The Drive – Part 3

On Tuesday, July 9th, we rose with the mission of finding a shower and washing some clothes.  We drove for a few hours through some incredibly beautiful and scenic territory.  The highway wound back and forth between British Columbia and Yukon Territory, so we were welcomed to both provinces in a morning.

After coming around a wide, sweeping turn, one of the most picturesque and charming views of the trip opened up.  Teslin Lake below us, so long the distant shores were invisible, was crossed by a megalithic bridge that lead to Teslin Village, a sweet little town where we didn’t at all mind spending the rest of our morning and early afternoon.  We pulled in to a lodge and RV park, and had all of our needs fulfilled.  Showers, laundry, pecan sweet rolls, and a couple of souvenir mugs we’ve used every day since.

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I went in to the little laundromat hoping for the best.  Everywhere we had been so far accepted American cash, but I assumed Canadian coin-op washing machines would be less than impressed with George Washington.  Luckily, I had $8 Canadian that had been change from our camp fee at Big Creek.  I needed some coins, and was grateful someone was in the office.  I handed him my $5, and felt remarkably the same as when I was a kindergartener buying something at the store.  “Here’s all the money I have…is it enough?”

“The machines take two quarters and two loonies,” the office manager explained.

Two what?!  I poked around at the coins in my hand.  Ah-ha!  The $1 coins had loons on the back.  Feeling like I’d just succeeded in interpreting hieroglyphics, I got our laundry started.

After naps for us all, feeling freshly showered, and with stacks of clean, folded laundry, we took off from Teslin and headed for our last campsite before crossing into Alaska.  Ready to not disrupt our low mileage day with too much driving, we settled in to Wolf Creek campground in the late afternoon.  This southern end of the Yukon is still far enough north that the daylight hours stretched very late into the evening, giving us plenty of reason to set up our slackline, take a walk to the camp playground, and take our time with our steaks and corn-on-the-cob.

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Wednesday, July 10th, we knew, was our Alaska day.   There would be no stopping for the night until we were securely in the 49th state.  Our first stop of the day was in Whitehorse, Yukon, for gas.  Whitehorse is now my quintessential BFE.  It was a busy little city, with things happening and going on, and looked like a fun place to visit, but it felt like it was on Mars, completely isolated from everything and anything else in the world.

Right outside of Whitehorse, we picked up our first and only hitchhiker of the trip.  John and I had discussed other potential hitchhikers, via walkie talkie, along the way, but Lucas was the lucky one.  We continued on through Otter Falls Cutoff, where we picked up some mugs and a bumper sticker declaring our success in navigating the Alaska Hiway, to Haines Junction.  We parted ways with Lucas there, as he was going into Alaska at the panhandle, headed to Haines.  The road turned northward and followed along a stretch of mountains whose profile matched what I’ve seen in every Alaska snowboarding video.  This seemed pretty reasonable, since they’re always going to Haines to ride.

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A gas and bathroom stop in Destruction Bay marked a significant transition in the road, and made us realize that the mugs and bumper sticker were purchased prematurely.  Imagine the worst road you’ve ever driven on, blow it up with dynamite, drive on what’s left, and you have an idea.  My understanding is that the expansion and contraction of the permafrost over the seasons makes the road impossible to keep smooth.  We were so rattled, shaken, and generally agitated, that we crossed the border back onto American soil and into Alaska completely unceremoniously, without even pausing for the photo-op at the Welcome to Alaska monument.

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Going through the border check here was quite a different experience than crossing into Canada had been.  After handing over our passport cards, the following inquisition ensued:

“Buy anything other than food and gas in Canada?”

“A few mugs.”

“Have a nice day!”

Nothing has ever made me feel more patriotic.  There’s something very comforting about returning “home”, being treated like an insider, even in a place I’ve never been.  The speed limits were posted in mph again; even though I had no problem with kph (as a trail runner, I’m acutely aware of just what 50k means, having done it on foot), I was more than happy to return to my default setting.

The next landmark was the city of Tok, but since it was getting late in the day and we were the most tired from driving as we had been any day, we turned left for Anchorage and our last campground of the trip.  The Porcupine Creek campground was barely our host; we stayed only long enough to sleep.

Thursday, July 11th was our final day, and we didn’t want to waste any time.  After breakfast in Glenallen, we made our final push down the Glenn Highway, and through the most spectacular views of the entire drive.  The highway followed along the northern border of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, and we were treated with the sight of mountain peaks and glaciers the entire way.  At one point I was impressed with a range of tall, snowy mountains, cloaked in clouds, until I realized the clouds were actually a range of taller, snowier mountains.  We hadn’t made much of a habit out of pulling over to take pictures during the trip, but we made up for it along this stretch.  Every time we thought we’d seen the most breathtaking sight, the next bend would produce a greater one.  One summit that was in the backdrop for a great portion of the day, Mt. Sanford, which loomed at an impressive 16,237 ft, was quite possibly the tallest mountain I’ve ever seen in person, and I’d never even heard of it.

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We made it into Anchorage by mid-afternoon.  The city felt like any other: traffic, Targets, and stoplights, with the exception of the ragged Chugach Mountains dominating the skyline instead of buildings.  The contrast neatly sums up our vision, our goals, and our purpose for the whole trip: the sacrifice of urban living to support and allow for our dream life in the mountains.

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