Our first stop in Edmonton is to book a grease & oil change at the Isuzu dealership. Then next stop the Legislative building in the city centre. They offer free tours, so we head off & find a parking spot in the city – again a measly $4 for 2 hours! Wouldn’t get that in Brisbane. It is a lovely old building. Not too much else to see this side of the river so we decide to cross the river to see the old district of Strathcona. The first bridge I head us to has a height restriction, so we take the escape route. Second bridge is one way only – but not the way we are going! Third bridge is crazy with traffic as it is now rush hour. Finally we get to the other side. But I want to see views of the city (they really need to cut down those trees!) so direct John down to a lookout. We see the river (a bit Ho-hum) & some old houses, and then discover that we are in a one way system & have to go back over the bridge. We decide to pass up on Strathcona and instead head to the Walmart that is nearest the Isuzu shop – it is directly over the road. How convenient. Dinner out tonight as we are in town.
Phew! An early morning start as we need to be at the workshop at 7am. Crazy as the mechanic doesn’t arrive until nearly 8am. Still we are out by 10am with a discount down from $420 to $190 (must be Johns charm- so he thinks!, but I am more inclined to think it was his “What” exclamation.) Decide to visit West Edmonton Mall – at one time the World’s biggest Shopping Mall with over 800 shops, an amusement park, ice skating rink etc etc. Needless to say we only touched the surface. Very pleased with our purchase of fleecy lined pants & jackets. Time to head out of town, the polar bears are calling. We head north with all the traffic. It is Friday afternoon and Thanksgiving weekend. As the traffic peels off we head further north, turn off the main road & find a quiet spot not far from one of the numerous lakes here. As we sit by our fire fifth wheelers towing quads keep rolling in for the long weekend. We enjoy our delicious steaks that Gordon bought for us from the best butcher shop in Alberta. Thank you Gordon – they were delicious!
Head off nice & early to get a lot of miles covered today. Again: lots of farms, lakes & marshes. Pass Lac la Biche then Cold Lake (both cold & gray) & cross the border in to Saskatchewan. Slowly the day warms up – 19deg! Eventually we start looking for a camp spot. Beatty Lake campsite looks good but is locked for the winter. Next stop at Beaver Lake is perfect. We have a roaring fire & sit outside hoping for the Northern Lights. When I get up at 4am there is a pale green arc in the sky – hardly worth getting out my camera & anyway it is very chilly. I head back to bed.
We are now crossing Saskatatchwen in a direct line – so it is mainly dirt roads. The scenery consists mainly of boreal forests, lakes & no animals. It is hunting season, so they are all in hiding! A short coffee stop at the First Nation township of Beauval – amazingly tidy. We were hoping to see lots of abandoned cars so John can scrounge a number plate for his collection. On checking with a local he sends us to the Landfill. John heads in despite the “Beware of Bears” sign. When he looks in a pit heaps of big black birds rush out – giving him a heck of a fright - thought a bear was coming. Anyway he got his plate. Success!
The day gets steadily colder and wetter. We decide to detour up to Lac la Ronge & maybe camp overnight there. There is a great old Trading Post there that still sells furs etc, although it will probably be closed because of Thanksgiving. A few kms up the road GR2 decides to throw up some faults in its temperamental computer. When John finally clears them we decide to give up on La Ronge & finish this dirt road. Just before we reach the tarseal we find a nice spot to camp beside an abandoned shack near Bear River. Perfect. No fire tonight as it is still drizzling.
In the morning GR2 has another hissy fit, so John takes off the Roo’s power chip. (No problems since then – although off course we have less power. At least there are no hills here.)
Back on to the smooth black stuff we cross the border in to Manitoba and finally the very quirky town of Flin Flon centered around a huge nickel, copper & gold mine. We find the Walmart (they usually have pretty good Wifi) so I can post a blog & pay some bills. John chats to locals & meets Kieran who invites us out in his boat. We plan to meet later that day, but first we head out for Thanksgiving Day lunch. Well hardly anything is open – so we end up at the local Hotel. Then we rug up for our boat ride, and just as well because it is very chilly. Thermals, padded pants, snow pants …. I can hardly move. But we have a great time out on the water. No moose today, but lots of magnificent scenery. Thank you Kieran.
