British Columbia, The Crowsnest Highway, August 30-31, 2008

22 02 2012

A Desert in Canada

A Self-Sufficient Mountain Lodge

You can drive from Nelson to Vancouver in one day if you put your mind to it, but we are pokey so we budgeted two days. We tried to visit some friends of Linda’s in Slocan, which is a significant detour, but when we finally got to their remote mountain compound, no one was home. They have a large yard in front of their forest house where they have a music festival every summer, and generate their own electricity with a water wheel in their creek. We had to backtrack down to the highway. The road was not a busy one, but it still had an organic coffee wagon on its side, so we stopped for some espressos. Back on the Crowsnest Highway (otherwise known as Highway 3) we picked up a hitchhiker who stayed with us until Grand Forks.

The Kootenays are Arid

Especially in August, the East Kootenays are really arid. A lot of Ukrainians settled in the area, and that combined with the dry grass gives the area a prairiesque feel. Or maybe that’s just me; for some reason I associate Ukrainians with wheat products like perogies and bread.
We really weren’t in a hurry, so we decided to set up camp early for us, and stopped at Boundary Provincial Park near Greenwood. It’s a smallish campsite that really has not much to recommend it other than it’s a decent place to stop overnight on your way to somewhere else. I took my Edible Berries of the Northwest book, which I had purchased at the Junction of Alaska Highway, to see if I could identify any of the surrounding berry bushes (no) and took a walk around the small campsite. There I saw a most amazing camping setup! Some people had a perfectly refurbished old Ford truck, and a perfectly refurbished Boler camper trailer, both painted in shiny canary yellow. I asked them if I could take a picture so I could share it with you. That’s road trip living!

Such Style!

Electric Boogie Bus Nights

Night fell and we were cooking away when suddenly the marine battery that powers the amenities in the back of the Boogie Bus failed. Against Step’s advice, I tried powering with the power pack. Electrical fire! Fortunately with a quick disconnect the fire wasn’t able to gain any traction and we didn’t have to use our little extinguisher; it fizzled out on its own leaving just the acrid scent of electrical damage. We were perturbed and confused by this, as we had just put in a new battery at Portage la Prairie, and had not had any trouble the whole time we were on the road. I suppose if this must happen, the last night of your trip is a good time. (A few weeks later we took the Bus to the camper van hospital, where they were able to determine the cause as some faulty wiring, which of course we had fixed and have not had similar troubles since.) We were still able to stay up as we had the LED lights directly powered by the power pack, as well as lantern and firelight.
The next morning, as a special last-morning-on-the-road treat, I fried bacon and the frozen toutons we had purchased in Labrador City. MMMMmmmmm, breakfast that can kill you.

Downtown Osoyoos

The Kootenays are quite hilly and you are on a high mountain side before you enter the Okanagan region at Lake Osoyoos, so you get an incredible view of this northern dessert. Even though Osoyoos is kind of redneck, I really like the hot, dry air of the place, as well as the shallow warm lake, and traveling through was a good reminder I would like to spend more time in the area. I have fond memories of visiting there with my family in my youth. There are a lot of vineyards and orchards, and it’s a true dessert so it has cactus and rattlesnakes. Most people do not associate Canada with such things, but I assure you they are there.

These Peaches Are Fucking Delicious

The fruits of the Okanagan are famous, and you will never find a sweeter, riper, juicier peach than you can there. All along the highway you come across fruitstands and U-picks. We went to an organic fruit stand in Keremeos, but the fruit didn’t look amazing and there wasn’t much there, so we backtracked a bit to Parsons Fruit Stand. Parsons isn’t certified but they grow everything organically. I bought a large box of peaches, some cherries, pears, plums, peppers and garlics, and we all had some of their sweet and buttery corn on the cob which we ate at pleasant orchard side tables.

Parson’s is Nice!

Then we had to drive through the Princeton area which is my least favourite part of the Crowsnest, because it has a lot of really steep inclines and difficult switchbacks, and somehow the trees are boring instead of majestic. We stopped at a particularly depressing rest area and ate smoked trout inside the bus, and in Princeton itself there was a bit of driving around looking for propane (we saw lots of tanks, but none was for sale to us) until we found the Husky on the edge of town. By the time you are there, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to Manning Park.

