British Columbia and Yukon Territory, Canada

15th - 21st July 2014

What are the chances that Alan Fox, a friend of whom you talk often, the friend who pointed you in the direction of a career in computers back in Wales in 1968, a friend you haven't seen for around 40 years despite the fact that he lives only about 150 miles from your home, would happen to mention on Facebook that he was in Peachland, British Columbia on holiday for one more day, on the very day that you plan to drive through that town on your route to Alaska? Well if you were Phil, apparently the chances were pretty high, so it seemed we were headed to Peachland as our destination that day.

In our customary style, the route we chose to leave the USA and cross the Canadian border was a tiny backroad on the map, one we weren't even sure was paved. It turned out to be just fine and we surprised the Canadian border guard, two Welsh people showing up at his quiet border crossing. His family happened to originate from Wales. He asked us for some phrases in Welsh, a toast his grandmother had used in the past and which he'd forgotten. We weren't sure if it was a test of our Welshness, part of border security, but we failed miserably, having scant knowledge between us of the Welsh language. In any case he kindly allowed us into his country!

Our next challenge was to try to get hold of a phone SIM card which would allow us to have internet and phone during our time in Canada. Assured by the salesperson in the electronics shop that the Virgin Mobile SIM would work just fine for our purposes with our existing unlocked phone, we made our purchase. It turned out that the shop wasn't allowed to set up new SIM cards for their customers and we needed to do it ourselves online. “How?” we wondered, as our internet wasn't yet set up, obviously!

Hence, we made our first pilgrimage to the Canadian institution of Tim Horten's Coffee Shop, to avail ourselves of their free wi-fi internet access, already wondering if we should perhaps just have opted to drink copious amounts of Tim Horten's beverages instead of buying our own internet access. We were proved right when the SIM stubbornly refused to work with our model of phone. “Oh, yeah, it won't work with that particular Samsung model. We don't know why but no refunds,” we were kindly informed by Virgin customer services. Tim Horten's it was to be then........

We drove through the fertile British Columbian valley lined with wineries, the North American equivalent of vinyards. We reached Peachland late afternoon, at the time when Alan had told us he would be at the address we'd been given. Our GPS led us to the address with no problems, except for Harvey's misery at climbing the steep and winding roads to Alan's daughter's house in 95 degrees of heat.

Exactly at the moment we reached the address, high on the steep hillside, Harvey decided he'd had enough and passed out. We weren't too concerned as this had happened before when the engine got really hot and we were pretty sure he'd oblige in taking us down the hill again later, once he'd had a rest.

Alan, Phil and the unconscious Harvey.

We had a lovely afternoon, Phil catching up with his old friend and Christine finally getting to meet the man he'd often talked of and thanked for his influence in getting us to where we were today. On this day, perhaps more literally than on others!

We parted, promising that the next reunion would be much sooner and much closer to home and headed to the town of West Bank's Walmart to spend the night. Here we were watching helicopters tackle a fire on a nearby hillside and wondering if we should be worred. After dinner we were alarmed to hear a vehicle pull up right next to us in our spot, remote from the store as we were. We gingerly peered outside, only to find Alan and his family calling on us!

Despite our ever more northerly location, we were still enduring a heatwave and Harvey's tendency to run very hot was beginning to alarm us as we climbed up the hills of British Columbia. Ironically, he'd run hotter since we last had the cooling system flushed and we feared all was not well. It was time he got some attention before we headed off to regions more remote. We decided to seek out a mechanic on reaching the nearest big town of Williams Lake.

Next morning at 8 am, Harvey was being checked out by Sean, the friendly mechanic at the local branch of Canadian Tire. There was a small leak, for which he could make a new gasket, he also thought the cooling fan clutch was worn out and we should probably fit a new one. Les, the workshop manager leapt into action, seeking out the part we required, which he couldn't get hold of until the next day. It was fine, he reassured us, the guys would push Harvey back out into the parking lot and we could spend the night there. He also suggested removing the radiator and getting it checked out while the system was drained. There was a specialist just down the road. We could take the company truck for the day. Grateful, we took the keys he handed us and Phil got to drive his first big pickup truck.

