Thursday, 16 July 2015

Flaming Hell and Our Salvation

Location: Fort Nelson, BC V0C, Canada
The visitors centre in Fort Nelson is pretty plush, with good wifi, computers, free water and coffee, restrooms and lots of info and we wiled away a couple of hours doing internet stuff we needed to catch up on since we'd had limited access since Terrace.  We then headed to the grocery store to stock up, although it was a late re-start for us we were excited as the wind was most definitely at our backs, pushing us a long at quite a pace.  As we were repacking the shopping into our bags a guy says 'you've heard about the fires right?' to which we reply yes.  'Well I hope you're not heading south as they're about to close the highway.'  Well this was news to us as we'd been in the visitor centre all morning and not a word had been said about possible road closures.  The man informed us it had only just happened, so we thought it best to go back to the visitor info to check it out and see what our options were.  Despite the fact it was only down the road, it was against the wind and was a fair struggle to get there.

Tom waited with the bikes while I went in to get a sit rep.  The girl behind the desk had no idea whatsoever about road closures.  She said that the fire to the south was away from the road and that they would have definitely been informed if they were even thinking of closing the highway.  I get on the computer anyway, to check the wildfire info website and the driveBC website - neither has anything suggesting road closures.  But I still have a bit of an uncertain feeling about it so I find the number for the information officer for wildfires in the area and try to call her a few times, but only got her voicemail.  The girl on the desk assured me that they would have heard something if the road was being closed and so we set off.  Sure enough the wind was behind us and drove us a long at a good pace and we passed the 30km mark before too long.  Maybe 10km further along a convoy of pickups approached us.  The lady in the first one was gesturing wildly, but we weren't really sure what about.  Thankfully the driver of the second truck actually stopped, he was quite obviously a fireman (safety gear and a sooty face), and informed us the road was closed and they were turning everyone back as the fire was out of control.  Perfect.  So glad we checked and didn't cycle all this way for nothing.  We were pretty dejected about this news and as the convoy of firemen drove away we prepared for the 40km slog back to town, into the wind.

Luckily for us another pickup pulled up and Erin informed us that they'd closed the road and did we want a ride back to town.  Overjoyed at not having to ride back to town we loaded up as quick as we could and headed back to the visitor centre.  Erin was trying to get to a family gathering in northern Alberta and had set off from Whitehorse.  We got on the internet and sure enough it had just now been updated to 'road closed, no detour available' and informed us there would be an update at 7pm.  So the three of us and one other guy also trying to get south sat it out in the visitor centre awaiting news while all the other stranded travellers checked into the RV park or hotels in town.  Erin said they rarely closed the road overnight as it was such a vital artery up to the north and had offered to drive us back through the fire area once the road opened.  Since the bit of road we had cycled already had been 'scenic corridor' and Erin informed us a lot of the road south was this and that it was her least favourite bit of the drive as it was so boring we were very happy to get a lift back through.  And when she said we could get a ride all the way to Grande Prairie if we wanted we took her up on the offer.  We just had to wait for the road to open.

As 7pm approached we were issued a new update - 'there will be an update at 9pm'.  That was it.  So when the visitor info closed Erin drove us to Tim Horton's before going to find a hotel.  Timmy's was open until 9pm so we had 2 more hours of wifi and inside.  We didn't want to pay the $26 for the RV park as Erin had said if they opened the road, even at say 11pm, she'd probably get going again.  We asked the girls working at Timmy's but they were all new to town and couldn't help and the guy in the gas station suggested a campground way, way out of town down a gravel road, in the forest - er maybe not.  Finally a lady in Tim Horton's suggested a place nearby that we could put up the tent behind a water treatment plant.  As 9pm approached there was still no new update about the road and we started to muster ourselves to go pitch the tent.  Then we remembered bears.  Would we still have to be 'bear aware'?  If so was there anywhere safe to leave the food?  I turned around and asked the two gentlemen sat behind me if we needed to worry about bears in town.  After chatting for a few minutes Dave said he had an empty house we could stay in.  Oh my, oh my, oh my!!  This was incredible news and we followed his car up to the house.  It was heaven.  A bed!  Showers!  We could eat at a table!  Dave showed us about then left, only to return 10 minutes later with a beautiful bottle of Okanagan Pinot Noir.

At about 5:15am there was a new update that there was no update and no next update time.  After exchanging this exciting news with Erin we went back to sleep for a few hours and expected to be back at the visitor centre after breakfast.  As we were just starting to eat Erin rang, she'd heard from a girlfriend in Whitehorse that the radio had said it was now reopened.  No one at the hotel knew anything and still no update on the website, but she'd seen trucks starting to leave so we were good to go.  We were soon on our way, rocketing south at 6 times our usual speed.  The air was thick with smoke, it was raining, and the scenic corridor was the same as it always is.  We were so pleased to be in the truck and not on the bikes.  At the site of the fire we were lead through by pilot car and could see the charred wreckage of the blaze, some of it still smouldering away.  We stopped briefly in Fort St John for lunch and whizzed through Dawson Creek before arriving into Grande Prairie, Alberta around 6pm.  360 miles, 6 days of riding, done in a day.  We were thrilled.  Almost the whole way it had been smoke and the same old scenery, now we were in a city and soon the mountains.

Erin dropped us off at the visitor info and carried on to her party.  It appeared that the only camping available in Grande Prairie was 6 miles in the wrong direction and was going to cost $30.  We decided we'd rather fork out some more and have a bed so we opted for a cheap motel in town.  We slept late and made the most of the continental breakfast buffet in the morning before heading south towards Grande Cache.  Although the fire had initially caused us issues it had lead to a great outcome; the kindness we'd been shown by both Dave and Erin lifted our spirits and had meant we'd avoided a week more of dull cycling.

1 comment:

  1. Another great story on your adventure....Mr P