Sunday, May 31, 2009

Return To Gundy Mountain

Two years ago after we dug our little shovels into the side of a gold claim on Myers Fork- a gold claim owned and operated by Chicken Gold Camp, Mike and Lou Busby were gracious enough to rename that part of the claim: Gundy Mountain. It has been referred to thusly ever since, even up to the last few days as Mike was talking to some other recreational miners and told them of the really good finds that both we and quite a few other clients had made in that same basic area and on that same basic "mountain." Today, for example, a pennyweight or so of an almost perfectly heart shaped nugget was found by a team of three who have been here digging and a pickin and a grinnin ever since we arrived. Fortune granted them a good wish today for sure! For, us, we hit the mountain again for the first time since arriving on May 22. The camp is getting in great shape for the official opening June 1 and and so Lou and Mike told us to take some play time on the claim. It took a while to organize and pack after finishing chores (oh, and we built the steel frame of the new walk-in cold frame today; it is awesome). Mike, Lynn and I measured, cut, welded, fitted and presto a new add on to the greenhouse. Photos another time! Back on Gundy Mountain, we set up our highbanker and started to pump, sending water from Chicken Creek up the hill. By about 4 in the afternoon we had started official operations and run the better part of a tank of gas (we're talking about a quart here) which took us about three hours. We moved a lot of dirt- mostly fractured basalt, or bedrock that has been severely damaged and broken by frost and thaw over and over again. There was color in the sluice at the end of the run- good color, but nothing big enough or impressive enough to want to go running up and down the creek showing to others. Not yet anyhow. A few others did earn some bragging rights today though and that is just fine. We like it when EVERYBODY finds good gold. It's what they come here for; it's what we aim to help them find! While being part of the team working shoulder to shoulder to get camp ready is loads of fun and rewarding in its own right, the feeling of pitching the shovel deep into the rough gravel, and the sound of it hitting the tines of the metal classification grizzly, then being washed by the water jets in the highbanker wash hopper with water sent from the pump running down below on the edge of the creek - well, that's just magical my friends. There may be gold in every shovel. There may be none. But the possibilities keep you working and thinking and hoping and figuring and planning right up until the time when you know you simply must stop for the day before you reach the point where even if you lean on the shovel you are sure you will fall over. It is a blessed fatigue. It releases joy in the soul even as the body surrenders. A late dinner on the grill tonight. Maybe some ribs and a salad. Then bed. Tired never felt so grand! No, it isn't Walton's Mountain, John Boy. This is the view from Gundy Mountain. And this is what carries the long journey to fruition. There will be more in the days to come. Much more. And new friends and new faces to share the experience of prospecting for gold in the magical moments of our time in Chicken, Alaska. Wish you were here? Well be waiting for you......

Friday, May 29, 2009

Check 'Em Out

I've wanted to find the time to do this ever since we left Tok...and here's the opportunity. New friend, Harry Pherson works for the Jernigan family at Tok RV Village. We spent quite a bit of time swapping stories and experiences and getting to know each other. While he calls himself an amateur photographer, I think we might all beg to differ. His website is blessed with many of his exceptional pieces of digital wildlife "art." I know many of you ride with us for the "wildlife" and this association might just add richly to your viewing pleasure. So when you get a chance, please visit his website and check it out! Looking all you want is free, but you can buy prints through the site if you find one (or more) that you just can't live without.

Harry (H.E.) Pherson Wildlife Photography

I know a few of you are still making your way north behind us, so here's a piece you might find interesting about our stay at Destruction Bay on the 07 trip- That Was Then series:

By Polar

I finished the new outside beds for the greenhouse and cold frame area today. I'd take a picture if I thought you just loved the idea of looking at dirt, but what say we wait til we have something with a bit more color ...or at least something of interest. This I will tell you: quality dirt for garden beds is a challenging find here in Chicken- probably considerably harder than finding gold! This represents the first time in my life when I screened loam for a garden and thought of the left over rocks as a "tailing pile." Marilyn asked me if I "prospect panned" the dirt for gold before throwing it in the new beds. NO! Garden soil is "overburden" in the mining world and should be cast off before getting into pay dirt anyhow. So far gardening in Alaska reminds me a lot of gardening in Maine - you think things should come up fast but they can only go on slow. The greenhouse is a wonderful bridge between winter and spring, but even inside, plants just take their sweet old time this time of year. I've loaded up the flats with lots of "tests," fully expecting to learn as much as I can about what will and won't work here. Some "tests" will stay inside, others I'll move out and we'll see how they do in that regard as well. We expect (and hope) to be able to put plants outside June 7 - 10. The last full moon is in that time frame and generally the last freeze occurs around then. No guarantees though. That is late for planting, so the season is and will be short. Timing is everything. But then, just when ISN'T that true?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Just Like Opening Day...

You're a little rusty and you just have to pull it all back into shape before opening day. Getting a camp, especially a gold camp ready to open is a lot like the opening day of the ball season. Too much to do in too little time and all in the off season cooler weather. It's actually been quite nice though, relatively speaking. Night temps are still dipping down but we haven't hit freezing for a couple nights now and that's good. Marilyn has been helping ready the gift shop and cafe. I've pretty much taken over the chores of getting the greenhouse ready to put our flowering plants out (after June 10 -last anticipated frost) and getting the vegetable seedling going for "fresh" produce for the workers and the cafe. This is a labor of love, as it's really the main thing I miss about being on the road. Growing food works for me. Having flowers works for Marilyn. The camp gets the best of both. I've also done a bunch of panning lessons and some guiding up on Myers Fork Gold Claim, although that is not yet in full swing. There's still plenty of frozen banks along the creek and the perma frost has not given way at all in some areas where it will "yield" a little bit later on. Right now even the big bull dozer can not move overburden we would like to get rid of to make more workable territory. But the first prospectors on the claim are ALL finding some color. Mike and I went up the other day and did some scouting and we located a few spots where the color was pretty good. A couple pans fell into the "moneymaker" category- pretty good this early in the season. The dirt at the panning trough has been pretty consistantly producing a few pieces every pan- which is really good for the newcomers (and I like it too at the end of the work day.) It's not like it gets dark at bed time!

There are a couple of real stories I am working on that will take shape later. We've had several prospectors stay with us that have done exceptioanlly well and I will detail their efforts in a couple weeks. These self poclaimed "weekend warriors" come up from Tok each weekend, work really hard, at hard to get to locations on the claim...and have reaped the rewards. When I get more photos of them and more results I'll do a feature on them.

Already people we met along the way have been venturing to Chicken for a look around. Don't think anyone has been disappointed yet.

There will also be some nature tales to tell once they have some time to play out. Writing about things where we are basically "staying put" is quite different from when we are constantly on the go. It feels good to "do" without having to write every single day, but I'm sure the pace of that will pick up once we get a lot more people in here and the summer activities begin.

For now we are putting in long days to help get ready...and loving every minute of it. My hands are sore from working in the greenhouse and building extra capacity on - especially for outside cool weather crops. I'm peppered with cuts and scratches. I'm working this job alone so I don't stop to take pictures. It's pretty much utilitarian work and I don't take my own picture, but a few sooner rather than later will be coming. Still not too much to "see." Seeds in dirt! The outside gardens have to be protected primarily from rabbits ( the snowshoes are abundant here) and the moose. So even though the perimeter won't be fancy, it must protect both high and low. Rabbit low, moose high- they both eat whatever they can wrap their teeth and tongues around!

If you are traveling this way- remember our music festival, Cickenstock 2009, will be a two day event on June 12 and 13. The t-shirts are already here and under wraps as they go like hot cakes once they are actually out for sale. Sorry, no advance sales on collector items!

