Tag Archives: road trip

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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The Drive – Part 2

A fitful night of sleep had me up at 4:30am on Sunday, July 7th, reconsulting The Milepost.  After a high mileage input the day before, we were interested in having a bit of an off-day.  Only 60 miles down the road was an RV park which promised shower and laundry services, amenities we hadn’t accessed in four days and that, for me, held glorious appeal.

After a breakfast of pale eggs at Sasquatch Crossing (where I’d hoped to find some awesome commemorative mugs since I’d sold all of ours; no dice), we moved on down the road, looking for inviting respite from the drive.  We didn’t end up with showers that day, but found some peace and serenity at Buckinghorse Creek Provincial Park.  We even had opportunities to indulge in our individual hobbies: I made some small progress on my knitting, John had a few beers, and Silas analyzed the local terrestrial composition by caking himself in creek mud.

Feeling refreshed for Monday morning, we departed the campground with the intent of crossing the border into Yukon Territory and embarked on, in my opinion, our most epic driving day of the whole trip.  Up to this point, I was somewhat disappointed in the scenery British Columbia provided.  It wasn’t bad, to be sure, and gave me my fill of lush and green, with black spruce-covered rolling hills as far as the eye could see.  We had even seen a few moose at dusk on Saturday night.  But I had expected Whistler.  Majestic, jagged, snow capped peaks, dramatic valleys, thundering waterfalls, abundant wildlife.  What we saw was more tame and serene.  To be fair, we stuck mainly on the highway, and highways are generally placed on the path of least resistance, which is usually not compatible with “majestic, jagged peaks”.

As we approached the Yukon, though, things began to change.  We started to climb, and so did the mountain summits.  Finally, we saw some snow.  We stopped to grill some sausages for lunch at Summit Lake, and I finally felt like we’d reached somewhere wild, somewhere far enough north that we’d escaped the gravity of mainstream civilization.  After packing up the grill, we passed by Muncho Lake, which was such a radiant blue we has to stop and soak in the view.  After that, the wildlife started.  John narrowly missed a bellowing caribou and a Stone sheep and lamb.  Four bears and several herds of wood bison also crossed our paths. We crossed the border into Yukon Territory, and everything just got bigger.  I had a sneaking suspicion that Big Creek Campground, our planned destination for the night, was going to resemble a California river more than a creek, and it certainly did.  We didn’t even need to convince Pepper to stay out of it, and that dog is nothing if not a water dog.

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ImageBison crossing?! Yeah, whatever…

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Image“Yukon: Larger Than Life”. Sign speaks the truth.

The Drive – Part 1

After 3 weeks of casual packing and 2 days of frantic packing, we left California on a Wednesday, the afternoon of July 3rd. The sum of our remaining possessions fit within the confines of our truck, boat, SUV, and trailer, with plenty of room to spare.  Our little caravan made its first overnight stop in Grants Pass, OR, with my mom, before heading for the international border and trying to leave the US, ironically, on the 4th of July. We drove the fairly straight line up I-5, seeing both Portland and Seattle as only a blur from behind camera lenses.

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Portland blur.

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Seattle blur.

Both John and I underestimated the gap between Seattle and the US-Canadian border, assuming they were a casual 30-minutes or so apart.  Seeing the “Vancouver, BC – 150 miles” sign going through Seattle gave us a bit of a reality check.  We were at least entertained along the way with almost 3 hours of holiday fireworks as we followed the sunset north.  We barely made it through the Abbotsford border crossing on our planned day after arriving there at 11:30 pm.  Additional delays, including having our boat and trailer inspected by dogs (we seem to put out the gun-toting vibe, despite never having owned a single firearm between the two of us), set us up for trying to navigate a new, international country, pulling trailers, at 2 am.

Our other underestimation was how different Canada would feel.  We expected “North Washington”, but it, in fact, felt like a foreign country.  All indications of culture and humanity, road signs, stores, were just a little off from from the usual, but a multitude of  small differences can lead to a large feeling of bewilderment.  Driving around outside of Chilliwack, BC, in the dark, without a decided destination, only that it be a place to sleep, ended miraculously in that we were never driving into oncoming traffic and we eventually found a not-illegal looking place to park on the side of the road for the night.

The next day, Friday July 5th, went much better.  We had breakfast at a Husky’s in Hope, and discovered that Canadian egg yolks are weirdly pale.  I found this to be true throughout our trip, regardless of the source of the eggs, restaurant or store-bought.  After breakfast, we headed north, hoping to find a nice place to camp for the night.  I noticed then that it wasn’t just the human-made aspects of Canada that felt different, but even the shape of the mountains and the trees weren’t quite what I was used to.  We traveled along a winding river road that made quite a few tunnel passes, and left the aforementioned trees and mountains behind.  We stopped for lunch in Cache Creek and experienced another culinary idiosyncrasy.  Our fried chicken pieces came with one bottle of ketchup and one of…vinegar?  The flavors made sense, but I couldn’t figure out how to apply a squirt of white vinegar to my chicken without having a soggy mess.

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We finally decided during lunch to begin consulting with our copy of The Milepost, the definitive source for all Alaska-bound travelers and their every need.  The great tome informed us that we weren’t far off from Green Lake, which promised campsites, outhouses, a water pump, and swimming, all for $16.  Also convenient was that the denomination could be either Canadian or American dollars.  Most places where we tried to pay with American cash happily accepted it straight across, though I’m pretty sure they got the better end of the exchange rate.

Green Lake Provincial Park proved to be a great choice for our first night of Canadian camping. The area was lush and green, and the lake was crisp and refreshing with a smooth, sandy bottom.  We threw some steaks on the grill, liberally applied our DEET, and chatted with some other campers, amusing ourselves with their Canadian accents.  When asked where we were coming from, John mentioned California, and was surprised at the reply of, “Oh!  I thought I detected a southern accent.”  Wow!  We have an accent!

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After a propane grilled bacon and egg breakfast, we began a planned high mileage day.  We totaled over 550 miles, but at the expense of having the worst Chinese food ever, our boat backed into a ditch, no camping spaces, and an eventual surrender to the day by sleeping at a rest stop.  You win some, you lose some.

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Yuck.  Not advised when in Chetwynd, BC.