Sunday, August 7, 2016

Look for Alaska: Broken Down on the Alaska Highway

Day #59

We are in Haines Junction, a small town in the northern Yukon Territory. We didn't plan to stop here but somewhere around mile 975 on the Alaska Hwy my battery light turned on and was accompanied by the message "Battery Not Charging". I have a pretty decent understanding of cars and decided to drop to a lower gear to increase the RPMs, thus causing the alternator to spin faster. To my surprise, this caused the warning light to turn off. I knew I had to pull over and put my multimeter on the battery to test it myself but knew if I stopped I was taking the risk of being stuck on the side of the road. So, we tore down the highway at 4000 RPMs for 25 miles or so until we got here. 

When we arrived we found an RV park/grocery/gas in town. You see this a lot on the Alaska Highway, businesses responding to the particular needs of travelers and trying to offer it all. I grabbed a space, unhooked the trailer and popped the hood on the truck. The battery was still at around 11 volts but dropping. A normal car, when charging properly, will put out 13 or more volts and hold steady. One of the things I learned from working at my dad's shop as a kid was testing the charging system on a car is one of the easiest auto diagnostics to perform. You just need a $15 multimeter from the auto parts store. It serves countless other purposes around the home too. If you don't own one, you should.

When I saw that the car actually wasn't charging that left two possible culprits. The belt or the alternator. Checking the belt is easy. Make sure it's there and rotating freely and spinning the pulley on the alternator. If it is, the belt is not the problem. So, with a car that was not charging and a belt that was functioning properly I was led to believe that our alternator was shot. Luckily, there is an auto parts store within biking distance of us. I will head there in the morning, roll up my sleeves, bust out the tools, and do some auto repairs. 

This puts the Alaskan auto repair tally at:
2 flat tires 
3 oil changes
Brakes and rotors all around
A new battery
And an alternator 

...and we aren't even out of the Yukon yet

Once we got settled in this evening I noticed my neighbor, an Asian gentleman, had started a fire in the community fire pit so I went to join him. Turns out he is from Seoul and him and his wife were pleased to learn I was also Korean. It's a brotherhood. Koreans actually do look out for each other. Their English was far from perfect but I have experience translating broken Korean/English because of my grandmother. He is a writer who is publishing a book (in Korean) about his travels to Alaska. She is a pianist. Like a legit pianist who does it for a living and teaches lessons on the side. The dude, Mr. Kim, must have been doing some heavy research on Alaska because he was teaching me about the Alaska Highway and the war with Japan. Interesting stuff. At the end of the night I gave them a pound of my bulgogi to try. Mrs. Kim must have felt obligated to give me a gift in return and went inside and grabbed me a big bag of legit Korean ramen. 

So I have some work to do tomorrow but I will have plenty of soup to eat. 

Day #60

I woke up early and scouted the town for auto parts. Turns out the auto parts store in town is closed on Saturdays and after peering through the window I realized they don't carry the kind of stock I need. There is a big parts store in Whitehorse so I devised a radical plan. Remove the bad alternator and hitchhike to Whitehorse, Swap out the alternator and hitchhike back. So there I was standing on the side of the Alaska highway with my thumb out and an alternator in my backpack. 100 miles of road between me and Whitehorse. 

I have never hitchhiked before so the whole experience had me in observation mode. I'm not gonna lie. It was awesome. Families in RVs all looked the other way and pretended not to see me. Young girls driving along mouthed "sorry" to me. You don't have to be sorry. You're a girl driving alone in the Yukon and I am a creepy dude. 

After 30 minutes of coming up empty I returned to the RV and asked Jessica to make me a sign. My retail sales experience was telling me I needed selling points. I am not just a broke dude drifting around looking for a ride. I am on a legit mission. So we agreed on this sign. 

Within 5 minutes a man named Neil picked me up. He lives in Whitehorse and was in Haines Junction watching his granddaughter's swim meet. He was a quiet man who didn't have much to say. 

