August 04, 2006

Nahanni Butte to Fort Simpson to Jean Marie River to Fort Liard to Edmonton to Whitehorse

I spent Saturday trying to do some work in the heat of the Motel. I was covered in dirt and mosquito mush from my hike up Tthenaago, but because there was no water in the building, I didn't get a chance to shower until after 1pm. When I finally did get into the shower, it was a long one. I wiped dead mosquitoes out of my ears and tried to rinse out my socks. I never did get the socks clean.

To Fort Simpson
After my shower, I dropped by the band office to thank John for the use of his canoe and found out that there was a boat heading out to Blackstone in a few minutes. Since it was too hot in the motel to work, I decided to hop on the boat and make my way to Fort Simpson. I was waiting to hear if a meeting in Jean Marie River was a "go" and the best way to find out was to go to Fort Simpson.

The car had been misbehaving just after we started it, and if the meeting in Jean Marie River wasn't going to happen, I was going to continue along the Mackenzie Highway to Edmonton to get the car serviced.

I visited with some of the Nahanni Butte residents who were at Blackstone and were waiting for their ride upriver to the community. Not wanting to get into Fort Simpson too late, I jumped in the car and urged it to "wake up". When it finally got out of limp mode, I headed north.

The road was in great shape and I made good time on the highway. It felt great to travel the Liard Highway again and to relive memories of trips gone by. I passed the Poplar River bridge where I caught a jackfish smaller than the lure I was using. I passed the spot where Fawn and I stopped to stare in awe and a sky full of blood red northern lights. I passed the spot where Fawn and I stopped to watch a lynx grooming itself in our headlights. I felt content as I drove, smiling as each bend brought back a new memory.

I stopped in at Checkpoint and grabbed some snacks. It was already 8:00 pm and there was no way I was going to make it to Fort Simpson in time for any of the restaurants to be open.

Driving into the sun, now on the Mackenzie Highway, I made it to the ferry crossing, but had to wait half an hour for the ferry. A collection of "bulldogs", deer flies, and sand flies danced outside the driver's side window. They wanted in but I wasn't going to let them, even if it meant that I baked inside the car.

The ferry ride was a relief from the heat. The air over the water was warm, but still cooler than it was over land. The crew on the ferry was friendly, as usual, as they looked at license plates and asked the passengers where they were from.

First off the ferry, I had to pull off the road because the car had gone into limp mode again and wasn't going make it up the bank. I turned off the car and started it again, hoping it would make a different. After trying this strategy a few times, the car finally clunked into "go" mode and I made it up the bank and into Fort Simpson.

My plan was to spend the night in the Fort Simpson Territorial Park campground (a million times better than Fort Simpson's Nahanni Inn, even if I did once meet two ladies from Victoria who, several years ago, had their van rocked by a black bear in the campground), but I decided to do some visiting first. It was lucky that I dropped by Todd's place - he invited me in and offered me the use of his couch.

Todd was a great host and I spend two nights in Fort Simpson before motoring on to Jean Marie River. The meeting was on.

To Jean Marie River
The car gave me no troubles that morning, neither in town nor up the bank from the ferry and I breathed a sigh of relief as I drove to Jean Marie River.

After a quick two nights in Jean Marie River, it was time to head home. I was hoping to make it to Fort Liard for the night and then to Whitehorse the day after. It had been almost two weeks since I had been away from Fawn and Jade, and I knew Fawn could use a break.

To Fort Liard

It was raining as I loaded my bags into the car and I knew the highway would get soft and muddy. I started the car and headed down the Jean Marie River access road, but couldn't get it out of limp mode. After several stops and starts, it lurched and limped but just wouldn't go. It didn't matter how hard I pressed the gas pedal, the engine would sometimes rev and sometimes not, but the car would still creep along at a painful 30-40 km/h. It took about an hour before it finally slipped out of limp mode.

When I reached the junction of the Mackenzie Highway, I debated whether I should turn left, the short route to Edmonton where I could try to get the car serviced on short notice, or right, where Mike and Melanie were waiting up for me in Fort Liard, having offered me a room for the night at their place.

Although the urge to turn left was intense, I turned right and headed to Fort Liard. I didn't want Mike and Melanie to worry and I wanted to talk to Fawn and try book an appointment in Edmonton before I went down. It's crazy, and is the one thing that ticks me off about my car, but the only place I could get the problem, which was software-related, solved was at my friendly neighbourhood dealership - 2,000 km from home. It wouldn't be an issue if Volvo would release their codes to mechanics along with most of the other car manufacturers, but nooooo...

