On The Road Again Mo

With careful notes made on things that we’d forgotten on our first little “shakedown cruise” in the teardrop trailer, we prepared to set out on our big trip up to the Cariboo district in central BC.

Now, the following is a lesson I have learned before in my life, but tend to forget from time to time. You could call it the “your entire life is a shakedown cruise” philosophy, but it’s probably best summed up by Robbie Burns — “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley”

You can make all the lists and plans you want, but there’s really no preparing for an overnight switch from a clear, blue sky to an off-the-scale level soup of particulate matter from wildfire smoke blowing in from hundreds of miles away.

Ah well, the morning we left the raven shown above dropped by at our local construction site to wish us well on our journey.

Naively, we thought we’d soon be driving out of the worst of the smoke, but it was still very dense at our first night’s camp site just north of Whistler.

After one smokey night we had a quick toast and tea breakfast and headed off along the lovely Duffey Lake Road, hoping to outrun the smoke.

That dream proved elusive as we passed through Lillooet, Pavillion Lake and Clinton with only minor improvements in visibility.

When it was still smokey, hours later, at 100 Mile House, we decided to just push on to our destination — Likely — instead of spending the night, as we’d originally planned, at Green Lake.

By the time we reached the familiar Likely road the smoke was at least high up  and not in our lungs. I drove that road so many times when I had my cabin out there, it always feels like going home, marking off the familiar landmarks along the way.

While we love the Cariboo landscape,  what we really, really looked forward to was seeing some much-missed faces. Spending time with old friends was the focus of our visit, although managed to combine catching up with soaking up the scenery — Cariboo cocktail hour, for example.

We camped our little trailer outside the homes of two sets of old friends during our stay in the Cariboo — near Likely for a few days, and then closer to Horsefly, part way down the gorgeous Beaver Valley.

Making some early morning coffee, with a bit of fall chill already in the air.

All very cosy inside the camper.

Looking out onto lovely Lake George, one of Beaver Valley’s chain of small lakes.

It wasn’t just the humans that had a great time socializing. Geordie was thrilled to spend time with his boxer buddy, Samson — just as handsome two years in since our last visit.

Both Geordie and Samson are always eager to jump into the truck for a woodsy adventure!

One especially fun expedition was to Quesnel Forks — home, in it’s 1860’s hey day, to around 2,000  fortune-seeking gold miners, before the chase for riches moved north to Barkerville.  Quesnel Forks has been a ghost town since the 50’s when the last resident died, but it’s now far less overgrown now than I remember it in the 70’s. Recently the trails have been cleared and some of the tumble-down cabins carefully rebuilt to give some sense of what it once looked like.

Lichen on some fallen and rotting wooden walls

A rather elegant old outhouse returning to the forest

There’s a rich and well-recorded history of gold mining in this part of British Columbia — with many colourful  and gripping tales of exploit, adventure, intrigue and suffering. The excellent little museum in Likely is well worth a visit to learn more about this period, although you can also glean some intriguing snippets from the gravestones in the Quesnel Forks cemetery — full of inscriptions recording deaths by drowning, robbery, smallpox and mine collapse.

Much less is written about the indigenous people who lived in this part of the world for thousands of years before the miners arrived — fishing, hunting, travelling, living and dying in this vast landscape. I imagine that this spot would have been very special to them too, at the meeting of these two powerful rivers, now known as the Quesnel and the Cariboo.

I was thinking of confluences … the turbulence created when people, cultures, rivers collide … when yet another visitor from a distant shore made a surprise appearance, flying, literally, right through my thoughts.

I took a photo of the newcomer when it landed on the rocky river shore.

I also filmed the bird’s incredible aquatic competence, confidently navigating the dangerous currents right where the rivers merge.

As soon as we got back to our friends’ house, out came the full collection of bird books and apps as we attempted to identify our mystery “video bomber.” We really couldn’t figure it out. Some sort of gull … but none of the one’s you’d expect to see …  perhaps a curlew of some sort …? Eventually, I posted the photo online with a plea for an ID from my more bird knowledgeable social media community. The answer came back that it was, in fact, a rather rare sighting of a Sabine’s Gull, way, way out of its normal range. They spend summers in the Arctic and normally migrate south via the waters off the West coast. I wonder if this one was driven so off course by the dense smoke that was still clinging to the more coastal areas. Fingers crossed that our little traveller eventually finds its way to the its winter destination.

