Last post we had reached the end of our journey north, over 7,500 kms of driving ( indirectly ) from Kelowna, BC, and camped for the night in the tiny Arctic hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk. While we were happy not to have gotten any ‘road rash’ souvenirs from the Dempster, one souvenir we did want, but could not find, was a ‘Tuk U’ t-shirt. Short for the fictitious Tuktoyaktuk University, I’d heard of them, but alas could not locate anyone in Tuk who would sell me one or who even knew of their existence. We would try later in Inuvik.
Like anywhere, heading ‘back’ never holds quite the same appeal as arriving at a destination but we made great use of the time spent retracing our steps ( at least as far as the Klondike highway, at which point we would explore some new territory). As always, we bumped into many of the same folks at campgrounds on the way back as we did on the way up, so renewed those acquaintances and compared experiences- these usually related to road conditions and wildlife sightings, or particularly appealing territorial park walking trails. By unanimous agreement, Tombstone Territorial Park ( at the bottom of the Dempster ) was the standout highlight….definitely a park not to be missed for any that come this way !
Off the Dempster ( and another self congratulatory high five for completing both the American and Canadian Arctic highways with no vehicle damage ), the Klondike Highway took us south to Carmacks and on to Whitehorse. Notable really for a lack of vehicle traffic more than anything else ( but more wildlife sightings as a result – 5 bears in all ), the Klondike highway was our first paved road after almost 2,000 kms of dust and gravel. While 2,000kms of gravel is tough in a truck and camper, spare a thought for those doing it on a bicycle – and yes, like the Dalton, we passed a few hardy cyclists while on the Dempster. Most notable was ‘Kamran’ , a fellow from Pakistan who had cycled all the way from Ushuaia at the bottom of Patagonia in Argentina ( our own longer term destination ) and, after almost 3 years in the saddle, was about 10 cycling days away from his destination in Tuk. Read his blog ( http://www.kamranonbike.com )…..fascinating chap ! Speaking of the interesting folks you meet in places like this, while overnighting in Carmacks we met a few young German lads who were ‘canoeing’ the Yukon river – we caught up with them on the stretch between Whitehorse and Dawson City. Cycling the Pan American highway, canoeing the mighty Yukon – we suddenly felt like relative lightweights doing our thing in the relative comfort of a truck camper !
Soldiering on south took us back through Whitehorse where we replenished our supplies, serviced the truck, topped up the propane tank and rotated the tires ( the combination of 1600kms of Dalton gravel and 1800kms of Dempster gravel had really chewed up our rear tires, while the fronts were in relatively good shape ). Lois had a distant cousin living in Whitehorse who had just given birth to her second child so we celebrated that while there – ironically the baby was born in the very same hospital as Lois – so it was nice to catch up and take advantage of the timing.
This week just must have been the week for meeting particularly interesting people – as we checked in to the campsite in Whitehorse we were parked behind a smallish Ford RV with an Aussie flag and map of North and South America adorning its back wall. Recognizing them as likely overlanders, I chatted as we checked in and found they were two Aussies, Roland and Arun, originally from Goa, in India, who had also ( like our Pakistani friend earlier in the week ) travelled overland from Ushuaia at the bottom of Patagonia and were heading for Tuk ( read about them at www.freespiritcoelhos.wordpress.com ). The typical travel tips were shared and best wishes exchanged before we headed off in opposite directions the next day.
Whitehorse had typically not delivered us good weather and apart from some sunshine as we drove in, this stop ( our third there ) was no exception. The drizzle that we experienced throughout our stay continued as we headed east towards Boya Lake Provincial Park in B.C. The long drive was uneventful apart from the many bear sightings, this time including 4 browns – rarer than the blacks it seems ( one of the sightings included a brown and a black bear seemingly playing together, something we had never seen before ). I can only say that Boya Lake lived up to its reputation – known as one of B.C.’s most beautiful provincial parks, we had to agree. Probably the prettiest park we had ever visited, a fact enhanced by the wonderful camping neighbors we met there, including Janet, the Ontario mum (doing it all solo) who we had crossed paths with at campgrounds in Eagle Plains ( both times ), Inuvik, and Tombstone ( and with whom we would cross paths with yet one more time). None of these encounters planned I should add !
Boya Lake is at the very top of the Cassiar Highway, a route we had not taken on our previous trip north due to forest fires there at the time. We were very much looking forward to our trip on the 875 km long Route 37 that would take us south through Boya Lake, Dease Lake , Meziadin Lake ( our next camping stop – almost as stunning as Boya Lake – and final rendezvous with Janet ) and on to the intersection with the Yellowhead Highway ( Route 16 ). It did not disappoint – in places, far more stunning scenically than the better travelled and more populated Alaska Highway that brought us north. The Cassiar going south, like the Alaska Highway we had taken north, delivered a comparable abundance of wildlife but perhaps the generally better quality of the road itself ( or the fact we were seeing it for the first time) made it our preferred choice – in any case, both great road road trips !
Starting at Boya Lake and continuing south we began to notice three significant differences from the trip up. Firstly, mosquitoes were starting to become a problem – to the extent it was actually difficult to get in and out of the truck and camper without at least a few sneaking in. We were very thankful to have started the trip in mid May as they become wicked up north by mid June ( and we had encountered very few in our time there ). Secondly, it was becoming noticeably darker at night making sleeping much easier ( north of the Arctic Circle in Alaska and the Yukon there was no darkness at all and it made sleeping a challenge). Our week closed out at yet another beautiful campground – Beaumont Provincial Park campground right on Fraser Lake, just west of Prince George. Dipping our feet in the lake we noticed the third difference; it was ‘Okanagan-like’ in its warmth, a sure sign we were not far from home !
I’ll close this post on a more unusual note. We’ve seen many monster RV’s and often marvelled at how much ‘stuff’ and how many ‘toys’ some folks travelled with; RV’s pulling boats, Jeeps, quads, small cars, some carrying motorcycles and the like. Not unusual at all. But, just outside Meziadin Junction, while taking a break at a rest stop, this pulled up beside us……look closely – yes, an RV ( from California )………… pulling its own helicopter no less !
Now we have officially seen it all.