Saturday, September 22, 2012

Back to the Land of…

We are back in the States. And, as we pull away from the northern border, we are welcomed back into the land of gas below $4. In Canada, gas was always at least $4, but some places it got as high as $ It is nice to be spending less on gas.

Once again, we have entered the land of “free” data. I can finally access the internet without being charged an arm and a leg over my normal rate for data. Hooray! This makes dealing with campsites so much easier. Today, using my roadmap and 3G networks, I was able to determine where we might camp for the night, the costs, and the amenities. Much less stress! No more driving to a place to see the prices and then trying to decide if we might find another more reasonable.

Another nice amenity that is back in this land is rest areas with flushing toilets. Canada and Alaska normally had bare minimum: compost toilets, TP, maybe a lock, no lights.

We are also in the land of dead skunks. I don’t know whether it is the harvest or mating season or just being overrun by skunks, but there have been an impressive amount of skunk roadkill along the Dakota highways.

Staying in a campground at the Newton Hills State Park of South Dakota for $20/night, we actually had access to flush toilets and showers! Although I had a vault toilet at my disposal when we arrived at the camp, I made the extra eighth of a mile walk to the flush toilets/showers, which they called the “Comfort Station.” Just because I could. Made the $20 so much more worth it. Then after dinner, I took a shower, in a building, where I didn’t have to conserve water. After it warmed up (took forever, so much so, I almost gave up on it), I stood under the warm streams until my fingers pruned. It was glorious, and my feet are clean and moisturized again. It has been over a month and a half since I have been able to do something like this. I think I will take another shower in the morning before we leave, just because I can. Probably a good thing I got this opportunity before I stay at anybody’s house. That way, I don’t use up all their hot water. :D

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

From Mountains to Plains

We left Alaska right as the weather was starting to turn in the mountains that line the Alaska-Canada border. As there is really only one land route to and from Alaska, we retraced our path back down the Alaskan highway. So there wasn’t too much new to note.  One thing interesting was that we stopped at the Cinnamon Bun Centre of the Galactic Cluster. They had huge cinnamon rolls for sale there, so I bought two.  They weren’t as good as my mom and grandma’s, but then again, whose are?

For almost as long as I can remember in this new lifestyle, minus our week-long stay in Driggs and the two days it took to get to the Rockies at the start of the trip, we have been in bear country. In fact, I was beginning to think that all of Canada’s trash cans were the bear-proof type. But all of a sudden yesterday when we started east across Alberta, we found that we were no longer in bear country and trash was taken much less seriously.

I have also found that I am a Kansas girl, through and through. I like trees, as every Midwestern should. They provide shade, a spot of green, and a bit of a different sound when the wind blows through them. But, I find that I am one that just “can’t see the forest for the trees.” I like wide, open spaces that allow you to see forever. Forests that come right up to the road and don’t let you see in or past them just annoy me (a bit anyway). I just feel like I can’t see anything at all. I did find a compromise, though. If those forests are on hills or mountains tall enough for you to see things in the distance, then I am ok with that.

Most people, like my husband, can’t stand driving through the plains. He finds them really boring with no scenery to entertain him. I am sure that I see things differently since I was raised in the golden fields of southwest Kansas, but I find the plains very fascinating. They aren’t just drab dead plants with a shockingly exposed sky for as far as the eye can see. They have many different plants and colors. It is a sea of its own sort, with waves from the wind. The blues of the sky complement the golden hues on the ground. There are also random treasures hidden in its flat expanses, like our current campground. We are nestled on the bank of a lake that couldn’t be seen from the distance as the land just dipped down for the lake and then resumed its flatness on the other side. My husband has found one appreciation for the high plains that cross North America: there are no hills which the van has to labor to climb.

Buffalo Pound Campground

We have found we are approaching civilization again as we have cell reception most of the time and a radio station as well. This happens as you get farther south and east in Canada. Ironically, this will likely change dramatically when we cross the border. We will be back in wilderness area in the northern US.