"You smoke?" He said as he offered me a Canadian cigarette. 

"Sure." I replied. When in the Yukon, smoke mini cigarettes with old strangers. 

Neil moved here from Newfoundland 20 years ago because he loves to hunt. He has gotten a moose 19 out of the 20 years he has been here. He also has a few bears, caribou and elk under his belt. At one point, during one of our awkward silences, it occurred to me that he is a big game hunter and is probably equipped with a large gun that could take out a big Korean hitchhiker. 

"You want me to take you right to the auto parts store? I need to get me a Tim Hortons coffee anyhow."  He said. 

"Sure. That would be awesome."

Then he took me to the parts store. He said he was going back toward the highway anyhow so he would wait and drop me back off where I could hitch a ride back to Haines Junction. I went inside, inspected the new alternator, side-by-side with the old one, gave them money and the swap was complete. I had the goods. I was in the home stretch.  

So there I was, back on the side of the road with a new part in my bag and my thumb out. My sign had become obsolete and I felt it had aided me earlier so I went into a gas station and asked for a marker. The store clerk was excited to help a hitchhiker with a sign. I bounced some ideas off her and eventually came up with this sign. 

After what felt like an eternity, a Jeep Liberty with a woman inside stopped and offered to take me a few miles up the road. She was just staying local but I figured I would take the ride out of town and hitchhike from there. After all, beggars can't be choosers. There was a big CD drawer full of Jewell cases and a badass 90s music collection sitting on the passenger seat. 

"Put this on your lap. You're in charge of music. I like it loud!"

Barb is a Yukon native and she is unlike any person I have ever met. Within minutes it was obvious that we got along well. She chain smoked, had a roaring laugh and whipped her head around to the music. She turned the music down and asked me the usual set of questions. Where I am from, what I am doing here and why the hell am I hitchhiking to Haines Junction. I told her about the car and my family waiting for me at the RV. 

"Well look, I'm gonna be your angel today. I need to make a couple stops, you come with me, and then I will take you all the way to Haines Junction." 

I agreed and felt relieved. My mission was basically complete. I just needed to roll around town with this local for a bit. Game on. 

With my ride back secured I was feeling relaxed so it wasn't long before we were hanging like old buddies. We stopped at a pizza place that she likes and got some slices and drinks. Then we got back into the car and her CD drawer became our table. I handled the tunes and the pizza and she did the driving while we jammed out the Spin Doctors. 

Our next stop was her bosses house. She insisted I get out of the car and say hello. It was awkward but that's the thing with Barb, she doesn't care. She treats everyone as an equal and encourages everyone to be friends. Her bosses sister was unloading groceries in the driveway when we showed up. 

"This is Mike." Said barb "I found him hitching on highway 1 and I'm taking him to Haines Junction to fix his car."

"So basically she just showed up at your house with a hitchhiker." I said, trying to be funny but realizing it was still early and the jury was still out on me. I could still be a murderer...right? 

They handled business and then we drove off, CD's and pizza on my lap, down the Alaska Highway. She had a couple of those dancing hula knick knacks on the dashboard that she named Auntie and Uncle. She referred to them often and talked to them like they were people. One of them fell and she said, "Oh auntie!"

I tried reaching around the bulky CD box and pizza wrappers to grab her. 

"Don't worry. She'll be alright down there. She's been through worse."

The whole ride was a riot. 

Barb has a lot of stories. She worked for the visitor center and met lots of tourists. She was the postmaster for a while. She was a flagger on a construction crew. A jack of all trades. I learned about her personal struggles. This lady is amazing. She has been dealt some shit and she is still all laughs and good times. And I learned a lot about roads. How they're made and where frost heaves come from. Shit I have kind of been wondering about since we started driving on these awful, north country roads. In between her stories I made jokes and she belted out her infectious laugh. We really bonded. 