Manning Park Is Damp

Manning Park has the makings of a very nice drive through, unless it is damp and you are only hours away from the end of a summer trip that you wish wouldn’t. Also, we could really see vividly the devastating effects the Mountain Pine Beetle had had on BC forests, with the dead, red pines peppering the mountainsides. Linda, the most eco-conscious of the 3 of us, made the cup half-full comment that after all the pines are dead, the beetles will perhaps die off and the pines could grow back. (Personally, that can’t happen soon enough for me. I need White Pine needles to make medications if the apocalypse comes, but that is another blog altogether).
After Manning Park you get to Hope, where the Crowsnest Highway merges with Highway 1, and that is so in the neighbourhood of where we live I started to get really depressed. Then Harrison Hot Springs. I was driving and I kept driving slower and slower because I didn’t want the Cross Canada Boogie Bus Adventure of 2008 to ever end! It was dark when we got to Chilliwack, but since I grew up there, I know my way around quite well and I took the long way ’round to the propane fill-up. Even though it was past 10pm, I was grateful for the heavy traffic on Highway 1, as we got closer and closer to Vancouver, but the inevitable would happen (hence the descriptor “inevitable”) and we were inside city limits, and we spent one last night in the Boogie Bus on the street in front of Linda’s before finally moving out of the van and back into our loft in the hipster hub of Mount Pleasant. I’d say there’s no place like home, but despite how far we had traveled, when you have a funky machine-for-living-on-wheels like the Boogie Bus it’s like you’re just taking your home for a jaunt around your backyard.

Home Again

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British Columbia, Nelson, August 28-30, 2008

9 01 2012

Nelson, a Charming Town

Organic Espresso at Subway?

I am embarrassed to admit it had been 18 years since my last visit to Nelson (but even then I couldn’t believe how granola the place was). In 1990, Nelson had maybe 2 square blocks of shops and one night club called the Boilermaker. Nelson 1990 was the first place I ever saw a bookstore that was also a coffee shop. Nelson 2008 still felt like the-Nelson-I-Remember, except a lot more developed. It still has a lot of dreadlocked, patchouli drenched girls and boys wandering around in bare feet, but there are people in business suits, too. You can tell it’s kind of a lefty town because even the Subway sandwich shop serves organic espresso.

World's Best Hot Sauce

Most people in Nelson shop for food at the Kootenay Co-op, and we were able to get everything we could want there—kefir, yoghurt, Ebesse Zozo, which is the world’s hottest and most delicious sauce. We bought a bottle of medium spiciness, but when we sampled it later it was almost unbearably hot. I mean, one drop was too much. An insider told us there had been a TV segment done on Ebesse Zozo recently, and they had demonstrated how to make old school Grandma’s full strength hot sauce, then bottled it while filming. They only had medium labels so they put those on the super strength batch, then set them aside. Is it possible that this special batch had somehow made it on the shelf of the co-op, labelled “medium”? (In the future, medium Ebesse Zozo would never be nearly this hot to us). Rather than lament, we just trained our palates to enjoy hotter sauce, and I am am happy to say Ebesse Zozo is now available in Vancouver, and be it medium or hot we enjoy it on meals to this day.

Felix and Quinn at the Redfish Grill

Step Buys Our First Killer Bunnies Game

Jennie, who we had seen in Montreal earlier on our Cross Canada Adventure, lives in Nelson with her husband Erik and her two boys, Quinn and Felix (I love the name Felix. Is it trivial to have a child myself just so I can name it Felix? Only, if it was a girl, I would have to name her Felixia, which sounds really close to Felicia. On second thought, maybe I will just stay personally childless and enjoy Felix when I see him). I tried about a kazillion times to take a picture of Quinn but he made a face every time, except the time I snuck up on him at the co-op. I like to flatter myself I am mostly good with kids, but Quinn and I had an unusually strained relationship, even though I tried every way I could think of to charm him (and I did once or twice get an involuntary smile). I am grateful, though, that that did not stop him from teaching Step and I how to play Killer Bunnies. The game was suitable for players a few years older than him, and he wouldn’t let us look at the rules ourselves, so the version we played was somewhat garbled. But we still had such a good time playing it and he was such a huge fan we that the next day we went to Secret Garden Toys and bought our own copy. We were partly motivated just by a burning desire to actually look up some of the rules, but it is a purchase we have never regretted and have played the game many, many times since then, and have bought several expansions and introduced it to dozens of people. The clerk at Secret Garden Toys told us Killer Bunnies was a mad craze among the young folks of Nelson, and indeed, Quinn talked about it a lot.

