Category Archives: Travel

Road Trip – 21/06/20 We Head South Across the Alaska Range

Prior post: http://blog.bucksvsbytes.com/2021/07/30/road-trip-21-06-19-arctic-weather-forecast-changes-our-route/

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Thanks to the sun merely dipping below the northern horizon, last night’s Birch Lake sunset has morphed into an equally beautiful sunrise. Our roadside snooze was only 5 hours long. In Alaska, no one sleeps much during the long summer days, which is not to say that doesn’t take its toll on the body.

Long Alaska days mean sleep deficits
Long Alaska days mean sleep deficits
Sunrise at Birch Lake, Alaska
Sunrise at Birch Lake, Alaska

As we crawl out of the van, we’re greeted by the cheerful song of an Alaska robin…

Robin early AM at Birch Lake, Alaska
Robin early AM at Birch Lake, Alaska

…and a patch of blooming wildflowers.

Morning wildflowers, Birch Lake
Morning wildflowers, Birch Lake

As we resume driving, the road converges again with the Tanana River, affording us a view to the south of the Alaska Range. 20,000 foot Mt Denali lies 200 miles to the west along the arcing spine of the range but we’re seeing more “modest” peaks, rising only to about 12,000 feet. We plan to cross those mountains through a low pass later today.

Eastern Alaska Range across the Tanana River
Eastern Alaska Range across the Tanana River

Dawdling along down the Richardson Highway, we take the time to explore a side road to Quartz Lake. Here, Susan gets the first of many views to come of the Trans Alaska Pipeline, which has been paralleling our route between Fairbanks and Valdez, its terminus.

Susan's first view of the Trans Alaska Pipeline
Susan’s first view of the Trans Alaska Pipeline

She also gets her first glimpse of an Alaska moose as it slips into the forest at our approach.

Cow moose seeking privacy, Quartz Lake, Aaska
Cow moose seeking privacy, Quartz Lake, Aaska

Shortly thereafter, we reach the big bridge across the Tanana River with its adjacent span carrying the pipeline across.

Paired bridges, highway and pipeline, acros the Tanana River
Paired bridges, highway and pipeline, acros the Tanana River

The Tanana is high volume, swiftly flowing, opaquely silty, and very cold thanks to its glacial meltwater origins. Standing too close to the water is likely fatal if the mudbank under your feet should collapse at the wrong moment. I’m always conscious of that in this situation and I explain the danger to Susan, too.

Heed the Tanana River safety warning!
Heed the Tanana River safety warning!

The Richardson Highway was the first route suitable for wagons, and then trucks, to bring goods into interior Alaska from ocean ports. It started out as 400 mile pack trail to the gold fields in Eagle, Alaska and by 1910 the US Army upgraded it to a wagon road connecting Valdez and Fairbanks, Because the trip was slow and arduous at first, a substantial number of roadhouses were established to supply food and shelter on the long journey.

One of these is Rika’s Roadhouse, preserved in the Big Delta State Historical Park here along the shoreline. Until the first bridge across the Tanana River was built in the 1940s, the Richardson Highway required a ferry crossing here, making the riverbank a lucrative place for a roadhouse. Rika Wallen was the last operator and when Rika’s closed around 1950, she continued to live there until her death in 1969. Due to the short time span, the property was relatively easy to preserve and restore as an historical attraction ten years later.

Rika's Roadhouse
Rika’s Roadhouse

Today, you can tour buildings, grounds, and artifacts in an environment somewhat similar to the active roadhouse days. We’re here early in the morning, so the buildings are closed and the park deserted, but walking the grounds and reading the interpretive signs, you can really imagine how it was.

Old truck at Rika's Roadhouse
Old truck at Rika’s Roadhouse

An interesting episode occurred starting in 1935. The only competing route to Fairbanks was the federal railroad from Seward. By that year, trucking up the Richardson was substantially faster and cheaper, so the railroad was losing a lot of money. To compensate, the feds instituted fees per ton for the highway. Truckers refused to pay, so the fees were collected as the ferry fare. This caused the truckers to use the ferry without permission. After some years of this, a US Marshal traveled to the Tanana in 1940 and arrested 14 men. While they were in court, other truckers took away the shotgun of the marshal left to guard the ferry, locked him in the scale house, and transferred 10 loads of cargo across the river. When done, they released the marshal and his firearm. The sympathies of Fairbanksans were clearly on the side of the truckers — a grand jury refused to indict the marshal’s captors and a trial jury found the first 14 truckers not guilty. In 1941, the truckers built and operated their own “pirate” ferry to avoid the tolls. The government then built a toll gate 12 miles north of the river to collect tolls there. Truckers pulled down the gate! Some of that same renegade spirit is still evident today.

As the highway improved, cutting the travel time to Fairbanks from nine days or more to just two, most of the roadhouses were no longer needed and went out of business or tried to cater to tourists.

Leaving Rika’s, we’re really getting hungry so we stop at the IGA market in Delta Junction and find good pastries for sale at their coffee counter. While eating at their outdoor picnic table, we strike up a conversation with another coffee drinker who turns out to be a Swiss glaciologist who’s spent years in Alaska researching the mechanics of glacial flow. Almost everyone you encounter in Alaska has an interesting story of some sort.