When we got back to the RV she busted out a cooler and had some drinks while blaring Led Zeppelin from her Jeep. Jessica and the boys were off at the visitor center across the street so I got to work on the truck with Barb keeping me company, like pals hanging in the yard. I got the part bolted down, put the belt on and hooked up the wires...the moment of truth. I turned the key and it fired up. I put the multimeter on and IT WAS CHARGING! WOOHOO!

My family showed up and I introduced them to Barb. Jessica instantly took a liking to her and they chatted while I sat back and enjoyed the feeling of a completed mission. Then we had neighbors show up and Barb, being Barb, brought us all together around the fire and we drank. Everyone was drinking and laughing and sharing stories. It had gotten late so Jessica offered Barb a bed. She accepted and we all crashed. 

I am really pumped that the car is fixed but I feel more fortunate to have met Barb and have this experience. For me, hitchhiking is putting yourself out there in the purest form. You are vulnerable. You don't have the vehicle that everyone is expected to have on a barren stretch of highway. Everyone that passes you judges you and their final judgements about you become evident as they pass by without stopping. But you have to have enough faith in the ways of humanity that many of us assume don't exist. The world isn't as harsh as we think it is. I started the day with big problems and ended the day with a new friend. An angel. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Look for Alaska: A Tiny Town with a Big Heart

Day #57

We are parked in Chitina in a tiny RV park that sits on a gravel lot. There are no laundry facilities or bathrooms. They don't even have a front office. You just drop money in an envelope and pick a spot. No frills camping. Jessica is reading a book about crazy Alaskan pioneers and the boys are feeding their new obsession, Pokemon. Not that 'Pokemon Go' stuff that is taking the world by storm. We
play that too but they really like the card game. We are having a relaxation day because sometimes we are just a family that lounges around in an RV all day. But that was certainly not the case yesterday. 

We spent the night in McCarthy last night. You may have seen the show "Edge of Alaska" on the Discovery Channel. If you have then you know about this town, though the locals all insist it's more of a dramatized reality that is sometimes guided by producers. I have never seen it so I just know what the locals told me. Anyhow, the town is really remote. If you started in Anchorage you would drive 150 miles to a tiny town called Glennallen. From there, you turn off the main highway and drive 65 miles along wavy, frost heaved concrete to the even tinier town of Chitina, that's where we dropped the RV. From there you drive 62 miles along a dirt road through America's largest national park until you reach a river. You park there and cross a foot bridge and walk (or bike in our case) one mile to the town of McCarthy. 

The town is technically in Wrangell St. Elias National Park. In fact, the townies and the Park Service sort of have some tension between them. It's easy to see why too. The locals have owned their land since the early 1900's then one day, back in the 80's, the NPS designated the vast wilderness surrounding them as a National Park. Suddenly the place where they hunted, hiked and snowmobiled was a well regulated piece of government property established for the purpose of conservation. Meanwhile, the park service employees were sent to work at this park that encapsulates a town of pissed off people. This tension plays a role in many of the towns controversies. 

If you travel another 5 miles past McCarthy you come to the reason why locals settled in this area, the town of Kennecott. Once the home of the most profitable Copper Mining operation in America, Kennecott was, at one time, the largest town in Alaska. The mining started around 1908 and ended abruptly on November 11, 1938, when the last train left town and never returned. Ask the locals, guides and historians why it shut down and they'll tell you the copper ran out. Or that the unions drove labor prices up and the price of copper plummeted. Or they might say the State of Alaska began crushing them with regulations and railroad restrictions in an effort to cash in for the state. I am guessing it was probably a perfect storm combining all of these factors. 

The history of these two towns is huge and fascinating. I could seriously go on all day about vandalizing NPS aircraft, mail day massacres and hippie communes but you probably have to get back to work or wash your car so I will stop there. 

We showed up to town with one mission: hike on a glacier. We had planned ahead a little. We made reservations at a hotel which turned out to be more like a Hostel with shared showers and bunk beds. We got free breakfast at the Saloon with our reservation so that was nice. Dining in Alaska is expensive and the further you go into the bush the crazier it gets (i.e. $19 for a burger and fries). We also had some trail food and water so we were able to skip a meal and just eat on the trail. 

