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We can really see why retirement is so attractive.  Even being a gypsy beats working—though the reality is that the careers still beckon us to continue south.  Well, actually it is all of the financial obligations that beckon us to return to our careers.  Nonetheless, we are making the most of this experience and spending the night listening to the symphony of the babbling Sikanni river punctuated by the opera of the distant coyotes is definitely another of many indelible memories.

We took advantage the facilities at the RV park to enjoy a hot shower.  While we do have shoe-box sized shower in the RV, it is always nice to take advantage of an unlimited supply of water.  Especially since the quart-sized hot water tank on the RV encourages promptness in order to avoid frigidness.  We also discovered that 6 days is probably 1 day too many for the black water holding tank.  After a bit of fussing, plunging and cursing at the resulting mess, I am now well on my way to being qualified to operate a honey bucket if my fall-back job as a Wall Mart greeter doesn’t pan out. 

Farm Land Along the Peace River

We have left the mountains far behind and entered rolling hills and farm land with the occasional canyon carved out to ensure that there is neither a straight nor level stretch of road.  We took a bit of a detour just west of Dawson Creek and cut south to the small town of Hudson’s Hope.  Prior to reaching town, we stopped for lunch at a rest area overlooking the Peace River and corresponding canyon with rolling farm land stretching out for miles…well, kilometers.  We took another break from driving to see the WAC Bennett Hydro Dam which is one of the largest earthen dams and created Canada’s longest lake.  The hydro plant here also produces 1/3 of the electricity for British Columbia, which is almost enough for all of Vancouver’s Starbucks.  The tour took us 500ft underground to see the cavernous room cored out in the bedrock in order to house the 10 hydro-electric generators.  As an engineer, I found it pretty cool.  Kat found it mildly interesting. 

WAC Bennett Hydro-Electric Dam

We continued on south only to discover that the Canadian approach for building dams by creating a big pile of rocks is also how they build roads.  The stretch of highway 97 south of Chetwynd was by far the worst stretch of road we have encounter in spite of there being approximately 40 miles of road working equipment scattered along the road.  Apparently the key to road repair here is to completely decimate the existing road with a variety of heavy construction equipment to the point of being questionably passable.  The drive south was slow, muddy, and bumpy. 

 

Are we there yet?

Passing rain showers ensured that not a single inch of the exterior on the RV would skate grime free.  We did see another black bear standing at the threshold of the forest along the road but didn’t have an opportunity to stop and test the effectiveness of Kat’s bell.  In between rain showers we were treated to a rainbow arching over the canyon of trees; taunting us with its hidden pot of gold which would have come in very handy at the next gas station.  We also had a fantastic sunset as we pulled into the campground for the night.

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This morning started off with quite a surprise. We made camp at the provincial campground at the Liard River Hot Springs which was another nice campground; near capacity but spread out in the woods enough to offer each site some privacy.

I was sitting at the table typing up the previous days exploits, being sure to capture all of the details without any exaggerations at all. Kat was sitting on the couch with her back adjacent to mine reading a book. We both sipped our first cup of coffee as dawn was starting to cast light on the wilderness around us. Halfway through typing out a thought on the laptop, I heard a scratching on the side of the RV just under the window I was sitting at. It sounded as if a tree branch was scraping back and forth but I dismissed the noise in fear of losing track of where I was in my fable. It was about this moment when Kat asked “Was that you?”

Now the concentration on the keyboard was fading and it takes nearly 100 percent for me to watch the keys while I type to ensure that the fingers don’t go rogue and start hitting keys at random. My mind took the opportunity of the distraction to declare mutiny and completely abandon the task at hand. “No.” I replied.

The Brownest Black Bear I Have Seen.

If it wasn’t Kat…and it wasn’t me…and we didn’t park THAT close to the trees…. I sat up a bit and peaked out the window only to be met by a black bear sniffing around our RV. A frantic search for the camera ensued as we watched the bear lumber on from campsite to campsite in search of treats left out by careless campers. The bear had apparently stood up on his hind legs and put his paws on the side of the RV to take an inquisitive peak, as evident by the muddy paw prints. If I had bothered to look up when I first heard the noise I would had been nose-to-nose 8-inches from the bear! Who needs coffee to get the blood moving when you have a bear?!

