Archive for November, 2009

T-day: It never rains in California

29 November 2009

26 November, Thanksgiving Thursday , Dayton OR to Grant’s Pass to California.

Today is the most important American Holiday. Just a four day weekend spent eating Turkey, giving Thanks and Travelling. No gifts, no commercialism until Black Friday (the US equivalent to Boxing Day, but they start shopping at 6:00AM). The day is spent with family and friends, and maybe watching football for the guys. Much more significant than our early October Canadian version, where we get a long weekend and eat turkey, maybe.

As Americans cannot stand the thought of anyone spending Thanksgiving on their own (much to their credit), I got two invitations. The first was from Larry Jaques in Grant’s Pass, Oregon and the other by Lymond Hardy’s friends in Fort Bragg, California. I ended up accepting Larry’s invite just because it was more likely that I would get there in time. And I also wanted to finally meet a wrecker friend for the first time in person. For those of you not in the know, wreckers are participants in the rec.woodworking Usenet group. It’s also available on Google Groups. I have been participating in this group since 1995, and have made many virtual friends, including Larry “C-less” Jaques (never spell the name with a “c” – he gets annoyed – which is very difficult for us with a francophone background; it’s even worse than spelling Georges without an “s”). Larry and I, among many others, have been trading barbs, quips, and ocasionally actual woodworking information and insights and all kinds of other information in the rec.woodworking group. We two go back to 1995 in the internet’s infancy.

I-5 in the Willamette Valley

So I had to get to Grant’s Pass by 1:00 PM. Larry had also asked me to get an apple pie, preferably sugarless for his diabetic neighbour’s father. I left at 7:00 AM in the rain. It cleared up eventually in the southern Willamette Valley. I stopped in Eugene to try to find a pie. I found a nice bakery, but their pies had sugar. They directed to another bakery and a grocery store (Market Choice). I found sugarless apple pies there and also some organic Bonaterra wine that Marilyn had like in Whitehorse. Oh, and a bottle of cheap Riunite Lambrusco. Riunite, which was made by a Communist cooperative in Italy, was the best-selling wine in the US in the 80s. I like fizzy reds, must be genetic.

On the way, there were hardwood forests that looked like oak, but all the trees were covered in moss. Larry had warned me about fog and the possibility of snow in the passes before Grant’s Pass. I told him (I should say wrote) that I did have some experience driving in snow. It started raining again as I gained altitude, but no snow.

It stopped raining by the time I got to Grant’s Pass and i finally met my first wrecker in person. I embarassed myself by not reccognizing a maple in his front yard, thinking it was an oak, but all the bark was covered in moss. Larry also has a giant tree in his back yard which i first took for a cedar, but it’s actually a coast redwood. My first view of a real redwood, I should have taken a picture of it. It’s unfortunate that it, along with its doug fir neighbour will have to come down as they are destroying his foundation.

We eventually had our birds, yams, salad. I contributed some pickled beets I brought from home and the apple pie. We also had long talks about woodworking, our current lives, the US health care system, and totally disagreed about climate change.


I left around 6:00 PM to try to put on some miles so I don’t get to Fort Bragg too late. Raining heavily most of the way on the Highway of the Redwoods, US199, a curvy narrow road with giant redwoods on both sides of the road. I crossed over into California and finally found a campground in the Smith River National Recreation area.


In Portland’s clutch

28 November 2009

24 November, Tuesday, Portland Oregon

Slept in and after posting the blog entry and consuming the hotel room coffee, I headed out to another Stumptown on 3rd Avenue for a cappuccino and a blueberry-cranberry scone.

Just walked around on 3rd and then went up Burnside. Lo and behold, I saw Powell’s technical book store. Well I went in, found a manual for 1990 Chevy trucks as well as a used copy of the Joinery book by Gary Rogowski from Taunton Press and some other discount wooddorking books. I tried paying for them and getting them to keep them until I could pick them up later, but they wouldn’t do it On the other hand, they were perfectly willing to put the books on hold for me if I did not pay for them. Go figure!

I walked a little more and decided to take the streetcar to 23rd Avenue, known as Nob Hill; an upscale shopping and restaurant area with most stores in old Victorian era mansions. Interesting street full of shops and good restaurants. I had an excellent piece of halibut at Jo Bar and Rotisserie, then a salad with warm squash. I also went for a gelato & coffee further down the street.

Then I took the streetcar right to the other end of the line, hoping to go to OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry). There was the Aerial Tram, which I took to the top and took a number of pictures. I couldn’t get to OMSI by foot from there, so I went back to the hotel.

Mount St. Helens?

