Trip Log: Alaska, to Prince Rupert, British Columbia.
People You Meet, Books You Read
Deep into Alaska we trundled, (“The Last Frontier”). From Dawson City in the Yukon, there is a ferry that takes you Northwards over the Mighty Yukon River, discoloured by the Spring Glacial and snow melts. Joined by countless tributaries the Yukon continues to carve its forceful way to eventually burst free into the Bering Sea.
The river is a water highway for both Human wanderings and more importantly the last journey of the intensely focussed Salmon.
The gravel but reasonably good road North climbs steeply until you reach the magnificently named “Top Of The World Highway”. We passed through a vehicle curious USA Customs at ‘Poker Creek”, the most northern of US border crossings and entered into the USA and another time change. Twisting mountain roads (no snow) took us into the little village/hamlet named “Chicken”, so named (as legend has it) because the early creek fossicking gold miners couldn’t agree on how to spell Ptarmigan. This “silly chicken” turns white in winter for some pretty clever camouflage against the Arctic Fox, which in turn also turns white in winter so the clever little Ptarmigan can’t see him! Must be like trying to find your lunch in a flour bag!
We finally joined the Alaskan Highway again at Tok (pr. Toke) and followed that Northwards on the Richardson Highway towards Fairbanks. The magnificent snow capped Alaskan Mountains flanked our left. 4 hrs later we neared Fairbanks and also one of many Defence Force Bases that remain after the 2nd World War Lend Lease Program with the Russians. These Defence Bases were maintained throughout the Cold War years to protect US borders and oil/gas Resources.
I digress a little here for a bit of background info. In the late 1800’s the USA purchased Alaska from the Russians (who, history tells us stole it ((my words,)) from their own ancestors who crossed a frozen Bering Sea some 16000 years earlier). For the princely sum $7.5 million, yes, that’s millions not Billions. What an absolute bargain! Just quietly, I think Boris had a little too much voddy that day.
Anyway, here we are trundling up the Richardson Highway in “Wiggy” (our Truck) when we levelled with a pretty serious looking USA Airfield. And there, sitting on the runway waiting for the “GO” were 2 US Airforce Fighter planes (F18’s?) with tails aglow, . As we came level, the pilots received the GO, GO GO! “Wiggy” nearly blew a spark plug as neck and neck we raced, highway and runway. The little pocket rockets catapulted Skywards and into the stratosphere these airborne war machines disappeared.
We were proudly beaten by a mere $65 million dollars of bad ass airplane. “Wiggy”, buoyed by the excitement eventually settled and throbbed along into Fairbanks.
A recommendation for us on a miserable wet Fairbanks day was to visit the Museum Of The North, which is attached to, and managed by, the University of Alaska. A superb Museum and Art Gallery showcasing the best of Alaskan Art and History both Natural and Indian. The external design is based on a Glacier and that of a Breaching Whale. The Building would look stunning lit up, snow and ice bound during the long deep Alaskan winter, with the Aurora Borealis dancing around the night sky.
Crossing the Arctic Circle was a bucket list must. We had 2 crossing choices coming North, one was the Dempster Hwy (out of Whitehorse), or the Dalton Hwy (which we chose) out of Fairbanks. At our Riverside campground we met Mike, a retired cop from Florida. Touring on his Motorbike and loitering within tent, drinking terrible, albeit free campground coffee, waiting for a break in the wet weather so that he too could make a push for the Arctic Circle.
We have extra seating for 4 persons and our dining table/office desk drops into an extra bed. So Mike came along for our 2 day return Arctic Circle experience. Smoke haze was pretty horrible from 250 lightening fires across Alaska and stung our eyes, noses and throats. It was definitely a triumphant high five and “cross that off our bucket list” moment when we finally stepped over that Geographical Arctic Circle Line. The road surface was pretty bad and sticky after overnight rains which caked “Wiggy” and completely changed hers and our clothing colour.
Mike and I both caught a trout in the little stream we camped by.
Back to Fairbanks (pressure wash, truck and us) to get ready for the next leg of our fabulously scenic journey so far. Next, the fabled Denali National Park home to North Americas highest mountain at 20,000ft, Mt McKinley. The mountain is seen by only 30% of visitors to the area due to weather. Despite 2 attempts 3 weeks apart at a scenic flight and Glacier Landing, low cloud beat us both times.
1800 Mountaineers have reached the summit of McKinley basing their attempt out off Talkeetna, A cute little tourist town, some 80 miles South. Where, cruise ship tourists en route to the Denali can buy an Alaskan Indian costumed doll made in China!
The towns motto is “Tallkeetna, a drinking town with a Mountaineering problem”.
Apparently, the Mountain is not a technically difficult ascent, it’s the sudden 100mph winds, avalanches and glacial crevices that takes the lives of, on average 2 people per year. There is a small graveyard in Talkeetna, (decked out with many miniature “Stars and Stripes” flags, typical of all US graveyards we have seen!) with an area of plaqued remembrance tiles listing all climbers killed on Denali including one Mt Everest Conqueror.
Next onto Anchorage where as mentioned in previous blog we had a couple of maintenance items to take care of. (See wiggy’s capers). Plus a visit to a hearing centre to have a pair of hearing aids diagnosed as either dead or recoverable due to 35 minutes of machine washing. Recoverable. Yeah! Must have been on the Gentle Cycle!
Some warm sunny weather in Anchorage, obligatory visit to the Art Gallery of Alaska and a reindeer burger for lunch. For 2 weeks after that we only had to see a pair of headlights and we’d be rushing into bushes to hide!!
