Monday June 6, 2016
From my comfy position, propped up on pillows in the back of Charlotte, I can see the spruce and birch lined gravel road wind ahead of us with Ned, always the road warrior, driving…and driving. The ice capped mountains of Alaska have given way to the endless rolling forests of the Yukon Territory in northwest Canada. The occasional lake dots the landscape, and if I look hard enough I swear I can even see giant mosquitoes whizzing by my window. We are rolling along, heading southeast, on the beautiful, lonely, 350 mile long, Campbell Highway.
East of Ross River (where our infamous Canol Road ends), the Campbell Highway turns to smooth, graded dirt and is one of the quietest and best roads we have ever driven; in fact, last night around 9:30 (yes, the sun was still up) we pulled into a big, flat gravel area next to the road but behind some trees to camp for the night. We spent a peaceful night, got up leisurely, ate breakfast and did exercises. Ned even changed Charlotte’s oil and rotated her tires, and in all that time, not a single person drove by.
Now, back on the road, with a lot of uninterrupted miles ahead of us, this is a great time to reflect back on our trip and write this blog.
Overall, our travels through Canada and Alaska have been, not only gorgeous, but also pretty easy compared to Latin America. The countryside is so wide open that finding places to camp every night has been a breeze, and while we were consistently in bear territory, both black bears and grizzlies, we didn’t have a single close encounter. We were aware that a bear smelling food in Charlotte would be capable of tearing her doors off to get inside, so our best (honestly) preparation was to park facing outward with the key in the ignition, ready to climb in front and drive away if we were awakened by any suspicious noises. Not a single four legged (or two!) critter came sniffing, though, and every night was perfectly peaceful. There were also (unlike Latin America) plenty of opportunities to do runs and hikes, but the threat of a charging mama moose or a hungry grizzly kept us on rather short leashes, and we never did more than a few miles.
The other comparatively easy aspects of our travels north vs. south were language and drinking water. It felt odd but effortless to be talking to new friends without straining to converse in Spanish, and almost everywhere we went, the water was great out of the tap; either well, spring or filtered river water. In Latin America, English was rare and finding good drinking water (to buy) was a constant concern.
Heading to extreme northern climes in May was a bit of a risk, and while many businesses along the way were not yet opened for the season, it turned out to be wonderful for several reasons. First of all, it had been a light winter up here, so the snow was already mostly melted. Secondly, because it was so early we spent most of the time bundled up in winter clothes, which, under normal circumstances would not have been on the plus side. Obviously, we would rather have had the comfort and ease of summer clothes, but I am here to verify that every rumor you’ve ever heard about Alaska’s mosquitoes is true! It really should be their state bird. They swarmed and attacked with lightning speed, some of them nearly the size of hummingbirds (well, maybe not that big…). Winter clothes left it unnecessary to slather up with DEET, for which we were extremely grateful. Having to crawl in bed every night without a shower, covered in sticky, smelly, toxic slime would have been awful!
The final benefit of traveling through Alaska in May was that there were relatively few tourists and not many other vehicles on the roads; by the time we left Alaska in early June, the motor homes were literally pouring in.
Despite the mosquitoes, the scenery up north is absolutely stunning and well worth fighting off the pesky buzz bombers. I could go on and on about the beauty we enjoyed, and I do have lots of photos to show below, but first I want to share our biggest “takeaway” from the trip.
Alaska is rich in history, albeit a rather short one, and the many stories of settling, mining, and homesteading in such an extreme environment got me thinking of our unique American history. We heard tale after tale of brave men and women crossing massive ice fields and glaciers to reach gold claims, of rebuilding entire towns after devastating earthquakes, and of building huge railroad bridges in the middle of winter in record times.
To me, Alaskan (and even northwest Canadian) history embodies the true spirit of our entire country. From the Revolution to wagon trains; from the Wild West, gold rushes and hard working immigrants to the influence of native cultures; I can’t think of another country that can match the American experience, and it has shaped us well. We are free thinkers who cut our teeth on freedom and liberty, and unlike other countries, we have been given the priceless gift of being born into a culture ripe with individualism and a sense of self reliance. Traveling always makes me aware that taking pride in our history and keeping the stories alive for future generations is the best way to pass down our legacy of freedom and preserve our American way of life.