Mount Hood

By that time, it was almost time for supper. I settled on going to a French restaurant. When I got there, it no longer existed. I then went to Dan and Louis Oyster Bar on Ankeny Street. Great oysters and good beer. I forgot my credit card there, but retrieved it the next day. The server also prevailed on me to translate the text a t-shirt for her boss. It was in French and was about the Rolling Stones. She was going to do it using a word-by word translator on her cell phone. She did give me a free drink She also suggested that I go a bar at the top a building nearby (the Portland City Grill, at the top of the Big Pink) and enjoy the view. Reminded me too much of the Altitheque disco in Montreal of my younger days, including the crowd. I was starting to feel pretty tired and went back to the hotel room.

Musings US toilets.

I observed a custome in all those American Cities and Townes through which I passed, that is not used in any other country that I saw in my travels, neither do I thinke that any other nation of Christendome doth use it, but only the United States. The American, and also most strangers that are commorant in the United States, does alwaies, at their aisance use a circular strip of paper to cover that part of the seat that their arse doth touch. This form of shitting I understand is generally used in all places of the United States, their seat covers being for the most part made of paper. The reason of this their curiosity, is because the American cannot by any means endure to have his arse touch the same place other men’s arses have touched,  seeing all men’s arses are not alike cleane.

On the other hand, not a bidet to be seen anywhere, to the disgust of most Italians and Frenchmen. If arses are not washed, I guess one needs to cover toilet seats.

Now I don’t want to rest, I want to pee, take a dump and certainly wash after either one. So why call them restrooms? What’s wrong with calling them toilets or washrooms? We do wash or do our toilet in there, but unless you’re really weird, you don’t rest there.

November 25, Wednesday, Portland to Dayton, OR

Woke up late and then drove to Powell Technical books to retrieve my purchases of yesterday. I also looked for a “Car Toys” store to see if I could buy a Mexico map for the GPS. The store was no longer on its older 9th Street location. By coincidence, Nerissa Rosati had suggested that I go visit Gary Rogowski, who is in Portland. So after a bad piece of Pizza and another Stumpcity cappuccino, I headed across the Willamette to Gary’s studio and schools (The Northwest Woodworking Studio). Gary was not there, but I had an interesting conversation with Joe,


who is one of the mastery students there and then checked out the shop.

Aircraft Carrier

Gary came back, had a short talk with him as he was quite busy and I bought a t-shirt that reflects my philosophy about building. The quote from John Ruskin is: “When we build, let us think that we build forever.

I then went to the woodcrafters’ store for a good drool. I did buy Sandor Nagyszalanczy’s book on power tools, on sale for $19.95 from $40.00 ($65 in Canada).

. I had tried calling the dealership, but my cell phone subscription had run out of money. Headed out to Russ Chevrolet, stuck in traffic most of the way, it took more than an hour on US99. The . truck was almost ready. I had a coffee while the mechanic took it for a test drive. Finally back on the road with my Koolatron smelling bad because of the milk not being refrigerated fro three days.

So I went to another Car Toys store not far from the dealership on US99W. They did not have the maps, but did carry cell phones. As the Chinese lady in Seattle had warned me, they could not sell me additional time, so I had to get a new phone number and SIM card and got $50 worth of time at 10 cents a minute in the US. It took the woman at the counter over an hour and she could not get through to AT&T to validate my amount. I would have to do it later as either their system was down or screwed u in some fashion. She also showed me how to use the camera on the phone and I will post her picture as soon as I figure out how to download it.

I looked for a campground/RV park along the way and found one in Dayton, in the Willamette wine country. I headed there, got my site and looked for a restaurant. I found a “Cielo Blu” restaurant on the GPS, so I figured let’s go for non-ethnic food. The restaurant no longer existed, but there was an entry for the Joel Palmer House . Well, it is clearly one of Oregon’s best restaurants and the best meal I’ve had so far.

It started with a little amuse-gueule of porcini-truffle risotto every bit as good as the one I make using Italian porcini and Umbria black truffles. Except this was made from Oregon boleti and truffles picked by the chef’s father. I had a somewhat disappointing truffle in Seattle, which the chef explained was due to commercial pickers harvesting them before they are ripe. Unlike Italy or France, they do not use animals (pigs or dogs) to find them but just rake under Douglas Firs and sell everything.

