Saturday, June 26, 2010

Twilight Zone North

                                   Light lingers ever longer in the North as we drive the Adventure Highway
                                   In a few weeks time we sleep as the orchestra plays its many variations
                                   During the day we seek out roads, lakes and rivers that follow Scenic Byways
                                   Never to forget our days and nights on Boya Lake amid God's creations.

                                     By ageless kayak we search the land of yesterday today
                                     To follow a path of timeless wisdom, heart and light
                                     I know a lake full of jade and gold this very May
                                     That entices the stars and planets at its very sight.

                                       Clouds capture water colors day and muted night swoon
                                       Appear majestic and serene as sun sets yonder and near
                                       To the sounds of shrilling loon and silent rising moon
                                       Whispering that life this day is precious and very dear. 

                                         We set to sleep in our home away from home so slow 
                                         Midst the splendor of love and comfort until fall
                                         Cached by mountains, forests, and golden glow
                                         To give thanks to the wonder and mystery of it all.

The Moose Hunt

One of the fun activities to share with my co-pilot when driving along the Cassiar Highway is to look for wildlife. We have a reward system in place for the person who spots the chosen animal of the day. I get a donut at Tim Horton's Restaurants (fortunately we only find one a week) or Nola gets a Trail-Mix cookie. The animal we seek the most is the Moose.  It has a special place in my heart and memory bank because of a two week canoe trip fully self-contained, down the Allagash Waterway in Northern Maine about 12 years ago. We traveled from lake to river to lake in our Old Town Tripper canoe, in my opinion one of the finest canoes ever made. It could carry almost anything including folding chairs, a large tent, giant icebox, and enough food for two weeks.  Most importantly, it was a ruggedly built, sturdy boat that could navigate up to Class 3 rapids safely as we did on the McKenzie River in Western Oregon, our practice waters for whitewater canoeing when we were a tad younger. The amazing thing about the Allagash was we saw moose seemingly around every bend of the river within 25 feet of the canoe, some that we had to dodge in fear of bumping into them.  In total we saw about 30 Moose during the total time on the Waterway.

Jack Chief had mentioned that he saw a cow and calf moose on one of the islands during the past week.  In fact, it seemed that this particular cow moose delivered a calf out there each year over the past two years.  That was enough for us! It wasn't long before we were in our kayaks on a moose hunt ready to photograph the slightest movement in the bush.  But first a little description of this unique animal that inhabits many of the forests in northern North America.  I understand it was even mentioned in Caesar's Gallic Wars which I had to translate during my freshman year in a Jesuit High School where Latin was required two periods a day.  I don't recall a moose being mentioned which was a bit surprising since I was required to memorize whole pages of the text in Latin as some form of medieval torture for freshman, or so I thought at the time.

As we slowly paddled around the islands over the next hour we were listening for any sudden movement or unusual sounds.  What I remember is that they are, huge!  In fact, the moose is the largest member of the deer family (caribou, deer, elk and moose), about the same size as an adult horse. They weigh about 800 (females) to 1200 pounds (males) or more with a large male found in the Yukon that weighed in at 1800 pounds. As browsers that feed off plants, twigs, and fruit, they consume nearly 10,000 calories a day. Their large body size and long legs enable them to forage in ponds, rivers and lakes during the summer and deep snow in the winter. They reach up to seven feet at the shoulder and have few predators although wolf packs and grizzlies take calves in the spring.  They can be a hazard on the highway as they are known to be oblivious to cars and motorhomes and even charge an auto once in a while. Impacts are often fatal for driver and moose as they often land on the windshield and crush the front roof support and occupants. Thus, there are lots of signs on the highways in Canada that suggest drivers slow down and be aware of moose crossings. In general, moose are the most dangerous animal in the wild, attacking more humans than bears and wolves combined.  About the time I started to imagine what they could do to our fragile kayaks, I heard movement and galloping sounds along the shore above where we could barely see the outline of a moose. Or...was it a horse?

Then...Holy Mother! The cow moose jumped out of the brush right in front of my kayak.  I wasn't sure if she was about to attack or not but a calf soon followed and we were in a precarious photography heaven!

Considering I left my good Nikon camera and telephoto lens behind in the motorhome, I was shooting furiously with my pocket Canon trying to capture any form of the moose crossing.

They were moving from one island to another and we just happened to be in the right spot at the right time.  There were no aggressive gestures as we silently treaded water observing their agility and amazing speed going from land to water and back.

