Arrived in Alaska today after driving the “Top of the World” Highway from Dawson City. After about 75 miles the spare-tire-in-can® sprung a leak, so I was forced to go to the more reliable spare-tire-from-the-trunk®. Also of note is that my supposed alignment trouble turned out to be nothing more than unbalanced tires — despite the fact that I used $6 worth of pressure wash yesterday trying to get all of the mud out of the tires, enough remained to seriously throw them out of balance. $4 more pressure wash allowed me to drive at fifty without too much shaking (improved from thirty before washing), although I finally had to take each individual tire off of the car and chisel out the remaining mud with a screwdriver before I could get up to highway speeds.
The first stop in Alaska was Fairbanks to patch the tire and get an oil change. I arrived too late to do either, and was going to stay outside of town, but instead opted to visit Alaska Land and their salmon bake. Three salmon fillets, fifteen halibut chunks, and two plates of blueberries later I’m feeling quite happy. The “camping” spot for the night is the parking lot of the K-Mart, so I’m hoping that the cops won’t feel the need to patrol the lot tonight.
More wet weather this morning so I made the decision to start back to Dawson City. Went slowly, enjoying the fall colors and the occasional sun. Spotted two river otters who were kind of hunting for fish, but mostly just playing along the river, and couldn’t help but smile while watching them.
Visions of hot food were dancing in my head as I got closer to Dawson City, and I probably started driving too fast given the wet dirt road. As a result, after getting to Dawson City I heard air coming from one of my tires, and my spare-tire-in-a-can® is now all used up. The car is still having issues however — any time I go over thirty it begins shaking, so I’m guessing my alignment is hosed as well and I’ll be spending some time at the local garage tomorrow before heading on. On a side note, washing all of the mud off of the car took twenty minutes — I had almost forgotten that the Subaru wasn’t brown.
Hopefully I’ll be able to return to the Dempster on the way home as the countryside is beyond incredible, and by October the 130,000 member Porcupine caribou herd should be returning for the winter (see http://www.taiga.net/satellite/index.html). Anyone coming up here who has the time, consider driving at least the first hundred miles — you won’t regret it.
After snowing very early this morning the day has been one without precipitation, and the sun has even made appearances on several occasions. As a result the entire day has been filled with roaming across the tundra, hiking up mountains, taking photos, and making the acquaintance of the largest (and sleepiest) porcupine I’ve ever seen. The only downside of dry weather is that the local black fly population has come out to play, but a mosquito net kept them more or less at bay.
Coffee again at the Eagle Lodge, and it tasted even better this time. Also splurged and at the Arctic Circle crossing used some of my dwindling butane to cook the day’s meal — hot chili definitely hit the spot after almost a week of cold soup.
It is definitely ironic that with eighteen hours of daylight the sun almost never appears. It popped out briefly this afternoon and I set out for a hike, but the weather gods were playing a trick on me, and an hour and a half later I was being pelted by hailstones the size of peas. Still, what hiking I’ve been able to do has been spectacular.
After crossing the Peel river yesterday I was able to get CBC North on the radio. The locals apparently use the radio station like a pager service, so between songs (selections included Loretta Lynn, Elvis, Neil Young, and Waylan Jennings) the DJ reads messages that have been phoned in. My two favorites were “Jimmy, we’re leaving in ten minutes, come home” and “Whoever just called 2442, please call back.” Two others that stood out were “Hi everyone, it’s John, I’ve just returned” which was followed less than three minutes later by “John, I heard you were back. Stop by for some stew.”
Heavy snow in the morning, and rain most of the rest of the day. It stopped for a few hours late in the afternoon and I was able to do a couple of hours of hiking — went up to a ridge and then through the tundra, tremendously peaceful. Drove as far as the Mackenzie river crossing today (mile 377), but after the Peel river there are a couple of settlements and things began to feel “crowded” so I decided to turn around. There was an odd smell and a tiny bit of smoke coming from behind two of the tires on the way back, but with any luck that won’t turn out to be anything too serious.
Crossed the Arctic Circle about thirty miles ago, and met a fellow at the crossing who is biking up the Dempster. Definitely an impressive feat, but given the fact that it was probably about twenty degrees out with the wind chill I didn’t want to trade places with him. The wind has only gotten stronger since then, and it’s now raining as well so hopefully he has a good tent and is curled up warmly in it.