Here's a look back at a couple posts from the "That Was Then" series of our trip two years ago. Lots and lots of folks have written in to say how helpful that is for planning their trips and we're glad to oblige. I should also mention that our dear friend, Chris Guld's article about our travels, called Blogging To Alaska has made the top ten articles of the month for RV.Net and has been e mailed to just about everone who spends time on the road like they do, like we do. And while the story does happen to feature us (thanks everso, Chris) it is really a tribute to the way Chris and her husband, partner, and all around great guy, Jim, have built their business and their presence in the enormous RV community at large. We don't call 'em Geeks On Wheels for nothing, ya know! From their modest rig they do monumentally huge services for folks who live or play on wheels!

Before you get to Alaska (that is to say North To Alaska) it is actually quite possible to go South To Alaska. This tells about our trip to Skagway:

South To Alaska, Huh?

In Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, salmon that want to spawn ( and trust me thay all do- want to, that is) must get aroung the hydro electric dam in the middle of town. See what that's all about here:

A Ladder Runs Through It

I'll try to write again asI can. Please be patient while we get the bugs out of the system and deal with what we have going on pretty much full time this week. We have guests and prospectors here at camp already, and they deserve the same quality comfort, services, cleanliness and Alaskan hospitality that made the Chicken Gold Camp and Outpost famous all over the world. We're mighty proud to be a small part of all that... Our friends Lynn and Judy are also elbows to the wall in this all out effort. And as for Mike and Lou and their fully engaged in the business daughter, Josea....I've seen them eat, but I'm not too sure they EVER stop to sleep.

Oh, I forgot to tell you what I use to keep the rabbits AND mosse out of our seedling beds! You know, don't you? C'mon say it with me! CHICKEN wire, of course!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Coming To Chicken

If I had forgotten how wonderful it is coming to Chicken, it would now be fresh in my mind. I said "If." But I hadn't forgotten at all and driving the last bit of the Taylor Highway made us all giddy again at the prospects of pulling into the little village. The expansive rolling terrain that rivals the Top of the World Highway scenery in some regards is quite striking. Snow capped mountains on the horizon, large forests of spruce accentuated by birch stands and young willows...and the much more contrasting stretches of burned out forest left by the Taylor Complex Fires that burned 1.3 million acres back in 2004 and threatened the village's very existence. In that same year a total of about 6 million acres burned in Alaska. That's a lot of timber land, but only a tiny portion of the vast Alaska wilderness. What is so striking about the burn area is how slowly the vegetation returns. This is not the tropics! Much of the surrounding area sits permanently atop frozen ground and what can grow at all must do so in the short window afforded by the warm summer sun and rain. Vegetation tends to stay small and compact here, which is interesting in its own right. Nature has a funny way of dealing with what we tend to think of as tragedy; it uses these times to refresh itself and to work new miracles with the land. Any morel mushroom fans out there? They often grow best after a fire and this has been no exception. Sun dried mushrooms from Chicken, Alaska. I hope to find a few soon as this is coming upon their time to grow.

There's still a touch of snow along the highway which is largely paved, but has stretches of "broken" highway and loose gravel patches. Taken slowly it's not a big deal. A few frost heaves are thrown in just to keep you alert. The Milepost advises watching out for "sluffing" at places along the Taylor. Personally, I always thought sluffing was what you did in your bathrobe and slippers on a Sunday morning before that first cup of coffee- but guess not! Up here it refers to "poorly organized and non cohesive avalanches." See I had that non cohesive thing wrong too- thought that was what you got when you tried to understand someone that had way too much to drink. Anyway, it was a good thing to warn about (depending upon when you drive the Taylor) as there really were some snow "slides" measuring something between three and four feet thick that were pushed right up against the road in places "where the sun don't shine" if you get my "drift." There are also some paved but deeply rutted parts of the road that pop up unexpectedly from time to time and they can "sluff" you around if your wheels get caught in those grooves. Once again, the slow and steady win the race.

Then we pulled into Chicken Gold Camp around noon time. The camp was already bustling with the activity of preparations for the season and the first few campers and prospectors were arriving. Mike and Lou wasted no time throwing the first party of the year which included the "help" and the neighbors. It's a family suitable camp, a professional (in the recreational sense) miner suitable camp, a novice panner suitable camp, a just plain tourist suitable camp, even an "I'll just stop in for lunch" camp. For sure it's a see the real Alaska suitable camp. It's a family feeling camp to all though, and that's what has made it so special and endearing to us.

So the rest of day one was used to convert the coach to a home for the next three or more months. It takes a while to get everything set up after such a long haul in which everything has been carefully packed and transported. Feels good to set down a few roots for a period of time. I had plenty to report at the end of day one, but the wifi dish was getting a makeover, Alaskan style, and Mike was up on the roof with a welding unit to take down the old dish and put up the new Hugh's Net dish. A day of fine tuning and as you can plainly see we are back up and running.

Abby decided quarter of 7 in the AM on day 2 was a good time to head out for a look see on the new day and the new digs. The sun was already well up. The air was crisp but the sun made it feel pleasant. Shirt sleeve weather. There was a young bull moose right in front of the coach in the still quiet campground munching on the willows on the hillside. Rabbits, still with white winter feet, were bouncing around the camp sites and the morning birds were just starting to chat each other up. Take a deep breath. Reach for the camera. Not this time - but maybe tomorrow, same place same time.

Gave my first half dozen panning lessons later in the day. Some folks from the US and a group of visitors from Slovenia. The lessons went very well and the pay dirt pile the panners worked off of produced at least a couple flakes of gold in every single pan and even a couple small pickers. My extremely limited Russian language skills turned out to be a fun ice breaker- it's not their first language but they can understand it pretty well and it made for a couple good laughs around the old water trough! Tomorrow's another day


...the very final stretch to Chicken through what will surely be a less than clear windshield by the time you arrive....

Friday, May 22, 2009

Poking Around Tok

We're seeing what's in Tok, talking up the Outpost, meeting folks we'll need to do business with, and taking care of a few remaining items of our own that need dispensing sooner or later, where sooner would be better but later would be easier.

Meanwhile, here's a few look-backs at the 2007 trip up the Alcan Highway:

The Great Alaskan Highway Begins

Mile Marker 300

"Yu-Kon" If You Try Hard Enough

When The Waterfall Is Closed

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Why Not Willard's?

Well, sir, we lumbered on in to Tok to a big sigh of relief that we hadn't had to abandon the rolling beast on the last stretch of highway and have to go off in search of HELP! But now what? Was there someone here who could take care of business? We inquired at the Tok RV Village where we were staying for a couple days. The hostess asked one of the owners, Mike, who he might recommend and he suggested that Willard's would be a good place to go. Now I don't know about you, but we try to keep safety as job # 1 in all things. Turning over a coach brake problem that COULD be very serious to just anyone isn't in my play book. I quickly e mailed Mike at Chicken Gold Camp and he fired back with a comment that Willard was the "go to" guy in Tok, yes, indeed, and that he was reputable and fair. That sounded good to me, so off to Willard's we went to see what Willard himself thought about the problem. He thought it was a "can do" situation so bring it on in first thing in the morning. When we got there (it's right across the street from the RV Village) Mike the Mechanic came out to meet and greet. Have you noticed that so far everyone involved in the fix is a MIKE? Surely this was the proper alignment of the stars that would lead to a healthy resolution of the problem at hand.

Mike the Mechanic explained what he expected the problem to be. But to be safe we called the expert support staff at Newmar and logged some time on the phone with them. Then we called the technical experts at Spartan Chassis for some more helpful hints and logged some time with them. When that didn't pan out, we called the experts at the manufacturers of the sensor units and controls that still seemed to be giving us the problem. Hours passed. I admit to feeling a bit down. But Mike the Mechanic was hanging in there and finally we did what he was thinking all along- remove each and every wheel, clean, lube, wire brush and make sure everything was the way he knew it should be once he could actually get a look at it. The mud, grit and grime from our two "mudding" episodes and the long haul on the Alcan had pretty much gunked up and bound up the timing wheels on the anti-lock brake computerized system. Now it just so happens that our Mike the Mechanic is also a computer builder and network system installer, so we surely had all bases covered. Removing and thoroughly cleaning each part of each wheel is no fast fix. But as Mike had known from the get-go, it was the correct fix. And when the eighth and final wheel was finished and back in place, we rumbled the big engine and rolled off the jacks and presto, chango, "wellah", the computer reset and began reading again and the big coach boo boo was all better. Kiss, kiss.