In the second-to-last place we found internet (yay for Tim Horton’s!), I decided I must download a few programs to make my life easier. First, I needed a way to create a “real” wireless access point from laptop, since ad-hoc networks weren’t recognized by my camera or phone. (Thanks, Connectify!) Then I also downloaded various remote software so that I could control my laptop from my phone. Oh the life! Now that I have got them running, I can prop myself comfortably in my seat and not have to lean forward to skip the intro! I love efficiency, especially in laziness! I still haven’t gotten my camera to send pics wirelessly to my laptop yet, but I am getting closer; it at least now recognizes the network and connects. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

And the weather turns colder...

The weather as we travel has been getting steadily colder as we got farther north, but it seemed to get no colder than the 40s, and the temperature would always get back up into the 60s if not warmer. Sunday morning as we drove along the remaining bit of the Denali Highway, we saw a low flying, fast moving cloud. Underneath there seemed to be precipitation, but it didn’t glisten so we began to think it was just dust being kicked up by the wind. As we passed through it though, we realized that it was a small “snow storm.” It seemed be generated by the mountain (which was already coated in snow) to the north of the little valley, and it just so happened that the wind carried down the valley. It wasn’t very wide, only about a football field’s length, but it was our first snowstorm on our trip, most likely the first snowfall on the “lower” elevations (the mountains had steadily been getting more snow on them as the days went by). The sun was shining and it wasn’t too cold, either.

The hazy area is the snow fall.

Sadly, I was a bit under the weather that day. There was great scenery, but I was tired, neck and throat sore, and a bit congested. You can tell my mood by the fact that I only took 2 pictures that day; I normally take 25-40. We finally did get off the bumpy Denali Highway onto some paved highways that weren’t too much better. Lack of maintenance leading to potholes and frost heaves and miles and miles of road construction were a quite a bit better than the unpaved/unmaintained Denali Highway, but still a bit treacherous for our van’s suspension. We suspect we will have to replace the remaining parts of the suspension when we get to the states. Turning onto the Alaskan Highway again, we got all the way to within 30 miles of the border at Tetlin Wildlife Refuge before we decided to camp for the night.

This morning when we awoke, we discovered that it was snowing! It was only a soft, light fall, though. And, with the ground still so warm, it wasn’t accumulating where we were at. We soon found that it was snowing along the road to Canada, though.  We soon saw a vehicle or two that were covered with snow. Later, we realized that Canada had gotten a lot more snow, but the vehicle we saw must have overnighted in the elements. The roads were clear, and the snow didn’t look as if it would last long, though. It did create some very pretty views, though.

Later in the day, it was warm enough to melt off the snow after a certain elevation. We will probably be flirting with snow all the way back. Fortunately, the roads are staying clear and Jonathan is experienced driving in snow.

I did see two grizzly bears today! The first seemed to be rather young, not young enough to be with his mother, but not huge yet either. It looked like he had just crossed the road by Destruction Bay and was heading towards Kluane Lake. The other was simply walking down an unpaved road that we were considering driving down to find a camping spot. We decided that we would let the bear have that one. Maybe the snow drove the bears to start moving? It was exciting to see them, though. Unfortunately, both times were driving too quickly to get pictures.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Scenic Overload

As a gift for our travels, my sister generously provided us with a National Geographic publication of “The World’s Most Scenic Drives: 101 Spectacular Trips.” As we travel, we have been pulling this out to see if there are any scenic routes we should be taking. It has suggested To-The-Sun Road in Glacier National Park and Icefields Parkway, both of which were on our itinerary originally. But in Alaska, it recommended Seward Highway, which was new to us. It boasted “visual overload” and “a sampler of Alaska.” It was true to the boast. Truly beautiful scenery that can be appreciated all year round.

Favorite view/drive in Alaska for any time of the year except fall. Number 3 in the fall.