I asked the server what her favourite wine was and she brought a wonderful Pinot Noir, Willakenzie Estate Pierre Leon 2006. It was so good I had to buy a bottle. I also tried a Pinot gris, which was too much like the Italian Pinot grigios for my taste (thin and acidy), and a chardonnay which was pretty good but nothing to write home about. The first course was the chef’s incredible version of won-ton soup: a mushroom consommé with shrimp broccoli and two wonderful meat-filled wontons. After that An absolutely perfectly and flawlessly cooked piece of fresh halibut, the meal crowned with a piece of flourless chocolate cake, an espresso and a shot of Muscat grappa. It sure made up for the bad piece of pizza I had for lunch. Off the bed at the campsite as I had to get up early to be at Larry’s for t-day at 1:00 PM.

Waiting for the clutch

24 November 2009
Russ Chevrolet, Tigard OR

Russ Chevrolet, Tigard OR

23 November, Monday, Portland Oregon

Headed out at 7:00AM to the dealer in Wilsonville to try to get the clutch fixed. Luckily, I had left-over coffee from yesterday. The Wilsonville dealer said they couldn’t do anything today, so I called Russ Chevrolet in Tigard, south of Portland. The service rep, Robert Murphy, said they could look at it. Diagnosis was clearly what I feared: clutch is burned and needs to be replaced and flywheel turned. They looked for a clutch and found an aftermarket one, available tomorrow. It turns out that GM’s parts depot for Portland is in Reno Nevada and it generally takes 2-3 days to get parts from there. Anyway, estimate is about $1,200 and the car might be ready tomorrow if I’m lucky but Wednesday is more likely. Yuck. I blame Larry Jaques and my brother for jinxing the truck. It has nothing to do with Malcolm’s driving over the track (road would be to generous a term) over the pass to Seagull Creek where we went to sexually harass gentle innocent moose or the steep hills on the streets around Seattle’s Pike Street market

Rented a car (a Hyundai something or other, or maybe some other small Korean job, I forget which, but they all look alike anyhow) and headed to Portland’s visitor centre, which is now open. I talked for a while with a volunteer and he gave me a number of tips and ideas of where to go and where to eat. He also told me about Powell’s book store. I found a room at the Hotel Fifty on the waterfront using, so I headed out there, checked in and parked the car. By that time, it was almost lunch time, so I decided to go to Portland’s oldest seafood restaurants: Jake’s Famous Crawfish Grill. I took the MAX, their light rail system which operates directly on city streets in the downtown area, and then turns into a more conventional system like underground in other parts. The neat thing is that transit is free in the downtown area.

Food Stands

Food stands

On the way there, I saw this series of ethnic food stands surrounding a parking lot. (There was only one non-ethnic one serving gelato and coffee).

At Jake’s I had four different kinds of oysters, three from Washington and one from Fanny Bay in BC. My favourite was the BC oyster, which is from near where Ted, Marilyn’s brother, lives on the Vancouver Island side across from Denman Island south of Comox. After that I had a salmon stir fry, which was excellent with the fish cooked to perfection.

Luigi drinking beer at Jake's Famous Crawfish

Luigi drinking beer at Jake's Famous Crawfish

I had a couple of local brews to accompany the salmon. I noted in their menu that the Arctic Char came from Iceland. ICELAND??? When they could get fresh char flown in from Whitehorse. I talked to the server and got the executive chef’s name (Billie), who wasn’t there at the time. I left him/her a note pointing out that Icy Waters and Ying Allen’s Wild Things could get them arctic char the next day and that the Icelanders probably got their eggs or hatchlings from Whitehorse. So there, I did a little export promotion work.

Luigi eating oysters at Jake's Famous Crawfish

Luigi eating oysters at Jake's Famous Crawfish

I then had an excellent coffee (short double espresso) at Stumptown coffee and headed to Powell’s bookstore, which may or may not be the world’s largest bookstore. Pretty amazing and tempting. As the guy at the visitor centre said, you could spend one hour or one week there. I resisted temptation fairly well, only bought two economics books and one old used Terry Pratchett (Guards, Guards!), which I hadn’t re-read in a long time. I resisted the temptation of buying a hardcover version of his latest. I also found a used copy of Alma Guillermoprieto’s Looking for History, which was recommended to me by Karyn Armour. What I especially like about this store is that used and new copies of each book are side by side and you can choose either, depending on what you want.Powell's bookstore

After that, I headed out the World Forestry Centre in Washington Park on the MAX. it went from being a streetcar to a subway, 300 feet below the park. Some interesting exhibits. I tried the harvester simulator: I will never make it as a machine operator.

I then went back to the hotel & tried to do some work. I have to start getting more disciplined about getting work done. This is supposed to also be a working holiday. The fact that I very little done has obviously nothing to do with the 3 glasses of wine at supper and the half bottle of Pinot noir leftover from last night’s supper.

