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Published: March 21st 2016
It is not a tourist destination by any means. Rather, oil and gas industry people are the majority who roam around this place. And the rest of the people are hotel employee. This is a cold place near the Alaska Highway. In fact Alaska Highway starts from Dawson Creek in the northern BC. There is no commercial airport in Dawson Creek. One has to fly to Fort St. John which has only few direct flights from Calgary. Yes, I travelled to Dawson Creek and Fort St. John couple of weeks ago due to my work. When I travel to any place that is work related, the time just flies…work all day, grab some coffee and sandwich during the day, get a quick dinner and hit the bed. By the time work is all done, it is time to run for the airport to catch the flight. I have been doing this for many years. Never ever I get a chance to see a place in North America during these work related travels unless I take some time off after my work, which is very rare. When I boarded the flight for Fort St. John from Calgary early in the morning, I
didn’t expect anything different in my busy schedule, let alone the idea of writing a blog afterwards. But as the time passed by, I started thinking differently. In between my work, I started noticing bits and pieces of local lifestyles that are somewhat different than usual. It’s not the same as some of us are used to living amidst the city commodities and connectivity of our societal network. As lifestyle of people in a new place always fascinates me, I was getting more and more interested. But is it worth writing? How the readers would take it? After all, they are the ultimate judge and jury of any writing. Then again, I am not here to write a best-seller. This is the best forum where I can share my experience with others, experience about people who are living on the same planet as ours, the only planet of ours. If I cannot reflect about them in this forum, then where can I? After all, it’s the people that matters, it’s the people who give a place its character that it deserves.
When the small propeller plane landed in Fort St John from Calgary
after few hours, it was -16 degree C outside. It is a small airport and it didn’t take long for me to collect the luggage. I looked at Tony who was traveling with me. His luggage didn’t arrive. The flight was overweight and they left Tony’s luggage in Calgary. The front desk girl apologized for the inconvenience and promised to send the luggage to our hotel in Dawson Creek when the next flight arrives in the evening. Yeah, right! Dawson Creek is close to 75 km from Fort St. John and I was not holding much hope that the luggage would arrive tonight.
We rented our four wheel drive and hit the road. It was a sunny day in Fort St. John and unless you have really a dark goggles, the bright reflection really hurts your eyes. We are not even close to the 60th
parallel, but it seems that we are already there. I looked around…I was checking the place out. I don’t quite understand where to draw the line between a city and a town; but I guess I will call Fort St. John a town rather than a city. We grabbed a bite in
a local Tim Horton and then went south on Alaska Highway towards Dawson Creek. It’s a flat road with nothing but white snow. Without a 4x4, I wouldn’t dare to drive 75 km on this snowy path. I never been to North Pole, but I thought perhaps North Pole is not much different than this landscape.
Tony was cool on the steering on this topsy-turvy Alaskan Highway. It was forty five minute later that we reached Dawson Creek. The place is even smaller than Fort St. John. It was mid-afternoon when we took off from Alaska Highway and took a turn to a side road in the boonies. Great, I thought! Although I knew the game, but handling a few things in a good weather is completely different when you have to face the Mother Nature against all odds. I was ready with heavy duty boots and all the gears, but I was not so cool in the event of a flat tire in the boonies in a snowy, cold afternoon. And that’s what we suddenly had; bloody hell! No choice; get down in the ankle deep snow and get the banger ready
if we really face an unfriendly black bear. Grizzlies are not that common in this remote Northern British Columbia, but black bears are in plenty. Hopefully they are all hibernating in the winter, as they usually do. But we may not be that lucky, who knows! Well, it appeared that our luck favoured us at least once. Tony was fast in changing the spare with my help and we were back on the road in a short time. My socks went wet as the snow sipped in from the ankle deep dump outside. Finally we reached the destination.
Few of the site people were there before us. We entered the site. Snow covered most of the ground and beyond the fence it’s all covered in dense woods. In the twilight, it was all eerie. I don’t know what kind of wild life ventures in the woods, not that I was too keen in knowing because the height of the fence was too close for my comfort. It’s like a dead silence everywhere. We finished our work and headed back to the town just before the dusk. To me, the Dawson Creek seemed to be a paradise as
compared to this place. I prayed to God so that we don’t have another flat tire.
