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Tears of Smoke, Tears of Laughter

Blog posts are the work of individual contributors, reflecting their thoughts, opinions and research.
temporary breakdown on Robert Campbell Highway
temporary breakdown on Robert Campbell Highway
on a valley view lookout over a vast territory, this carving reminder...
on a valley view lookout over a vast territory, this carving reminder...

Tears of Smoke, Tears of Laughter: from Faro to Dease Lake

August 6, 2009.

 

During my day of rest in Faro, I was sitting near my tent and picnic table when someone came up agitatedly to tell me that all of Yukon was on fire alert, and that open fires had been banned throughout the entire territory. How surprising was that to hear? The mountains around town were completely blotched out by the smoke and the mugginess of the heat was sticky and insufferable. I was still more than a couple hundred kilometers north of Whitehorse, so this was definitely hot for where I was at. According to others the whole province of BC was also on fire, so it's good to see that climate change is just a theory. The day I was to leave was a little better, but still atrociously hot.

 

I packed slowly, making food and coffee without a care about the time at all and it felt great. Since a slight change in plans I ended up floating my way down towards northern BC where I would get 'back on track' there. I was not in any need of a rush-- thank goodness because hitchhiking with a ticking clock is really aggravating. I wandered out of town towards the road that connects to the highway about ten clicks from where I was. After about a half an hour, a local RCMP offered a ride-- which based on circumstance I accepted. Another one of those differences that the north provides. We chatted a bit more about the inglorious end of Faro, and what life there was like now. He was respectful towards me and given the situation, was about as good as it was likely to be. I decided not to offer to smoke a bowl with him.

 

Where he dropped me was the junction where the highway split east-west, and apparently the secondary highway Robert Campbell became about a dirt path for some 300 plus kilometers beyond Ross River-- the next town along the road. No traffic goes down here for long stretches of time and the cop told me I'd be waiting awhile, not in the way that usually annoys me-- there was no 'haha' subtext to the warning. After about 15 minutes, one minivan turned onto the road west from Faro. I was sortof behind it-- and waved into his rearview mirror with my thumb. He stopped, to my great happiness. Unlike the last ride, after about five minutes of talking with this young man driving around the north while visiting from Switzerland I offered to smoke a bowl. We got along even better after that.

 

He drove the road with pretty much the opposite of abandon; the road is covered in uneven patches-- it's really just a gravel line through the bush-- and massive potholes. Slowing down, speeding up. That was the routine of jerky stop and start, swing into the left, jar it back to the right-- that ultimately was making the ride take about twice as long as a 'normal' highway would, and eventually tired out Toby (my drivers name) enough that he decided to stop for a rest. I immediately started to make a snack near the Mink River (according to the sign) and he relaxed a bit. Then he decided to “go get the car and bring it back here,” when he walked over to it. He was gone an awfully long time while I made food (a quick bad box of mac and cheese with pepperoni sticks, fyi) and then he came back, sullen and downcast.

 

“It won't go,” he said. “The gearshift won't turn.”

We went back and forth over a few things we thought it might be, nothing doing. My idea of identifying a car is by colour, not make so I was already lost. He knew more but not a lot, it seemed. We settled into being stranded on one of the quietest roads I've ever seen. The Joe Henry (“Dempster”) is far busier. Here? Nothing. I started to smile, getting a rush out of this ridiculousness. After about ten minutes mostly in silence wandering around, I began to laugh and Toby looked up at me. I yelled at the sky:

“This is AWESOME!” and I meant it. I began to openly laugh heartily and again look over at Toby, who was giggling a bit now, too. I continued, waving my hands about: “Think about it, dude! You could be home in Switzerland watching TV or something. Instead, we are stranded on one of the most obscure, trafficless highways we could come up with in Yukon. This is awesome. Awesome! We are living a story we will tell time and again,” losing control and balance while laughing I went further that “You can tell people how you got stranded here with some weird Canadian hitchhiker who kept laughing and smoking you up the whole time, making fun of the situation. This fucking RULES. I love it!!” Since he was laughing too, I think it all took the edge off. We would find various things to do for a little bit here or there, then just sit there. Then every so often yelling “This is AWESOME!!” would make it so all over again. Toby wrote HELP in the dust on his back window while we were there, and this made me laugh ever harder. It was crazy. Crazy beautiful.

 

Time kept passing and bugs were swatted. Later I realized that we would have to get a tow to Watson Lake from here, not Ross River--and that this would be the second time in a row (this summer alone) that the person who drove me through Watson would end up seeing the same mechanic. I told Toby I knew who the apparently only honest one was. Well, it appeared that the van had overheated, because Toby got frustrated again and tried almost as a joke to start the van, but it turned over. Then he shut it down and it would not start again-- again. He waited five minutes, jumped in and tried and it went.

“No more stops at all until Watson Lake,” he said.
“AWESOME,” I replied... “BEST RIDE EVER!!” and high-fived him just as we drove on. Going around 50-60kms an hour, the rest of the road took about five hours. WE went into dark as we had wasted about four hours waiting for a car to pass-- none ever did. We passed two going the other way on our way to Watson. In the dark we went very close to a massive forest fire, with only glowing red embers visible out one side of the car.

