After quite the long day in Banff and spending several hours in the late evening figuring out our travel plans, Jess and I were exhausted. Our initial plan was to explore a bit of Jasper, including seeing some of the glaciers, before moving onward, but we were so tired that we decided to take it easy in the morning. We changed the plan to take Jess’s Jeep into town (leaving the U-haul truck on the hotel’s grounds), grab breakfast, do a bit of leisurely shopping, and then head out to Grande Prairie. We slept in, took our time getting ready, I took Remi out for a short walk, and loaded up Jess’s Jeep.
That’s where trouble started.
As we got ready to leave, Jess’s Jeep suddenly stopped working. Jess had used her automatic car starter to allow it to warm up due to the crisp morning air (there was even frost on the ground), but as she did so, a bunch of warning lights on her dashboard lit up. Then Jess tried to get in to her car to check it out, but her keyless entry locks wouldn’t unlock. So then we were stuck with a Jeep that was running but we couldn’t get into to turn it off. Jess and I were both very confused – the Jeep was brand spankin’ new and shouldn’t have had mechanical issues.
Jess used her emergency key to unlock the driver’s door and managed to shut down the Jeep. She made some phone calls, and although one mechanic she talked to suspected it was simply a loose wire somewhere that wouldn’t affect the engine/driving, we all agreed that it was best to not drive the Jeep until we knew for sure what was wrong with it. This would be especially true from now on since the roads we’d be taking were so isolated. We didn’t have time to stop at a dealership to get it checked out, so a proper assessment would have to wait until Jess got to Whitehorse. Jess was understandably upset and frustrated.
With a faulty Jeep, we decided to load it back onto the U-haul’s trailer. One of our hotel staff members graciously helped us out, which was great because one of the chains was giving us troubles and required some acrobatics under the trailer to get it hooked on tight enough. Once the Jeep was secured on the trailer, we thanked the hotel staffer, then left for town.
We stopped at a restaurant and grabbed breakfast – French toast topped with fruit for the both of us. We used the downtime to chat a bit, which was needed as Jess was both upset about her Jeep as well as anxious about the next few days where she’d be driving alone on an isolated highway with a broken Jeep. I did my best to reassure her, although I knew that if I were in her situation, I probably wouldn’t be faring much better, either. As for me, I was rather bummed out that I wouldn’t be able to make it to Whitehorse as I had hoped. Instead, I’d be going back home tomorrow, flying out of Grande Prairie.
To help ourselves feel better, we decided on doing some good old fashioned retail therapy. I wanted to grab some last minute souvenirs while Jess wanted to try to find a salt lamp. We stopped at a few stores, notably a clothing store where I bought a pair of leather gloves (I needed a new quality pair, as the last couple of ones I had bought were cheap and ripped easily) and Jess bought a necklace. In some other stores, I picked up some souvenirs for my nephews back home and Jess found her salt lamp.
We went back to the truck and packed away our things, then hopped in and drove off. We didn’t make it far before we spotted some people pulled over, as there was a small herd of deer (or caribou? I seriously can’t tell the difference) on the side of the road. We stopped as well for photos.
I practically had to drag Jess away after she spent some time taking pictures. I was eager to keep moving as I didn’t want to be out driving too late. As I said, the highways from here would get increasingly isolated and rough, and the U-haul was so big and heavy that it wasn’t the most nimble or fast vehicle out there.
Anyway, after having a good breakfast (brunch?), retail therapy, and some nice pictures of some deer, we were in a much better mood than how we started out the day. We got to chatting about random things, and we ended up lamenting about how we saw plenty of warning signs about bighorn sheep but we had yet to see even one.
Cue us rounding a bend and seeing a herd of bighorn sheep crossing the highway! A few other cars had also stopped to take photos. The sheep actually didn’t seem to pay us any mind and took their time crossing the road. It gave us lots of opportunity to snap photos. Still, it was ruined when someone’s dog got away from them and chased the sheep up a steep ridge. As much as it sucked to not be able to take more pictures, I felt even worse for the owners of the dog, which had climbed up the ridge but couldn’t find a way back down. As there wasn’t anything we could do, we left while the owner was trying the coax the dog down.
We kept driving and eventually turned off the nice Highway 16 to the rather rugged Highway 40. Well, ok, Highway 40 wasn’t so bad, but it was definitely smaller and used more by big tractor trailers and logging trucks than personal vehicles. It also saw us enter vast forested space and hilly terrain, which, again, the U-haul struggled with. It was actually a really boring drive. We did notice, though, that the U-haul’s brakes were starting to struggle with the steep descents. It was tough trying to balance the need to control the truck’s speed with using the noticeably declining brakes.
We stopped briefly at Grande Cache for gas and snacks, then kept going…and going…and going.
Finally, we reached Grande Prairie in the late afternoon. We found our hotel pretty easily and its parking lot was quite empty, making it easy for us to find a good parking spot (or rather, several spots). We checked in and got to our room, relishing in being able to lie down on comfortable beds.
Fun fact: one of our former co-workers actually lived and worked in Grande Prairie for a couple of years. So, we talked to her and got a restaurant recommendation, as we wanted to go out, eat a good meal, and maybe have a beer each as it was going to be our last meal together. She told us of a good pub nearby.
Anyway, we ate, had our drinks, and returned to our hotel, feeling pretty tired. I spent some time organizing and packing all my things, as my flight out was really early. And then we slept.
Travel Path: Jasper > Grande Cache > Grande Prairie
Distance Covered: 396 km
Distance to Whitehorse: 1,536 km