Fishing, Flying and Final Frolics – Alaska Part 3

Monday June 6, 2016

From my comfy position, propped up on pillows in the back of Charlotte, I can see the spruce and birch lined gravel road wind ahead of us with Ned, always the road warrior, driving…and driving. The ice capped mountains of Alaska have given way to the endless rolling forests of the Yukon Territory in northwest Canada. The occasional lake dots the landscape, and if I look hard enough I swear I can even see giant mosquitoes whizzing by my window. We are rolling along, heading southeast, on the beautiful, lonely, 350 mile long, Campbell Highway.

East of Ross River (where our infamous Canol Road ends), the Campbell Highway turns to smooth, graded dirt and is one of the quietest and best roads we have ever driven; in fact, last night around 9:30 (yes, the sun was still up) we pulled into a big, flat gravel area next to the road but behind some trees to camp for the night. We spent a peaceful night, got up leisurely, ate breakfast and did exercises. Ned even changed Charlotte’s oil and rotated her tires, and in all that time, not a single person drove by.

Now, back on the road, with a lot of uninterrupted miles ahead of us, this is a great time to reflect back on our trip and write this blog.

Overall, our travels through Canada and Alaska have been, not only gorgeous, but also pretty easy compared to Latin America. The countryside is so wide open that finding places to camp every night has been a breeze, and while we were consistently in bear territory, both black bears and grizzlies, we didn’t have a single close encounter. We were aware that a bear smelling food in Charlotte would be capable of tearing her doors off to get inside, so our best (honestly) preparation was to park facing outward with the key in the ignition, ready to climb in front and drive away if we were awakened by any suspicious noises. Not a single four legged (or two!) critter came sniffing, though, and every night was perfectly peaceful. There were also (unlike Latin America) plenty of opportunities to do runs and hikes, but the threat of a charging mama moose or a hungry grizzly kept us on rather short leashes, and we never did more than a few miles.

The other comparatively easy aspects of our travels north vs. south were language and drinking water. It felt odd but effortless to be talking to new friends without straining to converse in Spanish, and almost everywhere we went, the water was great out of the tap; either well, spring or filtered river water. In Latin America, English was rare and finding good drinking water (to buy) was a constant concern.

Heading to extreme northern climes in May was a bit of a risk, and while many businesses along the way were not yet opened for the season, it turned out to be wonderful for several reasons. First of all, it had been a light winter up here, so the snow was already mostly melted. Secondly, because it was so early we spent most of the time bundled up in winter clothes, which, under normal circumstances would not have been on the plus side. Obviously, we would rather have had the comfort and ease of summer clothes, but I am here to verify that every rumor you’ve ever heard about Alaska’s mosquitoes is true! It really should be their state bird. They swarmed and attacked with lightning speed, some of them nearly the size of hummingbirds (well, maybe not that big…). Winter clothes left it unnecessary to slather up with DEET, for which we were extremely grateful. Having to crawl in bed every night without a shower, covered in sticky, smelly, toxic slime would have been awful!

The final benefit of traveling through Alaska in May was that there were relatively few tourists and not many other vehicles on the roads; by the time we left Alaska in early June, the motor homes were literally pouring in.

Despite the mosquitoes, the scenery up north is absolutely stunning and well worth fighting off the pesky buzz bombers. I could go on and on about the beauty we enjoyed, and I do have lots of photos to show below, but first I want to share our biggest “takeaway” from the trip.

Alaska is rich in history, albeit a rather short one, and the many stories of settling, mining, and homesteading in such an extreme environment got me thinking of our unique American history. We heard tale after tale of brave men and women crossing massive ice fields and glaciers to reach gold claims, of rebuilding entire towns after devastating earthquakes, and of building huge railroad bridges in the middle of winter in record times.

To me, Alaskan (and even northwest Canadian) history embodies the true spirit of our entire country. From the Revolution to wagon trains; from the Wild West, gold rushes and hard working immigrants to the influence of native cultures; I can’t think of another country that can match the American experience, and it has shaped us well. We are free thinkers who cut our teeth on freedom and liberty, and unlike other countries, we have been given the priceless gift of being born into a culture ripe with individualism and a sense of self reliance. Traveling always makes me aware that taking pride in our history and keeping the stories alive for future generations is the best way to pass down our legacy of freedom and preserve our American way of life.

Now, on with our story.…follow along as we take a wildlife/glacier cruise, go dork fishing (us, not the fish), visit a historic copper mill, fly over massive ice fields with a bush pilot, and finally, suffer the worse border crossing ever…

…Speaking of individualism and free thinking…this is my favorite photo from downtown Anchorage, and yes, they do sell lots of fur hats and coats too! (And no, we didn’t buy any!) We did spend two nights in town, doing the previous blog and taking lots of showers. Finally on the coast, we did find a lot of seafood, but it was very expensive and almost universally battered and deep fried. Seafood chowder is also a local, coastal favorite and Ned assured me it was fabulous!

…Speaking of individualism and free thinking…this is my favorite photo from downtown Anchorage, and yes, they do sell lots of fur hats and coats too! (And no, we didn’t buy any!)
We did spend two nights in town, doing the previous blog and taking lots of showers. Finally on the coast, we did find a lot of seafood, but it was very expensive and almost universally battered and deep fried. Seafood chowder is also a local, coastal favorite and Ned assured me it was fabulous!

From Anchorage, we drove southeast along the famous Turnagin Arm, a 45 mile waterway in the northwestern part of the Gulf of Alaska. The Arm is famous for its wild bore tides that form surf-worthy waves as incoming tide meets outgoing. We missed this particular phenomenon, but there are some fun videos on YouTube under Turnagin Arm or Bore Tide.

From Anchorage, we drove southeast along the famous Turnagin Arm, a 45 mile waterway in the northwestern part of the Gulf of Alaska. The Arm is famous for its wild bore tides that form surf-worthy waves as incoming tide meets outgoing. We missed this particular phenomenon, but there are some fun videos on YouTube under Turnagin Arm or Bore Tide.

One of our favorite (and easy) camping hidey holes…not devoid of mosquitoes, but gorgeous.

One of our favorite (and easy) camping hidey holes…not devoid of mosquitoes, but gorgeous.

We were heading toward the Kenai Peninsula, but got side tracked by a sign and a dirt track leading to Hope on the opposite shore of the Turnagin Arm. At this point we realized that we had plenty of time, so we went exploring. Hope looked a little like a ghost town, but further investigation revealed that it was only in hibernation. None of the three restaurants were due to open until next week, but the owner of the funny little gift shop, Dru kept us entertained for a bit.

We were heading toward the Kenai Peninsula, but got side tracked by a sign and a dirt track leading to Hope on the opposite shore of the Turnagin Arm. At this point we realized that we had plenty of time, so we went exploring.
Hope looked a little like a ghost town, but further investigation revealed that it was only in hibernation. None of the three restaurants were due to open until next week, but the owner of the funny little gift shop, Dru kept us entertained for a bit.

Playing in the crazy mud of The Arm outside of Hope…

Playing in the crazy mud of The Arm outside of Hope…

89

…and then onward to beautiful Seward on the Kenai Peninsula. Once there, we got ourselves signed up for a wild life and glacier cruise for the next day, had a good meal at The Roadhouse and then went for a night hike!

…and then onward to beautiful Seward on the Kenai Peninsula. Once there, we got ourselves signed up for a wild life and glacier cruise for the next day, had a good meal at The Roadhouse and then went for a night hike!

It was amazing to be doing a technical, rocky hike to a glacier at 9:30 at night, but it was a great way to work off dinner! The highlight of Exit Glacier is a graphically displayed view of how much the glaciers are receding. Beginning more than a mile below the glacier, year markers begin in the early 1900’s. The sign in the photo shows where it was in 2005. The name comes from being the exit point of the Harding Ice Field which was trekked across by settlers to access the Kenai Peninsula.

It was amazing to be doing a technical, rocky hike to a glacier at 9:30 at night, but it was a great way to work off dinner!
The highlight of Exit Glacier is a graphically displayed view of how much the glaciers are receding. Beginning more than a mile below the glacier, year markers begin in the early 1900’s. The sign in the photo shows where it was in 2005. The name comes from being the exit point of the Harding Ice Field which was trekked across by settlers to access the Kenai Peninsula.

This sign showed an overview of how long the glacier had been in previous years. There was no judgment on the interpretive signs implicating whether the melting/global warming was naturally occurring or human caused.

This sign showed an overview of how long the glacier had been in previous years. There was no judgment on the interpretive signs implicating whether the melting/global warming was naturally occurring or human caused.

Having spent a peaceful night parked (illegally) in the Exit Glacier parking lot, we embarked on our cruise on this lovely, brand new ship. We did share the journey with a gazillion other tourists, but it was fantastic anyway. Come along and enjoy the incredible scenery and wildlife of the Kenai Fjords National Park…

Having spent a peaceful night parked (illegally) in the Exit Glacier parking lot, we embarked on our cruise on this lovely, brand new ship. We did share the journey with a gazillion other tourists, but it was fantastic anyway. Come along and enjoy the incredible scenery and wildlife of the Kenai Fjords National Park…

1314

Seals.

Seals.

Orcas!

Orcas!

171819

Massive glaciers.

Massive glaciers.

22

What the heck?! This mama goat was on a thousand foot sheer rock wall, just above the sea. Not really sure why she wanted to be here - except because she could!

What the heck?! This mama goat was on a thousand foot sheer rock wall, just above the sea. Not really sure why she wanted to be here – except because she could!

Puffins!

Puffins!

Sea lions.

Sea lions.

26

Not a great shot, but an entire school of dolphins escorted us back to port, swimming under the boat side to side and frolicking in front of us. It was incredible to witness their speed as they easily kept up with the ship!

Not a great shot, but an entire school of dolphins escorted us back to port, swimming under the boat side to side and frolicking in front of us. It was incredible to witness their speed as they easily kept up with the ship!

Entering Seward by boat…

Entering Seward by boat…

30

Another beautiful camping spot outside of Seward.

Another beautiful camping spot outside of Seward.

From Seward we drove north to the Sterling Highway, then west and south again heading to Homer.

From Seward we drove north to the Sterling Highway, then west and south again heading to Homer.

Sadly, these have been pretty common on the roads in southern Alaska.

Sadly, these have been pretty common on the roads in southern Alaska.

So many beautiful bald eagles in Alaska!

So many beautiful bald eagles in Alaska!

Charlotte just can’t seem to stay away from Mexico! At the sight of this sign, she pulled straight in to this awesome restaurant in Soldotna.

Charlotte just can’t seem to stay away from Mexico! At the sight of this sign, she pulled straight in to this awesome restaurant in Soldotna.

Enchiladas, gooey cheese, rice and beans beat fried fish and chips any day!

Enchiladas, gooey cheese, rice and beans beat fried fish and chips any day!

Entering Homer at the very bottom of the Kenai Peninsula. This shot was taken by our new friend from South Africa, George Ferreira, who has ridden the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay by motorcycle. His blog is: www.riding-the-usa.com.

Entering Homer at the very bottom of the Kenai Peninsula.
This shot was taken by our new friend from South Africa, George Ferreira, who has ridden the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay by motorcycle. His blog is: www.riding-the-usa.com.

Homer sits on the Kachemak Bay in the Cook Inlet and is famous for the Homer Spit, as seen in the photo above. The spit is naturally formed, but strong, human made sea walls have preserved it from eroding to oblivion.

Homer sits on the Kachemak Bay in the Cook Inlet and is famous for the Homer Spit, as seen in the photo above. The spit is naturally formed, but strong, human made sea walls have preserved it from eroding to oblivion.

The boat harbor out on The Spit.

The boat harbor out on The Spit.

The countryside around Homer is gorgeous. We spent a day wandering around and eventually drove to the very end of East End Road which winds through lovely, green hills, overlooks the turquoise bay and is surrounded by ice capped mountains.

The countryside around Homer is gorgeous. We spent a day wandering around and eventually drove to the very end of East End Road which winds through lovely, green hills, overlooks the turquoise bay and is surrounded by ice capped mountains.

