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...

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