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.

Fort St John to, Uh, Let Me Check the Milepost and Get Back to You About that

Here is where I need to explain why I panicked about the windshield. I think I will seem a little less silly once I’ve shared this story.

A few years ago, en route to Toronto, someone threw a rock at my car from an overpass. The rock bounced off my hood into the windshield and the windshield shattered. There wasn’t a piece bigger than a dime left of it and it was everywhere in the car and in my clothing. I still have scars on my arms from being hit by the flying glass.

So, I believe can be excused for believing that I was in possibly great danger. 🙂

Back to that freezing cold morning in Fort St John, I decided to enjoy the drive to Fort Nelson and not worry about the windshield until I got a second opinion.

The first thing I had to do this morning was get gas. 113.9!!! At least there was service at that price!

It was an easy drive out of FSJ and I pulled over at the 10 Mile Rest area, a little ways out of town, to have breakfast.

Then I drove through a landscape that defies description–it was crimson, golden, azure, ashen, ebony, and verdant all at once. The 400km or so to Fort Nelson ate themselves up as I drank in this country that never ceases to make me weep with awe.

It was only about 1 when I pulled into the Fas Gas in Fort Nelson to top up the tank. I had to call the credit card company to remove a security hold (why do they apologize for those things?!) and then wait for a truck to get out of my way so I could pull out, giving me a break of almost a half hour.

Next stop was the glass place and I was told the same thing as I was in FSJ and by Croft and Les in comments and email–go forth and do the swap in the fall. The Fort Nelson chap was much more helpful, explaining to me how windshields are made, how they crack, and how having a windshield implode on you is practically a once in a lifetime event. That was good enough for me and I decided to push on.

I decided to save myself yet another day and get as close as possible to Liard Hot Springs Wednesday rather than Thursday. Mileage-wise the distance wasn’t much, but I knew there would be serious acrobatics ahead. I’d checked the forecast and knew the mountain passes were clear, something that could have changed overnight. It seemed safer to do a long, slow day when I knew the forecast than to head out without knowing what was ahead.

The mountains creep up on you after Fort Nelson and the stretch to Muncho Lake is truly not for the day dreamer nor the faint of heart. I literally inched my way down some stretches, geared down as low as I could, ignoring the column of vehicles behind me. Even though my heart was pounding, I was relaxed and in control. The sun was shining brightly against the snow and it just seemed like a good day to drive. I felt like a pro as I negotiated all those big grades (the worst was 8% compared to 14% coming into Pemberton!).

The joke of the day was the sign warning drivers of rock falls. They look a lot like the signs warning truckers of upcoming steep grades so every time I saw one in the distance I would slow down and move to D2. Better safe than sorry, but sheesh!

Coming on six, I was through what I believed was the worst and fatigue sneaked up on me. I knew I had less than an hour to go to get to the turnoff just shy of the Springs where I stayed last year, but I still kept my eyes peeled for an equally suitable spot earlier on. I found one that turned out to be much better as it was sheltered and getting so much late day sun that the rig was like an oven, enabling me to delay the turning on of the furnace. It took some work with the Milepost, but I finally determined that I was at the Sawtooth Mountains viewpoint.

By six thirty I had a pizza in the oven, a cold beer in my hand, and the water heater was working hard at ensuring that I got a well deserved shower!

By 8, I’d had a hot shower, eaten half the pizza, talked myself out of a second beer, eaten a piece of good chocolate, and read several chapters of my book (not necessarily in that order). It was still bright daylight out and this reminded me that I’ll soon need to relearn how to live in the sun.

At 9, I set the furnace to about 16 and went to bed with the cats and my book. I read until almost eleven, thrilled that I hadn’t had to turn on the furnace that evening. The furnace did eventually kick on, but much later than it had in Fort St John, and I hadn’t had to heat before going to bed, so I can say for sure that it was no colder than minus four last night. 🙂





climbing up to Summit Lake, the highest point on the Alaska highway

climbing up to Summit Lake, the highest point on the Alaska highway

lots of snow at Summit Lake!

lots of snow at Summit Lake!



approaching the Sawtooth Mountains (I'd call them the Pyramid mountains!)

approaching the Sawtooth Mountains (I’d call them the Pyramid mountains!)

slowing down for caribou

slowing down for caribou

slowing down for caribou

slowing down for caribou


Sawtooth Mountains viewpoint (not a very good viewpoint, btw)

Sawtooth Mountains viewpoint (not a very good viewpoint, btw)

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