East End Road ends at the beach at the bottom of an extremely steep dirt track…

East End Road ends at the beach at the bottom of an extremely steep dirt track…

…where we found a very reclusive (no photos) Russian village/ranch and lots of coal! The locals still harvest coal to burn in their home stoves. Evidently there are several Russian Orthodox “Old Believer” villages in the area that were settled in the 1960’s. Generations before, these families had escaped religious persecution from Russia in the early 1900’s, subsequently journeying to China, South America and, finally, Alaska. We heard that they tend to stay to themselves, but we did spot a few women wearing colorful, traditional dresses.

…where we found a very reclusive (no photos) Russian village/ranch and lots of coal! The locals still harvest coal to burn in their home stoves.
Evidently there are several Russian Orthodox “Old Believer” villages in the area that were settled in the 1960’s. Generations before, these families had escaped religious persecution from Russia in the early 1900’s, subsequently journeying to China, South America and, finally, Alaska. We heard that they tend to stay to themselves, but we did spot a few women wearing colorful, traditional dresses.

Having just read an autobiography by the singer/songwriter, Jewel, we knew that she was raised on a modern day homestead in Homer, Alaska. We also knew that her last name was Kilcher, and that she is the granddaughter of a Swiss man named Yule, who crossed the Harding Ice field to arrive in Homer in the 1940’s. Yule homesteaded 160 acres in the hills east of Homer and raised his family of eight children without running water or electricity. Jewel, the daughter of one of Yule’s sons, Atz, was also raised without modern plumbing (we have heard that because of remoteness and harsh temperatures, many Alaskans still live with no running water and obtain electricity only via generators). Curious, we Googled the Kilcher Homestead and found two things: First, that it was located right there off of East End Road, and secondly, that the two brothers, Otz (Jewell’s dad) and Otto have a reality TV show called, Alaska, on the Discovery Channel! Of course, we had to go investigate.

Having just read an autobiography by the singer/songwriter, Jewel, we knew that she was raised on a modern day homestead in Homer, Alaska. We also knew that her last name was Kilcher, and that she is the granddaughter of a Swiss man named Yule, who crossed the Harding Ice field to arrive in Homer in the 1940’s. Yule homesteaded 160 acres in the hills east of Homer and raised his family of eight children without running water or electricity. Jewel, the daughter of one of Yule’s sons, Atz, was also raised without modern plumbing (we have heard that because of remoteness and harsh temperatures, many Alaskans still live with no running water and obtain electricity only via generators). Curious, we Googled the Kilcher Homestead and found two things: First, that it was located right there off of East End Road, and secondly, that the two brothers, Otz (Jewell’s dad) and Otto have a reality TV show called, Alaska, on the Discovery Channel! Of course, we had to go investigate.

Evidently we were not supposed to show up on our own without a tour bus, but one of Jewell’s cousins, Connie, was gracious enough to give us a mini tour. The homestead is now considered a living museum, and is still a working farm. Being such big TV watching fans, we have no idea what the show is all about. Connie, herself, admitted she tends to keep her distance from the cameras and other media goings on as well, but she still gave us a good impression of how life was growing up in remote Alaska in the ‘70s. (that’s 1970’s, not 1870’s!!)

Evidently we were not supposed to show up on our own without a tour bus, but one of Jewell’s cousins, Connie, was gracious enough to give us a mini tour. The homestead is now considered a living museum, and is still a working farm. Being such big TV watching fans, we have no idea what the show is all about. Connie, herself, admitted she tends to keep her distance from the cameras and other media goings on as well, but she still gave us a good impression of how life was growing up in remote Alaska in the ‘70s. (that’s 1970’s, not 1870’s!!)

45

We had fun wandering around the farm in its beautiful setting, and Connie invited us to use the long, steep farm road to walk down to the bay so we could get some exercise. It was a really gorgeous hike!

We had fun wandering around the farm in its beautiful setting, and Connie invited us to use the long, steep farm road to walk down to the bay so we could get some exercise. It was a really gorgeous hike!

46a

Walking around the touristy Homer Spit on our first day, we had spent two hours trying to talk ourselves into going deep sea fishing. Neither of us is really patient enough to be interested in fishing, and I had never even held a pole before. Many friends insisted, though, that if we were in Alaska, we HAD to go fishing! We hemmed and hawed, checked out charter companies, and found out about fish processing and shipping. We were told that a whole day charter would be nine hours…nine hours??? Really?? How about a half day?? Ok, we talked ourselves into a half day…just five hours…surely we could handle that. Our fearless leader, Captain Billy, we were assured was “amazing” and that he would take excellent care of us. We forked over $400. Uggg. At 8:00am, perfectly refreshed from sleeping illegally (again) in the parking lot next to the harbor, we set sail. I had no idea what to expect…

Walking around the touristy Homer Spit on our first day, we had spent two hours trying to talk ourselves into going deep sea fishing. Neither of us is really patient enough to be interested in fishing, and I had never even held a pole before. Many friends insisted, though, that if we were in Alaska, we HAD to go fishing! We hemmed and hawed, checked out charter companies, and found out about fish processing and shipping. We were told that a whole day charter would be nine hours…nine hours??? Really?? How about a half day?? Ok, we talked ourselves into a half day…just five hours…surely we could handle that. Our fearless leader, Captain Billy, we were assured was “amazing” and that he would take excellent care of us. We forked over $400. Uggg.
At 8:00am, perfectly refreshed from sleeping illegally (again) in the parking lot next to the harbor, we set sail. I had no idea what to expect…

Ned looks like he’s doing just fine; well maybe a little unenthusiastic.

Ned looks like he’s doing just fine; well maybe a little unenthusiastic.

Me? I look like an enthusiastic hog with a wrist watch, but I will share the whole tale via my raw, unedited journal notes… 5/28 Oh boy, goin’ fishing! Never done that before. Really gorgeous day, but our much vaunted Captain Billy was arrogant, unhelpful and looked like a hipster fisherman. Never even bothered to ask our names. Only 10 paying customers, but 3 of his free-riding buddies got all his attention and competed with us for room to fish. Was kind of weird. They only had two deck hands, Ishod and Doug for all of us. I've never even held a fishing pole before and no one showed me. Was pretty puzzling at first. I even told them I never had and would have expected more help, but they were short handed, and our Captain was surely not going to bother with us. There was a mad scramble as poles were thrust at us. Huge chunks of "bait" were skewered on huge hooks and we were set free. I've heard it called combat fishing before, but we were assured by the nice folks who sold us the tickets that this was smaller and would not be like that. Sure felt that way to me! Lines kept tangling; I was constantly being told to move up or move down the deck, even with a fish on the line. “Hey, I'm fishing here, leave me alone!” So it turns out there is really no skill involved in this "sport fishing;" the first time my line fumbled out and hit bottom at 100ft (so we were told) something took hold of my line and pulled. Someone (another customer) mercifully told me to quickly flip the bale. “What? What's a bale?” They reached over and moved a lever which stopped the line from going out more. Ok, so now I have this fish yanking on me. I couldn't figure out how to hold the damn rod; to keep the fish from taking the whole thing in with it. AND I have to reel it in? Right. I kept pitifully looking for help from our deck hands, but they were too frantic trying to keep up. So I braced the butt of the rod on my belly; this thing must be enormous! That didn't work; between my legs? Got it! Kind of. I started reeling. I yelled "Fish on!" like I was supposed to, but no one came. I wrestled the rod and kept reeling. Then I saw the fish! I yelled "Color!" like I was supposed to and miraculously, Ishod was there to haul the thing in. We were fishing for halibut, and I could catch one of unlimited size and one 28 inches or under. "What did I get?!!" A cod. Ok, throw it back. "Bait!" I yelled, like I was supposed to, and somehow a hunk of fish ended up on my hook. Well, I'm a pro now. Flip the bale, thumb on the line to keep it from tangling, wait till it goes slack having hit bottom; bale goes back. Wham! Another fish! Ok, reel away. Whew, is this hard. It must be a monster! Captain "I'm too cool to really help" Billy tells me to move again. Really? I have a fish here! But this time I've moved up to where I can brace my back against the cabin of the boat, put the rod between my thighs and calmly reel away. "Color!" (I hadn't bothered with the "fish on"). Doug pulled my fish in and this time it was a halibut! A 28 incher! I had my small one. On to the big one. Bait on. Line in. I had a real rhythm going. Fish on. Now Mr. Bossy boots tells me to move back to where I can't brace my back. No way. I’m not going. Wrestle the fish. Another cod! But a big one this time. Ok, I'll keep it. That's pretty good eating, right? We're already going to be shipping fish home, right? I am such a good fisher now that I’m catching fish every time I drop my line. I had the deck hands throw back fish after fish, looking for "the big one.” Kept getting 25-27 inchers. Are there really bigger fish down there? How long do I keep trying before I cave in and settle for a second small one? Oh, we have another hour and a half to keep fishing? Game on! Several more small halibuts, then another big cod. Keep that. But where is my BIG halibut? Ned already threw in the towel having gotten a 28" and a 27". He just wasn't groovin’ with the whole thing and was "over it." Me, no, I'm not tired! Another hour to fish? Bring it on! 10 minutes later my body said "no friggin’ way." All in all I think I caught 12 fish. My arms were jellied, numb and useless and my back ached like there was a fish hook in it. I "settled" for a 26 incher and gave up my pole. We watched a few other intrepid fishers finish and then the time was up. We weighed anchor and took off back to the harbor, watching, fascinated, as Ishod and Doug (Ishod anyway) quickly and efficiently cleaned and filleted all of our fish. An hour and a half later we were handed our 3 bundles of fish; one for our dinner tonight (1 fillet and 4 "cheeks") another of halibut and the third of cod. We tipped Ishod $20 as she was clearly the one who worked the hardest, was most helpful and who bothered to learn our names. We then proudly (exhaustedly) marched our fish to the processing folks, asking them to freeze it and hold it till we got home in a month. Dinner went into Charlotte's fridge. We had survived fishing.

Me? I look like an enthusiastic hog with a wrist watch, but I will share the whole tale via my raw, unedited journal notes…
5/28 Oh boy, goin’ fishing! Never done that before. Really gorgeous day, but our much vaunted Captain Billy was arrogant, unhelpful and looked like a hipster fisherman. Never even bothered to ask our names. Only 10 paying customers, but 3 of his free-riding buddies got all his attention and competed with us for room to fish.
Was kind of weird. They only had two deck hands, Ishod and Doug for all of us. I’ve never even held a fishing pole before and no one showed me. Was pretty puzzling at first. I even told them I never had and would have expected more help, but they were short handed, and our Captain was surely not going to bother with us. There was a mad scramble as poles were thrust at us. Huge chunks of “bait” were skewered on huge hooks and we were set free. I’ve heard it called combat fishing before, but we were assured by the nice folks who sold us the tickets that this was smaller and would not be like that. Sure felt that way to me! Lines kept tangling; I was constantly being told to move up or move down the deck, even with a fish on the line. “Hey, I’m fishing here, leave me alone!” So it turns out there is really no skill involved in this “sport fishing;” the first time my line fumbled out and hit bottom at 100ft (so we were told) something took hold of my line and pulled. Someone (another customer) mercifully told me to quickly flip the bale. “What? What’s a bale?” They reached over and moved a lever which stopped the line from going out more. Ok, so now I have this fish yanking on me. I couldn’t figure out how to hold the damn rod; to keep the fish from taking the whole thing in with it. AND I have to reel it in? Right. I kept pitifully looking for help from our deck hands, but they were too frantic trying to keep up. So I braced the butt of the rod on my belly; this thing must be enormous! That didn’t work; between my legs? Got it! Kind of. I started reeling. I yelled “Fish on!” like I was supposed to, but no one came. I wrestled the rod and kept reeling. Then I saw the fish! I yelled “Color!” like I was supposed to and miraculously, Ishod was there to haul the thing in. We were fishing for halibut, and I could catch one of unlimited size and one 28 inches or under. “What did I get?!!” A cod. Ok, throw it back. “Bait!” I yelled, like I was supposed to, and somehow a hunk of fish ended up on my hook. Well, I’m a pro now. Flip the bale, thumb on the line to keep it from tangling, wait till it goes slack having hit bottom; bale goes back. Wham! Another fish! Ok, reel away. Whew, is this hard. It must be a monster! Captain “I’m too cool to really help” Billy tells me to move again. Really? I have a fish here! But this time I’ve moved up to where I can brace my back against the cabin of the boat, put the rod between my thighs and calmly reel away. “Color!” (I hadn’t bothered with the “fish on”). Doug pulled my fish in and this time it was a halibut! A 28 incher! I had my small one. On to the big one. Bait on. Line in. I had a real rhythm going. Fish on. Now Mr. Bossy boots tells me to move back to where I can’t brace my back. No way. I’m not going. Wrestle the fish. Another cod! But a big one this time. Ok, I’ll keep it. That’s pretty good eating, right? We’re already going to be shipping fish home, right? I am such a good fisher now that I’m catching fish every time I drop my line. I had the deck hands throw back fish after fish, looking for “the big one.” Kept getting 25-27 inchers. Are there really bigger fish down there? How long do I keep trying before I cave in and settle for a second small one? Oh, we have another hour and a half to keep fishing? Game on! Several more small halibuts, then another big cod. Keep that. But where is my BIG halibut? Ned already threw in the towel having gotten a 28″ and a 27”. He just wasn’t groovin’ with the whole thing and was “over it.” Me, no, I’m not tired! Another hour to fish? Bring it on! 10 minutes later my body said “no friggin’ way.” All in all I think I caught 12 fish. My arms were jellied, numb and useless and my back ached like there was a fish hook in it. I “settled” for a 26 incher and gave up my pole. We watched a few other intrepid fishers finish and then the time was up. We weighed anchor and took off back to the harbor, watching, fascinated, as Ishod and Doug (Ishod anyway) quickly and efficiently cleaned and filleted all of our fish. An hour and a half later we were handed our 3 bundles of fish; one for our dinner tonight (1 fillet and 4 “cheeks”) another of halibut and the third of cod. We tipped Ishod $20 as she was clearly the one who worked the hardest, was most helpful and who bothered to learn our names. We then proudly (exhaustedly) marched our fish to the processing folks, asking them to freeze it and hold it till we got home in a month. Dinner went into Charlotte’s fridge. We had survived fishing.

