I was up at 07h00 cleaning Nyathi, washing the windscreens and mirrors - ready for the drive. I tightened all the wheel nuts and while I was checking things over I noticed that there were marks on the inner arches of the wheel fenders. I called Tim at ARB to ask him if he thought +2 springs would make a difference to the new tyre clearance. I decided to drive into ARB on my way north to let him have a look see, but Michael and I thought that we'd probably get them unless he said it would make no difference whatsoever.
I cleared out the remaining food from the fridge, packed the mini cooler with the frozen ice blocks and some drinks. Lesley came down to say her farewells. It was really sad. We'd made such good friends that although I was excited to be on the road I didn't want to say goodbye after spending so much time together.
It was amazing how long all the 'last-minute' things took, especially being on my own. At about 10h30 I had a nice hot shower and hit the road. It was actually embarrassing walking back into ARB again! However, they were all as nice as pie and Tim had a look at the marks and said the springs would help, so we got six new springs. The road through Seattle was pretty busy, but once I got about 100km further north I stopped at a rest area to check and tighten the wheel nuts.
Michael called me every now and again to check that everything was OK. The border crossing went smoothly and they didn't even ask for any vehicle papers. I had to park up and queue for immigration which only took about 15 minutes in total. The border crossing was probably the most beautiful I have ever seen. They had immaculately kept gardens scattered with benches, walking paths and statues and an eye-catching floral Canadian flag. I really wanted to walk back and take photographs, but I didn't want to attract any undue attention so headed off to Vancouver. Michael and I lost all mobile phone contact, but we met up at our agreed intersection in the centre of the city without any problems.
Vancouver is a wonderful city. I am rather jealous that Michael had time there to explore. I got to see floatplanes taking off in the bay and to drive through the busy cosmopolitan streets filled with tourist and locals of all sorts of nationalities.
The scenery as we drove north was beautiful - already I am in love with Canada. Michael was very impressive with the new tyres and we pulled off itno a roadside stop just so he could have a closer look and play a little...
We drove through Whistler which looked fantastic, but I imagine the resort would be one of the more expensive in the winter season. We got pizza from Pemberton about 50km north of Whistler and then backtracked a few kilometres to the provincial park and campground at Nairn Falls. The sites were nestled discreetly in among the trees and the facilities available included pumped water, bear-proof dustbins and long-drop toilets. It cost Cd$14, which was worth it!
We sat at the picnic table scoffing our pizza and went to bed shortly afterwards.
I started the day off energetically with a run to the falls and along the river. Then Michael came with me and we took a brisk walk back to the waterfalls and took some photos.
Although the falls weren't the most spectacular the volume of water was impressive, as were the whirlpool and potholes they created. We ran back to camp in the drizzle and had a quick wash with welcome water water before heading off. The weather wasn't great with lots of cloud and intermittent showers, but the scenery looked lovely cloaked behind the mist!
We stopped to look at the snow covered mountains, but our enthusiasm for a lakeside walk was curbed somewhat when it began to rain quite heavily. We drove for the majority of the day and covered 515km, which was good going considering we'd spent the morning enjoying Nairn Falls. We did see a river with a log jam (I understand in the early days of logging men used to float down the rivers on large logs to break up any log jams which occurred). This river looks tame compared to some of the pictures of the rapids we've seen the loggers negotiate.
We camped for the night up a side road in the natural forest above a railway line, which sadly didn't make for a good night's sleep.
Coupled with the noisy train last night, were gunshots in the early hours of the morning - not great! We continued north and stopped off in a little town called Lilloet to get some brochures and travel info. The scenery was lovely and we followed the rather impressive Fraser River for miles as it carved its way through the valley and surrounding farm lands. We did some shopping in Prince George and discovered that food stuffs are expensive. We headed east along the Yellowknife Road, but just after a little town called Houston, our journey came to abrupt end!
I looked down at the temperature gauge as we were climbing a short, steep hill and it was way over to the right. I immediately slowed down, pulled into a little road on the right and just as I was going to switch the engine off she died. It sounded awful. I have never seen nor heard an engine so hot. When we poured water over the radiator housing it was hissing and drying instantly. It did not look good and it wasn't...
When Michael tried to start her up there was white smoke (water vapour) pouring out of the exhaust. Michael knew right away that the cylinder head gasket had blown, although he wasn't entirely sure why or whether there were any other related problems.
Three young guys (Roger, Darren and Joel) stopped in a big pick-up to see if we were OK. Another chap also stopped, but could see we were ok, so went on his way. Roger towed us a little further off the road and then they spent a while chatting to us while we removed the cylinder head. They headed off home (which was a couple of kilometres around the corner) and soon afterwards Roger and Darren's mom, Ena arrived to see if there was anything she could do. She even offered to cook us dinner! A short while later John and Corie stopped to see what was happening. A number of other people stopped to say hello, including a young girl who offered the services of a tow (and we then discovered her father owns a towing company).
