Great Alaska Adventure: North to Fort Nelson, BC
Each day on the road brings a new challenge, it seems, and today’s challenge was once again related to communication. About a week into the Great Alaska Adventure, a small plastic piece which keeps the communication cord snuggly connected to the helmet broke on Marilyn’s helmet. I plugged the cord in and taped it to the helmet and that fix worked fine. Until today. At some point about 200 miles up the Alaska Highway, I tried to talk to Marilyn and got no response. I indicated I couldn’t communicate and she pulled alongside to show me that her CB/Communication cord was gone. I pulled to the side of the road and discovered that not only had the tape come loose and the cord fallen, but it had gotten caught in the rear sprocket and shredded. The upper portion and half of the lower portion of the cord were road junk somewhere on the highway. I made some calls when we got to our Ft. Nelson motel and, after several conversations, was finally able to order the necessary parts from J&M Audio (mounting bracket, upper cord, lower cord) and have them shipped to Alaska Leather in Anchorage where I’ll pick them up a week from tomorrow. In the meantime, we’ll communicate the old fashioned way. (No, not screaming at each other. With hand signals.)
Other than that, the ride was good. Took a small detour early in the route to cover some original section of road that’s no longer used much but still has an original curved all-wood bridge originally built in 1942. Definitely worth the few extra miles to see and ride across that remarkable structure. Much of the ride today was through flat forested land, but there were a couple of occasions where we dove down one side of a valley, crossed the river below, then putted up the other side. Not terribly challenging, especially at Marilyn’s preferred speed, but a nice ride and a taste of things to come. The road surface today was mixed, with about 150 miles being fairly rough and bumpy and the other 150 relatively new and smooth. Along the way, I saw my first Canadian moose (a cow), a small black bear, and a coyote edging toward a roadkill deer. Also saw continued evidence of the effects of global warming in the form of thousands of dead pine trees, killed by the warm-weather supercharged pine beetle. I’ve seen the same thing in Glacier National Park and in the Colorado Rockies. And I think the worst is yet to come when we go through Banff in the southern Canadian Rockies.
On a happier note, I had a really huge piece of hot Dutch Apple Pie at a restaurant called The Shepherd’s Inn. I think 9:30 a.m. is the official Canadian time for a pie break, so I honored their traditions. I got to see the whole pie before they cut out my slice. It was a thing of beauty and joy forever.
Once I dealt with the CB cord issue, we went to a local museum–The Fort Nelson Heritage Museum–I had read about and that piqued my interest. Turned out to be both better and worse than I expected. On the bad side, it wasn’t a museum that told a particular story. Rather, like many local museum it was a collection of random and seemingly unrelated artifacts, many of which were local but not all. They were loosely grouped into categories (e.g. telephone service, medical tools, trapping, etc) and overhanging all the pieces in the collection (literally overhanging) was a taxidermy collection that included various horned ungulates, feathered fliers and finned swimmers. Clearly the museum folks had done a lot of collecting, but little interpretation and story telling. And all that was inside a small building. On the outside were various pieces of roadbuilding equipment, logging machinery, drilling rigs, and assorted mechanical mysteries. In short, the outside looked like the inside.
But as I walked through the grounds I went into a shed that held more than a dozen restored antique automobiles and one 1942 Harley Davidson. And there I met Merl. Merl is the curator, collector, preserver, conserver and owner of much of the collection. And he was a treat to meet. Merl is 81 and has been collecting since his early twenties. About 40 years ago he had a massive beard and at a fund-raiser for the museum he auctioned it off for $10,000, which was the financial foundation for the Fort Nelson Heritage Museum. Merl clearly had a passion for his cars and for the museum collection. About three years ago Merl drove one of his cars, a 1908 Buick to Whitehorse and back in six days–a roundtrip of 1,200 miles. By the end of our visit I realized that in some ways, the aggregate collection of the museum materials was a reflection of a community that has struggled to find its identity and Merl who is the heart and soul of the museum. All in all, it was a good two hours spent learning a little more about a community from a man who knew so much.
Tomorrow we’re off to Watson Lake.