One of the things we needed to get in town was crampons. You know, those spikes that ice climbers and glacier hikers strap to their shoes. We had heard some of the guide companies rent them so we took a chance. As it turns out, for liability reasons, all of the companies stopped renting them. So, we decided we would hike TO the glacier, check it out, maybe play around near the edge, and go home. Okay, great, where is the glacier? Just bike 5 miles uphill along this bumpy dirt road, then hike 2 miles and you'll be at the edge of the glacier.

...or hire a guide who drives you there, provides you with crampons and teaches you shit along the way. So we did that. It is NOT cheap to do it this way but we went to McCarthy to hike on a glacier dammit. 

The glacier was awesome. Breathtaking, once in a lifetime, holy-shit-I'm-hiking-on-a-glacier awesome. But the more time we spent in town the more drawn to the people, history and way-of-life we became. 

We spent a lot of time hanging around the saloon where the locals all sit on the porch and watch tourists. They all smoke cigarettes and carry props like books (Michener's "Alaska" was being passed around the local guides) or beer glasses. 

We hung out in front of the general store all afternoon and shared laughs with the store clerk. I was just telling him how incredible their fresh bread was when the town baker showed up. She gave me the recipe and told me her secrets. She got the technique from a baker in Italy. It's an herb focaccia bread and I am pumped to start making it. We learned the names of the dogs that live in town as they came to the store. Their masters would walk inside and they would instinctively stop at the door. There are probably 50 dogs in McCarthy and not a single dog leash. They just wander around, usually following their masters and always waiting outside the bar, store or restaurant. 

We ate lunch at the Potato, the town cafe, where the owners son, Max, invited Noah and Sam aboard his pirate ship, a fort that him and his dad constructed from pallets and other junk scraps. They played for a couple hours while Jessica and I bummed around town. Like the dogs, the kids are free range and don't have leashes. And the parents aren't worried about it. The way it should be, really. 

We made our way back to the car late this afternoon and as we rode off we waved to people that we had met. Some of them walking, some on 4 wheelers and bikes. It was weird to think that just 24 hours earlier we were biking in the other direction wondering just what the hell we were getting ourselves into. 

This side trip was sort of the Alaska finale for us. Tomorrow we head back to Tok. We will toss some pancakes and eat some Thai food for the last time. Then we will head across the border and back towards the lower 48. So we went out with a bang. This was easily one of the most bizarre and memorable experiences of my life and it will definitely be in the front of my mind when I think back to our summer in Alaska. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Look for Alaska: What's Up Doc?

First, a few notes on Fairbanks. It's a nice little town. At just over 30,000 people it's the 2nd largest city in Alaska. Downtown is nice and well laid out, the Thai food is incredible and, although they're not very well connected, they have a decent network of bike paths. They have a ton of tourist attractions ranging from gold panning to sight seeing via plane or train. All of these things cost a lot since 1. You're in Alaska and 2. Tourist season is only three months long. You can't really see any mountains or Alaskan scenery but they have Fred Meyer (Kroger on a MASSIVE dose of steroids) so it's worth the stop for any RVer. If you want wildlife and adventure it's close by but not really within the city limits. 

Now that we got that out of the way I must warn you. The remainder of this blog entry gets a bit technical and there are no pictures. 

A few months back my doctor got in touch with me because he had a conference in Alaska and wanted to see when I would be there. As chance would have it, we were going to be in Fairbanks at the same time. The original plan was to just get in touch and meet up. However, the last few months my back has been giving me problems and he is a neuromuscular Doctor. In fact, he is well known for using cutting edge, non surgical techniques to help people with pain and mobility issues. So, I asked him if there was any chance he could see me as a patient and work on my back for me. Since he is a stand-up dude who is passionate about his work and patients, he made it happen. 

