The Trans-America Challenge 2012
7th May - 8th June 2012
Smithers to Watson Lake
MAY 31ST, 2012
Into the Yukon. Larger than life.
Under the looming bulk of the 2560m Hudson Bay Mountain largely swathed in cloud but with just enough blue sky and sunlight to make it interesting we pulled out of Smithers on the 16 Trans–Canada Yellowhead Highway.
There are a couple of glaciers at the top of this mountain and we could just glimpse them to our left as we passed the airport and the aptly named glacier view RV Park. Today was the longest day of the Rally at around 533 miles so an early start was called for and we answered.
The 24 hour car once again saved our bacon today and we were forced to make a fairly big change to the schedule. Ed' Rutherford and Andy 'Axeman found a large part of the route along the Kitwanga back road had been washed away. Gone, finished, not there anymore. Even their 4x4 couldn't get through. There was no alternative other than to reroute along the Tarmac for the whole day so the planned regularity section had to be cancelled.
By the time we got to the right turn onto the 37, the Alaska Highway, the rain had started and the mercury had fallen to a chilly 9°C. This turning after 60 miles was worth noting as it was the first of only three we'd have to negotiate during the day. This is straight line country and make no mistake.
We spotted a Black bear just before the Nass River bridge chomping its way through its own body weight in grass, it didn't seem bothered by us and was too busy eating to pose for pictures. Another three arrived in quick succession after that but by then we'd lost interest and didn't even bother raising the camera.
The TC and lunch buffet at Bell 2 was a superb effort. Quite the epicurean delight. There was home made beef soup, chilli and a finger buffet. Our hostess with the mostest, Sally, was delighted to have us there. We drank the coffee pot dry (free with fuel), hoovered up the buffet and drained most of the aforementioned fuel from both of the two pumps. This stop was just the thing to warm up the open top crew members such Meredith Vorboril and Olivia Hunt who arrived looking frozen and counted no less than seven layers of clothing as well as two hats. Rosalie Gatsonides also a member of the chilled and topless brigade declared that it was a marvellous lunch and just what she needed.
David Rayner had discovered that he'd lost a wheel nut from the Capri on the way to lunch and as we left he was picking through his box of spares looking for a replacement. Momentarily distracted by this we almost missed the sow (female bear) with her three cubs trotting along behind. This has greatly upped our bear tally since we left Yellowstone but the thought of another 300 miles kept our foot on the gas and eyes fixed firmly ahead as we headed past the Tatogga Lake resort where the Round the World in 80 days Rally had a lunch in 2000.
The lake at Gnat Pass was still partially frozen but we didn't need a visual clue to how cold it actually was just before mid-afternoon coffee at the PC at Dease Lake. When we arrived we saw Paul Kane’s Mustang up on the axles stands with Andy Inskip underneath looking to repair the starter motor. At the queue to pay for fuel Philip Haslam was breathless in his praise of the road so far. Many crews also took the opportunity to fill a Jerry can or two as tomorrow we drive deeper into the wilderness and as the old saying goes a can in the boot is worth two back at the gas station.
The road from here to the hotel was just as stunning, maybe more so because the sun shone brightly between the showers. Great tarmac, wide and mainly well made, tree lined but with good visibility through long sweeping bends to lakes and snowy mountains.
At times it had a roller coaster quality and we swooped and dived past many logging encampments but nothing in the way of a permanent settlement.
This is wilderness and we love it.
In the town of Watson Lake, the night halt, which is slightly less than a one horse town, we learned that Steve Hyde had a magnesium wheel collapse, 'at speed'. He did well to bring the car to a safe stop and now he's on the lookout for some spares. Other than that the Rally is looking pretty shipshape.
We also visited the massive and world famous Signpost Forest where some crews had put up their own memento.