Seattle to the Cassiar Highway

The following are excerpts from my journal, unedited… I’ve had less time than I’d like to form them into written stories, but I wanted to post a series of photos from the 3-week drive from Seattle to Alaska, and thought you might like some of the thoughts behind the photos (you tell me, this is an experiment!). This is Part 1 of 3 (?)

Route, 999 miles

8/8, Thursday (Seattle to Squamish, BC)
“A touch of excitement at 7AM, just enough to not be able to sleep more. ”

“… drove up the 5 and walked into Cabela’s with a lot of lead up to this moment - the moment I would become a gun owner (bear protection). I walked in the door and immediately felt overwhelmed by the whole thing - the people, the millions of selections, the prices - it felt like I would be adding a huge layer of complexity to the trip by going through with this. Potential trouble at the border, expensive ammo, learning to shoot it without scaring the shit out of people, ending up with a tactical gun that I may not use after the trip… all of these things ran through my mind, which caused me to eventually run with my instincts and walk out of the store. I immediately felt lighter in my step and a smile broke and I new this was the right decision. I’ve learned on this trip that I have no problem with owning guns, and most gun owners, but now was not the time for me.”

“… full shakedown at the border, even more glad I didn’t have guns with me, which he specifically asked. After I hadn’t bobbled too many of his questions too badly, and he ensured that I had access to enough $ to make it through his country, he let me pass. I laughed after, but mostly a laugh of thankfulness… he had pegged me for something and I had won.”

“… worked my way through Vancouver with only a paper map, making many mistakes”

8/9, Friday (Squamish to Seton Portage, British Columbia)
“Swept through Squamish, an interesting contrast of climbers and loggers. Differences are always easiest to find, it’s similarities where the real interesting stuff lies. Both types of people are using the outdoors for their own best interest, their livelihood, some could say they’re both destroying it in some fashion, as dirtbag climbers can be the worst in terms of Leave No Trace.”

“… turned left on 99 and had an immediate decision to make about starting a new adventure. It all runs through the brain in less than a second, but I’d passed them all on the trip thus far, mainly because they looked like monsters, but these two hitchhikers looked pleasant - maybe because it was a young couple with clean backpacks, not those rags that indicate you’ve been doing this your whole life - so I passed them, you always do, then jumped on the clutch and the brake and looked back at the smile on their face as they ran.”

“Leandre had proved useful and worldly, so I let him start the fire and he was a veteran. I pulled out the Pendleton, pretty sure we would finish it, but pretty sure it was worth it, and we got to bullshitting - this time all the language barriers were brought down by the brown liquid.”

8/10, Saturday (Seton Portage to Ten Mile Lake, British Columbia)
“An old VW owner once said, "breakdowns happen when you deserve them,” I was hoping today wasn’t that day.“

”… another 3km then no 1st gear at all. We rolled back to a curve in the road and tried for 20 minutes to get into 1st. Nothing. Wasn’t freaking out - knew we’d get out of this - but I also wasn’t happy and would stay unhappy ‘til about 1PM… this was the worst place for this to happen - a dirt road in Canada with no cell reception, 50km from a town & tow, and a road grade that decidedly required a 1st gear.“

"The only thing left to try besides trying it in reverse, which seemed kind of absurd, was to try the grade in 2nd. So I got a bit of downhill roll going and stuttered into it holding about 1200RMPs; when the tachometer fell below 1000, I realized this was it and gave 1st one more try and it slipped in!!” I hit the brake and clutch and yelled the excited news to the hitchhikers, who were being picked up downhill by an old bearded man named Peter who asked me, “Are you trying to give them a workout?”

“… we somehow jerry-rigged 1st to work, borrowing Peter’s gold-plated socket with 10mm attachment. I went to three separate hardware stores before finally being beaten and paying $75 for a lifetime socket set that I could never take back unless I moved to Canada.”

“[after leaving hitchhikers] one thing became certain as I drowned in the loneliness of not knowing where my next friend would come - that was, "it’s about the people.” Maybe by going to a place like Alaska where I know no one can I have the epiphany that I don’t want to be mostly alone like a John Muir, I want to adventure with people and tell their stories. This is the kind of explorer I am? We shall see, but that’s how it felt today as I pumped out the kilometers between the puffy storm clouds.“ 

8/11, Sunday (Ten Mile Lake to Forest Road 700)
"Was really good to myself today for the first time in a long while. Got good sleep, woke up slow with half a press of coffee, nice and slow and wrote for a few hours about the deeply personal time with Sofie and Leandre (hitchhikers). The forest fire smoke kept it cool 'til 11AM.”

“… from the Cariboo highway to the Yellowhead highway, chasing the falling sun West at $5.50 per gallon. That last figure was not a mistake, that’s the real deal and it hurts me so. Definitely missed the the Canandian gas price bump in the budget calculation..”

“… determined not to pay another night of camping, I was going to have to push my comfort zone and I knew this and eventually settled on Forest Road 700 outside of Fraser Lake.”

“Then the lighting came and oh did it come! It lasted hours and hours and hours, the longest storm of my life - and I was right in the middle with it, all alone. I think it was about 1AM when I fell asleep, the lighting was still very much awake.”

8/12, Monday (Forest Road 700 to Terrace)
“Laughable the places I wake up - that’s exactly what I do… laugh. FR 700 was a lot friendlier with the storms mostly passed.”

“I’ve found Canadians to a be a touch friendlier than their American brothers. A lot of them stop me and wanna chat - maybe because of my far off plates. I met an old guy today who made a strong case for the Cassiar Highway over the ferry, describing the drive as the highlight of his life.”

“At the 7 Sisters and the Skeena River gorge, with its reflecting turquoise waters and raging tributaries, I knew that I was exiting the funk of the dry highlands… the gusty winds reminded me you gotta pay attention again boy. It’s funny the way the wilderness one seeks has a way of speaking - I was in my place, back amongst the green hills and the threatening rock spires who pass their life downward and onward to the sea.”

“… after researching ferry prices vs. driving, which I knew was a waste of time because I wanted to drive, and Donnie said he did, and the road most certainly wanted the company. It felt like cheating to hop on a ferry. This is about the struggle afterall. So with a renewed sense of excitement and fear, I walked to Tim Horton’s for 3 doughnuts - a night cap - and knew that I would be back on the road tomorrow, my road legs were feeling strong, ready for the bush.”

Squamish, British Columbia, where the mountains meet the sea
The things that sit shotgun with me in my '86 Volkswagen van
About to jump in a lake in British Columbia that I found while spending 29 hours with hitchhikers from Quebec
Discussing life's important things around a campfire in British Columbia
The Seven Sisters mountain range outside of Terrace, British Columbia
Moose warning on the road, somewhere in the Yukon Territory
Lightning storm somewhere in British Columbia
Driving the Volkswagen van, Donnie, down the highway... my favorite place