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.
The trip began yesterday with a head-shaving. The initial cast of characters was myself, my brother, and Chi, although before all was said and done two more had joined the fray. It began with my brother announcing “I want to shave the dome”, was followed by the unlikely response of “Go for it” from me, and immediately proceeded with Chi’s “Dude, you’re letting him shave your dome?!?” Three(!) pairs of clippers, and what seemed like about ten pounds of hair later and the once-proud Holliday locks have been reduced to something that could probably best be described as “fuzzy”. Definite thanks to Adam for coming in to give me a nice fade and clean up the horrible mockery of a haircut that my brother had given me.
After saying goodbye to Aaron, Chi, Adam and friends the last errand I had to run was to renew my driver’s license, and after an ungodly long time at the DMV I finally got onto the road. Nadia will be pleased to learn that “Where the Streets Have No Name” was indeed the song that kicked the trip off, followed soon after by the entire Graceland album. Drove up 101, through Napa and into the mountains, and spent the night sleeping comfortably in the back of the car about twenty miles south of Redwood National Park.
Today I’ve just been kind of moseying along, and after talking to Zac about Stout grove I had to at least make a brief visit. I went for a short run after arriving, and have just been roaming around since. It may sound a bit corny, but when it’s quiet in the grove and no else is around it’s almost possible to feel the trees — not in any sort of physical sense, but more as just an overwhelming peacefulness. Not a bad way to start a trip.
And so it begins. Thank you so much Nadia, Zac and Alysha for the send-off last night — coming home will be that much nicer with folks like you in the city to return to.
I woke up late this morning, ran a few errands, then ate a huge sub in my living room while watching the History Channel at lunch time. Retired life is rough. Anyhow, the departure date for Alaska feels like it’s going to be next Tuesday. By that point the car should be in good shape, the stuff I’ve ordered should all be here, and I ought to be antsy enough that another day in Palo Alto will just about drive me crazy — California is a great place, but Alaska in the Fall, well, that would be a tough one to beat.
I was reading through the Milepost (the guide to roads in British Columbia / Yukon Territories / Alaska) tonight looking for routes, but instead of figuring out what roads I’ll take I spent most of the time flipping through the pages looking at photos of the mountains, the bears, the caribou — how have I gone this long without doing a trip like this?!? The decision to quit definitely doesn’t seem like such a bad idea today.
So the plan is to keep a log of the goings on for the next couple of months. I’ve got no clue who might be interested in such a thing, but for those that are, thanks for taking the time to share in my little adventure.
At this point the enormity (or lack thereof) of what I’m doing is still hitting me. The economy sucks, my job was actually a pretty good one, but instead of maintaining the status quo I’m hopping in the Subaru and taking off into the wild unknown. Whether I’m stupid, brilliant, daring, or idiotic I don’t know, but hope to find out…