Anyway, then went for supper at the hotel restaurant (H50 Bistro & Bar) where all they had was a tapas menu. Good tapas at that. I tried three different local whites (pinot Gris, Chard and a sweet Gewürztraminer which I liked a lot), and ate salmon fritters, clam chowder, a Caesar’s salad and “torched” salmon. The salad had an interesting presentation: the romaine leaves looked like a bunch and were held together by a ring or short tube of dried bread. The torched salmon was excellent: crispy on the outside and sashimi on the inside & bottom. I have to try that when I get home. It was served with soya sauce and square cucumbers slices garnished with thinly sliced jalapeños and sesame seeds.

Tomorrow I have to decide whether I go on a drive to the Columbia Gorge and Mount Hood, a wine tour in the Willamette, or stick around Portland.

In the clutch of a slipping clutch (groan!)

22 November 2009
Pioneer Square, Portland

Pioneer Square, Portland

22 November

Took it easy this AM & cleaned up the camper a bit. I left around 11:30 to go to the tourist information office in Portland to get details on a wine tour. Of course, it’s Sunday and it’s closed.

Nevertheless, I had checked things out on The Oregon government tourism site . I had a big sushi lunch in anticipation of imbibing a bit and not wanting to get drunk, even though I intended to spit most of the wine I tasted.

Ponzi Vineyards

Ponzi Vineyards

I first headed to Ponzi Vineyards but my clutch started slipping. Ponzi had a great Chardonnay, some good to excellent Pinot Noirs. I bought a few bottles and a magnum and then headed to an RV park in Wilsonville to while away the day.

Maybe I’ll go on an organized winery tour tomorrow while the truck hopefully gets fixed.

From Seattle to Portland

21 November 2009

November 21

I couldn’t leave Seattle right away, I had to go back downtown. I was going to the cell place in Chinatown but it did not open ‘til 10:00AM, so I went downtown to look for a camera first, and bought a nice little Nikon coolpix. Works a lot better than the old POS. Here is a picture of the sales clerk who sold it to me, the very first picture I took with it. I should have gotten her name.

I then went back to the Pioneer Square area to check out the Woodworking coop I saw yesterday. Some pretty amazing pieces at the (Northwest Fine Woodworking ), and it’s nice to see they manage to sell them at decent prices.

<rant>which might seem very high to all you non-wooddorkers at $1k per chair, but if you know the amount of time and effort and love that goes in producing one of these  rather than the cheap Chinese-made Ikea/Sauders termite puke (i.e. particle board) crap that ends up in the landfill in no time but not before it has had a chance to spew out copious amounts of formaldehyde and other pollutants in the meantime. </rant>

Fine Woodworking Coop Store

Fine Woodworking Coop Store, Jackson Street, Seattle

They also have an annual box-making contest that anyone can enter. Because of the depression, they have had to lay off some of their staff and they haven’t been able to put up all the pictures. Anyway, I voted for a box that looked like to old leather-bound volumes, done in different veneers. Beautiful work, but there were a lot more examples of beautiful work. We’ll see who wins on their web site.

Then I went to the cellular phone place in Chinatown and got a WiFi capable cell. The current number, while I’m in the USA is 206-390-8104. Please only use in case of emergencies. It will change when I get to Mexico.

A couple of final observations about Seattle: there is little traffic downtown: I can cross most streets easily and can find parking spots relatively close to where I am going. I don’t know whether it’s Seattle or the depression. One thing that is clearly a result of the depression is the number of people– mostly young men of all races: white black and oriental – who accost you begging for money or a meal. It is pretty shameful for a country that is supposedly the richest in the world. And supposedly is also the most religious and Christian of all the advanced economies. So much for the Sermon on the Mount and Christian charity.

Drove to Portland and arrived immediately after 5:00 PM. The tourist information office had just closed. I looked for a wine store & tried out a number of Pinot noirs (5 actually). None overly impressed me, but I bought two bottles of the one I like most (2007 Cameron Ashleys Leap). Maybe I should get some for David Ashley.  I then drove back to an RV park on the Columbia River.

Tomorrow the Willamette, tonight the risotto with porcini and truffles.


Sleepy in Seattle

21 November 2009

November 20

Woke up around 8:00AM despite the late night. Had the two coffees from the room coffee machine. Only one guess for what the brand of coffee was.

Went to get my new glasses, had a really good coffee and muffin at the shopping centre where the eyeglass pace was. Went back to the Pike Street Market, has a prosciutto & parmiggiano sandwich for lunch. Boy, I love that place!

