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September 2003 - April 2004
As the weather was getting colder, it was time to start thinking about taking a break from our travels. Luckily, Carol was several steps ahead of Stephen and had already found a contract position in Williams Lake, British Columbia. So off we headed to Williams Lake for our winter stop-over!
Driving to Williams Lake, we passed through a snow storm (and it was only mid-September) just a few hours outside of town. We figured however, that Williams Lake must be pretty as we arrived in the pouring rain/snow and still thought it was nice. Fortunately the weather improved as the week wore on which was a good thing as we were still in our camper while we looked for a place to live. We had set-up at the Stampede Campground which for our purposes, couldn't have been any better. It is located right in the town and the caretakers (Vera and Russell) were very nice. Having recently taken over this position, they were continually working to make improvements to the campground. The nights though were getting progressively cooler and some mornings we awoke to frozen condensation over our heads.
Before Carol started her work, we headed to Wells to visit Stephen's sister Kate and her partner Michel. Wells is a historic gold town and is accessible from Quesnel (via a paved road) or via Likely (via a dirt road through the mountains). We decided to take the back roads and had a wonderful trip (although it adds 3 hours to what is a 2 hour drive through Quesnel). Very beautiful. We were fortunate that the weekend we picked was the last week-end that historic gold town of Barkerville was open for the season. It is a wonderful place to visit with many of the original buildings intact (complete with Chinese newspaper insulation) and lots of historic characters telling their story from the gold rush days. Like everything else, Barkerville is under the government cut-back knife so if you are in BC be sure to get out and support it. It is a fascinating piece of Canadian history and it would be an absolute shame if even a piece of it is lost.
Likely... another fascinating area made all the more interesting by its relatively recent gold mining activities (late 1800's). We visited an old pit where the miners essentially blasted away layer upon layer of gravel with a high-pressure water hose leaving a massive canyon in their wake - so completely different from hard rock mining. Driving around the back roads was also interesting in that once off the main highway it became very clear that cows own the roads!
While on the road we had looked for canoe clubs near Williams Lake and found the Quesnel Canoe Club. They were planning a trip down the Fraser River in October and we arranged to join them. After hearing that 'there aren't any canoes in BC only kayaks', we were pleasantly surprised upon our arrival to find a river-full of them. On top of that many were Swift brand canoes like our own. What a surprise so far from the Swift stores. At any rate, it was a good trip and another good group of people.
Shortly after arriving in BC we attended the Likely Paddle-Fest (about an hour east of Williams Lake) and had the great fortune to meet the Rees family. This included Walter and Kathy Rees, their son Scott, daughter Laura, son-in-law Shawn, dog-in-law Forrest and of course Tia the chocolate lab. Tia was busy rolling on a dead fish the day we met her and so doesn't remember the initial meeting. This exceptionally welcoming and generous family made all the difference in settling in a new town and kindly introduced us to many of Williams Lake's finer points including (but not limited to) the Monday-night bike rides, GT snow racing, skiing at Sun Peaks and Easter egg decorating. A hearty thanks to the Rees family for their kindness!
Upon arriving in Williams Lake, we were repeatedly told that we had go west - this despite telling people that we had already come 5000 km west! At any rate, off we went with Carol's co-worker Catherine and her partner Martin. Our first stop was a place called Farewell Canyon on the Chilcotin River with its beautiful blue waters and spectacular sand dunes! The rest of the day was spent hiking the nearby Junction Sheep Range whose grassy flat lands made us feel as if we were back in the prairies. Although we traveled no further, these flatlands continue on westwards until they hit the coastal mountains. We will have to wait until next summer to see more of this spectacular country as winter is setting in.
It is a challenge setting up a life in a place you know nothing about and where you know nobody. Like everywhere else Williams Lake has its dives (we know, we looked at them all) and just when desperation was setting in we arrived at Curt, Allison, Brooke and Whiskey's place. They have a great little basement apartment with a south-east facing kitchen that lets the afternoon sun pour in. Curt and Allison treated us really well and Stephen was very excited to be able to use Curt's work bench and storage area. Carol's commute was a 1 minute, 30 second walk which contrasted nicely with her 1 hour car commute from Toronto days! We also became great friends with Whisky the dog who had been a bit put out by the appearance of baby Brooke and the resulting competition for attention. These was no need to worry about Whisky though... he and the Rees's Tia competed for the title of most spoiled dog in Williams Lake (if not BC) so even in hard times he was treated pretty well. He was a regular guest at the supper table/floor and we really enjoyed taking him for walks and bike rides. Thankfully Curt and Allison looked upon all of this as a good thing and never complained when we brought him home muddy! Thanks to Curt, Allison, Brooke and Whisky for opening their home to us.