We waited while the radiator was pressure washed and then leak tested and checked for clogs. The helpful man in the radiator shop suggested a large part of our problem was probably the million or so bugs he'd washed off the front of the radiator, victims from our almost 80,000 mile travels in Harvey! He also suggested that perhaps a fixed fan would be a cheaper option for our repair, so we put this to Les on our return to Canadian Tire with the sparkling clean radiator.

Sean and Les working on fixing up Harvey good as new.

After calling his buddy at a race car company, it was decided that a fixed fan wasn't such a good idea but offered to call around a couple of scrap yards, to see if he could find a used replacement for our part. Sure enough he tracked one down.

Is it local?' we asked in excitement.

Sure,” he replied, “100 mile.” Surprised that 100 miles was considered local but by Canadian standards it was probably possible, we offered to drive out with the company pickup truck and pick it up. We'd better get going, we suggested, if it was100 miles. At this point Les laughed and told us that 100 Mile was actually the name of the next town down the road, around 10 miles away! It was named 100 Mile House after the mileage locations of the roadhouse which catered for travellers in the old days of travel. By lunchtime we were back with the replacement part and Sean would put everything back together when he returned from lunch break. So, we got to eat lunch in Harvey parked in the Canadian Tire workshop. By three o'clock we were back on the road and headed to Prince George thanks to the wonderful help we received from Les and Sean! No more hot flushes for Harvey!

Next morning we awoke with a couple of dozen other campers in the Walmart parking lot, to be greeted by what appeared to be the end of the world. Despite the 7 am hour, when the sun at this latitude was long up, the sky was black and the street lights still on. We quickly tuned to local radio, to hear them too talking of the possible apocalypse! Apparently it was not a normal occurrence in the town but a result of the wild fires raging nearby.

The world's largest fly rod in Houston, BC.

We did some more checking into the location of the fires and as a result changed our planned route to Alaska. We would take the Cassiar Highway on the way north, to avoid most of the smoke and return later on the Alaska Highway. Despite the fact we'd planned to start from Dawson Creek at mile zero of the Alaska Highway, we decided it would be better and safter to divert and miss the smoke, at least that way we'd see something on the way to Alaska! It was time to fill our backup five gallon petrol can, just in case. Petrol stations were few and far between, especially the first stretch of the Cassiar highway with a distance of around 180 miles without any kind of services.

First we had around 200 miles to drive westwards along highway 16, to reach the intersection with Cassiar. We took a break for lunch at the town of Houston, attracted by Huckleberry jam at a local farmers' market, only to find we were parked next to the “largest fly fishing rod in the world”. We decided it wouldn't fit in Harvey, as Phil was dwarfed by the huge reel!

At Telkwa we were fascinated to watch the local population harvesting the salmon as they made their way up the river, through a bottleneck at some waterfalls. One guy worked the net, scooping the large fish from the river, another was the runner, taking the fish over to be processed, passing the lady keeping tally on the way. Finally a team worked on filleting and gutting the fish.

Locals Harvesting Salmon

Seeley Lake, beautiful if you don't get eaten alive!

We camped for the night at Seeley Lake Campground. By now we were finally out of the excessive heat and luckily fully covered up when we took a stroll and were attacked by huge mosquitoes!

We spent the evening inside getting our revenge by playing what we christened “Mosquito Massacre”. We'd wait for the circling hoards of mosquitoes to land on the screens on Harvey's windows. When the net was almost covered with the vampire bugs, we'd slide the window shut, trapping them inbetween. Now we could take great pleasure in squashing them against the glass. Not very ecologically sound but revenge was sweet! Apparently for mosquitoes too, as eventually, while we slept, plenty found their way inside through any tiny orifice!

