“A Night Of Terror In The Yukon” Part III of III
Yes, I was ready for a good night’s rest, especially after my long hike to the Hot Springs and my 2 shorter hikes that Friday to the Liard River Canyon overlook and walk through the “Signpost Village” at Watson Lake.
In late August at my latitude in the southern Yukon region and in northern British Columbia, dusk lasts about 35 minutes and by 9:30 p.m. it is dark! It was exceptionally dark on this night because of the thick smoky haze, and little if any moonlight or starlight.
As I laid down on my daybed, next to my mini- size fridge- freezer, and with my head propped up against the rear of the driver’s seat and my feet resting against the rear of my small Kubota side-by-side, I worried. I was very worried about that sign at the northern end of the Cassiar Hwy, “Forest Fires Ahead. Use Caution. Drive at your own Risk!”
What exact dangers are encompassed in that sign up the road declaring “Proceed with Caution…. Drive at your Own Risk”? Come to think of it most the traffic that I had observed on the Cassiar was north bound. There should be a ton of RVs heading south bound in late August. I do remember a couple but most of the south bound traffic were 22 and 30-wheeler trucks.
At the rest area 40 miles down the road I tried to remember in what direction the 10-12 vehicles were parked. But in that 240’ wide space, their parking direction would not necessarily dictate their true previous direction of travel. I proceeded to the next roadside pull-out which was totally unoccupied.
Basically, my exaggerated fears of a bear attack in my lonely spot by the pull-out next to Aeroplane Lake had been replaced by my fear of rising winds and a rambunctious rambling wildfire trapping everything and everyone, including myself, in its path.
But very quickly my somewhat legitimate worries were overcome by deep sleep in spite of all of them.
However at 9:55pm, I was rudely awakened by a nearby vehicle revving its motor right next to my van. What??!! Just as I sat up in bed to see what was going on, a pick-up with its lights turned off, popped his clutch and noisily spread loose gravel and chat with its rear tires down the driver side of my van. As the side window above my head literally exploded, the pick-up quickly turned out of the highway pull-out in a north bound route of travel back towards Watson Lake Yukon,some 48 miles distant.
Although weary, I was now of course wide awake and realized that I had been purposely targeted and as a result, I had suffered two side broken windows and the one right above my sleepy head was shattered with a six-inch hole in the middle. My hair, my clothing, and my bedding was full of midnight colored dark, smoky privacy glass.
I was stunned as you would imagine. It probably took me a good 45-50 minutes to pick out small chards of window glass from my hair, clothing and bedding. Then I opened the side door and climbed out. Yep, two broken side windows, No. 1 and 3. No. 2 was ok. I was very lucky that the driver’s door window survived.
My first thought was – Would that pick-up return for another more insidious personal attack?
I could pack up and move but to where? I knew that there was a small Native village down the mountain at the base of Aeroplane Lake, Camp Good Hope. And further 45 miles south on the highway was the old gold and silver mining village of Cassiar now renamed “Jade”.
I decided to stay put for now. I spent another hour to gently knocking out the rest of the No. 1 window broken glass. No. 3 side window, near the rear of the van, was shattered but had no holes in it, there was a faint hope that it might survive until repair.
It ultimately did not. As soon as I pulled out at dawn, that window decimated and fell out at the first bump in the highway, spreading more glass all over the rear of the van and onto my Kubota x500.
Next, I went about the tedious task of using my small broom and dust pan to sweep up thousands of pieces of glass that had fallen while I finished breaking out the glass of the window No.1.
I decided I would stay up the rest of the night, on guard duty until dawn. I got my stove out and heated up some water for midnight coffee.
So far, I was more stunned than scared. Who would do this cowardly act and WHY?
I had done a lot of solo travel in my lifetime. I had slept in rest areas in my pick-up on many warm sultry nights with my feet hanging out the driver’s side window. But I also always had a .38 Colt snub nose revolver nearby.
Could this attack be related to recent aggressive discussions about the First Nation Peoples being entitled to reparations since they were colonized by the “Whites”?
Of course, a similar issue has been raised in the U.S. And I always point out that our country spilled the blood of 622,000 young men and 30-40,000 civilian casualties to once and for all end the lawfulness of one person owing another person. But that is a separate issue deserving of a whole other article.
After all, my van carried Missouri plates. This would be immediately indicate to offenders several points. First since I did not badge a B.C. or Yukon plate, it therefore was likely that I was not Indian. Secondly, it was unlikely I had sneaked a firearm through customs, so I was probably unarmed. Thirdly, once 20 miles inside the Canadian border, my old Android cellphone serviced by US Cellular, had absolutely zero coverage in Alaska and Canada. All of these assumptions would be correct of course.