52

All in all we brought home four halibut and two cod, but my arms were too tired to hold mine up!

All in all we brought home four halibut and two cod, but my arms were too tired to hold mine up!

54

A fabulous reward! Captain Sally’s, a restaurant on The Spit, cooked up our own “fresh catch,” and we hungrily wolfed down über fresh halibut…yummm!

A fabulous reward! Captain Sally’s, a restaurant on The Spit, cooked up our own “fresh catch,” and we hungrily wolfed down über fresh halibut…yummm!

Leaving Homer and the Kenai Peninsula, we drove back past Anchorage then eastward along the Glenn Highway. Our next jaunt was a 94 mile dirt side road off of the Richardson Highway which took us to Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park (the largest national park in the country at 13 million acres) and the Kennecott Copper Mill. This steel bridge was built in 1911 as part of the Copper River & Northwest Railway and would serve the Kennecott copper mines and mill from 1911 to 1938. The railway, the CR&NW was nicknamed “Can’t Run & Never Will” by skeptics. Despite incredible challenges, including mid-winter construction, the railway was completed in just five years. Built over raging rivers, sheer cliffs, frozen ground and even ice fields by a team of 6,000 tough-as-nails men, the railway was said to be a feat of amazing engineering skill and astounding perseverance and determination. This is a quote from the placard in front of this bridge: “By November the teams reached the vertical walls and raging waters of the Kaskulana River gorge. The weather was brutal, but they refused to wait for summer. Crossing the Kaskulana mid-winter could prove to be one of the greatest challenges of the “impossible” northern railway. Although temperatures dropped to -54 degrees, with true Alaskan spirit, the men bundled up and continued to toil above the canyon through long, cold hours of darkness (remember it’s dark all day in the winter), their work lit by the glow of acetylene torches. Amazingly, construction of this bridge through the bitter cold and darkness took only two months, but this, engineers estimated, was twice the time it would have taken if it had been constructed in the ease of summer.”

Leaving Homer and the Kenai Peninsula, we drove back past Anchorage then eastward along the Glenn Highway. Our next jaunt was a 94 mile dirt side road off of the Richardson Highway which took us to Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park (the largest national park in the country at 13 million acres) and the Kennecott Copper Mill.
This steel bridge was built in 1911 as part of the Copper River & Northwest Railway and would serve the Kennecott copper mines and mill from 1911 to 1938. The railway, the CR&NW was nicknamed “Can’t Run & Never Will” by skeptics. Despite incredible challenges, including mid-winter construction, the railway was completed in just five years. Built over raging rivers, sheer cliffs, frozen ground and even ice fields by a team of 6,000 tough-as-nails men, the railway was said to be a feat of amazing engineering skill and astounding perseverance and determination.
This is a quote from the placard in front of this bridge:
“By November the teams reached the vertical walls and raging waters of the Kaskulana River gorge. The weather was brutal, but they refused to wait for summer. Crossing the Kaskulana mid-winter could prove to be one of the greatest challenges of the “impossible” northern railway. Although temperatures dropped to -54 degrees, with true Alaskan spirit, the men bundled up and continued to toil above the canyon through long, cold hours of darkness (remember it’s dark all day in the winter), their work lit by the glow of acetylene torches. Amazingly, construction of this bridge through the bitter cold and darkness took only two months, but this, engineers estimated, was twice the time it would have taken if it had been constructed in the ease of summer.”

57

Another bridge on the CR&NR, this one wooden, was built to strategically “collapse” during the worse weather so that it could be more easily repaired.

Another bridge on the CR&NR, this one wooden, was built to strategically “collapse” during the worse weather so that it could be more easily repaired.

The 94 mile dirt Edgerton Highway ends at a footbridge almost a mile before the town of McCarthy.  Evidently, the automobile bridge was built by a private land owner who charges the few residents of McCarthy an annual fee to use the bridge.  We tourists are reduced to walking or taking a $5 shuttle.  We chose to walk of course!

The 94 mile dirt Edgerton Highway ends at a footbridge almost a mile before the town of McCarthy. Evidently, the automobile bridge was built by a private land owner who charges the few residents of McCarthy an annual fee to use the bridge. We tourists are reduced to walking or taking a $5 shuttle. We chose to walk of course!

We did pay the $5 fee to take a shuttle five miles up to the historic Kennecott Mill where we also paid for a mill tour. This scene along the shuttle ride is actually a dirt encrusted glacier called a moraine.  It’s hard to believe that is all ice under there!

We did pay the $5 fee to take a shuttle five miles up to the historic Kennecott Mill where we also paid for a mill tour.
This scene along the shuttle ride is actually a dirt encrusted glacier called a moraine. It’s hard to believe that is all ice under there!

The Kennecott Mill is where the copper ore from the surrounding mines was crushed and separated. It operated from 1911 to 1938.

The Kennecott Mill is where the copper ore from the surrounding mines was crushed and separated. It operated from 1911 to 1938.

The mill is the largest wooden structure in Alaska.

The mill is the largest wooden structure in Alaska.

6263
Can’t keep Ned away from machinery.

Can’t keep Ned away from machinery.

The mill’s power plant could be run by coal, wood or oil.

The mill’s power plant could be run by coal, wood or oil.

After a nice pub dinner at the Golden Saloon in McCarthy, we spent a quiet night camping back on the other side of the footbridge. The next day we fulfilled our final, must-do Alaskan tourist adventure, we went flying!

After a nice pub dinner at the Golden Saloon in McCarthy, we spent a quiet night camping back on the other side of the footbridge. The next day we fulfilled our final, must-do Alaskan tourist adventure, we went flying!

Kelly was a thirty-five year veteran of Alaska bush flying and was also the owner of the company, Wrangell Mountain Air. The only reason we were able to fly with this amazing pilot was that, being early in the season, his hired pilots had not yet arrived.  The only pilots available were Kelly and his wife, Natalie; another perk for visiting Alaska in May!

Kelly was a thirty-five year veteran of Alaska bush flying and was also the owner of the company, Wrangell Mountain Air. The only reason we were able to fly with this amazing pilot was that, being early in the season, his hired pilots had not yet arrived. The only pilots available were Kelly and his wife, Natalie; another perk for visiting Alaska in May!

Bush flying has a long and illustrious history in Alaska; very few roads means that small aircraft are a must for reaching the many homes and small villages forsaken (for good reason!) by Alaska DOT.    Come along now and enjoy the incredible scenery as seen from our four-seat Cessna 172…

Bush flying has a long and illustrious history in Alaska; very few roads means that small aircraft are a must for reaching the many homes and small villages forsaken (for good reason!) by Alaska DOT.
Come along now and enjoy the incredible scenery as seen from our four-seat Cessna 172…

Another rock encrusted glacier.

Another rock encrusted glacier.

70
A confluence of two glaciers!

A confluence of two glaciers!

727374757677
Coming in for a dirt landing.

Coming in for a dirt landing.

An incredible hour!

An incredible hour!

From the McCarthy cutoff, back on the Richardson Highway, we drove south to the town of Valdez, famous in recent years for two things:  It’s the terminus for the Alaska Pipeline where all that oil flowing from the fields at Prudhoe Bay gets loaded onto tankers; and it served as Command Central for the giant oil spill from the tanker Exxon Valdez in 1989. Valdez can boast a gorgeous setting, surrounded by ice covered crags and a beautiful harbor, but it's really all about the harbor and boat based tourism on Prince William Sound.  The town itself, having been hastily relocated and rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1964, lacks any kind of quaintness…

From the McCarthy cutoff, back on the Richardson Highway, we drove south to the town of Valdez, famous in recent years for two things: It’s the terminus for the Alaska Pipeline where all that oil flowing from the fields at Prudhoe Bay gets loaded onto tankers; and it served as Command Central for the giant oil spill from the tanker Exxon Valdez in 1989.
Valdez can boast a gorgeous setting, surrounded by ice covered crags and a beautiful harbor, but it’s really all about the harbor and boat based tourism on Prince William Sound. The town itself, having been hastily relocated and rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1964, lacks any kind of quaintness…

…but has one of the best museums we have visited.  From native artifacts to the oil spill, gold mining, earthquake and pipeline, this was a wonderful representation of all things Alaskan. Above are waterproof Alutilq parkas made of bear and sea mammal intestines.

…but has one of the best museums we have visited. From native artifacts to the oil spill, gold mining, earthquake and pipeline, this was a wonderful representation of all things Alaskan.
Above are waterproof Alutilq parkas made of bear and sea mammal intestines.

This intricate, glass lens crowned the area’s first lighthouse.

This intricate, glass lens crowned the area’s first lighthouse.

A piece of the hull from the tanker, Exxon Valdez, which was navigated onto a reef due to human error.  Note the long scrape mark from the rocks. Depending on whose stats you believe, 11 to 38 million barrels of oil were spilled on March 24th, 1989. While we could not see visible signs of the oil disaster in the harbor, we learned that much of the coastal environment, including several marine species, is still struggling to recover twenty seven years later.

A piece of the hull from the tanker, Exxon Valdez, which was navigated onto a reef due to human error. Note the long scrape mark from the rocks.
Depending on whose stats you believe, 11 to 38 million barrels of oil were spilled on March 24th, 1989. While we could not see visible signs of the oil disaster in the harbor, we learned that much of the coastal environment, including several marine species, is still struggling to recover twenty seven years later.

This was the very first barrel of oil to be transported 800 miles from the fields of Prudhoe Bay to Valdez in 1977; but not by pipeline…

This was the very first barrel of oil to be transported 800 miles from the fields of Prudhoe Bay to Valdez in 1977; but not by pipeline…

…by a dogsled team!

…by a dogsled team!

The story of the 1964 earthquake was a moving one.  30 people lost their lives in the 9.2 magnitude quake, and the entire town, having been built on loose soil close to shore was leveled, much of it buried in mud.  Valdez was rebuilt several miles southwest in a new, safer location. We had heard similar stories from all the towns we visited on the Kenai Peninsula.

The story of the 1964 earthquake was a moving one. 30 people lost their lives in the 9.2 magnitude quake, and the entire town, having been built on loose soil close to shore was leveled, much of it buried in mud. Valdez was rebuilt several miles southwest in a new, safer location. We had heard similar stories from all the towns we visited on the Kenai Peninsula.

Hmmm, I guess they won’t let us go see the end of the pipeline!

