2012  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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   THE JOURNEY SOUTH, DAY 5:
FORT NELSON, BC TO HYTHE, AB

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 10

 
"Bridging the Peace River was one of the first goals of Alaska Highway engineers  
in 1942 . . . The permanent 2,130-foot suspension bridge [was] completed in July, 1943.  
One of two suspension bridges on the Alaska Highway, the Peace River bridge collapsed in 
1957 after erosion undermined the north anchor block of the bridge. The cantilever and
truss-type bridge that crosses the Peace River today was completed in 1960."
 
~ from The Milepost book, 2011 edition
 
 

This is one of several long bridges we crossed today in British Columbia. At least two of them today had some type of maintenance work being done.

We had about a ten-minute wait to cross the metal-grated Peace River bridge west of Taylor, BC. As we were driving slowly behind a pilot vehicle across the one lane that was open it was a little disconcerting to see several young workers on their hands and knees, closely inspecting metal squares in the bridge decking and spray painting some of them but not others.

What is wrong with those places and how are they going to fix them??? I wondered.

 
One lane traffic across the Peace River bridge; note the metal grid work on the decking.
You can also see natural gas line to the left of the bridge across the river.

I suppose it should be comforting to know someone was inspecting the bridge that closely but it just fed into my paranoia about driving a heavy RV over some of the very long bridges in remote areas in the Far North, wondering how safe they were.

The rivers up here can be wild and furious. I've read several accounts of early wooden structures and later metal ones that have simply washed out during spring floods or after heavy rains -- like this bridge's predecessor that had to be replaced due to erosion from the river below.

I'm also more aware of the power of water after seeing the damage to the Alaska Highway in June when the road was closed for five days in the Yukon.


Looking out toward the Peace River

The fact that I'm still here to write this entry indicates we got across every bridge safely on our way to, from, and around Alaska.

My concerns won't stop me from driving up there again, nor should it deter anyone else.

JUST THE FACTS, M'AM

Today we drove 336 miles from Triple G Campground in Fort Nelson, BC to the municipal campground in Hythe, AB, which is west of Grand Prairie. It took us a little over eight hours from approximately 7:40 AM Pacific Time to 4:40 PM Mountain Time (= 3:40 Pacific Time). We "lost" an hour going east into a different time zone.

We also lost about an hour due to seven or eight road and bridge construction projects and had additional stops at the Subway in Fort Nelson (Jim's breakfast burrito), a lunch break, and three fuel stations (got diesel at two of them).

WEATHER: mostly sunny!!! More clouds to the east as we approached Fort St. John but we had sunshine everywhere today. We really needed some sun after so much rain, fog, and overcast skies the first four days of our return trip to the Lower 48.


Blue sky -- what a concept!

This whole section was rainy and/or overcast in June so we were able to see farther into the distance today. This isn’t as scenic a section as those we’ve already traveled on the Alaska Hwy. farther west so we didn’t miss a lot in June. I'm sorry we didn't have more clear skies through the northern Rockies, Cassiars, and St. Elais Mountains on our way to and from Alaska this year.

Maybe next time we'll have better luck . . .

ROUTE:  We followed the Alaska Hwy. (BC 97) to Milepost 0 at Dawson Creek, then what The Milepost calls the the East Access Route -- BC 2 to the Alberta border, then AB 43 to Hythe, which is about 40 miles west of Grande Prairie. We went more south than east today.

I broke the map sections from The Milepost into three sections and marked in yellow the portion we drove today:

 

 

All of this was still two-lane except for some passing lanes and through the towns of  Fort St. John and Dawson Creek, BC.

ROAD CONDITIONS:  much more road construction and bridge work today than we expected.

More needs to be done, too. The road was rougher in places than I remembered from June. Jim was able to drive 58-60 MPH much of the time, however.

 

Most of the seven or eight construction zones were one-lane. The longest was a 20-minute wait at the Sikanni River for several hilly miles behind a pilot vehicle. Another was ten minutes at the Peace River Bridge, a third seven minutes.

The other stops were shorter but with the slow-downs to stop, the slow speeds through the work zones, and several very slow uphill climbs afterwards (especially the long climb after the Peace River) behind heavy trucks, we lost at least an hour to road work.

TRAFFIC:  heavier as we proceeded east, especially the 50 miles between Dawson Creek, BC and Hythe, AB.

There were many more commercial trucks east of Fort Nelson to Dawson Creek than anywhere else on the Alaska Highway, probably because of all the natural gas production fields and facilities. All the trucks were going faster than us, except uphill.