Remembrance Day is a holiday in BC and it also marked the first big snow fall of the season. We went to DeSous Mountain (a popular summer spot for the wild Williams Lake mountain bikers) to check out the sights and after a good climb through the snow we were rewarded with a spectacular view from the fire tower at the top.
Two years ago it was planned that the Sulis clan would all be together in Wells for Christmas. With our great adventure underway we were initially unsure if it would all work out but fate seemed to intervene when Carol got a job close to Wells. This meant the logistics would work and as a result the whole gang made it. Yeah! Stephen's parents flew out from the Maritimes and we had full homes both in Wells for Christmas and in Williams Lake after. It was nice to have everyone together. Who knows when it will happen again?
One of the great things about living up north again is that you can go into the bush and hand pick your own Christmas tree. In this part of BC, the trees aren't as full as in Northern Ontario but as this was Carol's first bush based tree-cutting adventure and we had a great time finding just-the-right-one anyway!
Stephen was lucky over the winter to land no less than three jobs which together with Carol's steady income, enabled us to fill up the cookie jar again in preparation for 2004's summer of adventure. His largest string of employment was as a winter fill-in mechanic for the local highway contractor CRS (Caribou Road Services). They were a good group of guys who were thankfully patient as I slowly learned my way around highway trucks. Unfortunately, CRS lost the next highway maintenance contract in the area. As it was a 10 year contract which represented 80% of their business, it meant they would cease to exist in the same form they had in the past. It was a shake up and a hard way to learn about diversification and the competitive edge. And yes, that is the Toyota in the photo and not a highway truck. CRS was kind enough to let me throw it on the hoist and give it a good going over in preparation for the summer's travels!
Skiing in BC is, well.... world class. What else can be said about it! Even the small semi-local Mount Timothy is excellent. We had 10 excellent days on the slopes with sisters and brothers-in-law (Joanne and Aaron), cousins (Bill and Linda) and friends (Shawn and Laura) all making for some great days and a good number of laughs. Condition-wise things could have been a bit better (at least at Sun Peaks and Big White). There was more ice than this easterner has ever seen and a definite lack of that famed BC powder. Actually, we were surprised at the general lack of snow... whether this was an anomaly or relatively normal we couldn't quite figure out. Anyway, we love to ski and BC is the place to be - should we decide to remain in BC the fabulous skiing would definitely be one of the reasons! Check out the Skiing in BC link for more photos.
While the whole province is (with good reason) populated with ski snobs that won't ski anything with less than 1500 feet of vertical and 2 feet of powder the truth is you can ski just about anywhere. Take Bull Mountain. Although there is no ski lift there is a power line under which is some snow. There is a road to the top that the Toyota will just make in 4x4. And that is all you need. Carol, Laura, Shawn and I headed out one fine weekend and made the first run after hiking to the top. After that laziness set in and we made the next two runs using the truck. It wasn't the widest run, or the steepest, or the deepest powder but it did provide for some back-yard entertainment and a few laughs. After that it was time for hot chocolate!
Even the mundane things done in the rest of the country are a little extreme when they are done in BC. GT Snow Racing is no exception. In Ontario you take the kids GT Snow Racing, in BC you bolt downhill skies to the bottom of the GT Snow Racers so that you go faster, drive (not walk) to the top of a 3 mile hill, wear a helmet and go flying through the trees with a bunch of adults. The result of 200 lb adults, using GTs designed for children but modified with downhill skies for more speed, on steep twisting mountain trails is, well.... a homebuilt GT. The local group made many excellent modifications and repairs to keep their sleds going but the logical conclusion was to build a bigger and more solid GT. The resulting prototype is shown on the right. It isn't pretty but it is big, burly and heavy. It never did get tested as it didn't get completed until the end of the season, but I was worried that it might be a bit of a dog. By spring of 2004 I had a plan for a newer version but it would have to wait until the fall to see if I could find a place to build it.