Next, the nearby Indian village of Camp Good Hope, (pop 80,) would likely not be helpful. And I realized that the nearest Mountie Post might be situated at Jade/Cassiar or back to the north, 48mi to Watson Lake. Determined to stay awake the rest of the night and emboldened with a fresh cup of strong coffee; I finally grabbed a pillow and slightly reclined in the driver’s seat for a bit of comfort.
Probably sometime after 1 a.m. despite all of my best efforts, sleep once again slowly swept over me.
Around 3 a.m., a 2008-2011 era white Dodge Ram pickup from the north suddenly pulled up to within 15 feet of my van by the two large bear-proof litter barrels and stopped. On alert, I immediately awoke.
Two young guys got out of the passenger side of the pick-up and urinated. There was at least one more person in the four-door pick-up besides the driver. Knowing that criminals like to return to the scene of their crimes to view the damage they caused, I immediately grabbed my strongest flashlight and pointed it at the rear of the pickup and was able to read the first three letters of their BC license plate, but I could not make out the final three numbers.
While I was shining the flashlight and the dome light of their pickup came on, I could roughly I.D. the driver. He appeared to be Native but was wearing a ball cap. Approximate age, 28-36.
And then he blurted out in a sarcastic voice: “Well, looky there. I believe that I see a broken window.” No idiot, two broken windows!
And then it hit me. I was literally in the middle of nowhere, armed with only a flashlight and a walking stick with a wide-open broken side glass. Were these men armed? Maybe, but I didn’t want to find out for sure so I turned off the flashlight.
I figured that the occupants had likely ventured north to Watson Lake possibly for a night of drinking and were now returning home on the lonely, foggy smoke-infused Cassiar Hwy. otherwise known as Hwy. 37. The passengers, having finished their roadside business, loaded up, and the pick-up leisurely turned southward down the mountain in the direction of Camp Good Hope.
As dawn approached, I made another cup of coffee and with determined courage, made my way down the highway about 2km (1.2 miles) into Camp Good Hope. Besides the few homes and business concerns situated along Main St. (Hwy. 37), there were about 30 homes scattered on two side streets that lined up parallel to the large mountain overlooking the small native village.
It was now around 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning. I looked for any noticeable activity, but there was none except for a 30-wheeler trucker pulled off to the side with its Cummins motor loudly idling.
After a hasty examination of Camp Good Hope, and after viewing most of the decrepit housing and older vehicles parked outside of their respective homes, I decided this small village was ineptly named. It should have been named “Camp of No Hope”.
The post office was slated to open at 8 a.m., and General Store by its sign said to open an hour earlier, had their doors and windows secured by burglar bars. At the southern end of town sat a large industrial generator about the size of a small office building surrounded by a 8’ tall fence. This generator, which was running and smoking with diesel fumes, was obviously the source of electricity for the village located next to Aeroplane Lake, literally in the middle of nowhere.
With time to burn, I quickly toured the small village in about ten minutes and discovered House No. 35. Parked in front of this fairly new home, one short block from the General Store, was a 2009 or 2010 four-door white Dodge pick-up. The well-appointed home and the pick-up were among the newest and cleanest in the village. I also observed that this home had no noticeable firewood pile stacked outside, unlike almost every other place in town.
But I was convinced that this was the offending pick-up and that the offenders were asleep inside. I stopped and wrote down the corresponding last three numbers of the B.C. plate that was an exact match for the first three letters that I had gleaned in the darkness earlier that morning.
I got out and took two photos of the pick-up and home. And for a brief stupid moment, I decided I would march up to House No.35 and demand some answers. But common sense soon overrode my anger.
I realized that I was a foreigner in a foreign country, unarmed and probably on native reservation land. So, I returned to my van and drove back to the General Store where I also had an uphill vantage point of House No. 35.
After about five minutes, a beat-up older Ford pick-up with a welder and tanks in the bed, drove by slowly and looked right at me. The vehicle then circled the block and came by again and went up the hill and parked in front of house No. 35. The driver wore a broad rim hat and was clearly a native, around 28-30 years-old and slender. He looked a lot like the guy in the station wagon that had been checking me out the night before just prior to dusk. But I couldn’t say for sure.
Was he one of my nighttime attackers. I decided that the answer was definitely “yes” as I don’t generally believe in coincidental conduct. But what proof did I have?
After waiting for the post office and the General Store to open –– they didn’t, probably due to nearby forest fires. So after a while I decided to head south bound out of the poorly-named village, in the direction of Cassiar (now Jade) and Dease Lake, the nearest Mountie Post to the South.
Further down the road as I pulled into the Jade Store at Cassiar, I began to notice a number of southern facing autos and RVs. I figured I had survived my night of terror with the First Nation and now maybe I wouldn’t have to drive through any more roaring forest fires ahead either.
The store was interesting and full of polished jade rocks of all sizes, jade jewelry, and even heavy jade dice, and many other gemstones.