Oh well! Just another extraordinary day on Boya Lake along the Highway to Adventure.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Jack Chief of Boya Lake

Staying on the Cassiar Highway towards Alaska, we drove to Boya Lake Provincial Park as our next destination, about 45 miles south of the British Columbia -Yukon border on May 29th, nine days after crossing into Canada. I love this slow life to adventure!  We rarely drive more than four hours a day and aim to keep the speed to 50 miles an hour.  This helps with fuel economy but most importantly allows us to observe wildlife and the spectacular scenery along the way.

We had heard that Boya Lake was very special not only for its colorful setting but as one of the finest kayak and canoe lakes in this part of BC. We weren't disappointed! As we walked around to search for a camping site, we found lake views that were breathtaking with a background of dark green forests and distant mountains reflected on the turquoise waters.

My wife and I constantly kidded each other.  These were our front and back yards. No mowing of grass, no cabins or houses to keep up, no gutters to clean, no snow to plow.  And, we practically had the lake to ourselves. Our only problem was to select the best campsite. Geez! What a challenge!

The campsites were pristine and I wondered who took care of these places in the middle of nowhere next to a highway close to the Yukon Territory.  We finally selected our home space where we would settle for the next four days.

The weather was warmer than expected with few bugs much to our surprise, evidently due to a dry, early spring with temperatures in the 60's.  It didn't take much nudging to take over the breakfast duties the next morning and prepare an outdoor feast on our new lake front property.

It was during this time that we met the caretaker of the park and our first opportunity to talk with Jack Chief, born and raised in this northern part of BC, an Athapaskan Indian who was a member of the Kasha tribe, belonging to the First Nation Peoples of Canada.

Over the next few days Jack would stop and share his background with us in answer to my many questions of his life in the North.  The Kasha belong to the indigenous peoples of Alaska and Northwestern Canada, part of the Athapaskan population who live in the interior where there is an abundance of fish and wildlife in the many streams, rivers, lakes, dense forests, and lofty mountains especially during the long days of light in the summer months.  They were originally a subsistence, hunting-gathering, semi-nomadic people living primarily off the land in harmony with the seasons, following the animal migrations for food and clothing. His ancestors originally traveled across the Bering land bridge from Asia that connected Alaska and Siberia some 18,000 years ago. They had their first contact with Europeans in the 1820's with trappers of the Hudson Bay Company, followed by gold prospectors in the 1890's, and the Roman Catholic Missionaries of the 1920's. Finally, the Alaska Highway Construction crews and the US Army advanced in 1942 and in the process changed their lives forever. In 1977, there were 750 members of the Kasha tribe in Northern British Columbia.

From what I recall, Jack Chief originally lived with his clan of parents, siblings, and extended family members, was taught to fish and hunt in the same waters and lands where he works today as an independent contractor for the Provincial Parks.  He was sent away to Catholic Boarding School for eight years as a young boy. There he was  taught the ways of the white man as part of the cultural integration movement into Canadian mainstream life. This was similar to the steps taken with Native Americans by the US Government.  Although things improved during the 1950's as the Canadian Government expanded social services and started to recognize the needs of the Aboriginal population, Jack, like many of his fellow tribal members, was abused in school, become an alcoholic for many years, and suffered through a very difficult period of life.  A gentle, soft-spoken man, he was about my own age in his early seventies, who has been free of alcohol since he was in his fifties.  With a wide grin, he said "I finally realized how to work in the white man's society.  I am happy now."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Germans are coming, the Germans are coming!

After a delightful four days and three nights at Meziadin, we reluctantly headed north once again along the Cassiar Highway.  It turns out that we both wanted to stay longer and explore more of the lake and I could have spent another three days just fly fishing. We thought that we needed a schedule...a plan...a goal.  But in fact, we needed none.  We had lived by goal setting for so many years that one forgets that life is not a goal, a peak to conquer, or fortune to make. Here on the Slow Road to Adventure, it was just to experience and participate and share in the wonder of it all. And to give thanks for each special moment. It was a wake-up call as we decided to throw off any time limits with or without an itinerary.  We had a good one provided by Pete Reed, Wagon Master of the Lazy Daze NW group, but we realized that the group thing would not work for us.  We wanted to slow down even more and catch each precious moment of life here in the North Country. So we moved the return dates from mid-July past August into September or whenever, maybe until the snow started falling. We were both hooked!