Laird Hot Springs, BC

After the adrenaline wore off and breakfast was consumed, we took a walk up to the hot springs—Kat donning her bell. Bells are apparently effective at annoying bears to the extent they would rather chase down a caribou. The pool at the springs was..well…hot. At one end you could see the water bubbling up and hot enough to cook a lobster in while the far end it was more temperate. Kat even rolled her pant legs up and waded in. She said she would have dressed down to her skivvies and gone in further if it weren’t for me grinning and wielding a camera with a fresh battery. Oh well.

Back on the road we saw another lone buffalo just past the hot springs. A bit further in our journey south was another bear, this one with three cubs. The bear had attracted the attention of several RVer’s but continued grazing along the side of the road with her cubs indifferent to the gaggle of tourists. However, I doubt that a warm meal would be turned down if any of the gawkers got out of their vehicle to get better pictures—unless they wore their bells.

Mom Standing Guard

Another brake check occurred several miles further down the road when we happened upon a herd of about dozen mountain goats–correction: Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep. We watched as they scampered up the near sheer cliff adjacent to the winding road. More wildlife came in the form of three reindeer a bit later. I am sure glad the motorhome has antilock brakes so we can capitalize on these photo ops.

Prancer or Blitzen?

From there, the road continued winding down the east side of the Canadian Rockies and past several more abandoned inns, truck stops and gas stations to Watson Lake where we fueled up. Our days trek concluded at the Sikanni River, about 2 hours south of Fort Nelson. We had a campfire and gorged on s’mores as we listened to the chorus of coyotes in the distance—substantiating that we were glad that we were not camping in a tent.

Enjoying the Wilderness

From the US-Canada border south, many of the small roadside services and business are either closed for the season or appear to have been closed and abandoned for many consecutive seasons. The prosperity of the Klondike is apparently over. It does not take much imagination to draw a correlation between stopping at an all-but-deserted gas station and a scene from a Stephen King book. In Haynes Junction, the building adjacent to the awning over the gas pumps was void of any occupants, with the exception of a few rats, and appeared to have been so for quite awhile. Garbage was strewn about with very large crows picking though it looking for hidden treasures. There was no attendant on duty as the office had been boarded up, although, the pumps were still active and the automated card readers were still very effective at charging up your credit card. While pumping gas in to the RV and looking up at the one remaining, flickering florescent light barely hanging from the awning above, a person does have to wonder about the quality of the fuel that they are pumping into their tank at $1.44/litter. Moreover, this was luxurious compared to today’s stop for fuel and to do a load of laundry at another RV park.

Just north of Watson Lake, we stopped at the Nugget City RV Park to do a load of laundry—at least enough laundry to ensure we that have a clean change of clothes without having to wash them by hand and hang them out to dry and potentially leading to a naked exposure of our own. The RV park here consists of a dusty dirt lot without a single occupant. The sign on the office door says to check-in with the gift shop that doubles for a café and is staffed by a girl that is assuredly the descendant of parents that are more closely related than genetically recommended. Missing teeth and all. Behind her is a row of well used coffee pots, an espresso machine that is out of order, and other equipment that hasn’t been cleaned since Nixon was in office. In all, this place is one squeal away from being the scene for the remake of Deliverance and I was glad to put it in the rearview mirror.

A bit more civilization was found down the road at Watson Lake, though not enough to include a Starbucks. Here there was a signpost forest with thousands of signs, license plates and other mementos people had nailed up to announce they had been there and were X-miles from home. It was definitely interesting and unique.