Luigis placeI went to the RV park in Bellevue, signed in ($25.00) and had a long nap. Woke up around five PM and drove downtown to Pioneer Square where they have Seattle’s underground. Walked around the area but most places were closed, despite it being a Friday night. Had an Italian supper at Luigi’s place. The waiter did not want to give me a discount because of my name. I had a so-called piadina, which was like a small pizza cut in four. This is not the real piadina from Rimini, which is more like a calzone or pocket filled with yummy stuff.

wooddorkers store

Wooddorkers' store

Got my tickets at 7:00 PM for 8:00 underground tour. Walked to Chinatown and found a cellular place that I need to investigate tomorrow morning. Another place to check out is a furniture place catering to local craftspeople.

Just one bit of oversharing, but I won’t get into graphic details: it’s nice to have a camper when you can’t find a public washroom. J

The underground tour was replete with references to prostitution and drugs, especially around servicing and fleecing the Klondike Gold Rush hopefuls. On a more historical note, I had not realized how important the Klondike was to Seattle. In the words of the tour guide: “It put Seattle on the map. Before that, Portland and Tacoma were more important.” Imagine, if it wasn’t for the Klondike, we wouldn’t have Starbucks and Microsoft.

Camera is, as we say in Quebec, complètement fuckée. It won’t close or take pictures.  I’ll have to buy one today.

Then on to Oregon and the Willamette.

Sleepless in Seattle

20 November 2009

November 19th

Left the campground at 8:00 AM. I saw a Lowes at a shopping centre, so I had to go check it out. Same as a home Depot. I bought some AAA batteries for the digital voice recorder and some S-hooks so I can hang some things from the clothesline. Nowhere to buy an umbrella. Yesterday I talked about being ½ an hour from Seattle and how wonderful driving on freeways was. Well, today, I didn’t get to Seattle until 10:30: heavy crawling traffic all the way for no good reason except the rainy weather, at least according to the radio. You would think that a little rain wouldn’t paralyze their traffic, but there it is. Along the way, I got off and stopped at McDonalds to use the washrooms (it was the closest to the expressway). At least MickyD has clean toilets, won’t say anything about the food.

Seattle: one of the most influential cities in our globalized late 20th/early 21st centuries. Three brands/corporations that define our era stand out: Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks. Three mixed blessings: the jumbo jet that allows us to flit economically around the world in airborne cattle cars and spew massive amounts of CO2; the MS-DOS and Windows and the MS Office that have monopolized the personal computer and that I am using to write a draft of this blog; and the espresso-based (using the term loosely) “latte”. I have ceased railing that latte means milk in Italian, not coffee. But Starbucks has made espresso ubiquitous around the world (I once read about a place in Prague offering “real Seattle-style latte”), and I no longer have to search for the Italian neighbourhood to get a decent coffee.

Not that Starbucks’ espresso is any good, but that of many of its imitators is clearly excellent including our very own Yukon coffee roasters, Bean North and Midnight Sun Coffee. (To those of you from Outside, the Yukon is a coffee exporter. We get it from secret tropical valleys Jack London wrote about.) Would Zola and Michael & co. have gotten anywhere without Starbucks pioneering the whole thing? Even Tim Horton’s tries to sell espresso but they should stick to providing the men in red serge with double-doubles and doughnuts.

Pike Street MarketGot to the convention bureau at 6th and Pike around 10:30 and then headed to the Pike Street Market to replenish my fresh food stocks. Bought some good smoked salmon, fresh porcini, a truffle (only $5.00, not bad), fresh local fruit and greens. Lunch was heart medication: a yummy and messy to eat grilled salmon sandwich on baguette. I intended to make a porcini risotto with truffle tonight, but I ended up going out for supper. Also bought a bottle of the best Washington Syrah at $60 odd dollars a bottle. I am feeling flush today as I just got paid by YTG.

I love Seattle! I have to come back with Marilyn and stay for five days exploring the food at the Pike Street market.

After the market I went to the Seattle Art Museum where there is an exhibition of some of Michelangelo’s sketches for the Sistine Chapel that he somehow forgot to burn and another on Calder. Some of Calder’s later mobiles are amazing: how did he do it? I also took a brief look at other exhibits. Apart from a couple of Warhols, two things caught my eye: an Italian renaissance wood paneled room and a 16-17th century Dutch wooden display chest/bureau. Why is it that the woodworkers were who made such wonderful creations remain anonymous, while the most minor daubers of paints on canvas or least competent stone chiselers all have biographies and books written about them? Pisses me off!

