Day 6, Whitecourt

Part 1: Things seen and things never seen.

Like a larger version of some of the “towns” we had passed yesterday, Fort St. Johns, seemed disheveled, unkempt. We were told it had fallen on hard times of late, due to a languishing petroleum trade. Either way, we found little to keep us, although it was nice that there was a wee park very close to our hotel where we could throw the flying squirrel for Little. We also made a brief foray into Canadian Tire.

But then it was on the road, down past yet another “town” or other. This one however smelled, and looked, quite ominous…

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Visions of a Blade Runner future as we drove through, what was little more than a trailer park sprung up around a petroleum refinery; one of many in this region owned by Spectra… I mused that this named seemed eerily similar to an evil organization from comic book fame.

Once through town, we headed down into the Peace River, or so we speculated. As we descended, the world vanished, as we were enveloped by the densest fog yet encountered on the trip, all the while wondering if the metal grate bridge we warily drove across would ever end or, conversely, end far too abruptly.

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And then it was up and over and on into the plains. The sunrise, like the landscape, seemed to go on forever, filling the great space before us, in precisely the way that topography did not. And this is more or less what I expected as we rolled into Alberta…

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The vastness nearly took our breaths away, but what really did it, leaving us gasping and hacking, was the petroleum refineries’ intermittent noxious fumes. Thankfully there were not many, but for a good part of the morning we were still in oil and gas country; flaming stacks and idle derricks making us wonder.

On down the road a piece we found ourselves at the beginning, or the end, as it was in this case. Dawson Creek, Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway. We took the obligatory photos, and found a fair cup of coffee, though not great breakfast things, but as we discovered later, a fine apple fritter, at a place called Robin’s.

But then, as the day went on, the sun rising higher in the sky than we had seen it since, oh say, September, we found ourselves in farm country. And then we were in a place called Beaverlodge, where there was, in fact and as advertised, a “giant beaver attraction”… Of course we stopped.

The “attraction” was, of course, just down the road from the “Sheared Beaver” salon… of course it was. We had lunch at the Beaverlodge Motor Inn, where they had the most curious coffee creamer dispenser I have ever seen and an old school clock/advertising display that flipped through ad signs for local businesses like those old analog clocks… think Groundhog Day.

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And on we went.

There are apparently lots of moose in this area, but we saw none, other than the large, golden effigy-like signs along the sides of the road, warning passing travelers of the ensuing “moose row”.

And then, somewhat imperceptibly, the landscape changed. Suddenly we were in logging country.. The forests closed in, the road began to rise and dip and wind, and we started seeing some of the most curious logging trucks I have ever encountered. Oddly, I felt a bit more at home, regardless of how far away from there we were. Either way, the day was coming to a close.

Part 2: Little dog with heavy sighs.

The temperatures wavered, mostly in the mid to low teens, but the sun, beating through the truck windows as we barreled head long, at near break neck speeds, to stay out of everyone else’s way, eventually put Little to sleep, after a bout of exasperated sighs, and attempts to stare each of us into submission. Even though today was a shorter day, and we had stopped and played more frequently, her resignation was rather blatant.

And then, a place called Whitecourt. A logging town. A mill town. A genuine community town. Nice river views, despite the persistent cloud of whatever, that was emanating from the mill, laying low and wafting along the valley in the obvious temperature inversion.

Thankfully, for all involved I think, we got in early, and so Little and I took advantage of the remaining light and the still reasonable temperatures, and went for a run (finally, though we got many odd looks from the locals). Along the way, we passed through tidy neighborhoods, on towards a country club, where there, in the snow on the side of the road, the smallest hoof prints I had ever seen, leaving me to wonder whether passed the smallest deer imaginable or a satyr fawn. We approach, ever closer to that thing called “civilization” yet, the smallest chance to look around shows a persistence for the greatest chance for wonder; given that one stops long enough to allow it.

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Tomorrow, another day in Alberta. On through Edmonton and Calgary, on to a town, ever closer to the “border”, a town called Lethbridge.

Until then…

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