Saturday, June 18, 2016

Look for Alaska - Days 7-12 - The Alaska Highway

Day 7 - we are in the bush. This is BY FAR the most remote wilderness I have ever driven through. Instead of gas stations along the route they have these fuel stops that look like shipping containers and they are totally self serve. You go through a door in the back and swipe your card. Then you go outside and operate the pump. The whole thing is very unusual. I think they're called "Card Locks" and the gas is super expensive. 

So, the Alaska Highway is NOT paved the entire way. In fact, there are spots where you are following a bumpy dirt road and it splits in two with no signs directing you. If you go SLOW you can see where all the tire marks are and following the path becomes easier. You don't really want to speed anyhow because curves, hills, potholes and wildlife are abundant and if you're going 65 with a 7000lb trailer hooked to your ass, you're gonna have problems. I have been cruising along at 50mph most of the day. It's exhausting but you can't beat the scenery. 

Sometime in the early afternoon we arrived in the Northern Rocky Mountains. Ho-Ly-Shit. That's all I can say. It literally made my heart beat faster seeing summit lake and stone mountain from a winding, 2 lane highway that has no business being in such a pristine and otherwise inaccessible wilderness. 

We are camped out at Liard River Hot Springs. There is a short boardwalk from our campground that leads to the springs. It's 100 degree water...which sounds awfully inviting after driving in the chilly rain all day. When I was filling my fresh water tank I met a retired couple from Grand Rapids on their way to Alaska. They asked where I was from and I told them the Detroit suburbs. Then the woman said, "Hey, that's where our dogs are from. We got them from a dog breeder in a city called St Clair Shores." 

Small world 

Day 8 - There is something about standing in a hot spring in the pouring rain that makes you feel one with nature. You're not running for shelter or waiting for the rain to pass. You're just taking it all in. Every last bit of it. 

I met a European couple today. They were standing in front of the camp "store" across the street with discouraged looks on their faces. I could tell they were on a long cycle tour based on the amount of gear they were hauling on their bikes. It turns out they were expecting the "store" and "restaurant" to have food and groceries. The problem with the Alaska Highway is sometimes supplies run low and they don't get replenished for a while. Sometimes never. So they were fresh out of food, in one of the most remote places in North America, wondering what to do. Since These folks were fellow Ragers (what me and my bike friends call other touring cyclists) I knew I had to hook them up. I invited them to the campsite and started grabbing camp food and energy bars. 

Turns out this couple, Johan and B, Dutch and German respectively, have been cycling all over the world for the last 4 years. They have been to 57 countries and they're currently biking from Anchorage to Montana. They said they don't like to plan too far ahead so that's the basic plan, for now. Things can always change. 

They're extremely pleasant people and I am glad I got the chance to help them. I always pay it forward to hikers, bikers and travelers because it boosts my gypsy karma. 

Day 9 - Another day of off-grid camping next to the hot springs. I know I keep mentioning it but the long days are a trip. Easily the most bizarre part of being in the far north. The sun stays just beyond the horizon all night and it's never truly night as a result. 

We are just a couple hours from the Yukon Territory. We plan to make a short drive tomorrow and spend a night in Watson Lake. After that it's Whitehorse, our final stop before ALASKA! 

Day 10 - The food is awful in the Yukon. And everything is super expensive. A kids meal at the cafe across the street is $11. Gas is $1.50 per liter (about $5.50 a gallon) and an RV site in a place that can only be described as a gravel parking lot is $56 per night. It comes with free WiFi though (one hour of junky, satellite WiFi). 

The wife and kids are off at the sign post forest. I am sitting in the RV watching cable TV that is local to Spokane, WA. I don't know how that works but I am guessing the remote interior of the Yukon is somehow part of the extended viewing market for that city. 

I skipped the trip to the sign post forest because I tweaked my back while driving the other day so I am giving it a rest. I saw the forest from the road earlier and the first sign that jumped out at me said "Welcome to Petoskey". So it looks intriguing but instead I will watch America's Got Talent alongside my fellow Washingtonians. 

Day 11 - We are in Whitehorse. A fully functioning tourist town in the middle of the Yukon. I am currently on pace to break the world record for "Most Consecutive Days Without Showering" so I guess I will go ahead and give up on that. 

I found a place that had homemade butter tarts for $1. In my family, butter tarts are like confectionary GOLD. Neither of my kids nor my wife liked I ate all four. 

Day 12 - If I could give one piece of advice to travelers heading to Alaska it would be this: Stock up on groceries before you get to Canada. Pile up as much groceries as your rig will hold and plan your meals carefully. Because once you cross the border you will start BLEEDING cash. 

We had an eventful day. Jessica and the boys let me pick what we did so I kept it simple. First we went to the Yukon Brewing Company and stocked up on craft beer. They had a tasting room and I bought all the ones I liked...which was most of them. My personal favorite was their Birch Sap Ale. So malty and smooth. 

After some beer sampling we had lunch ($45 for A&W...I'm telling you STOCK UP ON GROCERIES) and then proceeded to a used bookstore. The boys grabbed a new book each and I grabbed "Killshot" by Elmore Leonard. It feels good reading about Walpole Island and Lake St Clair when we are this far from our homeland. 

Finally, we ended the day by restocking our groceries at WalMart and Independent Grocers. Again - STOCK UP BEFORE CROSSING THE BORDER - I am not gonna warn you again. If you want to be foolish after all I have said be my guest. 

Speaking of WalMart, it's a pretty well known fact that most WalMarts allow overnight camping. We have stayed at WalMarts before and there are usually 4-5 other rigs that join us in the lot. But the one in Whitehorse is like a full-service RV park. There are RVs piled in and they have a dump station and fresh water and everything. Some people unhook their trailers and roll out their rugs and everything. It's really a sight to see. 

The new beers are chilling in the fridge. We have some curry in the crockpot and everyone is relaxing. It's gonna be a good night. 

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