Ryan's Journal

"My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?" — David Mitchell

Arctic Circle Crossing, 240 miles up the Dempster Highway, Yukon Territory

Posted at 4:30 pm, October 4th, 2002

Still glowing from this morning’s wolf sighting — a sixth wolf appeared later, following his fellows. The mood was only mildly disturbed when a short time afterwards I blew a tire and it deflated so quickly that by the time I stopped to change it the rim was riding on the ground. After getting to the Eagle Lodge the prognosis from the guy there was “I think you’re screwed” and it was downgraded to “Yep, you’re screwed” after getting a look at the inside of the tire. Oddly enough, the three times I’ve gotten a flat on this trip have all been the right rear tire. Luckily he had a tire for sale that was the right size, and since it would be foolish to travel this road without a spare I forked over some money. After a BLT at the lodge (nine days without soup!) I’m now writing from the warm interior of the Subaru at the Arctic Circle crossing while a snowstorm is raging outside.

210 miles up the Dempster Highway, Yukon Territory

Posted at 11:40 am, October 4th, 2002

The trip is now perfect — five wolves were sitting in the snow as I was driving along. They took off into the brush as I drove near, but I stopped the car and waited and they re-appeared after a few minutes. I attempted to howl like one of them, and while they looked at me strangely when I did so, after a brief pause I had five wolves singing in chorus.

The image of the lead wolf staring back at me is one that I think has been burned into my brain forever. When an experience is said to have “stirred the soul” I think the magic comes less from the experience and more from the certainty that deep within, one does indeed have a soul to be stirred. Watching the wolves was an experience that stirred my soul, and I’m grateful for it.

160 miles up the Dempster Highway, Yukon Territory

Posted at 4:35 pm, October 3rd, 2002

Just kind of moseying along today. Earlier I experimented with cooking while inside of my car, and that allowed me to get my stew nice and hot in only ten minutes. Whether operating a propane stove inside of an automobile is a good idea or not is a question I’m willing to ignore when the windchill feels like it’s in the single digits and the alternative is a pot of cold canned food.

80 miles up the Dempster Highway, Yukon Territory

Posted at 3:10 pm, October 2nd, 2002

Today has been a good day for spotting unusual animals. About an hour ago a golden eagle was sitting right on the road, and he sat with me about thirty feet away for a bit before flying overhead and then off into the mountains. Later on there were two little critters swimming around in a lake right offshore from me that I assume were muskrat — I’ve never seen a muskrat before, but I can’t think of anything else that these guys could have been. One caribou was out as well, giving me hope that there may be huge numbers of them further up the highway.

Everything is covered in an inch or two of snow, making for beautiful scenery. The lakes are all perfect mirrors of the surrounding mountains, and the streams are especially pretty as they wind their way through the white hills. I should probably be out hiking, but thus far I’ve been enjoying the views from the road (where “from the road” means “from my warm car”).

A random note, but trying to cook food out here is like trying to heat something up in a freezer. As soon as the bottom starts to get even mildly warm the top seems to have gone cold again. After cooking for more than a half hour I finally gave up and just ate lukewarm chili for lunch. On a positive note, at least it wasn’t canned soup.

20 miles up the Dempster Highway, Yukon Territory

Posted at 7:00 pm, October 1st, 2002

An awesome display of the Northern Lights last night — white and green with some red and purple that danced and flickered across the sky for at least a half hour. Snow and poor visibility when I woke up, but it was still pretty and I had an enjoyable drive to Dawson City. Stopped at the Jack Wade gold dredge and since no one else was around I conveniently failed to see the “Keep Out!” notices and discovered some loose mesh on the side of the dredge, allowing me to take a tour of the inside of the seventy year old structure.

Lunch in Dawson City means that it’s now been a full week since I’ve had to consume canned soup, but during the next several days along the Dempster I’ll be getting more than my fill of Chunky beef and potato, Progresso chicken Italiano, and other fun flavors. It is very likely that I may never want to even look at a can of soup again after this trip is over.

30 miles up the Taylor Highway, Alaska

Posted at 4:30 pm, September 30th, 2002

Left Fairbanks and am now traveling the “Top of the World” highway on my way to the Dempster again to chase caribou. It’s good to be back in the wilderness — lot of driving today, but still spent some time with a porcupine, and am now camped out on the tundra above treeline with a view that extends to the Wrangell mountains on the far horizon.

Creamer’s Field, Fairbanks, Alaska

Posted at 3:00 pm, September 27th, 2002

After not running in nearly two months I couldn’t help but put on the Asics to take advantage of the fall weather and the dirt trails at Creamer’s Field. Today was my second run there, and it’s a great place for a run — the trails are soft, it’s nice and cool out, the scenery is inspiring, and it smells like fall. Living in California I’d forgotten the smell of autumn, with the scent of newly fallen leaves mixing with fresh cool breezes. In addition, the few geese and cranes that are still around make for perfect company by helping to take my mind off the fact that I’m in horrible running shape.