I arrived at the Tanana Valley Clinic of Osteopathic and Manipulative Medicine in the early afternoon and after a short chat and some handshakes I was led to a room full of balls, rollers, inversion tables, skeletons and muscle charts. I stood chatting with my doctor, Dr Hardik Shah, and his Alaskan colleague, Dr Beth Chernich. They had me strip down to my undies and then started rolling video. I know. Scandalous. But if I can help them in their research and education by being an underwear model then I am happy to oblige. 

The session started with an analysis of my mobility and a postural study. Then Dr Chernich went to work by literally beating the shit out of me. She was like "This muscle hurts? Right here? This sonofabitch?" Then she'd point her finger at it and dare it to talk shit to her then she'd grab it and beat it to a pulp. My muscles retreated and immediately obeyed her every command. Then there was the suction cups. These transparent, plastic cups that she used a hand pump on to attach to my body. Then she had me move my legs. As I did this the cups popped off one at a time and shot off onto the floor. This, the result of my extremely tight IT Bands, caused her to say, "yeah, he is definitely a biker with these strong cycling legs."

Her taking note of my passion for biking made her okay with me. 

While all of this was happening the two doctors were making observations while discussing with each other and the video camera. It's interesting witnessing doctors working together in this manner. For instance, I learned that they use body language as an indicator when discussing an injury with a patient. If you grab it and press deeply while discussing it (which people in every culture do without realizing it) then you are most likely suffering from a herniated trigger point. If you rub it or squeeze it it means something totally different. It was mostly stuff that was above my head but the general idea made sense to me and was quite fascinating. Sneaky doctors. 

After Beth finished working with me they had me stand up and checked my posture and mobility again. No joke, I felt 1000% better. My blood was flowing and I felt loose. And my back wasn't bugging me. Now it was Hardik's turn to do his thing. Since I have been seeing him for about a decade I feel I should back up and give some history. 

First off: I have chronic lower back problems. But that doesn't really explain the whole problem. I have a twisted pelvis that stems from my flat feet and posture. This slight variation in my foundation causes the muscles on the outside of my legs to work harder and stiffen up and thus, creates pain and stiffness in my lower back. 

Dr Shah is aware of my issues and, on occasions when I throw my back out, he brings me back with a variation of a technique called Prolotherapy (short for proliferation therapy). This therapy works by injecting an irritant (sugar water) into weak or damaged ligaments. The injection causes temporary inflammation in the problem area and triggers an immune response from the body. It's like a way of directing traffic for your immune system or helping guide your body's natural healing process. Dr Shah's technique is a variation of this technique where he also uses a more diluted sugar solution to free up areas where tissue has bound together. 

Which brings me back to Fairbanks. In the office. Beth just beat me up. Hardik is standing there holding a needle looking like a mad scientist. He made TWENTY-SEVEN holes in my body. Through each hole he moves the needle around. Goes in and out with it. Carefully dispersing fluid where he deems necessary. It's not pretty but it works. And he precedes the whole thing with injections of local anesthetic so you don't feel much. 

After the procedure I had a lidocaine buzz that I flushed away with some time and water. And I went on my merry way. 

As I write this just over 24 have passed since my treatment. I am sore but only in the spots where I was injected. When I move, I don't have to favor my back anymore. My legs feel a lot less tight and I drove for 5 hours today without having to shove an empty pop bottle or rolled up sweatshirt behind me for lumbar support. 

Make no mistake. Manipulative medicine and Prolotherapy are alternative medicines. That being said, they're becoming increasingly more popular as the public becomes more educated on how the health system works. They aren't witting prescriptions and booking operating rooms to cut you open so they can't make easy money from you. They have to beat up your muscles, stick suction cups to you and inject you with 140cc of sugar water and then hope you go out and write a good review about them. 

If you are in Fairbanks and you want to see Dr Beth Chernich she can be found at the the Tanana Valley Clinic of Osteopathic and Manipulative Medicine. She is super sharp and passionate and will not only help you, she will educate you about your body and whatever ails you. 