More Wifi, fill up with water & head on towards Thompson. Stop at lots of lakes & waterways, but the best stop is the short walk out to Pisew Falls. Finally stop for the night at Paint Lake about 50km away from Thompson. So we arrive midmorning. It is cold & wet. We decide to check our tickets at the train station – it is closed. Next we hunt down the campground – yes we can leave GR2 here & they will drop us off & pick us up from the train. Fill up the rest of the day at the Visitor Centre & Museum, and then packing mountains of warm clothes into a bag.
Finally we are on our way. The train leaves on time at 5pm and takes 16hrs (yes a very long slow 16hrs to go a mere 400km – must be one of the slowest train journeys in the world.) We have a surprisingly good dinner & then a surprisingly good sleep (thanks to some sleeping pills) on our 4 seats (the cheap section of the train is pretty empty) pulled out to make a bed of sorts. Finally arrive after breakfast. It is amazingly chilly and snowing – so a very brisk walk to Bears Den B&B, only 5 minutes away. Actually the town is so small most things are only 5 minutes away.
After settling in we head off to explore town. First the chilly beach on Hudson Bay, then a great little museum, a scattering of touristy shops and then dinner before heading to our cozy bed. It is an early start tomorrow for our tour. In fact all of the 10 guests at the B&B are going on the same tour. Early breakfast, before putting on all our layers. We are collected at 7am. Then stop at numerous places in town to collect a bus load. Then a drive of 30-40minutes out to Great White Bears depot to be loaded in to our Tundra Buggy. We are finally on our way. The tundra is a frozen arctic wilderness – and we drive along old army tracks, through iced up ponds – for about an hour. Finally we spot our first bear casually strolling past the Tundra Buggy Lodge that has been driven out on the tundra. Then another one curled up beside a bush, just snoozing the day away. Much later – more exploring, but we only find one more bear today – and he too can’t be bothered getting up.
Until we got here I hadn’t realized that the bears were just here waiting for the Hudson River to freeze up so that they could get onto the ice and head out to catch some breakfast – namely seals! So of course they can’t be bothered doing too much – apparently when it gets colder they move around more – and this isn’t very cold yet! Way too cold for us.
We have one more day here before catching the train at 7.30pm, so we have decided to hire a car to explore the area. It is booked for tomorrow, but we stop off after the tour to see if we can pick it up tonight. Yes that’s fine & we can leave it at the train station. So at 5pm we head back to pick up an old F100 truck – what a dog, but at least the heater works. After dinner we drive around then head to the waterfront in the hope of seeing the Northern Lights (that everybody else saw last night while we slept!). Guess what – we went to sleep in the truck till 1.30am. Finally we decide to return to our beds.
We wake to falling snow. At least the arctic wind has stopped. After breakfast we head off to explore. First back to the port to see if we can see the silver fox that we saw last night. We don’t see him, but do see 2 young red foxes playing. Then a couple of snow owls. On to Fort Merry lookout – again we came last night and quickly walked out because it was bitterly cold. This morning the rangers were there – one to give us a guide & the other to stand guard. Woops – we didn’t tell him that we had walked out here last night. Luckily no bears were there looking for dinner. More back roads. Stop at a lookout, then at an old crashed freighter plane called Miss Piggy courtesy of the pigs she used to carry. Next on to a dog farm where bears come to steal dogs food. Here the enterprising owner charges tourists $75 per person per hour to drive on to his property to look at the 2 bears that are on his property! What an easy way to make money. We declined as we had already gone on an expensive tour, the bears were snoozing & out of principle. We also stopped at the research station & the Polar Bear jail. Here bears that keep coming to town are kept until they are airlifted well out of town. There was going to be an airlift at 3pm – but we missed it. It ended up being at 10.30am. An Aussie family at our B&B wanted to text us, but didn’t have our ph no. Mel gave me some photos (I have added a few, because technically it happened while we were there- a mother & 2 cubs were airlifted well away) Thanks Mel.
An early dinner, then all 10 of us from the B&B head to the cheap seats on the train. We leave our rent a wreck in the carpark at the station with the keys in the ashtray as directed. When we filled up with fuel it cost nearly as much as the rental itself! The return train trip flew by as we had so many new friends to talk to. To top it off we could see the Northern Lights waving in the sky as we slowly rolled along. Before we know it we are back in Thompson.
Coming soon: The big heads at Mt Rushmore.