We reached our paradise, I mean the Dawson Creek. We checked in the hotel after we had our dinner in the town. Surprise, surprise! Tony’s luggage was there. I was totally wrong! A 75 km drive in the dark, snowy Alaska Highway by an airline employee to drop a passenger’s luggage….this was the first jolt my impression had about the people in this small town. I don’t recall when any airlines returned my luggage so promptly after a mishap. Never!
Awakening: Never stop having faith in the people and never underestimate their sincerity.
The next day we headed to another site. The same landscape, same boonies. It is around 45 minutes drive from the Dawson Creek. The only difference I found that there are a couple of cottages where people live in the boonies. I was surprised. I couldn’t fathom how one could live in such isolation. I asked one of the guys named John who lives in there,
“Do you have wild life in the woods
just outside the house?”
“Oh yes, plenty”, the guy was cool.
“And do you live here with your family?” I asked.
“Of course,” again, John was totally cool.
“No worries, aye”, I was measuring his cool.
“Nha! Moose, bear, deer are the part of life. They need food, so do we”, John was philosophical. I was taken aback. Even someone gives me a million dollar, I don’t think I could stay in such an isolation.
“How long have you been living here, John,” I was curious.
“Well, more than 20 years, I guess.” Oh My! I don’t know if these folks are from the same planet or not! Hat’s off to them!
Enlightenment: Live and learn, Tab. Learn how people adjust with the surroundings.
We drove that night to Fort St. John. We have to start working in a different place next day.
Another day in paradise. This time the plant was close to the Alaska Highway, some twenty minutes drive from Fort St. John. The township is even smaller than Dawson Creek. The news of a
Burger King opening soon became the talk of the town! Weather was chilly, but somewhat bearable than the other days. Snow has melt in the sun the day before and it has now turned into ice. The whole site was a big ice-hockey ring. We had to attach our traction aid under the heavy boots to prevent slipping on the ice; the metal spikes were giving us good grip on the ice thus keeping us steady. During the day, I met a guy in the plant named Mohan, who works and lives in Fort St. John. I asked him,
“Does your family lives in here too, Mohan,” I asked.
“Oh, no, they live in Edmonton”.
“How far is it from here?”I asked
“Around 675 km.”
“Wow, so you can’t visit them regularly I suppose, poor you.”
“No, I visit them every week. I leave Friday after work and come back Sunday night,” Mohan said vey casually as if he is running errands to the local grocery store during the weekends. I know few people who travel during the weekends to visit their families, but that is a modest 200-250 km drive each way. I
cannot simply imagine of driving 675 km each way every weekend, especially during the snow storms and the blizzards.
Learning: Learn Tab, what people do accept in life for living, and with a smile.
It was a small plane again on the way back to Calgary, with four seats in a row. I was assigned the window seat, so I decided to do some photography. A blond lady took the aisle seat next to me.
“You got a neighbour, dear,” it was intended for me. I turned my head around.
“I hope a sweet neighbour,” I joked
“You bet”, the reply came back with a melody. “Sally,” she extended her hand.
“Nice to meet you, Sally. Tab here”, I returned the gesture and became busy again with the photo shots after the take-off. After a while, I closed my camera and started a conversation. Sally works for a company who trains the wolves and supplies them in the movie scenes. Lately, they supplied them in the Oscar winning picture “The Revenant”. Wow! I didn’t know such a profession exists.
“So, what were you doing in
Fort St. John,” I asked?
“Well, we had a ‘take’ with the wolves in the woods last night,” Sally said.
“In this freezing cold…it was snowing heavily last night!”
“Tell me about it; we finished around 1:00 am,” she gave me a smile
“Do you carry lights?”
“Just the flash lights.”
“That’s all! Don’t you get scared?”
“Yes, for the wolves, if they get lost.” She laughed.
“What about you folks…bear attacks,”
“We deal with it. Come to our Instinct Animals…wolves are very friendly, I will show you.” She said earnestly and gave me her contacts.
Wisdom: People who make life interesting
Holy, moly….so much learning in four days. The flight made a perfect touchdown in the Calgary airport.
I came back home, and pondered. I met people in four days who taught me to look at the world differently. Some make tremendous adjustments in life, some accept the realities, some are utterly sincere and some make the life most interesting…John, Mohan, Sally, the airline people who drove 75 km each way in a dark,
snowy highway to deliver Tony’s luggage. They all taught me, - trust people and learn from everyone. We sometimes forget that there are others in the world who are making a difference. Learn from them and widen your horizon. It does not cost as much, does it?
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