If you are in Metro Detroit you can find Dr Hardik Shah at the Institute of Neuromuscular Medicine with offices in Detroit and Chesterfield. He is top notch. Tell him I sent you. 

Both doctors are booked pretty well in advance...which should also tell you something. 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Cabin in the Woods

Day #23 - 

When you think of Alaska you probably think of moose blocking roadways or Sarah Palin shooting 12 gauge slugs at a grizzly bear. Alaska has long had an image of being a wild and dangerous place...the last frontier. This is because of things like Hollywood and The Discovery Channel. But don't be fooled by what you see on TV. 

Yesterday was our 9th wedding anniversary and we wanted to do something unique with the whole family. After looking into excursions and local B&Bs we were left with a small handful of not-so-exciting-but-ultra-pricey options. Then we looked into the National Forest and there it was. An inexpensive, remote
cabin in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness.

The Caribou Creek cabin is along the Resurrection Pass Trail in Chugach National Forest. The only way to get there is to hike 7 miles through remote and wild terrain. Here's where the Hollywood images of Alaska started haunting me. I had a wild encounter in Yellowstone ( a couple years ago that has since left me slightly scarred whenever we go backpacking. Most times I hit the trail and knock out a few miles and it's all good. But this is ALASKA. The moment I clicked to confirm our reservation I felt nervous. And I am not a person who typically suffers from any kind of anxiety. I had Images of Grizzly bears and wolves running through my head. I kept playing out different scenarios and NONE of them ended with us making to and from the cabin without encountering a large mammal. That just doesn't happen in "The Last Frontier" does it? 

In preparing for our adventure I kept singing the Billy Ocean song "Caribbean Queen" but replaced the words with "Caribou Creek". Try it, it works quite well. Anyhow, on the day of our adventure I was listening to the radio station (and I mean THE radio station, there is ONE station in the Kenai) and wouldn't you know, my song came on. I took it as a good sign and sang along to Billy with my revised lyrics. 

The Resurrection Pass Trail begins in Hope which is a small town with dirt roads. It's a quaint town that started like most Alaska towns - with a turn of the century gold rush. Of all the places we have been to so far, Hope is the city that looks most like the Alaskan town that I pictured in my head. While driving the Hope Highway we saw a demoralizing scene unfolding on the roadside. A dead whale had washed ashore and a large crowd had gathered around to gawk. There were also people on the scene collecting samples of some sort. Not sure what agency they were with but that had official looking tool kits and jackets. Like whale CSI or something. I joke but seeing a dead animal of that size really gets ya. It's a truly devastating loss of life. It's also the first time we have seen a whale. Bummer. 

We got on the trail just after lunch. I strapped some bear bells to my wrist with my Ontario survival knife on one hip (thanks Joe) and my bear spray on the other. Bear bells, for those of you who don't hike, are basically sleigh bells that you strap to you so that bears can hear you coming. The idea is if they hear you coming they'll avoid you. Unless it's one of those rare cases where a bear turns predatory against humans, in which case you now have a bell on you making it easy for the bear to track you. (No joke. Shit that goes through your head when you're afraid.) I stayed mentally strong though and knew the odds were in my favor. Bang the HELL out of those bear bells and hopefully we can cross bears off the list of animals we will encounter. 

About 3 miles in, something happened to me. I saw people hiking and biking by with their dogs and smiles on their faces. "You guys going to camp? Oh that will be FUN." They said as they passed. Some of them didn't have bells or bear spray. Some were alone. It was then that I realized I had been acting like a wuss. I had let the Hollywood depiction of Alaska get to me and forgot that this is nature. Just like every other nature that I had ever enjoyed. Stunning views, unique smells and the sounds of song birds that I had never heard before. My nature side was waking up. I was enjoying myself. 