Now, on with our story.…follow along as we take a wildlife/glacier cruise, go dork fishing (us, not the fish), visit a historic copper mill, fly over massive ice fields with a bush pilot, and finally, suffer the worse border crossing ever…
…Speaking of individualism and free thinking…this is my favorite photo from downtown Anchorage, and yes, they do sell lots of fur hats and coats too! (And no, we didn’t buy any!)
We did spend two nights in town, doing the previous blog and taking lots of showers. Finally on the coast, we did find a lot of seafood, but it was very expensive and almost universally battered and deep fried. Seafood chowder is also a local, coastal favorite and Ned assured me it was fabulous!
From Anchorage, we drove southeast along the famous Turnagin Arm, a 45 mile waterway in the northwestern part of the Gulf of Alaska. The Arm is famous for its wild bore tides that form surf-worthy waves as incoming tide meets outgoing. We missed this particular phenomenon, but there are some fun videos on YouTube under Turnagin Arm or Bore Tide.
One of our favorite (and easy) camping hidey holes…not devoid of mosquitoes, but gorgeous.
We were heading toward the Kenai Peninsula, but got side tracked by a sign and a dirt track leading to Hope on the opposite shore of the Turnagin Arm. At this point we realized that we had plenty of time, so we went exploring.
Hope looked a little like a ghost town, but further investigation revealed that it was only in hibernation. None of the three restaurants were due to open until next week, but the owner of the funny little gift shop, Dru kept us entertained for a bit.
Playing in the crazy mud of The Arm outside of Hope…
…and then onward to beautiful Seward on the Kenai Peninsula. Once there, we got ourselves signed up for a wild life and glacier cruise for the next day, had a good meal at The Roadhouse and then went for a night hike!
It was amazing to be doing a technical, rocky hike to a glacier at 9:30 at night, but it was a great way to work off dinner!
The highlight of Exit Glacier is a graphically displayed view of how much the glaciers are receding. Beginning more than a mile below the glacier, year markers begin in the early 1900’s. The sign in the photo shows where it was in 2005. The name comes from being the exit point of the Harding Ice Field which was trekked across by settlers to access the Kenai Peninsula.
This sign showed an overview of how long the glacier had been in previous years. There was no judgment on the interpretive signs implicating whether the melting/global warming was naturally occurring or human caused.
Having spent a peaceful night parked (illegally) in the Exit Glacier parking lot, we embarked on our cruise on this lovely, brand new ship. We did share the journey with a gazillion other tourists, but it was fantastic anyway. Come along and enjoy the incredible scenery and wildlife of the Kenai Fjords National Park…
What the heck?! This mama goat was on a thousand foot sheer rock wall, just above the sea. Not really sure why she wanted to be here – except because she could!
Not a great shot, but an entire school of dolphins escorted us back to port, swimming under the boat side to side and frolicking in front of us. It was incredible to witness their speed as they easily kept up with the ship!
Entering Seward by boat…
Another beautiful camping spot outside of Seward.
From Seward we drove north to the Sterling Highway, then west and south again heading to Homer.
Sadly, these have been pretty common on the roads in southern Alaska.
So many beautiful bald eagles in Alaska!
Charlotte just can’t seem to stay away from Mexico! At the sight of this sign, she pulled straight in to this awesome restaurant in Soldotna.
Enchiladas, gooey cheese, rice and beans beat fried fish and chips any day!
Entering Homer at the very bottom of the Kenai Peninsula.
This shot was taken by our new friend from South Africa, George Ferreira, who has ridden the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay by motorcycle. His blog is: www.riding-the-usa.com.
Homer sits on the Kachemak Bay in the Cook Inlet and is famous for the Homer Spit, as seen in the photo above. The spit is naturally formed, but strong, human made sea walls have preserved it from eroding to oblivion.
The boat harbor out on The Spit.
The countryside around Homer is gorgeous. We spent a day wandering around and eventually drove to the very end of East End Road which winds through lovely, green hills, overlooks the turquoise bay and is surrounded by ice capped mountains.
