Whitehorse YT to Snag Junction

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Sunday July 29th 2018

We had a nice cozy  night at the Hidden Vally B & B in the Blue Room with its two twin beds and as I anticipated the two dogs and myself would only use one. Slept well again and naturally we were up by the very late hour of 5:30 am. It was a bit of a challenge getting myself dressed, and the dogs down the stairs and out the door to pee (I did remember to pee in the house though I could have just as well used the woods as I have doing in the night and first thing in the morning while camping). Of course Kili had to join me in the bathroom as his loud bark at my abandonment of him for all of 1 minute would wake the whole household. I think we actually managed to not wake the other guests.while tromping down the stairs.  We hung out on the first floor by the kitchen, drank coffee and Kili begged the whole time JoAnn, the woman managing the B &B, cooked breakfast.  He smelled people food and would not eat his dog food.  i took the dogs for a walk and then parked Simba in the car so I did not have to carry him up and down the stairs again while I packed up.  If I had let him wander in the house he would probably find the basement stairs to fall down. I was packed up and ready to go before breakfast and went through the now very consistent routine of getting Kili to leave his newly established home! Breakfast was served at 8:00 so I also put Kili in the car so he would not be hanging around the table begging and pestering all the guests. 

IMG_6221We were off by 9:00 am to find a real grocery store in this real town!!!  Once I resupplied the lunch food, got ice, coffee and gas we were off to Snag Junction – back to camping.

Generally speaking the Alaska Highway is in good condition but the further north I got there was more road damage, bumps, dips, gravel breaks, and sections where the road had heaved significantly due to thawing and refreezing. It probably goes without saying but I will anyway.  The scenery got more beautiful and mountains higher and more rugged than the days preceding. Once heading north out of Haines YT,  the  Alaska Highway bordered Canada’s  Kluane National Park and Reserve to the SW and the Insling Range to NE and in the distance several peaks sported long glacial fingers crawling down their crevices.  I decided that if we were to engender mountains I would see them as female — they are so awesomely beautiful, extremely varied and colorful, they are bold and strong, they have curves and bumps and rumps, and teats, and tits and nipples etc.  They could not be male as there was not much in the line of phallus unless you count the thousands of fir trees adorning the slopes.

An exceptionally beautiful area was Kluane Lake. From the first glimpse at the Boutillier  and on through Destruction Bay and Burwash Landing, the waters shimmered and the many hued mountain slopes makes for an idyllic ride. It is the largest lake in the Yukon.  Fireweed  lines the highway in many many areas.  I have commented previously on the scarcity of services and on closer look, the population of most of these town identified on the map is less that one hundred.  And they are mile and miles apart.  Just re-supplying food and gasoline is a challenge according to one shop keeper. Additionally most of them have a historical significance either as a trading post, grew out of the building of the Alaska highway, or popped up in the era of the Gold Rush.  By now road conditions are only fair continuing so we were  undulating, rolling and bumping, and jostling over frost heave areas and many spots of construction to repair seasonal damage. I have read that this area was one of the toughest sections to build due to the nature of the glacial soil and the lack of suitability for road embankments. Further on down the road were great views of the Icefield Ranges of the St. Alias Mountains.

The intention was to stop for the day at Snag Junction Yukon Government Campground. It was a delight small campground (15 sites0 overlooking a lake.  I was able to get a lakeside site and we set up and settled in for the late afternoon and evening, 

 

Rocks and Bears on the Road to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory

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Saturday July 28th.

Simba woke me up at 5:20 and we followed our normal am routine – except he did not want his breakfast.  The traffic started around 6:00 am, with intermittent RV heading out.  I surmised  that this campground was perhaps a family get away week-end destination given that it was filled to capacity. But by the time I left at 9:00 am Saturday it was almost empty.  Than I thought more rationally and since there is no city, town, village, community of notable size within a 200 miles driving distance that was unlikely. And given, most of the time, I thought this highway I was on was a dedicated RV only traffic highway, it was people on the move. 

After a bit of a walk and my normal 1 hour breaking camp routine we were on our way to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. The road continued with no centerline or shoulders thus remaining a lot of fun to drive. It felt like I was rocking and rolling around the curves and the ups and down of a roller coaster. Early on in the drive I came upon a large area devastated by wildfires in 2010 and 2012 and another in Tisgar Lake area in 2001.  It felt quite eerie to see mile upon mile of tree skeletons with an occasion lone fir surviving in this ghostly wilderness. 

