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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The Cabin Fever Series I

My “living alone in a cabin in the wilderness” years weren’t really comparable to what people are experiencing now.

The outside world was proceeding more or less normally while I was living “off grid” in the Cariboo in the mid 1970’s and I could, I suppose, have chosen to leave at any time.

In some ways though, I felt I had to stay.

Most days I loved it and, on days when I didn’t so much . . . well, for much of the time I was there, I couldn’t drive and didn’t have a vehicle, so an impulsive exit wasn’t really an option.

I’ve been trying to think of which things I learned during those years that are handy now. I chose that experience instead of going back to school to do my Master’s degree. While there have been many times I’ve thought that was a crazy decision, now that I’m older I’m less sure. Every day I’m grateful for things I learned — about myself, mostly — in my Cabin Fever period.

As it’s a bit of a long story, I’m dividing it into a few parts and will end with a small summary of Cabin Life Tips.

june on bridge

Crossing the log bridge at low water.

The first cabin I lived in was an old dynamite shack, left behind from a gold mining operation. Located several miles down a road that ended in the rushing Quesnel River, it was pretty remote.

Only about half a dozen people lived further down Seven Mile Road than me, and getting to the cabin involved a twenty minute hike from that road, including the fording of the creek that fed into the main river, via the rather dodgy log bridge.

This was less, or more, exciting depending on the season and the water level.

7 mile road

Seven Mile Road

While at the dynamite shack I learned how to make bannock and discovered that no-see-ums can fly through mosquito netting. A fit of rustic craftiness almost lost me a finger when trying to cut a bracket fungus off an old log to make into a candle holder, as one did in those days.  I’m sure I must have learned some other things.

One of them should have been “keep a diary so you can remember this stuff forty years later.”

After a few months in the dynamite shack I inherited another, closer to the road, vacant cabin. I had stayed there before with my good friends, Richard and Denise, but they had two babies by then and were moving closer to the amenities of  “town” — aka Likely, where the one grocery store, bar and post office/gas station were located.

Likely Bar-late 70's

Beautiful downtown Likely, mid-70’s.


It was during this period that Finlay the Magnificent arrived in my life.

A neighbour stopped by with two puppies that his dog had given birth to. Using a uniquely hard sell technique, he told me that, if he couldn’t find homes for them, he’d be hitting them on the head with a hammer. I hadn’t really been planning on getting a dog, but . . .

Of the two, one was much prettier. I picked the plainer one, confident that the  “looker”  would have a better chance of adoption.

This was the start of a beautiful 15 year relationship.

I was told that cabin dogs needed to be kept outside so they could keep watch for bears, so little puppy Finlay slept in the great outdoors. He would get revenge by crawling under the cabin and getting stuck under the porch, yowling, so I’d have to get up in the middle of the night and pry a board off the platform to pull him out.

He was so tiny that first winter, when we walked through the deep snow to visit the nearest neighbours a couple of miles away, his forward motion was accomplished via a combination of swimming and tunnelling.


There are so many Finlay stories. He came tree planting with me for years and was a pretty legendary camp dog. His favourite sleeping spot was, not beside, but under the airtight stove in the cook shack. While I was out planting, he would stretch out in the blazingly hot sun beside the tree box supply. Sometimes when we got back we could hardly find him because he’d be completely and obliviously covered in dust.

There will actually have to be a whole separate post on Finlay for some of the other stories. The time he went missing for a week, the memorable day he brought me a bear, how he adapted, years later, to city life . . .

june in a box

My first winter in the log cabin was very enlightening. First I learned that a cabin made of logs needs to be “chinked” — i.e. insulation of some sort put between each log. This one had been built without such consideration, so when it was 20 below outside, it was about 18 below inside — with an arctic wind blowing across the floor. I would keep the airtight stove going all night and still the water bucket, located next to said airtight, would be frozen in the morning.

logcabin w

Log cabin in early winter.

Keeping that stove going all night meant lots of wood chopping, which meant a crash course in the care and maintenance of firewood.

First I learned that if you locate your wood pile under the eaves of the cabin, where three foot long icicles will inevitably form, your wood supply will become deeply encased in ice. It actually took longer to use the axe to chip wood out of its crystal prison each day than it did to split it. That’s the second fun thing I learned — splitting rounds in freezing weather is kind of fun as it only takes a tap with the axe and the wood explodes in a satisfying manner.

Miraculously, by the end of the first winter I had neither frozen to death, nor bled to death in the snow from an axe injury. And I had taught myself Fair Isle knitting.

In kindergarten I had been the worst knitter in the class. I still remember the humiliation of being the only one still forced to struggle on with a tangle of red string when all the others had graduated to actual wool.

Perhaps it was over-weaning pride in my new accomplishment, but I somehow concluded that, because I had mastered knitting Fair Isle socks, I was now ready to build my own cabin.

I headed into Williams lake and bought what was to become my bible.

illustrated housebuilding

It was the description “definitive layman’s book” that sold me. That and “for those who need a lot of help.”

As you can see, I still have the book “Illustrated Housebuilding.” I don’t think I’ll be building any more houses myself but I keep it handy in case either of my kids should feel inspired.

My goal was to build my “dream” cabin  — i.e. insulated to an extreme level, and close to a water source. The log cabin was only a few minutes walk from the road, but was a long trek uphill from the stream where water had to be hauled from. I decided I’d rather be further from the road and closer to the water.

So all that remained to do was get supplies and build it.

Since there was just me, and I still didn’t drive, there were a few technical details remaining to be worked out.

illustrated housebuilding inside

Stay tuned for the next instalment, Cabin Construction!

cabinbuilding june

Read on at:


logo with crow

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!