Money is a little tight at the end of the trip – as it should be, for if we were coming home flush with cash then something would be wrong with the universe. There isn’t much to spend money on in Canada and we don’t need much really. We are just not living in the style we had become accustomed to in Peru and there is so much we have missed while we were gone. The urge to spend is strong and we have to fight it as we walk through massive, well-stocked Canadian grocery stores and gaze at the frozen food. There is no frozen food in the rest of Americas but here, in Canada and the USA, people have made every conceivable kind of food for you and then frozen it in little dishes that you only need to microwave. In Peru, you could buy microwaves on lay away, $4 usd a month forEVER. Then there is the snack aisle. And the bakery – not a drop of manjar anywhere, no figs, no crystallized fruit baked into manjar-iced bread. Some things, like the salad dressing aisle, just plain overwhelm us and we have to turn around. We want to buy every western thing we have not had and several of them, some kind of hoarding issue, can’t really explain it.
But we cannot afford to do that. We have been living pretty basically for a long time, how hard can it be? The United Nations international standard for extreme poverty is living under $1.08 a day. We have tried to live like this in Canada and have failed every single day, just including food. $1.08 is really hard to live on. But it is interesting to try and really gives you a good perspective on cost of food. Much harder here in North America. It seems like you can only do this if you live only on the cheapest ramen – although you would think that we would have a better chance with 8 people pooling their money.
We are hoping to make it all the way to Whitehorse by Friday. Friday is payday so then we can make it the rest of the way to Alaska. We have a tight budget because we don’t know how much diesel will be in some of the more remote places and the van + camper gets about 10 miles to the gallon. So every 10 miles costs us $5 or more. We had some necessary (but expensive) repairs in Yakima and we lost two tires which we needed to replace so we were overbudget for our Friday arrival in Whitehorse. It looked like we might be short by $60, depending on the price of gas. We needed to get back in time to get the kids to 4H camp, the ONLY deadline we had to meet.
Two days ago, we camped at a snowmachine trail head and hiked up a trail. There was a creek that flowed close to the path and and at one point, the kids were throwing rocks into it and trying to build a rock bridge across it (for some reason, this is a favorite DeCorso child stream activity, can’t explain that). Max reached into the stream to better position a rock and found a wallet. It was soaking wet and muddy and buried under leaves but it was complete and intact, with all the identification and cards and $65. The kids were very excited about this and looked all through the wallet, noting the guy had a Safeway card and later, when we drove by the Best Western in Grande Cache, Sylvia pointed out that the man must have stayed there, as there was a Best Western card in the wallet. We took the wallet to the Mounties in Valemount, right before the border with Alberta. The Mounty took down all of Max’s information, noting the location of the wallet and telling Max that if no one claimed the wallet in 90 days, the wallet would be mailed to Max. When we left the station, there was some discussion about maybe the guy wouldn’t claim the wallet and then Max would get $65! Mark and I pointed out that, while getting the wallet back would be cool, the guy getting his wallet back after so much time with everything in it was far cooler.
The next day, we were driving down the highway in Alberta in near Jasper National Park when we passed a Volkswagon Camper Van with Chilean license plates and a sign on the back that said Patagonia to Alaska – so of course, we had to stop. Stopping is no small thing for us, as in this situation, we had to find a place to turn around. The VW was indeed heading to Alaska from Chile and while we talked to the couple driving, it became clear they did not have and had never heard of the Mile Post. Without even thinking about, Mark and I offered them our Mile Post at the same time. Now our Mile Post has been there, done that in a big way. It was missing it’s cover and the pullout map and looked like it had traveled to Patagonia, sailed across two seas and was now on its 6th trip up the Alaska Highway. We were not offering them anything new or fancy but the Mile Post is kind of essential and as soon as we returned to the van, we both wondered if we would need the Mile Post now that we had given ours away.
The kids were all like you gave away our Mile Post? What if we need it? And we were all like come on, we have driven to Alaska 6 times. To which the kids replied yeah, but not on the Bighorn Highway! And we could only say that it was the right thing to do at the time, we both felt that, and we would be fine. Playing it forward! Something we had tried to do as much as possible on this trip. This was accompanied by some eye rolling.
The next day, we spent the night in Grande Prairie and got a late start. We didn’t leave until about 4pm and we were only headed to Fort Saint John, which is about 100 miles up the road. We stopped to get gas and a man wished Mark Happy Father’s Day! as all 6 kids filed out of the van for a bathroom break. Mark chatted with the man for awhile, which is not new. Alaska plates always = questions and most people we meet seem to be chatty. The man asked us where we were heading that night and Mark said FSJ. We knew FSJ pretty well, as we had broken down here in 2011 on the return home of Big Trip I and had to wait a week for a starter to arrive. We had a camping spot in mind — I mean, a parking overnight spot. The man said he lived in FSJ so maybe he would see us there.
We left and headed on down the road. We got a flat tire and Mark had to change it, which makes me nervous in spite of the mandatory South American Safety Triangle and flares. We had to stop for another bathroom break at Dawson Creek, the start of the Alaska Highway. We arrived in FSJ and were just pulling into the camping spot when the man from the gas station showed up in his pick up truck. “Follow me!” he said. “I have the perfect place for you to camp.” He went on to sort of explain that he travels for his job and he had a reservation in Grande Prairie but decided to drive home and he still had the credit for his job so he used it at a hotel here in FSJ for us. He had the keys, he already checked us in, there was plenty of space to park the camper, he told them we had 6 kids — we just needed to follow him. So we did. And here we are, in a fine hotel in FSJ with a stocked kitchen and two bedrooms and cable tv and wireless. He must have been waiting for us for over an hour. And that was that, no strings attached, just pure niceness, a sincerely nice thing to do.
That man made our night and we always remember it.
And that is my post on karma. It came nicely illustrated and in a way even a kindergartner can understand.