An added bonus to this drive was the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, which takes in sick, injured, or orphaned animals. It also is the center for reintroducing wood bison, a species once thought to be extinct, back into Alaska. They had several adorable animals there, including animals that I hadn’t seen in the wild yet, including bears. Marking our territory around the van (discreetly, of course, none of that running around backwards that my coworkers tried to convince I should have Jonathan do :P) must be working. Some of the most notable creatures were the muskoxen and the lynx. The muskoxen were intriguing; not near as big as I thought they would be. The lynx were adorable; they were sisters orphaned in a fire in 2004, I think. I want one… Also apparently reindeer are domesticated caribou. Who knew?

Muskoxen grazing while sitting/baby muskox

The lynx sisters.

A reindeer.

Originally, I had planned to do a big loop around Alaska, taking the northern highway to get to Denali National Park then driving south through Anchorage to pick up the Seward Highway and the Alaska State Fair. After the Seward Highway drive, though, we decided against spending tons of money at a fair that is probably much like other fairs and decided to head north again. We were to try and catch a glimpse of Mt. McKinley since the clouds were still not cooperating with our stop at Earthquake Park in Anchorage [though the information about the devastating Good Friday earthquake was interesting: not only did a 30-foot tsunami hit Seward as a result of the quake, but it was covered in fire from an oil spill; terrifying, no?]. With a refill of water and a stop at Taco Bell [note: the Taco Bell there had free Wi-Fi, is this a common occurrence and just not advertised?], we directed ourselves northerly with hopes that clouds might clear for a final view of Mt. McKinley.  By the time we found our camping spot for the night, we had had no success in spotting the peak. But, oh! The morning broke bright and clear! There were only a few clouds on the horizon. As we approached the first viewing spot, we could spot mountains over the trees. Sadly, the clouds were obscuring the peaks of the largest chunk of mountain, which we assumed must contain Mt. McKinley. Then, we saw that there was the smallest part in the clouds that just allowed the peak of Mt. McKinley to be seen! We had done it! We had seen the highest (12/2011) and the lowest (9/8/2012) points in the USA in less than a year! Others may say it was just coincidence that the clouds parted that way, but I will claim it as a gift from God! Praises!

Interestingly, as we traveled north, we began to smell what at first seemed like animal doo. But the smell wouldn’t go away and it seemed maybe a bit earthy and sickly sweet. When we walked down the trail to view Mt. McKinley, we realized that we were smelling the decaying of fallen leaves and not poo.

We decided to take the Denali Highway (a lightly traveled unpaved road that used to be the only road to Denali National Park) to start heading back. On the way there, we passed again what is my current favorite part of Alaska, at least in fall. In this high elevation pass of the Parks Highway, there is a valley were the ground is covered with red-leaved bushes as far as you can see until the mountains which completely ring the valley. It is gorgeous.

Denali Highway is my next favorite view of Alaska in the fall for the same reasons. I just have to ignore the fact that the road is rough. The speed limit is 50mph, but we are doing good to do 35 mph; most of the time is less than that even. Although the 114 miles of Denali Highway are supposed to be a “lightly traveled”, today it was not. Today was the start of moose hunting season, and it sure felt like every Alaskan was out to catch their moose. Every single pull-off or side road was swamped with people’s base camp for moose hunting. It was pretty much a miracle that we finally found a spot secluded from the road that didn’t have at least 2-3 other vehicles parked in it.

Jonathan made us some delicious lentil soup for dinner so I had clean up duty. Since some of the lentils had made it to the floor in various stages of the cooking process, I decided I had better clean up the floor as well. In the mood, I continued cleaning and rearranging to see if I couldn’t get some more things off the floor. After finding new homes for a few things, I was able to actually get the add-a-room off the floor and into a permanent home. This makes me extremely excited. Jonathan was laughing at me for my excitement, but you see, I hate tripping over things. If there are things on the floor, then I am likely to trip over it. Or, it may make it difficult to do other tasks, for example, opening a cabinet door. So, finding more efficient places for things makes me excited and sustains a happy Jen.

