Entire Route So Far
During the night, it got very, very cold. I had not realized it but Barkerville is at over 4000 feet in elevation, and as it also lies at around 55 degrees north, it gets cold even during the summer. In the town today, multiple people commented on the warm weather — my thermometer showed 61 degrees. But I was also told that in winter, Barkerville gets up to 30 feet of snow. So I guess it’s all relative.
I went back into town in time to catch the “Amazing Tales from the Gold Rush” program at 9:30. The presenter mentioned that in the early days, the first prospectors found gold nuggets the size of their thumbs, and could just scoop them out of the creek beds. Some of those guys (and they were ALL guys, of course) were making the modern equivalent of $15,000 a day, which sounds good until you recognize that the cost of an egg was around $500, and a pair of rubber boots something on the order of $6,000. In fact, boots were so valuable that miners slept with them on, and occasionally got “gumboot gout” as a result, requiring amputations of toes, or worse. Everything was so expensive because there were no roads, or even trails that could support pack animals, meaning everything had to be hauled in on someone’s back, for hundreds of miles. Whatever you wanted was available… for a price, of course.
Eventually, the government of British Columbia (then a colony of England) built a road to the area at enormous expense, to facilitate more efficient extraction of the gold. Gold mining was really the only reason for the colony’s existence, and the cost of the road nearly bankrupted the government of the territory. Around that time, America had just purchased Alaska, and had shown interest in British Columbia for the purpose of linking it up to the western states. The newly-formed Dominion of Canada was not eager to have its access to the Pacific cut off, and so in the end it was agreed that British Columbia would become a new province of Canada, and the eastern government would assume the territory’s debts, and give other considerations as well.
After that, I took a pleasant tour of the town, which lasted about an hour, then went to see a presentation about the life of Billy Barker, the town’s namesake. Born in England, Billy discovered a huge strike at the town that now bears his name, became fabulously wealthy, and ultimately died a pauper, buried in an unmarked grave somewhere down south. Then it was on to see a lecture about ladies’ underwear in the Victorian era, which was more interesting than it sounds, although I did note that I was the only male in the room.
At half past noon, I had intended to go to the “full-immersion Victorian schoolhouse lessons” but it was made clear that actual whacking with a ruler would be involved, and I had second thoughts. Instead, I wandered about a mile up the road to the former town of Richfield, of which only the courthouse remains. It was possible to take a ride on the horse wagon instead of walking, and this seemed the popular option, but I decided I would keep my $15 and expend the shoe leather, thank you very much. On the way out of town, I was delayed after encountering a street meeting of the “Barkerville Pickwick Club,” and by some folk music being played in front of the theater. At the courthouse, two actors (including the judge from yesterday) engaged in a comic re-enactment of a murder trial, with one actor playing the judge and the other playing all the other roles, including defendant, witnesses, attorneys, etc. Spoiler alert: he was found guilty. The day had been overcast, but on the walk back down to Barkerville, the sun came out and it warmed up into the 60s.
Up to this point, I’d mainly been taking in the shows and presentations, so I decided to walk methodically down main street and look at the buildings. I took a lot of photographs and had some interesting conversations with passersby, both actors and fellow visitors. Just at the end of main street, my phone battery died, which I took as my cue to hit the road. It was already 3 PM and I have most definitely been taking my time.
I didn’t really know what to expect from Barkerville, but it turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. Highly entertaining and great value for money. I especially appreciated that the actors didn’t talk down to us, or turn everything into a Disneyesque gloss on the past, as surely would have happened down in the States. There was also a lot of wit and humor on display, including lots of wordplay, some more subtle than others. I often found myself the only one laughing at the joke — so I’m not sure if Canadians don’t get their own humor, or maybe it wasn’t a joke at all and I’m just an asshole.