Deciding that Anchorage was unremarkable and being unable to find a single soul who remembers that 80’s” song “Anchored Down In Anchorage” by Michelle Shocked we moved onto to the Kenai National Park, Portage Glacier, Whittier, Seward, (fabulous Aquarium but most disappointing fish and chips) then to the “End Of The Road”, Homer. Nothing further West than Homer but the Aleutian Islands, International Dateline and Siberia.
It was in Homer we had three things to achieve.
1/ Take photo of sign post that says “Tierra del Fuego” South 5900 miles and when we get to Tierra del Fuego another photo of sign post that reads, Homer, Alaska North 9000km’s.
2/ A drink in the Salty Dawg Pub where people pin money to the walls and ceiling, literally thousands of dollars. As John M in Australia recalls, have a drink, stand on stool, attempt to pin Dollar to ceiling, fall off stool, have another drink and attempt again (repeat).
3/ An overnight fishing trip that saw us with 45kg’s Halibut stacked in our small freezer. We had our catch processed by a Homer business which Cut/Vacuum packed and froze overnight our haul.
Our freezer full of fish meant no room for anything else at all. So, breakfast for me as we left Homer was 1litre of Salted Caramel Ice Cream!
Our time in Alaska was coming to its natural conclusion although we would still travel Alaskan Roads on our way South for 5 more days. Since arriving in Long Beach on May 1st 2015 Alaska had been our goal. We have seen Glaciers hundreds of metres thick and snow capped glacial carved mountains of majestic magnificence. Bald Eagles riding on thermals, bears and cubs foraging food and anticipating the coming Salmon runs. Orcas, Porpoise, Dolphin and Humpback whales bubble net fishing not 20 mtrs astern of our tourist boat. Ice floes acting as temporary seal resting platforms. Puffins, Terns and migratory sea and land birds. Reindeer, Caribou and Moose. Beaver and Sea Otter.
At the time of writing we now have 104 people following us on Facebook, so our conversion rate of our “Introduction Cards” we have given out is pretty good even though initially we never noticed that the card had an error (wrong Blog Address). We now handwrite the correction plus the “Travels in the Earwig” Facebook address on each. Plus the fact that we press ganged our FB Friends from our personal lists to our “Travels In The Earwig” facebook page. 104 members, wow! So for our 110th Facebook Friend a set of steak knives shall be sent to you on “Friending” us. We’ll probably get your address wrong so, dear FB 110th Friend don’t hold your breath for an imminent delivery as they say.
Thanks to all who inquire, literally every time we stop about “Wiggies”and our travels and follys . We are truly humbled by your interest. Your kind offers of free accommodation in your families Castles, Chateaus, Sovereign States and Principalities across the Globe leave us breathless. To you Lubjanya, kindly inform your brother in Vladivostok we should be there in the Summer of 2018. Approx.
We read a lot Penelope and I, so for your interest here is our list in no particular order of books we have read since leaving Australia 3 months ago.
The Sound Of Things Falling. Juan Gabriel Vasquez
The China Study. T. Colin Campbell
American Sniper. Chris Kyle, Autobiography
Unbroken. Laura Hillenbrand
The Girl On The Train. Paula Hawkins
Mile Post. A travellers Guide to Alaska. Various Contributors
The Street Sweeper. Elliot Pearlman
We Are Completely Beside Ourselves. Karen Fowler
A Journey From Lost To Found. Cheryl Strayed
Jack Reacher, One Shot. Lee Child
The Art Of Impossibility. B Wahl
The Unexpected Vacation Of George Thring. Alastair Puddick
History Of The Rain. Niall Williams
All The Light We Cannot See. Anthony Doerr
We started Dan Browns, “The Lost Symbol” only because we lost our Kindle for a couple of days and we couldn’t understand ipad for dummies.
Finally got the discharge pump sorted thanks to Terry (touring on motorcycle with Cheryl) managing to determine In Fairbanks the pumps motor was burnt out. Purchased and fitted new Pump in Anchorage. Terry carries a altimeter with his bike gear (what a strange instrument for a seemingly normal guy to carry!!).
New clips holding “Wiggy’s” cab to her living quarters arrived in Anchorage from Queensland Australia.
We now know that it’s possible to drive with our pop up roof half erect at 60kph for quite a distance without our roof flying off!
Wiggy’s now dancing along with a Tyre rotation and 30000 klm service.
Thank heavens for the following Coffee Houses: Tim Horton, Starbucks. Supermarkets: Safeway, Walmart and Fred Myer. You have wonderful free internet!! Our phone and Internet Providers in The USofA and Canada are conspiring to befuddle, bamboozle and down right frustrate. Our Cellular sharing Phone/Internet just wasn’t working. A dedicated USA sim in our ipad and Pens iphone worked just fine, then we crossed into Canada, back into USA and now back into Canada. Sim in, sim out, sim in sim out etc. What is your password O’ seasoned travellers. Don’t get me started on Passwords. Please!
Our Australian fitted CB radio we have in “Wiggy” is not compatible here in the Americas! We finally twigged this because we have had our CB turned on for weeks and have not heard a single transmitted word. “Fair enough”, we reckoned. So off to Radio Shack we went and purchased a fully American designed and built you beaut hand held CB radio, capable of communicating with the Viking Space Craft just the other side of Neptune (as we speak). We got a couple of squawks, intermittent hissing and then it died. Truly!!