Nelson Has Lovely Buildings

We also one evening played Pit with the whole Jennie family, but Felix insisted on playing by himself, (as opposed to on a special adult/youngster team), and as he was reluctant to trade any cards it was almost impossible for anyone to corner the market on anything, so we had to content ourselves with enjoying the free-for-all-ofness of it rather than any glow of winning a hand.

The Preserved Seed

Fresh Organic Street Food!

We visited quite a lot of funky cafes in Nelson; one notable one is called the Preserved Seed and it is run by a sort of—it’s not really a commune—it’s more of a spiritual community that has a couple of farms and an agenda of healthy, vegetarian food, agriculture and cooperation. We didn’t actually know any of this on our visit, but have since visited their satellite cafe in Chilliwack and have learned more about them. Nelson also has impressive street side food vendors (unlike Vancouver, where at the time you could only buy a hotdog from a street cart). Say what you want about hippie people, they have really good food. Jennie, not a hippie, but still a food appreciator, made us a hotdog dinner with amazing homemade ice cream in which she used coconut milk instead of dairy, but we did eat one restaurant meal at the Redfish Grill downtown, at we were served large portions of delicious fresh food.

Keepin' it Real

The people of Nelson are keepin’ it real, as illustrated by a story Jennie told us about local CBC radio journalist (right-leaning) Bob Keating, who became so incensed when local (left leaning) health care activist Earl Hamilton called him a “government toady who was not to be trusted”, that Keating sent Hamilton a box of chocolates which he had rubbed with raw chicken. Keating almost immediately realised the gravity of what he had done, confessed to his wife, and contacted Hamilton and told him not to eat the chocolates. He then sought psychiatric counselling, and was fired from the beloved CBC.

Nelson Farmers' Market

Hippie Shoppin'

We were lucky to be in Nelson on Saturday, since that is the day of the Nelson Farmers’ Market . As well as the produce and food vendors, the market has live entertainment and really good root beer. I tried to buy a t-shirt that said “Stop Wars” in the style of the Star Wars logo, but none of them fit, so I paid the vendor for the shirt and gave her my home address where she could send it next time she printed some. She did send it, but the printing was really off centre so I sent this back (how could the printing be so off centre, you ask? I can’t say, but it was in Nelson, nudge nudge, wink wink). Later, the t-shirt order bogged down and I never actually got another shirt. You win some, you lose some.

Cottonwood Herbal Demonstration Garden

Near where the Farmers’ Market is, (Fashion Island on Hardy Street), is the picturesque Cottonwood Herbal Demonstration Garden, which is organically planted with indigenous medically and culinarily useful plants that attract beneficial insects like butterflies and ladybugs. It has pleasant paths and a creek, and is a nice, meditative place to go for peaceful beauty.
We had a little root beer and lunch with the Jennie family, and Felix cried when I hugged him goodbye (tears of horror, not sadness, I’m sorry to say), and then we were on the road again.

Peace

Bonus Photo:

Linda Looks Like Cher in This Photo!





British Columbia, Crow’s Nest Pass to Ainsworth Hot Springs, August 27-28, 2008

29 12 2011

Step Aside an Even Bigger Monster Truck

Looks Like BC

Next we drove through the Crows Nest Pass, and it instantly looked like BC, with misty mountains and really big trees. I felt like we were home already, even though we live on the other side of the province. In Sparwood we saw a truck that was way bigger than the one we saw in Fermont, which I wouldn’t have believed possible if I didn’t see it with my own eyes. The Titan 39-19 is the size of a small apartment block, and can hold 2,000,000 golf balls! I don’t think that’s what it was built for, though, but they do advertise that detail on the plaque in front of it.

A Meal Made for Us

We were excited to reach Fernie because we anticipated delicious Hippie Food and went straight to the Good Earth health food store for a restaurant recommendation. We were floored when the clerk condescendingly suggested we buy our own food and cook it ourselves! Hello, we are enroute and living in a camper van—it takes us 3 hours to make lunch! So we thought that was rude. Other vendors in Fernie turned out to be much nicer, though, and the girls at Fresh, where we stopped for coffee, suggested we try Curry Bowl and that worked out well for us, with some nice fresh vegetables on rice. Also, when we asked the fellow at the gas station if we could fill our water tank, he told us how to get to the spring all the locals use to get water, so we were able to get real mountain spring water for free. I heart BC!

