Travel blog – Vancouver to Yukon part 8 – The Long (and expensive) Journey Home

Thursday morning I had another delicious breakfast at my B&B and hit the road. The initial plan: drive back to Prince Rupert (the same way I came; there’s really only one option), making a stop at Lakelse Lake, as well as a handful of spots as I saw fit en route.  When I’d driven to Kitimat I was set on getting up to Nisga’a Lava Bed Memorial Park so didn’t make stops along the way; I had more time Thursday so planned to make some more stops.  The plan had been to arrive in Prince Rupert in the early afternoon (the drive is only about 2.5 hours if done non-stop), grab lunch, stop at the Museum of Northern BC, and then take a wander around town (I wanted a closer look at the beautiful art deco city hall building!), and have a quiet early night for the early ferry ride the next morning.

About 20 kms North of Kitimat (en route to Terrace, which is where the highways junction and I would turn left to get to Prince Rupert), I realised I didn’t know how far from Kitimat Lakelse Lake was.  I was worried I might have driven past it without knowing.  Since none of the paper maps (which are generally easy to look at while driving, even despite the rain) have anything useful on them (basically they show that there is a road between Terrace and Kitimat, and nothing else), I realised I had to use my iPhone to look it up.  I looked for a safe place to stop to check it (so I wasn’t trying to type and drive – that would have been dangerous).  I spotted a gravel pullout area by some hydro towers, signalled (there were no other cars but I’m a creature of habit like that), and pulled over.

Either I was going too fast, or the gravel area was not meant for driving on, or it was too wet, or a combination of the above, but the vehicle slipped on the wet gravel and I lost control.  I tried to pull right, it kept going forward and ended up in a bushy / weedy area.  I distinctly recall the sound of shattering glass. I never did place what this would have been – none of the windows broke, nothing in my luggage was glass or shattered – my best guess is that I either ran over a bottle that had been thrown onto the side of the road, or that the aluminum keychain I had in the trunk clattered against something, making the sound of glass shattering.  Despite this, the worst part was that if the car had kept going another 6 or 7 metres, it would have made it into the gravel area again.  Unfortunately, it didn’t make it that far, and got lodged in a mound of dirt and gravel underneath the brush.  And stuck.  I tried moving forward and moving back, and nothing worked.  I had to climb out the passenger door as the thick weeds (and the angle of the car, which was no longer exactly parallel with the ground, it was sort of leaning towards the driver’s side) were blocking the driver side door.

I assessed the situation as well as I could – the car was thoroughly stuck. I could already see some minor damage to the bumper – it had popped out of place but otherwise looked okay.  I realised I couldn’t get the car out myself, or even with a push (the weeds and dirt were blocking the car from most directions).  As panic grew (at the time I was still not sure what, if anything, had broken / shattered), and I had no idea who to call, I dialled 9-1-1 as I figured the police would have to come to file a report.  The operator calmed me down and said, pretty plainly, that I didn’t need the police, I needed a tow truck.  Ultimately they were right, and I’m glad they were patient with me and even gave me the number of a towing company in Kitimat.

I called (what I later discovered was called) Mico Towing and after we could finally hear one another (I was right on the edge of losing mobile reception), I told him where I was and he was on his way.  In the hour that I waited there (outside the car, since climbing back in was difficult and I was worried he wouldn’t see me), about 4 or 5 drivers pulled over to check on me – which I would guess was well under a quarter of the vehicles that drove by.  I appreciate those that did stop for me, they were all very kind and some even suggested they could pull me out with their 4x4s but no one had anything to pull the car itself with so I continued to wait for the tow truck.  At least two people commented on how ridiculous or rude it was that not more people stopped – from the perspective of the road, the car was clearly not supposed to be there and there was a problem.  Nevertheless, I told those that did stop that it was all okay and a tow truck was on the way, and they went on their way.

The tow truck arrived about an hour later (I think I may have woken him up, despite it being 10:15 AM).  We puzzled over how to get the car out for a while and he eventually hooked to the front of the car and pulled it forward through the remaining weeds and dirt.  He unhooked and told me to try to drive the car forward, I did, and it worked perfectly.  Phew.  I got out to assess the damage and the driver side taillight had popped loose, as had the left side of the rear bumper.  Both of these popped right back in to place easily (the joys of plastic cars), but the front right bumper couldn’t be wedged back into place.  I had to follow the driver back to Kitimat to get to an ATM (the $130 bill was more than I had cash for, again) and he suggested a body shop in town that could help with it. After I paid and thanked him, I stopped at the body shop where, as expected, they fixed it in five minutes and, as not expected, they refused to take any money from me.

Shaken but completely unhurt, and with a car that seemed fine, I headed back on the road and changed my plans – I would skip Lakelse Lake (it was, by this point, pouring rain anyway), and stop in Terrace to have lunch and fill up on gas.  About 10 km before I got to Terrace, I heard a dreadful knocking from the back left of the car. I looked again for somewhere safe to pull over, and seeing none (and unwilling to risk a gravel pullout area again) I just kept driving, cautiously. I got to Terrace, stopped in a parking lot, and found out the problem – the back bumper that I had popped back into place myself was more than just loosened, it was broken. The hole that the screw holding it in place goes through had been torn through, and part of the plastic mud flap in the back of the wheel well had been torn off altogether.  I wedged it back into place and decided to have it looked at.

