One Man's Alaska

Day 12: Stranded in Dease Lake, British Columbia

March 19, 2010

Well, I've finally gone and done it: I've stranded myself in a small "town" named Dease Lake, British Columbia.

I don't know what the population is here, but the town consists of two small hotels, a gas station that doubles as a general store, and, well, that's about it. There is a restaurant here too, but it's only open some of the time, and I haven't figured out their hours yet. (There are a couple of other places in town, but they aren't open this time of year.)

I arrived here last night after taking nearly nine hours to drive 240 miles north from Stewart. Yesterday was quite a learning experience, so I'd like to describe my expectations so you don't think I'm a big dummy.

My expectations and initial plan

As I thought about driving through British Columbia and the Yukon Territory, my initial plan looked like this:

The problem with this plan was the assumption that the road crews would actually clean the roads. Yes, they do plow the roads, but in many areas they leave snow packed on the road. Anywhere I've lived in the United States this would be an unacceptable practice, and I didn't expect this.

That's what caused so much trouble yesterday. On an otherwise clear and mild day that should have been perfect for traveling, I drove for hours on packed snow.

Yesterday's drive

After staying an extra day in Stewart to wait out the snow we had on Wednesday, I got on the road yesterday morning, and the roads were initially clear. However, after a little while, there was a little packed snow on the road, but I could still see the pavement, so I kept either the right or left tires on the pavement, while the other tires drove on the packed snow.

However, after a little while, the pavement started disappearing, and finally the pavement disappeared entirely. The entire road was covered in packed, white snow, and that's what I drove on for hours yesterday.

The DriveBC website warns you about this a little bit, but I need to emphasize the phrase a little. On their website there were only two icons on Route 37 between Stewart and Dease Lake, so I assumed there were two bad spots. If there were only two bad spots, then I will say that those two bad spots were over 100 miles long, a detail that would have been very good to know when I was still in Stewart.

(On a related note, I'll try to write more about this another time, but yes, you do go "snow blind" when all you see is white snow for long periods.)

Trying to leave this morning

When I tried to leave Dease Lake this morning I had it in my mind that I would just try to make it to Watson Lake, and see if I could get winter tires there. But it was cold this morning, below freezing, and when I got to a point 20 minutes north of town where I was driving uphill, I started slipping, and then decided to stop on the road.

I got out of my car and walked on the road -- there is no traffic to speak of, just 36 other cars in nine hours yesterday -- and the road was indeed packed snow, but much of it had turned to ice. There was no way I was making it up this incline with my front wheel drive RAV4 and the all-season radials everyone here calls "summer tires".

I'll finish this story tomorrow, but I'll give part of it away: I'm typing this story while sitting in one of those small hotels back here in Dease Lake, the Northway Motel.

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