Free Water!!!!!!!!!

Not Mo's Yard

We planned to camp in the yard of our friend Mo, who owned an A-Frame near Kootenay Lake, and we got there after dark (Mo wasn’t there at the time). Her place is kind of on the side of a small mountain and there’s a really rough dirt drive going to it that has multiple switchbacks and it must have rained recently because parts of it were muddy and the mud was really slidey. The Boogie Bus isn’t a 4 wheel drive or anything, and we got stuck maybe 2/3 of the way up. We couldn’t go any further so the only direction to go was back down, and we couldn’t even turn around so we had to do it in reverse. It was a treacherous situation! Linda and I were outside guiding Step to not fall off the road and I was making a lot of noise to ward off any nocturnal bears. My heart was in my throat and I was unreasonably cursing Mo’s generousity under my breath the whole time.
By the time we finally made it back to the road no bear attack had occurred, but the Boogie Bus had lost a couple running lights, the bike strap was broken, and my adrenals were exhausted.

Toe Warming

We ended up going to a small provincial campground nearby, Lockhart Creek in Boswell, and it was busy so we were lucky to get a site. We had a few drinks and were disturbed by all the ATVs that kept roaring by in the dark. (When we awoke the next morning, we discovered our site was right next to the highway and the “ATVs” were actually ordinary traffic going by. It just goes to show how disorientating stress can be). It was almost September so the night was chilly and my toes were cold. Suddenly, I remembered the fleece lined Crocs I had purchased in Quebec City. I put them on and they were like little fur coats for my feet—very nice!

Leaving the Black Salt Cafe

Boswell is on Kootenay Lake, which is a long narrow lake with small communities on it. It has a provincial ferry that goes back and forth all day, connecting the highway, and it’s free! Before we got onto the ferry we stopped for lunch at a place Linda likes, the Black Salt Cafe. Lunch was Hippilicious, just like we always wanted, and they did all the shopping and cooking for us so we didn’t have to.

Ainsworth Hot Springs

Image from AHS Web Site

Instead of heading straight for Nelson when we got off the ferry, we made a short northern detour to Ainsworth Hot Springs. Having never been there before, I was imagining the hotsprings to be more like Liard Hot Springs, or Meager Creek (not featured on this blog), but Ainsworth was completely built up with a concrete pool. It was pretty all right, as far as crowded, commercial hot springs go. The worst thing about it was you weren’t allowed to wear any crocs or flip flops into the pool. I have a medical reason that this hurts my feet (actually, when I explained that to them, they allowed me to use my crocs, so points to Ainsworth Hot Springs) and Linda is afeared of foot fungus (not a good enough reason to be allowed flip flops according to AHS). The best thing was a crazy, artificial underground grotto that is off one side of the pool. The other best thing was on the list of posted rules was moaning or chanting are not permitted in the cave. WTF? Only in the Kootenays. Ainsworth Hot Springs was fun! But like I said, really crowded.

One shower and hitchhiker later, it was still fairly early in the day when we made it into Nelson, the most Hippie town in BC, and maybe even the world.

Hot Wheels





British Columbia, Fort Saint John and Dawson Creek, June 3, 2008

25 06 2008

Mile Zero of the Alaska Highway

Perhaps our brief visit to Fort Saint John would have gone better if we had bathed in the 5 days prior. True, we had gone into the hotsprings so we weren’t smelly, but the water made my hair stringy and I was covered in little sores and scabs from the copious mosquito bites I had sustained in the north. This is the only explanation I can come up with for why the 5 or 6 pharmacists eyed me suspiciously from afar as I waited at length at their Shopper’s Drug Mart counter to ask for a bottle of Florastor (which, to their credit, they had. Previous attempts to procure this product outside of Vancouver had only resulted in retail confusion). When I tried to put my recycling in the bins at PriceSmart the stockboy confronted me and tried to throw my recycling in the garbage! (One really great thing we found out is Fort Saint John recycles thoroughly and often—there’s Eco Depots everywhere).