Chance breakfast with a Swiss glaciologist, Delta Junction, Alaska
Chance breakfast with a Swiss glaciologist, Delta Junction, Alaska

So far we’ve been heading toward the Canadian border, but now we turn due south toward Valdez. This is one of my favorite Alaska highways (the state only has about a dozen major ones) and I drove it many times in the old days. We’ve been paralleling the Alaska Range but now we head straight for it. Shortly after the turnoff, we pass Fort Greely. Founded in 1942 shortly after completion of the Alcan Highway, its airfield was one of a series along that road used to shuttle military aircraft and supplies to the far east of the Soviet Union (USSR). The Russians were our allies against the German and Japanese in World War II.

With the war over and the Cold War with the USSR taking shape, the military understood that it was vital to develop cold weather combat capability. Situated in one of coldest, road-accessible areas in wintertime Alaska, Fort Greely was designated in 1946 as the center for testing polar combat techniques and equipment. This testing and training continues through the present day. Now, it may come to prominence again as a site for the new generation of missile interceptor missiles designed to counter North Korea’s advancing ballistic missile technology.

We can’t visit the base of course so we pass the entrance on our left, heading up the broad, glacial Delta River valley. The Trans Alaska Pipeline is frequently in view from the highway and crosses it periodically.

Trans Alaska Pipeline heading for the Alaska Range
Trans Alaska Pipeline heading for the Alaska Range

With the distant snow capped Alaska Range becoming more dramatic as we approach, we pass Donnelly Dome, a free standing hill along the highway. This was the scene of a memorable, actually notorious, 1976 camping trip. After driving 300 miles from Anchorage to camp for the weekend without facilities, we discovered I had packed everything we needed — except the sleeping bags. We had a very makeshift couple of nights staying warm in the tent and I never lived down the embarrassment.

Donnelly Dome, south of Delta Junction, Alaska
Donnelly Dome, south of Delta Junction, Alaska
Approaching the Alaska Range along the Richardson Highway
Approaching the Alaska Range along the Richardson Highway

At one pullout, formerly (for reasons I’m about to explain) signed as “Black Rapids Glacier” we turn off to a view eastward across the broad north-south Delta valley to an almost as broad one issuing westward out of the mountains. This valley was formerly filled by the Black Rapids Glacier, a surge-type that periodically moves up to 100 times faster than its normal “glacial” (get it?) pace. In 1936-37, it moved so fast that it garnered the nickname the Galloping Glacier and there were fears it might advance far enough to dam the Delta River and flood the main valley to the south causing substantial disruption. In my Alaska days, it was no longer advancing but was very prominent from this viewpoint.

Valley that used to filled with the Black Rapids Glacier
Valley that used to filled with the Black Rapids Glacier

For those unfamiliar with glacial dynamics, some explanation might be of interest. At any rate, interested or not, you’re getting it: All glaciers are rivers of ice. They flow down hill at very slow speeds, similar to water rivers but thousands or millions of times more slowly. If a glacier goes over a rock cliff, it forms an icefall instead of a waterfall. If its valley turns a corner, a circular flow may form, just as an eddy can form at a river bend.

A big difference between glaciers and rivers is the type of landscape they create. A river, relative to its valley, is basically a thin thread. Flowing water is a powerfully erosive force so it carves its valley more or less vertically downward in a single line. Rivers form V-shaped valleys. I’ll skip explaining why they’re usually Vs instead of simple vertical canyons.

A glacier, by contrast, fills its valley with ice. As it flows downhill that massive, slow moving mass grinds away at the sides and bottom of its valley, picking up gravel and plucking giant rocks from the bedrock. This material gives the glacier even more erosive power.

Glaciers carve large U-shaped valleys because they’re very efficient at quickly scouring large amounts of rock simultaneously from both sides and the bottom of the valley.

So if all glaciers flow downhill, what is this talk of “glacial retreat”? It’s simple to understand once you realize that what’s retreating is the face of the glacier, not the glacier itself. Near the top, where snowfall is heavy and temperatures average well below 32 F, far more ice forms than melts every year. The weight of this ice forces the glacier to flow downhill.

But every glacier, even those in Antarctica, eventually gets down to an elevation where the weather is warm enough to melt more ice than arrives from uphill. At any given time there’s a point where exactly as much ice is melting as is arriving from above. That is where the face of the glacier forms. If conditions don’t change, the glacier is still flowing downhill but the face stays right where it is.

Now, suppose the average weather along the glacier is warming over the years, as we’ve been seeing in many parts of the world since the Industrial Revolution. Warmer weather down low can dramatically increase melting. If the weather up top does not supply additional ice, or supplies less than before, the lower glacier melts faster than can be replaced and the face retreats up the valley. — even though the ice is always moving downhill.

If the weather warms enough so the face retreats to the very top of the glacier, poof — no more glacier!

Black Rapids glacier could some day start surging again, but the warming climate would likely offset that surge with increased melting. Since I last saw it in 1983, the face of the glacier has receded several miles up from the valley mouth and around a bend and is no longer visible at all from the road.

OK. End of lecture.

At the viewpoint, we meet a couple where the husband is an Alaska Native and the wife a Floridian. They flew up on vacation and are paying the horrific rental rate on one of the new RVs I saw being shuttled up the Alaska Highway a week ago. It’s their only option, since rental cars are in very short supply, and thus very expensive, after companies sold off much of their fleets during the Covid lockdowns. It makes me very glad I managed to get my van up here through Canada despite the border closure.