Big Buffalo

As we left town, signs along the road—both written and in the form of piles of manure —stated: “Caution: Watch for Buffalo on Roadway”. After miles of manure sightings, we began to wonder if there really were animals to be seen or whether the local farmer was just disposing the excrement from his cows in a cruel joke to us tourists. Finally, we came upon a lone buffalo bedded down alongside the road and another RV pulled over to take pictures. Following suit, I pulled over as well and parked precariously on the shoulder of a narrow two lane road with semi-trucks racing by and likely cursing us. I got out with camera in hand and walked back to where the other RV was parked; starved for some good wildlife pictures since this was the first animal other than a squirrel that we had seen for two days. All was fine until the other gawkers finished taking pictures, mounted up in their motorhome and motored off leaving me eye-to-eye with a 1000lb buffalo and no shelter other than my own RV which was 50yards away. Feeling rather venerable, I returned to the steel and fiberglass sanctuary of our rolling homestead and continued on.

Yield to Buffalo or They Will Leave a Big Dent

Several more solo buffalo sightings had us slowing down and shooting pictures out the windows like true tourists. As we continued, I made a comment to Kat that there sure were a lot of signs of buffalo for only a half-dozen stray animals. It was about this time, and as I was rounding a corner, that she replied in a cautionary “WHOOOOOOA!” that was more of a gasp than statement. The road and both shoulders ahead were filled with a herd buffalo. I guess about 70 in total–sufficiently answering my prior question. It seems kind of silly now to have risked my neck for a picture of a single buffalo when they now entirely surround the RV. Many, many, many more pictures ensued to capture the moment as will scraping the manure from under-cage of the RV.

Cute, But Probably Not Too Cuddly.

Further down the road we saw a black bear with two cubs and another lone bear a few miles further yet. This made for a great wildlife picture day. Our final destination of the day was the provincial campground at the Liard River Hot Springs in BC. We are now also less than 1200 miles from home.

We listened to the wind whistling through the trees throughout the night and woke to cloudy skies this morning.  The Congdon Creek Campground is a right on the shores of Kluane Lake and is a government run site and is quite well kept.  However, it is also the scene of one of the most frightful sights.  While sipping the first cup of coffee and trying to pry the eyes open for the day’s drive ahead, movement from the corner of my eye caught my attention.  However, the source of the movement turned out to be far more frightening than perhaps even meeting a bear head-on along a dark and narrow path.  The occupant of the site next to us was darting from his camper over to grab his cloths that were hanging from a line that he had strung between two trees.  The trouble was that his clothes were on the line—and NOT on him.  It is a shame that, in spite all of the wonderful scenery and gorgeous vistas that we taken in for the last two weeks, this image is now burned indelibly into my mind.  Moreover, I found myself pondering a question that I had not–and could not have, until this moment–even contemplated or conceived as a matter of inquiry:  Why is it that the hair on the head turns grey and not the hair down below?  And, no, please don’t perpetuate this with replies offering theories.  I really don’t need to know.  As I now try to claw the residual imprint of the old naked man running around his campsite from my retinas, I can only hope that time does indeed heel all wounds. 

Northern Yukon Territory, Canada (Somewhere)

We headed out fairly early this morning only to realize later that we had actually crossed time zones and effectively lost an hour.  This also explains why it seemed to be getting dark notably earlier than previous nights.  We stopped at Haynes Junction for fuel and pushed on to Whitehorse where we found civilization: Starbucks.  The Starbucks was across the parking lot of a Walmart–I never said it was high-class civilization– which was littered with ratty old RVs, trailers and campers who had apparently set up long term residence.  In fact, the Walmart lot even had a RV dump station, potable water, and propane available.  At least now I know where we can go if we have to succumb to permanently living out of the RV.  Heck, with my cheery and positive disposition perhaps I could even get a job as a greeter too.  Starbucks was refreshing as well as humbling as they firmly corrected my order to a “Grande”.  You just can’t win.

We also took this opportunity to fill up the potable water tank since most of the water had abandoned ship though the sloshing induced by the pot holes and frost heaves the previous day. The next destination was the Dawson Peaks Resort and RV Park just south of Teslin.  There we found a mostly empty RV Park; the restaurant was closed for the season and the owners told us that they were closing up entirely for the season next week.  Winter is coming quickly here and people are hurriedly packing up a closing down as evident by the numerous closed roadside businesses along the way.