East End Road ends at the beach at the bottom of an extremely steep dirt track…
…where we found a very reclusive (no photos) Russian village/ranch and lots of coal! The locals still harvest coal to burn in their home stoves.
Evidently there are several Russian Orthodox “Old Believer” villages in the area that were settled in the 1960’s. Generations before, these families had escaped religious persecution from Russia in the early 1900’s, subsequently journeying to China, South America and, finally, Alaska. We heard that they tend to stay to themselves, but we did spot a few women wearing colorful, traditional dresses.
Having just read an autobiography by the singer/songwriter, Jewel, we knew that she was raised on a modern day homestead in Homer, Alaska. We also knew that her last name was Kilcher, and that she is the granddaughter of a Swiss man named Yule, who crossed the Harding Ice field to arrive in Homer in the 1940’s. Yule homesteaded 160 acres in the hills east of Homer and raised his family of eight children without running water or electricity. Jewel, the daughter of one of Yule’s sons, Atz, was also raised without modern plumbing (we have heard that because of remoteness and harsh temperatures, many Alaskans still live with no running water and obtain electricity only via generators). Curious, we Googled the Kilcher Homestead and found two things: First, that it was located right there off of East End Road, and secondly, that the two brothers, Otz (Jewell’s dad) and Otto have a reality TV show called, Alaska, on the Discovery Channel! Of course, we had to go investigate.
Evidently we were not supposed to show up on our own without a tour bus, but one of Jewell’s cousins, Connie, was gracious enough to give us a mini tour. The homestead is now considered a living museum, and is still a working farm. Being such big TV watching fans, we have no idea what the show is all about. Connie, herself, admitted she tends to keep her distance from the cameras and other media goings on as well, but she still gave us a good impression of how life was growing up in remote Alaska in the ‘70s. (that’s 1970’s, not 1870’s!!)
We had fun wandering around the farm in its beautiful setting, and Connie invited us to use the long, steep farm road to walk down to the bay so we could get some exercise. It was a really gorgeous hike!
Walking around the touristy Homer Spit on our first day, we had spent two hours trying to talk ourselves into going deep sea fishing. Neither of us is really patient enough to be interested in fishing, and I had never even held a pole before. Many friends insisted, though, that if we were in Alaska, we HAD to go fishing! We hemmed and hawed, checked out charter companies, and found out about fish processing and shipping. We were told that a whole day charter would be nine hours…nine hours??? Really?? How about a half day?? Ok, we talked ourselves into a half day…just five hours…surely we could handle that. Our fearless leader, Captain Billy, we were assured was “amazing” and that he would take excellent care of us. We forked over $400. Uggg.
At 8:00am, perfectly refreshed from sleeping illegally (again) in the parking lot next to the harbor, we set sail. I had no idea what to expect…
Ned looks like he’s doing just fine; well maybe a little unenthusiastic.
Me? I look like an enthusiastic hog with a wrist watch, but I will share the whole tale via my raw, unedited journal notes…
5/28 Oh boy, goin’ fishing! Never done that before. Really gorgeous day, but our much vaunted Captain Billy was arrogant, unhelpful and looked like a hipster fisherman. Never even bothered to ask our names. Only 10 paying customers, but 3 of his free-riding buddies got all his attention and competed with us for room to fish.