It seemed sort of ironic for me, who likes to celebrate the everyday birds you find in your backyard, to see such a rarity. Just goes to show, things just show up when the time is right, I guess.

Bears and Salmon

Two things you do expect in the Cariboo in the early fall: many salmon returning to the rivers of their birth to spawn, and bears feasting on them.

Spawning Salmon near Horsefly, 2013

The Salmon Horsefly Festival was actually underway the day we left the Cariboo, but it was going ahead in the virtual absence of salmon. Due a variety of factors, including the 2019 Big Bar landslide on the Fraser River that blocked the spawning route, there were virtually no salmon in the local rivers. We walked along the same river bed where the photo above was taken a few years ago, at the same time of year, and saw not one single salmon.

Bears, however, are very much in evidence and this is not a good thing. The reason they’re so visible is that, with no salmon to fatten up on before hibernation, they’re desperate enough to come into town to dig up garden carrots. Four grizzlies are currently hanging around the small hamlet of Likely — something that was unheard of in years gone by — and a situation that’s likely to end very badly for the bears.

You can see that the bear droppings we saw (all over the place) were heavy on seeds and berries. It takes a heck of a lot of berries to make up for the missing salmon course in a meal.  So, next time you’re sad that you can’t get a sockeye salmon for the BBQ, spare a thought for the bears, for whom the shortage is more a matter of life and death.

In spite of the smoke and the worrying lack of salmon it was a real joy to switch for a week from “urban nature enthusiast” to wander the forests and learn to read the landscape from our Cariboo friends, who are all “wilderness nature enthusiasts.” They know their forests, lakes and rivers as well as I know my local streets and crows.

Moffat Creek Falls near Horsefly

I received a message from this Cariboo raven (with chickadee accompaniment) to bring back with me for my feathered friends in the city  — a call of the wild that echoes all the way from the remotest forest to heart of Vancouver — as I hope it always will.







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On The Road

Along with 90% of the Canadian population, we became obsessed with camping this summer.

With no other holiday options on the horizon — and an urgent need to get away from the endless construction noise in our immediate neighbourhood — camping became the Holy Grail for summer 2020.

There were a few obstacles. Owning no camping equipment was a big one. While we used to go camping a lot before the kids, and when they were little, over the years our old gear was either lost or simply rotted away from old age.  Also, the camping sections of local stores looked much like the toilet paper shelves during the earlier months of the pandemic. 

Besides, I was ready (in my old age) for some glamping. After my years of tent camping during tree planting seasons, I felt ready for something a little more comfy and cozy. 

Phillip and I’s first ever camping trip, circa 1981, on which “someone” forgot the tent poles …

After much research the answer was clear — what we needed was a teardrop trailer! 

Unfortunately for us, many Canadians came to exactly that conclusion at around the same time — acquiring a teardrop trailer for the 2020 camping season was to be like winning the Willy Wonka golden ticket to outdoor adventure.

But, against all odds, we did win! We were very taken with the Evolve teardrop trailer, made locally by a family business in Aldergrove, BC, but they were then (in July) making trailers for delivery in early 2021. As we were driving home from a visit to the small Evolve factory/shop I just happened to be looking at Craigslist on my phone when, what should to my wondering eyes should appear, but an Evolve trailer … for sale … locally!!!  

By the time we got home that day, mind bogglingly, we owned a teardrop trailer.

Not only did we own the trailer, but it came with just about every camping accessory we would need. All we needed was a cooler and some time to get away in it .

That time was a little hard to come by at first, because job one was to create a space in which to keep our new treasure.

My studio was the only possible place — so that led to some accelerated decision making about my work and my business.  Obviously this year there will be no markets or craft shows. But, even before COVID, I’d been thinking about cutting out those aspects of my work schedule and concentrating more on my online business, studio sales, and more writing, so the new addition just forced my hand.

A rather frantic flurry of activity ensued.

All of my market display stuff was given away in a week and miraculously …

By then, my online business was really busy with City Crow calendar and other orders, so I had to concentrate on getting that done, while Phillip finished painting the east side of the house so he could return the scaffolding rented for that purpose. Camping had to be deferred for a while.