Couple on an RV vacation, Black Rapids Glacier
Couple on an RV vacation, Black Rapids Glacier

We’re now approaching Isabel Pass through the Alaska Range. Although the pass is at a modest 3,300 feet elevation, the road runs above treeline for about 80 miles. This far north, 1000 feet of elevation yields a substantially different climate. Frigid temperatures, drifting snow, and isolation can make this stretch of highway particularly dangerous in winter despite heroic levels of plowing.

Careless RV driver near Isabel Pass, Alaska
Careless RV driver near Isabel Pass, Alaska

On the other side of the pass are Summit and Paxson Lakes, popular summer boating and winter snowmachining recreation areas.

Above the treeline at 2200 feet, SUmmit Lake, Alaska
Above the treeline at 2200 feet, SUmmit Lake, Alaska

Finally, we descend back below treeline as we drop down toward the Gakona River. Here we pass one of my favorite roadside stops, the historic Sourdough Roadhouse. When I lived in Alaska, they offered all you can eat sourdough pancakes, all day long. This is where I learned to appreciate sourdough cookery. On several occasions I drove up to 70 miles out of my way to chow down at the roadhouse. Forty years later, to my disappointment, although the “Sourdough Roadhouse” sign is still displayed, the building is clearly a private residence.

Nothing functional left of this historic roadhouse except the sign
Nothing functional left of this historic roadhouse except the sign

A further 30 minutes brings us to the small junction town of Glenallen, where we can turn right for Anchorage — not today — or straight on to Valdez, which is a 120 mile dead end unless you put your vehicle on an Alaska Marine Highway ferry. Susan finds a Thai restaurant in Glenallen and that means a mandatory stop for Thai iced coffee. I don’t get why it’s so special, except for the high price, because it seems to just be coffee, evaporated milk, and sugar. I can do that at home but Susan is surprised and happy to have found it in rural Alaska. We’ll be coming through here numerous times this summer and I joke that she’ll be recognized as a regular and just order “the usual”.

We start down the road toward Valdez, but first I have a special side trip in mind. 90 miles to the east of the highway lies McCarthy, a tiny town adjacent to the immense but long abandoned Kennecott Copper Mine. For reasons I’ll explain in the next post, I never visited McCarthy when I lived in Alaska. This is my chance.

The first step is to drive the Edgerton Highway, 33 miles of now modern road that ends in Chitina, a native village and former railroad town. We turn off the Richardson Highway and proceed east. The first portion is the original alignment which has been bypassed by a newer paved road. It’s raining rather heavily, so the unpaved version we’re on is quite muddy but not a problem with careful driving. Rejoining the paved version, we move along uneventfully through typical forest terrain. We should be seeing views of the very dramatic Wrangell Mountains to the north, but the rainy weather precludes those.

Although we’ve only covered 260 miles today, we’ve dawdled and gawked and been distracted by the wildly varied scenery, so it’s time to sleep for a while. Just when we decide that, we happen on Liberty Falls campground. It’s namesake falls are gushing out of a bedrock slot, dropping about 20 feet with the flow divided in two by a large outcrop that hasn’t yet succumbed to the falls’ erosive power. It’s very picturesque and powerful so we wander around to various perspectives and appreciate the scene. There’s a campground here but since we’re sleeping in the van there isn’t much point to paying the fee.

Liberty Falls along the Edgerton Highway, Alaska
Liberty Falls along the Edgerton Highway, Alaska

After an hour or so, we proceed a few miles along the highway and find a secluded road stub that gets us out of sight of the pavement. Here we work quickly to get ready to sleep, but still allowing a hundred or so mosquitoes to join us by the time the doors close for the night. The first half hour is spent watching and listening for the little buggers so we can slap them down before being bitten all night long. Success largely achieved, we get some rest, waking only occasionally when the dread hum of a remaining mosquito buzzing our eardrum strikes momentary terror and foul language as a further effort to squash the intruder ensues.

Road Trip – 21/06/19 Arctic Weather Forecast Changes Our Route

Prior post: http://blog.bucksvsbytes.com/2021/07/28/road-trip-21-06-19-together-again-susan-flies-in-to-fairbanks/

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I’m up by 8:30 at Billie’s Backpacker Hostel to prep my buckwheat sourdough pancake breakfast for everyone while Susan sleeps off her jet lag. I had promised a 9 AM breakfast, but after yesterday’s late evening, I’m going to miss that by an hour or so. I mixed up a mess of sourdough starter yesterday and this morning it’s suitably bubbly and foul smelling so I add all the requisite ingredients to make the batter. I have no idea how many people will be eating and how big their appetites will be so I just pick an arbitrary amount and hope it will be about right.

Susan appears at about 10, just as I’m finishing up cooking all the pancakes. Dee, another hostel guest, has contributed maple syrup and fresh blueberries, so breakfast is quite a feast. About 8 of us enjoy pancakes as early departers and late risers miss out.

Susan really gets into the social life of the hostel and we spend the morning talking to travelers of all kinds. We’d gladly stay another night but Billie is booked solid and can’t squeeze us in anywhere. She does offer to let us use the house if we choose to sleep in the van out front, but in any case, we have to vacate our room.

Billie's Backpacker Hostel
Billie’s Backpacker Hostel

Today is the Summer Solstice Celebration, in the form of a street fair in downtown Fairbanks. All packed up, we head there in early afternoon. It’s several blocks of vendors, music, and performers.

