This journey to explore the Pan American Highway has very little in the way of scheduling. Really, only seasonal variations and our desire to be comfortable are dictating our schedule. We are going to avoid winter if at all possible for the next couple of years. That being said, we did have one solid goal we both agreed upon on. That was to be at the Arctic Circle to watch the sun not go down on the solstice. That goal served two purposes. One was to get us the heck out of our house and on the road, and the other was… Never mind, there was only one purpose.
So off we went with the close proximity June 21st looming heavily on our minds. We crossed the border into Canada on the 13th of June. That gave us eight days to make it 2003 miles (3224 km since we are in Canada, aye?). That was roughly 250 miles per day. Piece of cake, easy as pie, no problemo, etc. With that information in mind, I set myself to the task of roughing out a route to the north. Armed with Google Maps and iOverlander I plotted out potential free camping locations all the way up to the Arctic Circle. I did this all without consulting my copilot… When I proudly shared our route with him I was surprised that he was not 100% impressed. Apparently driving 9-10 hours a day didn’t blow his skirt up. “But, Sweetie,” I explained, “this way we have rest days to chill out and do nothing along the way!” We compromised in the end. I changed the labels on my map to have wishy-washy titles like “Potential First Night” and he let me carry on thinking that we would stick to my route.
Let it be known that Potential First Night did not find us at Blue Lake North Recreation Site a mere 438 miles from my Aunt and Uncle’s house in Washington per my excellent plan. Instead, Canada folded us into her soggy, rainy bosom only to open her arms and release us from that embrace into a moist yet welcoming campsite far, far away from there. Cache Creek Community Campground was a perfect second choice. It was right on the Thompson River very respectable 260-ish miles from our starting point that day. It had fire rings, picnic tables, pit toilets, active train lines running along either side and evidence of very recent flooding. Vegetation was just springing back from some persistent and swift overland flow of river water. We decided not to worry about the river level despite having driven for a few hours through torrential rain to get there. Our first official night camping on the road included vegan pho topped with a generous helping Dad’s kimchi, a ton of mosquitoes and even more excitement for the days to come!
We only had one really rough night on the way up. We awoke in the dim dusk/dawn to find that we had an entire winged migration of mosquitoes sharing our tent and feasting on our bodies! Apparently, there was a gap we had not noticed where our rooftop tent hinges to fold away that was letting the little buggers in! A mighty massacre ensued but their forces were too stealthy for us in our weakened, blood-deprived state. We retreated to our sleeping bag with just one nostril each peeking out. When morning mercifully arrived, we opened the tent flaps, streaked with the carnage of the last night’s battle, to escape the torment. The strongest of our nemeses promptly flew out in that swoopy blood-drunk-over-indulged way all too familiar to mosquitoes who have been around the block a time or two… We just count ourselves as lucky to have had the opportunity to learn the vulnerabilities of our tent while up in Canada where the mosquitoes are merely annoying instead of disease-bearing. We solved the problem by wedging pieces of a standard dollar store pool noodle into the hinge gaps. Why do we have a standard dollar store pool noodle for a Pan American road trip? Very good question. If you read my previous post you may have noted that we found that our tent is a bit leaky. Moisture comes in where the mattress makes contact with the tent walls. We solved this problem by cutting lengths of the pool noodle and wedging them around the perimeter of the mattress. Pool noodles are by nature flexible and non-absorbent and thus perfect to protect us from the encroachment of mother nature while we sleep! We were lucky enough to have a lake to ourselves in which to wash the torments of the night from our bodies and minds.
Anyhow, back to the fun part! We didn’t hit any of my target potential destinations until the fourth or fifth night. My itinerary included shorter driving distances towards the end so it was inevitable that we catch up with my well-laid plan eventually. We drove the Cassiar Highway which was a new one for me. It was so full of wildlife! We saw about a dozen black bears, a moose, some hoary marmots (my current favorite marmot!) two bobcats (or maybe they were lynxes as the range of bobcats ends a little way into British Columbia), and a bunny rabbit! A consult with Google let me know that the solstice was indeed on the 21st but at 3 am so really, we needed to get to the Arctic Circle on the 20th! We met a couple, Tom and Colene, road-tripping for the summer in a Mitsubishi Delica at a poorly designed, yet informational, interpretive rest area just south of the Arctic Circle. We met again at the Circle and decided to camp together that night. Our first Road Friends! That is right! We made it to the Arctic Circle on June 20th!!!! Woo-Hoo!
We camped out at a little lake that was more of a borrow pit for road gravel and mosquito habitat than anything else just north of the Circle. We all walked back to the sign together after dinner and took some more pictures.
We were surrounded by hills that thwarted our view of the horizon but I was able to catch the sun washing over the mountains in the distance throughout the night.
It was incredibly beautiful and nothing like I expected. I thought the land would be flat and nothing but tiny tundra plants with swarms of caribou grazing. Nope! The Arctic Circle is mountainous with nary a caribou in sight! One very attentive arctic ground squirrel served as wildlife ambassador to the Arctic Circle.