Sunday, May 26, 2013

Heading west and north into long days and short nights

Me and Hapi above Alexandra Falls, NWT
Since last post I have visited friends in Edmonton, spent the Victoria Day long weekend in Hay River NWT with family (Josh, Kim and Eva), and arrived in the lower mainland BC. All pretty much on schedule. Didn't visit brother in Timmins due to snow storm there that I didn't particularly want to drive through. Unfortunately I think I made the right choice, it sounded pretty bad in the news afterward. As it was I did hit snow on the alternate route I took, but not significant amounts on the road. Just kind of miserable.

I found nice places to stop overnight, once on a snowy beach on Lake Superior, once on a lake near the Ontario-Manitoba border, and once in a park-like area in a valley in Saskatchewan. The first night on Lake Superior was the only really cold night, about -5C, but I had enough warm bedding to get through the night comfortably. There was a rime of frost inside and out of the whole truck in the morning. I stayed with friends in Edmonton, and they in turn gave me the address of a relative halfway to Hay River where I stayed the following night.

Saw a turkey buzzard, snow geese, three black bears, either two beavers or one beaver twice, numerous deer, some elk, caribou and mountain sheep?/goats? Hapi chased the beaver but they were close to their waterway and slipped into the water before she was anywhere close. Happened twice in on the same creek, which is why I don't know if it was the same individual or not.

On the road from Edmonton to Hay River the scenery gradually changes from large flat fields to forest to muskeg-like terrain. In the last part there was lots of waterways, and almost every body of water contained a beaver dam and/or lodge(s). I bet that entire landscape is created by the beaver. Some of the lodges were huge, at least one I saw was half the size of my own home. One place had four of them in a row, no more than 8 feet apart.

Two of the bears I saw were just sitting on the side of the road, watching the cars go by. A car in front of me stopped at the first bear, presumably to take a picture, and the car occupants and bear just looked at each other for several minutes. I debated whether to wait or pass, and then the car finally pulled forward. The bear waited. I could have stopped and exchanged stares with him too, but wasn't sure why I would want to do that. So I drove on. The second bear was not as interested in staring, it ambled off into the forest when the car ahead of me slowed down.

Hay River is not the prettiest town, definitely not a tourist destination. Most people bypass the town and keep driving to Yellowknife. Hay River is more of a frontier working town, the terminus of the railroad where supplies and equipment are off-loaded onto barges to cross Great Slave Lake and go north down the Mackenzie River. The river is open to barge traffic all summer all the way to the Arctic Ocean. The lake is not yet clear of ice so the barges are all lined up in the port waiting for that momentous occasion.

My son and his family live in the old Hay River townsite. Back in the '60s that area flooded badly and people were encourage to move to higher ground, but a few stayed and after a while others moved in as well, so it is a regular neighbourhood now, it's just that the town powers-that-be would prefer all those people to move elsewhere. As it is they are required to have their homes up off the ground a minimum distance and many houses appear to be sitting on jacks. My son's home is a trailer raised about 5 feet from the ground. His home is so well insulated that his heating bill last winter was actually lower than mine. Windows are all triple-glazed.

There are no sewer or water pipes in that neighbourhood so their water tank is filled several times a week and their sewage tank emptied once or twice a week. The water tank sits in an alcove off the hallway and is made of translucent plastic so you can tell at a glance how much water remains. One day I was there we were not running the washing machine or dishwasher, and flushing the toilet sparingly because the tank was low. Since a water delivery was scheduled for the next day they didn't want to order an extra delivery.

The first full day I was there Josh booked a Cessna (named "Snoopy") at work to take us all for a little flight. We flew over a waterfall (Alexandra Falls on the Hay River) I had seen on the trip to their place, it was fairly spectacular.



Here is that waterfall viewed up close on the ground. Lotta lotta water! We visited there the next day and the photo of me at the beginning of this post was taken then.


We flew over the new town and the old town, we saw their house from the air (recognizable by the trampoline out front).

Hay River (new town) proper. 
The airport, the railroad terminus and the old town site would all be off to the far left of this photo.
Hay River old town, can you see the trampoline? 
Hint, upper left quadrant, third lot in on first road running up/down in photo
We did a couple of shopping trips in the main town so I got "the tour" (here's where I work, there's the firehall, this is the grocery store, over there is the high school...) and once Kim and I drove through the reserve since she had never been there and of course neither had I. What can I say, it looked like a reserve.

Every evening we took the two dogs, my dog Hapi and their shih-tsu Brewster for a walk in the neighbourhood and over to a vacant field where they could be let offleash. Brewster was initially excited to have a new doggy playmate but when Hapi responded to Brewster's invitations to play he was quickly overwhelmed. Having an 80-lb malamute leaping over him and growling in his face (a play growl) was not quite his idea of play. After that they were content to share space but not attempt to play with each other.

I was in Hay River for the Victoria Day long weekend, and met Josh's boss at the airport as well as the chief pilot and his wife. We had dinner with them and in the course of various activities that weekend met several other friends and acquaintances. My overall impression of the town was that it is a pretty typical working frontier town and the community is fairly friendly. Not a beautiful place but kind of interesting. People hunt and fish and work hard. No shortage of jobs or work. The evening the other pilot and his wife came by was marked by a big homemade lasagna dinner and a few beers and the sharing of local gossip. We were going to do a fish fry, but the local fisherman had nothing on hand as they were between seasons.

I never saw darkness there. It is not quite the time of year when there is no night at all, but we never stayed up late enough to see the dark and it only would have lasted a short time before it became light again. Judging by the local hardware store, people were just gearing up for spring planting of flowers and vegetables. Lawns were still brown and there was still some snow lying about, but it was warm and spring was definitely in the air.

We went to the beach on Great Slave Lake on a lovely warm sunny day; we had to cross the snowdrifts in sandals and flipflops to get to the sand and beyond about thirty feet of open water was the ice. The lake was still frozen.  Great Slave is huge, at least as big as any of the Great Lakes in the east. Hapi waded in but the rest of us were happy to just sit on the sand and enjoy the warm sun. Brewster loves snow so while Hapi waded and we sunbathed, he ran around in the snow. To each his own.

See the ice on the lake in the background?
Hapi relaxing on the beach :)
Hapi picked up a few ticks on the trip and a lot in Hay River. Every day I was picking a half dozen or so out of her ears and around her face. Ticks there are called winter ticks and they do not carry lyme disease. Their primary host is caribou. I was still picking them off her when we got to Vancouver, by that time they had been on her several days and were gigantic, easy to see and quite gross to pick off. Lots of blood involved. I think we got them all, she now has a lot of bloody scabs where they used to be.

I had a slow leak in one tire that I first noticed near Sault Ste Marie in northern Ontario. I needed to get air in it every morning and that would last until the next morning. I just didn't want to stop long enough to get it fixed, due to my tight driving schedule. When I arrived in Hay River Josh told me there was a shortage of air in there, I would not be able to get the tire filled at any gas station, but there might be air at the airport. So I bought a cheap compressor and filled the tire with that, but after only one fill-up it conked out. You get what you pay for.

The morning I left I stopped at the local tire shop to see if they could repair the tire quickly, they could and did but in the process discovered that my tire rim was in dire shape and unsafe to drive on. So they put my spare wheel on instead and advised me to get all the rims looked at and replaced as soon as possible.

I continued on to Vancouver, getting the wheels checked at a tire shop in High Level Alberta as instructed. No problems there so I have only occasionally kicked the tires to see if they are wobbly or not. So far so good but I will definitely get the matter attended to before leaving Vancouver for home.

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