The Big Horn Highway

Since I was going to lose an hour today, moving into Alberta time, I wrangled my butt out of bed by 8PST and was on the road within the half hour.

Gas in Dawson Creek was the cheapest I had seen since leaving the Yukon: 106.9. Having only a third of a tank left and heading into unknown territory I was going to take advantage of this low price when suddenly I remembered that several Alberta guests this past summer told me that gas is very cheap in Alberta. Having more than enough fuel to get to the next big town, Grande Prairie, I decided to see if this was true.

Immediately after Dawson Creek, you enter the oddly named town of Pouce Coupe. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the town lost its accent and is actually Pouce Coupé or Cut Thumb. As I said, odd name. 🙂

The first gas station after the Alberta border is a Fas Gas offering easy RV access, which is more important to me than price. Even when the price is 96.9. Ninety-six point nine. Ninety-six point nine. Less than a dollar a litre!!! I sure was glad I didn’t gas up in Fort St John (109.9) or Dawson Creek!

I pulled out the GPS for the first time in so long that it thought the nearest Walmart was in Fairbanks, 400km away! I put in the town of Hinton so that the GPS could give me an estimated ETA time. It said 2:30ish PST which felt like a reasonable driving day.

Out of Dawson Creek, one takes BC highway 2, which becomes Alberta highway 43. At Grande Prairie, you need to turn south to highway 40, The Big Horn Highway, and then it’s a straight shot to Hinton, gateway to Jasper. Thanks to Mile by Mile I knew to expect a good, but isolated, road with some steep grades.

Except for some rough patches near the end, the road was a dream to drive! The grades were all short and sweet and the landscape was amber and verdant as far as I could see. Which wasn’t far seeing as I drove straight into fog and snow all day. The conditions weren’t bad enough to pull over since the snow wasn’t sticking to the road, but the limited visibility meant for a slow pace. A lot of people honked at me today. With only a tiny handful of places to pull over, there wasn’t much I could do to soothe their impatience.





The RV park I’d picked ended up being closed for the season even though the website said they were open well into October! I was not pleased since there was no way to turn around. After driving hard for six hours, the last thing I wanted to do was unhook the car and figure out how to turn the motorhome around. At least, I did that instead of pushing on down a tiny road hoping to find a place to turn without having to unhook!

There were a couple of other options, the nearest of which was the KOA which I knew was open. Like many RVers, I avoid KOAs since they are very pricey, but I decided to check out this one. Lo and behold, a FHU site was just $30.90, taxes included. It must be an off season rate! I paid up for two nights, but won’t be hooking up the water and sewer tonight since it’ll probably go down to freezing. I’ll just finish off my fresh water tank with an indecently long hot shower and then refill the fresh water and dump the black and grey tomorrow… after I get back from visiting Jasper!

For tonight, I am debating driving into Hinton and having dinner… but staying home with a movie and leftover spaghetti sounds sooo appealing.  It seems that the more I settle into my RVing life the less of a tourist I become!

This is Awesome!

I can’t believe I’m boondocking and working on my main computer while surfing the net. If I could only get my generator back on line life would be perfect! My batteries are holding up well, but are definitely due for a good charge. Tonight I need to ration my battery usage to ensure I’ll have heat throughout the night (I have to wonder if the weather is ever good in Dawson Creek!).

Before anyone comments, I’m still having the same issue I’ve been having with the generator–no gas is getting to it and it looks like I’ll have to change out not only the fuel filter but also the entire line. The project is too daunting for words and I’d rather focus on finding a tiny portable genset, something with just enough juice to recharge the batteries but not actually run anything. I don’t need or miss 120V power when I’m boondocking and can’t bring myself to sink money into the onboard generator without knowing that it’ll definitely pay off. I’ve seen several possibilities for less than $100 on Craigslist, but I’m always too late. I’ll keep checking.

At any rate, thanks to Google (and Telus!), I have plotted my way to Banff, concentrating on getting to Jasper. I’d really like to get to an RV park near there tomorrow because the batteries need charging, but the distance seems a bit ambitious on an unknown route. I have lined up where I hope to stay and made a note of the distances between the major centres so that I can decide mid-afternoon whether I need to stop or keep going.