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. My great grandparents are from Toulouse, France, who immigrated to Quebec, Canada.  And, my grandparents on both sides were from Quebec who eventually crossed the border into Maine to start new lives; so the French Canadian influence has always been strong upon me. In fact my first schooling was at a French Catholic boarding school where half the classes were taught in French and the others in English by the Sisters of Mercy. I wanted to spend a great deal of time in Canada.

At nearly every campground and many towns along the way, we were intrigued that most travelers on the road with us were German, Swiss, or Dutch. A few Americans, a handful of Canadians, and mostly Europeans.  Especially the Germans who were on vacation and outnumbered other travelers 10 to 1. They were crazy for BC and the Yukon.  We met some who had travelled here each summer for 20 years by camper.  They return home each fall dutifully back to their families, but as one old timer said to us in broken English, "My heart is in the Yukon." I find it interesting that the original Alaska Highway or "Alcan" (a military acronym for the Alaska-Canada Highway) as noted in "The Milepost", was started in March 1942 by the American military and completed a little over eight months later in October as an important part of the war effort and a strategic necessity.

As we entered Kinaskan Provincial Park, we camped next to a couple our age from Switzerland who were travelling with another younger couple originally from East Germany.  The Swiss couple were especially curious about us and our lifestyle asking questions about how much money we received in retirement, Social Security payments, and the cost of life on the road. We compared notes and surprisingly, our government retirement benefits were similar. They had recently purchased a camper and truck in Alberta and bought an inflatable raft with electric motor to fish the lakes along the way. As he talked to me about the local fishing for Rainbow Trout, I couldn't resist the temptation. I talked him into taking me along and soon we were trolling for the famous rainbows of Kinaskan Lake.

Fishing and especially hunting is expensive business in Europe beyond the financial means of most citizens.  Johan was enjoying himself immensely as we caught some rainbow trout, again near the inlets of feeder streams.  We made a date for early the next morning as well and he was able to take four beautiful and tasty trout with him on his way north.

It was great fun to share our stay on Kinaskan Lake with Johan and Marisa of Switzerland ...

as well as ... Derek and Kristen of Germany.

Hello Dolly!

One of the big surprises as we entered Meziadin PP was to view another six or so Lazy Daze motorhomes camped around one section of the lake. We hadn't seen anyone since our rally near Port Townsend on May 16-18 of about 30 Lazy Dazes from all over the Northwest. Eight would head for Alaska, five by ferry and three by road. The idea was to hook up somewhere along the Cassiar Highway, so we were thrilled to see our small group once again ... just in time for a celebration potluck.  The big hit for the evening were the tales and taste treats of baked Dolly Varden that were caught by Tony and cooked by Michelle.  Turned out that Tony hired a guide who was the local camp contractor for Meziadin PP and doubled as a fishing guide.  After an initial run to the end of the lake in a comfortable motorboat, Tony cast a spinning lure into a feeder stream and practically had a Dolly on the line within minutes, the largest going for nearly five pounds. All twelve of us dined on two of his keepers.


So what in the heck is a Dolly Varden?  Good question, as I had never even seen one before in my life much less caught one!  The good book says that "Dolly Varden Trout is a subspecies of anadromous fish in the salmon family and is technically a char."  OK?  Is it a trout...salmon...or char? Well, it's in the family of Salmonidae so it can't be all bad except that it loves to feed on salmon eggs. Yikes! It's a cannibal!  Sounds terrible except that many fish like to feed on salmon eggs and each other for that matter. And humans like to feed on them! They range from Puget Sound to Alaska in rivers, streams and lakes.  In the spring they tend to be olive green on their back and shade to white on the belly.  Then in the late summer towards spawning season they turn to a foxy red near the lower sides and belly....better to snare you with my dear!

The word was out that the action at Meziadin lake was hot!!!  Campers were coming in with motor boats, lots of gear, and tales to tell.  The challenge was on!  And by the second day I was in my solo Pack Canoe (33 pounds) scouting for feeder streams as potential fishing holes.  After watching others on the lake catch some big ones on lures in the morning, I paddled way over to the other side of the lake to three feeder streams and bingo! I hit the jackpot.  First cast produced a near three pounder. Second cast a near five pounder.