 Because Fort Saint John was our first opportunity for technology in quite a few days, and because I wanted to thrift shop in small towns (where all the best finds are found) we ended up being there for a lot more hours than we had planned. There were phone calls and emails to be answered, and the thrift store yielded up a radical magnetic spice rack that Step said he had considered ordering for online more than once, as well as 2 jumpsuits, a dress, and a board game called Cartel which was only missing a few pieces and we have, at the time of this writing, yet to test drive.

Honey Place is Closed

R.I.P. Ernie Fuhr

Although Fort Saint John has by far the snazziest pamphlet on the Tourist Info Booth wall, we didn’t find much else of interest to us. The one attraction we had both been looking forward to was The Honey Place, home of the world’s largest glass beehive, which is right on the ourskirts of the town. But when we got there it was closed.  Ernie Furh, The Beeman, had died! This was a sad and disappointing moment. Butterflies and Honeybees, sufferin’ succotash, this is not my trip for visiting insects.

 Dawson Creek, also Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway, was our next map marker, and as we approached we go our first prairie lightning, and our first rain for the trip, and we stopped at Safeway for wireless (not operational yet), and then we were in the prairies.





British Columbia, Rocky Mountains Via the Alaska Highway, , June 2, 2008

25 06 2008

Unintimidated Wild Life

Step on a Scree

Now we had to drive through the Rocky Mountains. We enjoyed the lakes and massive screes. We had spotted quite a variety of wildlife in our travels already, and now came the mountain sheep. They were entertaining for their complete nonchalance to traffic. If one was licking something on the road (which they often do) they just won’t move until they’re finished. This delights travelers and aggravates truckers. Personally, I found driving the Boogie Bus along the narrow, twisty roads of the Rockies challenging and I don’t know how people navigate trucks or those giant mo-hoes over them. I was glad no sheep jumped in front of the bus.

Don't Let This Be You

Because of that I was relieved when we got to the foothills and some long straight roads. Our target was Fort Saint John, but just to stock up on needed items and perhaps get a bit of WiFi time (finally). Even though we made good time and drove late we got too tuckered out to make it all the way there, and ended up spending the night at the last rest stop before the town.

This turned out to be a very popular rest stop. When we got there there was already a truck, two mo-hoes and a couple of cars. Step went to sleep and I watched a movie until maybe 2. I went to the bathroom and was delighted to find a warm, well-lit bathroom with flush toilets and sinks with hot water. This was a welcome change to the outhouses we had become accustomed to on the northern roads. No wonder the rest stop was so popular! Walking back I noticed a Boler had joined us and now a classic Airstream was pulling in.

It was a good thing we really took full advantage of the full service rest stop, because it was the last one we would get on this leg of the journey.

A Common Sight on the Alaska Highway





British Columbia, The Alaska Highway and Liard River Hotsprings, June 1, 2008

18 06 2008

People Enjoy Liard Hotsprings

Watson Lake

The Sign Post Forest of Watson Lake

We had to backtrack a bit on the Alaska Highway, which was okay because then we knew where the propane was and I could get some of those butter tarts. At Telsin we picked up a hitchhiker named Andrew who was a native guy with a good sense of humour and a lot of stories. He had driven his daughter’s car for her from Watson Lake to Whitehorse (441Km!) and was hitching back to Lower Post where he lived. He was planning to buy us lunch as a surprise but we usually make our own food and invite any riders so instead he decided to buy us all the butter tarts at Rancheria, but alas, when we arrived there were only two left. I must say that one I ate was fucking good! And we took the generous thought for the deed, and the favour of the ride was well repaid in entertaining stories. We dropped him off right at his house in Lower Post around 5 feeling anecdotally richer for the experience.

Watson Lake

Wildlife sighting

Wild Buffalo of the Yukon

Our ambition was to get to Liard River Hotsprings and camp for the night. It turns out it takes Step and me forever to get anywhere, with frequent wildlife and scenic photo-op stops, lunch-making and coffee-quests, and we rolled into the hotsprings 5 minutes before they closed the gates for the night. The ranger assured us several times the hotsprings were open all night, even though we hadn’t indicated any concerns about it. The campgrounds were full but he told us we could stay in the parking lot, which was fine with us. The Boogie Bus is remarkably self-sufficient and we could get by for a few days without even a hookup.

These Springs are Hawt!