At Jade, amazingly the Discovery Channel was filming an episode for the current TV show “Jade Fever”. After lending me their store phone to contact the Mounties in Dease Lake, I also unsuccessfully attempted to call Chief Mike in Telegraph Creek. The lady running the front counter said to forget Telegraph Creek. Half of the town was lost to the Great Stikine Forest Fire, and the town had been evacuated, some people even downriver. And, the 69-mile-long gravel road BC 55 was closed to traffic after 12km (7+ mi) southeast of town.
Now the least of my worries was that I couldn’t get a hold of the Chief to call off my scheduled jet boat ride up into The Grand Stikine Canyon. I am certain that it was also the least of Chief Mike’s worries.
You’ve all heard the saying; “The world is a small place.”
I was engaged over a cup of stout coffee at the Liar’s Table in the rear with the store’s owner and founder, Starvos. A Serbian born in 1941, he emigrated to Hungary in 1956, and after the failed Hungarian Uprising against the Soviets, I learned that at age 15, he found safe passage and a new home in Canada. He had survived in Cassiar in the early 60’s at a young age. At that time, Cassiar was a boom town with a general store, two churches, two saloons and several productive mines located within 35 miles. Now Starvos and his family and staff were the only current residents of Cassiar. They had renamed the place JADE.
While the owner and I were commiserating about the current status of poor relations between the First Nation Peoples and whites in BC and Yukon, we were interrupted by a middle-aged tourist wearing a KC Chiefs ball cap.
“Is that your Missouri van out front with the broken windows?”
He and his wife were residents of Centralia, Mo. When I told them I was from Ava, the blonde wife screamed and said “ I knew that was you!”
It turns out that we had spoken many years earlier about a legal matter in Douglas County, a matter I had declined. She had briefly lived in Ava and had been married to Mark Farbin, an acquaintance of mine in Ava. They had a daughter together who was now grown. . .Small world – you bet!
After spending an enjoyable hour drinking stiff black coffee with Starvos, I again turned the van south and headed for Dease Lake, a mostly Indian village of around 300 people, and the only one of the two reliable fuel stops for over 455 miles.
At around 9;30 a.m., about 75 miles from Dease Lake, I pulled up along side of a 2004 broken down GMC pick-up camper, parked partly on the highway as the shoulder was only about 4 feet wide. I soon discovered that Frank and his dog Sally were returning from a monster road trip up the Dempster Hwy., across the Mackenzie River Ferry and into Inuvik, located on the Mackenzie Delta at the road’s terminus about 15 miles south of the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea.
It turns out that Frank and Sally were on “holiday” from his job and home in southern B.C. at a major town named Kelowna. His kids, like mine, had told him that at age 61, he was too old for such a bold solo road trip. But like me, he had ignored their pleas.
Frank had a few tools and an extra oil filter and an extra serpentine belt. I got out and examined under his hood. His belt was loose but surprisingly not torn up. However one of the idler pulley bearings had apparently seized and busted off.
Anyway, I offered Frank and Sally his companion a lift to Dease Lake to see if we could find the necessary auto part that he needed.
When we got to Dease Lake a couple of hours later, we took care of my business with the Mounties. They took photos of the van, etc. We then drove down Hwy. 55 through a fire check-point and headed for Charlies Auto Parts, Towing, and Salvage.
Thereafter I learned from Charlie’s Indian wife that he was on a tow and wouldn’t be home for at least a couple of hours. Frank and I traveled back to Dease Lake and got fuel (a 40 min. task) with all of the semis, RVs, and cars awaiting their turn at one of only two pumps in Dease Lake. Then we had time for a roadside Phillipino run to a hut serving soup, shredded BBQ chicken over rice and vegetables and a bottle of water for the Canadian sum of $17. I fed most of my chicken to the dog. I was not impressed.
After a while, we drove back to Charlie’s and after about an hour an older, tired and very grumpy Charlie showed up. On Monday, we could order the part from Terrace, B.C. over 300 miles away, or for $30.00 we could remove an idler pulley from a 1999 Chevy pickup in his back yard and hope for a match. Frank opted for the used part.
It was now 4 p.m. and I offered to give Frank and Sally a ride back up the road to his disabled rig. After arriving, we worked in a cold light drizzle for almost an hour to get the idler pulley on and the belt over it to no avail. If either of us were a skilled mechanic, which we weren’t, I believe one of us could have made it work.
It was now 6 p.m. and raining harder. I told Frank that we were about to get divorced. I would take him and the dog 20 miles back to Jade for help from Stavros (my suggestion) or I could shuttle him back to a motel in Dease Lake for a restful Saturday evening and he could order the right part the next day, maybe. Frank declined both offers stating that he and Sally the dog would stay in his GMC camper truck for the night and renew his efforts on Sunday morning. I left him my card and asked that he drop me a line advising me of his travails.
