Entire Route So Far
I woke up around 7:30 AM today, and could see the mosquitoes bouncing off the tent windows above me. I really needed to pee but I had no bug repellent. I could tell it was going to be one of those days. I held it for as long as I could, then made a break for it. In truth, I waited a bit too long, because I had a bit of an accident on the way out of the tent. Just a little leak. No Chernobyl; more of a Three Mile Island… Then I had to race-walk to the woods past a row of happy, waving RV owners who knew exactly why I was walking into the woods at 7:45 AM. I broke camp around 8 and headed about a quarter mile to the Safeway, which is what had attracted me to the entire town in the first place. Not much was shaking in the 100 Mile House Safeway at 8 AM on a Thursday, so I was in and out pretty quickly. I made some small talk with the checkout lady and realized that mosquito talk is a great opening gambit up here. No matter how closed-off a person may be initially, they will open up to you about how bad the mosquitoes are this year (worse than normal, everyone says). Misery loves company.
It was a quiet, uneventful drive to Williams Lake, where I spotted the first McDonald’s in at least 300 miles. I noticed that the Canadian McDonald’s logo has a little red maple leaf in the middle of the golden arches, as if to assuage your concerns that you might be dealing with that American McDonald’s chain. I made a pit stop and tried the McGriddle. It was indistinguishable from its American counterpart. Then it was back on the road.
At Quesnel, I turned off on the road toward Barkerville. I had no idea what Barkerville might be, and it was a long detour, at the end of a 50-mile road that goes nowhere else. But, the “Milepost” (the North Country travel bible) said it was a highlight, so I figured, what the heck. A few miles outside of Barkerville, I noticed the car in front of me slowing down, then spotted a black lump in the middle of the road. Instantly suspecting it was a bear, I looked more closely and discovered that I was wrong. It was two bear cubs, playing in the middle of the road. They seemed supremely unconcerned about the approach of two cars, even when we were right on them. They scampered about for ten or twenty seconds, no more than 50 or 60 feet ahead of me. I got it on the dash cam, but I’ll have to review the footage when I get home because the camera’s resolution is higher than the laptop’s screen. Five minutes later, the car in front slowed down again and this time it was a moose in the middle of the road. It slowly sauntered off into the brush. I also got that on film. A three-fer in five minutes, not bad, and my first real wildlife sightings of the trip! Even if Barkerville turned out to be a total flop, the trip wasn’t wholly wasted. I did wish I’d been the car in front, however.
Well, Barkerville definitely turned out to be worth the side trip. It’s a preserved Gold Rush town, now operated by the government of BC as a park. Most of the buildings are open, and there are in-character actors in period attire who will show you around, perform little skits, and so on. Admission was $14.50 and included a return on the second day at no extra charge — a real bargain. Anything of the sort in the states would be double or triple the price. I arrived around 1 PM, and as I reviewed the timetable of activities for the day, I realized there wasn’t enough time to do everything I wanted in one afternoon. Around that same moment, the ranger mentioned to me that there was an on-site campground for $20 a night. As an added inducement, hot showers were available at a cost of $1 per four minutes. I was sold. Prince George would have to wait till another day; tonight I would stay in Barkerville, and would go back into the park tomorrow as well.
As I stood just inside the entrance, an older lady in period dress came up and invited me on the graveyard tour, which was leaving in about 15 minutes, and she was guiding it. I accepted her offer, and presented myself outside the Anglican Church shortly thereafter, along with maybe 10 other visitors. We had a leisurely stroll up to the cemetery, with her chattering away the entire time, and then wandered around looking at many of the graves and hearing the stories behind the people buried there. It was a very agreeable way to spend an hour and a half, although towards the end the mosquitoes appeared and became very persistent. I was surprised how many people had come from other places: England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales were obviously well-represented, along with the USA. But there were also people from France, Italy, and even Russia (now Norway). After the tour I raced back to the car and applied bug repellent. I found it really disagreeable, but I guess we’ll be good friends soon enough. After that, I took a tour of Chinatown. I noticed a lot of Chinese-looking visitors in Chinatown, and noticed a tour being conducted in what seemed to be Chinese. I gather this is an important place to many Chinese Canadians, since this would have been where their ancestors first came to the country. At one point during our tour, a mouse ran out from under a building and straight between our tour guide’s legs. She managed to stay in character, which was impressive. Later I saw a demonstration of Thai Chi, which required impressive strength and flexibility. The lady told me she had been a ballerina before, which surely helped.
Next I made my way over to the water wheel, and saw a comical presentation (“The Waterwheel Show”) in which the operation of the wheel was actually demonstrated. I received a small amount of good-natured teasing as one of the few foreigners. The presenters really were quite funny and good at working the crowd, and ad-libbing based on the crowd’s responses. I walked back down Main Street towards the Methodist Church, and along the way passed some street musicians singing interactive (Scottish?) folk songs with a pretty good crowd. Arriving at the Methodist Church/Courthouse, I observed as a younger man in a powdered wig held court. Most people on the frontier died before age 40, so the judges were young in those days too. I was commanded to stand and shout “God Save the Queen” along with everyone else present. He regaled us with humorous anecdotes of cases past, such as the one against an alleged horse thief in which the jury returned a verdict of “not guilty, but he must return the horse.” When told that was an unacceptable verdict, the jury changed it to “guilty, but he may keep the horse.” In another case, the judge told the defendant that he had dearly wanted to sentence him to hang, but the jury had failed in its duty to find him guilty of murder; then turned to the jury and stated that he’d like to see all of them hanged as well.
On my way out of town, I stopped by the offices of the Cariboo Sentinel and spoke with the printer. He gave me a demonstration of one of their presses, built in Paris and hauled in gear by gear on someone’s back. He told me that the Cariboo Sentinel circulated internationally, as far as London, because outsiders were eager to hear about the news from the gold fields. As a result, at least one copy of every issue of the Cariboo Sentinel is known to still exist, and they have recently been all digitized.
With that, it was already 6 PM so I decided to head back to camp. I got the tent set up, then wrote this blog entry. It was impossible to post it, however, as the nearest cell coverage was about 50 miles away. After that I went to take my shower. It was truly luxurious. However, even if you forget the mosquitoes for a little bit while you’re in the shower, rest assured they have not forgotten about you.
Entire Route So Far