The first thing we did was walk along the boardwalk to check out the hotsprings and they are incredibly beautiful; lush with an exotic tropical feel with is quite an astounding feat for a nature site near the 60th parallel. There are 2 pools, the Really-Hot Alpha Pool and the Not-Quite-as-Hot-but-Deeper Beta Pool. There is also a composting toilet and a hanging garden, which we didn’t check out that evening. Even though it was after 10 it was still broad daylight and there were quite a few people enjoying the springs.

Mosquito suit

Mosquito Over Kill

We went back to the Boogie Bus and made dinner out of some dried pasta and bottled sauce. We usually do the dishes outside in bins and it was now Mosquito Hour. To get to the hotsprings you have to walk for a good stretch along boardwalks over marshland and the parking lot is right by this marsh, and the ranger had said the mosquitoes were really bad for this time of year. After being half eaten alive at Boya Lake I  had mosquito concerns. I put on a pair of long pants Step had, and tucked them into some socks. Then I put on The MuuMuu (because it seemed like the appropriate garb for the magically tropical hotsprings), and over that I put the mosquito top Lee Andra gave me, then some rubber gloves I always wear when doing dishes. After all this preventative outfitting, the mosquito turn-out was pretty pathetic, I have to say. It just goes to show, terms like “really bad” are completely relative. Boya Lake was our mosquito boot camp and Liard Hotsprings was our leave.

Made for a Human, but Mooses Like it, Too!

Liard Hotsprings

Nutritional Forests

It was after midnight when we made our way back to Beta pool for a dip. Because we were still far north it was still sort of light out but I guess all the other campers were tired from a day of hot soaks because they had all gone to bed. As we walked down the marsh boardwalk we had a surprise wildlife moment. A moose upwind of us was walking on the boardwalk in search of that nutrient dense marsh grass. We were pretty close by the time we realized each other was there. Everyone worries about bears being dangerous, but Step and I know a moose will actually trample you if it feels threatened, and here we had “snuck up” on this one. We stood still looking at the moose and the moose looked at us. People have a tendency to anthropromorphasise animals, but I swear we could see that moose trying to make up it’s mind if he should fight us or not. Finally we continued slowly down the boardwalk, still looking at the moose, and it relaxed when it saw we were moving away. I guess if we had any sense we would have felt scared but actually it was all midnight magical.

Liard Hotsprings

Can't Get Enough Pictures of These Amazing Hotsprings

Seeing as we had the springs to ourselves of course we skinny dipped. The alpha pool is more exotic but I liked the Beta pool because it’s deeper and not as hot and I could float to where the underwater springs fizzed and bubbled on my back. The alpha pool has different temperature sections so it makes a great spa experience.

 The next day I took the camera to get some pictures of the hotsprings but the access to the Beta pool and hanging gardens was closed off. Later while breakfasting at the lodge across the highway, I overheard a park worker say that the whole section of boardwalk had collapsed when they drove the ranging golf cart over it, but the golf cart was going so fast it didn’t fall with it. I dunno…it felt pretty sturdy when we walked on it. I think structures in the northern part of the country take a lot of wear and tear just because of the extreme weather, or maybe the parks don’t get enough money. They fixed it pretty fast, though. We have to go back some day and see those hanging gardens, since I never did get to see them.

Scene Seen from the Alaska Highway





British Columbia, Atlin, May 30 & 31, 2008

13 06 2008

Northern "Graffiti"

 After a long while of the dirt road it turned into paved road, and the “Watch for Wildlife” signs turned into “Watch for Livestock”. Our first impression of the town was how quaint and charming and friendly it was, with old-timey buildings, a huge beautiful good-to-drink lake and a giant snow covered mountain on the other side, a visitor centre that is always open, and a nice shower ‘n’ laundry for campers. Our second impression, as we drove around it, was it was kind of creepy. The only RV park was lakeside and right in town but all gravel. We drove to the campsite a bit out of town that was deep in forest but there was absolutely no one there and it was dark and dank and the stuff B class horror flicks are made of. We decided to go back to the RV park. While we drove through the small town again I figured out it seemed creepy because we hadn’t seen any people in it. A lot of the houses were still boarded up from winter and, like everywhere in the north, some of the businesses were closed down. It was almost 10:30 but that midnight sun made it be almost daylight and you’d think there’d be some people about!

