Chapter 1. Rendezvous at Mile Zero
© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2002 All rights reserved.
(Shari) The adventure begins today even though the official start date of the caravan is not for over a week. We depart Shelby, MT, at 8 AM with brilliant sunshine beaconing us onward. Twenty-three miles later, as we cross the U.S./Canada border, tiny snowflakes begin to tap our window. Forty miles later, the snow is so wet and thick that our poor windshield wipers cannot keep up and the road has turned white. We see one of those signs with a tent and a trailer on it and decide to pull off the highway to wait out the snow. Little do we know that we will have to wait for 48 hours. In the little town of Warner, population about 50, the Lions Club maintains a self-service campground. Too early in the season for water, we do have electricity strong enough for our little heater to keep us warm. Our satellite dish works and we settle in for the day, watching American television. I make a hearty beer cheese soup, read and knit as I watch the snow fall and fall and fall some more. Everything is white, including the sky and I am reminded of our trip in 1996 when we were stranded by snow in Calgary for two days, on this very same day of the year. White up, white down, white left and white right, the snow covers the trees, the ground and the buildings. We hear from a friend in Texas, that the weather is hot and muggy and it is hard to fathom from our perch in R-TENT. Few vehicles are on the road and we are the sole residents of our little park. Listening to the weather station on our CB, we realize that we will be parked here for a while. Severe winter weather is in the forecast for the next two days, with accumulations of snow up to twenty centimeters (7.9 inches). When this happened to us in 1996, we were stopped once more due to weather on the Alaska Highway. Let us hope that does not happen this year. Old man winter just better have had his last hurrah for 2002 or I will ..
(Bert) Surrounded by our RV's, we put our lawn chairs in a circle on the graveled lot. We try to position our group of fellow travelers out of the wind and in the bright sunlight, to keep us warm on a beautiful if chilly day. We've only known each other for a day, a few hours or a few minutes, depending on our arrival time here in Dawson Creek, the rendezvous point for the start of our Alaskan adventure. Ours is a small group for a caravan - only four rigs, eight people. Shari asks the group what made them decide to choose this particular caravan. Answers vary, but a common theme is the freedom of the itinerary and the focus on the wild places and birds and animals we will seek out. Four birders, three fishermen, one shopper - Shari may be visiting the gift shops alone this trip, but at least she has someone to go fishing with. For almost all of us, Alaska is a lure that has attracted us for years or maybe a lifetime, an adventure we have dreamed of, planned for and, perhaps, wondered if we would ever have the chance to see.
(Shari) Fresh moose scat, love sick birds, air fresh and warm, the forest a plethora of sounds. What a wonderful outing! Don't fall over, but I actually go out with the birders at 8 AM and love it. Nature is at her best this morning, the courtship of a pair of goldeneyes is very interesting, Spring is about to burst forth in bud, and even I am sorry to leave, but we have an 11 AM appointment to hear a talk about Dawson Creek at the Pioneer Village. Bert and I and Pat and Jim arrived Monday, Wally and Virginia and Nancy and David arrived yesterday. We seem a congenial group, another group good for me since all the participants are late starters. No more 6 AM departures in our future. Hip, hip, hurrah! Even though the campground is so-so (just a gravel lot) and after a small snafu with the owners about our caravan discount, we settle in. Electricity is 30 amp, we have running water and sewer at each site and finally I can do my wash. After lunch Bert gives a birding workshop about how to take notes in the field and use them later to identify birds. Soon it is time to leave for our picture under the famous "Mile Zero" sign and head out to the game farm for dinner. Fallon deer kabobs, buffalo roast and "Viagra" stew made from wild boar are on the menu. The meal is rounded out with three salads, mashed potatoes and gravy, homemade rolls to die for and three desserts sent from heaven. This lady knows how to cook to please a crowd. We are literally stuffed and wonder how we are going to get up into the truck bed for our tour around the 1200-acre farm. We manage with the help of a portable step and for the next hour we are delighted with the antics of baby animals. Seems spring is the time to visit, because the animals are having their young. We see Dall and Stone Sheep, mountain goats, caribou, a herd of 100 or more fallon deer, Muskox, pheasants, wild boar, rainbow trout in a stocked pond, and some 300 bison with at least 40 youngsters suckling. While Bert gets the car to make the trek home, I visit the gift shop and find some items that called my name as I entered the door. This was a great day to call Day 2 of our adventure.
(Bert) The ducks are out in legions on the slough outside of Dawson Creek - Canvasbacks, Redheads, goldeneyes, scaup - 14 species all told. Tree Swallows swoop around us on the boardwalk , nesting within feet of our view in houses propped up on stilts in the marsh. Dowitchers, a couple Semipalmated and Solitary sandpipers, a Semipalmated Plover and many yellowlegs feed hungrily on the mudflats near the ice that still floats over much of the water. But the ice will not be staying many more days if we have more warm and sunny weather like today. On the way back to town we stop at the city landfill , undoubtedly not on the list of tourist sites for most people passing through town, but one of interest to birders. Hundreds of Franklin's Gulls, a couple Herring Gulls and a lone California Gull fill the air and perform aerial aerobatics in front of the Caterpillar contouring the piles of trash. In mid afternoon we gather for a group photo beneath the Mile 0 sign - the trophy picture that evidences we have reached the start of the Alaskan Highway. Then we drive to the game farm for a delicious meal that includes Wild Boar, Fallow Deer and a buffalo dish amusingly named Viagra Stew. We tour the farm from the back of a pickup truck and when we reach a field covered with a herd of Plains Bison, all eyes focus on a pair of Say's Phoebes before we check out the buffalo. You can tell we are a birding group.
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