Road Trip 2019, Part 2, Chapter 1.

After a week at home, during which we reconsidered some of the issues we had with the van, balanced the books, and visited with friends and family. We spent the weekend packing for the next phase of our mad tour. The instigating mission for this part of the tour is the Association of Northwest Weavers Guild biennial conference, held odd years. This year, it is once again in Canada, at Prince George, British Columbia.

Expanded accessory power strip in van.

First thing when we got home was to research and order a set of hard-wired 12-volt auxiliary sockets for the van, having fought with a Rube Goldberg nest of doublers, triplers, and high-amperage USB add ons from Walmart and Canadian Tire on the last trip. We now have seven sockets, including the original in-dash socket. The six extra ones, in sets of three, I mounted on a steel sheet recycled from a furnace remodel a few years ago. The bending brake I installed on the workbench many years ago for use in aircraft construction came in handy. I also installed a heavy-duty toggle switch to shut off the six-pack, as the in-dash socket is “always on” and we had to pull the plug when we stopped, adding to the wear and tear on the devices.

Still woefully behind on processing video from our bike rides here and there across the continent, I had to forgo working on those for a few days to migrate a web site I had managed for the last 12 years to a new site and hand off the content management to a new web editor. As I may have mentioned a the start of Part 1, the original web site server got hacked and the administrator locked it down, so we couldn’t make any changes to the content. The organization waited until we were almost home to decide what course of action to take, of the several I suggested. While never happy about abandoning a job under unpleasant circumstance, I was well ready to relinquish the task, as we have been away from the organization for 10 years: there wasn’t opportunity to get in members’ faces to elicit content, so the site wasn’t as dynamic and up to date as it should have been. With most of our business taken care of, we were as ready as we could get for Road Trip 2019, Part 2.

Day 1: With four days to get the 1000 km from home to Prince George, we load the van and sit in the driveway until Monday’s mail arrived, then set out on our journey. But not far, as we had decided we needed a more convenient waste management for the rearranged van floor plan, so we stop for a basket to fill in the remaining gap between the seats beside the refrigerator, a stop to refuel (our last fuel stop had been in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho), and lunch. We join the stop and go parade on I-5 through Tacoma and Seattle. The late start has the advantage of dropping us onto the northbound express lanes in downtown Seattle, so we quickly make up time, soon arriving at Bellingham, the largest city closest to the border, where we detour for a currency exchange, then off on back roads to the quiet border crossing at Sumas.

Chilliwack River, Mt. Church in distance

Our destination for the night is a private RV park and campground on the Chilliwack River, a bit off the highway, but a beautiful setting and typical mom and pop retirement venture, a little worn and full of semi-permanent summer residents, who rent the spaces by the year. But, there’s always a transient spot waiting to park the van and plug in phones, refrigerator, and computers. The WiFi, however, typical of many hotspots throughout Canada, has free WiFi, but you have to have an account with the Cable/DSL internet providers to actually connect to the Internet, similar to the XfinityWiFi connections in the U.S. So, we’re off-line until we can get to a Starbucks in the morning. After 12 days with no phone service and no cellular data when in Ontario, we did update our phone plan to include international roaming and, because International Roaming plans are expensive, calling over WiFi service as well. Our new carrier has a true smorgasbord plan, where you have to pick each feature you want. These don’t add to our basic plan cost, but allow us to spend money by the minute, message, or megabyte when we use it. But, we have to ask for even the “on-demand” services. While we’re traveling, though, the phones will be in Airplane mode when there is No Service and cellular data turned off meanwhile. And, we will only check voice mail and make outgoing calls when we have WiFi available. We’ve also downloaded off-line maps onto our phones so we can navigate without using cellular data.

So it goes. We commandeer the game room at the RV park, as we have been known to do at other RV parks we’ve stayed at, to spread out a bit more than we can in the van. We’ll get the hang of this vagabond life yet.

Bridal Veil Falls, BC

Day 2: We rise early and headed for town (Chilliwack) for breakfast at Starbucks. Instead of creeping through the red lights of main street, we thread through the residential streets and rural roads to join the freeway a few kilometers farther east. The first goal of the day: Bridal Veil Provincial Park, to hike up the steep trail to the falls. After a stop in Hope to ogle the chainsaw carvings that festoon the downtown, we turn north up the Fraser Canyon, a scenic drive on the Trans-Canada 1. Most of the traffic now travels on Route 5, the Coquihalla Highway, making the canyon drive more pleasant. Lunchtime finds us at Fat Jack’s Restaurant at an unnamed “wide spot in the road.”

The road turns up the Thompson River at Lytton, taking us into the drier plateau. On a lark, we take a quick dash down into the river canyon through Ashcroft, then make early stop for the evening at Cache Creek as the afternoon temperatures creep into the 30s.