In the meantime, sometimes when the construction noise was very loud and I was feeling especially stressed, I’d go for a little “micro-vacation” in the trailer, inside the studio, with my noise cancelling headphones on. It was surprisingly cool and quiet in there, and no-one could find me …

Finally, by the second week of September, we were ready to take off for a “shakedown cruise.”

Phillip’s late parents owned a small sailboat, and the first trip of every season was labelled the “shakedown cruise” — on which you fully expect things to go wrong. In this way, you’re not stressed or disappointed when you realize you forgot to pack several vital items and that things are less than perfect. 

With that in mind, we set out for a two night stay at Rolley Lake, just an hour’s drive from home. It was pretty fabulous for a shakedown cruise, with record breaking hot weather and a nice little spot in the shady woods.

A few days later, armed with a list of a few things we forgot on our first trip, we set out for our “big” trip up to the Cariboo.

More on our northern adventures in my next post … (which might be a few days as we’re heading out for another little trip tomorrow, while the weather lasts.)





What I Did On My Summer Holidays

I wonder how many essays have been written under this heading in elementary schools through the ages.  Anyway, here goes my first effort in many a decade.

Panoramic shot with my phone of the Fraser River winding through the unique Lillooet area landscape

Panoramic view of the Fraser River winding through the unique Lillooet area landscape

Our holidays were short – only a week – but sweet, with all the vital ingredients — fun times with old friends, trips down memory lane, reasonably good weather, and breath-taking scenery.

We headed out of Vancouver on the Sea to Sky Highway, spending our first night with old friends at their gorgeous place on glacial green Lillooet Lake. A dive in determined that the top couple of inches were deceptively warm and welcoming. Beyond that, fathoms of icy cold.  We found that floating on the lake in inflatable chairs, drinking in a beer, along with the spectacular view, was a far more relaxing way to enjoy the lake.

The view of Lillooet Lake from our friends' deck

The view of Lillooet Lake from our friends’ deck

Next day we continued our trip on the wonderful Duffey Lake Road. We hadn’t taken that route since camping there on our honeymoon in 1986. The scenery is as great as ever, and the road is now paved – luxury! The really wonderful thing about this route is the dramatic change in scenery along the way. Closer to Pemberton there are forests, lakes and  snow-capped mountains changing to a desert-like landscape around Lillooet, and then the “painted” rock landscape nearer the Clinton end of the road around Pavilion. I highly recommend this drive.

Post card worthy Duffey Lake

Post card worthy Duffey Lake

Marking the 30km mark on the Duffey Lake road.

Marking the 30km point on the Duffey Lake road.

Indian paintbrush on the Duffey Lake road

Indian paintbrush

The Fraser River winds its way through the dry country just outside of Lillooet

The Fraser River winds its way through the dry country just outside of Lillooet

I love the abstract look of the dry hills around Lillooet. One stalwart tree had managed to find purchase, top right

I love the abstract look of the dry hills. One stalwart tree had managed to find a foothold, top right

“Painted” rock formations near Pavilion at the Clinton end of the road

We were headed for Likely. I lived up there, and built a cabin in the prehistoric 1970’s. It was quite the adventure for a young Englishwoman with zero wilderness experience. We still have a lot of good friends living up there — many of whom were responsible for my survival during my first winter living in the bush!

Once, hardly anyone knew where Likely was. Unfortunately, it’s now rather famous — for all the wrong reasons. The Mount Polley tailings pond spill of 2014 was a terrible blow to the environment in general, and the Likely community in particular. There’s a whole other blog post in that subject. Anyway, if you don’t know where Likely is, it’s in the Cariboo region of BC, about 50 miles north east of William’s Lake. William’s Lake is about 340 miles north of Vancouver.

In short, Likely is near Horsefly, still gorgeous, and a fabulous area to explore.

Likely Map

Downtown Likely on Quesnel Lake

Downtown Likely on Quesnel Lake

The Likely Hotel was undergoing a facelift

The Likely Hotel was undergoing a facelift

The Likely Hotel sign ready to be reinstalled

The Likely Hotel sign ready to be reinstalled

While we were there, we did a little bushwhacking, looking for the site of the cabin I built around 1978 on a mining claim. The cabin itself burned down circa 1990, but we hoped to at least find the spot where it stood. This proved to be surprisingly difficult, given how much everything had grown up. Trees can get quite big in 25 years, it seems. I’m pretty sure this little clearing is where it was.

