We left before 8am with the big flat bed trailer hooked up to Ray’s truck on a 2 hour trip to Grande Prairie, the regional capital, to collect a load of hay. Ray had told us that he needed help as there was no power or mechanisation at the barn. It was another beautiful day with the sun streaming across the wooded hill tops. We passed through Cache and beyond the turning to Sulphur Gates into new territory for us. We had previously observed a strange looking mountain face in the distance but were now driving right past a massive open cast mine on one side of the road with all the works on the other including the power station and also some deep shafts as well. This massive scar on the landscape is one of the main industries in the area. Combined with the much more discrete oil and gas wells they serve to make Alberta the most affluent state in Canada. Coupled with the lowest provincial tax on top of the national tax, the residents enjoy some of the highest standards of living in this country. They also have some of the best scenery!
Although we were quite early it appeared to be after breakfast for the wildlife, reflected by the lack of feeding on the grass verges. In fact, we actually saw some workmen! Along a fairly long stretch of the road a pipeline was clearly visible in the ditch. This transpired to be the water for the ever-contentious fracking processes. Even here, where it is fairly well established, there is still a lot of controversy. It has been banned in Nova Scotia so many of their workers have moved to Grande Prairie which has been renamed the capital of NS. Apparently the demand for the replacement water is playing havoc with water supplies as well as disrupting the water table. However, with a large proportion of people working in the power industry, including Rory, it is a very hot topic of conversation and one in which we are not in a position to voice an opinion, just ask questions.
Away from the scar of the mine the scenery returned to the green hills along the side of the Smokey River. The hills gradually diminish in height as we head north on what is deemed to be the scenic route to Alaska for Americans in their massive recreation vehicles. These are, consistently, the size of a bus or coach, frequently trailing a salon car or Jeep. Despite their size, no additional HGV type of license is required, unless they have air brakes, many don’t. Despite the overall lack of wildlife I do spot a large animal grazing the lower leaves of the roadside trees; definitely deer-like but larger and darker brown. Ray told us it was probably an Elk! We are doing very well in clocking up our sightings of Canada’s indigenous wildlife, just a few more of the rarer, less welcome to go.
We pulled into a lot on the south side of town and met Don who has the precious hay. He lead us to his barn and despite Ray expertly backing up the truck and trailer (he used to haul logs in winter) there was still a distance to throw the bales from the barn. Roger and Don starting chucking these 85lb lumps onto the trailer, I’d drag them to the end where Ray would stack them. We didn’t start until gone 10am and the sun beat down on us all through the process. Within the foetid air of the barn even Roger had started to turn rather pink and sweaty. Don, considerably older, took frequent brakes but the work rate was quite high for the conditions. I soon became an encumbrance as the load was progressing towards the rear of the trailer and therefore there was little need for me to drag. I benefited from the lull, Ray and Don were able to use a technique honed from years of experience but poor Roger had all the work to do, including extracting his leg from its intermittent disappearance down holes between bales. Eventually the load was complete. It took a while to tether down adequately and made me wonder at how secure are these very high loads of hay that you see on the roads but Ray wasn’t going to take any risks. After several counts and some negotiation it was determined that 173 bales had been taken and a price agreed. That should last about 2 weeks! Despite Don’s assertion that rain was on its way, given that there were some dark clouds to the north, the whole job was undertaken in blazing sun for 2 hours! Just slightly dehydrated then.
Ray pulled in to a lovely little rest area on the way back to check the ropes. There was a man made lake from digging out the soil to shore up the banks at the side of the road, I forget what he called it but they are quite common. I took the opportunity to use the rest rooms and had my first experience of using a bullet ridden toilet! I can assure you that a metal door offers much more protection than bricks and mortar! I can only assume that the shooter was at the very beginning of their career if they chose a huge immobile target. Guns are common place here; there is a rifle in our boiler cupboard and the ammo is on top of the fridge! I was more than a little surprised and distressed to hear that you can get ‘tickets’ to shoot sheep here! That seemed very unfair and as easy as firing at a public toilet. I explained to our hosts that sheep were a commercial flock and shooting one would not only be extremely cruel but it wouldn’t give one any kudos on the hunter scale. Sheep here are very different. They are wild and elusive, staying out of the way of humans up in the mountains. They are not much bigger than ours but much more wily and have huge curled horns, hence the name ‘big horns’. I doubt we will see any of these (and hope no-one else does).
We limp back into the yard after a very bumpy ride back with a 10 thousand pound (weight) load on the suspension. All that’s left to do is unload it! Fortunately Ray has his loader/conveyor belt ready to take the bales from the truck to the hayloft. Despite mechanisation this process took nearly as long as the loading but only because it works at a fairly slow speed so the effort expended is considerably less with that pace but the heat us not dissimilar as there is still a lack of air in the loft. Lots to drink afterwards is required to rehydrate again, there hasn’t been much need of the waterproofs so far.