I had always wondered Ukrainians make all those fantastic Ukrainian Easter eggs. Of course, this didn't occupy much time throughout the year and usually amounted to a heroic one day battle involving hollow eggs, liquid dyes that can stain stainless steel, tape, crayons, stickers, utility knifes and
any manner of tools which I believed might, in one day, enlighten me as to 100 years of Ukrainian egg making experience. I always exited Easter in the same cloud of foggy mystery that I entered it in. This year however, I saw the light when Laura simply went out and bought a Ukrainian egg making kit. It is called a kistka. This is the secret tool. And, had I kept at it every day for the rest of my life I never would have come up with it. Anyhow, not that we became experts but with this kistka we could at least see the potential should one spend a sufficient period of time practicing. We had a great time and I was in good company with Shawn attempting to use a cordless drill to improve on the Ukrainians 100 years of egg making experience. I will not wallow into the exact details but you can well imagine the results - there is a reason why a cordless drill is not included in the Ukrainian Easter egg kit. Laura with her artistic abilities created a couple beauties but Shawn's egg (once he got the cordless drill thing figured out) carried the day and got the most votes for best egg. Mine got likened to a South Park theme by two independent observers.
I do believe that Williams Lake offers one of the finest net-work of mountain biking trails in the country. Be fore-warned however, that these aren't your average run-of-the-mill Ontario style trails. Should someone from BC suggest going for a bike ride don't forget your full-face helmet, arm guards and shin pads (they call it armor). Biking here was unlike anything I had ever seen before - jumps that were literally over our heads and log rides 10 feet in the air were pretty standard fare. Of course you could go around the majority of the obstacles (which I did without fail) but we watched guys routinely bomb over them with ease. It made us feel like we had yet to learn how to ride a bike. Thanks to Walter, Laura, Shawn, Forest and Tia for gently introducing us to this new sport through the Monday night bike rides and for patiently waiting as we attempted to follow them downhill! And of course... a special thanks to Kathy for all the shuttles and wonderful meals that were the best part (in my books anyway) of the Monday night rides! Note: the photo on the left is not one I took. It is there to show some of the crazy yet very common stuff these Williams Lakers build and ride. More such photos can be found at www.puddlebike.com.
Our winter in BC was terrific. On the positive side was the skiing and amazing mountain biking, the mountains themselves, the rivers (which are a bit scary) and the excellent people (who are not scary). Like everywhere else though there were drawbacks. The primary of these of course was the distance from our families. The lack of a solid winter was also a disappointment - especially the lack of snow. You can always drive to the mountains for snow but there is nothing like 6 feet of the stuff in your front yard! Of course we only in one part of BC and global warming does seem to be a contributing factor.
Another facet I missed was the ruggedness of shield country. Despite BC's mighty mountains and gorges I find the shield's endless swamps, impenetrable masses of tag alders and swarms of mosquitoes make for more interesting (though less stunning visually) country side. A final negative... never had we been in a place where people drive so much. Otherwise active people would drive 500 meters to the corner store - usually this was done in an obnoxiously loud diesel truck!
We took a major step and sold our Coleman Sedona camper. Although we had softened our stance on it since the frustrations described in previous sections (see Gear and Ontario), we didn't feel it was up to the heavy hauling we would be doing in 2004. The thing was actually quite solid in that nothing major ever fell off and that nothing really squeaked, groaned or rattled but all the work I had done to Coleman's brand new product to shake out the "little things" left me with no faith in the product. I was disgruntled at having had paid to be Coleman's proving ground. The sale was certainly with mixed emotions though... it was a comfy little home when it was set up (especially in the rain) and it did provide for many fond memories. Anyway, it represented a significant mid-stream shift for us, a financial loss and left us scrambling to re-organize half way through. Thanks though to Dad and Dave Goswell for helping us with the camper when we were having our more difficult moments! And sorry Carol for selling your camper!
To start with us on the summer 2004 phase of our Cross-Canada adventure click on the British Columbia (2004 Summer) link.
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