A KID ON THE CARIBOU TRAIL
That's our Kent with the coonskin cap,
enjoying the Canadian wilderness with his
Mom and his brother. If he doesn't look too
happy, perhaps he just visited the VERY
cold outhouse behind the log cabin.
You don't need luxuries
to have a real good time
By KENT HOLSATHER
Spending two weeks in the summer of 1955 crammed into a one room log cabin with six people and no running water was the best vacation of my life. Now thats a pretty bold statement when you consider the fact that Ive been to Europe, Disney World, Las Vegas and everywhere in between.
That summer was the year that I never took off my Davy Crocket coonskin cap, dinner and bed excluded. Our backyard was a smallish version of the wilds of Tennessee and I was a 5-year-old spitting image of Fess Parker looking for renegades and grinning down "b'ars"from our back porch to the alley.
My parents had put together plans to drive to a ranch in the Canadian province of British Columbia for a fishing trip that summer and for the first time, I was deemed old enough to go along. Oh, the joy!---and the sorrow. The joy was the fact that I would be staying in the real woods and living in a real log cabin. The sorrow was the prospect of putting six people in our Chrysler for a 300 mile journey over some of the most winding and muddy roads on Earth--and I had a real problem with car sickness in those days.
The seating arrangement must have been designed to keep me as uncomfortable as possible. I was wedged in the back between my grandparents. My grandfather was a muscular WW I Marine, who took up some serious room, but my grandmother was in a class all her own. She was raised from sturdy German stock and completely overshadowed her husband in height and width. I felt like the filling in an Oreo cookie.
Horse Lake, British Columbia was circled on my dads map as we pulled out of Bellingham, Washington, well before dawn and it was still dark when we crossed the border at Sumas, Washington. We stopped at Hope, B.C. They would film thefirst "Rambo" movie, "First Blood," there over 20 years later. It was time for breakfast and a chance to stretch our legs.
The fact that sitting in a restaurant would take away time on the road was not lost on my dad and he encouraged everyone to limit the number of chews between swallows. We were back on the road in 30 minutes and heading up the majestic Frazier River Canyon.
Two hours and a hundred hairpin curves later, we found ourselves in Cache Creek. This town was the jumping off spot to the wild frontier. Most travelers turned east for Alberta, but we would continue north on the Caribou highway.
The hours rolled on as we passed old missionary churches and fields of Indian Paint Brush. Traffic was sparse and at times we saw no one for miles at a stretch.
Established in the early 1860s as the Gold Rush Trail, the Caribou Highway had been a long and almost impassible wagon road at one time. Several rest stations had sprung up along its length to give travelers a place to hang their hats for the night. Stops were set at certain mile posts and our destination was a small community called 100 Mile House.
After some time, a wide spot in the road appeared in front of us and dad pulled off the road to fill up on gas at the first station wed seen in miles. The attendant came running out as dad rolled down the window.
Filler up, sir?
Yah, regular. Say, how far is it to 100 Mile House?
The man leaned down and looked in. This is it.
My dad took a quick visual survey of the town.
Not too big a place, is it?
We got food, gas, water and were starting to get some television up here, so its not too bad.
The mans voice rang with pride as he touted the virtues of rural living while he explained directions to Horse Lake, a recital that he must have given dozens of times to dusty city slickers.
He pointed to a gravel road that ran off to our right.
The Kolb ranch is a few miles that way. You cant miss it; its the only fishing resort on this end of Horse Lake.
Dad cranked up the Chrysler and we were off.
The road seemed to twist and dip endlessly as I fought back the urge to unload my stomach contents on the back seat. Where was the darn lake?
There it is, off to the left!
My mom was the first to spot the ranch nestled several hundred yards below us. The road seemed to almost corkscrew down the hill to the lake as dad put the Chrysler in low range for the steep descent. We bumped along the washboard road until it leveled out along the lake and dead-ended in front of a large log ranch house with a huge rock chimney. This was way cool and a whole lot better than anything in my backyard.
