|Misty morning in the hot springs|
“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louise Stevenson
Adrienne and I awoke in the Liard Hot Springs Campground to the sounds of dog chow being poured into bowls and our shared camp slowly coming to life. I sat up as Adrienne shuffled out of the tent. I followed her, rezipping the tent over a layer of frost. So much for my worries about mosquitoes.
Kevin and Mariah finish feeding the dogs and we grab our frosty towels and swimsuits to head to the hot springs for a pre-coffee soak. The boardwalk to the springs was frosted over, and my bare toes were freezing. A light mist sits over the surrounding wetland and waking Canadian geese call in illuminating morning sun. I paused to take in the quiet, beautiful scene, and then hustled up to the hot springs before I got any frostier.
After our morning dip (which, originally intended to be 20 minutes, lingered well into an hour-long soak) we boiled up some coffee and packed the car with our frosty gear. I usually really try to avoid packing up a wet tent, but sometimes it can’t be avoided when one has to get moving after a cold, wet night. I find that airing the tent out for 10-20 minutes later in the day in a breeze or sunny spot (perhaps during a lunch pullout) can remedy the dampness factor and keep the inside of the car and future tent setup from being too wet (not to mention sleeping bags, pads, etc.).
|The ALCAN’s only remaining suspension bridge|
Adrienne and I hugged our dear friends (and pooches) goodbye, and hit the road.
The only downside of our stop at the Liard Hot Springs was the short driving day (we only made it ~450 miles). Today, we had to cover nearly 830 miles to make it to Jasper National Park where a reservation was waiting for us. Yikes! But nothing we couldn’t handle.
To start the morning trek, we had been advised to stop at the Toad River Cafe (home of the ALCAN’s largest hat collection), about 30 minutes down the road, for a hot breakfast and another cup of coffee before driving our first four hour leg to Fort Nelson (the food was so-so, the coffee hit the spot). One trick to enjoying long drives (for me, anyway) is stopping and enjoying 30 minutes of non-driving time (usually centered around a meal). Adrienne, in this case, was a great traveling partner because she was so good about gently suggestion I tear my eyes from the road and take a break.
The four hours from the hot springs to Fort Nelson were some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen (ever), which is a comment I don’t make lightly given the Alaskan landscapes I’m accustomed to. We saw our first big horn sheep, deer, and more caribou – very cool.
|Big Horn Sheep!|
From Fort Nelson our route turned south and we cruised toward Fort St. John and Dawson Creek, the official beginning of the Alaska-Canada Highway. The route slipped from B.C. into Alberta, and slowly became flatter and more industrial and agricultural. The beautiful twists and turns we had found in B.C. gave way to long, bland corridors of road through forested stretches, occasionally broken by nondescript little towns and fuel refineries. We eventually entered Alberta and descended into the prairie lands.
This portion of our trip was perhaps the least interesting, but improved once we neared Grand Prairie, home of seemingly every major box store on earth. It was getting on into the evening and we still had four hours of driving into Jasper, so we grabbed some groceries, gas, and hit the road straight south. Though the drive that day seemed epically long, the prolonged twilight over the rolling hills into Jasper were a welcomed reward for our endurance. The road followed the ridge of a long series of hills, gently sweeping us up and down in sunset lit valleys and tall, slender trees casting long shadows on the highway. We had the road mostly to ourselves, and though we were passing what would have likely been unattractive clear-cuts by day, the intermittent spaces added interesting texture to the landscape as we whizzed through.
|Heading toward Jasper|
“We cannot tell the exact moment a friendship is formed; as in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over.” – Gloria Naylor
One thing that always makes me nervous about traveling with someone new is whether I will “click” with that person or not. I don’t need someone to be my best friend necessarily (though a close friend can be nice), but finding your groove with someone can really help in developing a travel routine, making decisions together, and generally trusting in one another. Adrienne and I, while being good friends, have never had much one-on-one bonding time together, and so the long drive into Jasper served as a unique time for us to talk, laugh, and share important parts of ourselves that are now the basis of a truly great friendship. Sometimes it takes having literally nothing to do but watch for deer in the road to bring people together (ha!).
We pulled into Jasper after midnight, and quickly found our way to our campsite, set up the tent, and crashed into our sleeping bags. The campground was nearly deserted and, other than a flickering campfire visible through the trees, we enjoyed a silent night.