Not bad for the first that weighed in at two pounds ten ounces followed by one of four pounds eleven ounces.  The lucky charms were a Len Thompson Diamondback Spoon (yellow with red diamonds pattern) and a Blue Fox Super Vibrax spinning lure.  Our neighbor next to us who had fished these waters for over five years complimented me by saying that was the biggest he had seen during that whole period.  That is, until the next day, and he produced a real five pounder.  My short claim to Canadian angling fame!                                                  

Using a new, portable Coleman stove with grill and burner (and extra griddle), I had planned to cook lots of fish on the trip away from the motorhome kitchen to keep the fish odors from lingering in our rig for days.  It worked like a charm as we had filets for several days and David's fish chowder (with added shrimp, clams, and Dolly Varden) for the next week.  And fish left over for the freezer.  In fact, most of my fishing neighbors would save a week's worth of limits, and can the fish for the winter using a pressure cooker so that even the bones were tender.  Life is good here in the Far North!

Meziadin Lake Provincial Park

It seems we are leaving the urban world behind as we drive farther north in British Columbia leaving the city of Prince George far behind as we navigate Route 37, The Cassiar Highway. It's taken a few days to get the mindless chatter out of my head from Cable TV, Talk Radio, and even the NY Times, Washington Post, and the Oregonian warning of terrorism alerts, bank crises, company bankruptcies, fiscal disasters on the horizon, and the endless stories of immigration and local crime.  Our only connection to the outer world is now through occasional use of Satellite Radio, Skype and the Internet. Our TV antenna is blocked by one of our kayaks on top of the RV and our evening entertainment comes from evening walks, DVD's, music, reading, and games.  I can feel the ordinary stress of city living fade away into the background as we focus on the moment and enter the realm of Provincial Parks.

British Columbia will celebrate its centennial next year in commemoration of its first Provincial Park that was established in 1911. They are similar to the best of our State Parks often situated adjacent to a lake or river for breathtaking views. Meziadin Lake PP is no exception. The view alone was worth the $16 fee for a backdrop that presented a panorama of Meziadin Lake, waterfalls, lush green forests, and snow covered mountains. Our dry camping site provided a picnic table and fire pit with separate toilet and water facilities. Our electric is provided by two solar panels on top of "Dorothy" as we affectionately call our motorhome, and a generator if we need it. We were in "outdoor" heaven!


It wasn't long before we had the kayaks and canoe down and we were exploring what would become our home surroundings for the next few days as the sun, clouds and rain swapped places to give us an ever changing series of colorful vistas.

What a way to end a spectacular day and enter the world of the Far North.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The World's Largest Fly Rod

During the initial days on the road after crossing the border at Sumas, WA, we travelled through Hope, Cache Creek, Williams Lake, Quesnel, and Prince George, B.C. as described by my wife Nola in her separate blog, "Taking the High Road."  The weather was great, the scenery magnificent, and the people along the way, warm and friendly. the little town of Houston, I found a hidden treasure...well, not so hidden.  The world's largest fly rod.  Wowzee!  I knew I was entering paradise.

Thanks to Helga and Roy Byman, we have the opportunity to gaze upon this work of art and let the imagination guide the direction to the next phase of our trip.   Lakes, rivers, and streams lay directly ahead of us.

The only problem in beautiful British Columbia is how to select what would be the favorite haunts of Issac Walton.  There are so many possibilities!  And, with good luck they are directly ahead.  After four long days of driving I am ready to explore the forests and streams.

I've got a date with Dolly Varden on Meziadin Lake in Meziadin Provincial Park.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Taking The Slow Road To Alaska

Three years ago, my wife and I completed our last teaching assignment overseas, bought a Lazy Daze, Class C Motorhome, and started exploring the USA and Canada at our leisure.  We had been full-timing when we returned to Eugene, Oregon, this past fall and decided to spend the winter in a stick-house to test out whether we wanted to settle down or continue on the road.  Using the home of friends who wintered in Hawaii, it took us about a month to realize that we missed the RV lifestyle.  Through the rains and dark days of winter, it gave us an opportunity to modify and upgrade our moving home, and prepare for life on the road once again, this time to explore Alaska and the North Country.

A few days ago we arrived in Whitehorse, capital of the Yukon Territory, and it seemed the right time to share our adventures with friends and family, active and armchair travelers, in two separate but related blogs: Taking The High Road (by my wife Nola), and Highway to Adventure by yours truly.   We invite you to join us along the way and share our lifestyle of excitement, awe and adventure.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

North to Alaska