But first let me rewind...
I left Telkwa with my new friend Nick the day after my last post, and he drove me up the road towards Babine Lake, the largest natural lake in B.C. Once we got well out beyond the farms and into an area where there was plenty of snow on the roads, he dropped me off. It was about three o'clock, so I had about an hour of daylight left, and it was twenty-eight kilometres to Granisle, my immediate destination. Once I hit my stride I decided I could make it there that night. After about seven klicks darkness set in, but not before I'd spooked a big bull moose off the road. That was the only animated life I saw before getting to Granisle several hours later in the midst of a snow squall.
My actual destination was a barge landing between five and seven kilometres south of Granisle, so I skied a few kilometres past town in order to have less ground to cover in the morning. I tented up in a closed-for-winter provincial park and enjoyed a nice warm pot of lasagna and listened to the news on the fuzzy and far-off CBC AM station, courtesy of my compact crank radio.
I slept past sunrise in the morning, shoveled some granola, banana chips, hemp seeds into my mouth, broke camp, and skied the three or four remaining kilometres south to Tachet (Topley Landing on the maps, if you're looking). The barge landing was lifeless, so I skied into the sleepy and squalid little reserve town, where there was a lot more canine activity than human. I skied back and forth along the town's few roads with a trail of friendly mutts variously barking, howling, yelping, wagging their tails, and, of course, marking their territory behind me. I eventually hit upon the only business in town, a one-pump gas station and small grocery store whose food selection seemed hand-picked to guarantee pandemic rates of diabetes among the local population. I bought four Mars bars (at 240 calories apiece, right up my alley) and asked the cashier if she knew when the barge ran. She made a call for me and discovered that it only runs Monday to Friday. It was Saturday morning, so I'd have to spend two nights in the area.
I talked with two fellows at the shop near the barge landing later that day and learned that my first chance to get off was Monday at 4 a.m. I was able to commandeer a nearby cabin (stoveless and uninsulated, alas), where I set up and caught up on some journaling.
On Monday I was up at 3:25. Not early enough, because I missed the first barge by two minutes. But there would be another one at five. Once on board, I went up to the crew cabin and got to talking to some forestry workers (the purpose of the barge is to get wood out of the Babine district down to the mill in Houston -- largest lumber mill in the world, I'm told), hoping for advice on my route. It was a good thing I did, too, because my planned route proved impracticable. The mutton-chopped grader operator, Lyle (in a tank top at ten below), showed me the best route toward Fort St. James and scribbled down some notes for me. "You don't have a gun?" they all asked. "Are you crazy? There's huge wolf packs back in them mountains. They'll tear you to pieces." And so all these years after Farley Mowat's Never Cry Wolf (and many other books in the same vain), the wolf continues to be unfairly maligned. For the record, there has not been one confirmed deadly attack by a healthy wolf against an adult human being in North American history. And most people who live in wolf country have probably never actually seen a single exemplar of poor old Canis lupus.
I spent the next three days skiing the ninety or so kilometres across the Babine forestry district. In that time I talked to a lot of loggers and haulers, who for whatever reason took to rooting for me and keeping close tabs on me on the radio. On two mornings I emerged from my tent to find a hearty bag lunch waiting for me in the snow. The first time this happened was after a night that had left me feeling pretty discouraged, and it really boosted my spirits and nearly moved me to tears. Human kindness can have amazing effects. About two thirds of the way through the district I finally met my benefactors -- three likable characters named Ryan, Joe, and Tim. At the end of my last day in the district (just a few kilometres shy of the block where they were felling and processing), this trio caught up with me again and invited me back to camp for a supper and a warm, dry place to sleep. It was steak night and I assure you that the camp cook, Sandy, put together one of the best meals I have ever eaten.
Next morning we were up at 2:30, and by three o'clock we had breakfasted and were in the truck again, headed back into the bush. I was on the trail by five (three and half hours before light), slogging through a good two feet of untracked powder. Twelve kilometres of it, as it turned out. For eight hours I felt like an ox pulling a plough through compact soil. I subsequently learned that I'd loaded my duffel on to my sled with the weight in the nose, rather than in the middle, so I'm sure this had contributed to the drag. But I made it, and with time enough to spare to cover ten more kilometres once I'd crossed the Middle River (which flows south out of Takla Lake).
I was now in the Fort St. James Forestry District (albeit in the remoter reaches of it); getting to town by Christmas was within reach and very straightforward from a navigational standpoint. Two more days brought me within reach of the Fort. With road conditions growing less and less ski friendly (I'd already had enough free base grinding to last for a lifetime), I accepted a ride into town with a genuinely kind fellow named Dave, who lives in Vanderhoof but had been working in the bush for the week.
And that's how I came to be here. I arrived a couple of days before my "guests" and so set about exploring the town on my skis (without the sled, what a relief!). West of town, along Stuart Lake, I met a local ski enthusiast by the name of Paul. To make a long story short, I had soon struck up a friendship with Paul and his wife Kelley. A thoughtful and giving pair, they invited me and my folks and Elena to Christmas dinner. I accepted, and yesterday we had a lovely dinner with them and some of their family and friends. They made us feel like we were part of the family.
So now it's a few more days with the family, and then off I go again. Thanks for all your support, everyone! Sorry if I haven't responded to your comments, but I have limited access to computers and today found over 200 emails to deal with in my inbox. Happy holidays to all! And a joyous new year...