As far as I could tell, this is about where my cabin used to stand.

As far as I could tell, this is about where my cabin used to stand.

How my cabin used to look in winter

We found this pot near the site of my old cabin, so I guess it was probably mine!

We found this pot near the site of my old cabin, so I guess it was probably mine!

An immature bald eagle flies along the Quesnel river

An immature bald eagle flies along the Quesnel river

Fall colour was arriving fast in the Cariboo

Fall colour was arriving fast in the Cariboo

Land of the silver birch, etc

Land of the silver birch, etc

Our Likely friends look us on a back road trip from Likely to Barkerville – the famous gold rush town. The road is gravel, but in excellent shape.

A black bear sighting on the gravel back road from Likely to Barkerville

A black bear sighting on the gravel back road from Likely to Barkerville

We took a short detour to see the falls at the Matthew River. Many a tree was planted by us, and by our friends, in that area. It’s also where my husband and I fell in love. We have a picture of us by those falls in about 1980, so we did a 2015 recreation. More wrinkles, pounds and glasses — but still in love!

Oh, so long ago …

The codgers at the Matthew Falls

The codgers at the Matthew Falls

Matthew River country, between Likely and Barkeville

Matthew River country, between Likely and Barkeville

Barkerville was a lot of fun. You can shop in the stores, take a horse and wagon ride, watch a show in the theatre, eat delicious Chinese food, buy candy, see a reconstruction from a trial from the Gold Rush era (with audience participation), or (my favourite) just browse all of the weathered surfaces — wood, metal, gravestones.

One of the churches in Barkerville

One of the churches in Barkerville

Lichen covered rust wheel at Barkerville

Lichen covered rusty wheel at Barkerville

One of my favourite spots was the old cemetery. I have “thing” for graveyards, having played in one a lot as a kid. This one is brimming with history and half-told stories of unique and adventurous lives — many of them cut short in the harsh frontier world of the late 1800’s.

John McLaren, died in 1869, aged 31.

John McLaren, died in 1869, aged 31.

We spent the night at the Wells Hotel. The last time I was in Wells was as a participant in the Snowball Tournament in 1978. Baseball was played in several feet of snow. I had a couple of severe handicaps. First — no snowshoes. Second — no idea how to play baseball. As I recall, rather a lot of drinking was involved, which leveled the playing field a bit. Our Likely team came home with the “Most Sporting” award that year, which I believe is a nice way of saying “Worst”.

Downtown Wells

Downtown Wells

The bottles in this lovely display were found by the home owner in the Wells/Barkerville area. The glass was blown and the bottles made locally during the Gold Rush years. You can see the vintage of the bottles from the amazing swirls in the glass.

The bottles in this lovely display were found by the home owner in the Wells/Barkerville area. The glass was blown and the bottles made locally during the Gold Rush years. You can see the vintage of the bottles from the amazing swirls in the glass.

Wells is a great little town. A LOT of snow in winter (it makes Likely look positively tropical) but full of fabulous artists’ studios and little houses painted in wonderful Newfoundland-style colours. Also, very important, the town has a vociferous crow and raven population.

The Wells crow committee holding its nightly meeting.

The Wells crow committee holding its nightly meeting.

We spent some time in the lovely Amazing Space Gallery talking to artists Claire Kujundzic and Bill Horne. I bought this lovely print of Wells by Claire. They also make an excellent cappuccino!

The print I bough from Claire Kujundzic of the Good Eats Cafe and the Wells theatre.

The print I bough from Claire Kujundzic of the Good Eats Cafe and the Wells theatre.

I could have stayed a lot longer. I’d love to get up there next year for the  ArtsWells festival.

After another night back in Likely it was, sadly, time to say goodbye and head home. We drove back once again along the Duffey Lake road, arriving back on the Sea to Sky Highway just in time for dusk and a series of watercolour skies along the way.

Porteau Cove at twilight, with heron

Porteau Cove at twilight, with heron

And then we were home in East Vancouver, with the local crows there to greet us first thing next morning.

And that’s what I did on my summer holidays. I hope you had a wonderful one too!