The weather forecast for the next few days isn’t promising. The prairies have been hit with a cold snap and there is a snowfall warning for Jasper. So, I’m highly motivated to get to a place where I can justify paying for hookups in case I need to hang out for a few days. But I am not wavering on my itinerary. It took longer than I thought it would, but I am finally making my way back to places I thought I’d see in the spring of ’09!

Attack of the Condiments!

It was impossible to get any work done parked in Fort Nelson. I parked along a side street, but there was a lot of pedestrian traffic of the youth variety and they were very rude and curious. Even though I had the blinds down, kids stopped to knock on the windows and once I heard a boy say “I think the car’s unlocked!” (it wasn’t). So, feeling a tad disgruntled, I rolled out of town.

When I passed in May the turnout that was my destination last night, it was exactly the same as in May of ’09, a nice pullout a good ways from the road with trees offering privacy and noise reduction. Unfortunately, the tree cover was thinned over the summer, but the turnout was still the best choice between Fort Nelson and Dawson Creek. I remember very clearly how hard I looked for a suitable place on my way up the Alaska Highway the first time!

It was just past five by the time I was set up and dinner was foremost on my mind. I opened the fridge to discover that an entire jar of French’s mustard had exploded over every single thing in my fridge. Getting a picture was the last thing on my mind; turmeric stains something awful!!! It took almost an hour and two rolls of paper towels to get the fridge spic and span. I tripled my use of the time by defrosting the fridge and also clearing out older products.

Next came a quiet evening–a nice dinner, a movie, and then to bed early (9) with a book since it was getting chilly and reading in bed under the feather duvet is so much nicer than sitting by a cold window in the study! I thought I would conk out early, but I read until well past 11 (darn that John Grisham!) until my iPod Touch ran out of juice!

I awoke this morning to sleet. When I finally worked up the gumption to get out of bed, I didn’t dawdle since I suspected the weather was going to get worse. I was right–sleet quickly turned to snow, thick flakes that melted when they hit the pavement but otherwise coated the trees and shrubs. The sky was grey and heavy. I debated whether to pull over or push on, and chose the latter since visibility was okay and the roads weren’t slick. I aimed for the Walmart in Fort St John but hit it much too early to stop, so I continued on to the Walmart in Dawson Creek where I am parked for the night.

There was one long muddy stretch that was a bit tough and covered the rig in a viscous layer of sludge, but otherwise the drive from Fort Nelson to Dawson Creek was good. I stopped for lunch about a half hour out of Fort St John to discover that my tube of honey mustard had decided to attempt suicide by jumping out of the door to the bottom of the fridge. The salsa either couldn’t live without the mustard or wanted to make sure it succeeded and jumped after it. The heavy glass jar of salsa landed on top of the tube of mustard with enough force to blow off the cap and squeeze out the contents all over the bottom of my fridge. The jar didn’t break, but the cap flew off and thick chunks of tomato and onion joined the honey mustard. Yum. 🙁

At least, it was only the bottom of the fridge that I had to clean this time… And I might be out of French’s plain mustard and honey dijon, I still have six other kinds of mustard to get me through to the next grocery day. Yes, I had eight kinds of mustard in the fridge. It’s my favourite condiment. 🙂

Coming up to the lunch stop, there were several signs announcing ‘severe grades ahead’, the kinds of signs that are badly needed on the Sea to Sky highway! Shame on BC highways! These ‘severe grades’ were just 8% slopes and I rode them down in D2 with no use of the brakes whatsoever, shaking my head at the two RVers who passed me at the crest of the hill, started down it at full speed, jammed on the brakes at the first turn, and then rode down to the bottom with the brake light on. Last fall’s incident sucked, but I really am glad it happened.

Tonight’s game plan is to research the first phase of my detour. I would like to get to an RV park in the vicinity of Jasper tomorrow (Hinton, perhaps) and then spend two nights there, giving me a full day to explore the town.  It would be a long day (equivalent to Dawson City–Whitehorse) and will take me on a secondary road, Alberta highway 40,  so I want to research this road to make sure it is RV suitable (thank you to Mile by Mile!).  When I debated going through there in ’08, many readers left me some suggestions, so I am also going to consult the notes I made back then.