Soon I heading north on the Alaska Highway 1, back to  lines and shoulder. I was in Yukon Territory and with each mile the scenery appeared to get more rugged –  the mountain peaks sharper and higher, the sky bluer, the forest denser and predominantly pine and fir tree, and many shimmering lakes along the route, and of course rimmed with wildflowers. 

I remained  amazed when I would see a “services in 2K”  sign and then almost miss the dot of an old gas pump and small store.  I kept wondering where the very few people who lived in this sparsely populated area get their groceries – real food not just convenience store muffin, cookies, candy and chips. Another thing than I began to notice was the absence in most section of utility poles and lines.  I got my coffee and ice in Nugget City, at the first rather attractive restaurant, store and bakery I had seen in a few hundred miles. It came shortly after hitting Alaska 1 in Yukon Territory. The road was certainly more civilized but definitely not quite as enjoyable. I can’t say that I missed all of the graveled sections and initially I found myself on a very flat and strait highway. Despite this being one of the main routes through northern Canada to Alaska, the traffic was quite minimal.

The first mishap of the day occurred around 12:30 in Ranchiera.  i was motoring happily along and a larger semi truck was whizzing by me in the other direction. I hear a loud crack and a stone had been jettisoned into my windshield, leaving a two inch circular shattered “spiderweb “ right in the middle of the windshield.  I was so mad that my almost new Lady Spitfire Jeep Compass has this big blemish on her face.  What was even more maddening was that this was major highway and well marked and maintained and I had been driving a couple thousand miles on rougher tar and gravel roads with no dings.. 

IMG_6171Soon i was at the Ranchiera Falls Recreation site and had planned to take the dogs for the walk down to the falls. I was still stewing about the windshield and wanted to skip it (that certainly wouldn’t get the windshield fixed or solve anything). It was a lovely gravel and boardwalk trail through a boreal forest to a picturesque falls.  Fixed lunch in the parking lot and ate in the car as didn’t want to share my wrap with the bees and mosquitoes. Actually I discovered that the bees haven’t been bothering us nearly as much as I anticipated as they are hungrily devouring all of the dead bugs on the front of my car.

Not to far along the road after the falls I finally had to head those warning signs I had been seeing all along the way to watch out for wildlife.  I had anticipated I might see an elk, caribou or deer. However, what did happen was a bear ran across the road not far in front of me and I had to slam on the brakes, thus shifting everything forward in the car. Now I was very glad that it wasn’t the bear that hit the windshield. The windshield is easily repairable and hopefully the bear is thriving.   The better part of the day  was spent “WOWING” and occasionally stopping to feast on some beautiful lakes and mountain scenes as well as after committing them to memory though I would also take a photo for back-up memory!

 

Filling up my very thirsty Lady Spitfire is always an adventure in theses remote parts  – from the burly guy who hung my credit card on a line behind the desk so I could fill up to a sign I am sure we would rarely see anymore in the states: fill up, move car, come in and pay!  And not to forget some ancient pumps and the above ground tanks.

Getting nearer to Whitehorse, I decided to head on down route 8 to Carcross –  I am not sure what prompted me to do so but I think I visited it years ago and found it quite interesting. The drive was pretty but not drop dead gorgeous and Carcross was quite quaint but doubt it is the town I was thinking of. It didn’t seem familiar at all.  I however was not disappointed in that it was a very old, rather run down little town but also a bit of a tourist mecca.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI then headed back up to the to the Hidden Valley B & B in Whitehorse at which I had a reservation.  Upon first glance I was a bit taken aback and was wondering what kind of place i had reserved.  The long approach driveway was bounded by what appeared to be a couple of run down buildings, some rusting out machinery, a house that looked in disrepair, wood piles, a brightly painted barn, a few horse…but once I reached the house and was led into the main house area and gardens it was beautiful. The gardens and outdoor seating areas were exquisitely decked our with flowers and planter boxes with a great variety of graceful flowers. The house itself was lovely.