Everyone is in a good mood, free of oppressive safety measures and intense social distancing. Fairbanks still has its share of outlandish characters so there’s a sprinkling of quirky outfits among the revelers.

Fairbanks summer solstice street fair. You don't need an occasion to dress up.
Fairbanks summer solstice street fair. You don’t need an occasion to dress up.
Fairbanks summer solstice street fair. There's only a short season here for exposed skin.
Fairbanks summer solstice street fair. There’s only a short season here for exposed skin.

Overall, Alaskans were vaccinated early, although there are a lot of anti-vax assholes screwing it up for everyone. Those of us who are now protected are no longer wearing masks, along with an unknown number of the unvaccinated.

I call my friend Will to arrange a get together and he says he’ll join us shortly at the fair. There’s plenty of street food for sale, along with clothing, art, and useless junk.

Fairbanks Summer Solstice street fair vendor. Give a diabetic enough rope...
Fairbanks Summer Solstice street fair vendor. Give a diabetic enough rope…
Fairbanks Summer Solstice street fair vendor.
Fairbanks Summer Solstice street fair vendor.

At the performance area, we see that Fairbanks is generating acrobats. A variety of young women successively display their skills holding on to suspended aerial rings and silks. I wouldn’t have guessed that pool of talent existed in the far north.

Acrobat on a suspended sash.
Acrobat on a suspended sash.
Acrobat on a suspended sash.
Acrobat on a suspended sash.

Will arrives during the performance and we spend the next several hours together. We have 40 years to catch up on and Susan is meeting him for the first time.

John Gunther and WIll Schendel in Fairbanks, 40 years after last contact
John Gunther and WIll Schendel in Fairbanks, 40 years since last contact

After the acrobats, the stage is given over to belly dancers. About half a dozen women do their routines, some with swords. By virtue of having all their extremities intact, it’s obvious they put a lot of time into rehearsals. Well maybe not — one woman did dance with her arm in a sling.

Fairbanks belly dancers looking sharp.
Fairbanks belly dancers looking sharp.

With the shows over, the three of us buy some street food and then retreat a few blocks away to the quieter surroundings of an indoor/outdoor bar to continue our conversation.

Fairbanks Summer Solstice Street Fair. Where else can you by Mock and Cock?
Fairbanks Summer Solstice Street Fair. Where else can you by Mock and Cock?

Despite being the second largest city in Alaska, Fairbanks is a small town so we’re coincidentally joined by one of the hostel guests, a young Utah woman visiting Alaska for the first time, solo. Will is a lawyer who spent many years representing workers in employment matters. He started out in Fairbanks as a legal aid attorney, so most of his career has been spent on the white hat side of law. He’s heavily into music, with weekly sessions of up to 25 people at his home where non-playing audience is strictly excluded — musicians only.

Our final activity is back at the street fair music venue to hear friends of Will perform jazz in front of the crowd.

Jazz duet at street fair.
Jazz duet at street fair.

At the end of the set, we part company with Will and start working our way back to the van. As we pass the other music stage, there’s an energetic rock group blasting away. Atypically, they have a female drummer.

Rock band at the Fairbanks street fair.

Downtown Fairbanks is still fairly recognizable from its 1980s appearance although virtually all the old businesses have been replaced. Notably there’s still a hanging sign for Tommy’s Elbow Room, a legendary 1970s hangout for construction workers on their week off during construction of the Alyeska Pipeline. Many a worker arrived in Fairbanks on a Friday with a couple of thousand dollars in their pocket and found themselves busted flat by Monday morning, sometimes happy, sometimes rueful, and sometimes blank as to how the weekend transpired. The site hasn’t been a bar since 2003 but the sign lives on, albeit with “Tommy’s” thoroughly whited out.

Tommy's Elbow Room bar is long gone but the sign lives on.
Tommy’s Elbow Room bar is long gone but the sign lives on.

There’s a lot of street art in town, mostly in the form of colorful murals. During the long dark winter, these help preserve people’s sanity.

Susan strikes up a conversation with an Alaska Native who’s bought a piece of local art as a birthday gift for his son.

Alaska Native gentleman showing off his gift purchase.
Alaska Native gentleman showing off his gift purchase.

Leaving downtown, and with Billie’s Hostel unavailable to us, we decide to head north on a long journey up the Dalton Highway (formerly the pipeline haul road). It’s the only vehicle access to the Brooks Range, an impressively austere line of mountains stretching all across Alaska above the Arctic Circle. As we’re gassing up the van, we take a thorough look at the arctic weather forecast and see that rain and clouds are all that’s expected for the next 10 days, with temperatures down to 35 F. Upon consideration, we postpone that trip for later in the summer and, instead, decide to head south along the Richardson Highway to Valdez.

The first leg heads southeast out of Fairbanks toward Delta Junction. I drove this same road three days ago to get here, so this is a partial backtrack for me but brand new for Susan. 25 minutes out of town, we pass North Pole, Alaska (its official name).

North Pole, named by its developer in 1952 in hopes of attracting a toy manufacturer to site there, was famous for many years by virtue of a single enterprise. Merchant and fur buyer Con Miller would arrive in remote villages wearing a Santa suit at Christmas time. When North Pole was being formed, he and wife Nellie built a trading post there which they named Santa Claus House. With its incorporated postal station, Santa Claus House served as the community center for the new village. When the Richardson Highway was improved in the 1970s and tourists travel increased, Con and Nellie started carrying Christmas products all year. With increasing notoriety, Santa Claus House gradually lived fully up to its name, attracting busloads of visitors each day. Offspring of the Millers still operate the store.

