To Yellowknife by Yellow van
Being awaken in the middle of the night, it was a full blown attack. Full on, no amount of bear spray or bells or tazers or lazers or fazers or small assault weapon could have saved or prepared us for a surprise attack in the middle of the night. We had chosen to camp just off the main road in the Wood Buffalo National Park. Home to the largest heard of free range bison in the world! We’d pull just off the main trail back in the bush so we couldn’t be seen, just far enough in the bush we couldn’t be heard or detected by anything, or so we thought...
A brief history in time:
Having driven from Alberta west through most of B.C., east to Montreal
and south to Guatemala I was yet to drive north. Yellowknife it is. And who better to take then ones 17 year old nephew. Courtland was roughly 6’1”, 175lbs, thick black hair and thicker blacker eyebrows. The kind of eyebrows that would make Burt of Burt and Ernie look well groomed. A funny kid, with the typical laid back out look towards the day that runs through our families veins with looks and a sense of fashion to lure suspicion as well as the interest of the ladies. That and he could drive a standard, a perfect fit for the trip. Well except his driving abilities only got used once, punk!
Who else could I possibly want to impose my views of the world on then an impressionable 17 year old whom looks to seek answers in the whimsicalness of ones uncle (ya I just wrote that). Courtland was raised in the white picket fence type house in small town suburbia by blue collar hardworking parents whom feel there first born has the brains to get himself a good education and a solid life long career that could ensure him a successful future, promising salary and a nice pension. His mother reminded me to bring this up a few times on the course of our trip. I thought it would be better if we went fishing, drank in random towns, woke up in parking lots and had the pants scared off us by 2000lb bison. Plan successful!
As we were meant to leave on Sunday I was having some problems with the van and couldn’t get it going over 70kmph, this would make for a loooooooong trip. So I text a friend who was friends with the mechanic who’d done a tune up on the Westfalia to see if I could take it back there 1st thing Monday A.M.
Called there shop, closed, no answer.
So having remembered that last I was there I had taken milkshakes as a tip to the staff including the two super cute ladies working reception, and there parting words being “Kix we love you”! That’s gotta count for something, not just every receptionist ends with “Kix we love you”, thou they should. So I drove the van to the mechanics door step leaving a hand written note on the door explaining my problem and how much the ladies loved me and that I was super pressed for time.
Keys are in it, please call me if it can be fixed today. SUN COMING UP: 7:15am super cute receptionist calls and says it’d be first in line. Was simply a cracked fuel line and I picked it up before noon. Never underestimate the power of a milkshake.
I pick up Courtland and after a few parting words from his mother about the importance of school, we hit the road by mid-afternoon.
Ohh wise one:
I’ve been to school. I’ve studied, I’ve moved for an education, I’ve eaten Mr. Noodles. I’ve also been schooled on the road, woken up to police rattling on the window “move it”, and I’ve eatin from a life threatening number of mystery meat street vendors. I hands down prefer to be professord by the road. 1st night I explain the most important thing about Wal-Mart’s. They have huge parking lots, bathrooms and typically free Wifi. Aside from that, avoid a “Great Value” lifestyle at all costs.
Night one camped out in the Peace River Wal-Mart, proved my theory and continue on. Day two camped out at twin lakes in Northern Alberta, a lovely stocked trout pond. One of those places you take a kid to fish as your guaranteed hours of catching, where we caught roughly 2 fish over 30 hours, not keepers. After several beers and a lot of cast lines in the dusk of the day, I tell Court I’m going to grab a bite, he feels the same. We stroll back to camp and I check the clock. It’s midnight and still light enough to fish, ahh Northern Albertas incredible. The next day we blast through High Level, this being the only town I DID NOT refuel along the way. Seems it’s the only place to refuel along the way and after a couple of hours I’m untying the jerry can from the roof for the first time. I think I’ve ran outta fuel on almost every road trip I’ve been on. One was actually at the end of the world, no joke. Cape Reinga New Zealand a gorgeous place where dessert meets lush countryside meets Tasman Sea, meets South Pacific Ocean. Must be the cars!