Like the other Mikes had said, the work was professional, reputable, and very thorough. And the bill? Well, talk about fair! It was that and then some. So since you have to come by here anyway if you are driving to Alaska, if you develop anything iffy about your rig and think it ought to be fixed sooner rather than later....Why not Willard's? Ask for Mike!


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Coming To Alaska

There were supposed to be two more runs to Tok- one from Burwash Landing at the end of Kluane Lake to Border City just over the Alaska border and after clearing customs (which by the way was quick and easy, despite the fact that they took two of our lemons to keep Citrus Canker from spreading the Alaska citrus crop- yea, right!). The second run should then have been from Border City on in to Tok. But when the alarm sounds on the dash and the Anti-lock Braking System indicates a failure, well, it's time to reconsider things. So since the regular brakes were in tact, we decided to keep going and do it all in one run to the only place left where help of this kind may be available. This run must be done slowly. Despite the fact that most of the road is paved, there will be times when you wish it were not- it gets really bad at some places and too much speed could be a real problem in a hurry. I don't call this stretch the Alaska Highway. I call it the "Are you really sure you want to go to Alaska Highway." because if you don't- time to turn around. If you do, keep it in Drive and proceed with caution. Drink something other than hot coffee in your mug on this road, otherwise you will be more likely to wear it than drink it. You will pass IDA's place by Beaver Creek. The old knock knock jokes will start to fly. Who's there? Ida. Ida who? I'da been here sooner but the car broke down! This is a fitting joke for this road. It could happen!!!!!

With bad brakes on your mind, the trip, which is other wise wonderful despite the road condition, seems like an awful long run. We joked that we would not stop in Tok and proceed to Siberia across the polar ice cap just so that we could color in Siberia on our visited places map.

As you will see from the slide show, the swans were pairing up and beginning to rest, eat, and nest. They are beautiful birds and frankly unexpected in these parts. You wouldn't think such a large bird would come all the way to Alaska to summer vacation...but that is what they do for sure. Also in the slide show today, expect to see the wounded coach get encircled by hungry and opportunistic coyotes looking to feast. Then watch for the moose in the construction zone who held us up even further by playing "Chicken" (see the theme here) with the pilot car.

Not on the slide show is the fact that Alaska has a time one of its own- 4 hours earlier than the time on the East Coast. Which is somewhat important as the insurance adjusters on the East Coast start calling us here in Alaska at 4 in the morning because of the accident in Whitehorse back a few days. I have mixed feelings about this. I am delighted they are right on top of things. I just wonder if we could take care of business a little later in the morning. Yawn! And now off to see if Willard can get a handle on the brake issue!

Oh and in the "Alaska Is Heaven" department- All but the 5 of the last 47 miles into Tok is a brand spanking new, nicely paved, smooth road into town. And by the time you get here? The last 5 miles will be done too.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Center Of Attention

A few posts and quite a few stops back, we explored the Center Of The Universe. That, as we found out, is pretty darn soft. But what about being the center of attention? That, it seems, is pretty darn hard. If the president is asked to give a graduation address at, say, Notre Dame, for example- he is going to be the center of attention and have to deal with the tough issues of the day. If an unwed woman gives birth to 8 kids (and it's an otherwise normal news cycle) she is going to be the center of attention and have to deal with whatever it is she did and whatever it is everyone thinks about what she did. If I find the biggest nugget of the year in the gold camp, I'm going to be the center of attention. But that's easy, isn't it? All good. But what if I spent a couple days fixing my frozen coach steps on a trip north, finally get my electric motor on my step cover working again, spend an entire "day off" hunched over under the coach trying to fix a diesel furnace I know very little about and NEED desperately) and then decide near the end of the day I need a nap? What about if some yahoo (not the web site) drives his Fifth Wheel into the front of my parked-for-the-night 4x4 van and staves in the front quarter and clips the passenger side mirror while I am sleeping. Should I become the center of attention for that? The answer is: In a campground- yes! The guy who smacked you had an "accident." Or was an ignoramus- your choice. But the guy who was hit? He gets to be the center of attention. Everyone comes to see for themselves. Even if they sat in their rig and watched the whole thing happen. Same thing with the guy who has a flat in the morning. Or the guy who pops his hood to check the oil, but everyone else assumes has "a problem..." Campers love other campers with problems. The very reason that Robin Williams RV Movie was such a hit. They think this way (I THINK) because they are just happy it is not them. A problem "on the road" is often far worse than a problem at a fixed place of residence. There you have a support staff, a phone book, telephone service is almost guaranteed, and you can call a buddy if you are really in a jam. The dealer will give you a loaner car, yes? On the road, you first need to declare, "Oh, sh_t", panic for at least a full 6o seconds, then go off to find a phone book, a support staff, and someone who may be able to help in some way, but who is gonna be gone in the morning regardless of what you have left to deal with. In the Yukon Territory, the police are called the Mounties. Maybe they rescue damsels in distress like Dudley Doright did with Little Nell, but a motorist is of no concern whatsoever unless he is bleeding on the shoulder of the road, in which case they will come out for a look. But if a guy from, say, Texas, hits a guy from , say, Florida, they can't be bothered. If you wish to come to them, well OK, but otherwise, deal with it! If you can't drive your vehicle to them, apparently that is not their concern either. I found that to be less than helpful all around, but what do I know? Push here. Shove there. Tape all around...and roll out of camp in the morning. No longer the center of attention. And glad of it.

So now with a wounded bird flying in tow behind the coach, we head toward what we know will be the nastiest piece of road the Alaska Highway can dish up- the stretch from Whitehorse to Destruction Bay. Destruction Bay. First established as a relay stop for construction materials and crews for the building of this highway. A place where the trucks, IF they made it this far, could pull in for repair. It got its name from a storm that blew through and wiped out nearly everything that had been set up. But oddly enough, the name now is more apparently related to what it will do to your vehicle as you drive through. This is an area of extreme perma frost. The heaves, the holes, the graveled broken road now becomes the center of attention for this part of the trip. You THOUGHT as you headed for Lake Kluane that the mountains (the largest non polar ice field in North America) or the lake itself (the largest lake in the Yukon Territory) might just be the center of attention. And then you feel the gravel, and the washboard slows your vehicle to 8 miles an hour- that is, if you want the parts of your vehicle to stay fastened to each other. If you stop and scan the mountain before you as you come down to the lake, you will realize that those white specks on the mountain are Dall Sheep. We stopped counting at 150 sheep, thereby making them the center of attention for a brief moment in time, until we started rolling again. Destruction Bay is where we are camped overnight- about half the rough patches behind us. We know there is more up ahead described to us by some who have traveled it recently as "holes in patches." For what its' worth, if you are following behind this trip, seems to us like the 22 miles of destruction we ran two years ago is reduced down to 10 this year. A step in the right direction for sure. And even the parts that are still bad, have so far not been as bad as they were then. I hope I don't have to eat those words. 'Cause, wouldn't that make me the center of attention again?



Friday, May 15, 2009

Still Photos Only

Here's a few of the still shots I've been trying to get to upload using Yukon Wifi. No mosquitoes yet, but still need to "work some bugs out!"


Go Rams! (Stone Sheep)


Muncho Lake Thaw Begins


Acting Sheepish


A Close Brush With A Moose


Foxy Lady Picnic (Cross Fox)


Running Bear!


Wild Life (Liard Hot Springs)

That Was Then....