Following a pilot vehicle, car, and camper up a one-lane section of road being paved

We saw more RVs as we got to more urban areas, too. And I again noticed that many homes in eastern British Columbia and Alberta have some type of camper parked next to them. That was very apparent on our journey to Alaska in June.

These folks love to camp!

TERRAIN & VEGETATION:  We hit the lowest place on the Alaska Hwy. just east of Fort Nelson – about 1,000 feet over the Muskwa River. Our high elevation was about 4,100 feet at Trutch Mountain and 3,600 feet at Pink Mountain.

There were some long grades down to rivers and back up again but not a lot of winding mountain roads like yesterday. It was somewhat boring compared to the last four days in that regard.

 
The Alaska Hwy. a few miles east of Fort Nelson; you can still see some mountains in the distance.

Because we went more south than east today there was minimal fall color, even at the higher elevations. Some aspen, birch, and other deciduous trees and shrubs have turned yellow or orange but not the majority.

There are very few red plants along the banks or mountainsides, either, just fireweeds that have stopped blooming and have white fluff on their red stems:

There were some yellow daisies, purple asters,  and white cotton grass next to the road west of Dawson Creek, the only wildflowers still blooming that I noticed.

We passed through forested land most of the way to Fort St. John, then got into more and more agricultural country. That and the increased urbanization are almost a shock to my system. I commented sardonically to Jim, “Welcome back to civilization.”

I already miss the mountains and wilderness.

 

We saw no wildlife today except birds, quite a contrast to the plethora of big critters we saw yesterday.

FUEL:  we made three stops but got diesel at only two of them.

The first stop was at AFD Petroleum about a mile behind the Triple G Campground in Fort Nelson. Office staff at Triple G recommended it. AFD is supposed to have fuel cheaper than the stations in town but the office wasn’t open early enough for us. So Jim got fuel for $1.519/liter at FasGas in Fort Nelson on the way out of town.

He also topped the tank at Flying J on the west side of Dawson Creek ($1.309/liter, which sounded good at the time – till we saw it as low as $1.279/liter in town). There is also a Flying J on the west side of Fort St. John but we didn’t see the price there.

HYTHE MUNICIPAL CAMPGROUND 

We planned to stay overnight at Mile 0 Campground in Dawson Creek, BC again. It was a nice place to stay in June (despite the rain) and reasonably priced. However, we got there about 2:30 PM today, which was fairly early for us to stop, and there was a note on the door that they’d be out until 3:30. Signs said not to pick a site until one is assigned.

We decided to continue farther east, possibly as far as Grande Prairie. By then it was pretty windy and getting more cloudy.

The main reason for staying at the Rotary Campground in Grande Prairie again would be to ride the most excellent bike trail – but it was getting too windy for that to be any fun today. The forecast was for winds up to 100 km/hr. in Grande Prairie = about 62 MPH -- not a good idea when you're driving or camping in an RV.

The next best option along our route was the Hythe Municipal Campground a few miles into Alberta. This is a nice campground and surrounding park for a town with fewer than 1,000 residents.

There are 24 gravel RV sites in a grassy loop and a separate grassy area for tents. Most of the RV sites have electricity but they don't have water or sewer hookups. The cost is $20 Canadian; we paid $20 American cash, which should cover their cost to convert it to loonies. 

An old Northern Alberta Railway car has been turned into bathrooms with showers:

Another NAR car is parked at the other end of the loop. There is potable water and a dump station available. We can’t get WiFi (free WiFi is advertised) but Jim got one TV station where we could watch an Edmonton station for news.

I walked Cody around the campground and park twice but it was so windy and just in the mid-50s F. that we didn’t stay out long either time.

Only two other RVs are here tonight. One with a small child appears to be here for a while. The second is a retired couple that came in after us, probably also just for the night. As at the other places where we’ve stayed overnight this week, I saw some dandelions still in bloom. We're obviously still in our "Dandelion Time Warp."

When we crossed into Alberta we entered the Mountain Time Zone. It got fairly dark by 9 PM, later than some nights we've been traveling because we're farther west in this time zone.

We spend a lot of time in the Mountain Time Zone as we travel around the Lower 48 on our summer and winter trips so we feel more "at home" now, even though we're still in Canada. We should be back in the USA again in a couple of days.

Yes, I know Alaska is the USA but it almost felt like a foreign country sometimes!

Next entry:  Day 6 on the journey south -- Hythe, AB to Olds, AB

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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