Next stop Indian Heads gas stop and it is pouring so hard that I can barley see the gas pump and I am laughing my ass off as I have not seen a drop of water in weeks. Soaked in seconds, like the guy sitting on the chair in the water tank at the fair, ball hits target, ass hits water. Totally soaked while refuelling. I take off running as if I’m a cat at the receiving end of a hose into the store to pay for the fuel and ask the clerk if it always rains this hard. He tells me that’s the 1st it’s rained since last summer, by the time I step outside it’s stopped. If timing were everything, I’d be a clock!
ever talk to strangers:
Or as I like to think of it, everyone you meet has a story to tell, so we pick up every hitchhiker we can find. Think I may have forgotten to mention this bit to Courtlands mother, whoops! Twin Falls is like a mini double set of Niagara fed by the powerful Hay River. Here we meet a nice seven passenger SUV with about ten people in it enjoying the falls walk much like us. After some general chit chat walking about the grandfather of this sardine vehicle explains they had blow a tire on a trailer then another tire on the other side ten miles later and could we give him a lift back to there truck as it was a tad stuffed in the SUV. Happy to help we had grandpa sitting backseat in the yellow hippy van on a 24 of Kokanee, he was happy for the change of space. Next set of thumb-riders was a moment in time when two paths of exact opposites of extreme similarities could not have found themselves at a more perfect time. Introducing our exact opposite doubles; Jilly and Lindsay. There’s a minor fork in the road one direction is Yellowknife, the other Hay River. We weren’t planning on Y-knife for a few more days so we took the Hay River fork. About 10,000 foot steps from nowhere on the hot tarmac of 28oC day in NWT with the probability of traffic rolling by a bid slim, we spot on first nations girl about 5’6”, jet black hair, classic black rimmed retro glasses in shorts. Legs so covered in bites it’s as if no one warned her of the NWT Mountain Mosquitoes, seriously it looked bad. A few paces ahead was her sidekick. Roughly 28, a child of the bush. Doc Martin boots with black tights, well worn shirt, denim fanny pack, wallet chain all stating I could kick your ass if you mess with me. Tattys of the world she believes in lightly hidden by a well committed set of dreads, bull ring and zero gauge holes dawned by legit eagle feathers. All topped by a welcoming smile, man I love transients of the road! Well as the world would have it these two thumb-riders would be on a road trip, not just any road trip. As we are headed North to Y-Knife from Red Deer to take in the adventures of the top of the world these two were naturally headed to South to Red Deer for a roller derby tournament that weekend and were from none other then Y-Knife. Hummm very interesting, you believe in coincidences or predetermined paths? Well this is just the opener, in fact as we are headed from Red Deer that day on our way to Y-Knife in our 81 Sunshine yellow Westfailia campervan to take in the magic of the top of the world. It turns out that Jilly and Lindsay suffer a minor breakdown just up the road and around the corner near the fork in the road on there way from Y-Knife to Red Deer in none other then there 1980 Sunshine Yellow Westfalia campervan, WHAT!!! They nor us could believe the possibilities of it all, nor could the two truck driver who pulled up and was looking to hook up to my van and thought they were messing with him about the possibility of two sunshine yellow Wesfalia campervans on the same highway near the top of the world at the same time. He took one of the girls and her credit card just to make sure. Next up would be the likes Matt from France, who had started off in Quebec and was planning to hitchhike as much of Canada as he could in a year. Matt I think grossly underestimated a few things on his voyage. 1: Canada is god damn huge! 2: he had packed a tarp to sleep under for this chunk of the trip and during KM 223 we spotted the 1st of what was to be a lot of massive bison and on KM 316 we spotted Matts 1st black bear just cruising about the woods. Poor Matt was dropped off in the bush near the salt plains for the night and was still yet to experience the NWT Mountain Mosquitoes! Never did see Matt after that night, hopefully he had himself a nice Canadian experience!
That was not the only time I’d met someone whom ventured off on there own in a foreign place to them. I once split a room with a young guy from Saskatchewan my first trip to Malaysia. I was 18 and this guy could not have been more then 19. He was planning to set off and do some sightseeing that day and we were to meet for dinner that night. We stayed in that hostel for
three more nights and never saw the young Saskatchewan traveler again. We packed all his gear and gave it to reception before we checked out. Yikes!
Well as one can expect on a road trip the quality and quantity of food can range from third world to developing world standards. Courtlands mum was aware of her sons Mc-Cooking ability and came through with some homemade grub and decadent desserts. The rest of the cupboards in the van were a reflection of the standard college student cupboard; canned fish, spitz, various jerky’s and granola bars. For a trip that was roughly %85 fishing, the only fresh fish we had was off a menu. Actually it wasn’t even off a menu, it was just the only option if there had been a menu!