Two or three days of not getting connected caused a setback to my series of look-backs at the 07 Alaska trip. We hope that will be helpful for all those doing the trip now, or soon. In Whitehorse tonight, we once again took care of a chip in the windshield (got it in S. Dakota NOT here!) Our good friend and consummate professional, George Sahlstrom, the Glass Doctor, the Glass Magnum Man was called in for the job. He has perfected his skill and elevated it to an art. If you are making this trip and the windshield does the "boo boo" thing, just save it for George when you get into Whitehorse. He'll come to you! Here's what we wrote last time around:

UNPAID ADVERTISEMENT


Remember, two years ago we were running the gauntlet a week later than we are this year, so we were not this far along:

May 10, 2007 Why, Oh Why, Wyoming

Also, May 10, we posted this: Owning Montana

May 11 Checking Your Altitude

There were four posts that went up on May 12, 2007:

Ahead Of Our Time

RV-ing Northern Montana

The Forest And The Trees

And this back-by-demand classic: Our Readers Ask

By May 13, we were in Alberta and posted: Alberta, Canada, EH? This post tells the tale of meeting Gary and Judy Skaggs for the very first time.

And finally (it was a busy week wasn't it???) we visited The Calgary Olympics- which had been over for years by the time we got there! A Ticket To The Winter Olympics

That's a look back at this week- two years ago on our first ever run to Alaska....

Remembering Running Bear

Hey! Remember Running Bear? Loved Little White Dove with a love that couldn’t die? Sonny James Song from the late 50’s I think. Well, anyway, I saw "him" today. Actually I saw quite a few running bears today and have the film to prove it! In the run from Liard though the Cassiar Mountains, you cross back and forth between British Columbia and the Yukon Territory a total of 7 times. It’s actually hard to figure out just where you are from time to time. But it really doesn’t matter much. The scenery is dynamite the entire trip and the wildlife is just plain non-stop. Keep a sharp eye. The moose can be pretty well hidden as you’ll see in one of today’s shots. The fox actually waltzed right by the front of the coach after we got settled into the campground at Teslin Lake, Yukon. There were some wild horses mixed in with the roaming buffalo along the 100 mile stretch from Liard. Beavers where-ever you find water. And we saw Black Bears at four places, no Grizzlies today though. Then there were the two tortoises- NOT in the Wild, but in the RV next to us at the lake- big suckers.

For those following, Yukon diesel up to 99.9 in Watson Lake; 118.9/ liter in Whitehorse. The first camp and fuel stop on your right as you come in to Watson Lake offers campers a 3 cent per liter discount just for being campers! You will understand why it is higher here once you get here. Same for Whitehorse. Long haul for anything; miles equals cost. The Sign Forest is at the end of town (Watson Lake) on the right. Allow at least an hour to pots around the forest and the shops. The first sections of “broken road” started to show up as we headed out of town. Just short stretches of highway construction usually marked by plenty of signs, then some nice washboard gravel. No big deal. Destruction Bay it ain’t!

We’ve been meeting people in campgrounds and camp offices as we travel north. Leave some of our cards and some brochures for Chicken Gold Camp. Lots of interest to come to Chicken for sure. Tonight, the travelers next to us pulled in and asked, “You aren’t Greg and Marilyn are you?”

Well, yes as a matter of fact we are. Rosalie had our name and a Chicken brochure that we had left at Sagitawah in Whitecourt some 1000 miles earlier. Joyce had given them the info, thank you very much! Rosalie had hoped to catch up with us to talk Chicken. Notice how nicely I turned the phrase? Remember when people used to talk turkey! No longer the case my friend! She and her husband, who happens to be named Greg, too, will be working at a large gift shop in TOK this summer. They too will venture to Chicken to talk turkey about gold- you get the idea! Another panning session out the door!

Now a final word about the last couple blogs. Once the dodging between BC and Yukon begins in earnest, keeping a handle on your communications becomes a monumental task. Cells phones work here but not there. PC card works a few places but only certain functions. Wifi is OK if you’re the only one in the campground, but add a few campers and the functionality first slows, then crawls, then craps out completely. I can get a text post up of late, but no stills. Yet I can do a slide show no problem. It makes me a bit crazy but it is what it is and what it has to be. Between the mountains and the weather and the tech equipment involved in the process…and the very few people who can support the facilities- it is quite frankly a crap shoot. I try, especially right now to keep something up every day- just not possible. And since the TV signal said good bye, and the Sirius Sat radio started to bugger out about 50 miles before Whitehorse- there’s just me, the wife, the dog, and the blog left- and I’m not real sure about me and the blog!

A slide show will have to do for now:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Just The Facts, Jack

Well, it was just another ordinary day through British Columbia so why try to make it more that it is, ya know what I mean?

Diesel was 82.9 per liter. The street sweepers were out in force picking up gravel so truckers didn’t pick it up and throw it through my front windshield. Yea! They really were. Freaked me out too! The road conditions (as related to the road itself) were excellent- frost heaves, pot holes, that kind of stuff almost non-existent. Occasional snow flurries never amounted to much of anything but the occasional intrepidation as we passed through some of the mountain passes where it was snowing the hardest. For the most part, the flurries stayed above us elevation wise and we were pretty much unscathed. Then there was the usual, everyday stuff- hundreds of caribou in many small herds crossing the road nearly everywhere, a few elk, bunches of buffalo, swans in the ponds and lakes, mule deer running here and there, beavers swimming around and building dams and stuff, Stone Sheep on the cliffs and on the banks of the road and in the middle of the road in front of you….you know, same ole, same ole….ho humm.

Pretty much gone by the time we hit the hot springs at Liard (which means poplar tree) are the TV signal and the cell phone connection- at least for a while til we are out of the mountains. It’s inconvenient but a small price to pay for connections to nature rather than towers of electronic marvel. The water in the rivers is running so clear you could see a freckle on a trout’s be-after. No fast food places anywhere but there are plenty of buffalo “chips” all along the side of the road if you feel the need!

A couple of comments about the trip at this point: From the decline following the Indian Head Mountain, slow the heck down. The grades are brake killers if you don’t, and besides you are really likely to zoom right on by countless wildlife encounters that can pop up around every corner. Testa River should signal you that the wildlife extravaganza is about to begin. Take note! Because this is wilderness territory plain and simple, it would be a good idea to set your trip meter on your odometer to zero at the zero mile marker when you pull out of Dawson Creek at the very start of the Alaskan Highway. We always say we are going to do that and then promptly forget. But this is so rural and remote at places that the mile markers are few and far between- in order to know exactly where you are and where you wish to be, you should know at exactly which mile you are as you follow along in your Mile Post Guide. Liard Hot Springs, for example, is not to be missed, but will not show up on your GPS- just like some other small communities that you might intend to take note of….You could be so caught up with looking at all the buffalo that you cruise on by....

I’m thinking a slide show of the sights of the day will get my point across that this part of BC is pretty darn amazing. I just wouldn’t want you to get the idea that the road will be superb all the way to Alaska. It won’t. And where the road goes to hell in a hand basket is in a place called, appropriately, Destruction Bay. For now we rejoice in the quality to which we have become accustomed. But be aware- it’s up there ahead. It has always been bad. It will be bad this time as well. And in all probability it will always be bad years into the future. Perma frost is the enemy of good roads, and it’s stronghold has yet to be penetrated. But that is for another day.

Today and this evening we soak in the warm mineral waters of the Liard Hot Springs and let the aches and pains of another day melt into the back of our reality. Muncho Lake is still frozen over or I would have a big fat Lake Trout (freckle and all) to put in my slide show for sure!!!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Rescue In Eagle

Mike sent a link to a podcast (radio like interview) done by the CBC about a most amazing rescue in Eagle, Alaska, where the Yukon River has unleashed a once in a millennium flood of Biblical proportion on the tiny village. A must listen for all- ESPECIALLY YOU DOG LOVERS!

http://podcast.cbc.ca/mp3/asithappens_20090506_15261.mp3

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Crying Wolf

Twice, The boy cried, "Wolf!" Everyone came running to his assistance, but alas it was only a joke, a test, and there was no wolf. A third time, the boy cried, "Wolf." This time there was a wolf, but thinking the boy was once again fooling around, no one came to his aid. The rest is history! Or at least fable.