Fishin' -- Alaska Style

Last night was spent under clear skies providing the first view of the stars for the trip with the big dipper filling the stateroom window.  Not having to rely on navigating by the stars is truly a luxury when they are typically hidden by clouds.  If Capt. James Cook (explorer of the pacific; not to be confused with Capt. James T Kirk) had bothered to use his GPS, I am sure his travels along the Alaska coast would have been more relaxing and with a fewer wrecked ships.  Likewise, he should have referenced Google or Wikipedia; in which case he would have known that the natives of Hawaii were likely to kill him. 

Kat and Kraz Make it to the Border

With a stop in Tok for our last gulp of gas and to top off the propane before hitting Canada, we ventured on and put 375 miles behind us.  Along the way, we saw a moose that crossed the road ahead of us so we were able to slow down and get some good pictures (finally!).  Further down the road there was a brown bear, but at 90km/hr, (we are in Canada now) it was more like: “is that—oh, that was a bear”.  With no one behind us –and in fact we hadn’t seen another vehicle in about the last 10 minutes—the anti-lock braking system of the rolling homestead was put to the test before backing up to where the bear was.  The operative word being ‘was’ because we only got a glimpse of it moseying off into the brush muttering :“Damn tourists, eh.”

The Alaska Highway is has also proven to be a contrast between countries.  The Alaska side is far from perfect and has numerous repairs on it including some rough patches.  The Canadian side, however, is litter along the sides with little orange flags indicating that there is either a pothole (generally the size of a Volkswagen) or a frost heave which will assuredly jar any loose molars out.  Since the ground is frozen only a few feet down from the surface, the road is subject to buckle into nature’s version of the speed bump (aka frost heaves).  The primary job of the Canadian road crew, armed with only a garden trowel and dust broom, is apparently to remove the debris that has been torn off the vehicles of inattentive drivers; like axles, transmission, wheels, etc.  It is easy to lose concentration for a split second to look away to see if that shadow is a moose: BAM! [pothole], or to admire the mountain rising up on both sides: KAPOW! [frost heaves!].  Defensive maneuvering is out of the question when driving an RV.  Steering input general only results in the vehicle listing to the opposite side for about a half-mile before any notable course changes actually happens.

Moose, eh. Near Beaver Creek, YT

As we neared the end or our day’s travels, we encountered 40km/hr winds along Kluane Lake.  This added to the challenge of the roads by buffeting us with crosswinds and making for some very exhausting driving.  The camp ground we stayed at was nice and surprisingly near capacity since we didn’t really see any other traffic on the roads.  A sign at the entrance announced that due to increased bear activity in the area, tent camping was prohibited.  This didn’t really factor in until sun set when we dashed down to the shore of the lake to take pictures only to realize after crashing through the brush that darkness was falling AND there was heightened bear activity.  However, armed with my trusty bear repelling whistle (which sounds more like an injured squirrel), we made it back to the RV without having to disable a bear by sending it in hysterics over us trying to chase it off with imitations of injured squirrels.

Sunset Over Kluane Lake, YT

Fourteen days and Kat is still talking to me!  We pushed off this morning for our longest leg of the trek yet, using the magnetic pull of the North Pole to help pull us up to Fairbanks and slingshot us back south harnessing the centripetal forces of the earth’s rotation to draw us towards Seattle.  Well, that and a shit load of liquefied dead dinosaurs fossils.  I apologize now for the impending fuel shortage stateside (or “Lower 48” in Alaska-speak) but we will be home in a week and promise not to use ALL of the gas after that.

Tanana River and the Alaska Mountain Range

We stopped in Fairbanks for a splash of gas and cart of groceries to keep us well fed on into Canada.  I also shipped the gun (aka Thor) back to Seattle since Canadians apparently subscribe to the theory that it is better for only the crooks to have handguns.  I am not of that mind set, but figured that was better than having the Canadian border agent wet himself if it was discovered that I had a handgun.  Additionally, our itinerary does not have room for sightseeing the inside of a Canadian prison. 

