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Time To Head North

Time to head North

Well I should learn my lessons… Two weeks in a row without an empty day (either driving, visiting a city, hiking or a combination); no dinner yesterday (I normally eat late and I got invited for beers early); a few too many beers/schnapps with the friendly Germans and a night of -3 degrees (plus I forgot to put the roof tent down after the few too many beers). Result I am now sick and very tired on a day with the most perfect weather in a beautiful mountain park. I had to leave the campsite (full for the night, already at 11 in the morning) and drive across the street to the other campsite (an actual parking lot this time). Now I spend all day and all night sleeping in my very warm van…

The next day I felt much better but nature disagreed and threw a huge amount of rain on Jasper which is not supposed to stop for another day. So sadly enough I have to leave Jasper. I wasn’t done yet and wanted to see more (I really should learn my lesson). On the drive out of the park rain turned into snow. Snow turned into a lot of snow that actually stayed on the road. A few centimeters of it… Stopping doesn’t help and it supposed to be worse where I came from so I just keep driving. I get out of the park and stop at a supermarket for supplies and a quick check on the weather prediction. My plan was to head up north and the weather should be better there. Ten minutes into the road north it starts snowing again… A lot… I end up driving behind a very necessary snow plough. Further north it stops snowing but I drive into the clouds. Vision is terrible and every now and then I see some deer run across the road. Time for very careful driving. The mountains finally go down and clouds turn into rain. This is a logging area so there are loads of huge trucks coming out of the forests. This means loads of mud flying around. My wipers have a hard time keeping my windows clean. I find a campsite in Grande Prairie and the weather is actually nice there. Sunny! And not just sunny, the sun sets way after 10 and when I go to bed at 11 the sky is still light.

I have already driven more than 1500 km of the Trans-Canadian Highway and before I start the Pan-American Highway I will first drive more than 2000 km along the Alaskan Highway from Dawson Creek to Tok (Tok is the town next to Chicken, no joke). The Alaskan Highway was famously build during WWII to bring supplies to Alaska. Today I was going to drive the first bit of this famous highway. Starting at the zero mile post at Dawson Creek. Well… That’s exactly where I got today (the zero mile campground to be precise). All morning it looked and felt like the van was low on power (again). The town before Dawson Creek has a steep(ish) hill leading into town. I barely made it up that hill in second gear. Once I was up the hill I could only crawl through Dawson Creek. Well luckily it is a Monday today and not a Friday like last time my van broke down. Turns out the Canadians have very few public holidays but today was one of them (Thanks, Queen Victoria…). So all garages were closed. I crawled into a campsite which was cheap and had good wifi. Time to start the investigation and prepare for tomorrow morning to go to the garage. I called my dad for some brainstorming too but all the things we could come up with would result in a shitty fuel consumption (it isn’t) and/or would not make the car regain power at higher RPMs (once I’m up to speed 110km/h is no problem at all). I cleaned the air filter and checked everything in the engine. The only thing I could come up with is that the gas pedal doesn’t work properly and that it’s just running at low fuel intake. The guy at the garage in Regina had said that he thought the action of the pedal was “funny”. So I checked the pedal by hand and let’s say there was some misaligned of the floor protective covering material underneath the previously mentioned pedal causing a damping and blocking effect on said pedal resulting in the observed reduction of acceleration capacities of the vehicle. I think I officially will have to hand in my engineering degree for not checking this right away. It was a sunny day so time to catch up on planning, the website and get some rest.

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Dinner with a view

Time to start driving the Alaskan highway. It rained, it was sunny, there were fields, there were mountains, it was nature and it was industry. A good first day. I met some more people that make my plans look like peanuts. I met … a Japanese guy who is cycling around the world. He’s been on the road for 2 years and thinks he needs another three. He carries everything on his bike with little trailer and sleeps at the side of the road. I feel bad complaining my car is slow climbing up hills (he has to bike them), complaining about cold nights in my van (he said after winter in Finland this is great weather), or even rain (at least I have a dry warm van to sit in). In Fort Nelson I saw a car with Swiss plates (if you can call it a car, it looked more like a tank). I talked to the owners and they have been on the road for 4 years coming up from South America. In the evening I drove to a provincial park on a 12 km dead end road from the Alaskan Highway. It has 14 sites at a beautiful lake. When I drove up there was one other site occupied. This spot had the same Swiss people who were next to me last night. They drive a VW Transporter too (but a newer version, with Swiss plates). I had only spotted that they had Swiss plates late last night when they were already sleeping (I was too busy with my car earlier). We had been passing each other and waving all day by taking stops out of phase. So my German is getting pretty good again.
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Satoru with his bike and little trailer on the Alaskan Highway

Turns out I can keep my Engineering degree… The van is still losing power. Drove up the highest point of the of the Alaskan Highway (some 1300m) in second gear at 60km/h. Worst thing is that the gears don’t seem to overlap anymore. When I drive in 2nd gear at constant speed the RPMs keep going up until I have to shift gears. Once I’m in third gear the RPMs keep falling down until I have go back to second and repeat the whole story. There are no towns for the next 1000 km so it’ll be up to me to fix it. So I sat down and thought about things logically (don’t know why it took me this long to come up with this… This used to be my job: solving weird engineering problems). I feels like it’s still something with the pedal. Quick check: there is a mark on the floor (even with the mat gone) where I keep hitting the floor. I played a bit with the pedal and the cables and that seems to help. Hurray Now I can finally enjoy the road again. If only it wouldn’t rain all the time. At the end of the day I spotted some Bison (they are huge!) and drove into a campsite at a hot spring (at the same time as the Swiss people). The hot springs were great! 40C water! So good after a few days of driving and cold weather. I spend 2 hours in the water until I almost passed out from hunger and heat. Sadly the campsite did not have showers (or flush toilets for that matter), so I now smell like rotten eggs. But who cares.

Next morning more rain so no extra visit to the hot springs. But the day was still pretty eventful: I passed the 10.000km since I bought the van (only 30.000 more to go), spotted three black bears and 10 bison, found relatively cheap diesel (only 25% more expensive then in the  rest of the country, compared to double the price a hundred kilometers ago) and found a cheap campsite with a shower and power. I started a campfire but it started raining a bit plus it got rainy, so I got inside the van. While I was in the van the owner of the campsite got more wood and restarted my fire again, then it got dry and I could go out again.

Fun fact, reasons why I don’t spot too many animals from my car and have even less pictures of them:
– I have to drive
– I have to navigate (I know I have a nav, but that thing keeps testing if I’m paying attention by randomly sending me into the bush)
– I have to keep worrying about the van not working
– I have to keep the karaoke going (90s are the best!)

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This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. Hey Maarten,
    I have been following you quite some time during YOUR trip.
    Amazing to read and see where you’ve been, your challenges and your learning moments.
    Keep going and wishing you all the best,
    Jan Manders (neighbour across your parents’ street in case you forgot…..;<))

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