The rest of the drive was fairly unremarkable. I got to Prince George around 6 PM, the only sizeable town in a long way. I had intended to visit a Canadian Tire just to see what it was like, but on the way I spotted a Costco and stopped for gas. But first, I went inside and wound up buying a spare pair of jeans, just in case. For added humor, it turns out that American Costcos only take Visa, and Canadian ones only take MasterCard, as I discovered only after I got to the checkout and swiped my Visa. This led to several minutes of the confused clerk trying to reset the terminal while Canadians who wanted to start their weekend glared at me. Ha ha! Also, they use chip and PIN up here, unlike our antediluvian chip and signature, which complicates things further. Next door to the Costco was a large establishment called “The Real Canadian Superstore,” and of course I couldn’t pass that up. It appeared to be a Real Canadian version of Wal-Mart but with less selection. Alas, it seems nobody up here stocks the mosquito repellent towelettes. I may have to make my dwindling current stock last to Alaska. There was a Wal-Mart down the road, but I decided to press on and get the hell out of Dodge. Canadian Tire was utterly forgotten. Next time, C.T.
By this time, the evening was wearing on, and my navigation instruments indicated the presence of a free campground about 100 km ahead. I’m a sucker for FREE, so I set my course to there and off I went. Well, when I got there, it was totally overrun with Real Canadians who had scooped up all the campsites, so I pulled off into the grass by the boat ramp and thought I’d sleep in the car for the night. I got as far as uploading my map tracks for the last two days. After maybe half an hour, though, it began to occur to me that everyone else there was in an RV, and they were all sitting outside on “main street” in their folding chairs, watching me. There were lots of little kids running around everywhere, and while nobody said or did anything to make me feel unwelcome, I realized I was the only outsider there. And, after sober reflection, I decided maybe this was not the place to spend my night. I consulted the instruments again, and they said there was another campground about 30 minutes ahead, this one a paid facility operated by BC Parks. The thought of spending $22 (Canadian) to park my car for the night cut me where it hurt, but then visions of a Canadian version of “Deliverance” began to play through my mind, and I decided $22 was really not that much in the grand scheme of things, for an unworried, un-harassed, clearly lawful sleep. I pressed on.
When I got to Campsite Two, at a place called “Whiskers Point,” I found that it was lovely, sitting beside beautiful Lake McLeod, and completely occupied. 70 campsites and all taken. How was this possible, I wondered, before realizing it’s Friday in high season. I guess I will have to expect trouble on the weekends from here on out. Maybe I’ll get lucky and the crowds will die out further north. Anyway, this campsite was no longer an option either. I got back out on the road and started looking. About 10 km further on I saw the familiar blue sign indicating camping off to the left, so I took the road down here, to a site called Tudyah Lake. The place is once again filled with RVs and nary a tent in sight, but it’s clearly a campground, and apparently free. All the “real” spots were taken, so I am parked on a grassy spot at the very end, sleeping in my car, and hoping for the best. It’s 10:30 PM and there is just a hint of light left, enough for kids to still be riding their bikes around. There is no cell service, so for the second night in a row I cannot post my update. My blog fans are probably beginning to wonder if I’ve disappeared into the Canadian outback, never to be heard from again. The answer to that question remains to be seen.
[Editor’s note: at 10:50 PM, my phone buzzed, indicating that I’d just gotten a text message. Somehow, 3G service had become active, and a few minutes after that, LTE, but just barely. Not sure if it’s due to thermal fade during the day dying down, or if everyone else in the campground just turned off their phones, leaving less competition for my signal. Anyway, if you see this then I successfully connected well enough to post.]
Tomorrow morning, three hours’ drive should bring me to Dawson Creek, the “official” starting point of the Alcan Highway. I still have 1700 km to go to get to Whitehorse, Yukon, and even further to go after that to get to Alaska. Two lane roads the whole way, with RVs, logging trucks, and indeterminate heavy machinery blocking progress, never knowing where I’ll lay my head that night or what the following day will hold in store.
Bring it on.
Entire Route So Far