Around dinner we arrived at the cabin. IT. WAS. AWESOME! Our own little slice of heaven. A cozy cabin nestled next to a rushing creek with mountains and pine trees all around us. We hurried inside and claimed our beds. I made dinner for the gang and we had dessert while playing cards. When the kids went to sleep Jessica and I enjoyed some time to ourselves and celebrated our anniversary on the porch, drinking beers that she had carried in her pack for us. 

This morning we woke up, made breakfast on the wood burning stove and hiked back. We had ZERO animal encounters. When we got back to town we ate greasy, fattening food at a small diner because that's just what you do when you get off the trail. If you find yourself near Chugach National Forest I HIGHLY recommend staying in one of their 40 wilderness cabins. They range from cabins that are just 2 miles up the trail to cabins located next to wilderness lakes in the alpine regions that require a sea plane to access them. Find the one that meets your level of adventure and go. You won't regret it. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Look for Alaska - Days 13-18 - Alaska Begins

Day 13 - For our final day in the Yukon we did a little hiking in the canyon and poked around town for a while. Then we came home and watched Jumanji while eating nachos and tortilla soup. 

Tomorrow we are headed back to the United States to a town called Tok, AK (pronounced Toke). I have been warned about this town by my cousin. He said it gives him a bad vibe. I tried to take it off the itinerary but there is a campground where they do a Sourdough Pancake toss every night and Jessica, for some weird reason, is obsessed with seeing it. 

Speaking of my cousin - He did this drive alone in an old Chrysler back in his early 20s. Then he spent a year in Alaska working at a fishery cleaning fish. After this trip I have a new respect for what he did that year. He has balls. Colin, I got mad respect for you

Day 14 - 60 Miles. That's how far we were from Alaska when our uneventful journey started giving us problems. It was like the Alaska Highway was saying "Not so fast, Yums. We have unfinished business..."

The day started with frost heaves. Lots of them. And just so we are clear it started and ended with frost heaves with no breaks in the middle. I'd be cruising along at 50 MPH and BAM...suddenly it felt like we were jumping huge waves in a speed boat. The hitch occasionally banging on the ground and everyone on the car grabbing onto their seats. For the large potholes and frost heaves they have orange flags sticking out of the side of the road. They were everywhere. The road was a mess! 

In between these sudden hills and drop offs there were construction zones. The kind where you had to wait 15 minutes for a pilot car to come and guide you through a rutted, rocky, muddy road with construction vehicles moving all around you. As the construction zones became more frequent, people started shutting off their cars and getting out to stretch. The waits were agonizing. 

At one such stop the guy behind me started to pass me when the pilot car came to get us. I said to Jessica, "what is this asshole doing?" And he yelled as he went past "YOU HAVE A FLAT TIRE!"

The road had become so bumpy that I didn't even notice one of my trailer tires was as flat as a pancake. I pulled over, rolled the front tire on some blocks and went for my spare kit. Luckily we found a nice turnout next to a lake and the family got to stretch out while I changed the tire. 

I surprised myself with how quick I changed that sucker. I tossed the tools in the bag, not concerned with packing them away neatly like they'd been, and hopped in the truck. Ready to roll I remembered...I'm in a construction zone and I have to wait for a pilot car to guide me out...suddenly a southbound pilot car appeared with a line of cars behind it. So we sat and waited forever for it to turn around and come back. Onward north! 

We crossed the border shortly after and celebrated our gas purchase at $3.65 a gallon. I know, not cheap, but HALF the price of Canadian gas. We are it Tok, Alaska in a really nice RV park that I mentioned before. A few things are a miss. Some wiring got knocked loose, our stuff was scattered ALL OVER the camper and our rig is covered in a sheet of dried mud...but we made it. We survived the Alaska Highway. 

Day 15 - The pancake toss was interesting. It was everything you'd expect of such an event. You throw a pancake and if you can get it in the bucket you win free breakfast. Then there was Tim, the campground owner. 