Santa Claus House, North Pole, Alaska -- over 50 years of Christmas kitsch.
Santa Claus House, North Pole, Alaska — over 50 years of Christmas kitsch.

Although it’s closed when we arrive (in the daylight) at 9 PM, Susan gets to see the exterior, along with the adjacent 42 foot Santa statue. She’s determined to return at a later time to buy gifts.

42 foot Santa statue, North Pole, Alaska. That would put the fear of Christmas in me. Is that an evil clown under the suit and beard?
42 foot Santa statue, North Pole, Alaska. That would put the fear of Christmas in me. Is that an evil clown under the suit and beard?

Proceeding a bit further, we take a side trip up to Chena Lake Recreation Area. Fairbanks, situated along the banks of the Chena River used to suffer serious floods in some years. A large project was conceived to construct a new channel upstream to divert flood waters across a drainage divide directly into the Tanana River, thus sparing the city. The recreation area is a byproduct of that project. We pull into a parking lot to walk along the Chena at about 10 PM (not dark, remember?). We do manage it, but the mosquitos are so plentiful that we abbreviate our stroll to avoid excessive blood loss.

The placid Chena River can also be an angry torrent.
The placid Chena River can also be an angry torrent.
Birch forest along the Chena River.
Birch forest along the Chena River.
Holding the pose is secondary to swatting the mosquitoes.
Holding the pose is secondary to swatting the mosquitoes.

Proceeding southeast, we pass a shop whose front yard boasts a typical Alaskan art display, chain saw burl art. Burls are the rounded growths that sometimes appear on tree trunks. They’re prized as the basis for wood sculptures.

The Knotty Shop. Burl mosquito.
The Knotty Shop. Burl mosquito.
The Knotty Shop. Burl bison.
The Knotty Shop. Burl bison.
The Knotty Shop. This a little too burly for me,
The Knotty Shop. This a little too burly for me,

As midnight approaches, we decide it’s time to rest so we park in a pullout along Birch Lake and crawl onto our comfortable airbed to the accompaniment of the extended subarctic summer sunset.

Sunset at midnight over Birch Lake, Alaska
Sunset at midnight over Birch Lake, Alaska
2 hours later,the ever-changing sunset continues.
2 hours later, the ever-changing sunset continues.

Next post: https://blog.bucksvsbytes.com/2021/08/02/road-trip-21-06-20-we-head-south-across-the-alaska-range/

Road Trip – 21/06/18 Together Again — Susan Flies in to Fairbanks

Prior post: http://blog.bucksvsbytes.com/2021/07/19/road-trip-21-06-16-fairbanks-welcomes-me-back-yeah-right-after-40-years-away/

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I’ve spent the last two days exploring around Fairbanks. It has grown and modernized enormously since the 1980s. Most of the streets outside the small downtown have been completely transformed by national chain stores and new construction. The University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) campus is many times bigger than it was. It takes me a while to find one recognizable portion, the original quad where my boss’s office used to be. The wooded area on campus where I used to camp in the summer to save my $80 per day tax free per diem has been totally developed. Fairbanks now has expressways in lieu of some of the old streets. It’s amazing how much has changed. After all, I’ve only been away half a lifetime. Almost nothing matches my memories.

Billie’s Backpacker Hostel has been great. It’s really well managed yet she’s avoided the irksome rules that many hostels use to moderate the behavior of their often immature guests. The walls and shelves are filled with art and museum quality antiques. Both Billie and her son, Art, are very congenial, as is the rotating cast of hostel residents. Dee, a fairly young man from Syracuse NY, has been a guest for some months as he reorients his life with big, carefully progressing plans to establish himself in the state.

There’s the usual hostel information interchange, with more experienced travelers offering advice and cautions to the cheechakos (Alaska newcomers). I have to balance my urge to impart my Alaska experience with the knowledge that, dating back almost two generations, much of it is worthless.

Today, I put up a sign that I’d be making buckwheat sourdough pancakes for all comers in the morning. Billie walks into the kitchen and when she leaves, my sign is gone. A few minutes later she comes back, apologizing, and replaces the notice on the wall. “I’m so annoyed by people taping up scolding signs like ‘Do the dishes’ or ‘Stop leaving food on the counter’ that I automatically take them down. I just noticed that yours is an invitation, so I put it back.”

Susan’s flight doesn’t come in until 12:30 AM. She’s agreed to stay in the hostel tonight, which is a major concession. Her accommodation tastes run to king size beds and en suite private bathrooms, although we’ve spent many traveling nights under more spartan conditions, including sleeping in the front seat of the car in front of a remote Bolivian, sulfurous fumarole at 16,000 feet above sea level. Now, I appreciate her willingness to be introduced to the hostel experience. I love it for the social interaction, the cooking facilities, the intergenerational contact and, too, the reduced expense. To ease the culture shock, I’ve booked one of Billie’s few private rooms, with an adjacent bathroom shared with only one other person. I don’t want to drive Susan over the edge by asking her to sleep in a coed dorm room.

As the afternoon moves into darkless evening and darkless night, I drive over to the airport, discovering that the old 2-lane Airport Road has been bypassed with an expressway. The Fairbanks airport has a new terminal designed, apparently, by the same architect who’s done every modern airport in the country — although at least it’s still small enough not to need the standard two level car access separating arrivals and departures.