We knew were were in a small town when everyone knew everyone else and they were all very happy to stay and chat and help us out. Roger and Darren came back with ten litres of engine oil for us and a little later Ena came to see how things were going and offered us a hot shower when we were finished. On removing the cylinder head we discovered a number of the cylinder head bolts were loose, which explained the blown gasket! The bolts must have been incorrectly torqued when the valve work was done by the garage in Arizona. Here from left to right are Roger, Darren, Michael John and Corie.
I cleaned up the cylinder head where the gasket had been melted onto it. Michael got the new spare gasket out and with the guys' help lifted the head and put it back into place. He followed the manual's instruction about torquing up using the bolt flats as a measurement, but he (and John) weren't convinced. It was getting pretty late, so the guys helped lift the bonnet into place to protect the engine from the rain and we decided we'd finish up in the morning. John and Corie went on their way, but left us with John's business card in case we had any troubles. Roger drove back to the house with Darren in his Subaru, which has to be seen to be believed...
We drove behind them (in one of their folks' spare pick-ups which they had lent us) back to their house to have a welcome hot shower. We got to see their little dog doing some great tricks and then we drove back to Nyathi in their pick-up and crawled into bed pretty exhausted!
We started work first thing and soon afterwards John arrived with two bottles of anti-freeze for us! Roger, Darren and Joel arrived too. We had discussions about the rather complex manual instructions for torquing the head. John headed off to work and told us if we had any more problems we should call him. Michael finished torquing down the head and by about 11h00 everything was reassembled. The engine fired up without a problem so we filled the radiator and packed up ready to go. Annoyingly as soon as we restarted her with water in the radiator it became apparent that the newly fitted head gasket was not holding pressure. There was still water vapour coming through the exhaust and exhaust fumes coming out of the radiator header tank.
By a real stroke of good fortune, when we had the valve job done in Arizona, the garage told us our spare cylinder head gasket was the wrong one, so at that stage we ordered two new ones - one to use, and one as a spare. Then we discovered that the original spare was in fact the correct part, so we had an extra spare...
So, we called John and asked if we could take Nyathi down to work in his yard (North Star - where they repair snow mobiles, garden tools and sell exciting paintball equipment etc.). I left a note on the pick-up for Roger and Darren saying "Houston - we have a problem" (which we had joked about the night before) and I told them we'd renamed Nyathi "bitch". John came out to collect us and we limped into town behind him and by the time we arrived at his yard, of course she was nearly boiling again!
We removed the head again to see what had happened. It had blown the gasket in the exact same place and the straight-edge over the head confirmed that the overheating had warped it. There was a German guy called Tilo who had a machining shop right next door to North Star, so Michael and John took it across there for him to have a look at. Tilo measured it up - it needed around 0.4mm skimmed off, which he said he could do first thing in the morning (Saturday).
Michael set about stripping the head ready for skimming and then still had the energy to start installing the new ARB springs and shocks. I did some journal entries and then we both went back to John and Corie's house for a shower and a delicious dinner of steak, baked potatoes, broccoli and salad.
Then we climbed into John's old FJ40 Land Cruiser and headed out for his Dad's farm in search of bears (we kept teasing them about the imaginary bears they see). We didn't spot any bears (only bear poo), but we did see what we called a "wolfote" (either a wolf or a huge coyote). It allowed us to get quite close by and then ran off, only to come back and smell our tyre tracks and then run after us across the field! We also saw some squirrels (which John calls "low-brush tigers").
It was great fun off-roading across the farm. We got to see great views including the Groots' farm, where we'd been the night before.
On the way home as it was getting dark, we drove past the mill where Corie works and then took a back-road through the forests and across a river and we got to see a giant moose (or "swamp-donkey", as John calls it) en route. We had a terrific evening with them and then John took us back to the yard where we slept peacefully all night.
Michael spent the first part of the morning with Tilo, while he skimmed the head. I joined them a bit later - it was fascinating to watch each layer being machined off. Then I went for a run along the dyke at the back of town, although didn't venture too far into the forest when I saw all the evidence the bears had left behind. Michael did the second set of springs and shocks, but then Tilo brought the head back, so he quickly finished up and we both got to work putting the cylinder head back together.
Ena and George stopped by to see how we were doing. North Star closed at 15h00 and John waited for us to finish up the job. This time we torqued the bolts (progressively and in the recommended order) according to their type and size i.e. the M10s were at about 70N.m and the M12s at 100N.m. We put back the manifold, hoses etc. and then filled her with water. This time she seemed fine - what a relief (especially as we did not have a third spare gasket)! A journalist from the local newspaper stopped by to take some photos to write a story. At about 15h30 we went back to John and Corie's. John and Michael took Nyathi for a quick test drive and then we had a shower and said our farewells.
We were very fortunate to have broken down near Houston - the people were all fantastically friendly and extremely generous providing us with transport, showers, food, anti-freeze, engine oil and loads of moral and hands-on support - thank you everyone!