After all this work, my body decided it needed to relieve itself. Seeing as we had an isolated and deserted spot along the road, I decided to situate my toilet in my usual spot between the van and the trailer. This worked great until about the time I was going to wipe. I heard a vehicle from the road slowing down and knew they were going to try to come in here. I yelled at Jonathan that we had visitors. Fortunately, I was wearing my long coat and had my pants pulled up as far as they could go (it was cold and windy), so they didn’t see anything super awkward. They pulled in and seemed like they were going to continue to park with us despite seeing we had already occupied the area. Then they saw me and braked. They just continued to sit there, unsure of what to do. I was unsure as well, so I just waved hello to them and continued to sit. I figured I would wait until they pulled in and weren’t looking at me or left. They decided to leave and backed out, impressively if I may so, as they had a trailer behind them as well. So, for better or worse, I scared off our would-be neighbors with my bathroom antics. :/

Oh, what a day!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Adventure in the “Last Frontier”

These last two days have certainly been an adventure. I had hoped to be able to brag today that in less than one year’s time, we had looked upon the highest and lowest points in the US. But, alas it isn’t so.

Yesterday started off as a fine day: clear, crisp, and promising warmth. It did get to that point by the time that we arrived in North Pole (a suburb of Fairbanks). Living up to its name, North Pole decorated Christmassy all year long. This September day it sported candy cane stripes on all of its vertical, round poles. I am not sure if it was supposed to practical or whimsical in a reference to frolicking reindeer or elf trails, but after exiting off the Alaskan Highway, we had to proceed through 3 roundabouts within a single half mile stretch of road on Santa Claus Ln: one on each side of the highway and one at the next intersection. The Christmas didn’t stop there, though. Even the McDonald’s we entered had a Christmas tree inside.

We spent a couple hours there at McDonald’s, availing ourselves to the free wifi. (Why don’t other restaurants offer that? I would much rather eat somewhere else, but we keep frequenting McDonald’s for their free wifi.) After updating our blogs, checking emails, and taking care of business, it was early afternoon. This meant that by the time we got out of the Fairbanks vicinity. Unfortunately, that meant by the time we got to the really scenic areas, it was cloudy and rainy. To top it off, it got very windy, gusty even, so much so that sometimes it was difficult to stay between the lines. Finally, we arrived shortly before closing at Denali National Park. Not having been able to do any research on the park before we arrived, we were sorely disappointed at its offerings.

Apparently Denali National Park really is just a swatch of road that follows along the base of the McKinley Range. The park only costs $10pp, but the vehicle accessible campsites cost anywhere from $22-$40. Then, to see any of the park besides the trails at the entrance, you have to take a bus into the park. To get anywhere remotely close to the “Big One” (as Denali—aka Mt. McKinley—translates to from the Native American language), you have to pay $24pp, and take a 6 hour (one-way) bus trip. This was not what I was expecting at all. Since it was late (about 6pm) and I was ready to eat and camp, this was not good news. Deciding that it wasn’t worth it to sleep in such a busy and expensive camp site and definitely not worth it to spend so much time and money just to get a glimpse of the mountain, we drove on.

By the way, did I mention that Alaska and the Yukon still have lots of bugs? We can’t keep our windshield clean, much less any of the rest of the front of the van. When we were parked in Denali trying to figure out what we were going to do, a set of pretty birds (I have never seen them before and don’t even know what kind they are) came and were paying particularly close attention to the van. They were shy creatures and kept moving out of our sight. But as we sat there we started hearing a pecking noise and deduced the birds were picking the dead bugs off the van for us! It was quite entertaining and reinforced how dirty our van was.

Driving further down the highway towards Anchorage, we finally found an official campground that offered free sites and we snagged the opportunity. It wasn’t ideal: close to the road and neighbors not too far away. But it was late and we were desperate. The area was relatively quiet and still pretty scenic, and our site was bit separated from the others. It wasn’t too bad for an official campground.

