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Reports

Saturday, 15 March 2003
Barkerville --> Prince George, BC, Canada

I met up with Thomas Schoen again in the downstairs kitchen of the St George Hotel this morning. I was ready, packed and ready to go again. We had another omelette breakfast with coffee and Thomas prepared the hotel for its closing again. The hotel won’t be officially in a few months or so, so everything had to be disconnected again and water drains had to be turned off.
Thomas was going back home near Williams Lake again and would drop me off in Quesnel, 90km through the valley from Barkerville. At a junction in Quesnel I thanked him for his hospitality and taking me around for the last few days.

It was ready to stick up my thumb again as I had to go to Prince George. However it was only some 100km up north, it took me quite a few hours to reach my destination.

The first person who gave me a lift was a 19-year-old guy who was on his way from Penticton (way down south and he has been driving since 2am this morning) to Prince George. He kept himself awake by drinking lots of beers.

I was sitting in his pick up truck that had this strong scent of alcohol and I wasn’t really feeling very comfortable. At the first gas station along the highway I requested to be dropped off again. The driver totally understood me and even said: “Sorry about me being this drunk, dude. Happy travels!” and he drove off again.

At the gas station in the small town Hixon I tried to catch another lift.

An older man approached me, had a chat with me and offered me a ride in his car with his two dogs. But he also asked me if I had any problems with him smoking pot in the car. As I am used to lots of ways of life these days (believe me, I don’t publicly write about it, but many Canadians like to smoke this substance!), I got into his car with my packs.

I didn’t know that he was first going to cut his crop in the car, have enormous conversations about life and happiness (the drug helped him to be less depressive, he said), roll his joint and then finally start the engine. Fifteen minutes later we finally drove on the highway.

You can understand that I arrived in Prince George some one hour later and that my driver was one of the happiest people in the world. I didn’t mind him smoking his thing and just hoped the scent did not get into my clothes too much. What would my next hosts think of me?

The man dropped me off at one of the superstores in Prince George. Here I called my host Bob Rutherford who had invited me in this town, at a payphone of the store.

Thanks to the uncooperative attitude of the cell phone provider Telus in Canada, the international roaming possibilities I have with my cell phone from The Netherlands are of no use at all in remote areas like I am in now. Thankfully I always carry a few coins with me from earlier donations.

Bob’s wife Karen was just driving through town and could pick me up. She was actually the person that filled out the form on this website after Bob had heard about me on CBC’s That Saturday Show last weekend.

Karen works in the Canadian tax industry and Bob works as a supervisor at the local paper and pulp mill in Prince George. They were happy to invite me over. “I just filled out the form and was surprised that you contacted us to stay in Prince George.”

At their unpresumptuous two-floored house just outside of town I was pretty soon feeling very much at home. I was offered their daughter Anna’s bedroom in the basement and even got my own bathroom. Anna is currently living on her own with a friend of hers, but they would join us for dinner this night.

The house is currently under heavy construction. Bob was using his free days to cut wood and paint walls. As I had not seen much of Prince George, he was keen to take me out for a ride around town. “I have been stuck inside too much the last days, so it will do me good too,” he said.

While having comfy conversations in the car, Bob drove me to the top of Cranbrook Hill, where I looked out of the small town of Prince George (population 70,000). It was already clear to me that the main industry in this town did not differ much with other towns in the Cariboo region. It’s all about logging, lumber and pulp and paper production.

And as Bob works at the pulp and paper mill in town and I had never seen a paper or pulp mill from the inside (mostly only smelled it from the outside), I asked him if he could show me around at his work spot.

He was quite proud to take me to the factory grounds and show me around, after we did some quick groceries at the commercial strip in town. And it is very interesting to finally see how paper is made.

Almost everybody knows that paper is made of wood and of recycled paper materials, but how does it actually get produced? With protective gear we walked around in the factory complex. Bob showed me how it al starts with the wood chips that arrive by train from the saw mills. The wood chips get treated with very hot lime stone chemicals (prepared and produced and recycled at the same factory) and that makes all the wood fibres separate from each other. What’s left of it is that chunky porridge of paper fibres.

Then that gets cleaned and bleached on request it gets sprayed on this big carpet that takes the fibres through the paper machine. What comes out of that is a thin layer of wet paper, which get dried in giant tumble dryers and it all ends up on a big roll of paper. That’s all!

And if you wonder why paper and pulp mills always stink, then it is the process where the hot lime stone chemicals are added to the wood chips. Fortunately, in Prince George, the exhausts in the air don’t contain many chemicals any more and most of it is the very natural but concentrated smell of cut wood chips.

It was very interesting to finally see the entire process of paper production and how pulp stacks were made for paper productions elsewhere on our world.

And we can complain about the smell and environmental issues around the mills, but without them you won’t be writing down anything anymore, or read a newspaper.

We got home around sunset and I met up with their cheerful 21-year-old daughter Anna. She and her roommate Sarah and two friends of the family joined us for dinner tonight. Anna is at the moment the assistant manager at the interior design store in town. “I just needed the job for the money, but they kept promoting me!” In May this year she is going to start a study in interior designing at the University of Victoria on Vancouver Island.

And Karen had spent lots of time in the kitchen tonight. She wasn’t only preparing tonight’s dinner, but also working on the cabbage rolls for tomorrow night (“They taste much better one day later”), and also working on some dinners they will be taking with them on their ski vacation next week. “Fortunately we just love to prepare food in this house,” she said.

Dinner with the Rutherfords and visiting friends ended up quite amusing when Bob took along a bottle of absinth to the table. I don’t know if you know absinth, but it is a liquor with 75% alcohol. It had to be drunk in this special way. First Bob pours a shooter glass of absinth on a tea spoon, drops a sugar cube on it and light it all. Then, when after half a minute the sugar starts the melt and aromatize, he mixes it all in another glass, together with a shooter glass of water. And this is the drink that needs to be passed around the table.

So you can understand we were become quite loose and relaxed after a few of these drinks.

Then the question came: “Ramon do you want to come along with us and go out in Prince George?” Anna asked me.

It sounded great to me and Bob and Karen we pleased to let me go. The only thing was that I rather stay another day if this day ends up with a party in a pub. I just didn’t see myself hitchhiking along the road the next morning at 7am (and I have quite a distance to cover for my next trip!).

“You are welcome to stay another day,” Karen said blissfully and she even reached out her hand. I already enjoyed the family very much and it didn’t take me anymore decision-making about what to do.

“I only have to call my tomorrow’s hostess, to ask her if it’s okay if I make it to her place on Monday, instead of Sunday.” I made a phone call to my next hostess and she could totally understand my position. “Have fun! See you on Monday!”

And there I was clear for a night out. Anna and Sarah had taken a few friends of them with us to a place called The Generator and all together we enjoyed it all very much on this Saturday night out.

The Generator is one of the two places in Prince George that try to offer some entertainment with live music and a dance floor for young adults. Tonight a band named Unit 731 was playing popular rock covers. They were very good and amusing and I just loved to watch people in places like these too.

Heck, there were even real cowboys on that dance floor! It was only such a pity that the deejay there does not seem to take his job very serious. The dance music he played between the band’s performances was crap and could have been so much better to create a real party atmosphere! But here you just read another deejay’s grievance...

We danced and we hung around and had a few drinks, but didn’t make it that late tonight. Around 2 o’clock this night my two clubbing hostess said goodbye to the rest of the funky bunch and we drove back home again. It was just getting too crowded inside and with lots of big guys with beers behaving aggressively (cowboy style?), it was time to call it the end.

Luckily I can now sleep in tomorrow, haha.

Good night Prince George!

Ramon