Hmmm, I guess they won’t let us go see the end of the pipeline!

The gorgeous Thompson Pass out of Valdez.  From here we headed back northeast towards the Top of the World highway and the Canadian border.

The gorgeous Thompson Pass out of Valdez.
From here we headed back northeast towards the Top of the World highway and the Canadian border.

Last stop in Alaska was Chicken. Ned’s been telling me about Chicken, Alaska since we first met.  From the stories I’ve heard told by him and good friend, Rick Pewe, the two of them were returning south in a 1943 military Jeep and spent a rollicking night in the Chicken Saloon…subsequently spending the night passed out in the dirt outside!   Chicken is a tiny hamlet 40 miles west of the Canadian border and 100 miles west of the Canadian town of Dawson City. There is no running water; outhouses only, electricity by generators, and drinking water filtered and pumped up from the river.  It turns out that in Alaska, the severe cold makes septic tanks unusable and wells rarely continue producing.   Chicken has around fifty summer residents, but only three brave souls who stay year round.

Last stop in Alaska was Chicken.
Ned’s been telling me about Chicken, Alaska since we first met. From the stories I’ve heard told by him and good friend, Rick Pewe, the two of them were returning south in a 1943 military Jeep and spent a rollicking night in the Chicken Saloon…subsequently spending the night passed out in the dirt outside!
Chicken is a tiny hamlet 40 miles west of the Canadian border and 100 miles west of the Canadian town of Dawson City.
There is no running water; outhouses only, electricity by generators, and drinking water filtered and pumped up from the river. It turns out that in Alaska, the severe cold makes septic tanks unusable and wells rarely continue producing.
Chicken has around fifty summer residents, but only three brave souls who stay year round.

Robin, the Postmaster and ambulance driver is one of the three full time folks.  She came to the area 34 years ago when she moved into her new husband’s 13x15ft log cabin, which was his old family home.  It was 40 something miles outside Chicken, had no plumbing, no electricity, and was heated by a wood stove.  Chicken is also far enough north to boast all day sunshine in the summer and all day darkness in the winter.  Robin and her husband raised two daughters in that 13x15ft cabin; they were home schooled, but Robin claims that her daughters eventually got the packets and schooled themselves.  Robin is blind in her left eye and jokes that she's blind on one side and blonde on the other.  Seriously though, she raised two very bright daughters, both of whom are now getting their PhD’s; one in New York City, the other in Paris.   It had been raining off and on for the last few days, but had just let up.  We spent several leisurely hours chatting with Robin outside her post office.

Robin, the Postmaster and ambulance driver is one of the three full time folks. She came to the area 34 years ago when she moved into her new husband’s 13x15ft log cabin, which was his old family home. It was 40 something miles outside Chicken, had no plumbing, no electricity, and was heated by a wood stove. Chicken is also far enough north to boast all day sunshine in the summer and all day darkness in the winter. Robin and her husband raised two daughters in that 13x15ft cabin; they were home schooled, but Robin claims that her daughters eventually got the packets and schooled themselves. Robin is blind in her left eye and jokes that she’s blind on one side and blonde on the other. Seriously though, she raised two very bright daughters, both of whom are now getting their PhD’s; one in New York City, the other in Paris.
It had been raining off and on for the last few days, but had just let up. We spent several leisurely hours chatting with Robin outside her post office.

Robin’s “pet” Grosbeak.

Robin’s “pet” Grosbeak.

Robin also told us about a nice hike down to the river.  The exercise felt great, the views were lovely, but the mosquitoes were vicious; we ran and hiked very fast!  Unfortunately, we also got very sweaty and there would be no showers in Chicken.  Our last ones had been in Homer, after fishing, six days ago and we were pretty ripe. It would have just have to wait until Dawson City.

Robin also told us about a nice hike down to the river. The exercise felt great, the views were lovely, but the mosquitoes were vicious; we ran and hiked very fast! Unfortunately, we also got very sweaty and there would be no showers in Chicken. Our last ones had been in Homer, after fishing, six days ago and we were pretty ripe. It would have just have to wait until Dawson City.

Alaskan humor from the Chicken gift shop.   Another great sticker now adorning Charlotte’s refrigerator says, “There is not a single mosquito in Chicken; they’ve all grown up, gotten married and raised large families!”

Alaskan humor from the Chicken gift shop.
Another great sticker now adorning Charlotte’s refrigerator says, “There is not a single mosquito in Chicken; they’ve all grown up, gotten married and raised large families!”

Of course, we had to visit the infamous Chicken Saloon where we met Mark from Edinburgh, Scotland.  In the time it took us to put down two IPA’s each, Mark had swallowed four Bud Lights and four rum and cokes - and looked no worse for wear!  We enjoyed the company of Mark, several other travelers from various places and the bartender, Max, whose mother, Susan, owns the place. Max lives in Paris during the long Alaskan winters while Susan hangs out in southern Nevada! She would like to move to northern Nevada (!) fulltime if she could find a buyer for the bar, restaurant and gift shop. Any takers?   Yes, those are panties, hats and miscellaneous other personal items decorating the saloon.

Of course, we had to visit the infamous Chicken Saloon where we met Mark from Edinburgh, Scotland. In the time it took us to put down two IPA’s each, Mark had swallowed four Bud Lights and four rum and cokes – and looked no worse for wear! We enjoyed the company of Mark, several other travelers from various places and the bartender, Max, whose mother, Susan, owns the place. Max lives in Paris during the long Alaskan winters while Susan hangs out in southern Nevada! She would like to move to northern Nevada (!) fulltime if she could find a buyer for the bar, restaurant and gift shop. Any takers?
Yes, those are panties, hats and miscellaneous other personal items decorating the saloon.

We spent our final night in Alaska down by the Chicken River, ate breakfast in the Chicken Café with our new buddy Mark and then headed off to the Canadian border to begin our long trek home.  Having passed into Canada twice already, we never suspected that we'd have any trouble… The nice young woman at the border grilled us in the normal Canadian manner:  What do you do for work? What did you used to do? Do you own any fire arms? How many?  What kind? What are you bringing into Canada?  Etc, etc.  We took off our sunglasses, answered and smiled like we always do at border crossings.  She took our passports, saying she was going to do a passport check.  Ok, fine. Then we waited…and waited…and waited.  Ergggghh.  What's the problem?!  The woman finally arrived back at Ned’s window, but without the passports!  Uh oh.  What's happening?  She sternly explained that we were to get out of the car…only one at a time!  We were going to be interrogated!  My stomach did a flip flop.  In my worse imaginings of third world borders I would be separated from Ned, but I never was, and I never thought it would happen in Canada!!  I waited anxiously in the car while Ned was interrogated.  I couldn’t see them, but I could barely make out the conversation through Ned’s open window. I heard her ask him to empty his pockets and she took his pocket knife.  She had him lift his pant legs.  Ned asked sarcastically if she was going to do a cavity search (it turned out that she had donned rubber gloves!)  She said no, they don't do that.  Next, she asked him if he did drugs.  When he said no, she asked if he'd ever done drugs.  He said, “Yes, but over 20 years ago.”   "What kind of drugs?"  Now she explained that they were going to be looking for drugs, searching our van thoroughly.  “I will swab it, and even drugs from years ago will show up.”  Then her face contorted angrily (according to Ned) and she stabbed out, "Are you ready to change your answer about doing drugs?!"  “I told you it was 20 years ago!”  She let it go and told him to wait inside their office.   By then my butterflies were really flopping around.  It's not that we have anything to hide, I just don't like authority figures and I hate it when someone exerts power over me. Besides, being separated from Ned was excessive and unnecessary. By the time she came around to my window and asked me to step over to the interrogation table I was practically shaking in my boots. She asked if I had anything in my pockets. I gave her an incredulous look (I was in yoga pants and a pullover shirt).  "I, uh, don't have any pockets."  She almost cracked a smile, but moved quickly on to the drug questions.  I said I didn't do them.  She asked, “EVER?!" I shrugged and answered “Yeah, when I was a teenager!"  She got that smug, "I knew it" look.  Finally giving it up, she started the whole spiel about how they were going to search the van.  I interrupted her and said, "Look, (I out aged her by about 30 years) why don't you quit talking about it and go look at the van?!"  I turned and walked to Charlotte.  She reached out to stop me from opening the sliding door myself, but I told her it was tricky and that I would do it.  She actually acquiesced!  I opened it and she started her search, but not before I told her to be respectful, that it was my home and asked if her shoes were clean.  Right about the same time Ned lost patience with being sequestered (neither of us is any good at doing what we're told).  He got out saying that if they were going to search our home he was going to watch over it.  That's when I noticed the “they” part.  A big, dark haired, bearded (t-word looking) guy appeared, telling Ned to settle down and go stand way over in front of the van. Ned angrily answered that they were profiling us (in the time we had been detained, they had let a Prius AND the boozy Scotsman, Mark, in his Ford VAN through with absolutely no questions). After some in-the-face arguing, Ned finally stood where they told him to.  The guy looked very serious and threatening, but by now we were both just plain pissed. The woman told me to go stand next to Ned.  I told them both that they were being disrespectful.  Mr.Tough Guy turned to me, replying that it was not their intention to be disrespectful.  I retorted, “It sure feels that way. Of all the border crossings we have done, even in Central America, this is the most we've ever been personally hassled.”  I also said that I never expected Canada to be so inhospitable.  In the end, the woman only did a very cursory inspection of Charlotte. By now Mr. Tough Guy had become Mr. Congeniality and was relaxed, explaining that they have had a surge in cocaine smuggling through Alaska, the drugs having been brought in by boat on remote shores (this remote, northern border had just opened for the season, so we imagine they had just gotten the big pep talk).  The woman ended up joining our little group (we were all buds now), and both guards were being respectful.  We are all on the same side after all, right?!  We chatted a while more (it's a sleepy border) and off we went; rattled, but never cowed!   Oh ye fellow travelers, beware the Canadian border…if you're in a VW van and your man wears a pony tail!

We spent our final night in Alaska down by the Chicken River, ate breakfast in the Chicken Café with our new buddy Mark and then headed off to the Canadian border to begin our long trek home. Having passed into Canada twice already, we never suspected that we’d have any trouble…
The nice young woman at the border grilled us in the normal Canadian manner: What do you do for work? What did you used to do? Do you own any fire arms? How many? What kind? What are you bringing into Canada? Etc, etc. We took off our sunglasses, answered and smiled like we always do at border crossings. She took our passports, saying she was going to do a passport check. Ok, fine. Then we waited…and waited…and waited. Ergggghh. What’s the problem?! The woman finally arrived back at Ned’s window, but without the passports! Uh oh. What’s happening? She sternly explained that we were to get out of the car…only one at a time! We were going to be interrogated! My stomach did a flip flop. In my worse imaginings of third world borders I would be separated from Ned, but I never was, and I never thought it would happen in Canada!! I waited anxiously in the car while Ned was interrogated. I couldn’t see them, but I could barely make out the conversation through Ned’s open window. I heard her ask him to empty his pockets and she took his pocket knife. She had him lift his pant legs. Ned asked sarcastically if she was going to do a cavity search (it turned out that she had donned rubber gloves!) She said no, they don’t do that. Next, she asked him if he did drugs. When he said no, she asked if he’d ever done drugs. He said, “Yes, but over 20 years ago.” “What kind of drugs?” Now she explained that they were going to be looking for drugs, searching our van thoroughly. “I will swab it, and even drugs from years ago will show up.” Then her face contorted angrily (according to Ned) and she stabbed out, “Are you ready to change your answer about doing drugs?!” “I told you it was 20 years ago!” She let it go and told him to wait inside their office.
By then my butterflies were really flopping around. It’s not that we have anything to hide, I just don’t like authority figures and I hate it when someone exerts power over me. Besides, being separated from Ned was excessive and unnecessary. By the time she came around to my window and asked me to step over to the interrogation table I was practically shaking in my boots. She asked if I had anything in my pockets. I gave her an incredulous look (I was in yoga pants and a pullover shirt). “I, uh, don’t have any pockets.” She almost cracked a smile, but moved quickly on to the drug questions. I said I didn’t do them. She asked, “EVER?!” I shrugged and answered “Yeah, when I was a teenager!” She got that smug, “I knew it” look. Finally giving it up, she started the whole spiel about how they were going to search the van. I interrupted her and said, “Look, (I out aged her by about 30 years) why don’t you quit talking about it and go look at the van?!” I turned and walked to Charlotte. She reached out to stop me from opening the sliding door myself, but I told her it was tricky and that I would do it. She actually acquiesced! I opened it and she started her search, but not before I told her to be respectful, that it was my home and asked if her shoes were clean. Right about the same time Ned lost patience with being sequestered (neither of us is any good at doing what we’re told). He got out saying that if they were going to search our home he was going to watch over it. That’s when I noticed the “they” part. A big, dark haired, bearded (t-word looking) guy appeared, telling Ned to settle down and go stand way over in front of the van. Ned angrily answered that they were profiling us (in the time we had been detained, they had let a Prius AND the boozy Scotsman, Mark, in his Ford VAN through with absolutely no questions). After some in-the-face arguing, Ned finally stood where they told him to. The guy looked very serious and threatening, but by now we were both just plain pissed. The woman told me to go stand next to Ned. I told them both that they were being disrespectful. Mr.Tough Guy turned to me, replying that it was not their intention to be disrespectful. I retorted, “It sure feels that way. Of all the border crossings we have done, even in Central America, this is the most we’ve ever been personally hassled.” I also said that I never expected Canada to be so inhospitable. In the end, the woman only did a very cursory inspection of Charlotte. By now Mr. Tough Guy had become Mr. Congeniality and was relaxed, explaining that they have had a surge in cocaine smuggling through Alaska, the drugs having been brought in by boat on remote shores (this remote, northern border had just opened for the season, so we imagine they had just gotten the big pep talk). The woman ended up joining our little group (we were all buds now), and both guards were being respectful. We are all on the same side after all, right?! We chatted a while more (it’s a sleepy border) and off we went; rattled, but never cowed!
Oh ye fellow travelers, beware the Canadian border…if you’re in a VW van and your man wears a pony tail!

