Canada Trip Day 4

by Jonah

After asking almost every motel in town their price, we stayed at the Mini Price Inn, which was the second cheapest (but looked a whole lot better than the one that was $5 less expensive. Still it was $99 pre-tax. Carol at the front desk was a native Canadian, which also swayed my opinion. It seems like most of the motel proprietors are Chinese. I suppose that makes me a little racist, but it’s like calling customer service and feeling so relieved when someone without a foreign accent answers on the other end of the line. You feel like someone who’s more like you will empathize better. Unfortunately, our only problem with the room was that the pillows were so big and thick that we hurt our necks trying to sleep on them. Berck finally gave up and just used his parka.

Most of the rooms in Fort Nelson are taken by workers in the drilling fields (we’re not sure if it’s oil or gas). The others are taken by truckers. What’s left usually goes to people on their way to Alaska. The Super 8’s parking lot was full of heavy equipment trucks and the lobby with their drivers, so I didn’t even get to ask the price there. The restaurant where we had supper had a sign that said, “Clean casual wear after 7 p.m., please.” We had poutine (topped with grated “mozza” instead of cheese curds) and some very good Kokanee Gold beers.

From Fort Nelson our route will take us west back into the mountains again. We didn’t get to see much of them yesterday. We started the day getting gas and a couple of donuts and mocha lattes at a Tim Hortons. We washed the car in the relatively huge metropolis of Grand Prairie as it was difficult to see out the windows, despite my efforts at washing them every chance I got.

We just passed the first US plate we’ve seen since leaving the country, and it was a Subaru from Colorado. Oh, and here’s a minivan from Florida. They’ve got us beat.

From Grand Praire we drove through several towns in a row, all of which seemed to be advertising stock actions by the road. The two lane highway was clogged with big rigs driving slowly, so passing anyone was tricky. In Snow Crash, Neil Stevenson envisions a future where the entire Alaska Highway comprises an unending city a hundred yards wide and hundreds of miles long. It seemed like we were driving through the start of that. But then civilization abruptly ended.

The Alaska Highway we were on was incredibly monotonous, just tightly spaced evergreens on either side of the road, which wound and rose and fell enough to not let you see too much further into your future but usually offered ample passing space for the rare time we overtook another vehicle. The speed limit 100 kph (about 60 mph) but we’ve been traveling at 85 mph for the most part with ease. We have to judiciously decide where to get gas, since towns are few and far between and usually just consist of a restaurant, maybe a motel, and maybe a gas station. I make Berck get gas whenever I’m not sure, because we really don’t want to run out.

We’re using Street Atlas 2012 on a laptop with a GPS receiver to tell where we are and where we’re going. Street Atlas uses telephone directories to show businesses, so you can sometimes see if there’s a gas station in a given town (or a motel), but sometimes they’re closed. You can also zoom way into each town and guess if they have a gas station by the number of streets in the town. If there isn’t a little grid of streets, it’s anyone’s guess. If there is, there’s probably gas nearby. Google is better, but we can only check that when we’ve got wifi, since we turned off data on our phones once we hit the border. Another problem is that a lot of the gas stations out in the middle of nowhere are closed for the winter.

All the gas stations so far have places for the price but don’t actually post it. It’s, of course, been going up steadily the further north we travel. It’s sold in litres so you have to do a little multiplication to realize how ridiculously expensive it is. Currently, however, the Canadian dollar is almost exactly the same value as the U.S. dollar, which means we don’t have to do any exchange rate math in our heads. We did have to figure out if we got a better rate using our ATM card or using a credit card. It turns out that it’s a little cheaper to use cash, so Berck tries to talk the motel people to let us pay that way, even though they want to take your credit card so they can charge you if there’s any damage. The lady at the Mini Price Inn was nice and didn’t charge us a deposit, as long as we promised not to throw any wild parties.

We’ve been listening to This American Life episodes and David Sedaris’ When You Are Engulfed in Flames, which the iPod doesn’t know which order to put the chapters in. Berck printed out a list of how they’re supposed to be, so between each essay, I consult the sheet before scrolling through to find the next story. Of course, it hasn’t mattered at all, because none of them are related to one another. David Sedaris made his living writing stories about being a penniless drug-addicted hitch hiker, and now he has chateau in Normandy, so he writes about filling his house with old artwork, but it’s still funny.

Yesterday, we were heading along a particularly lonely stretch of highway when we overtook a taxi from Fort St. John, more than a hundred miles away. It held a passenger. The next town was Fort Nelson, which was another 75 miles or so away. What a fare.

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