Saturday was magical. Sunday started out … as its opposite.
We discovered we had not packed the air mattress, so tent camping was on hold until we could replace it. Lucky us (we thought) — there are two WalMarts in the eastern BC interior: Dawson Creek and Fort St. John.
Left our cozy Chetwynd motel (also run by Asian immigrants; they loaned us an electric tea kettle) in brilliant sun. A lovely hour or so later, we were entering Dawson Creek. The WalMart is south of the main part of town, and on the other side of road construction. (The joke about there being two seasons in the North — winter and construction — is very true.)
It was the smallest WalMart I’ve ever seen!
Only five checkout lines.
And no queen air mattress that self-inflates.
There may have been no queen air mattresses, period. I can’t remember.
I bought a twin that had a manual pump, in order to get confirmation from Mike that it wouldn’t work. Back inside for the return; now I have Canadian cash. (I’d paid in US dollars because none of my credit cards would work.)
We hadn’t yet learned that it’s OK to leave your bikes unattended. But we provided a local with a photo op.
After our own photo op at Mile Zero, we were off to Fort St. John.
At this point, I was still trying to figure out the GoPro. I thought I had it shooting video, but, alas, the battery died just after we pulled out of the parking lot.
Beautiful. Rugged. Amazing bridges.
Amazing road, when you think about the highway miles versus population.
Then we were in Fort St. John.
I thought we would be able to see the WalMart from the Alaskan Highway, based on Google Maps (using Dawson Creek WalMart public wifi). Wrong!
We rode to the north (or west) end of town, hung a right, meandered along Main Street. No service station. In desperation, I hung a right towards the highway, and we found ourselves on the “town” side of the shopping center that we could see from the Alaska Highway. (The Staples sign was a beacon when headed north.)
There was a local sporting goods store in this complex. Mike performed “check it out” duties while I stayed with the bikes. No dice here, either.
The construction was such that you couldn’t cross directly from this part of the shopping center to the service station OR across to the WalMart complex (viewable when traveling southbound).
But we got there. Eureka! A self-inflatable queen air mattress, reasonably priced. Six C batteries rounded out the purchase.
Now, for a late lunch.
WalMart wifi was not happy and I couldn’t figure out a local eatery so we punted to Quiznos, which was visible. And on the other side of the no man’s land of construction zone! I was so annoyed at this point that I off-roaded in the TransAlp. Mike, being of a much more stable temperament, followed the paved detour.
Where to next?
We decided to strike out for Fort Nelson, with a gas stop at Pink Mountain. And encountered our first old fashioned gas pump. The kind where the nozzle rests on the side of the pump and you flip the cover down to start the pump.
No more worries about credit cards not working at the pump! Because you pump first, then go inside to pay. The old-fashioned way.
I changed gloves and put on my electric bib. Didn’t know if we’d get chilled, but we were climbing. Mike was still wearing his mid-season gloves. And, unknown to me, no working electrics.
“Oh, we’ll stop at the next one,” I thought, as we whizzed by the next gas stop on my list. I was about to have my first lesson with the “get gas when you see it” mantra for traveling the Alaska Highway.
[My brain was struggling with klicks-miles conversion and The Milepost not matching the highway KM markers.]
The next stop had no gas.
And I’d just put the TransAlp on reserve.
So we used a gallon of gas from the back of Mike’s bike. Then – and only then – did I wander into the store. Where the kind lady told me that there were two gas stations about 15 miles up the road. That’s where we refilled the emergency gas can and the bikes and pushed on.
Soon, I was thinking: “Mike is probably shooting me by now.”
Because not only was it getting cold, we passed my promised “N miles and we’ll be there” point … and kept riding.
We entered Fort Nelson about 8 pm, riding directly into a blinding sun after passing what seemed like the world’s largest refinery. Pulling over onto the right-most omnipresent parallel-to-the-highway streets, I turned on the (very expensive) AT&T roaming data to find a motel. Booking.com directed us across the street to the Blue Bell Inn.
After check in (another hotel run by Asian immigrants) and unpacking, we wandered over to the restaurant next door. Which closed early on Sunday evenings.
We did not notice that the bar was still open, so back to our room and soup. Plus out-of-this-world aged Cheddar from Ontario that I had bought in Fort St. John.
Total: 400 miles