I have yet to hear from Frank, nor do I really expect to. Frank was nice enough but very quiet and very private.
Once again I headed south to Dease Lake, and about 20 miles above the town, I turned off on a narrow gravel road down to the waters of Dease Lake at Sawmill Point. It would have been a great spot to have a campfire but there was a province wide fire ban in effect. There I met my only neighbors. The couple was from Quebec and they had a large chocolate lab who I tried to unsuccessfully wear out by throwing a large limb into the lake and watching her retrieve it with gusto. They offered to share with me a nightcap, a whiskey sour, which was gladly accepted.
The night passed with me early to bed and early to rise and somehow without a worry of bear, wildfires, or Indians. I was just plum wore out.
The next day, the smoke and haze started to lift and the sun came out brightly. I made the turn-off at the junction of Hwy. 37 and 37 Spur and headed due west for Stewart, B.C. and Hyder, Alaska on the Pacific Ocean.
I could almost smell Dianne’s Fried Halibut, chips, and slaw from her Pacific Seafood Express Bus as I drove by beautiful Bear Glacier; a scene out of the Al Pacino and Robin Williams movie named “Insomnia”.
I love the rivers and mountains at Hyder, bordered by the Misty Fjords Nat’l Monument, I love my Hyder friends Don (age 83) and Rowena, Ski (age 78) and his girlfriend Chris, and Pete (age 69) and Libby. We had lost John, age 68, a couple of years earlier to cancer. He was a longshoreman whom worked in Stewart, BC across the river, but preferred to reside in Hyder, Alaska.
After dinner, I discovered that Jersey Bill (age 89) hasn’t been to his trailer to fish in Hyder for 3 years. I was last there 4 years ago due to several serious criminal cases that have kept me and my son Judson way too busy for the the last three years. My friend Ski had a stroke last year and is partially paralyzed on his right side. Al Roper, the local mechanic in town died at age 70 last year around Christmas from a sudden heart attack. I thought to myself that I might never see some or all of these people again that I had met and befriended in Hyder over the last 20 years.
We have all shared many a brew and more than one cigar, and hosted many meals for each other over the years. And above all, for two decades we had fished the longest fjord in America, the Portland Canal for its seemingly endless bounty of dollies, salmon, halibut, prawn, and those delicious Dungeness crabs. The Portland Canal is actually not a “canal”, but a natural fjord, 92 miles long. It divides the southern panhandle of Alaska from British Columbia, Canada.
Another big change since my last visit. The main road through Hyder is now paved, to cut down on dust. Ski (short for Kolowski, originally from Michigan) tells me that there are only between 30-40 year-round residents now that tough out Hyder’s wet winters. 32’ of snow and several inches of rain can make for a pretty dreary winter. It will snow for a week, and then rain for a week, punctuated by very few rare sunny days. I wonder if I’ll ever get back to Hyder, and the old gold and copper mines in the mountains above Hyder and the Salmon and Berindan Glaciers, back across the British Columbia border where the road finally ends 35 miles inland from the salt water.
Note: After putting heavy plastic and tape over the broken windows in Hyder, I had them replaced a couple of weeks later at the Freightliner Dealership in Kansas City. Total cost: $200 deductible to me and $ 1300 paid by my friendly insurer, American Family.
As for the culprits, I have heard nothing from Constable LeFort in Dease Lake. I will be contacting him shortly because you know the old saying, “The Mounties always get their man.” We shall see. He didn’t act too concerned upon our meeting originally in Dease Lake. But he should. Tourism is the number two business in their economy, just behind timber and ahead of fishing.
As for travel in the north country, this event was very meaningful in my life. I think that the last time I was truly scared in the outdoors was in 1992 on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.
After stopping at the remote Phantom Ranch about halfway down for R and R on a two week, 226 mile raft trip down the Canyon, my friend Greg and I were scouting probably the toughest rapids in the Canyon, Hornback Rapid, right below Phantom Ranch Camp. It was close to dusk, and the river was clear and very low (around 7500 cfs).
The rapids were rocky, gnarly, and extremely technical. We finished our scouting and quickly ran the rapid successfully and then caught up with our floating group of 13 persons just before darkness at camp.
Only one time before have I ever been violated in the outdoors. While on a day hike in 1991 in the Ozark Plateau in SE Oklahoma on the Talmenia Trail, someone ransacked our camp. The boys and I lost a beloved old camp stool, a hatchet and an old propane lantern. But my buds from Haysville, Kansas, Clay and Mary, lost 2 expensive Marmot down bags and a small camp stove taken out of their tent.
At about that same time, 1 1/2 miles distant the Oklahoma Highway Patrol had set up a DWI enforcement check-point at a near by intersection. Oh, if only they had known that there were thieves operating among us lawful citizens a short distance away.
Now, get up and go enjoy our beautiful Ozarks outdoors!