My biggest challenge was having reserved the Blue Room, with twin beds – on the second floor (this I did not know or think about when making the reservation).  Since Simba can’t climb stairs I had to not only carry him up the grated front steps but up to the  second floor – plus all our stuff.  I took my eyes off Simba for a few minutes while i was fixing his insulin shot and I hear this thud! Simba had wandered out of the room and tumbled down the stairs.  I was so afraid that he was injured as he was holding his front led at a funny angle but it seems he is no worse for the wear.  So hopefully after three strikes there would be no more startling events. Once we were all settled with our stuff in the room, we went down and sat out on one of the patios overlooking the mountains and the beautiful flowers.  The dogs were so welcomed there as the owner has dogs and Kili was able to wander freely.  I sat out later than I had anticipated but with it not getting dark until around 11:00 pm it was easy to loose track of time. Now was the hour for a glorious shower. I think I belong to a different age because  I was perfectly OK with waiting the week while camping for my Saturday night bath. I climbed into my first real bed in a week and could see the sun setting 11:00 ish through my window. What a peaceful moment. 

 

June 20-22 Copper Falls State Park- Mellon Wisconsin.

Opting to avoid the height of rush hour, I left Chicago around 9:15 and even though I was headed north of the city there certainly were enough reverse rush hour commuters crawling towards O’Hare. But with patience I was soon on my way, with another ambitious driving day (470 miles) to northern Wisconsin and hoping to get a campsite at Copper Falls State Park. I was out of the reservation window to book online but it looked like there were numerous sites available when I was looking the day before I left. My goal today was to get to the Madison area via interstate and from then on avoid as much as possible any major highways or interstates.

I had a desire to see Madison Wisconsin. I recollect my mother talking about what a lovely place it was. She told stories of her summer school adventures at the University of Wisconsin back in the mid-1920’s. Growing up in this “perfect” family in suburban Detroit with a “what will people think” script, led me to surmise that my mother probably never did anything risqué or “bad.” Only in her later years did she acknowledge that perhaps she had a little bit of a wild streak when she was younger. She talked of sneaking out of the dorm there through the window with her friend Marcie to meet boys. Now I am not sure what transpired after that, but nostalgically decided to visit the city of her “crimes!” I also wanted to see the capitol building. The visit was less than satisfactory as it was pouring rain and lots of construction in the area— meaning no parking anywhere nearby. But I had loving feelings for my mother as I drove through the area and proceed on to negotiate the rest of the drive.

Driving through the country on two lane roads, even when there are slow-pokies ahead of me, gives me that feeling of “living on the edge”. It comes with the decisions of whether it is now safe to get out on the other side of the road and pass and pray that the local yahoo being passed doesn’t choose at that moment to speed up. Going through the myriad of small towns with their 25 MPH speed limit reminds me of the controversy over Starke FL and its speed traps. So I brake down to a crawl and appreciate all the local establishment: the many well worn store fronts, which for the most are family owned; rusting water towers; the waysides, instead of rest areas, with vault toilets; town signs that state the population ranging from 345 population s couple thousand. I must admit it was extremely difficult to follow the Wisconsin two lane road speed limit of 55mph. So I didn’t abide by it that much and now find myself that speed demon I so loath on the interstate highways.

I pulled into Copper Falls State park around 7:00 and secured one of the vacant “walk-up” sites (meaning they can’t be reserved in advance.) And much to my chagrin not only did I have to pay a $11.00 entrance fee for each day there in the park (double the price for non-residents) but also an extra $5.00 per night as a non-resident for a campsite. And an extra $10.00 per night because it had an electric hook-up whether I needed it or not. seems to me Florida should do this and then maybe we residents could get a site in season! Then the real fun began. Setting up camp! Guess I was on brain drain or so road weary that I could not do anything with ease or quickly. It took me forever to set up the tent which I have done many many times. I had that momentary but thank goodness fleeting thought that this adventure was a colossal mistake. Adding to this intuitive feeling was the distinct aroma of urine in the campsite. It had recently rained and looked as if it might again so I kept setting up as it was already too much work and too late to change sites. But the worst part was now it was getting dark, and I had no idea where to find what I needed. Having packed the car more than 3 weeks prior to the trip and then not being sure of everything I packed necessitated throwing a bunch of thing in at the least minute. As I am discovering, those items for the most part are not needed but definitely taking up way too much space in my overflowing Prius!!! I did manage to heat up the left over pasta Jamie sent along for me, find some warm layers of clothing to sleep in, find a flashlight that actually lit up, and get my cot put together and bag rolled out. Of course the dogs would have preferred to sleep on my cot and they very begrudgingly finally nestled into their little beds. Not sure what the temp was but they were shivering (in high forties I think) so I had to hunt down their coats. Once settled though we made it through the night with no drama.