Terminal of Fairbanks Airport in the 1 AM daylight
Terminal of Fairbanks Airport in the 1 AM daylight

I really miss the pre-9/11 informality of flying and terminal behavior. It’s this transformation that makes me willing to drive cross country rather than be treated like a potential terrorist at airports and on planes. I reserve flying mostly for places to which I can’t drive.

I wait in the cell phone lot and when I see the Alaska Airlines jet pull up to the gate, I park the car and go into the terminal. The baggage claim area has a planeload of passengers but, not seeing Susan, I focus on the arrivals exit hallway. As expected, Susan enters sedately as one of the final passengers off the flight.

Susan arriving in Fairbanks at 1 AM
Susan arriving in Fairbanks at 1 AM

On the drive back, the sky is typically dramatic with clouds and sun at 1 AM. Susan quickly begins to appreciate what attracts me to Alaska, even though prosaic Fairbanks itself is physically not the stuff of romantic landscapes.

On arrival at the Billie’s, a group of travelers is standing outside, actively discussing UFOs at almost 2 AM. This is Susan’s intro to hosteling and after my tour of the house and introductions to the late night prowling guests, we retreat to our room for a solid night’s sleep. Susan has had 15 hours in transit on 3 airplanes.

Next post: https://blog.bucksvsbytes.com/2021/07/30/road-trip-21-06-19-arctic-weather-forecast-changes-our-route/

Road Trip – 21/06/16 Fairbanks Welcomes Me Back (yeah, right) after 40 Years Away

Prior post: http://blog.bucksvsbytes.com/2021/07/16/road-trip-21-06-14-alaska-at-last/

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I’ve kicked back for two nights at the Alaskan Stoves Hostel in Tok and I’m very rested. I took advantage of the bathtub to wash clothes, using my “trampling out the vintage” technique of walking back and forth over them in lieu of a washing machine agitator. The building is very small and would have been quite crowded with its full complement of 9 people but I’ve had it to myself since I arrived. At one point the owner appeared and chided me for spreading out from my single dorm bed into the rest of the building. I pointed out that there was no one else there, to which she responded, “But someone could arrive at any moment!” I reassured her I would retract everything into my bed within 5 minutes of such an event. She wasn’t satisfied but really had no choice. I’m sure the stress of having very little revenue coming in for two tourist seasons is a factor in her attitude.

Respite after the drive: hostel in Tok, Alaska
Respite after the drive: hostel in Tok, Alaska

With some rest, I’ve gotten over being miffed at Susan for backing out of the drive up with me — a day after we had set out. She didn’t want to participate in my bit of Canada border deception, even though I designed it so she could claim almost total ignorance of what I was presenting. In retrospect, I’m glad she stayed back because I couldn’t have imposed the same forced march conditions on her that I was willing to tolerate myself. Traveling together, it would have taken more than the 7 days in which I drove it and likely would have involved hotels, restaurants, and a sane travel schedule.

Having calmed down, we agree that she’ll fly to Fairbanks to join me. No one should miss experiencing Alaska. I had ten years of it and we’ll be here all summer this year instead of the typical visitor’s two week stay or, even worse, the 7-day cruise ship experience.

The process of getting her a flight becomes an ordeal for a number of reasons. I’ve been an ardent T-Mobile fan for over ten years but in Alaska their service is very constraining. They have no network in the state so it’s all domestic roaming, which has severe limits. Outside (ie in the “Lower 48”) their network is very good so if you do end up roaming, it’s only for a few hours. In Alaska, it’s going to be three months straight, which isn’t going to fly. I must add, though, that after complaining some days later they’re giving me a generous monthly credit to offset the cost of getting accounts with one of the local carriers during my stay — something they’re clearly not obligated to do. Now though, having already used up my high speed roaming allowance for the month, phone internet is at absurdly slow speeds which makes most most apps think they’re not connected at all. Thus my attempt to make a Delta Airlines reservation is frustrating. I’ve already tried parking outside of the buildings whose wi-fi passwords I’ve collected, but although I can connect to networks, the town of Tok’s connection to the internet is apparently down so wi-fi is of no benefit whatsoever. After some hours sitting in the car in midday sun, I finally get the flight confirmed and set off on the 200 mile drive to Fairbanks.

The highway from Tok to Fairbanks largely follows the Tanana (TAN-an-ah) River, Alaska’s 5th largest, 3rd longest, and a major tributary of the mighty Yukon River. The Tanana is fed by the meltwater streams of many glaciers in the Wrangell Mountains and Alaska Range and is thus very milky with glacial flour (silt particles so fine they never settle out of the water). Due to its glacial origins it’s also a braided river, with many ever shifting gravel bars and flowing channels. Crossing such a river on foot can be quite dangerous because some of the channels can be deep and swift. A standard ploy while hiking in Alaska is to make river crossings early in the day before the sun on the glaciers increases melting, resulting in heavier afternoon flow downstream.

Gerstle River with its braided channels
Gerstle River with its braided channels.

Traveling northwest, I reach Delta Junction where the Alaska Highway officially ends. The road continues to Fairbanks as the Richardson Highway, the earliest vehicle route in the state, used to transport goods from the port of Valdez (VAL-deez) to the interior since 1910.

