“Wow wow, hold up!” I yelled.
“Wait a second! Are you going to show me a frozen hand out of your freezer?”
I was in Rox’s living room who offered me a cup of tea just before I cycled into Grande Cache. I couldn’t believe I was allowed to use her jeep to take a drive for groceries.
“That’s me,” she said with a smile. “I’m a little bit crazy.”
She was very helpful and even called someone who might be able to weld my pan. That morning I tried to unfreeze frozen limonade in a plastic bottle by cutting off the plastic from the ice and got frustrated. The tip of my knife then shot through the bottom of the pan. Rox called someone who had some time to look at it, so I drove in Rox’s jeep to a welder a bit further in town.
An amazing friendly guy was unable to repair the pan, the metal was too thin for his tools and he simply gave me a new pan as a solution. It turned out this was Grande Cache and here no one will send you away until you got what you need. I received some business cards and a sticker with his logo, Sasquatch Welding was on it. He proudly said that his nine-year-old daughter had drawn the logo.
I drove back with a pan that was actually much too heavy to take with me. Back at Rox I showed the logo of Sasquatch Welding and proudly mentioned that his daughter had drawn it. Rox then surprised me, she was convinced that the sasquatch live out here in the mountains. She started telling me about her walks and showing me photos of footprints. A lot of information to process, I had heard of a wolf, also of a mountain lion, but a sasquatch?
“A bigfoot,” said Rox, “have you never heard of a bigfoot?”
When she walked to the freezer to make her point I kinda needed a break.
It had been a week before I arrived in Grande Cache. I remember the cold of the Dalton Highway in Alaska like it was yesterday. As I was about to leave Valhalla in Alberta, I was faced with another week of extreme cold weather. Temperatures would be a cruel -25°C during the day and at night it cooled down to a merciless -35°C. It would stay that way all week.
I waited another day of mostly foggy and snowy weather and left Valhalla on a clear and cold Tuesday. I had the feeling that I had the most difficult part, the Alaska Highway, behind me and had landed a bit rock bottom at the end due to the heavy work traffic. Little contact with people, a mostly dirty environment and the constant heavy traffic took its toll. I was very happy to be able to rest in Valhalla and been there in very good company. I really felt rested when I left and the pain I had started to feel, especially in my lower back, had subsided a lot.
I cycled through Grande Prairie and bought some effervescent tablets for sports drinks and an extra pair of warm socks. Earlier in Valhalla, I had packed all my daily packs of freeze-proof food for the week and was all set for the Highway 40 that goes from Grande Prairie through Grande Cache to Hinton. I had absolutely no idea that this road is often found in lists of the most tough and dangerous roads in Canada. The road is partly in bad condition and climbs about 800 meters with steep parts and difficult turns up into the mountains to Grande Cache. Around Grande Prairie it is quite busy with work traffic. I knew it would be tough but with the thought that the hardest part would be already over, I started in a good mood.
I cycled across the white prairie desert past Sexsmith through Grande Prairie and at the end of the day in my search for a camping spot I happened to stumble upon the WNSC Chalet, a youth scout cottage with a wood stove in it. There was plenty of wood and I could spend the night in wonderful comfort. The next morning I started the climb steadily. Traffic was still heavy because of the gas fields, oil fields, and mines that were in many numbers along the road south of Grande Prairie. Heavy traffic and extreme cold, a combination that is almost impossible to compete with. The highlight of the day was a generator-heated workers toilet parked along the road for the workers to use. I sat there having a blissful moment and at the same time realized that this was kinda bizarre, never before have I enjoyed pooping on such a toilet to this extent.
In the early evening it already cooled down to -30°C and it didn’t look like I would find a comfortable camping spot this evening. On a road side off the Highway 40, towards an oil field, I had to do quite a bit of digging before I could pitch my tent in the snow. It was a lot of effort and when done I quickly squeezed myself into my sleeping bag and then heated my tent with my camping stove. Not much later that night I fell asleep very tired.