Awoke to a beautiful cool morning and enjoyed a hot cup of S’Buck’s Via. I was excited and energized again. But, I new the task at hand was a major re-organization of the equipment, clothing and food since I searched for a good ten minutes for the oatmeal packets. But that was the last logical thought I had. I again entered a state of ineptitude and just could not get my head to work in any kind of an efficient manner I commenced a classic ADD adventure that took four times as long as it should have..I began moving things from the car to the picnic table, to the tent, back to the car, into another box, then back to another spot in the car…and though the re-organization is definitely an improvement over the initial state of disorganization, it remains a work in progress.

So after dallying around with equipment it was time to explore the park. The Bad River (great name for the river that runs through it) was beckoning. The Bad River — I can conjure up all sort of scenarios taking place. Additionally, I certainly could not have anticipated the 100 foot deep canyon cut through by the river nor the splendor of the both Copper and Granite Falls. An exceptional nature trail, the Doughboy’s Trail, with footbridges overlooking the falls on the “Bad River” was built by the Civilian Conservation Corp after World War I. My only complaint was that this trail, the most spectacular in the park, was not dog friendly. So I waited until 5:00-ish when it was cool and there was lots a shade and left the boys in the car with instructions to take a nap and not let anyone in! I enjoyed that hour long hike through the woods and marveled at the richness of the colors reflected in the water as it cascaded over the black and red lava and the various colors of the sandstone and shale. But what was a much more fun experience was the hike with the dogs earlier that day to the Red Granite Falls area. It started at Loon Lake, and was lovely peaceful walk inn the lush green woods of aspen, paper birch, hemlock, a variety of ferns and wildflowers. It brought us to a series of falls and rushing whitewater. As there was no defined trail down to rivers edge, the dogs had there first experience of rock hopping with a bit of aide from myself. They were pretty nervous and hesitant but no way was I going to let my dogs be wimps. They were clearly intimidate being at the edge of the roiling water which I so love the energy of. The 4 mile round trip brought us back to he car at which point I discovered I had lost Simba’s car harness which I had originally left on him. However, it appeared a bit awkward and heavy to be walking with it on, so I removed it and thought i was putting it in my daypack. They both were too beat to go back and look for it.

Back at camp that evening was uneventful. Simba whined and whined as he had to be either on a tether or in the fenced yard I have. The instant I let him off he would start on a walk-about. Kili is still pretty close to my heals all the time but had an obsession with running through the path to the neighboring campsite. So of course they remained tethered! Thankfully it was a much warmer evening and after I cooked dinner on my Coleman stove, I had my first fire as no camping trip is complete without a fire. It was another cozy night in our tent without having to crawl out of the tent until 5:00 am. After a brief visit to the woods I tried getting back to sleep but in northern Wisconsin it is very light out at that hour.

After my fresh brewed coffee…Yes I had my 4 cup pot with me and since I paid all the extra $$$ for the electric site I was going to make use of that electric current running through woods. So there was my little pot on the ground next to the tent filling the morning air with the aroma of fresh brewed coffee. I really enjoyed that $20.00 cup of coffee.

It was time to break camp and I tried to be very methodical about it. Also hurried a bit as it appeared to be threatening rain. I was able to put a few items up top into the carrier to free up some space below but I think everything grew bigger and it did not appear to fit any better (in fact a bit worse) than before. But at least it was better organized. But we were all loaded up and on the road by 9:00. I anticipated only about 275 miles of driving and had two goals on my agenda before arriving at the Norway beach Recreation Area Campground in the Chippewa National Forest on Cass Lake Minnesota.

 

A Grand Traverse of the USA and Beyond 2017

June 15-16

With the important family obligations in Alaska and Michigan-Charlotte complete and after three days of the final frenzied packing for this grand traverse of the USA , we were wished Godspeed and lifted in prayer for a safe journey by many friends in Venice. Then Kili, Simba and I set of at 10:00 am on Thursday, June 15th with the goal of arriving in Chicago by Friday dinner time. This meant 1250 miles in two days, with seemed quite the challenge with two dogs to manage and a bladder that demands stopping at least every hour and one half. Back in the “old days” traveling to and from Florida, driving straight through, with kids was the norm. But alas a 73 years of age and solo that agenda is not very appealing. Even the two day goal seemed a tad ambitious.