Was kind of weird. They only had two deck hands, Ishod and Doug for all of us. I’ve never even held a fishing pole before and no one showed me. Was pretty puzzling at first. I even told them I never had and would have expected more help, but they were short handed, and our Captain was surely not going to bother with us. There was a mad scramble as poles were thrust at us. Huge chunks of “bait” were skewered on huge hooks and we were set free. I’ve heard it called combat fishing before, but we were assured by the nice folks who sold us the tickets that this was smaller and would not be like that. Sure felt that way to me! Lines kept tangling; I was constantly being told to move up or move down the deck, even with a fish on the line. “Hey, I’m fishing here, leave me alone!” So it turns out there is really no skill involved in this “sport fishing;” the first time my line fumbled out and hit bottom at 100ft (so we were told) something took hold of my line and pulled. Someone (another customer) mercifully told me to quickly flip the bale. “What? What’s a bale?” They reached over and moved a lever which stopped the line from going out more. Ok, so now I have this fish yanking on me. I couldn’t figure out how to hold the damn rod; to keep the fish from taking the whole thing in with it. AND I have to reel it in? Right. I kept pitifully looking for help from our deck hands, but they were too frantic trying to keep up. So I braced the butt of the rod on my belly; this thing must be enormous! That didn’t work; between my legs? Got it! Kind of. I started reeling. I yelled “Fish on!” like I was supposed to, but no one came. I wrestled the rod and kept reeling. Then I saw the fish! I yelled “Color!” like I was supposed to and miraculously, Ishod was there to haul the thing in. We were fishing for halibut, and I could catch one of unlimited size and one 28 inches or under. “What did I get?!!” A cod. Ok, throw it back. “Bait!” I yelled, like I was supposed to, and somehow a hunk of fish ended up on my hook. Well, I’m a pro now. Flip the bale, thumb on the line to keep it from tangling, wait till it goes slack having hit bottom; bale goes back. Wham! Another fish! Ok, reel away. Whew, is this hard. It must be a monster! Captain “I’m too cool to really help” Billy tells me to move again. Really? I have a fish here! But this time I’ve moved up to where I can brace my back against the cabin of the boat, put the rod between my thighs and calmly reel away. “Color!” (I hadn’t bothered with the “fish on”). Doug pulled my fish in and this time it was a halibut! A 28 incher! I had my small one. On to the big one. Bait on. Line in. I had a real rhythm going. Fish on. Now Mr. Bossy boots tells me to move back to where I can’t brace my back. No way. I’m not going. Wrestle the fish. Another cod! But a big one this time. Ok, I’ll keep it. That’s pretty good eating, right? We’re already going to be shipping fish home, right? I am such a good fisher now that I’m catching fish every time I drop my line. I had the deck hands throw back fish after fish, looking for “the big one.” Kept getting 25-27 inchers. Are there really bigger fish down there? How long do I keep trying before I cave in and settle for a second small one? Oh, we have another hour and a half to keep fishing? Game on! Several more small halibuts, then another big cod. Keep that. But where is my BIG halibut? Ned already threw in the towel having gotten a 28″ and a 27”. He just wasn’t groovin’ with the whole thing and was “over it.” Me, no, I’m not tired! Another hour to fish? Bring it on! 10 minutes later my body said “no friggin’ way.” All in all I think I caught 12 fish. My arms were jellied, numb and useless and my back ached like there was a fish hook in it. I “settled” for a 26 incher and gave up my pole. We watched a few other intrepid fishers finish and then the time was up. We weighed anchor and took off back to the harbor, watching, fascinated, as Ishod and Doug (Ishod anyway) quickly and efficiently cleaned and filleted all of our fish. An hour and a half later we were handed our 3 bundles of fish; one for our dinner tonight (1 fillet and 4 “cheeks”) another of halibut and the third of cod. We tipped Ishod $20 as she was clearly the one who worked the hardest, was most helpful and who bothered to learn our names. We then proudly (exhaustedly) marched our fish to the processing folks, asking them to freeze it and hold it till we got home in a month. Dinner went into Charlotte’s fridge. We had survived fishing.
All in all we brought home four halibut and two cod, but my arms were too tired to hold mine up!
A fabulous reward! Captain Sally’s, a restaurant on The Spit, cooked up our own “fresh catch,” and we hungrily wolfed down über fresh halibut…yummm!
Leaving Homer and the Kenai Peninsula, we drove back past Anchorage then eastward along the Glenn Highway. Our next jaunt was a 94 mile dirt side road off of the Richardson Highway which took us to Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park (the largest national park in the country at 13 million acres) and the Kennecott Copper Mill.
This steel bridge was built in 1911 as part of the Copper River & Northwest Railway and would serve the Kennecott copper mines and mill from 1911 to 1938. The railway, the CR&NW was nicknamed “Can’t Run & Never Will” by skeptics. Despite incredible challenges, including mid-winter construction, the railway was completed in just five years. Built over raging rivers, sheer cliffs, frozen ground and even ice fields by a team of 6,000 tough-as-nails men, the railway was said to be a feat of amazing engineering skill and astounding perseverance and determination.