Fortunately, before we decided to drive back to Kitimat, the tow truck driver had given me directions to a body shop in Terrace since I had initially hoped (when I thought he might take a credit card and I could be on my way) to continue onwards and just have the minor fix done there.  I circled a couple times and eventually found it, and explained the situation.  The guy at the shop took a look and suggested that either the whole bumper would need to be replaced or some serious repairs would need to be done – but that if it was otherwise driveable that he recommended using duct tape to hold it together.  He reasoned that the rental car company would charge me to repair the bumper anyway (even if he did some work on it himself), so I might as well just keep it together to get back to Vancouver and have them do the full thing.

He directed me to Canadian Tire where I patched it up as best I could in the parking lot, in the rain.  Applying tape in the rain is not easy, though fortunately I had an umbrella and a towel.  Also fortunate was that the duct tape is noticeable but doesn’t stick out hugely – the car was silver.  After lunch at Tim Horton’s, and a call to Hertz to report the incident, I got back on the road.

It was, by this point, pouring buckets.  I was able to keep a reasonable speed but I started to worry about hydroplaning as the wind was picking up and the (freshly-repaved) roads were accumulating puddles and/or small creeks.  I opted not to make any other stops on the way to Prince Rupert as they would have been unpleasantly wet (and I was already quite wet).  There wasn’t much view to enjoy, with one exception. All the rain reactivated the mountain rivers and waterfalls, so there were some spectacular sights of these along the way!

I got to Prince Rupert about 4:15, with just enough time to see the Museum of Northern BC which closed at 5. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time as I would have liked, but I made do with the time I had.  A lot of the aboriginal crafts were definitely worth making the stop there.  Exhausted, and still stressed, I checked into my hotel, wandered over to photograph the beautiful city hall (the rain had finally let up long enough to do so), had dinner (and a much-needed drink), and returned to my hotel.  A number of “incident” related phone calls later and I headed to bed.  I had to speak to my credit card provider (which has insurance to cover these things so I can waive the additional coverage on rental cars), which led to calling the Kitimat RCMP to file a report (the card company told me the police were obliged to at least give me a report for insurance purposes, despite their earlier refusal), which led to them telling me to call ICBC who handles non-injury reports for single-vehicle incidents.  Thankfully all of these were incredibly helpful and kind.  Every single person I spoke to about this, from my initial call to 9-1-1 to my call to Hertz and then these three (actually four, I got redirected once) calls, asked if I was okay and safe, and after I confirmed I was they were patient and completely non-judgmental despite this clearly being my own fault.  The last time I had to deal with a vehicle incident like this, over a decade ago now when I was rear-ended while stopped at a red light, the person I spoke to was not helpful, compassionate, or even remotely intelligent (at one point I was asked how fast I was travelling while stopped at the red light).  It was nice to have a series of very positive customer service experiences, especially while under such stress.

The next day went much better, despite being incredibly long.  My ferry from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy departed at 7:30AM, which meant being at the terminal for 5:30 AM.  Despite having a modern terminal (which is shared with Via Rail) and having about an hour-long wait, we were for some reason not allowed to get out of our vehicles and sit in it… so I sat and waited in my cold car at 6AM.

Once I finally got on the Northern Adventure, though, I was more than pleased.  Compared to the Alaska Marine Highway System boats I’d been on, and even compared to other BC Ferries, this was a luxury liner. It only had one full inside deck for general passenger use (plus one deck of cabins, and two decks where the outer areas were accessible), but the lounge was very comfortable, the food was great (they even sold juice boxes of soy milk!), and the staff very friendly.  Perhaps this justifies the price – this 15-hour trip cost (without a cabin) about the same as my two-day trip (with a cabin) from Skagway to Prince Rupert on the AMHS.

Much of the first part of our voyage was in the fog, which obscured the view but was quite pretty in its own right.  Once the fog lifted, we had spectacular views of the inside passage.  We travelled along fairly quickly but they did slow down the ship once or twice to take in specific views.  In particular, we stopped at an almost-completely-abandoned cannery town (there’s now one person left, a caretaker of the property) and pulled towards their waterfront and waterfall to get a closer look.  The rest of the journey was what you’d expect – islands, mountains, trees. And lots of whales, seals, and porpoises!

I napped a little but still arrived in Port Hardy (at 10:30 PM) completely exhausted.  I slept, got up, and did the return drive.  There’s almost nothing remarkable about the last day – the car held together, I drove from Port Hardy to Nanaimo with a quick gas, food, and coffee stop in Campbell River, took the ferry to Horseshoe Bay and drove in amongst very heavy traffic, and finally arrived home!  All totalled, I drove a total of 5,800 kilometres on this trip, and I’m very glad not to have to drive again for quite some time!

Final side note unrelated to the trip: I had tickets to the Amanda Palmer concert in Vancouver the night I returned, and the show was just amazing – best described as performance art, rather than a concert.  Even more interesting, though, was the list of events going on in Vancouver all on the same night. Vancouver doesn’t often get big events/acts, or at least not as often as bigger cities like Toronto or New York.  When a big (or medium-big) concert comes to town, it’s a full-on event.  For some reason, though, we had one night when there was no shortage of events.  The events on September 30th included: Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra, Dragonette, Madonna, Bloc Party, Garbage, Patrick Wolf, Russell Brand, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the Vancouver International Film Festival, and a Vancouver Whitecaps game.  Even more impressive is that the vast majority of these events took place in less than a square kilometre of the city!

Photos: are in process.  This section of the trip is in Part 2, but I’m also adding to Part 1.

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