Today I cried, "Wolf!" Not because there was a foot of snow on the roof of the coach when I awoke this morning and I could have used some help. Not because it took me three hours to de-ice the rig before we could even think of moving on, and I could have used some help. Not because the weather wouldn't let up- and no one could have helped with that. No. I cried, "Wolf" because once we did get enough of a break in the storm to venture back onto the Alaskan Highway, I SAW my first-ever in the wild WOLF. A Gray Wolf. Not a fox! Not a coyote! And no, Mike, for sure not a chicken! This was a wolf. Standing out against the brilliant white of the new snow in the burgeoning light of the struggling sun. Backed by the white tips of the Black Spruce of the Drunken Forest behind him. Quiet in the silence of the snow. Still, in the silence of the moment. "Marilyn, Look!"

The wolf seemed as taken aback at seeing us roll down the highway as we were to see him standing there in his own space and time. The engine brake. The foot pedal. Open the slide window. Pass me the camera. Too late. If only the camera could do what the eye does...and make a record of the moment.

This was a first. Second only to cold nights around a warm campfire in Chicken two years ago- head laid back on the chair by the fire,woolen blanket wrapped tightly, eyes closed, ears wide open and listening to the calls and cries of the wolves off in the hills, but not too distant. How close were they. What did they look like. Would I see them before they saw me given the chance. Would we ever see them or be resolved to listen to their eerie sounds on dark nights when they were shielded from view. Today's dark overcast and quieting snow brought the wolf to the edge of view. Safe for him. Available to me. Sorry I am about the camera. But knowing that the entire trip, were it to hold nothing else of supreme intrigue, was worth its weight in gold in a single moment on a single mile of highway on the way back to the frontier. At a time when a wiser man may not have ventured out of a camp. Oh, but what a mistake that would have been regardless.

After the wolf came The Hill. A 10% grade rated as extreme that lowers you a couple thousand feet from Pink Mountain to The Sikinni Chief River and on into Fort Nelson. If you have an engine brake use it here. If not, use your lowest gear and not your brakes. Only other alternative is put major wear on your brake shoes. This is no toboggan run! Take it slow...or become the next tourist attraction on the Alaskan Highway!

Our campground in Fort Nelson, West End RV, sells a bumper sticker that says:
EAT MOOSE: 12,000 wolves can't be wrong! I saw! I mean, I see what they mean!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Alcan 102

Cross the Athabaskan River. Visualize why you run on the top half of your fuel tank as you slow down to look, then speed on by the 24 hour convenience and gas stop that hasn’t been open for some time now but is still in the Mile Post book as a good place to take care of business. It is now a 24 Hour Inconvenience Stop. Take a picture at the world’s largest beaver at Beaver Lodge. Meet the Kriegers (Jim and Carol), on their way to work for the concessionaires at Denali National Park this summer. Then stop in Dawson Creek to take another picture of the day and time when you once again stood in anticipation at the zero mile marker of the historical and somewhat intimidating beginning of the Alcan- the Great Alaska/Canada Highway. A reverence passes over you. Travelers before you have done it on horse, or even on foot before the highway was put in in wartime. A fresh breath fills your lungs and your chest heaves to think you will tackle the challenge yet again. Do not confuse this task with one that is not special. Oh! It is. Stand face to the wind and feel the crisp in the air. Then go.

A short distance out of Dawson Creek you drive across the railroad tracks- the only teeth rattler on the road this year all the way to Pink Mountain. It is amazing how good the highway is, compared to the 1000 plus miles of unpaved slap in the face it used to be. Compared to the days when it was necessary to carry not one spare, but a set of spare tires. This is better. But daunting none-the-less. The drive doesn’t start to become special until you see the 6% grade that takes you down to cross a branch of the Peace River. The ravine falls away sharply and immediately from the bridge and the ordinary changes in a single heart beat to the extraordinary. Whoa! Where did that come from? Then climb back up and out the other side and think you have it behind you until you realize that was only the warm-up for the 10% grade drop to the main branch of the river. Holy Camoley! Never saw that coming. And that is the moment that you first realize you are not in Kansas any more, Toto. You are going north. Through a thousand miles of untold majesty and marvel. Where wildlife that is not common pops up when you least expect it. Where the road seems to fall out from beneath your wheels. Where the sky is bright blue one moment and dark and snowing the next. Where your ears pop on the way up and squeal all the way down the other side. Unless you have done THIS before, you have not done this before. Keep your eyes open. For amazing sights as much as for hazard. Keep your mind open. There is much to learn. Keep your heart open; it will soar with the hawks and eagles. Keep your camera charged; all manner of wildlife may choose to pose for your shot of a lifetime at a time only they can choose. And keep your fuel tank full. And your holding tank empty. Because nature, not man, makes all the rules on this stretch of road.

Tonight we dined on pre-cooked tuna casserole from the freezer…in a snowstorm that wasn’t in the forecast- no way, no how! In a campground that thought they had running water until it froze again last night. Having gotten ourselves out of being stuck in the mud yet again on a road that WAS dried out, but now-not so much. The mud may be the least of our concerns if this snow keeps coming...and right now coming it is! It is all part of the adventure. That’s why there is flexibility in the schedule. Why you need to take as much time as you need to take to do this trip right. I shiver when people tell me they are going to drive to Alaska for a month. I guess you can do it, but I’m sure it isn’t THE WAY to do it. That’s’ like saying “I’m off to see America; and I think I’ll see it in the next two weeks.” Good luck with that. On our first Alaska trip, the number one complaint we heard from people who were on buses or side tripping from cruises, or who had tackled the mission without enough time, was just that- they had not allowed enough time to do it right, to stay longer where it felt special, to try things that caught their fancy once they got a taste of it.

Alaska is SO special. Alberta is really good. British Columbia is still better. Yukon Territory calls you by name as you cross. But all of these are training grounds for the sights and sounds of Alaska. Alaska welcomes you home, without regard as to whether you are from there or not. So as the snow blankets the ground and the roof of the coach this evening, we snuggle up and dream yet again of The Last Frontier. What will tomorrow bring?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Grande Prairie

We've completed yet another leg of the trip. So far so good. Reports coming in from up ahead are that some of our campgrounds are still covered in snow. One or two more say they are a "mud fest." We'll get it figured out though.

Of more immediate concern is the plight of the locals from Eagle, Alaska. Even if you never heard of the place before, you have to feel for the people who have been there "forever" who have now mostly lost everything. As Mike and Lou prepare to open the Chicken Gold Camp and Outpost, they are getting first hand up to the minute reports from those passing through Chicken.

Here is a summary of conditions as Mike reports:

We are getting 1st hand reports from Eagle as folks are traveling
through....an awful disaster! The ones hit the hardest were the older
residents that have made their castles on the river front. The homes, for
the most part, are no more. That last surge Wednesday night uprooted
almost everything on the river front, which in my estimation, was one of
the most picturesque communities in Alaska. Many will not re-build as it
took the better part of a lifetime to build what was lost. Heart-wrenching
when I know so many of those people. And unlike most floods, not much can
be done for some time as there is too much ice left behind....ice bergs so
big that it would take a D10 to move them. The native village, which is a
mile away from Eagle proper, cannot be accessed because of all the ice.
And there is diesel everywhere, so much that it stings the eyes to be
there. Eagle will re-build...it has been here before, but this summer will
be awfully tough for many.