Early this morning as I went out to do my business, I had hopes of it clearing off today. As such, I pointed Jonathan in the direction of the few spots that you could see Mt. McKinley from the road and down an old miner’s town road. Well, as the maps foretold, the road was unpaved, filled with potholes. Crawling along at 25 mph or less, we tried to avoid the potholes, but many were unavoidable. After about 5 or 6 miles on the unpaved road, we heard a chinking indicative of something loose or hanging down in the right front wheel well. We pulled over in the next turn out and discovered that the right front sway bar link had sheared off. Jonathan endeavored to prevent the dangling by using a zip-tie, but that broke in the test run, so he just removed it completely. That examined, we decided to continue on our way, hoping to find a high ground with a possibly excellent view of the mountain when I hoped the clouds would clear. Unfortunately, the clouds did not dissipate and instead drenched the earth most of the day. As we proceeded further on the wet, bumpy road, wondering if our mission was moot, our tire met a particularly wet and slippery spot on the edge and threw the right tires into a watery trench. I knew as we were entering it that we would not be getting out on our own.

Broken sway bar link

What it should look like

Stuck in a rut (given a fresh meaning today)

 After surveying the situation, Jonathan tried to maneuver the vehicle out, but to no success. Knowing that there had been people camped along the road as we came up, we trekked down the road to see if we could either get someone to pull us out or find someone with cell reception to call AAA for us. The closest vehicle had no one home, so we decided to split up. I sent Jonathan back to the van as he would be able to drive the vehicle out if help came along and I started hustling further down the road. Amazingly, an older couple with her mom was driving down the road in a car and a truck hauling a trailer. They had seen our obviously-stuck vehicle and stopped to see if they could help us, but found the vehicle abandoned. As they had looked for us, an Alaskan road maintenance truck had driven up behind them, fortuitously.  They gave up on the van and continued down the road where they found Jonathan. The lady found me further down the road and drove me back up to the van. As I rode with her, I learned that she enjoyed picking edible things from the wild. She had found some delicious edible mushrooms and wild high cranberries further up the road. It made me a bit jealous that I didn’t know what was safe to eat, so I think that I might have to add that to the items on my to-do list. I arrived at the site just in time to see Jonathan get our “small van” pulled out with their rather large work truck. Yay! Thanks to those awesome people! God really provided there, as we didn’t see anyone else that entire road.

We decided that after all that we should probably just turn around and head back down the road. Concerned about what might have been jammed into the braking and suspension parts, Jonathan was driving with his window rolled mostly down. When we pulled off at the next turnoff to relieve ourselves and get lunch, the window had fallen down, come off the regulator, and wouldn’t come back up! When it rains, it pours, huh? Well, Jonathan set to work fixing it and I set to work making some warm lunch so that when he would finish he could warm himself up. Mind you, it had been raining on and off all day, not exactly the most inviting weather. Lunch was ready at the same time Jonathan finished. Fortunately, the rest of the drive went uneventfully.

Have I mentioned that my husband is AWESOME? He has single-handedly fixed every single problem that has come along. He also gets out and does annoying things so that I don’t have to, e.g. removing and installing the trailer when we have to back up. In the frigid mornings he goes about the van and fixes issues we had the day before, like whistling brakes. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to take this type of vehicle traveling if he hadn’t been here to handle the issues. With his handy skills, he is making our money last longer. Also, he is a very good cook. He doesn’t stress when he cooks (like I do) and it is very tasty. What more can a woman want in a man? Well one that reads minds, but that doesn’t come along that often, so I think I got a pretty good catch. I will be content.

One last story of Jonathan’s great feats for the day. Anchorage took longer than expected to get through, and then the bay and the state park didn’t have any places to camp. But we finally entered a part of a national forest (thank God for those!) that wasn’t next to the bay. We passed a campground and turned around to enter it, but apparently it had been closed. Disappointed, we started down the road again, hoping the next one wouldn’t be too much longer, as we were really getting hungry. As we passed the pull-off that we had used to turn around, I glimpsed a road at the far end of it that looked like it led to a campground-like area. Excitedly, I had Jonathan get turned back around to check it out. (Anybody watching us must have thought us crazy.) He pulled us along the pull-out and went to scope out the road, in the pouring rain I might add. After getting back into the vehicle, he proceeded down the road. It eventually got pretty narrow and the camping spot he had scoped for us was located up a steep incline that was perpendicular to the road we were on. His first attempt at getting us turned and all the way up the incline failed. So, he removed the trailer, backed up, and got more of an aggressive start at it. The van slid around the turn and grumbled up the remaining incline in a saucy little move. He then also went back and pulled up the trailer by himself. Again, Jonathan’s skills have made what would otherwise been a miserable day rather enjoyable.