Next day we set off on Cassiar Highway, successfully completing on a tank of fuel the first long stretch to Bell II, a lodge where we could refuel. Now we totally felt we were in the wilds. The guy at the gas station summed it up, “We're not exactly in the middle of nowhere but you can see it from here!”

Our travel up this highway rewarded us with a moose sighting. Several bears, including a mama with two cubs, were easy to spot as they lounged on the side of the road, stuffing their faces with the ripe berries growing there, seeming unconcerned by passing motorists snapping photos. Finally we were accosted by a cheeky fellow we named “The Cassiar Highwayman”, a fox who had learned that tourists were a food source and stood in the middle of the road waiting for treats. Hopefully he won't get run over any time soon, the perils of wild animals becoming used to handouts from humans.

On the Cassiar Highway.

The Cassiar Highwayman!

Another interesting phenomenon of travel on remote routes was the queue for petrol at the scarce gas stations. With so many tourists headed for Alaska in motorhomes, it was an unavoidable evil. Our problem was that our petrol filler was located on the wrong side for the way people had decided to line up, so we had to enter the queue in reverse, causing much chaos!

Another unfortunate incident happened along the way. At some point, presumably when we encountered a rough bit of road, Harvey hurled the external cover from his refridgerator off into the woods somewhere. We didn't realise until later and were unwilling to return and look for it and in any case unable too with the petrol we had left. A fetching temporary repair had to be fashioned with beer cartons and duct tape until a replacement could be found to prevent the propane flame keeping our food fresh from blowing out!

Look, Harvey just has to do things differently.


Boya Lake

Although nobody seemed to mind if you just pulled over to camp at the side of the road in these remote parts, we headed to a campground at Boya Lake. Here we enjoyed stunning views as we snagged a lakefront campsite. We also enjoyed a stroll along the lake, a welcome relief before our legs atrophied with all the driving. During our walk we only suffered small amounts of blood loss to the mosquitoes!

Next morning we rejoined the Alaska Highway and crossed into Yukon Territory, which felt even more remote with its bumpy roads, landscape dominated by huge mountains and stunted spruce trees, struggling to survive in the hostile environment. Strangely the wildlife became more scarce, probably as there was so little cover available.

On the Alaska Highway.

Despite the now chilly weather, we made the most of a break in the rain to walk to Rancheria Falls from a nearby rest area.

The weather and our eagerness to reach our goal of Alaska deterred us from lingering in the Yukon Territory but we did make a stop in Teslin and visit the museum there. Here we learned out an enterprising local man, who took the English name George Johnson. Despite the fact that the town had no roads in the 1930s, this talented photographer who did much to record the history of the town, was undeterred from purchasing the first motorcar. Soon a length of six miles of rough road was built along the lakeside and George offered taxi rides. In wintertime, he gave his car a coating of white paint and took advantage of the frozen lake to enjoy an additional 187 miles on which he could drive and hunt in his vehicle.

We reached Whitehorse for the night, which we and dozens of other campers passed at the local Walmart store.

Rancheria Fall

George Johnson's famous car


We pushed on towards the Alaskan border next day, the rain keeping us moving. We made a stop at the Sheep Mountain Visitor Centre but couldn't spot any of the local Dall Sheep through the murk.

By now the roads were pretty dire, rough and hurriedly being repaired by numerous work crews before winter returned. Many miles were just dirt or gravel.

We paused at a rest area and got a taste of how travel was before the Alaska Highway was constructed in 1942 in only eight and a half months. Here we found an original trail bridge, preserved, and thanked our lucky stars that they had built the new road!

Harvey's glad they built the Alaska Highway!

I know you've turned your sign to 'GO' but I'm not sure I really should just yet!”

Once it brightened up, what a difference crossing a mountain pass could make to the weather, we took a welcome break from the bumpy trip north at beautiful Pickhandle Lake.

Our bumpy ordeal continued all the way to the US border, where we were relieved to see miles of smooth tarmac stretching before us!

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Pickhandle Lake.