Day 3: We breakfast in our room from our stash, load up, hit the coffee shop next door to the motel, and head north on BC 97. In about 5 km, we are no longer in the desert, but in a region of forested hills and lush meadows, farms, blue lakes, and meandering streams. It’s a good day. We stop for fuel at 100-Mile House, then a brief detour to see the historic St. Joseph Mission (a small chapel with old log buildings around it) before stopping for lunch in a coffee shop next to the library at bustling Williams Lake.

Continuing north after lunch, we notice gathering clouds to the north and west, getting a few drops on the windscreen passing through Quesnel (kwin-EL), where we turn off on BC 26 for an 80 km side excursion to the Barkerville Provincial Park. Barkerville is a restored gold mining town, decked out in a representation of it’s appearance in the early 1870s, with docents in period constume, interpretive presentations, and horse-drawn coach tours. We pay for a campsite at the campground located 2 km down-valley, mark our campsite, and return in pouring rain for a self-guided walking tour of the town: entrance through the visitor centre only. The rain stops as soon as we enter the 1870s, but even on a warm spring day there are still piles of snow on the north sides of some of the buildings. No climate change yet in the 19th century. After a quick stroll up and down the main street and a side street, we grab the last scoops of ice cream of the day at the sweet shop, discovering that bowls come in 2-scoop size only, so we splurge and get two scoops—each. The park is closing, so we push through the one-way gate into the 21st century, and back to our mosquito-infested campsite, where the heat has evaporated all traces of rain. It’s been a frabjous day.

Blacksmith shop in Barkerville, BC

Day 4: It has rained all night, drumming on the roof of our van. We dash to the showers between squalls, but the rain comes again briefly before we get back to the truck. It stops long enough for us to pack up and roll out to the visitor centre parking lot, where we tap into the WiFi. When the park opens, we wander the historic town, stepping under porches during the rain squalls. It’s us and the horses, shuffling in their stables or nose-down in the feed, waiting to carry tourists on carriage tours of the narrow town. We photograph interesting displays, wandering back down the street as people begin to filter in: staff–some already in costume–and teens up exploring.

Wake Up Jake still has the “Closed” sign out, but it is after 9:00 am and we see people inside, so we step in and are seated for breakfast. The rest of the patrons appear to be park staff, some in costume as coach drivers. Service is good and the prices aren’t bad for a park concession. It’s a nice cafe like you find in many small towns, basic breakfasts and lunches, and really good food, served with style in the 19th century gold rush town setting. After breakfast we cross the street to the town bakery, getting pastries to share later. The bakery fare is early Canadian, flaky pastries. We chose an eccles (eck-els) cake, a flat, round, filled-cookie-like cake, and an almond croissant.

We stow the pastries out of sight in the truck and head down the canyon, 80 km winding up and down the canyon sides back to the section of BC 97 known as the Cariboo Highway. BC 97, which we’ve been on since Cache Creek, follows the numbering of US Highway 97. US 97 starts at Weed, California and winds north, 1070 km through Klamath Falls and Bend, Oregon, crossing the Columbia River at Maryhill, Washington to Oroville, where it becomes BC 97 at Osoyoos, BC and continues 2081 km to the border with Yukon Territory. We’re only traveling as far as Dawson Creek this trip. We’ve driven most, if not all, of the portions through Oregon, Washington, and as far as Kamloops in BC. The Cariboo is by far the prettiest section, so far. We stop at a wayside to make short work of the pastries, dividing them in half to share, careful to not cover ourselves with crumbs in the process. Our plan was to not eat them until we were too far from Barkerville to turn back for more.

Black clouds loom ahead as we approach Prince George. We drive the last 20 km in driving rain, which comes in waves of heavy squalls. Between squalls, we pick up our conference registration packets, check in to our hotel, have lunch at a very good Asian Fusion restaurant attached to the hotel, and check out the conference venue to see where we will spend the next two days of classes, displays, and social events. It’s a tradition at the weavers conferences for individual guilds to decorate a 3×3 meter booth with fiber creations that reflect the conference theme. Because this conference is so remote, more than 1000 km from Seattle, with the added hassle of bringing conference displays through customs, only two guilds from the U.S. have entered: Seattle, of course, and Tacoma, one of the guilds to which we belong. The booth committee arrived early for extended workshops and to build the booth. I was on the booth committee six years ago, when the conference was in Bellingham, Washington: then, we partnered with a guild from Alberta, so they wouldn’t have to haul the structures. The other guild we belong to, Olympia, elected not to present, due to the difficulty transporting the presentation materials so far. We could have offered, but it would have been inconvenient to camp around additional baggage in our van, and we’re continuing our explorations after the conference.

Prince George is the largest city in northern BC, with about 100,000 population in the metro area, and is a major transportation hub, at the crossroads of the major north-south and east-west highways in the region. We’re in the centre of the city: everything is walkable, so we explore a bit more, finding the local Starbucks (in another hotel nearby) and head back to our hotel to shift from vagabonding to conference mode. As is our traveling habit, we’ve had a light breakfast out, lunch at a nice cafe, and snack from our portable refrigerator and grocery supplies in the evening.