While hiking through the tundra this morning the moss was so thick in places that I could almost bounce on it like a trampoline — at times the ground dropped a foot with each step. The variety of little plants that color the ground out here is amazing, and the solitude is as complete as it could possibly be.
The only services thus far have been at the Eagle Plains lodge at mile 230. With the wind howling and temperatures in the thirties, $1.50 for a styrofoam cup of coffee seemed a bargain.
A grizzly made his appearance this morning and meandered along the river bank for several minutes before wandering back into the forest again. Saw tons of moose and grizzly prints while hiking, and also what looked like wolf and caribou prints, although they were old so I couldn’t be sure.
Snow early this morning, and overcast most of the rest of the day, so not many photo opportunities, but the country is amazing — the Dempster is a recommended drive for anyone coming up this way. Ate lunch on a gravel bar along a river, and am camped out tonight on a high ridge with a view that extends for perhaps a hundred miles. This trip is filling me with a sense of what it really means to be alive — hopefully everyone reading this journal can share in that feeling at least a little bit.
For a dirt road the Dempster Highway seems to be in excellent shape, so there’s no reason why the Subaru shouldn’t make it to the Arctic Circle and probably a fair bit beyond. It’s gotten a lot colder — there were actually a few flakes of snow a couple hours ago — but it’s no longer raining and the forecast is for sun, so I’m hopeful. Given good light the photos from up here should be memorable.
No big animals at all today, including moose. I’m utterly baffled. Also of note is that Progresso soup tastes just fine when not cooked, which is a very lucky thing since Dawson City didn’t sell the right size butane cannisters for my portable stove, leaving me with just enough butane to cook maybe one more meal, two if I’m lucky.
The person who invented the shower should be sainted, or knighted, or something. God bless them.
It rained all morning, but the sun came out about an hour ago, so I’m hoping to finish up the laundry and start up the Dempster in the next few hours. I may be up there for anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks, so if there aren’t any updates to this journal please hold off on calling out the mounties after me.
Dawson City is a fun little town, although expensive — gas is about $2.70 / gallon vs. $1.60 / gallon just across the border. With the sun out it’s rather pretty here, and the townsfolk definitely seem to tend toward the “colorful” side of the personality spectrum, making for some interesting people watching.
The Yukon Territory definitely gets the seal of approval. It’s full of trees, mountains, lakes, rivers, and not much else. In addition to the countryside, today I discovered the Braeburn Lodge cinnamon bun — it’s about a foot in diameter and three or four inches thick. A beautiful creation like this cinnamon bun is what happens when men are left alone in the North, and I support it wholeheartedly.
After leaving the Cassier Highway and then following the Alaska Highway for about 250 miles I stopped in Whitehorse to wash all of the mud off of the Subaru (there was a lot of mud), then traveled another sixty miles up the Klondike Highway. The plan is to make a stop in Dawson City tomorrow and then start up the Dempster Highway — hopefully the car will hold up well enough to make it at least to the Arctic Circle and allow me to do a bit of hiking. Dawson City supposedly has a laundromat with showers, so if all goes well I’ll be clean in all possible ways before embarking into the tundra.
The lack of moose is beginning to become disturbing.
I don’t have the words to describe the country I’ve been passing through today, so for anyone reading this, please consider driving the Cassier Highway (highway 37) in British Columbia at some point in your life. There is a lodge perhaps every fifty miles or so, but otherwise it’s just wilderness up here, and it’s the kind of rugged wilderness that makes a person feel spiritual again. I won’t even try to describe it further as I’m sure I’d fail to do the country justice.
Most of the day has been cloudy, although the mountains along the Alaska panhandle and their many glaciers have occasionally peeked out to the west. The second black bear of the trip made his appearance this morning, munching on wildflowers just off of the road for a few minutes before making his way back into the woods. Dozens of big, bright red sockeye salmon were powering their way through shallow rapids in a creek I stopped at, and loons, geese, and ducks have also made occasional appearances. The moose remain surprisingly elusive, but there must be legions of them out there somewhere.
The camp spot tonight is in a primitive “campground” on the shores of a big mountain lake that the forest service apparently left here for anyone who stumbles upon it. My attempts to clear out the local horde of mosquitoes by building a smokey campfire failed, so I’m forced to write this from the shelter of the Subaru. Tomorrow I’ll most likely finish the last 150 miles along the Cassier Highway before it ends at the Alaska Highway and crosses into the Yukon Territory.