This is a quote from the placard in front of this bridge:
“By November the teams reached the vertical walls and raging waters of the Kaskulana River gorge. The weather was brutal, but they refused to wait for summer. Crossing the Kaskulana mid-winter could prove to be one of the greatest challenges of the “impossible” northern railway. Although temperatures dropped to -54 degrees, with true Alaskan spirit, the men bundled up and continued to toil above the canyon through long, cold hours of darkness (remember it’s dark all day in the winter), their work lit by the glow of acetylene torches. Amazingly, construction of this bridge through the bitter cold and darkness took only two months, but this, engineers estimated, was twice the time it would have taken if it had been constructed in the ease of summer.”
Another bridge on the CR&NR, this one wooden, was built to strategically “collapse” during the worse weather so that it could be more easily repaired.
The 94 mile dirt Edgerton Highway ends at a footbridge almost a mile before the town of McCarthy. Evidently, the automobile bridge was built by a private land owner who charges the few residents of McCarthy an annual fee to use the bridge. We tourists are reduced to walking or taking a $5 shuttle. We chose to walk of course!
We did pay the $5 fee to take a shuttle five miles up to the historic Kennecott Mill where we also paid for a mill tour.
This scene along the shuttle ride is actually a dirt encrusted glacier called a moraine. It’s hard to believe that is all ice under there!
The Kennecott Mill is where the copper ore from the surrounding mines was crushed and separated. It operated from 1911 to 1938.
The mill is the largest wooden structure in Alaska.
Can’t keep Ned away from machinery.
The mill’s power plant could be run by coal, wood or oil.
After a nice pub dinner at the Golden Saloon in McCarthy, we spent a quiet night camping back on the other side of the footbridge. The next day we fulfilled our final, must-do Alaskan tourist adventure, we went flying!
Kelly was a thirty-five year veteran of Alaska bush flying and was also the owner of the company, Wrangell Mountain Air. The only reason we were able to fly with this amazing pilot was that, being early in the season, his hired pilots had not yet arrived. The only pilots available were Kelly and his wife, Natalie; another perk for visiting Alaska in May!
Bush flying has a long and illustrious history in Alaska; very few roads means that small aircraft are a must for reaching the many homes and small villages forsaken (for good reason!) by Alaska DOT.
Come along now and enjoy the incredible scenery as seen from our four-seat Cessna 172…
Another rock encrusted glacier.
A confluence of two glaciers!
Coming in for a dirt landing.
An incredible hour!
From the McCarthy cutoff, back on the Richardson Highway, we drove south to the town of Valdez, famous in recent years for two things: It’s the terminus for the Alaska Pipeline where all that oil flowing from the fields at Prudhoe Bay gets loaded onto tankers; and it served as Command Central for the giant oil spill from the tanker Exxon Valdez in 1989.
Valdez can boast a gorgeous setting, surrounded by ice covered crags and a beautiful harbor, but it’s really all about the harbor and boat based tourism on Prince William Sound. The town itself, having been hastily relocated and rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1964, lacks any kind of quaintness…
…but has one of the best museums we have visited. From native artifacts to the oil spill, gold mining, earthquake and pipeline, this was a wonderful representation of all things Alaskan.
Above are waterproof Alutilq parkas made of bear and sea mammal intestines.
This intricate, glass lens crowned the area’s first lighthouse.
A piece of the hull from the tanker, Exxon Valdez, which was navigated onto a reef due to human error. Note the long scrape mark from the rocks.
Depending on whose stats you believe, 11 to 38 million barrels of oil were spilled on March 24th, 1989. While we could not see visible signs of the oil disaster in the harbor, we learned that much of the coastal environment, including several marine species, is still struggling to recover twenty seven years later.
This was the very first barrel of oil to be transported 800 miles from the fields of Prudhoe Bay to Valdez in 1977; but not by pipeline…
…by a dogsled team!