The Top of the World highway looks pretty much like the top of the world, but it's only 4,000 feet elevation; beautiful, wide open tundra and rolling hills.  We crossed the free ferry over the Yukon River and into the fun, historic town of Dawson City where we spent two nights in a cute cabin, ate lots of good food and listened to live music (at midnight!). We hit the road again around noon on June 5th; our next goal…Edmonton, Alberta, Canada to visit our friends, Bryan and Debbi, a whopping 1,500 mile drive! Our travels north have been wonderful, and it feels great to have completed our exploration of the Americas.  We are signing off for now, but stay tuned for more adventures!  Not sure where we will end up next. As usual, we have no concrete plans, just a few vague murmurings about Europe or Australia and New Zealand. We’ll keep you posted! Thank you all for your continued support. It’s always fun to have you along! Hugs, Kat and Ned

The Top of the World highway looks pretty much like the top of the world, but it’s only 4,000 feet elevation; beautiful, wide open tundra and rolling hills.
We crossed the free ferry over the Yukon River and into the fun, historic town of Dawson City where we spent two nights in a cute cabin, ate lots of good food and listened to live music (at midnight!).
We hit the road again around noon on June 5th; our next goal…Edmonton, Alberta, Canada to visit our friends, Bryan and Debbi, a whopping 1,500 mile drive!
Our travels north have been wonderful, and it feels great to have completed our exploration of the Americas. We are signing off for now, but stay tuned for more adventures! Not sure where we will end up next. As usual, we have no concrete plans, just a few vague murmurings about Europe or Australia and New Zealand. We’ll keep you posted!
Thank you all for your continued support. It’s always fun to have you along!
Hugs,
Kat and Ned

Turn Around Charlotte, Ya Ran Out of Road…Again! – Alaska Part Two

Before we headed to Alaska many friends asked us what we were going to do up there. Many offered wonderful suggestions of great places to visit and things to do. As usual, we didn’t pay enough attention, study ahead or make many plans. Our only goal was to drive to the top of the continent. Since we’ve driven as far south as one can go in the Americas, we figured we just had to drive as far north as allowed just to balance things out.

We decided we’d get this northern itch out of the way first, and then, if Charlotte was still willing, we’d check out what else this State has to offer. We first stopped in Fairbanks in the center of the State. It is the third largest city in the Alaska with a whopping 32,000 people. We hung out a couple of days, wrote the previous blog and stocked up on provisions for the big 500 mile trek north to Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay.

The Dalton Highway officially starts roughly 84 miles northwest of Fairbanks. Here the pavement ends and it’s 415 miles to Deadhorse. The Dalton is also known as “The Haul Road.” It was built in the ‘70s as a supply line during the building of the Alaskan Pipeline. This infamous and controversial pipe dissects the entire State delivering crude oil from the North Slope oil fields to the shipping port of Valdez in the south on the Gulf of Alaska/Pacific Ocean. The majority of the vehicles on the Dalton are semis hauling goods to the working oil fields up north. There aren’t many other travelers on the road except for hunters and curiosity seekers like us. This welcoming sign was plastered with stickers from other overland travelers doing the road for the same reason we were. Of course we had to add our own.

The Dalton Highway officially starts roughly 84 miles northwest of Fairbanks. Here the pavement ends and it’s 415 miles to Deadhorse. The Dalton is also known as “The Haul Road.” It was built in the ‘70s as a supply line during the building of the Alaskan Pipeline. This infamous and controversial pipe dissects the entire State delivering crude oil from the North Slope oil fields to the shipping port of Valdez in the south on the Gulf of Alaska/Pacific Ocean. The majority of the vehicles on the Dalton are semis hauling goods to the working oil fields up north. There aren’t many other travelers on the road except for hunters and curiosity seekers like us. This welcoming sign was plastered with stickers from other overland travelers doing the road for the same reason we were. Of course we had to add our own.

Lots of interesting signs at the beginning like these two: Speed Limit 50 Next 416 miles! Others we liked were: “Pavement ends” “Heavy Industrial Traffic, Proceed with Caution” “Next Services, 240 miles” “Ultra Low Sulphur Fuel Not Guaranteed Beyond This Point” (Don’t bring your fancy new diesel pickup I guess!)

Lots of interesting signs at the beginning like these two: Speed Limit 50 Next 416 miles! Others we liked were: “Pavement ends” “Heavy Industrial Traffic, Proceed with Caution” “Next Services, 240 miles” “Ultra Low Sulphur Fuel Not Guaranteed Beyond This Point” (Don’t bring your fancy new diesel pickup I guess!)

2b

The graded road surface was in good shape and we could clip along at around 40-45 mph when it was dry. They spread a lot of Calcium Chloride on the surface for ice control in the winter. This time of year it makes the road muddy and greasier than snot if it’s even slightly wet. Since it seems to rain every day, it’s always wet! The pipeline is visible from the road most of the time but sometimes it vanishes underground or can be seen way off in the distance, far from the road.

The graded road surface was in good shape and we could clip along at around 40-45 mph when it was dry. They spread a lot of Calcium Chloride on the surface for ice control in the winter. This time of year it makes the road muddy and greasier than snot if it’s even slightly wet. Since it seems to rain every day, it’s always wet! The pipeline is visible from the road most of the time but sometimes it vanishes underground or can be seen way off in the distance, far from the road.

6

Of course we had to touch it the first chance we got (having negotiated Charlotte around a nice red keep out gate to get there!). The pipe itself is 48 inches in diameter. Most of the time it is elevated above ground on pylons. The oil flows through the pipe at around 150 degrees. It is above ground because the heat would melt the frozen tundra and cause the pipe to sag, crack and leak. The aluminum finned towers on top of the rusty steel pylons are filled with Freon and designed to keep the pylons cool! Evidently the pylons can heat up from the heat of the pipe and then melt the ground causing things to sag.

Of course we had to touch it the first chance we got (having negotiated Charlotte around a nice red keep out gate to get there!). The pipe itself is 48 inches in diameter. Most of the time it is elevated above ground on pylons. The oil flows through the pipe at around 150 degrees. It is above ground because the heat would melt the frozen tundra and cause the pipe to sag, crack and leak. The aluminum finned towers on top of the rusty steel pylons are filled with Freon and designed to keep the pylons cool! Evidently the pylons can heat up from the heat of the pipe and then melt the ground causing things to sag.

After 115 miles something happens! You reach the Arctic Circle. We spent the night here in the provided campground.

After 115 miles something happens! You reach the Arctic Circle. We spent the night here in the provided campground.

11

The next morning we did 60 miles to Coldfoot and the Trucker’s Cafe for a big greasy trucker’s breakfast. Coldfoot is not a town but an outpost with food, fuel, rooms, showers and camping for travelers on the highway. It lies at about the half way point on the road.

The next morning we did 60 miles to Coldfoot and the Trucker’s Cafe for a big greasy trucker’s breakfast. Coldfoot is not a town but an outpost with food, fuel, rooms, showers and camping for travelers on the highway. It lies at about the half way point on the road.

We ran in to Demis (Switzerland) and Nancy (Mexico) at Coldfoot. They had flown their bikes to Deadhorse and were riding to Fairbanks!

We ran in to Demis (Switzerland) and Nancy (Mexico) at Coldfoot. They had flown their bikes to Deadhorse and were riding to Fairbanks!

14a

Heading north from Coldfoot it started to get colder as the road got steeper. Although there wasn’t a lot of traffic, every time a truck came along, throwing stones, we cringed for Charlotte’s windshield, waiting for the “big one” to land in our laps. In the end she suffered six “bruises” but no cracks, so her Mexico and Belize insurance-sticker-infested windshield lives on!

Heading north from Coldfoot it started to get colder as the road got steeper. Although there wasn’t a lot of traffic, every time a truck came along, throwing stones, we cringed for Charlotte’s windshield, waiting for the “big one” to land in our laps. In the end she suffered six “bruises” but no cracks, so her Mexico and Belize insurance-sticker-infested windshield lives on!

18

We headed into the Brooks Range, a major eco-changing point along the road.

We headed into the Brooks Range, a major eco-changing point along the road.

At the top of Atigun Pass while crossing the Brooks Range. It is the highest pass in Alaska at a whopping 4,800ft!

At the top of Atigun Pass while crossing the Brooks Range. It is the highest pass in Alaska at a whopping 4,800ft!

First look at the famed North Slope.

First look at the famed North Slope.

Tundra.

Tundra.

More tundra. Note the flexible horizontal road markers. We asked the truckers why are they sideways? They told us sometimes in the winter there are whiteouts and they can’t see the road so they drive from one marker to the next, slapping them with their trucks in a kind of drive-by-brail process to find their way.

More tundra. Note the flexible horizontal road markers. We asked the truckers why are they sideways? They told us sometimes in the winter there are whiteouts and they can’t see the road so they drive from one marker to the next, slapping them with their trucks in a kind of drive-by-brail process to find their way.

Not fit for human habitation. If it weren’t for the pipeline no one in their right mind would come up here. Since we weren’t there for the pipeline, just the end of the road, I guess we are not of right mind – but you knew that already! We did, however, meet some young military guys who had been hunting for a week while camping in tents. Talk about nuts…

Not fit for human habitation. If it weren’t for the pipeline no one in their right mind would come up here. Since we weren’t there for the pipeline, just the end of the road, I guess we are not of right mind – but you knew that already! We did, however, meet some young military guys who had been hunting for a week while camping in tents. Talk about nuts…

Close to Deadhorse, the Sagavanirktok River was breaking up with the spring (?) thaw.

Close to Deadhorse, the Sagavanirktok River was breaking up with the spring (?) thaw.

23d25

We made it! Unlike Ushuaia, Argentina at the other end of the world, there was no fancy park or big sign marking the spot. We had to settle for this stop sign where the Dalton runs into Lake Colleen, a holding pond for all the runoff from the muddy roads around Deadhorse. Deadhorse itself is an industrial wasteland of pre-fab buildings, heavy equipment parking lots, oil tanks and gated compounds housing offices of the many companies doing business in the oil fields.

We made it!
Unlike Ushuaia, Argentina at the other end of the world, there was no fancy park or big sign marking the spot. We had to settle for this stop sign where the Dalton runs into Lake Colleen, a holding pond for all the runoff from the muddy roads around Deadhorse. Deadhorse itself is an industrial wasteland of pre-fab buildings, heavy equipment parking lots, oil tanks and gated compounds housing offices of the many companies doing business in the oil fields.