The weather continues to be great, with 75 degree temperatures in Fairbanks and completely ruining what little credibility I had retained regarding weather in Alaska.  However, I don’t mind because we continue to see so much fantastic scenery.  I keep telling Kat that she is more than welcome to come up in January and experience NEGATIVE 50 degrees in the winter if she wants. 

 

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline at Delta Junction

There was another moose sighting along the road today but lack of turnouts rendered it another missed photo opportunity.  Driving an RV with the girth and turning radius of a battleship doesn’t make for good u-turns on two-lane roads either.  Other sights along the road included the famous Skinny Dicks Halfway Inn just outside of Fairbanks (seriously, Google it).  We crossed Tanana River, had views of the Alaska Range (the mountains, not the stove), stopped for a photo op in North Pole, Alaska (the town, not THE north pole) and we also saw the pipeline today (another Alaska icon).  The evening was nice enough to sit out in our t-shirts to enjoy a drink and feed the mosquitoes.  It is actually funny to watch a drunken mosquito try to take off….

By my estimation we are now only 2237.6 miles from home, or 497 more rounds of “20-Questions”. Tomorrow we plan to cross into the Yukon Territory of Canada.

Sunset at Clearwater River, Near Delta Junction, AK

Today we decided to take the bus ride into the park to the Eielson Visitor Center since 7 hours on an old converted school bus was just the thing we needed before spending the next 2400 miles driving.  Of course, this was not without a frantic packing of the RV and a drive back to the ranger station in order to get $35 tickets.  This was contrary to what we were told the night before when we checked in and the bus was in fact NOT free.  The park service is actually run by a contracted company whose business model is based on the mosquito.  While the insect drains you of blood, the services are set to drain your wallet: $20 to camp, $8 for firewood, $35 to ride the bus, etc…  At least we brought our own toilet paper.

Toklat River, Denali Nat'l Park

The 60+ mile long dirt road wound through valleys, across ridges lines and along several 200-300 foot sheer vertical cliffs (not Kats favorite part).  This is probably why they don’t let private vehicles into the park, and especially not tourists in RVs, or the river beds at the bottom of the cliffs would likely be littered with vehicle carcasses.  It is one of the most picturesque drives with views of the country side that are far beyond anything I could describe with any justice at all.  Surrounded by the gorgeous vistas in all 360 degrees is even beyond the ability of film to fully capture (or the electrons in today’s cameras).  The weather held for us as we had a couple of breathtaking views of the big mountain itself on the drive in.  Although, as majestic as it is, I cannot quite fathom why anyone in their right mind would look at the sharp ice covered ridgelines, snowy crevasses and sheer magnitude of it and go:  “Wow, lets climb it!”

Mt. Denali / McKinley

We saw a lot of wildlife too.  In talking to another couple in the campground, they said that they saw several grizzly bears right along the road the day before.  So with our hopes high we ventured (within the safety of the bus) with our cameras poised.  However, we only saw two grizzlies from afar.  One was actually on the road in front of the bus, but it was concealed by the bus load of people squealing in delight and jumping out of their seats to get a picture.  I, however, being in the back of the bus was not quick enough in my squealing of delight and subsequent jumping up to get a picture until it scampered off into the woods.  This left me with just a shot of the south end of a north bound bear.  Apparently, Wednesday was Doll sheep day as we saw several resting along the road, several on the road, and more along the road.  With all of this food around, were are the bears?  We also saw a lone caribou, two moose, and a hawk in a pine tree (better sung to the tune of “The 12 days of Christmas”).

The weather continues to hold with a mixed clouds and sun.  It has rained most nights, but the days are bright enough to allow us to behold the majesty of it all.  The Denali Mountain itself is also notorious for being shy and hiding behind a veil of clouds so we are very fortunate to see it today. 

Doll Sheep, Denali Nat'l Park