University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska

Posted at 8:00 pm, September 26th, 2002

Still hanging out in Fairbanks. It’s definitely nice to be able to drink hot coffee, eat Chinese food, and shower semi-regularly. One downside is that it’s tougher to find a quiet place to sleep at night — apparently it’s a sport for the locals to go to parking lots late at night and attempt to destroy their pickups. During the past two nights I’ve been waking up repeatedly to see a truck launched into a 720 degree skid or nearly rolled over as the driver takes a turn at about eight hundred miles an hour. Last night one fellow was trying to melt his tires, but after three minutes of spinning his back wheels while keeping his front wheels locked solid all he had done was created a cloud of smoke that covered half the lot. Angered at the unwillingness of his truck to die he threw it into gear, crashing over cement barriers while he attempted to break the sound barrier in his tour around the lot. Quite different from the peaceful nights I spent alone out in the backcountry.

Creamer’s Field, Fairbanks, Alaska

Posted at 6:20 pm, September 24th, 2002

Creamer’s Field is an 1800 acre former dairy that is now a waterfowl refuge on the edge of Fairbanks. When I was here four weeks ago there were thousands upon thousands of geese, cranes and ducks out on the fields — it felt like there was literally a bird on every square foot of land. Today it’s desolate, with perhaps two hundred geese and just a handful of cranes. Winter is most definitely on its way.

The forecast for most of the state is for rain and snow during the next week, so I may hole up in Fairbanks for a few days. The caribou are due on the Dempster starting in mid-October, and upwards of three thousand eagles will be descending on the Chilkat Eagle Preserve near Haines at about the same time, so I’d like to sort of wait out the weather and hopefully stick around long enough to see both of those events.

Don’t forget to wish Ma a happy birthday — e-mail@removed! Thanks!

Near Teklanika River, Denali National Park, Alaska

Posted at 9:05 pm, September 22nd, 2002

Some time in the past twenty-four hours the sun set at the North Pole for the first and only time this year, a reality that I can’t fathom. The weather today was again beautiful, but the night promises to be extraordinarily cold. I’m in my tent in the Denali backcountry, so body parts may freeze while I sleep — I’ll spend a few more days looking for wolves, then it’s going to be time to start heading south. The wolves are still in hiding, but with luck they’ll be howling at the moon tonight.

15 miles north of Denali National Park, Alaska

Posted at 8:00 pm, September 21st, 2002

It was so cold when I woke up this morning that my boots had frozen — I had to hold them under the car’s heater for a few minutes before the leather was pliable enough for me to put them on. The weather warmed up into the fifties as the day went on, and once the fog lifted the sky was completely blue — I didn’t see a single cloud all day. Far and away the best weather yet, and I ended up hiking almost twenty miles along the closed portion of the park road up to Sable Pass. Still no wolves, but there were hundreds of fresh tracks in the snow. The scenery is awe-inspiring — all of the mountains are snow-covered, the lakes and rivers are partially frozen, and some of the trees still have their autumn colors while most of the evergreens are dusted with snow. Awesome day.

Ma Holliday’s birthday is on September 25, so I’ve got a favor to ask of anyone reading this log. Ma is now “internet savvy”, i.e. she can check e-mail, so it would be great to be able to flood her with happy birthday messages — her e-mail is e-mail@removed. Many thanks!

Near Teklanika River, Denali National Park, Alaska

Posted at 7:00 pm, September 20th, 2002

Woke up this morning and for the second time this trip had to remove each tire from the car to chisel out mud — by the fourth tire I had lost feeling in my fingers, making the job considerably more interesting. There was another snow storm last night, so the road through Denali was completely shut down for most of the day. When it did open there were less than fifteen vehicles on it — imagine if there were only fifteen cars in all of Yosemite Valley, and that’s what it’s been like out here today, just very quiet and peaceful. Did some hiking, a grizzly and a few caribou made brief appearances, but unfortunately the wolves remain elusive.

Fairbanks, Alaska

Posted at 8:05 pm, September 19th, 2002

Big snow storm today, so I bid a fond farewell to the Dalton and am on the way to Denali again to hopefully find wolves. While the far north is somewhere I will remember for the rest of my life, some of the little things in the civilized world are nice to come back to — I’m drinking hot chocolate in a coffeehouse, I’m warm, I just got a shower, and I don’t have to run outside into the freezing cold when nature calls. The Dalton was beyond incredible, but civilization does have a few good points, too.