We stopped at A&W to get some food for the road. We kept a close eye on the temperature gauge, but all was well so we relaxed and watched the evergreen scenery go by. We filled up with fuel in Moricetown and watched enormous salmon jumping up river through a beautiful gorge.
We stopped in a small First Nations' village called Kitwancool (Gityanow) where there were some great examples of totem poles. We learnt that totem poles do not have a religious significance, but proclaim the owner's clan status and inherited family traditions.
We stopped for the night in a forest a short while later.
We cleaned the car a bit and put on the Firestone and Rover Accessories logos.
We had some cereal for breakfast, a nice hot wash and then drove through some spectacular scenery. We passed loads of lakes surrounded by lush green vegetation and the mountains were topped with snow, with glaciers spreading down into the valleys.
We stopped at Bear Glacier, which reached down to the lake and there were the odd small icebergs floating in the water. The weather was still warm and sunny which made it even more pleasant.
We reached Stewart in the early afternoon. We walked along the boardwalk into the bay for a short while and then went to a local store (selfishly - to avoid some people who had gathered around Nyathi and were taking photos - sometimes answering the questions over and over again, can just be too much, as well as time-consuming). We drove through to Hyder in Alaska, where the Fish Creek bear viewing facility is (which Ed & Melle had recommended we visit). People had been very lucky to see a grizzly sow with her cub yesterday evening, but when we arrived there were no bears.
However, the salmon more than made up for it! We have never seen such concentrations of salmon in our lives before. They were fighting for space in the creek and you could see the dead remains of those whom had already spawned (or been bear food) lying on the banks and in the water.
We drove up the steep gravel road to Salmon Glacier, about 16 miles away. There were some beautiful waterfalls en route and the remains of old gold-mines too. The glacier was fabulous - not a patch on Perito Moreno, but more impressive than we remember New Zealand's Frans Josef Glacier being. It was a lovely clear afternoon, but the prolific mosquitoes and biting flies kept our visit short.
We stopped in a forest clearing down a small track and had an afternoon nap, which was disturbed by a German guy who said he'd come to do target shooting practice. We said we'd only be an hour or so, so he agreed to come back later. I took the opportunity to cook a chicken casserole for an early dinner. The insects were a pain and I resorted to wearing my bug hat - much to Michael's amusement...
We had dinner and headed back to the viewing walkway at about 19h30. I had to nip to the toilet and missed seeing a black bear - although at least Michael got photographic evidence. We walked to the very end of the walkway, where it was a bit quieter and after about half an hour we got to see a grizzly cross the road, come down the bank and into the river, where she played with the fish, causing them to splash about and slip out of her reach. Her cub stayed up on the bank out of sight and the mother went back up into the bushes nearer the cub. We waited for a while to see if they would come back down again, but they didn't.
We drove back down the road a little and took a small forest road which lead down to the main river banks in the hope of seeing bears. We saw lots of scat and bear tracks, but no bears. We turned back and went onto the main road, when a Dutch guy came running after us to tell us he'd just heard on the scanner that there were grizzlies at the viewing walkway - we thanked him and headed back. This time it was a different sow and cub and they stayed in sight for quite some time. The sow walked about in the river for ages, causing a commotion among the salmon who were splashing about all over he place - I managed to get some excellent video footage too. Then the wandered down in front of us and she caught a salmon, ate the roe and tossed it back into the river! Sadly, the light was fading as it was almost 22h00, but it was great to see.
We decided that as we'd had an afternoon nap, we'd drive into the night. However, that was delayed when about half an hour into our journey we lost power to several accessories. Michael eventually traced the problem to a faulty electrical breaker in the battery box which he replaced (but we needed to move the freezer first - of course nothing is ever easy)! In the process he discovered several wires that were not correctly earthed, which he also fixed. He wasn't so successful with our recurring right-hand tail light problem when he blew a massive fuse under the bonnet which then required a further half hour's work as we didn't have a spare of that type. At 01h30 we got moving again. Michael drove until 03h00 and we stopped at a rest area and crawled into bed.
I drove this morning and Michael caught up on sleep! We saw the most amazing mirror lakes en route. I stopped to take photos and then we sat on Nyathi's roof and ate cereal and enjoyed the view. The road had a number of gravel sections, but it was pretty well maintained. We crossed a number of big rivers and stopped off to buy some bread at a lovely little resort just on the other side of Nisutlin River.
We reached Whitehorse at about 20h30. The city is named after the raging rapids on the Yukon River. Today, it is a surprisingly sophisticated town with running and cycling trails, play parks and the best shopping facilities in North Canada. We saw the SS. Klondike which was the sternwheeler which provided transportation up and down the river during the gold rush. We stocked up on food and drove north toward Dawson City.
There must have been big forest fires in the distance, because the air was heavy with smoke. There was no evidence of fires in the immediate vicinity, but we could smell it strongly. We found a nice big clearing to camp in and crawled into bed.