Northern terminus of the Alaska Highway, Delta Junction
Northern terminus of the Alaska Highway, Delta Junction
Preserved pioneer cabin, Delta Junction, Alaska
Preserved pioneer cabin, Delta Junction, Alaska

Delta Junction has a large outdoor display of roadbuilding equipment used in the 1941 highway construction project.

Power shovel and 6x6 truck used in original Alaska Highway construction, Delta Junction
Power shovel and 6×6 truck used in original Alaska Highway construction, Delta Junction
Scraper used in original Alaska Highway construction, Delta Junction
Tractor-scraper used in original Alaska Highway construction, Delta Junction

I’m only a 100 miles from Fairbanks now and I’m getting excited to see the old place for the first time in over 40 years. As the road parallels the river downstream, I check out a variety of state campgrounds and parking areas. One difference I notice is economic. When the state was flush with oil cash, these areas were open without charge. Now, parking to hike, fish, or picnic costs $5 and camping is typically $20 per night. Boat launching, an almost sacred Alaskan activity, is charged at $25!

45 miles short of Fairbanks, the Tanana River and Richardson Highway turn due west for a while and almost ahead of me is the distant Alaska Range including Denali, at 20,310 feet the highest mountain in North America and the 3rd most prominent and isolated in the world (this is based on how much it towers over its surroundings). Many visitors to Alaska never get to see the mountain because it’s often obscured by clouds, and my view today is only partial but it’s still a thrill. Even living in Alaska, you never ho-hum a good view of Denali, no matter how many times you see it.

My first glimpse of the distant Alaska Range, seen across the Tanana River. The upper slopes of Denali are in the clouds.
My first glimpse of the distant Alaska Range, seen across the Tanana River. The upper slopes of Denali are in the clouds.

Rolling into Fairbanks, I drive directly to one of the two hostels, initially bypassing the main parts of town. Billie’s Backpacker Hostel, run by elderly Billie, whose husband built the original version in 1971 as a dormitory for pipeline workers, is a charming place, very social and homey.

Billie's Backpacker Hostel, Fairbanks, Alaska

Son, Art, manages the place during the summer season and he’s also very friendly and helpful. He quotes me a price for a dorm bed and I respond that I had seen a substantially cheaper price online. He answers, “Oh, for that you have to sleep in the gazebo outside and some people don’t want that.” My response, “I can sleep outside? Let me see!”

“Outside” turns out to be a 6-bed, glass-roofed, hexagonal, former greenhouse in the garden. Looking it over, I consider it the best bedroom in the house and quickly snap up one of the beds. I can imagine some people having problems sleeping there in the perpetual daylight of Fairbanks summer (we’re only 5 days from the solstice) but I can sleep under any conditions and I love it.

Gazebo of Billie's Backpacker Hostel, Fairbanks, Alaska
Gazebo of Billie’s Backpacker Hostel, Fairbanks, Alaska
My bed in the gazebo of Billie's Backpacker Hostel, Fairbanks, Alaska
My bed in the gazebo of Billie’s Backpacker Hostel, Fairbanks, Alaska

Moving my stuff in, I begin my search for people I knew in the old days. I never lived in Fairbanks but I was there a lot during the years I worked for the University of Alaska. From 1977-1980, I worked in Anchorage but at a statewide position that required travel to the many far flung rural campuses. My boss was in Fairbanks, so I flew and drove up there a lot and had many friends and contacts there.

Most of my Alaska friends have left the state as they aged, decamping to the Alaska-lite cities of the Pacific Northwest like 2Seattle, Washington and Portland Oregon, whimpering about, “Too much snow, too cold, too dark…” I’m not in a strong position to criticize their choices since I left the state at the tender age of 35, but at least I didn’t do it because of the climate, so I remain stubbornly sanctimonious toward those who beat feet southward in their dotage.

There are some holdouts, though, and I’ve lost contact with all of them over the decades. I put my internet skills to work and find an old university colleague on the second phone call! He seems pleased to hear from me — at least he doesn’t immediately hang up. His house is under renovation so we agree to meet up later in the summer. I locate a second ex-colleague in Virginia on my first call. Since his retirement, he drives his van there for the winter but returns to his permanent home in Fairbanks every summer. Due to the Canada border closing he hasn’t set out for here yet, so I inform him — with my recently acquired firsthand experience — that as an Alaska resident he should have no trouble transiting Canada. It’s a little late in the season for him to make the 8,500 mile round trip drive worthwhile but I may see him in a few weeks. My third target, Will Schendel, was always a very private person and, sure enough, he’s left a very light internet footprint. I can’t find any contact info for him and I’m almost at the point of walking into various law offices (he’s an attorney) and asking if anyone knows his whereabouts. Finally, I find one obscure reference to a street address, so I drive over there and knock on the door. It’s Will who answers and when I pull down my mask his jaw literally drops. Very satisfying. We agree to meet in a day or two.

I settle into the hostel’s social circle and will spend the next two days exploring the “new” (to me) Fairbanks until Susan flies in late Friday night.

Next post: https://blog.bucksvsbytes.com/2021/07/28/road-trip-21-06-19-together-again-susan-flies-in-to-fairbanks/

Relic of the old Tok architectural style: -- quonset hut deco

Road Trip – 21/06/14 Alaska at Last!

Prior post: http://blog.bucksvsbytes.com/2021/07/09/road-trip-21-06-13-continuing-my-mandated-race-through-canada/

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I wake up in the rest area at 4:30 AM, ready to continue onward. I have to check out of Canada by 1:30 PM to meet the Yukon Territory’s 24-hour transit mandate. That’s about 6 hours further up the road, so I’ll make it with hours to spare.