I motored along the Mackenzie Highway and turned down the Liard Highway. The Liard Highway, so full of fond memories on the drive north, was now a rutty road full of muddy puddles. I was driving an unreliable vehicle and didn't like it. A breakdown on a northern road can mean a lot more than a night spent on the side of the road - it can also mean a very, very, very costly tow.

I made it safely to Fort Liard, however. I called Fawn who, when I mentioned my debate about turning left or right but wanting to talk to her first, informed me that, "Next time, for future reference, just make an executive decision."

To Edmonton
I was up early to call the dealership and after getting an appointment first thing the next morning, I hopped into the car again, drove around town coaxing it out of limp mode, and headed down the highway. 1,250km to Edmonton with two stops for gas, and I was at my cousin's place before nightfall.

It was great seeing my cousin again and finally meeting his wife and little boy. I slept deeply that night, despite recurring dreams about having legs that wouldn't move as quickly as I urged them to.

I rose early, wanting to beat the rush hour traffic to the dealership. It's a good thing I did. The car wasn't cooperating again and I drove with the four-way flashers on almost the whole way there, hoping I wouldn't have to make another turn through an uncontrolled intersection like the one out of the neighbourhood.

To Whitehorse
The dealer was done by lunch. I stuffed a meal into myself at a restaurant near the dealer and hit the road. As much as I wanted to, I didn't have time to visit friends. I had to get back to Whitehorse to relieve Fawn and to meet my parents, who were arriving in Whitehorse later that afternoon.

I drove and drove and drove, stopping only for gas and dinner. The rain poured down and I turned my wipers on full-speed. Small lakes formed on the highway, so I slowed, only to have the rain disappear a few kilometres later, leaving a bone-dry roads and brilliant rainbows. This happened over and over as thunderheads passed overhead.

The sun was setting as I drove out of Fort Nelson, illuminating the sky in a brilliant pink. The cool air caused a thick white mist to form in the ditches and clearings along the road.

I followed other vehicles into the mountains, rationalizing that, if there are animals on the road, they'll hit them first. Fortunately, none of the vehicles in front of me hit animals, but my strategy didn't stop one caribou near Summit Lake from stepping into the road after the vehicle in front of me had passed.

I noticed it in time and decided that I wouldn't go much further that night. I ended up stopping at a pullout in an alluvial fan at Muncho Lake. A motorhome and trailer had the same idea.

After adjusting some bags in the truck and lowering the back seats, I stretched out and fell fast asleep in the back of the car. Ah, station wagons! Could there possibly be a better car design?

Up early again, using some water from a water bottle, I brushed my teeth and drove. Although I stopped for breakfast at Liard River, I was eager to get home and ignored the hot springs. I was in "drive mode" now, and was making good time. Only 708 km to go.

I made two stops on the way home. One for gas, and one to investigate a small lake I had seen on the drive south. I needed to stretch my legs and shoulders and the lake seemed like the perfect opportunity.

The shores around the lake were white and, at first, I thought that it might be a salt lake. It was, upon investigation, white clay mixed with some sort of pale plant. It was pretty and the clay was fairly firm, so I decided to walk to the edge of the clear, green water and take a picture.

And then I was dive-bombed by the gull. Flying around my back, the gull would then swoop towards my head. After several kamikaze attempts on my head, I retreated to the treeline where I grabbed a long stick for protection.

I walked back out onto the clay and, when the gull made an attempt on my head, I let loose with a few threatening swings of the stick. After a few more attempts, each one further and further away from the last, the gull flew off into the trees and perched atop a tall spruce. I looked around the clay for a next of any kind, but saw none.

I walked towards the waterline, camera at the ready, and kept peeking over my shoulder at the gull. I shook the stick one more time, threateningly before turning to take the picture. I got one, but wasn't satisfied. I took a few more steps forward, looked back to ensure the gull was still on its perch framed my shot.

Whoosh! I felt the wind whip up the back of my head and swore I could feel the gull's stiff feathers on the back of my neck. I leapt down into a crouch (yes, it is possible to leap into a crouching position), and filled my sandals with muddy clay.

Realising that I wasn't going to get the picture I wanted, I grabbed my stick and retreated back to my car, stopping to clean my sandals, but holding my stick until I was safely inside the vehicle.

And be mid-afternoon, I was back in Whitehorse, greeted by Fawn, Jade and my parents.

Stiff and tired from the drive, Fawn treated me to a back rub. It was good to see them again. In two weeks, I drove over 5000km, most of that in two or three days.

And now my dad tells me he want us to join them on a drive to Inuvik.

Sure, why not.

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