Day 5, October 15, 1997: Watson Lake to Fort Nelson, BC
And a heavy sigh of relief was heard...
I finally made it out of Watson Lake and into Fort Nelson. It wasn't an easy day but things should improve rapidly tomorrow as I head due south and out of the frozen lands.
This morning I was not really certain about leaving. It didn't snow overnight but there was freezing rain that left the Miata heavily encrusted. A look at the Environment Canada weather web site didn't help a bit as the needed information was "Not Available". The radio station had warnings about the freezing rain but truckers coming north said it was pretty decent. The RCMP said that the road crews had been out over the whole stretch of highway but the rain might have undone some of their work. What to do, what to do? Oh the hell with it, let's give it a shot!
So, armed with another Nissan mug full of trucker juice, I set out. Well, the road didn't look all that good but it must have been much better - the hill that stopped me the day before fell behind me and my confidence came back a little. Not enough to make me push as fast as some of the other vehicles were going, but I did push on. Perhaps I was still intimidated by the events of day 4. Thoughts of it certainly did keep my concentration focused tightly on the road. No music today. Two hands on the wheel. Speed under 40mph. I am usually a relaxed driver but there was real tension in the car today.
The road varied from continuously to intermittently nasty for the first 250 miles. But true to their word, the road crews had been out over night and scraped and sanded the worst sections. Other than a few minor twitches, the Miata handled the road well (at least while being driven slowly and with single-minded concentration). This should be a lesson for anybody else trying this sort of drive in uncertain weather: get yourself some cable chains for your Miata before you begin. Regular chains won't fit it and cable chains just aren't available in out-of-the-way places.
There were some nasty winds in the Liard Hotsprings area. I can't really give a number for it but it must have been gusting 40mph. But is was gusting primarily from the south and the road was thawing a bit. By the time I got down to Muncho Lake there were extended slushy / wet stretches. This in itself was a problem for the Miata. Those fancy splash guards I had added to the vehicle were also excellent slush scoops. Combined with the tight clearance around the wheels, the car came down with a serious case of "wheel boogers" (to coin a tasteless phrase). In fact, the spacing was so tight and the slush so impacted, it was nearly impossible to remove and I just had to live with it and hope for the best.
There was some wildlife to be seen today. I was paying so much attention to the road at the beginning that almost anything might have escaped my attention - I wouldn't have seen 8 yeti playing volleyball beside the road! However, later on, when I relaxed just a little I did spot an immature bald eagle (not a big deal to me since they used to live and nest in Anchorage, but some might think it unusual). Also saw a loon but it acted as though it might be sick or crippled and I suspect that any loon hanging around this late in the year is soon to be a late loon.
Down near Muncho Lake, I really hit the jackpot. Actually, if I hadn't been so careful I would have literally hit the jackpot. There were numerous caribou around the lake, totally fearless, and in no great hurry to get off the road. The ones in the picture blocked the road in both directions until a motor home in the opposite lane tried to edge through.
To make up for that grim image I sent yesterday (reflective of the weather and my mood, no doubt) there are two images today. The first is a full frame of Muncho Lake taken from a rise to the north-west. The other is a montage of caribou, the first blue sky seen all day, and a bad case of "wheel boogers".
Today was overly long and tiring but tomorrow I head due south and plan to stop at Dawson Creek, BC. Next stop after that will probably be in the US of A on the next leg of our 12,000 mile solo tour driving on the edge of the US.