This screen shot from our map app on our iPad kind of puts it all into perspective! Charlotte’s done about 35,000 miles now going top to bottom.

This screen shot from our map app on our iPad kind of puts it all into perspective! Charlotte’s done about 35,000 miles now going top to bottom.

The gas station in Deadhorse was a 24 hour self serve affair. No one would want to stand around selling gas in this weather. The tanks were above ground as the whole place is built up on top of the tundra and frozen water that makes up the area of Prudhoe Bay.

The gas station in Deadhorse was a 24 hour self serve affair. No one would want to stand around selling gas in this weather. The tanks were above ground as the whole place is built up on top of the tundra and frozen water that makes up the area of Prudhoe Bay.

There was A LOT of very expensive, cool (literally) equipment just sitting around stockpiled. We were told things are very slow because of cheap oil prices. It costs too much to bring oil out of Alaska when Middle Eastern prices drop.

There was A LOT of very expensive, cool (literally) equipment just sitting around stockpiled. We were told things are very slow because of cheap oil prices. It costs too much to bring oil out of Alaska when Middle Eastern prices drop.

Double Decker office moving. No worries about overpass clearance up here!

Double Decker office moving. No worries about overpass clearance up here!

Legoland? Premium high-rise apartments for oil workers. Who in their right mind would want to live up here?

Legoland? Premium high-rise apartments for oil workers. Who in their right mind would want to live up here?

Who picked THAT number?

Who picked THAT number?

The parking lot at the Aurora Hotel featured electrical plugs in every space so you can plug in your engine block heater. No cars anywhere. All pickups. All Chevys, Fords and Dodges. Not a Toyota in sight – and certainly no Volkswagens!

The parking lot at the Aurora Hotel featured electrical plugs in every space so you can plug in your engine block heater. No cars anywhere. All pickups. All Chevys, Fords and Dodges. Not a Toyota in sight – and certainly no Volkswagens!

Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay skyline.

Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay skyline.

The light never changed. This shot was taken around midnight. It didn’t look any different than 12 noon!

The light never changed. This shot was taken around midnight. It didn’t look any different than 12 noon!

We stayed in the parking lot of the Prudhoe Bay Hotel after eating in their cafeteria and yes, the food was just what you’d expect… The two “hotels” in town are really more like dormitories for transient oil field workers.

We stayed in the parking lot of the Prudhoe Bay Hotel after eating in their cafeteria and yes, the food was just what you’d expect… The two “hotels” in town are really more like dormitories for transient oil field workers.

That’s 9:25 PM. The sun is still high in the sky. It never did set.

That’s 9:25 PM. The sun is still high in the sky. It never did set.

Charlotte is not equipped with black out curtains. I took this shot of Kat snoozing away with her blackout mask on - at 2AM.

Charlotte is not equipped with black out curtains. I took this shot of Kat snoozing away with her blackout mask on – at 2AM.

Just after leaving Deadhorse we had our first caribou sighting.

Just after leaving Deadhorse we had our first caribou sighting.

38

Musk Ox!!

Musk Ox!!

Musk Ox are only found at these northern arctic latitudes. They were hunted to extinction in Alaska by the 1920s but in 1930, thirty-four were re-introduced from Greenland. Now they are doing well enough that we are sending them back to Russia to help their dwindling populations. The truck drivers said they are the only critter they are afraid to hit! “They’re like cinder blocks with hide,” we were told.

Musk Ox are only found at these northern arctic latitudes. They were hunted to extinction in Alaska by the 1920s but in 1930, thirty-four were re-introduced from Greenland. Now they are doing well enough that we are sending them back to Russia to help their dwindling populations. The truck drivers said they are the only critter they are afraid to hit! “They’re like cinder blocks with hide,” we were told.

About halfway back down the Dalton we took a little side road to the only “town” along the road. Wiseman (pop 16) is an old mining town that dates to 1916 and its location just happened to be situated close to the pipeline route. We knocked on the doors of several log cabins but couldn’t find any life. It was Sunday, so maybe all 16 of them were sleeping off the night before when they were undoubtedly contributing to their totem pole building project!

About halfway back down the Dalton we took a little side road to the only “town” along the road. Wiseman (pop 16) is an old mining town that dates to 1916 and its location just happened to be situated close to the pipeline route. We knocked on the doors of several log cabins but couldn’t find any life. It was Sunday, so maybe all 16 of them were sleeping off the night before when they were undoubtedly contributing to their totem pole building project!

Our first stop after finishing the Dalton was Chena Hot Springs just outside of Fairbanks. A hot springs seemed like just the thing after the frosty arctic.

Our first stop after finishing the Dalton was Chena Hot Springs just outside of Fairbanks. A hot springs seemed like just the thing after the frosty arctic.

So what is the first thing we do at the hot springs? Go to their Aurora Ice Museum where it is 26 degrees inside the building that houses it.

So what is the first thing we do at the hot springs? Go to their Aurora Ice Museum where it is 26 degrees inside the building that houses it.

Joust anyone?

Joust anyone?

They had some pretty “cool” sculptures in there.

They had some pretty “cool” sculptures in there.

And a bar that served appletinis in hand cut ice glasses.

And a bar that served appletinis in hand cut ice glasses.

The date was May 16th, our first anniversary! So we had an ice cold anniversary toast.

The date was May 16th, our first anniversary! So we had an ice cold anniversary toast.

And finally, a nice warm soak.

And finally, a nice warm soak.

Caged reindeer at the hot springs. We were told reindeer are domesticated caribou. This guy was pretty friendly, but he needed a red nose.

Caged reindeer at the hot springs. We were told reindeer are domesticated caribou. This guy was pretty friendly, but he needed a red nose.

China Hot Springs has its own geothermal plant than supplies power to the resort as well as the neighboring community.

China Hot Springs has its own geothermal plant than supplies power to the resort as well as the neighboring community.

Back in Fairbanks we met with some folks from the local antique car club for dinner at The Pump House, a famous Fairbanks eatery.

Back in Fairbanks we met with some folks from the local antique car club for dinner at The Pump House, a famous Fairbanks eatery.

The closest we want to get to a grizzly.

The closest we want to get to a grizzly.

I was blown away by the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum in Fairbanks. Willy Vinton, the museum manager, gave us a personal tour. They have a collection of pre 1915 cars unmatched by any I have seen. There were also many early local Alaskan vehicles complimented with great displays and photos depicting their lives in the rough and ready early 20th century Alaska Territory.

I was blown away by the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum in Fairbanks. Willy Vinton, the museum manager, gave us a personal tour. They have a collection of pre 1915 cars unmatched by any I have seen. There were also many early local Alaskan vehicles complimented with great displays and photos depicting their lives in the rough and ready early 20th century Alaska Territory.

After leaving Fairbanks we headed south down the Richardson Highway to the turnoff with the Denali Highway. We can’t stay away from dirt and the Denali is 134 miles of it. It runs east towards Denali National Park and used to be the only way to get to the park before the modern George Parks Highway was opened in 1971 connecting Fairbanks with Anchorage. The Denali is closed in the winter and had just barely opened when we crossed it. None of the resorts and roadhouses along its length were open yet.

After leaving Fairbanks we headed south down the Richardson Highway to the turnoff with the Denali Highway. We can’t stay away from dirt and the Denali is 134 miles of it. It runs east towards Denali National Park and used to be the only way to get to the park before the modern George Parks Highway was opened in 1971 connecting Fairbanks with Anchorage. The Denali is closed in the winter and had just barely opened when we crossed it. None of the resorts and roadhouses along its length were open yet.

67

We took a hike along this ATV path to get some exercise…

We took a hike along this ATV path to get some exercise…

…and crossed paths with this moose cow and her yearling calf. Yikes, glad they were running the other way!

…and crossed paths with this moose cow and her yearling calf. Yikes, glad they were running the other way!

Heavy traffic along the Denali Highway.

Heavy traffic along the Denali Highway.

We next visited Denali National Park, home to North America’s highest mountain, 20,310 foot high Denali (formerly mount McKinley.) The park covers approximately 6 million acres and the mountain itself is buried deep within, making photos of Denali very hard to get without an airplane. Also, the mountain is often shrouded in clouds, as it was when we were there, making even distant mountain sightings rare. We took this nice photo instead, somewhere just inside the entrance, to prove we were there. We also suddenly found ourselves in a people-overload haze. After turning off of the Denali Highway onto the Parks Highway were overrun by tour busses and all that goes with them. Before Denali, we were living in a northern dream world of few cars and fewer people. Everywhere we’ve been since leaving Vancouver, BC has been quiet and half awake from a long winter’s nap. Many places, and attractions have not been open for the season yet and we’ve been taking the solitude and peace for granted. Then BAM; the George Parks Highway and Denali National Park. Traffic, stuffed tour busses, crowded restaurants; ahhh, the summer people are here!

We next visited Denali National Park, home to North America’s highest mountain, 20,310 foot high Denali (formerly mount McKinley.) The park covers approximately 6 million acres and the mountain itself is buried deep within, making photos of Denali very hard to get without an airplane. Also, the mountain is often shrouded in clouds, as it was when we were there, making even distant mountain sightings rare. We took this nice photo instead, somewhere just inside the entrance, to prove we were there.
We also suddenly found ourselves in a people-overload haze. After turning off of the Denali Highway onto the Parks Highway were overrun by tour busses and all that goes with them. Before Denali, we were living in a northern dream world of few cars and fewer people. Everywhere we’ve been since leaving Vancouver, BC has been quiet and half awake from a long winter’s nap. Many places, and attractions have not been open for the season yet and we’ve been taking the solitude and peace for granted. Then BAM; the George Parks Highway and Denali National Park. Traffic, stuffed tour busses, crowded restaurants; ahhh, the summer people are here!

But, visiting the park had its payoff. Grizzlies!!! Two of them at once. These guys were eating roots in a riverbed just off the road and seemed unperturbed by all the tourists taking their picture.

But, visiting the park had its payoff. Grizzlies!!! Two of them at once. These guys were eating roots in a riverbed just off the road and seemed unperturbed by all the tourists taking their picture.

One even lay down and posed!

One even lay down and posed!

In Healy we checked out the bus used in the film Into the Wild. It’s a replica of the Fairbanks City Transit System Bus #142 that Christopher McCandless died in. Locals told us the real bus is still out in the wilderness, 35 miles west of Healy.

In Healy we checked out the bus used in the film Into the Wild. It’s a replica of the Fairbanks City Transit System Bus #142 that Christopher McCandless died in. Locals told us the real bus is still out in the wilderness, 35 miles west of Healy.

73b75

After Denali we continued south down the Parks Highway towards Anchorage. We took a side trip to the touristy but fun town of Talkeetna where we camped at the baseball park and partied to this blues band at the historic Fairview Inn.

After Denali we continued south down the Parks Highway towards Anchorage. We took a side trip to the touristy but fun town of Talkeetna where we camped at the baseball park and partied to this blues band at the historic Fairview Inn.

787980

Our last stop before Anchorage was the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters in Wassilla. (We could have looked up Sarah Palin, but we were told she moved to Arizona for better political posturing.) The sled dogs were way more interesting. We watched a movie on the history of the race and learned the importance of sled dogs and their history in Alaska. We checked out old race sleds, kissed babies, posed with in-harness dogs and then took a (fast) ride in a cart pulled by the eager dogs through the forest. It was a very worthwhile stop. We are now in Anchorage, holed up in a motel for showers and to write this blog. Stay tuned for more adventure as we explore the Kenai Peninsula, maybe try some fishing, and then on eastward to Valdez…

Our last stop before Anchorage was the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters in Wassilla. (We could have looked up Sarah Palin, but we were told she moved to Arizona for better political posturing.) The sled dogs were way more interesting. We watched a movie on the history of the race and learned the importance of sled dogs and their history in Alaska. We checked out old race sleds, kissed babies, posed with in-harness dogs and then took a (fast) ride in a cart pulled by the eager dogs through the forest. It was a very worthwhile stop.
We are now in Anchorage, holed up in a motel for showers and to write this blog.
Stay tuned for more adventure as we explore the Kenai Peninsula, maybe try some fishing, and then on eastward to Valdez…

North to Alaska – The Journey Continues…

I can’t get Johnny Horton’s song “North to Alaska” out of my head as we roll along, passing incredible snow capped peaks, crossing huge rushing rivers and gawking at large critters who seemingly pose for our camera.