Early in the morning I woke up from the cold. I had pretty much closed my tent to keep the heat in but that meant that in the morning, the inside of the tent was frozen with the condensation not being able to vent. A consequence of moving in the morning is that the ice falls on my face and sleeping bag, moistening the down in my sleeping bag. That is why I choose to leave my tent immediately when it is very cold and put on my huge down jacket and down pants and start moving for warmth.
It took three hours before I finally packed everything and was back on my bike. For the next days surprising things would start to happen that I really didn’t see coming at all.
It started with a jeep stopping in front of me where Lindsay and Jacob got out. They argued with each other, looked at my bike saying:
“That must be the guy.”
I was allowed to sit in their jeep for a while and they told me that they checked the meters on the gas and oil fields. They were ahead of schedule so they could warm me up in their jeep. Jacob gave me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“You’re on Facebook,” Lindsay said as she showed a post on a Facebook group called Highway 40 Road Reports.
As it turns out, many people who drive on the Highway 40 keep an eye on this group for road news.
It turned out to be a bizarre day of people waving, photographing and yelling from out of their window. Someone pressed a hat and a t-shirt into my hands, merchandise from a company active here in the oil fields. JD stopped and offered me a whole bag of food he brought from a camp for the workers.
“I saw you were around and was thinking why not bring that guy some to eat and drink, must be cold out there and it’s free anyway,” he said kindly.
Luckily it got a bit warmer by Friday but the wind started to pick up. I was battling and already hit an emotional low point that day. In the battle I once again had too little to eat and I had to take a break out of the wind to find the energy to continue. Towards the end of the afternoon a jeep stopped again in front of me. A kind man offered me a ride, which I kindly declined. A little later he came back and handed over a bucket of two kilos of fried chicken. It became a race against time to eat it before the whole bucket was frozen. Happily it worked out, at the Sheep Creek Campground I found a spot hidden from the storm that was going on and was able to replenish my protein levels with the chicken.
Karen, who posted me on Facebook, arranged a place to stay for me in Grand Cache. After I had tea at Rox’s, she came by to deliver me to Grant and Bev. I could hardly believe how helpful and nice the people were around here. Everything worked out so smooth.
“I saw you on Facebook and I immediately thought, if that guy needs a place to sleep, he is welcome!”
They were Grant’s words. I had just joined Grant and Bev and when I accepted a beer, he said enthusiastically:
“You see, I already like that guy!”
They had reserved a room for me in the house where they lived.
“We’re showing you some real Canadian hospitality,” Grant said proudly, and Bev added:
“But keep in mind, don’t get too comfortable because after a day of four you have to start paying rent!”
They were funny and sweet at the same time. Grant and Bev seemed like the kind of people who would be there for you when you needed them. Bev was a great cook and Grant was constantly bragging about it.
Even a friend of Grant’s was jealous:
“I’m sitting here eating TV meals, and that guy is having Bev’s meal!?”
Grant who enjoyed Bev’s food so much made all sorts of sounds while eating:
“Mmm, oh, so good, mmm.”
They took the trouble to drive me around Grande Cache. It was really fun to be around them.
They were real without any layers so that their personalities left nothing to the imagination. I enjoyed that and also thought it was incredibly beautiful how their love for each other was constantly visible in all the little things. Grant and Bev are people really close connected and I was honored to be in their house to witness that. They showed pictures of the past, from the time they lived in a bus.
“I couldn’t do without her,” said Grant, and he meant it, as he meant everything he said. It was just wonderful to be around them.
After two nights with Grant and Bev, I stayed with Karen for another night, who arranged a place for me, a house that they use to organize rafting in the summer. She and her friend came to have dinner in the evening with me and made breakfast the other morning. It was all a bit unbelievable.
That day I felt amazingly filled with all beautiful connections and left with a big smile on my face, to continue riding the Highway 40 into the Rocky Mountains.
Thank you Grande Cache community and the Grande Cache Mountain Voice! I’m honored to be featured as your local news.
What a cool story!
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