As for gazing upon Mt. McKinley, you can supposedly still see the mountain from certain points in Anchorage. If the weather clears, perhaps I will be able to brag.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Escape Part 2


Note: For those of you looking for scenic pictures, and not armchair philosophy, please skip to the end of this post.

There is an interesting social/psychological phenomenon that I have gradually become aware of.  While I have no technical jargon or specific name for it, I feel that it has a substantial effect on my life.  I have found that as westerners we spend inordinate amounts of time doing a very small subset of things. These tasks/activities are often simply time fillers with no goal or plan.  We are able to do this, in part, due to our financial prosperity and to the astounding technological advances of the last 200 years.  We have more financial margin above the subsistence level than any culture/civilization of the last few millennia.  Despite this large margin, I have found that (myself included) that we spend our time and resources doing things that have little long term meaning.

For example, television and media are enjoyable to consume.  But when one stands at the edge of the abyss that is mortality, will having seen all the episodes of Jersey Shore have any meaning?  I have spent the last month with tons of free time.  I would like to point out that that is no more free time than when I worked 40 hour weeks.  Now, this free time is remarkably different than that which I have had in the past.  There is no television, no internet, and often no one for miles except my wife and the whisper of the wind.

This type of leisure time can do terrible things to a person.  In fact it can irrevocably alter a person’s perspective.  All of the sudden I have discovered that the things that consumed the majority of my time are astonishingly meaningless and purposeless.  They neither yield significant experience or relevant insight.  They effectively add nothing to the portfolio of my life. 

Now, don’t misunderstand me, I am not implying that the only way to find meaning is to climb Mount Everest or spends years saving orphans in Sudan.  I am by no means an altruist or a philanthropist.  I simply aim to shine some light on the atrophy of life that can turn 70 years of existence into a boring stream of happenings, instead of choices.

I guess now I have arrived at the whole purpose of this post.  Find an ambitious (if not currently unlikely) goal, and make it happen. To be an active participant in one’s fate should be aspired to.  The stability and comfort (quite spoiled really) of the everyday life cannot and will not create meaning for us.  Except for the occasional accident, significant experience will not just happen, instead we must actively seek out what makes our lives worthwhile.    

And for those who are uncertain of where they stand.  I can tell you.  You are on a chunk of rock hurtling through universe at half a million miles an hour; an infinitely large (and empty place) where you are impossibly insignificant.  

Thankfully life can still be awesome.

For those needing your pic fix here are some mountains, and a sheep.



Monday, September 03, 2012

We arrived in Alaska today!  Alaska, the super “natural” place that I have wanted to go since, oohh… maybe 5th grade or so. Do I have a real reason for this desire to go to Alaska? No, not really, other than that it is the embodiment of the American wilderness with tons of animals that aren’t likely to be seen down in Kansas, even in a zoo.

I also got to be in two countries at one time today, or in no man’s land, depending on how you see it. Where the monuments are, there is a 4” line that they call the Canada-America border. But as Jonathan has pointed out, the border line is really at least 10 feet across. If that is so, then I really can’t be in both countries at one time, so I was in a countriless section of the world. What I found most interesting was that as far as the eye could see at that point on the border, they had plowed through the forest to create an actual physical line for you to see the Alaska-Canada border. I wonder if they proceeded to do that throughout the entire length of the border? My guess is yes.

Note: You can see the trees parted all the way to the horizon.

Interesting note on the Canadians versus the Americans in regards to customs. On this border, the Canadian customs is 30 minutes from the border and just a small building, single lane, no fanfare. The American customs is right past the border with all types of sensors to detect if you have something harmful in your vehicle. There are multiple lanes, but only one is used. Also, the US doesn’t allow certain fresh fruits across the border including kiwi. Fortunately the apple made it through safe. (Canada didn’t care about fresh fruit, only guns, alcohol, and tobacco.)