Dutch cabinet

Similar Dutch cabinet from Van de Ven Antique dealers in Baarle-Hertog-Nassau

I went back to the Convention Centre Tourist Information Bureau as I couldn’t find the address of the RV park they had suggested earlier. Ann and Janet were extremely helpful and I decided to stay in an inexpensive hotel rather than in a RV Park. The hotel (Belltown Inn) is fairly nice and inexpensive and has parking, but is in a neighbourhood that turns quite seedy at night, with obvious drug deals going on allover the place.

I got new glasses made at Lenscrafters: one hour service. But I didn’t get there in time for their 8:00 PM closing time as I was talking to Marilyn for too long. I forgot to say that a lens fell off my glasses while driving last night. A little scary as I had to hold the lens over my good eye while driving. (For those who don’t know me, I like to refer to myself as a one-eye-talian, having lost my left eye in a car accident in 1977.) I stopped at the first exit and retrieved another pair from the camper.

Anyway, I also went to Barnes and Noble to pick up a copy of Paul Theroux’s book on the Patagonia Express. I started reading it last night as I had a hard time falling asleep. The room was way too hot and the book interesting. I fell finally asleep at about 3:00AM.

More wet and windy coast

19 November 2009

Vancouver November 18. Got the truck back this AM and bought a digital voice recorder and six small bottles of ice wine. Also had the muffler and tailpipes replaced this afternoon. Not bad, the originals lasted 20 years, so I can’t complain about having to replace them. So there, all you FoundOnRoadDead fans! (or boy sheep fans, although I do have one waiting for me in Whitehorse)

Left Ariel’s place around 4PM, tanked up at a Shell on Knight Street and got stuck in Vancouver traffic. Very high winds and rain led to a number of ferries being cancelled. Got to the border around 5:15. The border guard was not very friendly and commented “There are economists in Whitehorse?” after I answered his question about what kind of work I do. Anyway, he let me go through no problem, didn’t even look in my camper in case it was chocko-blocko full of wetback terrorists, which is what Canadian customs usually do. Got on the I-5 and I had forgotten how easy driving is on those expressways.

I thought I would make it to Seattle by 7:30 or so, but then decided I wanted the cozy feeling of staying in the camper rather than a motel. I thought of what to have for supper as I had given away all my fresh food to Ariel, but decided on canned soup. I found a sign for Wenberg State Park about 10 miles from the I-5 north of Everett. I figure I’m only about half an hour from Seattle, so I will visit tomorrow & stock up on fresh foods from the Pike Street market.

My umbrella is falling apart, so I’ll have to get one tomorrow and figure out how to use the voice recorder I got at the Metrotown Source store.

Rockies, Prairies, Cariboo and the Wet Coast

17 November 2009

I am writing this in Vancouver on Tuesday the 17th.

November 13 – More bison , caribou and two moose (meese??)

Liard Hot Springs

Liard Hot Springs

Liard Hot Springs 'A' Pool

Woke up around 7AM after a pretty good night’s sleep. Only got up a couple of times to pee; it’s amazing how much urine a person can produce when it’s cold outside. (is this oversharing?) I had to go to the outhouse and it was pretty cold out. One of these days I have to figure out how to use the portable shitter I bought at Crappy Tire. When I worked at Yukon Housing Corporation in the early 1990s, I used to say that our mission was to ensure everyone had a warm place to shit. I got that expression from Earl Butz, Reagan’s Secretary of Agriculture, who made some racist comment, but I always thought that wanting a warm place to shit was a pretty common human yearning. When I left Yukon Housing in 1993, the other employees gave me a toilet seat signed by everyone and emblazoned with the expression.

Anyway, I left the Hot Springs Park around 8:45 after washing the dishes. At the exit of the park there was this sign:

No shit Sherlock. The park is right neat the bridge across the Liard River, which flows into the Mackenzie, North America’s longest river despite what they teach in US schools. The Liard plateau, through which the river flows separates the northern end of the Rocky Mountains from the Mackenzie Mountains that form a large part of the border between the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. This picture shows the extreme northern end of the Rockies.

More bison and caribou along the road. At Toad River, I stopped for a coffee, bought a t-shirt and finally installed the GPS, which ended up being a lot simpler than I thought it would be. What is interesting about the GPS is that it gives the elevation. I realized that the amount of snow on the road was a function of the elevation. The road ended up completely dry at Fort Nelson up to Prophet River. Elevation was in the 600 metre range. Beyond Prophet River, the road climbs into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, up to about 1,200 metres at the summit where the lake was frozen.

I finally did see a couple of moose crossing the road.



Then gradually down to the northwestern end of the prairies. By Wonowon (at mile 101 on the Alaska highway :-0) the road was dry again. Reached Fort St. John at 7:30 and decided to stay in a hotel rather than the camper. I had supper at a pretty bad Chinese restaurant.



