Rain and road trips don’t really get along. Driving becomes a bit of a pain as visibility is reduced and traffic slows down. Scenic views are lost to the blur, and everything becomes cold and drab. Depending on where you are, there may not be much to do…there are only so many gift shops one can wander through before they all feel the same. Camping isn’t much fun in the rain either.
I’m not a spontaneous person. I like having a plan. Rain soaks my well thought out road map, blurring the lines, forcing me to make things up as I go. In my mind, the perfect road trip is always sunny, but that never happens. Although I dislike rain, it can be good thing as it drives me towards experiences that I otherwise would have passed right by.
My time in Stewart, BC is a good example of a rainy day on the road that turned out for good. I thought I’d take some time here to tell the story.
I arrived in Stewart on a cloudy Friday. It had been raining on and off during the drive. I was a bit disappointed as I had really been looking forward to Stewart, and more specifically, the Salmon Glacier. According to my usual road trip routine, I went to the campground to get a site and set up the tent before doing any sight seeing. It looked like a nice spot, but the office had a back at 3pm sign on the door…so I decided to come back later. At this point, I was feeling a bit lost and disappointed. I didn’t want to explore this place on such a dreary day. I had a few extra days to take for rain days, but its hard to know when to use them. There is no rogers cell service in Stewart, so my usual planning mechanism was gone. I felt disconnected and for the moment that wasn’t a good feeling. So I went to the visitor center to get some information. I was told that the next few days were solid rain, so today was my best bet to see the Salmon Glacier…and there wasn’t much point in waiting around a few days, as there was no guarantee that it would clear up. My time at Stewart had just become a bit of a spontaneous whirlwind.
There was a chance that the clouds could clear a bit in the afternoon, so I decided to see the Salmon Glacier then. While waiting, I wandered the streets of Stewart. It is a small mining town of 500 people, north of Smithers, on the border of the Alaska Panhandle. It’s a quiet little town that hasn’t changed much over the years and feels like going back in time. Most of the old, wooden buildings are a hundred years old and somewhat colourfull, in a dull, run down sort of way. The afternoon came and I drove up to the glacier, which is another story for another time.
The original plan involved the possibility of camping at the glacier, but with rain on the forecast, that was cancelled as I didn’t want to drive the rough dirt road in the rain. As I arrived back in the Stewart, it started pouring rain. It was getting late and I really didn’t want to camp in my tent… During my earlier explorations, I had noticed the Ripley Creek Inn, which was located in a few of the older buildings and looked like a cool place to stay. Despite my late arrival, they did have one room available for the night. It was nice to sleep in the bed for the first time in 2 weeks, and the Inn was quite interesting. The inside was recently renovated, but the hallways and exterior had a feeling of history and remoteness to them.
I went out for dinner at the Bitter Creek Cafe, which was in another old building. The interior was all original, and looked like it hadn’t changed in many years. Old wooden floors, aged wood beams across the roof, interesting historical items in the corners, and black and white pictures all over the walls. Then I went food shopping since I was low on supplies. The grocery store was interesting, as there were many shelves that only had a few items on them, and others that were empty. This was a bit of a trend as I went further north.
The morning came, it was still raining, and there was nothing but rain on the forecast for the next 3 days. I asked about staying for another night at the Inn, but they were full. Everything was pointing to my time in Stewart being over, but I lingered. There was a magic to this place that I didn’t want to leave behind just yet. The hotel had given me a coupon for breakfast at the Toastworks Cafe. I’m not usually a breakfast guy, but with the rain falling outside, it was my best option. The toastworks was another old building full of old stuff and pictures. I sat down by the window with a cup of coffee and watched the traffic go by. It was a Saturday morning, and from the snippets of conversation I heard, I gather the place was full of locals. So here I was, in this old, historical mining town, way out in the middle of nowhere, drinking coffee, just passing the time. I’m not sure how long I sat there, but I had 3 cups of coffee….I really didn’t want to leave. It was just so calm and peaceful, yet alive and full of history and feeling.
I wandered through a few of the gift shops and talked with some locals, then spent some time on the boardwalk by the canal…which still felt old and weathered. The mountains were wreathed with clouds. All the while, it was softly raining. I left around noon.
My time in Stewart was filled with rain and clouds…I don’t think the sun poked through the clouds at all. Yet, my memories of Stewart are some of my favourite from the road trip. I don’t think I would have experienced it the same way if it had been filled with sunshine. I certainly wouldn’t have stayed at the Ripley Creek Inn, I wouldn’t have spent time relaxing with some coffee at the toastworks, and I probably wouldn’t have slowed down enough to really take in the magic.
Rainy days on the road don’t always turn out this well. Sometimes they are just trials, that seem to have no redeeming points. But other times, the rain is exactly what is needed. Life can be like this too. Sometimes we need our plans to be interrupted, so that we are forced to go in a different direction. I’m sure when it rains on the road or in life, that God has a plan and needed to stop us in our tracks, so that we could see the other fork in the road.