We just drove from Manley Hot Springs to Lummi Island. We left on Wednesday May 27, after Jerry spent the morning getting every drop of water out of the pipes, just in case we don’t get back before next winter when the temperatures will be minus 40 Fahrenheit. We had had no mail delivery for a week, because of the holiday and bad weather. The mail plane is a private carrier and sometimes misses deliveries. By noon it hadn’t come, and it was raining, so we left without the mail.
In Fairbanks we shopped briefly for trip provisions, then on to Delta Junction for the night. We had a good supper of left-over chicken and salad in the motel room, and everything was fine except that Jerry couldn’t find the wine opener. I gave up quickly and ate my chicken sans wine, but he was bothered because he couldn’t remember where he had put the opener. He kept leaving his chicken to search for it, so by the time he finally found it, in a place we had both looked three times, dinner was over and we didn’t want wine anyhow.
The next day we drove to Haines Junction, Yukon. It rained most of the way, and, sadly, the weather obscured the spectacular scenery around Kluane Lake. Instead of continuing down the Alcan Highway we often take the Cassiar Highway south to the Yellowhead Highway. If you want to see one of the grandest bits of scenery of the north, drive this road. The mountains, lakes, rivers, and views are stunning. The southern two thirds of the road has an excellent surface and is comfortable to drive. The northern third is wilder, and is a work in progress. There are many bumps and places that make me clutch the sides of the cab.
The third night we stayed in Dease Lake, British Columbia. Dease Lake is a mining center and a center of the native population, First Nation as it is called in Canada. It is one of 2 stopping places on the Cassiar Highway that open all year.
When we got there it was still raining and cold. We had dinner at Mama Z’s, the only eatery in town. I count on at least one high point per trip. Mama Z’s was it this time. The place was empty when we entered. We were greeted by a lovely woman (of a certain age.) Her hair was fluffy blond and she wore a blue-jean mini skirt, a tee shirt and a cross around her neck. She spoke with an Italian accent. I chatted with her from time to time throughout our dinner. I asked her if she had recently acquired the business, since we had been there before and it seemed different. It was usually closed when we stopped.
She told me that she previously had a couple managing it, but that they were drunk all the time and often failed to open. She fired them, and now she was running the place by herself, with only the cook in the kitchen to share the work. As the restaurant began to collect more customers, some clearly locals, some transients like us, she zipped around, cheerfully greeting everyone with Mediterranean warmth. She must have covered a couple of miles back and forth to the kitchen while we were there.
Our food was simple, but well cooked. The vegetables especially were done to just the right tenderness and crispness and not the least bit greasy. That’s a pretty good restaurant test.
Mama Z, Zora, chatted with me intermittently as she dashed past with plates of food. She told me she moved from Fraser Lake, farther south in British Columbia to Dease Lake 3 years ago, with the help of her two fine sons, both in their 20’s. Her husband had left her for a younger woman, and she didn’t have a penny when she arrived, only her car and what was in it. During those three years she worked her way to ownership of the restaurant, and she said she is determined to make it succeed. I think she will. There is a website, www.mamazscafe.com, (but it does need some work.) She says she is writing a book, when she has time. “Read my book!” she says. So I will, when it comes out.
If you have a chance to drive the Cassiar, stop at Mama Z’s and get to know Zora. She’s a remarkable woman.
When we woke up in the morning in Dease Lake, as usual, I put on my shoes and crept out in my nightgown with the dogs for their morning pee. It was snowing. Hard. It was May 31. We drove south through a winter landscape. The snow was sticking to the road and the trees. That lasted for a couple of hours, then it turned to rain, then the sun came out. By the time we stopped for the night the temperature was 80. We had gone from winter to summer in 8 hours.
The third night we stopped in Burns Lake on the Yellowhead. I was tired, so we stopped early at a motel we have stayed at before. It is the kind I favor, clean, but very down market, with a kitchen. The couple who own it are nice, and “pet friendly.” He smiled kindly and refused me a kitchen.
He said, “I’m only renting a couple of rooms tonight. We’ve sold this place and are moving to another motel in Clinton. We have to leave tomorrow morning, and I have to clean the rooms myself. No kitchens.”
“Oh, please,” said I, “I won’t make a mess.”
He hesitated for a moment and said, “I could do that for you.” So I got to cook dinner and clean out the cooler, and I’m sure I left the kitchen as clean as I found it.
When Jerry and I travel we both look at the scenery. We watch for wildlife. On the way back from Alaska we saw a herd of elk, a lot of moose and a fox. I pay attention to the kinds of trees, and I notice flowers and colors. I study the light. Jerry tells me about the geological features of the land – the braided rivers, the glacial valleys, new and old mountains.
He used to own an electric company in Manley, and he notices telephone poles and power lines. When we were in New Zealand he asked me to take pictures of power poles because they were concrete. He notices machinery, trucks, and most especially airports and airplanes. Road building interests him.
We enjoy the trip, but as I get older I find it increasingly difficult. I was bone tired when we got home. It was not easy on the dogs. Once, just after we got married, we did part of the trip on the ferry. That was fun, but expensive. Maybe next time we will try it again; after all, you can’t take it with you.