A Float Plane Lands on Atlin Lake

The Pristine Atlin Lake

We pulled into the lakeside RV park and went up some tire stairs to the office door. While we were debating whether to knock or not a man came out and welcomed us. He was Norm of Norseman Adventures. He signed us in and gave us a full colour postcard of his RV park. He also gave us a copy of the Atlin paper. There’s only one edition a year and it was last year’s, but it was still interesting and useful with historical information and a map. Norm was so nice the town stopped being creepy and got charming again.

Atlin was one of the last discovered gold rush towns and had once had a huge hotel and a population of 10,000. It’s burned down twice! Now it’s main industry is hanging around and tourism, although gold mining is still viable and keeping the town alive. For a town so small it still manages to support 2 fully stocked grocery stores and 2 bars, so it’s probably the closest centre for the people who work in the mines and the ranches in the countryside surrounding it.

Step Records the Victrola

The little museum had a lady with a British accent who really liked to talk about Atlin, and for us she played a 78 record on the quirky Victrola the museum has. My favourite part of the museum was the yard. As I’ve mentioned, in the north you see a lot of yards with abandoned vehicles in them, and the museum was no exception. It was hard to figure out what some of the things were, but by far the most interesting was an antique steam shovel made out of wood! And metal. It had been brought in pieces over the frozen lake, and put together without block or tackle, in the early 1900’s when the town was booming. There was another shovel as well, slightly less antique, that some town guys with time on their hands had partially restored.

A Steam Shovel made of Wood

At the museum we purchased a thin booklet about the legendary Lillian Alling (or Ailing). She was a perhaps Russian woman who for unknown reasons walked all the way to Russia (via the Bering Straight) from New York!

Step at Atlin Falls

We went for a fairly long bike ride to “the falls” (beautiful!), and stopped at the Atlin cemetery, which has grave markers that tell stories such as “Found Dead on the Trail”, or “Shot—Mistaken for a Bear”. A lot of pioneering Atliners died young and of course were from elsewhere and had come to Atlin seeking their goldrushin’ fortune, so the cemetery was endlessly fascinating, although all the dead babies were a bit of a downer. A couple of the old-timers graves had propellers on them to honour their WWII air force status, the founder of the town had a giant phallic symbol, and one more wealthy guy had a stone cairn thing pronouncing him a “Gentleman Adventurer”.

We checked out the “Rec Centre” bar which reminded us a bit of the Anza Club at home, but not as friendly. It was a basement type deal with a  hard boiled blond bartender and a few town boozers sitting at the bar. The most interesting thing about the Rec Centre, at least for a gossip hound like me, was the note fight on the wall in which the first (anonymous) note lambasted a local couple for buying the restaurant and “stealing” the Rec Centre staff, and then a (signed) rebuttal note asserting the couple were saving the town by stepping up to the plate when no one else would, and maybe they hadn’t “stolen” the staff, but the staff would rather be there. It then challenged the anonymous writer to be a man, own up to the note and apologise to the couple. It was Atlin’s version of Craigslist Rant & Raves!

Robin Makes Breakfast

Step described Atlin as the Little Sincere Town that Wears It’s Trouble’s on It’s Sleeve. The people of Atlin love Atlin, and so do the visitors, and the businesses do well, but there’s a huge problem keeping it going. The richest person in town must be the Atlin Realtor because about half the town’s businesses are for sale. One of the grocery stores, the Ice Cream Store, the General Store, the Bakery, the Other Restaurant. You want it? It’s available in Atlin. The second day we were there Norm suggested we might want to stay all summer and work in the town café. We had seen it was closed due to lack of staff and once again if it weren’t for Newfoundland we could have been convinced, for I can’t think of a nicer place to spend a summer than Atlin.

Pyramid House

I thought it was funny and touching that the locals would try to enlist the tourists as labour, but later on a plaque I read how when the town was booming there was a little railcar that cost $2 to go 2 miles, and even at this exorbitant price sometimes the passengers were required to get out and push, so it must be an Atlin tradition. Norm also got Step to help him move around hosing for the water system. Rather than being an imposition, this made us feel at home.

On Saturday night we tried to pick up some local colour by hanging out at the restaurant bar at Atlin Inn, but no one else showed up until after-we-were-tired o’clock.

So we really enjoyed Atlin, even though we didn’t do any boating or float planning or glacier hiking, which is what mainly attracts people to there. Sunday we said goodbye to Norm and headed back to the Alaska Highway.

The Grave of a Gentleman Adventurer

Postcard from the Atlin Museum