In Alaska, fall has advanced a bit more and there are plenty of excellent views of the changing colors. Shortly, after we got into Alaska, we passed by Northway Junction(?) where an interesting 47-year-old Native American man was bumming a ride to the next town. We picked him up for the 50-mile drive to the town that was on our way. He may have been a little drunk and/or high (from weed) and was wanting to be dropped off at a liquor store, but he was friendly and coherent enough. We learned of his past jobs (currently unemployed), how felled firewood for some income, of how his old lady chewed him out this morning so he decided to “get the hell out of Dodge” tonight (he used more colorful words). He offered to take us moose or duck hunting, two of his favorite pastimes. Impressively, for the past two years he has taken down a 48” mule moose.  Moose season starts this weekend on Sept 8th. He had lived in Alaska all of his life, knew everything about this area, and had been everywhere, including Idaho and Hawaii, but preferred where he lived. He informed us life around “abouts here,” and answered my questions about the winter. Apparently, it gets to -50°F regularly around there, but last year got to -70°F for a week! But don’t worry, my friends who may be concerned about us coming so far north this late in the year.  He assured us that the bad snows wouldn’t come until October or November, so although we may encounter a little bit of snow, there won’t be an issue. And, of course, in his excitement to get a ride to town, we heard all of his many stories at least twice, with many exclamations of thanks for the ride. We dropped him off in Tok, and went on our merry way.

There are apparently 3 main routes to Denali National Park with 1 more variations on that. So instead of going the quickest route to the Park, we will end up with a more circular route through Alaska to explore more while we are here. While in Tok, we made the decision to head through one of the more northern routes to Denali. Tomorrow, we will probably have to make another decision of which northern route we want to take as well.

Today, we are camped along the Alaskan Highway, on a pile of dirt that might have been used to build the highway back in the day. Or, it might just be a natural pile of dirt, but I doubt it. It is tucked into the forest and has a few pretty views. Not a bad place, if I do say so myself. I must say that is rather satisfying to find a place to sleep for the night that is not only private, but is free. Much better than having to pay for a campground that may or may not have facilities. And who needs those when you have your own shower and toilet available? :P

This evening, Jonathan cooked quesadillas for us. Since we didn’t have some of the normal ingredients (turkey, salsa) for my quesadilla and had whole-wheat tortillas instead, I thought I would try a bit of a different flavor for the dish. So, Jonathan made a plain quesadilla and for half of it added some dried apples. Very intriguing combination, which was dipped into some California dressing… I liked it.

All in all, it was a very interesting first day in the 49th state.

Wild Life with Wildlife

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Today has been a truly delightful day. Ironically, it has also been my husband’s birthday; though, I felt like the day was more for my benefit than his… :/ Despite being awakened in the wee hours of the morning by birthday texts from caring folks two time zones ahead of us, we slept in a bit and got going at an enjoyable pace. With Jonathan driving, I got to read a good book and watch scenery.

We were travelling the Pacific Northwest of British Columbia on the Alaska Highway. This is officially the middle of nowhere. You know the Rand McNally atlases that you can pick up in Walmart? Well mine has all of the US, Mexico, and parts of Canada. Originally, I thought it had all of Canada. But as I found out on this trip, the map only covers about half of Alberta and British Columbia and none of the Yukon, except in a very small (one page) view of the major highways crossing Canada. Shortly after exiting the Icefields Parkway, and heading north, I ran out of highways to trace, and thinking that meant we had crossed from British Columbia to the Yukon (and thinking: man, either the journey to Alaska isn’t as far or as bad as they say, or the Yukon is really huge), I started looking for the Yukon map. My husband told me that I just had to look at the full (small, one-page spread) Canada map to determine highways that we needed to take or cities that were large. Then I knew it. We were officially in the middle of nowhere if even Rand McNally didn’t care to trace its terrain. We now fill up at every gas station that it is worth its salt so that we don’t get stranded (though the extra gallons we carry just-in-case give us comfort). Real towns (not even cities) are now hundreds of kilometers (for those of you who don’t know metric, that is still hundreds of miles as well) away. There are gas stations at “campsites” and lodges along the way. And, we have determined if we have gotten into a decent town if there is a Subway restaurant there. It is really big (maybe even a city) if there is a McDonald’s.