We ate at various grab and goes along the way, yet the most memorable was by far worth the build up. At first stop in Y-Kinfe we ended up going to a joint straight out of the 70’s gold rush. Amply named “GOLD RUSH BISTRO”. Faded gold paint dawned the exterior and the inside had all the right touches of a North West, Asian, Canadian, greasy spoon. A nice mix of crushed red velvet seating, brightly coloured fish on the walls, Inuit art, a nearly life size polyester dragon hanging from the roof and a three hundred choice menu of western and Asian with canned pop. We settled with a clubhouse and fries and a lovely toasted white bun with a fried chicken burger and fries for dinner. Ahhhhh food of the North! Or comfort food of any place in North America whom aims to please the general population of no taste bud land. Well I’m happy to report that was a narrow intro to a wonderful selection of all things hell ass amazing in the world of culinary magic. Ohh man there’s some gems in that town and I’ll take the delights over the diamonds.
Next stop “Le Stock Pot”, I Google mapped this place to try and find it and in the 2 minute walk from our hotel (worst view ever!) to this joint we get lost about thirteen times. Well eventually discovering it’s attached to Subway and that my sixth sense was probably just not allowing me to go near the yellow submarine. We eventually found it hidden right there in front of us. Like many an explorers who have come to seek the fortunes of the north before us, we too had found our bounty. A fresh bakery and delicatessen. I haven’t bothered to seek out the history of this store, though I’m sure it reads something like this…
“In the shabby neighbourhood of someplace just outside of Montreal was born Pierre St.Delicious. To smiling parents Monsieur and Madam St.Delicious whom worked in the family bakery, of which had been built by immigrant grandparents Grand-mere and Grand-pere St.Delicious. Grand-mere and Grand-pere St.Delicious grew wheat for bread and chopped wood for the baking then passed on traditions where eventually Monsieur and Madam St.Delicious had a small scratch bakery that little Pierre grew up in, eventually befriending a small rat by the name Le-Ratatouille. Pierre became a crafty little baker and with the expert cooking skills of Le-Ratatouille tucked under his hat the pair became a culinary Mecca for the taste buds of this shabby town. Eventually moving there baking religion to the baking epicentre of the world… Yellowknife!”
Well renounce my religion and bless me with a maple and chocolate pecan tart! Halleluiah Le Pot Stock, I’ve been saved!!!!!
I had one hell of sandwich on Winnipeg rye with smoked meat and provolone while making plans for the pecan tart. Climax time, enter Bullocks Bistro. From about northern Alberta on I had heard been slowly coaxed by the words of many a road warrior that if I liked to dine then we best check out Bullocks Bistro whilst in Y-Knife. Eventually arriving in town I was told that I must eat there. This build up being ever more heightened by the fact we rolled in on a Sunday and if anything in Y-knife is open in the food world it’s probably about to close. So I had to sleep on it. Calling to make reservations and being told that option doesn’t exist and that I best arrive early I’m now at a point of mid-level concern being reduced to waiting in a line. Nothing worse then being a spectator in a room full of foodies. Like trying to hit on a beautiful foreign girl in a bar, you both know what you want, it’s just a crutch of miscommunication holding the moment at bay.
Arrival brings us to a shack with parking for about two, at the forefront of a small village built around a huge rock. I know sounds sexy doesn’t it. I’d say there is seating outside for about 20ppl and inside for about 40 with spare seats for 4. With two servers and one cook the one whom greeted us gave the option of one of us sitting at one table with a group of five for a birthday and the other with a group of five out with there family or they could move the cutlery off the end of the bar and we could both sit there. I in my formal dinning attire of faded grey camo shorts, white and multi coloured muscle shirt with clever sayings on it like “POW,FLASH & YEAH”, hiding nicely burnt skin all topped off with my best sweat stained sun-faded hat and a week old shave job, we opted for the end of the bar. We could not have picked a better spot. Right at the heart of the action we were not only greeted by all two servers, and Mizz personality herself the chef. This was a direct reflection of the ambience of our surroundings. This sensational conglomerate of food, fun and visual assaults of shit everywhere is truly touched by the world. Pictures of peoples kids and native families, Russian post cards, stickers on the hood fan reminding one that “The village called and their idiot is missing”, “Vegetarian is an Indian word for lousy hunter” ,“kind people hug” and a scrabble junkies dream of all kinds of wacky sayings. It’s what a hoarder would get off on if they were addicted to items no thicker then a piece of paper! Let’s just say it was “amazingly bazaar”. Then menu was more verbal then visual and the choices were lake trout, arctic char or oddly enough something imported. After having my ear rattled off in excitement by the chef my eyes finally started to focus on the food. Yes it was in deed true, a serious of pans were being shifted and poured and swished about with the fish that had been taken from a wood cutting board a few feet away in what was handfuls of butter. Not a touch of spice and a dollop of butter. Real French cooking portions of butter, BY THE HANDFUL! A few mashups of conversation with the uber-personal staff some others at the rail and a aperitif of Innis and Gunn dinner hit the table. One
skewer and one fish & chips and I was in culinary climax! It was an Osbornes meets Chevy Chases Christmas meets Iron Chef melting pot of sensory stimulus, it was beautiful. All things Bullocks spilled over into having our server take us two 25 years buds out to the local pub after.
