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  • Writer's pictureRobert Gidley

Perfect poutine

Aug 1, 2022 (Mon)

Today is a holiday here in Canada, so there’s little traffic on the Alaska Highway. Of course, there’s not much traffic any day on the Alaska Highway…

This day (the first Monday in August) used to be a “Civic Holiday,” where Canadians celebrated their local government. Last year, they government decided it would be better to declare this holiday “Emancipation Day” to mark the day the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 ended slavery in the British Empire in 1834.

Speaking of former slaves…

The Alaska Highway was built by the Army in 1942. Seems that everybody was kind of freaked out that the Japanese had not only walloped Pearl Harbor, but had also invaded two Aleutian Islands. The thinking was that the Japanese could invade Alaska (which—even today—has fewer residents than the Seattle area) and control the coastal waters.

If they controlled the coastal waters—no Alaska oil for the U.S., and lots of Alaska oil for Japan. At that time, using a boat was the only way to get from the “Outside” (lower 48 states) up to Alaska. What we need (the government decided) was a highway! Quick!

So they sent a bunch of Army troops up north and told them to build a highway FAST! Then we could get troops and equipment up to Alaska. (The oil part was handled by a separate project to build a pipeline, but that project didn’t work out so well.)

About 40% of the troops were black troops. The Army was pretty convinced at that point that black people were stupid and inept and couldn’t be trusted to know which end of the rifle to point at the enemy. (The smarter army folks also wondered if the black people—treated like second-class citizens in much of the U.S. might wonder about who the enemy really was.)

What the Army really proved was that if you took under-fed, under-schooled, illiterate people and gave them a test designed for educated, healthy, well-read people, they wouldn’t do so well.

So the Army figured if they put white officers in charge of black troops, they could probably figure out how to use a shovel and build a road. (In the event, the black troops turned out—of course—to be hard-working, smart troops who quickly learned to use heavy equipment and were gang-busters at road building.)

So this seems an entirely appropriate day to start our Journey north on the Alaska Highway.

10:30 am Pink Mountain

We’re ready to go, but Gini is on hold with BECU, trying to figure out why the automatic payments to our dental insurance company disappeared for four months (which the dental insurance company neglected to mention until there was a claim).

She’s been told it’s only a four minute hold.

12:00 North of Pink Mountain

Gini finally got through to somebody and is insisting that they stay on the line “Don’t put me on hold!” mostly because after an hour of listening to the hold music, she is ready to strangle somebody (and Robert is the closest target, so he’s all in favor of this strategy!).

Now that Gini has connected with a human being, we pull off the road. While there’s lots of cell signal up here, it varies from full strength to “No Signal” and it’s hard to predict. Since this spot has good signal, we’ll stay here

One of the many nice things about Harvey is that while all this is going on, Robert pops into the back and makes a snack, has a cup of coffee and reads for a while. He also reflects on a career as a Hold Music Writer, since he’s pretty sure he could do better than this insipid dreck.

1:00 pm Even more north of Pink Mountain

Gini finally got told that she should call back in a couple of days to see how they’re doing on this (this isn’t the first time she called—that was back in June).

“They better watch out, or I’m going to write a letter!” says Gini.

You, like Robert, may chuckle at how old-fashioned and quaint such an action is. You should know that Gini recently had an issue with USAA, wrote a letter to the President, and now the President’s assistant is calling back profusely apologizing and promising that someone will be flogged (well, not that last bit, but boy howdy somebody got chewed out!).

Beware the ire of old ladies who write letters!

1:00 pm Keeps getting more norther of Pink Mountain

(The reason we keep referencing Pink Mountain is there’s been exactly zero settlements since then. The town of Prophet River turned out to consist of a closed Shell station.

Rain, and lots of it. With the nice side effect of temperatures in the 60’s and it cleans the bugs off the windshield. There are a lot of bugs and they all seem drawn to our windshield.

Straight and rainy!

1:50 pm Mile 234

When the highway was built, the goal was to build it as fast as possible. The terrain consisted of two types of soil: perma-frost and swamp-like soil called “muskeg,” which was close to impossible to build on. The troops learned to spot where the muskeg was by noticing where the trees grew (some types of trees preferred the muskeg).

As a result, the road zigged and zagged a lot. Over the last many years, the road’s been straightened out (and boy, is it straight!). Five years ago (the 75th Anniversary of the building), the Canadians straightened out this stretch of highway, which originally had 132 sharp curves in 36 miles. After straightening, the entire highway was 35 miles shorter (!).

There’s a plaque here noting all this. It’s also a convenient place for us to stop and stretch our legs.

6:00 pm Fort Nelson


We stopped at one of the two RV parks in Fort Nelson, a small town of about 3,400 people. This RV park has a gift shop and a restaurant, so we choose to eat there.

And they have poutine! This is a dish that consists of French fries covered in cheese curds (which is like baby cheese—it hasn’t firmed up, yet) and then smothered in hot (sometimes spicy) gravy. The gravy melts the cheese over the fries. You can get meat tossed into the mix (Robert got chicken).

It’s a little surprising that poutine hasn’t caught on in the U.S., but it’s probably because you really can’t eat it with your fingers (what with the hot gravy and melted cheese and all). But it’s got fat and carbs and melted cheese and no wonder that Robert enjoys it.

Gini’s verdict: “I like poutine, but not in the quantity that they serve it—enough for four people.”

Genuine Canadian poutine with chicken

By the numbers

“God built the universe on numbers.” (Pythagoras)

Miles traveled so far: 1,090

Estimated Percentage of total road miles: 32%

Days so far: 8 days

Estimated Percentage of total road days: 26%

Gini & Robert

Harvey Staff

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