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CHAPTER THREE

Up the Alaskan Highway

Bright and early we started up the Alaskan Highway...leaving all civilization behind. The forest was more dense, now; the trees tall, thin, and close together...shutting out the light...we wondered what was in there, looking out at us. Imagination can add "spice" to your life, but it can also pile fear upon fear, until you break under the load. You think of every book you read, every movie you saw, every "tale" you heard about the wilderness; and it can turn from an adventure into a nightmare.

Around Mile 90, the pavement ended; from there we drove on gravel and then dirt that swirled around in the hot August air - the dust settled all over the school bus, in our noses, our lungs...we coughed it up.

At Mile 95, we turned left, going directly West. The road was barely wide enough for a single vehicle, let alone a bus. Almost immediately, the road took a sudden dip and a steep turn to the right. Trees zipped past the bus, some brushing up against it; we clung to our seats (this was back before seatbelts). I couldn't believe there were no guardrails; of all the places in the world where they were needed, this was theeee one.

Joe down-shifted, pumped the brakes, looked for the handbrake (should that be needed). The few things that were not put away, began to be hurled across the bus; our folding lawn chairs crashed into a pile that made its way to the aisle, then slid down the length of the bus.

Just as soon as the bus was brought under control, the road took a steep turn to the left and plummeted down...what could have been a cliff for all we knew. About the time we came to the bottom of the ravine, the bus went splashing through a small creek: there was a farm built up, near the creek; many range cows grazed along its banks. A very old pick-up truck was parked near a small log house, the cows had a make-shift roof where they could come in out of the cold and the wet weather, mostly they were on their own all year to forage. It seemed kind of hard, kind of cruel, but this was the realistic way of the "bush".

The directions we had received to get to the farm, were kind of vague and we were beginning to wonder if we were where we should be; we knew we were going in the general direction and there were very few roads off the main road - but, then, the main road didn't look much more "main" than the other ones. We kept going...

Up ahead we saw a narrow, portable-type bridge; it crossed a small river that was running high because of the torrential downpours they had been having (this was not seasonal in August, but then, nothing was ever on schedule up North); we soon learned to expect the unexpected, to be "flexible". We wondered if we could possibly drive across this narrow bridge, but we knew that logging trucks came that way, from the logging camps; we just hoped we didn't meet a logging truck on the bridge or on the road, for that matter! We wondered if the bridge would stay in its place, because of the swollen river and the bank being washed away, in places. But, it held and we soon breathed a sigh of relief.

Up and down, up and down, the roads had not been "graded"; Lord knows, lately, if ever... Now, when something the size of a school bus goes UP, its like a rocket pointed towards the moon. And, when a school bus goes DOWN its like drilling for oil. We bobbed and weaved, like a float on the end of a fishing line, with Moby Dick on the hook! We dared not stop for a rest, because we didn't know if we could ever get started again...it was like a giant-sized washboard.

We knew we had to drive in from Mile 95 for about 35 miles, and we had gone just about that far. There were no signs...we just kept going. Here and there were small farms; there was hay, stands of aspen or cottonwood, buck brush - we didn't see any wild "critters". All these miles and not a single moose or bear...what kind of a "wilderness" was this, anyhow?

The bus winded around this big bend in the river - we could imagine pioneers using the river for transportation down to the town of Fort St. John; perhaps they even panned for gold on the river, surely they at least caught big fish in there; maybe there were some fossils of bygone ages - seashells, ferns, dinosaurs. Anything, to keep my mind on something half-way sane...to push back the doubts, the fears that wanted to take over, in my mind.

All of a sudden, we came to the very top of a river bank - the road seemed to follow along, all too closely to the edge...we didn't know if there was enough soil beneath the bus to hold its weight...we didn't know where we were going, if we were going in the right direction, even. We had been turned around so many times, that it was hard to tell if we were still going West, although, going by the sun, it appeared we were alright.

WHO did these 15 city-folk think they were? WHAT were 15 city-folk doing so many miles from "nothing", in two vehicles, with everything they owned in this world? WHY would 15 city-folk even want to be way out here? WHEN would 15 city-folk come to their senses? WHERE were 15 city-folk going?

About this time, we noticed another vehicle coming towards us on this very narrow road, with the river bank and cliff off to our left-hand side. My Lord, the men looked like real "hill billies"; they needed a shave, had on bib overalls, carried rifles, had knives strapped to their legs, each one wore battered cowboy hats, and a mangy old dog jumped off their truck and began to sniff us.

They introduced themselves as being from the farm we were looking for - we, hesitantly told them who we were (we had missed our chance to turn around and head back to Massachusetts; actually we had no place to turn something the size of a school bus around!); there was no turning back. They turned their truck around and proceeded to lead us to the farm.

A few more winding curves, a few more pot-holes that we almost bottomed-out in; then the road went straight down. It seemed there was nothing else but...straight up and straight down. We came into a flat area, there were mostly aspen or cottonwood trees scattered around. We saw a few trucks and a small camper parked; near the camper was a clothesline - someone was living there, we saw a few cars...basically, it looked like a Used Car Lot.

There it was, the Graham River - so deep, so wide, such a swift current: and, on the other side was our new home, our new friends, our new life...and all the other "news" that we knew to expect. We had left our home on Aug. 1st, and now it was Aug. 23. We thanked the Lord for our safe trip and then were eager to meet the brethren on the other side of the river.

The next thing to encounter was the river...we were to cross it in a small rowboat that had a small motor. None of us 15 city-folk knew how to swim and here was a river swollen to capacity (can you see how fear can get a hold of a person in all these situations?). Well, we started out to cross the river...nobody even knew how to run the motor; it sputtered, it popped, it stalled and the river began to sweep us away........it caught, it held, it got us across the river. At last, firm ground.


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Pen Name: Aimee Love
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Up the Alaskan Highway, to Fort St. John, B.C.


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