3D printing on fabric, electro-luminescent wire, 3D-printed weaving accessories.

Day 5: Conference Day. We get breakfast at our hotel, wander over to Starbucks, then scout out where our classes will be in the Coast Hotel next to the Civic Centre. Judy is taking a class on how to open an Etsy shop, to market her art journals. I’m taking a class on how to computerize your clothing. Yes, it’s a thing. I’ve known about it for some time, but haven’t gotten into it, and it has been on the back burner. The instructor updates us on all the latest tech from Adafruit and Sparkfun and shows examples of her work. The bicycle jacket with turn signals built in seems to be a practical first project. We also get tips and tricks on avoiding electrical shorts when sewing with conductive thread, and the iterative approach to debugging wiring and programs.

Lunch at conferences consists of pre-packaged soggy sandwiches, but it’s convenient to give us time to peruse the galleries of work by attendees and instructors. Over the lunch break, we encounter fellow guild members Betty, Lynne, Gail, Lynn, and Tami as we cross paths between classes. We don’t have an afternoon class, so after we see all the exhibits, we head uptown to Books and Company for a mid-afternoon early dinner, espresso, and indulge in some heavy book-buying: the shop has a number of half-price racks, so we succumb to the temptation and walk out with a $50 pile of books we probably wouldn’t have purchased at full price.

Evening finds us back at the Civic Centre for the Keynote Address and social hour. Arriving early as usual, we review the day and plans ahead on one of the benches in the foyer. The security personnel keep an eye on us. I realize that, with scruffy beard, well-worn military-style cargo pants that are beginning to fray, weathered ball cap, and a slightly-too-large casual jacket, I could be one of the homeless guys we see sleeping in office building entryways nearby.

The keynote address, delivered by a spinner and weaver who grew up in Peru in the 1970s with her American parents and now lives there again, was fascinating, as she relayed the tale of how the local tribal life centers around fiber: dyeing, spinning, and weaving, and how different the culture is, and how it differs from the western-style culture the mining companies tried to force the people into after taking their land for mining, and how they rebelled to return to the old ways, bringing down government helicopters with stones from hand-woven slings. She said the people were sad that she would miss the Winter Solstice celebrations, but happy she was going to a place where other people still practiced the right way to live, creating cloth with their hands, a culture they thought was lost in North America. So, we carry on, preserving the traditions that, for millennia, have defined what it means to be human.

We don’t see any of our friends in the crowd, so we do a little crowd-watching as we sip our beers at a side table. The room empties quickly, and we walk back to our hotel against the setting sun. It’s been a good day.

Day 6: Conference Day, again. Today we have a full day of classes. Because of schedule changes, both of us ended up in the same class, which is OK, because it’s one we’re both interested in. Kumihimo, Japanese braiding, using a round disk with a hole in the middle as a form. We’ve both done some simple versions, using home-made forms and a simple pattern. Today, we learn the traditional way and how to make traditional patterns.

The day starts with the routine from yesterday, complimentary breakfast at the hotel, then a hike a few blocks over to Starbucks for our usual espresso drink. We take a slightly different path, across vacant lots, where we are accosted by a homeless person looking for $15 to buy Chinese buffet (he says). We don’t normally give money to these folks, but he was so convincing in his spiel we gave him what was left of our small change, maybe two dollars, maybe less. We walked the usual way back to the Civic Centre, beside a construction site. Cities in Canada are in a constant state of flux: old buildings get torn down and new buildings rise in their place. The economy here appears sound. There are a few homeless folks in this part of town, but not many for a city this size.

Learning kumihimo with a braiding disk

Class is an excellent tutorial. The instructor has her own method of numbering the thread positions, the system of which will be apparent later in the session. We braid a small sample, then start in on a sequence of sample patterns, shifting the thread order between patterns. The morning goes quickly.

We lunch at a nearby Mediterranean grill. The waitress notices our conference badges and gives us a 10% “Show Your Badge” discount. We had been told to check the merchant list for participating businesses, but most weren’t of interest or we had no idea where they were or if we would use them. The food is good and service cheerful, as it has been in most of the bistros at which we’ve eaten in Canada.

Back in class, we learn how to make our own braiding patterns, a real revelation worth the price of the course. I made a mistake in the morning session, which put a glitch in my pattern, but this afternoon, I make another mistake and confidently unbraid to the error and recover. The afternoon goes fast, and we are off to the motel, where we snack from our dwindling food supply and unwind a bit before returning to the Centre for the fashion show and closing awards. The two-and-a-half days we’ve been at the conference have been full. The conference was smaller than usual: many felt the distance was too great, but those of us who did come from south of the border were glad we did, and others, like us, chose to take advantage of the opportunity to tour this beautiful and vast part of the world.

Prince George Civic Centre

Tomorrow, we are again headed north, part of a great loop. Alaska beckons, but it is twice as far away as we will have journeyed in total by tomorrow night. Not this year.

To be continued…