Ned, Kat and Charlotte are on the move again. Having spent a restful but restless year at home in Nevada after returning from our sojourn to the bottom of South America, we are now rolling to the top of North America – the top of Alaska. Our destination is the outpost of Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay, which is as far north, we are told, as one can drive up the Dalton Highway out of Fairbanks. We are in Fairbanks as I write this, having just spent the last two weeks driving 3,580 miles from Minden, Nevada. From here we get on the dirt for the last 500 miles to the top. Unlike the “big one,” our 30,000 mile, 14 month odyssey south, this trip is a quickie – just two months and maybe 9,000 miles. But, if you go to one end ya gotta go to the other, so follow along as we tell the tale thus far…

0

After South America Charlotte needed a little love… like a new engine, transmission, brakes, tires, lots of cracks welded up and on and on. However, she has not been idle, having rolled up another 15,000 miles this past year taking us to our wedding, as well as to places like Baja, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma. Along the way her heater fan quit. We froze for a while, but a trip to Alaska, we decided, required a working heater. I dove into one of the nastier jobs in auto repair – digging buried heater cores out of dashboards.

After South America Charlotte needed a little love… like a new engine, transmission, brakes, tires, lots of cracks welded up and on and on. However, she has not been idle, having rolled up another 15,000 miles this past year taking us to our wedding, as well as to places like Baja, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma. Along the way her heater fan quit. We froze for a while, but a trip to Alaska, we decided, required a working heater. I dove into one of the nastier jobs in auto repair – digging buried heater cores out of dashboards.

We’re not sure about “the best place on earth,” but British Columbia, Canada is gorgeous. We spent a quick three days getting from northern Nevada to the Canadian border, having already explored Oregon and Washington quite extensively in the past. The border crossing was a five minute affair, a big contrast to some of the arduous ones we experienced in Central America. The guy did ask some bizarre questions like, “Are you seeing friends in Canada? What are you bringing them?” and “Did you travel for work? Where? Why?” and the best, “Do you own any guns? HOW MANY?”

We’re not sure about “the best place on earth,” but British Columbia, Canada is gorgeous. We spent a quick three days getting from northern Nevada to the Canadian border, having already explored Oregon and Washington quite extensively in the past. The border crossing was a five minute affair, a big contrast to some of the arduous ones we experienced in Central America. The guy did ask some bizarre questions like, “Are you seeing friends in Canada? What are you bringing them?” and “Did you travel for work? Where? Why?” and the best, “Do you own any guns? HOW MANY?”

Once over the border the trip really began. We spent a fun night at the home of our friends, Ian & Susan. The same Ian & Susan we ran into in Mazatlan, Mexico on the trip south. The next day we crossed this beautiful bridge over the Fraser River and skirted around the city of Vancouver, heading north on scenic Hwy 99 to the ski town of Whistler.

Once over the border the trip really began. We spent a fun night at the home of our friends, Ian & Susan. The same Ian & Susan we ran into in Mazatlan, Mexico on the trip south. The next day we crossed this beautiful bridge over the Fraser River and skirted around the city of Vancouver, heading north on scenic Hwy 99 to the ski town of Whistler.

The “Sea to Sky” Highway 99 is a much more scenic and remote route to Hwy 97. 97 is considered the milk run way to get to Dawson Creek (Mile 0 of the famed Alaskan Highway). As usual, we didn’t take the milk run. In fact, we’re avoiding the Alcan as much as possible on our way north, picking all the alternate, less traveled roads we can find. The Sea to Sky reminded us of the Austral in southern Chile.

The “Sea to Sky” Highway 99 is a much more scenic and remote route to Hwy 97. 97 is considered the milk run way to get to Dawson Creek (Mile 0 of the famed Alaskan Highway). As usual, we didn’t take the milk run. In fact, we’re avoiding the Alcan as much as possible on our way north, picking all the alternate, less traveled roads we can find. The Sea to Sky reminded us of the Austral in southern Chile.

Tourist stop at Shannon Falls.

Tourist stop at Shannon Falls.

Amateur Tree Hugger.

Amateur Tree Hugger.

Our second night in Canada was spent in the ski town of Whistler in the parking lot! It wasn’t very memorable and we don’t have any photos. Ski season had just ended and the place was quite dead. After our third night however, we woke up to this view out our living room window. The previous day we had finished Hwy 99 and turned north on the 97. That evening we had followed a dirt road off the 97 which led us to this glass smooth, deserted lake.

Our second night in Canada was spent in the ski town of Whistler in the parking lot! It wasn’t very memorable and we don’t have any photos. Ski season had just ended and the place was quite dead. After our third night however, we woke up to this view out our living room window. The previous day we had finished Hwy 99 and turned north on the 97. That evening we had followed a dirt road off the 97 which led us to this glass smooth, deserted lake.

Morning stretches and exercises are still the norm. Sitting on your butt all day takes its toll, so we try to get a little workout and walk/run in every day.

Morning stretches and exercises are still the norm. Sitting on your butt all day takes its toll, so we try to get a little workout and walk/run in every day.

Professional Tree Hugger. This guy was our first Black Bear sighting with many more to come. He was right along the highway and when we stopped he ran and tried to climb a power pole!

Professional Tree Hugger.
This guy was our first Black Bear sighting with many more to come. He was right along the highway and when we stopped he ran and tried to climb a power pole!

Ho hum, just another snowcapped beautiful mountain range. We have now passed the town of Prince George and have headed west on Hwy 16 to Hwy 37, the Cassiar Highway. 37 took us north again all the way to Watson Lake.

Ho hum, just another snowcapped beautiful mountain range. We have now passed the town of Prince George and have headed west on Hwy 16 to Hwy 37, the Cassiar Highway. 37 took us north again all the way to Watson Lake.

Travelling up Hwy 37, we took a detour west out 37A to the town of Hyder, Alaska USA. This is the furthermost point south you can drive to in the State of Alaska. The 40 something mile drive is gorgeous with several views of glaciers like this one and dead ends in Hyder. There is no way to continue further into Alaska by car, only boat. So, after visiting Hyder you must backtrack into Canada and continue north in that country for hundreds of miles before entering the rest of Alaska that is accessible by car.

Travelling up Hwy 37, we took a detour west out 37A to the town of Hyder, Alaska USA. This is the furthermost point south you can drive to in the State of Alaska. The 40 something mile drive is gorgeous with several views of glaciers like this one and dead ends in Hyder. There is no way to continue further into Alaska by car, only boat. So, after visiting Hyder you must backtrack into Canada and continue north in that country for hundreds of miles before entering the rest of Alaska that is accessible by car.

This is pretty much all there is to Hyder, Alaska. There isn’t even an official USA border crossing but there is an official Canadian crossing to go back into Canada –where they asked us the same kind of crazy questions they had asked in Vancouver! And we were only in Hyder a couple of hours!

This is pretty much all there is to Hyder, Alaska. There isn’t even an official USA border crossing but there is an official Canadian crossing to go back into Canada –where they asked us the same kind of crazy questions they had asked in Vancouver! And we were only in Hyder a couple of hours!

Although the town is only one block long we found much to do in Hyder. This is a view from the “port” looking out on the sound that leads to the Pacific Ocean.

Although the town is only one block long we found much to do in Hyder. This is a view from the “port” looking out on the sound that leads to the Pacific Ocean.

This walkway has been constructed along Fish Creek so tourists can safely view bears catching salmon in the creek. Unfortunately, we were too early in the season for the fish so there were no bears. Fortunately, there were no tourists either!

This walkway has been constructed along Fish Creek so tourists can safely view bears catching salmon in the creek. Unfortunately, we were too early in the season for the fish so there were no bears. Fortunately, there were no tourists either!

42b

Bear rules for tourists.

Bear rules for tourists.

I found the local junkyard about as interesting as Fish Creek!

I found the local junkyard about as interesting as Fish Creek!

…Especially the seating arrangement in this rotting Toyota Land Cruiser. Kinda gives a new meaning to the old Land Cruiser nickname “Toylet!”

…Especially the seating arrangement in this rotting Toyota Land Cruiser. Kinda gives a new meaning to the old Land Cruiser nickname “Toylet!”

The final order of business in Hyder was to stop at the Glacier Inn and get “Hyderized.” I was here 15 years ago with fellow journalist and oldest friend, Rick Pewe so I knew the drill… but Kat didn’t.

The final order of business in Hyder was to stop at the Glacier Inn and get “Hyderized.” I was here 15 years ago with fellow journalist and oldest friend, Rick Pewe so I knew the drill… but Kat didn’t.

55

Straight Everclear. “Don’t sniff or sip. Down it in one shot or you buy the house a round!”

Straight Everclear. “Don’t sniff or sip. Down it in one shot or you buy the house a round!”

Once Hyderized things got a little fuzzy… So we had lunch before facing the border guards going back into Canada. We were lucky - turns out it was the first day of the season the restaurant was open for business.

Once Hyderized things got a little fuzzy… So we had lunch before facing the border guards going back into Canada. We were lucky – turns out it was the first day of the season the restaurant was open for business.

Black Bear #2, or 3, or 4???

Black Bear #2, or 3, or 4???

Right at the crossing from British Columbia into Yukon Territory at the end of Hwy 37 Charlotte was due for a 5000 mile adjustment. Living on the road you do things when you have to. Oil was changed and tires were rotated.

Right at the crossing from British Columbia into Yukon Territory at the end of Hwy 37 Charlotte was due for a 5000 mile adjustment. Living on the road you do things when you have to. Oil was changed and tires were rotated.

By now we were getting a little ripe so we got a clean room and shower at Johnson’s Crossing, one of the nicer roadhouses along the Alcan. We had passed several that were still closed for the season, but others seemed abandoned. When we asked about them at Johnson’s we were told that many roadhouses have had to close their doors because they can’t get people to work. Sad.

By now we were getting a little ripe so we got a clean room and shower at Johnson’s Crossing, one of the nicer roadhouses along the Alcan. We had passed several that were still closed for the season, but others seemed abandoned. When we asked about them at Johnson’s we were told that many roadhouses have had to close their doors because they can’t get people to work. Sad.

Our next adventure after showers at Johnson’s was the Canol Road. It turned out to be our best adventure between home and Fairbanks. The Canol was cut in 1942-44 to serve the Canadian Oil Company’s four inch diameter pipeline from Norman Wells to Whitehorse. The pipeline venture was a failure after only two years, but the dirt road it left behind offers a fantastic alternative route for those of us trying to stay off the Alcan. At the road’s southern entrance these Chevy truck carcasses are a stark reminder of a time when life was much tougher in these parts. The trucks are leftovers from the road’s rushed construction during WWII and their remains, along with other heavier equipment, can still be found rusting away quietly in the forest.

Our next adventure after showers at Johnson’s was the Canol Road. It turned out to be our best adventure between home and Fairbanks. The Canol was cut in 1942-44 to serve the Canadian Oil Company’s four inch diameter pipeline from Norman Wells to Whitehorse. The pipeline venture was a failure after only two years, but the dirt road it left behind offers a fantastic alternative route for those of us trying to stay off the Alcan. At the road’s southern entrance these Chevy truck carcasses are a stark reminder of a time when life was much tougher in these parts. The trucks are leftovers from the road’s rushed construction during WWII and their remains, along with other heavier equipment, can still be found rusting away quietly in the forest.

Just after passing the old trucks we thought our adventure was over before it began. Signs proclaimed the road was still closed for winter. But, there was no gate and no one around to stop us so… the sign did say “travel at your own risk” and the best adventures usually come with a bit of risk… Onward!

Just after passing the old trucks we thought our adventure was over before it began. Signs proclaimed the road was still closed for winter. But, there was no gate and no one around to stop us so… the sign did say “travel at your own risk” and the best adventures usually come with a bit of risk… Onward!

The South Canol Road is 132 miles long and runs through some beautiful and very remote country. There are no towns, services or even signs of humans besides the road itself. It felt like one of the most remote places we have ever visited.