November 14: Prairies, Pine Pass blizzard and Cariboo but no caribou

Mile "0" Alaska Highway

Mile "0" Alaska Highway

After breakfast, I headed to Dawson Creek at the southern end of the Alaska Highway. Took a picture, gassed up and got a BC accommodations guide at the museum/tourist information centre.I must be getting old as many of the “artifacts” in the museum were things I grew up with.

Dawson Creek grain elevator

Dawson Creek grain elevator

Dawson Creek (and Fort St. John) are at the northwestern end of the Great Plains. Although they are politically part of British Columbia, they are much closer to Alberta culturally and economically: gas producing cattle and canola country that voted for the Reform party, Canada’s wannabe Republicans.

From Dawson Creek, it got extremely windy and by the time I reached the Rockies, it started snowing.

Pine Pass blizzard

Pine Pass blizzard

Went over the Pine Pass in a blizzard and reached Prince George at 4:30 two hours later than I had originally estimated in the sunny prairies. I had supper at an Indian restaurant: saag panner (creamy spinach & potatoes in yogurt) which I had really liked a few years ago last time in PG. Went back on the road first to Quesnel and then to Williams Lake where I took another hotel room & bought a bottle of Beaujolais. Made a few calls using Skype: pretty cool and only 2 cents a minute for calls to North American phone numbers (Skype to Skype calls are free).

Quesnel and Williams Lake are in the Cariboo region, where there were a number of gold rushes in the 1800s, most of them bigger than the Klondike but little remembered as they did not have Jack London, Robert Service, Mounties, and Charlie Chaplin. No caribou left in the Cariboo, but lots of deer crossing signs. However, I only saw two dead deer on the side of the road providing a feast to the ravens.

November 15: Cariboo, semi desert and the Fraser Canyon and the Wet Coast

After phone conversations with Marilyn, Rick, Louise and Ariel, I headed out around 9:30. Went through the Cariboo, then the Fraser Valley around 100 Mile House where I stopped for Lunch. Nice sunny weather in the semi desert area. As I wound down the Fraser Canyon, it became progressively wetter so that by Yale, it pouring rain. My driver’s side wiper got screwed up and the metal was scraping against the windshield. I finally stopped and managed to fix it. I resolved to buy some new ones in Vancouver.

Got to Vancouver around 5;30 & reached Ariel & Jacob’s place. Chicken cacciatore pasta for supper. Slept in the camper that night as Rick, Ariel’s father, had priority.

Tallulah, Rick and Ariel

It was raining like crazy all night and the skylight in the camper was leaking. Luckily I was no under it like Malcolm & Rick on previous moose hunting trips. Couple of whiners. 🙂

Some of you might wonder why I went to Vancouver rather than heading more directly to Mexico via inland provinces and states (e.g. Alberta, Montana & south through Texas). Well there are a few reasons: first, I need an international Drivers License, which, as a Yukoner, I can only get from the BCAA. Second, I want to go to Oregon to check out the Pinot Noirs in the Willamette valley. My all time favourite wines are red Burgundies, especially from Gevrey-Chambertin (the original Pinot noirs). I want to see if Oregon wines come anywhere close. Third, I would like to go to Fort Bragg at the College of the Redwoods (probably North America’s prime woodworking school founded by Krenov) where Lymond Hardy is studying. I would also like to visit San Francisco, one of the two US cities I really want to see. (The other is New Orleans.).

Monday, November 16: Frustrating and soaked day in Vancouver.

Raining heavily most of the day; it’s not called the wet coast for nothing. Went to a travel clinic to get my vaccinations (I couldn’t get them in the Yukon because I would have waited until late November as they were too busy with H1N1 flu vaccinations. Unlike the rest of Canada, there was no problem getting flu vaccinations in the Yukon: I had to wait a full two and a half hours on the first day vaccinations became available, an I whined about it – I am in the priority groups as I had a heart attack and I suffer from mild COPD from 40 years of smoking.)

Anyway, they couldn’t vaccinate me right away at the private clinic I went to; I had to make an appointment and Thursday was the first day appointments were available. But they told me I could try calling later to see if there were any cancellations on Tuesday. I went to the BCAA where they told me their Internet connection was down and I would have to come back later or tomorrow, no idea when it would be up again. I also called an RV repair place, but they couldn’t fix the leak that day. I begged and they suggested I could bring the camper in later in the afternoon and they would take a look at it. To soothe myself, I went to Crappy Tire and bought some tire chains, wipers and a spare headlight.