If any relief efforts get underway, we'll pass on that information.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Unremarkable vs. Unforgettable

I'll take a clear stand on this one! No beating around the bush. Today we drove the "upper part" of Rt 22. It was pleasant. Very pleasant. It was an easy ride. It was flat by comparison to other alternatives. Unfortunately, it was also quite unremarkable. So unless ease of drive, time considerations, and fuel economy are high priorities you simply MUST cut over after Cochrane and take the run from Banff to Jasper. Now THAT! IS UNFORGETTABLE! There are a lot of people who will tell you that is one of the most scenic and spectacular highways in the world. It's hard for me to argue with that point of view and I think, once you have done it, it will be for you as well. Marilyn calls it the "most scenic bang for your buck" she's ever seen. True! It will take you an extra day in all likelihood to run that way. Worth it! It is mountainous. Has abundant wildlife of all kinds. Breathtaking vistas. Stuff that will raise the hair on the back of your neck at no extra charge! It will take more time because you will be hard pressed not to stop often and take a whole host of pictures. If this is your first trip north, if this is you ONLY trip north- take the Banff to Jasper run. It will be the thrill of a lifetime without any doubt.

I know I said I wanted to sync the trip two years ago with this year's trip time wise, but I'll make an exception here, because I know some readers are a week behind me and if I wait a week to put these links up I would have to boot myself in the butt if I didn't strongly encourage you not to miss this part of the trip. Especially since yesterday I talked up "Catch 22." It would be a dis-service, plain and simple. It's that good! But before I offer you the links to three posts I think you might benefit from reading, a bit more about today. We saw quite a few beavers working the holding ponds and having a good time. A good size herd of buffalo as well, plenty of deer, most of them muleys. Warning signs for moose, but none sighted so far. There was one sign I fancied. Alberta has a new campaign against driving "Intexticated." Has nothing to do with alcohol; I didn't use the wrong word. They just don't permit text messaging while you are driving. Works for me! I don't like it when I'm not driving.

Clouds were the most interesting part of today's ride. We drove in and out of short but powerful blasts of mini ice storms. Each one died away before it got to be a problem with windshield buildup. Pretty, actually!

No pictures worth stopping for on this stretch of the road, so I didn't. But please, take a look at the posts from the Banff to Jasper run just to see the comparison, of which there really isn't much of one. Just Do IT!

Mountains In My Mirrors

The Bigger They Are (just for fun)

More Banff To Jasper

I think you know the drill. The colored text above is an active link to the posts from our Banff to Jasper run of two years ago. Click or double click will take you to one post at a time.

I also noticed that two years ago, Mark and Chris asked about the Verizon wireless air card for pc connection. They wanted to know if it was working under the regular plan or whether it was incurring roaming charges. And two years ago it did incur a few (but not always) charges based on roaming, even though we used the "North American Plan" for the trip. Never did figure out just where or when the charges came from and honestly I didn't care because at least it kept me connected. I did a check of "My Account/Verizon" before posting this, and no charges from roaming at all have appeared. Just tell Verizon you need the North American Plan before you head into Canada. You can call them and remove it as soon as you get back in the states. The additional charge is a mere 20 dollars a month- worth it! Some places have free wifi, some have pay wifi, and some of them actually work off an on!!!!

I'd like to extend a hearty welcome to the truck camper set- forum readers - with NATCOA. No sooner did Mike from Chicken Gold Camp post a link with your forum, than some of you, already in front of me on this jaunt, started sending back road and weather conditions to be aware of. Most helpful- thanks a bunch! Keep up the good work, and I hope to meet a lot of you at the Outpost.

That's it for now. I hope you'll find the time to check out the posts from the Banff To Jasper run.
Friends don't let friends drive without it!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Catch 22

Remember Catch 22, the Book? A good read! Well, how nice! But this has nothing to do with that whatsoever. I'm just borrowing the same word and number for the topic of today's post. Actually, I am referring to Route 22, which parallels route 2 - which is the usual route to Alaska through Calgary and Edmonton. But we decided to follow a recommendation from our friend Gary Skaggs who has driven this territory more times than a goldfish can swim around a glass container in a lifetime. So now that we have logged some miles on Rt 22, I'd like to recommend it to YOU if you are driving to Alaska. In other words, may I suggest you catch route 22! Every once in a while I can't hold myself back and I will call something or another a "must see." I don't really like to do that too much, because what might be a must see for me might be a major drag for you. Then who are you going to be bummed with? Me? So if you like driving the citified route with stop/start, go fast, go slow, pull over and shop for miniature Canadian flags every 10 miles, then by all means stick with #2. But if you want a wildly diversified combination of magnificent scenery, divine road quality, the occasional quaint village, plenty of pull offs at scenic overlooks and downright easily manageable "grades," then I suggest you catch 22!

You will share the ride with the Canadian Rockies on your left and the more rounded marginal mountains on your right the whole day long. It's a trough run! NOT a tough run! If you are lucky enough to catch the light and the snow covers just right...Ooooooo, ahhhhhhhh beautiful. Lots of streams and rivers to view along the way. Time was when I hitched my wagon to a road like this I used to try to figure out where the trout might be hiding behind a rock in that little stream, or in the eddy at the bottom of that nifty set of rips, maybe along the far bank in that deep slow pool. I still do that to a lesser degree, but now I am usually trying to figure out where the gold flakes have dropped out of the flood current or where the old stream bed gravel might just be holding and hiding a worthwhile deposit of the yellow metal, or where the cut in the bank may be worth further investigation. It's all fun to think about and none of it gets in my way until I'm actually on the stream and I know the gold is waiting for the pan...but the fish are swimming upstream and they could just as easy find their way into that same pan! Trout cooked on an open fire in a metal gold pan? Multitasking at its best!

Some info for those following. Camped at Spring Hill RV in Cochrane. Really nice park. Reasonably priced- although on this stretch, always expect to pay a little more that in the lower 48. Not as much supply in the marketplace, especially this early in the season. Full hookups available IF they have sites available. They have only about three left all next week so if you're coming this way, call now. There is a fuel stop at the entrance to the campground- very nice, not terribly commercial like some. Sorry I didn't "catch" the gasoline prices, but diesel was 81.9 L. We were happy to see that. Last time through Alberta in 07 we averaged 118.9L.

Let's play the conversion game with an example. I'll try to come up with a reference chart to put on the side on the dashboard when I can. Today's diesel fill up cost 81.9L, Canadian. There are 3.79 liters per US Customary gallon. 81.9 per liter is Canadian "cents" so the formula goes: .819 X 3.79= 3.10. At 81.9 cents per liter, a gallon of fuel as we non- metric types know it, costs 3 dollars and 10 cents. 3.10 per gallon. But it's not that simple. Now we have the daily exchange rate to deal with. So far so good. 3.10 a gallon is a good price, maybe a bit better than south of the border right now. But that is the Canadian dollar price. To convert that to US dollars at today's exchange rate (depending on your exchange rate source and conversion fees if any, you now need to multiply that times .86. As of right now, the exchange rate is in our favor- not always the case though. 3.10 X .86 = 2.67. So even though the total on my sales slip for one US gallon of fuel says 3.10 a gallon, effectively it only cost me 2.67. That's great! Daddy like! Unfortunately it will more than likely get more expensive as we get further north and at some remote stops it will be sky high. That's OK too. This is a game of averages. And like I have always said: The price of the ticket to Alaska is ALWAYS a good deal...and a good deal more!

One more thought on the fuel, or anything else you pay for with a credit card. Most cards charge a conversion fee for the use of their product in foreign currency. That will vary widely depending on a lot of factors, but be advised, there will almost always be some modest additional fees to contend with and account for in the final analysis.

Back on metric issues. Let's say you're driving under a railroad trestle in Montana and the warning sign advises the height of the clearance is 13 feet 4 inches. No doubt you know whether or not your rig can safely navigate that underpass. But what if you are pulling into a covered fuel stop in Calgary and the sign on the rain fly tells you the clearance is only 4.1 meters? Can you clear that? Are you prepared to figure it out before your air conditioner becomes road kill? Before public humiliation makes you want to crawl under you step cover? There are 3.28 feet to a meter. So yes, you can make it. You have 13.45 feet to play with. Just like with the nice train bridge. What I find is that 13 feet 4 inches makes me feel safe. But 4.1 meters scares the macadamias out of me! It's all a matter of what you're used to. So get used to it!