If ever I’m givin the chance to hang out with a local of anywhere, anywhere, I’m in! That and I was half in the bag after departing Bullocks (they were closing or we woulda stayed till I was all in the bag and well off the wagon!). By this point Courtland was well over his fear of ordering booze in a pub and happily ordered us up a round on this Monday night. Him, I and Abbey all shooting the shit I notice him taking pix on his phone. Me: “what are you taking pictures of?”, As it looks like any other wanna be Irish-knock off pub in the world. Courtland: “Well I’ve never been in a pub before!”. Almost blew are , “were both 25 and buddies” cover. Just when I thought we had our stories straight, somebody goes and starts building photographic evidence to burn us.
All in all, an amazing night out in an adventure rich must see city.
Ever had a bad day?:
There’s little reminders that pop into my world all that time that remind me I’ve never had a bad day. Don’t get me wrong there are moments that I’d been thrown a pretty big set back in my world, then I sit back and remind myself that it’s just the way life rolls some days and I aim to counter it with a positive spin. I am reminded of this by meeting some of the most amazing people. On this particular trip it came in the form of Abbey. Abbey being our server/tour guide on our night out in Y-Knife. As we got chatting to Abbey more and getting her run down on life in Y-Knife, I ask her some questions about family and life etc. Abbey lives in a standard Y-Knife home with her Mom& Dad, brother, his girlfriend and there new baby, yes all under one roof. Abbeys parents weren’t the slightest bit miffed about the fact that they were all under one roof , in fact that were simply ecstatic to have all there kids around. Abbey has some fairly obvious scars and without hesitation explains that they came from her life being saved. Abbey had actually been diagnosed with a serious of stomach problems and life threatening problems at a very young age and spent the first part of her life fighting for it in the hospital. Tests for this, tubes for that and constantly under the knife with the aim to fix her left Abbeys life hanging in the hands of doctors for her first years. Eventually after some successful operations she was cured and to her parents extreme delight was dubbed there “miracle baby”. Abbey was happy to show off the scares that saved her life and glowed in the mere fact she was alive to tell the story, a story that is not told by many. I’ve rarely been in the hospital, have no know diseases, illnesses and have never felt that my health might alter my future. For this I am beyond happy that people like Abbey are alive and well and is a very sobering reminder that I’ve never had a bad day, ever!
The exact reverse home, some endless roads. Being pulled over by an extremely board police officer whom I was laughing through my teeth asking if we’d been pulled over for speeding. Ya speeding in a fully loaded Wesfalia, hahahahhahahahahha! He then questioned us if we had any drugs, not sure if it was the van, the lack of hygiene, or that my shirt was inside out and mis-buttoned by three holes. Either way I very matter of factly said yes that all of our cocaine was being concealed by the two illegal immigrant children under the back seat whilst Courtland and the officers eyes lit up. While this lead to him very matter of factly asking if he could search the vehicle and we all looked at the disaster that was the frat house looking van and I asked if he could do it at the lake so we could at least fish in the meantime. This seemed to work and he couldn’t be bothered and lucky us he explained we were about to take the longest roughest way to the lake. Things kept lookin up for us.
A night and morning of catch and release pike & we were a few tanks of gas poorer and a wealth of memories richer.
***Ohh and just a short 271kms or 6 hours (yes the roads are that great) from Hay River lies Fort Smith. And if it happens to be a Wednesday, there’s free cupcakes at the museum from 2-5pm. Two words that belong together for life, FREE and CUPCAKES!
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