“Don't stop,” I half-joked. We made it into Watson sometime after 2:30am. I put up my tent in the same bush spot I did when Josh's truck had its crisis on my way up to Dawson. The mechanic should give me a cut of all this business my jinx is bringing. Well, maybe not. Sure was funny, though. I felt like the perfect person for Toby to get into that spot with, since it was hardly new to be stuck on some highway with no ride for me. I had a simple blast, since this particular scenario was new and kinda exciting. I know this might be something to worry about, but nah-- I love it this way. Really was one of the BEST RIDES EVER!

Hot when I woke up in Watson Lake, by the time I packed up and was walking towards the highway I had already finished a coffee and breakfast, and proceeded to lose it due to a quick onslaught of what must have been sunstroke. From slow I decided to move down to a crawl, eat a little again and head to the store for supplies for the fairly barren Highway 37 into BC. I also-- I admit, since I had no other reading material left unread-- bought a Michael Jackson memorial magazine for something to read later on. I went to the edge of the highway and it was ridiculously hot. I made a sign out of a littered chicken wings box that said “J37”, the junction south into BC about 22kms from Watson. Almost immediately I was picked up.

“Hey, we're going to Good Hope,” he said. Good Hope Lake is a rez on the Highway, about an hour from the junction south.

“Great, that's awesome. Thanks,” I replied. He reached into a six pack and said “want a cold one?”

“No thanks, but do you mind if I smoke pot?” I answered.

“No,” he said with a grin. “It's a good thing, please do!” I smoked them up and on we went. A very nice slow day was going to leave me on the highway 37. It got better.

The two guys both lived in the area and knew a spectacular lookout they could go up in a truck. Back and forth and being tossed all around, we bounced side to side up this mountain side until we hit the top. And this place was almost floating above all the valleys, rivers and more for the whole region. Score another magical moment by meeting the locals. On a rock at the very top, where one could see so far among the mostly untouched lands, it was carved “Kaska Land” right where one could see the reference point meet the blue horizon. Beautiful.

 

We drove down the mountain goat trail and went onto Good Hope Lake, where they offered me somewhere to stay with them and to chill around the fire. I thought about it, talked to them intermittently when I was considering it a done day-- but was then offered another ride 'If I can smoke a joint.” I could do that, and did.

 

Kelvin and Jane were living in the former Cassiar, another closed down mining company town-- this one completely. It was once an asbestos mining town, but when the mine shut the whole town was basically evacuated and much of the town was literally hauled away. Cassiar is well off the highway (about 7 miles) and has security that makes sure no one touches anything. Other than that there are a few powerless cabins that have “squatters” but the place deliberately discourages any visitation. I've been there before but not for many years. We went in and I went to their junkyard area shop and homes. After saying hello to some of the folks who lived there, Kelvin showed me his trailer but the preponderance of hard drinking in a not-cool way-- extreme dysfunction-- made me feel a need to go when I realized I wasn't relaxing. I thanked Kelvin and walked about a half hour to where I slept, near a river and beside a MASSIVE tailings pile. The “Snow River” was actually irrigated towards flowing right up against the pile, and directed away from the tailings after it has finished licking the side of this mountain of waste.

So the security guard protects this, I guess. There's also left behind equipment and the mine itself-- plus on ongoing jade mine (very small but in operation) that supplies the “Jade City Store”, a store about a mile south from where the Cassiar Access road meets Highway 37. The former town is mostly collapsed buildings, but the cabins there are occupied are taken care of. There is absolutely no service or anything else here. After Faro a couple of days before, this was interesting to say the least.

 

After sleeping in the tent and reading the mag I got in Watson, I awoke and went slowly knowing I was seven miles from the highway with 70 odd pounds with me, and was definitely hoping that this would go well. It was ridiculously hot, but I took my sweet time-- continuing a very healthy slow beat that refused to speed up. While almost packed up, some ass came and parked beside me. Aside from a truck I heard while still asleep, he was the only vehicle I would see after waking up for the next several hours. He refused my request for a possible ride, fine enough-- but all the while also attempting to shoo me away from where I had slept, because he wanted to play in the river. If he wanted to play in the river that was downstream of floating along the physical edge of the tailings, hey-- go crazy. But either leave me alone and wait until I leave of my own accord, or help me leave if you want to get me out of there. No. Happy thoughts! Happy thoughts!

I just simply walked along the road out of town, passing many cabins and following the Snow River, which still had a beautiful valley much of the walk. I could not carry the load in the extreme heat without many breaks in the shade (shade that was not common on the same road) and it was tempered by having awesome snacks and many fresh streams that came straight down from the mountain and into my empty water bottles. Hours later and maybe half the walk done, I got my first ride on the flatbed of a truck this year-- down to the main Highway.

 

I walked most of the way over to Jade City, just around the corner when I was given a ride the last little bit. From there I ate a chocolate bar from the mining store and then got a ride with Rick the trucker from near Sacramento, Ca heading back to Cali from Alaska. I stayed with him only as far as Dease Lake, where I made dinner and was told by a hotel owner that I could pitch my tent behind his building. Thanks, dude! After falling asleep here I got much needed rejuvenation of the body and energy, to go along with the spirit that needed no such thing Peaceful smile at the moon after I was chatted up by someone crashing at the hotel, I leaned back and went off almost immediately. Tomorrow I would head for Iskut, (Tahltan Country). The entire pace has taken me to a new place, a place of peace I am forever grateful to know.It is enough to make me how to maintain it-- but it really seems like it stays with me, if I stay true to myself.

 

Love from the road...

Macdonald

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