Anyway, today’s events made me decide that I like the Pacific Northwest of British Columbia, despite it not being in my atlas. First of all, the road was like you might expect the landway road to Alaska to be: scenic, winding, and in need of construction (although they were in the process of rejuvenating parts of it, there were still areas that were “patched” with just gravel). Probably because of the rain early in the day, the mountains and hills in the distance were a pretty blue, which played nicely with the greens and reds (dead pines) of the forest.

Then, all of sudden, when we were rounding a rocky cliff face by Stone Mountain, there were two bighorn sheep on the road! We slowed down and I snapped a few shots of them. One ran up the rocks quickly to escape us, but the other stayed resolutely on the road, determined to keep us from following the other. When other vehicles started converging, though, he ran up the rocks as well. That made my day. Bighorn sheep are reclusive creatures and to get to see one is tough. When I went to Yellowstone in 2010, I searched and searched for just a glimpse of one with no success (I did happen to see one a week later in the Badlands). So, little did I expect to see one, much less two, here on a highway of all things!

And, since Glacier National Park, I have been hoping to see a moose. The Canadian roadways have signs ever so often to indicate to watch out for them on the road, but after seeing some bighorns, I didn’t expect to see anything more that day. After rounding another corner in another valley, we saw something in the distance along the side of the road. At first, Jonathan thought that it may be a horse or something, but it didn’t quite look right. Then, we realized it was some other wild creature. We couldn’t decide between an elk or a moose until I pulled out the “wild critter guide” and determined it was a female and baby moose! What a sight! And they just skimmed over the road, their hooves barely touching the ground. You wouldn’t even guess that they weigh hundreds of pounds. They were gorgeous.

Now, my day was full: beautiful scenery, bighorn sheep, and moose. But, it wasn’t done. Little did I know that before we would pull off for the day that there would be a mystical, elusive caribou waiting around another turn. He was a cutie! He didn’t know whether he should get out of the road or not, so we got a good look at him. Finally, with traffic oncoming, I had to shoo him off the road.

By now, we were about ready to look for a camping site. We finally found a road that looked like it pulled off into the valley a ways, so we took it. The road took us to an area in Muncho Lake Provincial Park where we could disperse camp so long as we left no trace of ourselves. After find a suitable spot to create camp, we decided to do something fun and go kayaking in the little pond that we saw next to the gravel road. It was very enjoyable. I love kayaking and the sun and temperature was just about right. While exploring the pristine waters, we discovered that some spots on the bottom looked to be roiling, but producing no bubbles. Upon examining it closer, we realized that we had found the source of the pond: a clear little spring from underground. There was also the spinal bones of a some creature in the lake. While not much to brag about, I really enjoyed the adventure.

After we returned to camp, I took off on a quick run. I shortly found out that we had pulled off on the only likely spot for us to camp, as farther on the road’s bridge had been completely wiped out in a torrent of water or in a landslide. Who knows how long ago that was, though, as the road is not maintained. By the time I got back, Jonathan had supper ready for us.

To top it off, the view for my bathroom visit was fantastic and the sunset pretty.

Speaking of sunsets, it is very interesting to have the sunset getting later and later in the fall. Obviously, it is a result of me getting further north into the land of the midnight sun, but it is still an interesting experience. It was 9pm today and there was still a glow to the sky. Weather has been nice though. Gets a bit cold a night, but that provides us will cool water to drink all day long. There has been concern from loving folks back home about the weather, but we are moving at a brisk pace and nothing closes until October around here. All the trees still have their leaves and are only now beginning to turn colors. I have a feeling I will have a long and glorious fall, starting here in the North and following me all the way back to the States.

Now, to end this glorious day in some well-deserved sleep and hoping the morrow contains more happy adventures for the both of us.