The story of the 1964 earthquake was a moving one. 30 people lost their lives in the 9.2 magnitude quake, and the entire town, having been built on loose soil close to shore was leveled, much of it buried in mud. Valdez was rebuilt several miles southwest in a new, safer location. We had heard similar stories from all the towns we visited on the Kenai Peninsula.
Hmmm, I guess they won’t let us go see the end of the pipeline!
The gorgeous Thompson Pass out of Valdez.
From here we headed back northeast towards the Top of the World highway and the Canadian border.
Last stop in Alaska was Chicken.
Ned’s been telling me about Chicken, Alaska since we first met. From the stories I’ve heard told by him and good friend, Rick Pewe, the two of them were returning south in a 1943 military Jeep and spent a rollicking night in the Chicken Saloon…subsequently spending the night passed out in the dirt outside!
Chicken is a tiny hamlet 40 miles west of the Canadian border and 100 miles west of the Canadian town of Dawson City.
There is no running water; outhouses only, electricity by generators, and drinking water filtered and pumped up from the river. It turns out that in Alaska, the severe cold makes septic tanks unusable and wells rarely continue producing.
Chicken has around fifty summer residents, but only three brave souls who stay year round.
Robin, the Postmaster and ambulance driver is one of the three full time folks. She came to the area 34 years ago when she moved into her new husband’s 13x15ft log cabin, which was his old family home. It was 40 something miles outside Chicken, had no plumbing, no electricity, and was heated by a wood stove. Chicken is also far enough north to boast all day sunshine in the summer and all day darkness in the winter. Robin and her husband raised two daughters in that 13x15ft cabin; they were home schooled, but Robin claims that her daughters eventually got the packets and schooled themselves. Robin is blind in her left eye and jokes that she’s blind on one side and blonde on the other. Seriously though, she raised two very bright daughters, both of whom are now getting their PhD’s; one in New York City, the other in Paris.
It had been raining off and on for the last few days, but had just let up. We spent several leisurely hours chatting with Robin outside her post office.
Robin’s “pet” Grosbeak.
Robin also told us about a nice hike down to the river. The exercise felt great, the views were lovely, but the mosquitoes were vicious; we ran and hiked very fast! Unfortunately, we also got very sweaty and there would be no showers in Chicken. Our last ones had been in Homer, after fishing, six days ago and we were pretty ripe. It would have just have to wait until Dawson City.
Alaskan humor from the Chicken gift shop.
Another great sticker now adorning Charlotte’s refrigerator says, “There is not a single mosquito in Chicken; they’ve all grown up, gotten married and raised large families!”
Of course, we had to visit the infamous Chicken Saloon where we met Mark from Edinburgh, Scotland. In the time it took us to put down two IPA’s each, Mark had swallowed four Bud Lights and four rum and cokes – and looked no worse for wear! We enjoyed the company of Mark, several other travelers from various places and the bartender, Max, whose mother, Susan, owns the place. Max lives in Paris during the long Alaskan winters while Susan hangs out in southern Nevada! She would like to move to northern Nevada (!) fulltime if she could find a buyer for the bar, restaurant and gift shop. Any takers?
Yes, those are panties, hats and miscellaneous other personal items decorating the saloon.
We spent our final night in Alaska down by the Chicken River, ate breakfast in the Chicken Café with our new buddy Mark and then headed off to the Canadian border to begin our long trek home. Having passed into Canada twice already, we never suspected that we’d have any trouble…
The nice young woman at the border grilled us in the normal Canadian manner: What do you do for work? What did you used to do? Do you own any fire arms? How many? What kind? What are you bringing into Canada? Etc, etc. We took off our sunglasses, answered and smiled like we always do at border crossings. She took our passports, saying she was going to do a passport check. Ok, fine. Then we waited…and waited…and waited. Ergggghh. What’s the problem?! The woman finally arrived back at Ned’s window, but without the passports! Uh oh. What’s happening? She sternly explained that we were to get out of the car…only one at a time! We were going to be interrogated! My stomach did a flip flop. In my worse imaginings of third world borders I would be separated from Ned, but I never was, and I never thought it would happen in Canada!! I waited anxiously in the car while Ned was interrogated. I couldn’t see them, but I could barely make out the conversation through Ned’s open window. I heard her ask him to empty his pockets and she took his pocket knife. She had him lift his pant legs. Ned asked sarcastically if she was going to do a cavity search (it turned out that she had donned rubber gloves!) She said no, they don’t do that. Next, she asked him if he did drugs. When he said no, she asked if he’d ever done drugs. He said, “Yes, but over 20 years ago.” “What kind of drugs?” Now she explained that they were going to be looking for drugs, searching our van thoroughly. “I will swab it, and even drugs from years ago will show up.” Then her face contorted angrily (according to Ned) and she stabbed out, “Are you ready to change your answer about doing drugs?!” “I told you it was 20 years ago!” She let it go and told him to wait inside their office.