Wanna print or access an on-line conversion chart?:

Click here......http://www.sciencemadesimple.com/conversions.html

May I ask a favor. Whether you've been hooked up with us for along time or just joined the party, if you have a friend or a travel companion who might enjoy tagging along for this trip to Alaska, would you please send them a link to the blog...or maybe at least to a particular post that may be helpful. Each Spring run to the north is a new and different adventure. Things change. If we can help one traveler in one way, then we're glad to do it...and maybe we make even one more friend along the way. The way north!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

NewsMiner.com RE: Eagle Village, AK

A short while back, when we first "e met" up with Big Bill, he suggested we be sure and visit the village of Eagle, not too far away from Chicken and on the banks of the Yukon River. It was already on our list of things to do this summer, but seems as though now we may not get the chance to do that...at least not in the way we would have liked. Unseasonably warm weather made the ice breakup on the Yukon River happen in rapid fashion, and unfortunately the ice flow dammed up and caused both the ice blocks and the high flood waters to inundate the village. So while we hope for the best, it may not turn out exactly like we hope. Below, a couple pictures of the village under stress and a link to Newsminer.com, where you can go for more photos and information on the conditions in Eagle..and plenty of other news and events and articles about Alaska:

http://newsminer.com/photos/galleries/2009/may/05/2009-breakup-flooding/2030/

I'll also place a link to the newsminer.com on my links section- seems like an excellent source of Alaska information. Thanks, Mike!

Barely Over The Border

There is a reason why we stop just before the border before crossing and again nearly as soon afterward as is practical. BECAUSE! No matter how many times you have done it, no matter how well prepared you are, no matter how happy you are to be visiting someone else's country - things don't always go as planned. One word taken the wrong way when you pull up to the customs booth. One border agent whose significant other said no the night before. I don't know what else. But after countless easy crossings, today went just plain bad!

If I knew the answer to why it did I would surely tell you. Maybe Canadian agents don't like full time RVers. When I told him we lived in our coach, his immediate and stern response was,
"You really don't want to enter Canada today, do you? Now try again, where do you live?"
"My legal address is Florida. Better?"
Pull over and wait.
An hour and a half later we pulled into the security bay and did the vehicle version of a strip search. Oh, I feel so violated. "Must you put the latex gloves on, officer?"

We didn't think we had anything to hide. Still don't. But we got the old "Where are your firearms?" question about 4 times.
"I don't have any. No firearms. No beef. No oranges! Nothing."
"What about at home?"
"This IS home...I promise you: I will not stay any longer than necessary in your fine country and for sure I will not set up any illegal residency here. When it gets cold again, I'm gone, I'm outta here; I'm old! I further swear not to use my machete on any of your wildlife...or to chop down cherry tress wheresoever they may be protected from such action.

"What about alcohol?"
"Sure, we have this and this and that...."
"I don't need to know what you have. How many liters?"
"Sir, I am an American and I don't think well in liters"
"OK Exactly how many bottles do you have?"
"I don't exactly know."
"I need a number."
"How does three sound? That's sounds good to me."

After the inspection it was pointed out that I had MORE than three bottles. Yes and No. I had three bottles if we merge the contents, but my wife likes to divide everything into "back stock" and kitchen accessible, so what seems like six bottles to you may be only three container fulls to me.

Now about Marilyn's passport. The renewal was done at the American Embassy in Tegucigalpa when we lived in Roatan, Honduras. We were there and it was time. But American Embassies all over the world are given the "old style" passports to use up. So every time officials see an old style passport, well, it can make issues if they don't take the time to see where it was issued. The passport is perfectly good. They just don't see one every day.

Maybe it was the EPA and Canadian Customs approved "Bear Repellent" we declared. Was it really an AK-47 in a bottle?

Eventually the ordeal ended and we were ready to roll on out of the bay. "I write a travel blog, officer. Do you think I could get a picture of my big rig in your big search bay?"

"I think not."

Lesson to be learned. This can happen to anyone, any time. You never know. Make camp close to each side of the border. Just in case!

Once through customs at this crossing, watch for the big bull elk in the fields on the right side of the road, several miles out of the gate. We have seen him the last two times through this way, and you may get lucky as well. And take note: windsocks may be indicating a small airport, but more likely they are used for you to see when you are about to get super-blasted by cross winds, which occur regularly here on bridges, open stretches and when coming out from sheltered highway. Both Canada and Alaska are far better then the lower 48 about marking driving conditions and potential hazards. So also watch for orange diamond shaped signs that look like they have a graphic of "mountains" on them. That is a "bump in the road" warning and they are most helpful. They mark even the most mild of situations so slow and steady should win the race. As we get further north, we have similar markings for frost heaves. Some tourists tell horror stories about the roads here.My guess is they weren't paying attention in the first place.

A final word about our border inspection. The inspection officer seemed rather stern to us as he began the search, while we waited in limbo outside the door of the coach. He emerged some time later in a seemingly happier frame of mind then when he entered, so now we are left to wonder: What did he see on his merry search? And did he find Marilyn's happy drawer????

So. From Fort Macleod RV Park, just barely beyond the border, thee ah thee thee ah, that's all folks!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Distance To The Horizon

An east bound Amtrak train blew its whistle at us on the open prairie as we glided west across Montana. There was no crossing, no cattle on the track, and noone else in sight, so yes, it was for our attention. What the heck, it's a good way to check the air horn, so I gave her a blast in answer. Either the engineer was lonely or he was a closet RV guy in pin stripes. Either way, a blast and a wave, and the salute was passed.

Not too long after that, we began talking about the distance to the horizon. If the topography is perfectly flat, like say a ship crossing the ocean on a calm day, then the circular dimensionality of the earth (no, it ain't flat) mandates that you can see 16 miles to the horizon. Obviously that changes depending on the situation. Headed up a slight incline, you might only see a hundred yards. But what about when you are at a higher elevation and there is a valley out before you...with a tall mountain range out way ahead. On a clear day, can you see forever?

Well, unfortunately not. But you can see a long, long way. So we began our calculations as the reason for the conversation began to come in to view. The white robed winter royalty of the Rocky Mountains started to become visible on the Montana horizon. Somewhere between when they appear and where they are, is the town of Shelby. Answer to today's question: about 110 miles. They came into view about 50 miles before reaching Shelby and they are about 60 miles on the other side of Shelby. Shelby. The last stop before crossing into Canada. The last stop for fuel at a sane price. Last chance to get your border crossing papers in order. The point of no return. Tomorrow, Alaska, not yet in view, will be clearly on the horizon.

The hundreds and hundreds of pronghorns (antelope) we spotted today will be in the rear view mirrors in the morning. Tonight we nestle into the open park that is the holding pattern for rigs ready to bolt out of the gate and make the dash north. Two years ago we stayed here at Lewis and Clark RV Camp and connected with Gary and Judy Skaggs. This year we are in the exact same spot as we were then. But the spot directly behind us where they had been parked is empty despite the fact that the park is nearly full this year. (So much for economy caused travel slowdown) It is a fitting tribute to our now special friends, who just happen to be about a week behind us on their journey back to go mining for the summer. It's not the same without them. The park is now for sale by owner. The only other difference we see is about 100 new giant windmills on the ridge nearby.

Travel Tip Time: Specifically for those of you behind us: If you need the Pilot truck stop in Shelby to fuel up, please make a note that it says "Exxon" on the street sign and is the gasoline stop. The Pilot truck diesel is behind the Exxon and could easily be missed if you're not looking for it. Diesel was 2.31.9. When we start reporting Candian prices, they will be in litres, not gallons and we can discuss conversions then. If it's your first venture in Canada, remember speed limits and distances are in Metric. Most GPS units can do the conversions for you and it's a big help at least until you get used to it.