My dad stopped our car near the front door as a dust cloud that had been following us rolled over the Chrysler like a wave of water. It became incredibly quiet for a moment until the front door burst open and a woman in a potato sack dress and apron strode toward us.
You folks the Holsather party?
My dad was already talking as he got out of the car and walked towards her and I strained to listen as they mumbled and gestured toward a group of log cabins that lined the lake.
After some time had passed, my dad got back into the car and we bounced down a root-infested path that led to a cabin that was nestled closest to the lake.
The place looked like it had been transported right out of the 1800s and dropped right smack in the middle of the Canadian wilderness. It was made of logs with mud jammed between the joints and a rock chimney that rose precariously along its north wall. I was in 7th heaven but my mom was dwelling at a somewhat lower celestial plane.
The boxy little domicile did not quite live up to the rendering that graced the cover of the glossy brochure that my mom had packed in her purse. The cheerful, large and tidy cabin on the front page had somehow diminshed in size and regressed in terms of cheerfulness and tidiness.
My brother and I proceded to bail out of the car and raced each other to the doorway. He had me by six years and half a dozen steps so it was no surprise that he would be the first to encounter several chickens as they rushed from the cabin, nearly trampling him with their little chicken feet.
My mother began to sob quietly.
Wow was all I could say as we wedged through the doorway and found ourselves staring at a room quite removed from the ones I was accustomed to back home.
There was a kitchen sink with no faucet, three old iron beds, a large table with an oilcloth spread over it and several lanterns that dangled from the open beam ceiling. It became painfully obvious that we would be living without electricity and indoor plumbing; my mother was still sobbing.
My brother and I laid claim to the nearest bed and we ran back to the car to get our sleeping bags. My parents spent a few minutes alone as my dad attempted to reassure my mom that things would be fine after we got settled in. I dont know if she really bought it but she somehow put her reservations aside for the next two weeks and appeared to actually enjoy the trip--after a fashion.
My grandparents were the least affected by our situation since they had actually lived like that when they were younger.
That evening when everyone had settled in, we gathered at the table and played Old Maid by the light of a lantern. A blanket of heat enveloped us from the fire place and our shadows danced along the walls. Instead of bottles, we drank pop from cans for the first time in our lives, an early brand called Can O Pop I dont remember if it was good but it was certainly a novelty.
The days passed quickly as I found things to occupy my time at the lake. The lady who owned the place invited me into her kitchen where she showed me how to make homemade bread. She made a dozen loaves at a time and made sure that I took one back to the cabin every morning. Boy, was I popular,
The men (except for me) spent most of the days out on the water in search of the elusive Kokonee trout while I tooled around the camp looking for arrowheads.
After about a week into our stay, it started to rain--and rain--and rain. I had wondered where all the moss came from. We spent most of our remaining days in the cabin playing cards and Monopoly. At night, my brother would read comics to me while we huddled in our sleeping bags.
Time passed rapidly and before I knew it, we were packed and headed for home. Squeezed into the backseat for the long ride to come, I had time to reflect on the many lessons I learned on that trip, some of which are useful to me today.
Lesson #1: You can fall into a lake fully clothed and survive; I did
Lesson #2: Outhouses can be really cold at night.
Lesson #3: Grownups will steal your money at Monopoly when youre not looking.
Lesson #4: Rabbits dont care if its a carrot or the finger youre feeding them with.
Lesson #5: Fresh baked bread beats anything you get at the store.
Lesson #6: Indian arrowheads are harder to find than diamonds.
Lesson #7: Strawberry milkshakes, hamburgers and twisty roads dont mix, but they blend nicely with plaid car upholstery.
Lesson #8: This time is more precious than you realize and it will only become more so as the years flow by.
©2006 by Kent Holsather. The photo is from the Holsather family collection. All rights reserved. This column first posted Sept. 25, 2006.
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