By then my butterflies were really flopping around. It’s not that we have anything to hide, I just don’t like authority figures and I hate it when someone exerts power over me. Besides, being separated from Ned was excessive and unnecessary. By the time she came around to my window and asked me to step over to the interrogation table I was practically shaking in my boots. She asked if I had anything in my pockets. I gave her an incredulous look (I was in yoga pants and a pullover shirt). “I, uh, don’t have any pockets.” She almost cracked a smile, but moved quickly on to the drug questions. I said I didn’t do them. She asked, “EVER?!” I shrugged and answered “Yeah, when I was a teenager!” She got that smug, “I knew it” look. Finally giving it up, she started the whole spiel about how they were going to search the van. I interrupted her and said, “Look, (I out aged her by about 30 years) why don’t you quit talking about it and go look at the van?!” I turned and walked to Charlotte. She reached out to stop me from opening the sliding door myself, but I told her it was tricky and that I would do it. She actually acquiesced! I opened it and she started her search, but not before I told her to be respectful, that it was my home and asked if her shoes were clean. Right about the same time Ned lost patience with being sequestered (neither of us is any good at doing what we’re told). He got out saying that if they were going to search our home he was going to watch over it. That’s when I noticed the “they” part. A big, dark haired, bearded (t-word looking) guy appeared, telling Ned to settle down and go stand way over in front of the van. Ned angrily answered that they were profiling us (in the time we had been detained, they had let a Prius AND the boozy Scotsman, Mark, in his Ford VAN through with absolutely no questions). After some in-the-face arguing, Ned finally stood where they told him to. The guy looked very serious and threatening, but by now we were both just plain pissed. The woman told me to go stand next to Ned. I told them both that they were being disrespectful. Mr.Tough Guy turned to me, replying that it was not their intention to be disrespectful. I retorted, “It sure feels that way. Of all the border crossings we have done, even in Central America, this is the most we’ve ever been personally hassled.” I also said that I never expected Canada to be so inhospitable. In the end, the woman only did a very cursory inspection of Charlotte. By now Mr. Tough Guy had become Mr. Congeniality and was relaxed, explaining that they have had a surge in cocaine smuggling through Alaska, the drugs having been brought in by boat on remote shores (this remote, northern border had just opened for the season, so we imagine they had just gotten the big pep talk). The woman ended up joining our little group (we were all buds now), and both guards were being respectful. We are all on the same side after all, right?! We chatted a while more (it’s a sleepy border) and off we went; rattled, but never cowed!
Oh ye fellow travelers, beware the Canadian border…if you’re in a VW van and your man wears a pony tail!
The Top of the World highway looks pretty much like the top of the world, but it’s only 4,000 feet elevation; beautiful, wide open tundra and rolling hills.
We crossed the free ferry over the Yukon River and into the fun, historic town of Dawson City where we spent two nights in a cute cabin, ate lots of good food and listened to live music (at midnight!).
We hit the road again around noon on June 5th; our next goal…Edmonton, Alberta, Canada to visit our friends, Bryan and Debbi, a whopping 1,500 mile drive!
Our travels north have been wonderful, and it feels great to have completed our exploration of the Americas. We are signing off for now, but stay tuned for more adventures! Not sure where we will end up next. As usual, we have no concrete plans, just a few vague murmurings about Europe or Australia and New Zealand. We’ll keep you posted!
Thank you all for your continued support. It’s always fun to have you along!
Kat and Ned