Traveling along with my two buddies afforded a lot of time to think and ponder since they are not great conversationalist and certainly aren’t able to help navigate. I at times will play music but it eventually wears on me and I relish the quiet (that is if I can dissociate from the noise pollution of the road such as the drumming of the tires on cement highways, the rumble of the warning strips, thrum and hum of tires on asphalt, trucks blasting by, the vroom of the speed demons, and my own engine groaning down the highway.

I didn’t start out this day (or the trip) with any notion of transformations to take place or even hard lessons to be learned. But underneath my stated external goal of adventure and self reliance, as well as building on my goal to visit all states in my lifetime and visit all the national parks a well, there already seemed to be an undercurrent , conscious or unconscious, of an internal component to beyond this sense of self-reliance. I already feel an internal migration towards really wanting to connect to the land and to live more simply. Driving alone affords a lot of space to think, to work through internal conversations,

From a physical perspective I love the satisfaction of being able to negotiate this trip, by myself, with my dogs, living relatively basically in a tent and with a camp stove. Though my body is aging and I am growing old, what really matters is I never stop growing. In connecting to my wanderlust, I hope to become a truer version of myself.
The overarching theme that my head kept returning to this day was environmentalism and our countries ecological footprint…definitely triggered initially by the NEVER ending massive constructions projects along Interstate 75 in Florida. I found the traffic hellish and hate driving wedged in between unyielding cement barriers and huge 53 foot semi-trucks and the B-train semis with their two trailing units (which at times appeared to be trying to shimmy right off of the semi truck cab.) Getting from A to B is no longer a leisurely experience through bucolic countryside but a mad mad dash to everywhere, needing more and more traffic lanes to accommodate our insatiable need to drive everywhere, only to exit the highway having to make a very difficult choice of where to stop: McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Chick-A-Fil, Pilot Travel Center, Flying J Travel Center, Love’s Travel center, Holiday Inn, Ramada, Choice, Hampton Inn, Econo-Lodge, Red Roof Inn and on and on… Every exit appears to be a clone of the previous exit stretching from “Sea to Shining Sea.” And if it isn’t the fast food, gas and motels it is the big box stores — thus every city and every exit is unfortunately the same. AND I might also admit of course, that perhaps this adventure of mine might be considered part of the problem that I am railing about.

I chose Pilot Travel Center with a McDonald’s as the first gassing up choice. The boys got their $1.00 cheeseburger. This would not be my preference but Kili spurns his normal dog food and I will compromise my boycott of fast food for the most part just to have him eat something. And so it went hour after hour with sections of clear sailing but more, by far sections of construction, an inordinate number of semis bearing down, with most travelers traveling at 80+ miles per hour! I find the homogenization of America so disenchanting. The “highlight” of day one was crawling through Atlanta at a snails pace during rush hour and then when finally moving being pummeled by lightning, thunder and driving rain up the road a ways. But the true highlight was the SKY and sunset after the storms when driving through Chattanooga.  Mother Earth’s palette was amazing and there was something so peaceful and spiritual about the panoply of yellows, corals, mauves, and pinks lighting up the sky. Twelve hours and 708 miles later we arrived at the dog friendly Red Roof Inn in Manchester TN for an all to short but restful night.

Day two proved to be much of the same and I still couldn’t find anything redeeming about the drive. Long and tedious, but not quite as long (11 hours and 556 miles.) Thought a lot this day again about the environment and the impact both I and others have on this once pristine beautiful world. Granted there is still an enormous amount of beauty but also an enormous amount of ugly. I know in the USA the per capita consumption dwarfs that of most any other nation. I am certainly not a minimalist but am taking pride in driving my 7 year old high mpg Prius and sleeping in a tent without air-conditioning!!!

Arriving in Chicago during rush hour on Friday wasn’t the wisest choice but surprising Siri help me negotiate it with no wrong turn and I arrived a Jami’s wonderful home a little after 7:00. It is always such a joy to see my son Jamie and to be greeted by his big lopey dog Cooper. We had a meet and greet session with the dogs and it went quite smoothly. We decided to order in from a Pan-asian restaurant and ended up with a not very good, extremely bland Pad Tai and a beef dish missing the vegetables we ordered.