Mostly just driving today — since leaving Green Lake I’ve covered almost 550 miles. Nice country — lots of small farms, lakes, streams, and horses. Not counting Prince George, I’ve only passed through nine or ten big towns, and to give some idea of “big”, Smithers was one of the bigger towns and is supposedly population 6,000. My present camping spot is located down a random dirt road that was marked “Danger! Unmaintained!” After about a mile the road entered a meadow at the base of a mountain, and I’m now typing from that meadow while watching the stars beginning to poke out.
The trip’s first bear made his appearance earlier today — the biggest black bear I’ve ever seen crossed the road at a trot perhaps 200 meters away. Early in the morning there were ospreys and a few eagles out, but they seem to have disappeared. Still no moose, but they’re out there, probably eating pond scum somewhere.
While cooking Chunky soup for dinner tonight the portable stove burned the bottom quarter of an inch of the can and didn’t cook at all above that. I ate the soup raw (tasted damn good, too — hunger does funny things to the taste buds) but I’ll either have to figure out another way to cook canned goods or else I’ll have to be sure to be hungry enough every night that cold soup tastes good :-P.
Today was the day to buy supplies. I decided on canned goods, partly because they’ll keep for a while, but mostly because they don’t have any smell so I can keep them in the car without attracting bears. The final tally (I’m hoping this lasts at least a month):
+ (21) 18 oz. cans Progresso soup
+ (12) 15 oz. cans assorted Chef Boyardee
+ (2) 40 oz. cans assorted Chef Boyardee
+ (16) 6 oz. cans tuna
+ (6) 40 oz. cans Ditty Moore beef stew
+ (8) 15 oz. cans Hormel turkey chili
+ (4) 20 oz. cans chunked pineapple
+ (1) windshield repair kit
+ (1) “spare-tire-in-a-can”®
Real food is going to taste damn good after getting back from this trip.
Drove from Everett to Green Lake Provincial park (350 miles?). Highway one in Canada is highly recommended, as are the backroads of Washington. Highway one was especially nice — it travels through a huge canyon for perhaps seventy miles, and the scenery is like Yosemite but with many more pine trees. Once the canyon ends it’s wide open, rolling hills, followed by a typical northern scene with aspens and beaver ponds. Once I stopped driving I went for a run along Green Lake on a horse trail through the birches and past fields full of flowers and golden grasses. The turnaround point for the run was a huge pasture filled with probably fifty horses — this was far and away the best run I’ve had in ages. Yet another good day.
Ma and Pa Holliday have taken it upon themselves to feed me and make sure I shower tonight, so I’m currently living it up in the Everett Best Western. Joined the folks for dinner (they’re on their way to Vancouver) and will soon be enjoying a much-needed shower. I haven’t yet noticed that people were keeping their distance from me, but after running every day and then sleeping in the car I doubt that my sink baths have been adequate.
Spent a short time at Mt. St. Helen’s today — great place — and then made my way up to Mt. Rainier. I very nearly managed to escape without doing any hiking, but pulled a U-turn at Sunrise and did a quick hike up to a ridge overlooking the mountain. I’ll have to write more later as Ma and Pa require attention.
While the redwoods this morning were great, once I got onto I-5 and into Oregon things got a bit less exciting — any state where pumping your own gas is illegal is suspect to begin with, and several hundred miles on the interstate didn’t make for any lasting moments. The afternoon’s highlight came when I began filling the tank at the Shell station only to find a rather scary looking man standing behind me saying “You’re in the wrong state for that. Did you know last year over 800 people lit themselves on fire while pumping gas? Better give me the pump.” There was a tale that followed about a guy hauling a barrel of diesel and a spark of static electricity, but fun stories like that one really need to be told in person.
After arriving in Washington I tried to take the direct route up to Seattle, but Mt. St. Helen’s was calling to me, and despite my best efforts to stay the course I’m now camped out in the national forest adjoining the mountain. The plan for tomorrow is to get up early and make brief visits to Mt. St. Helen’s and Mt. Ranier before getting back on the road to Alaska and hopefully making the most of the remaining good weather up there. Whether or not I can actually visit Mt. Ranier without getting out and hiking ten miles remains to be seen.