North bound in the morning. Passports at the ready!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Behind The Banner Unfurled

There's always a little more to the story. When we got in late after the old "stick in the mud" routine, we were surely off our schedule in more ways than one. We had continued on to North Dakota. We had completed the mission of visiting all 49 states (I refuse to drive to Hawaii). I was tired when we got in and there was a lot of unplanned chores that arose from the events of the day. Bt it was more than being delayed by being stuck for for hours, and since I'm feeling a little more alive today, I thought I would fill in at least a few of the blanks.

Our day had started at 6 AM. I took Abby out so we could get an early start. Abby likes her routine. On the road early. Make camp mid afternoon. We all like it that way. She enjoys the trip, but doesn't sleep well while we are riding- too busy trying to see what is going on and where. Ditto that for me- sleeping while driving? Not a good idea. Not that I ever tried it! But on those occasions when landing early can't be accomplished, Abby is often restless until late. As this day was a total departure from our "creatures of habit" routine, I expected her to be restless and overtired for a while. I was not expecting the settling process to take til two in the morning, but whatever. Why so restless?

Well the day was maybe a little more intense than I had explained. For starters it poured all day. Morton Salt does not pour this hard! And it was windy too. The windiest conditions we have encountered yet. If you've ever been in a "doozey" of a storm, you know that the wind can make it rain in directions that defy the laws of gravity. Because we are headed west, the cross wind plastered us all day on the driver's side of the coach. Now the coach is pretty darn water tight in even the heaviest of storm conditions. But not in this condition. My window was spitting a constant stream of projectile drips, drops, and bubbles the entire day. We had to keep replacing the towels along the ledge so as to keep the electronics dry. The rain was coming in the seams of the slider window, but honestly it seemed like the window was open and the rain was flowing right on through. We learned, having lived through two class 5 hurricanes and 6 class 2 to 4 hurricanes, that water and wind can combine to do whatever they darn well please. That was what was going on this day. On the two way traffic road we traveled, every time we passed a big truck I tightened my grip on the steering wheel as best I could. I had my driving gloves on to improve the grip as much as to ease my poor arthritic fingers after holding on so tight for so long. The water mist and splash from each passing truck left the visibility at zero for a second or two, which wasn't very good, but couldn't be avoided. The wind force first pushed us right then pulled us back left. And there was a splash in my face each time from the added force of the wind and rain as we passed. The truck traffic was not terribly heavy, which is in part the reason we could keep going. It was still not pleasant. Passing through the town of Cowboy, the road was muddy and such a truck coated the windshield with a mud bath so that I couldn't see at all for longer than was comfortable. But the wipers, which often times were blown so hard they weren't even touching the windshield caught up in time to avoid further problems. I rate the day: nerve wracking.

There was humor in the weather though, as there is in everything, or nearly everything. Remember the scene from Wizard of Oz, where the wicked witch is riding her bicycle with Toto in the basket- but she's riding in the tornado instead of on the street? Houses and appliances and all matter of things are floating by almost in slow motion, belying the fact that a storm is raging. We had such a moment. It was on a long straight stretch of the rural highway. Remember I said the wind was hitting the driver's side? Well, the tumble weeds were super blasting across the road in front of us constantly from left to right. They were moving so fast you almost could not see what they were. At one point a flock of geese, flying low at maybe 20 feet off the ground, tried to fly into the wind from our passenger side and cross directly in front of us from right to left. THEY COULD NOT DO IT! They simply stayed and "marched in place" as we instead flew by them. Same thing happened several times with other smaller birds. It actually was pretty darn funny looking. Evidently they are not designed to fly into that strong a wind. Must have been some of them there hybrid type birds! No power!

It was so windy! How windy was it? It was so windy there were white caps on the prairie puddles. It was so windy that when a Walmart trucker decided he needed to drive full tilt on the shoulder instead of on the road, he threw a nice big stone at my windshield and gave one of those "Glass marble" fractures, thank you very much, Wally World! It was so windy that when I pulled over and climbed the ladder up the back of the rig to wipe off the rear view camera lens that when I took one hand off the ladder to reach over and wipe it, I darn near got blown off the rig. Where was I when I nearly blew off the ladder and onto the prairie? Why a town (no fooling now) called Home On The Range. And I very nearly was!

But as you know, all's well that ends well and this day ended well. Or is it: well, it ended....

Now a final word about North Dakota, which was the whole point of doing what we did and being where we were. It is beautiful. Shockingly beautiful. Especially since we were expecting nothing but a continuation of the grasslands that we knew from South Dakota and that we also knew we would hit again in Montana. No grassland in this part of North Dakota, even though, oddly enough, part of the trip was through the National Grasslands. No. This was more like a combination of the Badlands, the Grand Canyon, and the Painted Desert all rolled up into one. We did not know it was there. It caught us totally by surprise.
"What the heck is this called?" I asked.
Seems it is the Painted Canyon, which is a good name since I had just described it out loud as I did above. It is part of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and sorry to say I knew nothing about it previously. It has the geography of those other places, but with a palette of its own. The red oxidized layer is soft and on top so as it erodes down the face of the bluffs it looks like a cascading red river. It flows over countless shades of subtle grays and silvers and pewters and charcoal like layers that are simply breathtaking, even under the cloudy and dismal sky and in the rain of the day. The Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert, the Badlands all beg for sunshine to whistle them to life. The Painted Canyon stands alone. Had I known how very special it is here, I think I would have been here sooner!

Completed Visited States Map - A Thing of Beauty

Mission Accomplished

There’s nothing wrong with the declaration that the mission has been accomplished- if in fact it has. No jumping the gun. No putting the cart before the horse. No landing your jet on the deck before the carrier has smooth sailing. More aptly, in light of where we are headed right now: No counting your chickens before they have hatched!

There is a reason why you don’t unfurl your banner until it’s time to do so. This, evidently, IS the meaning of the universe for which I sought counsel just yesterday. A mere couple hours before the crossing of the border to North Dakota (The Final Mission Marker), THIS happened to us in flood ravaged (and incredibly SOFT) South Dakota. Where? Why in the center of the universe of course. So the true lesson of finding the center of the universe is HUMILITY!


Getting stuck in the mud for the very first time? Zero dollars. Loosing 4 hours of much needed travel time trying to get unstuck? Zero dollars. Having an insurance company that will send someone to winch you out “of the center of the universe" for free? Priceless!


But, NOW, for us: the gun is ready to fire, the horse is out in front of the cart where it should be, the ship has pulled into the destination port, and the eggs, all dozen of ‘em, done hatched today as we pulled into magical # 49, North Dakota. How fitting! Another 49-er for the records!

As of today, May 4, 2009:
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

Quatro de Mayo! Ship no “sinko” de Mayo! (Unless of course there is that "sinko in the mud" thing!!!) The same state I just missed (by poor planning on my part) earlier in this venture is now reclaimed. Last night, sitting in Belle Fourche in a campground that is still drying out from the great Dakota floods of 2009, we had to wonder whether we could get in to North Dakota at all….or not. It’s still very wet. Very soft, Very iffy. But this time we are not to be denied!

Camping, traveling, touring sports fans, here are the stats, the tale of the tape:

Number of days to reach all 49 available RV-able states: 968 days (2.65 years)

Number of miles traveled (by coach): 41, 623.6 miles

Number of campgrounds stayed in to accomplish goal: 214 different campground stops

Number of gallons of diesel sacrificed to the gods of travel: 5,946.23

Fuel price range during trip: 1.98 per gal. to 6.00 per gal. (3.15 a gallon on our first fill up in Fort Myers, FL on September 6, 2006

One never knows for sure at the outset whether the dreams and plans and aspirations of a lifetime that have been set will ever materialize as envisioned. For some, the joy in life is about the destination. For some the reward is in the journey itself. We relish both. Whether life will be short or life will be long, we are not permitted to know. But that we appreciate every breath and every step and every mile and every friend and every love- that is a matter of our choosing, if we are fortunate. Vive la journey!