For about 20 years, my uncle owned Ruth Lake Lodge, an off-road fishing place, rural and inconvenient. It had four spartan cabins and a warm kitchen in the main building, which was always under construction. Despite my relatives’ warm hospitality, I didn’t enjoy our visits much, as we sometimes had to camp out or sleep under bare roof beams in some half-built room.
Also, the Lodge was difficult to get to. Set half-a-mile off Forest Grove Road, just north of tiny 100 Mile House, the lodge’s only vehicle access was a hand-hewn path through the bush, a path barely wide enough for one car. It was a veritable obstacle course.
One spring stands out. There we sat, a family of four, in our low-slung Rambler Rebel, halfway down Forest Grove Road, with no habitation in sight, just an endless line of birch and alder lining the gravel road to the far horizon. Cowboy country lay beyond, sprawling ranches rife with cattle. Roads were dusty in summer but muddy at spring breakup. In short, we were 400 miles north of Vancouver in the heart of BC’s Cariboo region.
Luckily – score one for us – we had found the turn-off to my uncle’s property, which was always difficult to spot. Now all we had to do was hit a couple of planks and squeeze our two-door over a muddy trench and through a small gap in the brush. No small wonder we hesitated.
“Looks fine!” said Dad, putting on a good face.
“Yes!” agreed Mom. “He’s even put some boards down to cover the mud.”
In the back seat, my younger brother and I exchanged looks.
Dad cranked the wheel left and eased the car onto the first muddy plank. There was a loud squooshing sound. I held my breath. Would we get the second wheel onto the other plank? We did, barely. The boards knocked crazily, and I had visions of sinking into a mucky bog.
My father hunched over the dash as he inched over the boards and into unknown territory. I gripped my door handle and saw my brother do the same. This was edge-of-the-seat stuff.
Squelch went the tires agaipn, the brown ooze kissing our mud flaps. Any moment now we’d be axle-dee, I figured. But somehow we inched along, creeping and crawling until the cow path grew hard beneath us.
Our troubles were far from over, however. In counterpoint to the mud behind us, the trail itself was hard and rocky. The car pitched like a theme park jalopy as we picked our way along, the speedometer barely registering.
The convex surface wound through the brush, threatening to high-centre us at every moment. Branches scraped the windows while huge boulders nestled into our whitewalls. We heard hubcaps scraping on stone. Puddles came and went, both large and small. Potholes abounded, and at times, the back seat seemed higher than the front.
Still, we pressed on. As I lurched left and right, I remember wondering why anyone would buy a fishing lodge with such poor road access. My uncle had four children, any one of whom might lop off a foot or a finger chopping firewood. Had he not thought of this?
It was death by a thousand cuts for our poor, low-slung Rambler. Without our rolled-up windows, those branches could have taken our eyes out.Still, we persevered. When we finally limped through the last pothole and bounced over the last sharp boulder, the lodge was a welcome sight indeed. My father threw the Rambler into park and sat for a minute in the makeshift parking area. None of the rest of us moved. We just sat there.
After a minute, we saw my uncle striding towards us from the lake, surrounded by dogs and full of his usual good humour. It always surprised me to see this shorter version of my father.
“‘Hello!” he cried as we eased ourselves out of the car and found our footing. “We’ve been waiting for you!”
“Sorry we’re late,” grinned Dad. “We ran into a bit of traffic through Hundred Mile.”
“Well, no matter. You’re here now. C’mon in and see the family.”
He stopped halfway up the stairs and turned suddenly toward us.
“Oh, by the way!” he said. “How did you like my road improvements?”