown. It has since been added to by numerous travellers passing through and now amounts to over 80,000 boards from all over the world. Naturally, it now has another one added.
The staff in the visitors centre here were excellent and provided us with maps and info for the next leg of our journey, Alaska, Jasper and Banff and some more pretty hairy roads.