I then brought the truck to the RV place. On the way back, I went to Chapters book store to look for Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries and Theroux’s Patagonia Express (thanks Carl for the suggestion). I bought the Motorcycle Diaries, but there were no copies of Theroux’s book in any Chapters store in Vancouver. I got totally soaked on the way home from the RV place as I forgot my umbrella.

Last night, I took Jacob & Ariel out to Piazza Dario restaurant at the Italian cultural centre. Excellent non-ethnic meal as always.

Tuesday 17th – Vancouver.

Got my shots @ 8:40, then went to BCAA and got my International Drivers Licence, went to Home Despot & bought some screws for the camper hasp/lock and a cheap Black & Decker cordless drill, and then to Crappy Tire for a propane tank fill indicator and a Haines manual for my truck (they had all the others in Whitehorse except for the one I needed. Says something about the popularity of the truck. Or maybe its need for repairs)

Went shopping with Ariel  Jacob and showed her how to make potato gnocchi and ragù. Two bottles of wine between the three of us and I am completing this blog entry, finally.

Hopefully, I will get going tomorrow and stay in some Walmart parking lot in Seattle.



Departure day: caribou, hotsprings and bison

13 November 2009

Left home at 9:15 after loading the food & last minute stuff and I made it to Liard Hot Springs at 7:35, 657 km.

Early on, I realized my headlights were not working. Checked the fuses & they seemed OK. I got worried & tried to figure out what I would do if I had to drive at night. I would have to drive at night if I wanted to make it to the hot springs as the sun now sets around 4:00 PM, I was going east, and it is an eight-hour drive from Whitehorse in the best conditions. I debated whether I should chance it, but good sense finally prevailed. When I got to Teslin where I gassed up, I decided to get the vehicle checked out in Watson Lake and if I had to stay there if need be instead of going to the Liard Hot Springs.

So I drove on, almost non-stop (except to pee) to Watson Lake. It was extremely windy until pas Watson Lake and the wind sometimes made the truck sway uncomfortably. There were flurries around Whitehorse and through the Cassiar Mountains, although, surprisingly, the road was completely dry east of the mountains. As I reached the Liard Plateau, I started seeing blue sky.

Caribou before Watson Lake

Caribou along the Alaska Highway before Watson Lake

About 20 km before Upper Liard, I saw quite a few (about 6 or seven) woodland caribou by the side of the road. I stopped to take the pictures, and a truck that was on my tail honked at me.

I saw three more caribou just a few kms before Upper Liard, a truck stopped to let them cross the road, but one headed back. I guess they must be suicidal caribou to hang out a few kilometers from a First Nation community. On the other hand, they are probably part of the Finlayson herd and the Kaska people have been doing their best to reestablish the herd over the last ten years or so. So they might have lost their fear of humans. For now anyway.

Caribou crossing Alaska Highway at Upper Liard

Caribou crossing Alaska Highway at Upper Liard

I got the truck lights checked out at Rudy’s in Watson Lake at 3:00PM. I thought I knew exactly what was wrong, and that we would have to go fix the connection to the camper clearance lights under the truck. Well, guess what? The mechanic checked the fuses and one was burnt. After the fuse was replaced, all the lights worked fine, although I might have to replace some of the rear clearance light bulbs.

Past Watson Lake, it soon got dark despite our long northern twilight and my speed went down to 80, then 70 (klicks that is). I did manage to take some pictures of bison before it got too dark. By 5:15 or so I was getting really tired and looked for a place to stop. Just before the Fireside lodge at 5:30, there was a turn-off. I stopped there, turned on the propane heater and tried to take a nap. Although I did not sleep, I did rest so that by 6:30, I was ready to go again.

Bison on Alaska Highway

Bison on Alaska Highway

At Fireside, there was a lit sign that alternated saying “Drive Carefully” and “Buffalo on the road for 90 km”. I tried taking a movie of it, but it did not turn out.

At the hot springs, first things first: grabbed my towel & bathing suit (bathing au naturel is frowned upon, silly Anglo puritanism) and headed for the pools. heavenly after a day’s drive.

Arctic char with garden fresh thyme (actually window box fresh, but whose countin’) and wine for supper, along with Maryel’s foccaccia to mop up the juice and half a bottle of Rosso del Veronese.

I gotta figure out a way of recording my thoughts while I’m on the road. I had a lot of great ideas while driving but I forgot most of them.

PS. Pictures coming later as I forgot the stupid wire to connect the camera to the ‘puter in the truck & I don’t feel like going out again. I am inputting this on Friday night in a hotel room in Fort Saint John, BC.