At first the road was well maintained and almost deserted and we made good time. As we traveled farther north I noticed the foliage was changing from large rainforest-like trees to thinner, taller and more densely growing forests, and the lakes were super blue with ice still on large areas of them, and the mountains had a lot of glacier cover. Pretty late evening we got to Bell II Lodge which was miraculously still open so we tried to fill up on propane, but when the desk worker phoned the propane guy he laughed at her and told us we would have to wait until morning. The further north we got the less services there were and the earlier they closed, so this was no surprise to us. We backtracked a couple of kilometers and camped out at the Bell II Crossing rest stop on a lake. You’re not supposed to camp overnight at rest stops but it was still early in the season with not many people around and the Boogie Bus can be pretty self contained we figured no one would know or care, and no one did. We got up earlyish for us and went back to Bell II Lodge and while Step dealt with the propane I used the bathroom, where I ran into Sara who I had worked with briefly last year. What a small western hemisphere! She was also headed toward Whitehorse with her boyfriend Quintin who had a job to get to there.
When you’re driving the Stewart-Cassiar highway in May there are not a lot of gas stations or communities or rest stops or other travelers. Towns that look major on the map usually turn out to be one gas station/convenience store with maybe a few houses nearby. Every long now and again you come to a roadside attraction such as Jade City where you can get a free cup of watery coffee, wash your face with hot water, and learn that 90% of the world’s jade come from BC. So you tend to see the same people over and over as you go down the road and we ran into Sara and Quintin a lot. At Dease Lake we all ended up at a place called Arctic Excavating that was a hugely spread out wrecking yard/towing/gas station. I reckon any vehicle that dies on the Stewart-Cassiar ends it’s days there to be canabilised for parts as needed. There was a crusty old grease smeared proprietor named Bill who had a cigarette dangling out of the corner of his mouth, and a surprising number of patrons that Bill wasn’t in a hurry to attend to. Besides us, there was a Ministry of Transportation worker waiting for propane who got impatient and decided to go “elsewhere” only to return about 10 minutes later because there is no elsewhere. Bill started helping us and after a few minutes of cursing our newfangled propane conversion system and announcing our tank pressure had to be bled, got distracted and went off to help someone else. You just can’t be in a hurry when you’re anywhere on that road. Sara and Quintin had been having car troubles and were there for fluid changes.
After Dease Lake the road became pitted and gravel and we knew we wouldn’t put behind the kilometres we were ambitious for, we all planned to meet and camp overnight at Boya Lake, which Sara had been told by a local was a Can’t Miss Place. This turned out to be excellent advice. Since it was low season we managed to snag 2 side by side sites right on the lake, which was that unreal teal colour I’ve only before seen on the Mediterranean (caused by the copper content of the water, I am told). The water is so still and clear when I stood on the dock the bottom looked about one foot deep, but I could see a ladder with steps so I knew it was a lot more. After a walk through the poplar groves and admiring the spring crocuses we had a fire and a stone soup dinner of hamburgers, salad and pasta, with which drinks and merriment were also had. The Boogie Bus was belting out tunes and when the mosquitoes got unbearable we went inside it and played a noisy game of Pit. Yes, if anyone else had been camping nearby we would have been “those people”.
It’s called the Land of the Midnight Sun, but in May it’s more the Land of Perpetual Twilight Until Dawn because the sun goes down but it never gets actually dark. We all went to bed pretty late. Sara and Quintin got to watch some giant beavers from their tent but Step and I never saw them.
In our drunken joy of the night before we had planned a fried egg breakfast but in the sober light of day granola and an early roll-out seemed more practical. We were a mere 100 clicks or so to the junction of the Alaska highway and we made it in short time with one exciting mother and baby moose enocunter. The woman at the store at the junction, where I was able to purchase a guide to edible berries of the region, assured us the road conditions would be better, which was a relief. You know, I am grateful for any road at all but driving that sparsely used road when it hasn’t yet been repaired from the ravages of winter is a challenge that I likened it to a kind of tedious, tiring video game, so a road you could actually make some speed on was refreshing.