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?

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