It’s pretty exciting to be going east tomorrow into Alberta, but I am acutely aware that I am entering the Canadian equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle and I will be on my guard.

Prince George to Fort St John

I pulled out at about 8:30 this morning and was able to confirm that Prince George really needs to put more money into its signage.

Last year, I used my GPS to get out of town and wound up on a road with a bridge that had too low of a clearance for Miranda. This year, I followed the signage and found myself on that exact same road! At least, this time the construction was done and I was able to squeak under the bridge. I had to circle back about ten kilometres only to discover that I hadn’t missed any signs at all. I put on my four way flashers in a busy intersection and took out the GPS. It told me to turn right and that ended up being correct while the signage clearly said to go straight for Dawson Creek. The idiots probably changed the roads in that area and ‘forgot’ to update the signage, cheap bastards.

It was stop and go all the way out of town, with several people cutting me off, and I was pretty cranky by the time I hit the open road. I stopped at the Crooked River rest area for brunch and then my mood improved considerably as I pushed north into my beloved landscape of poplar and black spruce.

climbing up to the Pine Pass Summit

climbing up to the Pine Pass Summit

approaching the Pine Pass Summit


stopped for construction; the guy in front of me was doing some impressive calisthenics!

stopped for construction

This construction stop was memorable for the route that followed. We had to go behind a pilot vehicle and there was no room for error. At one point, my wheels were literally a couple of inches from the edge of a cliff, with the side hanging out over a ravine. I made the mistake of looking down once, nearly lost my lunch, and then focused on the road!

approaching ‘the other Dawson’

There were some pretty impressive downhill stretches all the way to Taylor, between Dawson Creek and Fort St John, and I didn’t remember them from last year. It just goes to show how barreling down a hill with no brakes teaches you to pay more attention to the elevation changes. 😀

It got colder and windier the more north I drove and the snow on the ground at the Pine Pass remained all the way into Fort St John. There were actually a few icicles forming on the exterior of the loft when I pulled into the Walmart!

I completely avoided ‘the other Dawson’ this year, but I still felt that tug at my heartstrings when I turned onto the Alaska Highway. Some things aren’t going to get old any time soon!

It was quite the exciting driving day, but it would have been a good day on the road had this not happened:

That’s probably going to be a total windshield replacement. The impact was such that there are shards of glass inside the cab and there are three cracks pushing out of the chip. One grew and grew and grew before my eyes and I thought I was going to have to pull over and call for help, worried that the whole windshield was going to go. So far, it doesn’t affect my visibility, so I’m holding out hope that they can just fill it with epoxy and buy me some time…. I can handle a chip repair right now, but not a windshield replacement! And before I get any comments on the subject–Yukon vehicle insurance does not cover glass claims.

Well, no sense worrying about this until tomorrow, so I’m going to turn on the furnace and then go make a nice dinner!

Dawson Creek to Just Shy of Fort Nelson

Wednesday wasn’t a very memorable driving day. I set off in snow and very cold conditions that were not conducive to stopping. I had hoped to take the ‘old’ Alaska highway to the curved wooden bridge over the Kiskatinaw River, but the turn off was onto a muddy road. I was worried about getting stuck and decided this would be a stop for the return journey.

Similar story at Charlie Lake where the entrance to the memorial was closed. It was at Charlie Lake that twelve soldiers were killed in a sudden squall. They had attempted to cross the lake with an overloaded pontoon filmed with supplies for the building of the Alaska highway. Five men were heroically saved by a local trapper.

Charlie Lake

Charlie Lake

I gassed up in Fort St John and then stopped at ‘Suicide Hill’ a very steep section of road on the original Alaska Highway that was prefaced with a sign that said Prepare to meet thy maker!


I stopped for the night at a turnout about 30km shy of Fort Nelson. I did about 400km, none of which were particularly inspiring. In this stretch of the Alaska Highway, services are still quite close together and the land is very open. I’ve felt more isolated en route to the Ottawa airport!

overnight at a turnoff about 30km from Fort Nelson

overnight at a turnoff about 30km from Fort Nelson