Tim is a bearded, bald guy with a sharp tongue and a fantastic sense of humor. He plays with audience members the way a magician or hypnotist does, minus all the cheesy jokes. He's just an Alaska dude, originally from Arizona, who knows how to take jabs at people while still keeping it fun and not causing any permanent damage. Make no mistake - Tim IS the show. 

He started by rounding up all of the people standing around the perimeter, the people who were trying to get away with being inactive participants. He made a point to embarrass all of them and give them nicknames. 

Then he went around the ENTIRE pavilion and had each person introduce themselves - name, where they're from, how many miles they've traveled. It made me realize we were among people like us. People who have driven thousands of miles, slept in weird places, skipped showers and got oil changes in tiny Canadian towns. The introduction took the better part of an hour yet there was never a dull moment. Tim facilitated some good conversation and this room of strangers became friends. 

Now, the rules are simple, like I said. Pancake in the bucket = free breakfast. However, there are a few nuances that also need to be adhered to. The person tossing the pancake must yell "READY!" Before each throw which cues the audience to start clapping and yelling "BUCKET! BUCKET!" If you fail to clap and yell at this point you WILL be singled out and brought on stage and embarrassed. The first throw is a practice shot. The second is the money shot. It's NOT as easy as it looks.

We each took our turns at different times. I failed and Jessica failed. Jessica also got called out for not clapping at one point and she is extremely shy so I enjoyed watching her public shaming. Sammy failed BUT he didn't even want to go up there until a woman bribed him with a dollar so you can't call that a fail. Noah was one of the first people to go and he totally nailed it. He was the only kid to do it and one of only a few people overall who made a pancake in the bucket. 

Noah saved me money on breakfast, Sam earned $1, Jessica got her chops busted. The night was a success. Come to Tok. Camp at Sourdough. 

Pancake Toss Winners! 

Day 16 - Gave the bikes a good cleaning and tune up today. Also tied up some urgent maintenance with the RV (including repairing the flat tire I swapped out the other day). Afterward we took a family bike ride to town. 

We played at the Tok school where they have a surprisingly modern and fun playground. 

These bugs are EVERYWHERE. 

Afterwards we ate Thai food at a small food truck in town. It was actually super good thai food. The meal wasn't without issues. Jessica got a FLAT TIRE on her bike when we pulled up. So we repaired ANOTHER flat. Again, we were prepared. 

On the way back we stopped to see Hugh Neff of Iditarod fame do a talk / demo about dog sledding. He had his dog, Walter, named after Walter Payton, there with him and he was fun to listen to. It was pretty informal. He talked candidly about being a professional musher while Walter walked around the room receiving pats on the head. 

After a fun day we biked back, packed in our stuff and turned in. Tomorrow we have a long haul to the Alaska interior. 

Day 17 - Frost heaves. Again. I guess it's just the name of the game when you're this close to the arctic circle. 

We drove through Anchorage today and it was very flat and ordinary. Almost disappointing. Then we drove highway 1 along he cook inlet and things got AWESOME. Mountain peaks shooting from the water and bright green vegetation everywhere. 

We are in the Kenai Peninsula in a town called Cooper Landing. The RV park is nothing special but this is just our home base for the next 2 weeks. We plan to venture out and get into trouble in true Yum fashion. 

Day 18 - We took it easy today. We slept in, ate breakfast, then headed off on foot to explore this resort. 

The RV Park we are staying at is on the same property as the Kenai Princess Lodge which is owned by Princess Cruise Lines. They use the resort as a jumping off spot for people who take excursions in Alaska. These "excursions" are basically sterilized versions of real adventures that rich people pay for and in between they stay in high end lodges or cabins on this property. 

I am not complaining though because we have access to a bar, restaurant, lodge, gift shop, shuffle board, horseshoes, hiking trails and a hot tub. 

We had some afternoon beers and some fancy lunch, hiked all of their trails and poked around the property amongst retired people in straw hats. Then we said good bye to the tour bus crowd and retired to the RV ghetto down the hill. If only these yuppies knew they were sharing their resort with us shady folks...