For those who missed my introduction to this story last week, we had been several days getting our outfit to the trailhead. We had a small pickup which towed the wagon from home and the stock truck with five horses on board.
Part of the holiday aspect of this working holiday was for the kids to be able to ride along on their three horses while the main team of work horses were to pull the wagon.
Now not every farm wagon tows easily, so we borrowed a homebuilt wagon from a neighbour who also worked with heavy horses. Chief Roger Jimmy of Kluskus had advised that we take a “farm wagon.”
That was good advice, but getting the wagon the 125 miles to the trailhead was important and this borrowed wagon was road worthy on the highway — or so we thought. It was not to make the trip without a couple of breakdowns (busts).
We mounted an old car seat on the front of the deck of this homebuilt hay wagon for comfort of the driver and the main cook (my partner) and “to be beneficiary” of this holiday. The trail was narrower than I had imagined and full of tight curves, making it necessary to trim the deck of the wagon with the chainsaw to make it around some corners.
The tall ends of a hay wagon tilt a long way when the wagon is on a slope. I must reiterate that this was a wagon built for highway travel and field work, not traversing the rugged pine forest and swampy valleys.
Chief Jimmy thanked me for marking all the rocks (with the steel undercarriage and axles) that would need to be taken out with a backhoe to make the wagon road to his community more friendly to whatever equipment and vehicles were to be used for provisioning the community rebuild and to improve the comfort of travelers on a daily and weekly basis.
Once the truck was fitted with a “newer” engine we continued by road from Quesnel to Mountain house some distance past Nazko.
Off-loading gear from the highway outfit onto the horse outfit took us to near the end of the day but with summer daylight, it was possible for us to at least get a start. One knows the saying about starting on this kind of adventure that says if you only go a few miles at least you have a start and are proofing your outfit for the rest of the trip.
To the chagrin of the cook (and mother of our children), we had a delay back in Quesnel when our guide asked how many guns we had, since it was the time of year the Grizzlies would be fishing for Spring salmon in the creeks and small rivers we would be following and crossing. My one gun was not enough. In an emergency there is always the risk of a gun jamming.
As it turned out, we were not to let the children or women, walk off alone into the woods for any reason.
As dark descended on this five-horse outfit, we found a place to camp. One problem we faced was the lack of grass under the higher elevation pine forest. We knew enough have a few hay bales for the horses.
Unfortunately, a new (warm) sleeping bag was lost out of the wagon back before we got to the trailhead at Mountain House. This was for the comfort of the cook who was to be on “holiday” too.
It did not help that comfort when we discovered that the air mattress for this same comfort had a leak in it. So what is wrong with smelly, sweaty saddle blankets for a mattress along with a little hay. We set up camp in the rain which was nearly snow.
Cheekily, I had asked my partner, the cook, whether she might not rather have been on a trip to Hawaii. As we will see next week the generosity, the welcome and the hosting of our outfit on this visit to Kluskus country became entirely rewarding.
David Zirnhelt is a rancher and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at TRU.