The South Canol Road is 132 miles long and runs through some beautiful and very remote country. There are no towns, services or even signs of humans besides the road itself. It felt like one of the most remote places we have ever visited.

90a90b90c

Adding to the remoteness were all the signs of big hungry critters that we’ve never seen before. First off were the big egg shaped pellets we figured were moose. Next came wolf tracks…. Then grizzly bear (a small one) and finally moose hoofs. Onward!

Adding to the remoteness were all the signs of big hungry critters that we’ve never seen before. First off were the big egg shaped pellets we figured were moose. Next came wolf tracks…. Then grizzly bear (a small one) and finally moose hoofs. Onward!

For the first 60 miles or so we saw tracks from other vehicles proving we were not the only ones ignoring the road closed sign. However once we reached Quiet Lake all the vehicle tracks ended and there were signs the final ones turned around. We motored on until we reached this downed tree, a sure sign that no one had been through the road since the previous fall.

For the first 60 miles or so we saw tracks from other vehicles proving we were not the only ones ignoring the road closed sign. However once we reached Quiet Lake all the vehicle tracks ended and there were signs the final ones turned around. We motored on until we reached this downed tree, a sure sign that no one had been through the road since the previous fall.

Charlotte made quick work of dragging the tree out of the way. Onward!

Charlotte made quick work of dragging the tree out of the way. Onward!

Another 10 miles up the road was this Charlotte-averse washout. Down came our Australian made MAXTRAX recovery devices from the roof rack. We carried these four stackable plastic land mats all through South America and never used them! Then last January in Baja, they saved a friend’s van from the rising tide when he got stuck on the beach. Now they made great ramps to allow Charlotte to ease into and out of the washout. Onward!

Another 10 miles up the road was this Charlotte-averse washout. Down came our Australian made MAXTRAX recovery devices from the roof rack. We carried these four stackable plastic land mats all through South America and never used them! Then last January in Baja, they saved a friend’s van from the rising tide when he got stuck on the beach. Now they made great ramps to allow Charlotte to ease into and out of the washout. Onward!

The road became muddier and snow began to appear.

The road became muddier and snow began to appear.

Then about 85 miles in we came to this avalanche that had buried the road.

Then about 85 miles in we came to this avalanche that had buried the road.

We got out and surveyed our options. We really didn’t want to backtrack all the way to Johnson’s Crossing and (uggh) the Alcan. The pros were it was still a beautiful, warm day and only 4pm. The sun didn’t go down until about 10pm and the avalanche was only about 75 yards across. We had stuff to help us when we got stuck and we like to use it. The cons were we were 90 miles from nowhere in the complete wilderness. No one knew where we were and no one had been to this spot by car all winter. There had been lots of big, hungry feet prints all along the way we had come. We had no idea what lay ahead. More snow. More mud. More hungry feet. There were at least 40 more miles before any civilization. If we got really stuck there was no option of walking for help. We would have to sit and wait for days until some other nut came along hoping to get through the road. The pros won…Onward!

We got out and surveyed our options. We really didn’t want to backtrack all the way to Johnson’s Crossing and (uggh) the Alcan.
The pros were it was still a beautiful, warm day and only 4pm. The sun didn’t go down until about 10pm and the avalanche was only about 75 yards across. We had stuff to help us when we got stuck and we like to use it.
The cons were we were 90 miles from nowhere in the complete wilderness. No one knew where we were and no one had been to this spot by car all winter. There had been lots of big, hungry feet prints all along the way we had come. We had no idea what lay ahead. More snow. More mud. More hungry feet. There were at least 40 more miles before any civilization. If we got really stuck there was no option of walking for help. We would have to sit and wait for days until some other nut came along hoping to get through the road.
The pros won…Onward!

Charlotte did a good job of staying on top of the snow for about half the distance…

Charlotte did a good job of staying on top of the snow for about half the distance…

Then she sank to her belly! Time to get to work.

Then she sank to her belly! Time to get to work.

There was nothing to winch to and our Pull Pal winch anchor has proven iffy in snow, so down came the MAXTRAX for the third time this year (second time the same day!)

There was nothing to winch to and our Pull Pal winch anchor has proven iffy in snow, so down came the MAXTRAX for the third time this year (second time the same day!)

The MAXTRAX gave Charlotte big feet and she was able to leapfrog across the snow. It took five “settings” of the devices in this manner with much digging for placement before she was able to claw her way to the dry road on the far side. As soon as we were on the other side we found tire tracks and footprints coming from the north. This told us the road was clear from there on. Whoohoo! We were the first to cross the Canol for 2016! Hah! We’re SUCH great white explorers. LOL.

The MAXTRAX gave Charlotte big feet and she was able to leapfrog across the snow. It took five “settings” of the devices in this manner with much digging for placement before she was able to claw her way to the dry road on the far side. As soon as we were on the other side we found tire tracks and footprints coming from the north. This told us the road was clear from there on. Whoohoo! We were the first to cross the Canol for 2016! Hah! We’re SUCH great white explorers. LOL.

After another 15 miles or so we came to this little cabin on a frozen lake. It was the first sign of life and we thought maybe the black pickup had made the tracks we had been following since the avalanche (turns out it hadn’t). We turned up the muddy driveway.

After another 15 miles or so we came to this little cabin on a frozen lake. It was the first sign of life and we thought maybe the black pickup had made the tracks we had been following since the avalanche (turns out it hadn’t). We turned up the muddy driveway.

Art was the first person we met when he came out to greet us with a warm smile, kudus for getting through the road, an offer to stay for dinner and a “come meet the family,” all in about two minutes! We felt very welcomed and right at home.

Art was the first person we met when he came out to greet us with a warm smile, kudus for getting through the road, an offer to stay for dinner and a “come meet the family,” all in about two minutes! We felt very welcomed and right at home.

Art’s not-wife Yvonne and Muffy, their not-daughter, whom they have raised since she was two, standing in the doorway of Art’s summer hunting cabin. We were getting a crash course in Canadian First Nation family life! Art and Yvonne have been together 14 years but don’t live together. They are from two different tribes. Art is Kaska and Yvonne is Tahltan. Muffy, or Yahlayla (her tribal name) is Yvonne’s daughter’s daughter but her grandmother (Yvonne) and her boyfriend (Art) have raised her. Got all that? It all didn’t matter. They were the kindest, nicest, happiest folks you could ever meet and referred to themselves as “Caninguns!”

Art’s not-wife Yvonne and Muffy, their not-daughter, whom they have raised since she was two, standing in the doorway of Art’s summer hunting cabin. We were getting a crash course in Canadian First Nation family life! Art and Yvonne have been together 14 years but don’t live together. They are from two different tribes. Art is Kaska and Yvonne is Tahltan. Muffy, or Yahlayla (her tribal name) is Yvonne’s daughter’s daughter but her grandmother (Yvonne) and her boyfriend (Art) have raised her. Got all that? It all didn’t matter. They were the kindest, nicest, happiest folks you could ever meet and referred to themselves as “Caninguns!”

Kat and Kath. This is Yvonne’s friend Katherine. All of the girls had driven the 70 plus miles in from their villages up north to cook a Mother’s Day dinner for Art and Ken. Ken is Art’s not-son but the son of Art’s best friend who is like a brother. OK, got it? Art and Ken are living at the cabin for the summer, but the girls all live in Ross River and Faro up north at the end of the Canol Road. Like our Native Americans, First Nation Canadians have designated tribal lands. The family explained that they can put up a cabin anywhere they want on their tribal lands, hence this camp which was only about two years old.

Kat and Kath. This is Yvonne’s friend Katherine. All of the girls had driven the 70 plus miles in from their villages up north to cook a Mother’s Day dinner for Art and Ken. Ken is Art’s not-son but the son of Art’s best friend who is like a brother. OK, got it?
Art and Ken are living at the cabin for the summer, but the girls all live in Ross River and Faro up north at the end of the Canol Road. Like our Native Americans, First Nation Canadians have designated tribal lands. The family explained that they can put up a cabin anywhere they want on their tribal lands, hence this camp which was only about two years old.

Yvonne loves to cook and we hit it just in time. We had a feast including steak, ribs, sausage, veggies plus all of our beer and all of their wine. When the sun doesn’t go down until after ten, a lot of eating and drinking occurs!

Yvonne loves to cook and we hit it just in time. We had a feast including steak, ribs, sausage, veggies plus all of our beer and all of their wine. When the sun doesn’t go down until after ten, a lot of eating and drinking occurs!

Shortly after we arrived Muffy took us to see her “pet” fox that had a den quite near the cabin. The family hadn’t seen any pups yet but they expected them to come out of the den any day. The fox was beautiful and huge, the size of a large German Sheppard dog.

Shortly after we arrived Muffy took us to see her “pet” fox that had a den quite near the cabin. The family hadn’t seen any pups yet but they expected them to come out of the den any day. The fox was beautiful and huge, the size of a large German Sheppard dog.

A shot of the inside of the cabin. That’s Ken working on the bed.

A shot of the inside of the cabin. That’s Ken working on the bed.

The view from the cabin was just jaw dropping.

The view from the cabin was just jaw dropping.

Needless to say, we camped there for the night and were reluctant to leave the next day.

Needless to say, we camped there for the night and were reluctant to leave the next day.

After dinner Art and Yvonne had a project to clean a duck and a goose they had shot. We watch with interest, feeling like dumb city kids with no survival skills in the wild. Here Art singes the goose down off the carcass.

After dinner Art and Yvonne had a project to clean a duck and a goose they had shot. We watch with interest, feeling like dumb city kids with no survival skills in the wild. Here Art singes the goose down off the carcass.

131a

The old and the new. Think Yvonne’s Fitbit bracelet can count how many birds she can clean in a day?

The old and the new. Think Yvonne’s Fitbit bracelet can count how many birds she can clean in a day?

After leaving the “Caninjuns’” camp we drove another 35 miles to the end of the Canol where we turned west on to the Campbell Highway. After another 20 miles or so of dirt the pavement began again. The views however did not change!

After leaving the “Caninjuns’” camp we drove another 35 miles to the end of the Canol where we turned west on to the Campbell Highway. After another 20 miles or so of dirt the pavement began again. The views however did not change!

A moose! We finally saw a moose! We were beginning to think they were only tracks.

A moose! We finally saw a moose! We were beginning to think they were only tracks.

146151158160

Selfie.

Selfie.

Hope to see a set of these on a live one. We thought about procuring these from this semi-abandoned building for the front of Charlotte to replace Vaca Muerte. Sharp eyes may notice Vaca is absent from his perch this trip. After a failed attempt to re-unite him with his body in Baja this past January (we couldn’t find it), he now hangs proudly on our living room wall. His travelin’ days are through! This awesome rack would have been a bit much for Charlotte’s nose, we reckoned, not to mention the border guards at the upcoming crossing into Alaska, USA would probably not have taken kindly to it.

Hope to see a set of these on a live one.
We thought about procuring these from this semi-abandoned building for the front of Charlotte to replace Vaca Muerte. Sharp eyes may notice Vaca is absent from his perch this trip. After a failed attempt to re-unite him with his body in Baja this past January (we couldn’t find it), he now hangs proudly on our living room wall. His travelin’ days are through! This awesome rack would have been a bit much for Charlotte’s nose, we reckoned, not to mention the border guards at the upcoming crossing into Alaska, USA would probably not have taken kindly to it.

It’s a long damn drive up through Canada to Alaska!

It’s a long damn drive up through Canada to Alaska!

Mile 1422. This white post marks the official end of the Alaska Highway from Dawson Creek, BC to Delta Junction, Alaska. For us it is just the beginning, though. From here we traveled another 98 miles to Fairbanks where we are holed up for a couple of days to write this blog and take multiple showers (!) Next we’ll go north on the Dalton Highway to the top, Prudhoe Bay; then back down to the south of this beautiful, huge state to explore what else it has to offer. Stay tuned…

Mile 1422. This white post marks the official end of the Alaska Highway from Dawson Creek, BC to Delta Junction, Alaska. For us it is just the beginning, though. From here we traveled another 98 miles to Fairbanks where we are holed up for a couple of days to write this blog and take multiple showers (!)
Next we’ll go north on the Dalton Highway to the top, Prudhoe Bay; then back down to the south of this beautiful, huge state to explore what else it has to offer.
Stay tuned…