Traversing the Yukon, On, On, and On.
Traversing the Yukon, On, On, and On.

After a beautiful drive along the shore of Marsh Lake, I arrive at Whitehorse, the territorial capital. Normally, I would stop and see whether the town retains any of its cheerful, frontier persona of the 1980s but, despite being vaccinated, I’m not allowed to leave the highway so I gas up at an unmanned service station on the bypass and press on.

Beyond Whitehorse, the Alaska Highway is still paved but much rougher. Lots of frost heaves have damaged the road, making it quite a roller coaster in many places, interspersed with a generous selection of potholes. I have to slow down quite a bit because it’s very difficult to judge if an oncoming dip is a mild roller coaster thrill or will fling me into the air for a suspension killing return to earth — I’ve got a van, not a jeep or Subaru. And I have that large plastic cargo box on top. Even though it’s firmly attached to the roof rack, it could crack from the force of a hard landing, of which I have several in my effort to compromise speed and dip handling. Short sections of seriously damaged pavement have been torn up in many places and filled with gravel. The road is much more rugged than in Alberta and BC, but still way tamer than when I drove it in the old days.

Severely frost-damaged sections of highways in the Yukon are often temporarily graveled over.
Severely frost-damaged sections of highways in the Yukon are often temporarily graveled over.

The Yukon is a beautiful part of North America. Lots of long, deep lakes, with the road running along the shore. And then you get to Kluane Lake which is just magnificent, one of the great places in the north.

Kluane Lake. Yukon Territory
Kluane Lake. Yukon Territory

It was here in the winter of 1981, I saw the best display of northern lights in my life. It was about -10 F. A friend and I were driving across the Yukon to Haines, Alaska to catch a ferry for Juneau. The aurora was multicolored and simply stunning. We stopped the old Subaru, got out our pads and sleeping bags and lay on the ground as long as we could stand it, just staring up at shimmering curtains of dancing lights. I’ll never forget it and I’ve never seen lights like that since.

Today, in the unrelenting daylight there is no chance of seeing the aurora borealis but I dawdle along the shore admiring things big and small.

Thus far unidentified flowers growing prolifically in Kluane Lake gravel
Thus far unidentified flowers growing prolifically in Kluane Lake gravel
Old alignment of Alaska Highway right along Kluane lakeshore.
Old alignment of Alaska Highway right along Kluane lakeshore.
Another old Alaska Highway section
Another old Alaska Highway section

At one stop, a raven alights next to the car, staring at me patiently, doubtless hoping for a handout. Ravens are very adaptable and intelligent birds, found all across the north country.

"I'm a raven. I'm smart. I know you have food in that car. Give!"
“I’m a raven. I’m smart. I know you have food in that car. Give!”

The highway along Kluane Lake is eerily deserted. Normally this is a major thoroughfare and by now there would be a steady stream of tractor trailers, RVs, and passenger cars. Far fewer goods are hauled by truck in recent years because most Alaska goods now arrive by ocean container ship or air cargo. Tourist vehicles are currently banned, of course, so traffic is very sparse. Many of the services along the way have gone out of business due to the absence of tourists, as I mentioned earlier. Owners I’ve spoken with are livid at Justin Trudeau for being so unyielding at this point. But the scenery is still incredible.

I’ve been seeing new-looking recreational vehicles in groups of 2 or 3 heading toward Alaska. Encountering one of the drivers at a turnout, I find out why. A rental company in Anchorage has bought a fleet of 260 new RVs in Indiana and drivers, usually retired couples, are being paid to shuttle them to Alaska, after which the drivers are flown home to pick up another RV and do it again. The couple I talk to have no interest in sightseeing. They just want to get to Anchorage and catch a flight back home to Indiana.

By 11 AM, I reach Canada Customs in Beaver Creek, positioned about 30 miles from the actual U.S. border. Normally, you wouldn’t stop there as you exit Canada, but until restrictions are lifted travelers must check out and turn in their transit paperwork. That done, I proceed to US Customs 30 minutes farther along.

I manage to get through there without totally pissing them off. When I have the time and can afford to be held up, I generally make it a point not to let myself be quizzed in order to gain re entry to the United States. My feeling is if I present my passport and fill out the customs form, I’m entitled to go in without being hassled. And that usually doesn’t happen. In this case, a very nice woman in the booth asks me what my business is, where I’m coming from, etc. I explain to her, courteously, that as a matter of principle, I don’t want to answer those questions. She must be new on the job because she gets quite flustered and doesn’t know quite what to do with my attitude. She talks to her boss, comes back out, and hands me the same customs form you get on US-bound airplanes. I fill that out and then she asks me to park the van and come into the office. Typically, this is the beginning of one to three hours of waiting, questioning, and a thorough search of my vehicle.

The supervising agent comes out and turns out be a really nice guy. I explain to him that, as a returning American citizen I don’t want to answer extraneous questions. The obvious point of these is an attempt to trip me up and figure out that I’m an ISIS terrorist. I’m sure no border agent gets promoted for efficiently processing people into the U.S. Likewise, I’m sure there’s no career penalty for being officious and dickish, but if a bad guy were allowed in, the agent who passed them through would certainly feel the effects.

This senior agent explains to me that another reason for the questions is to help them judge how much of an inspection to do. That’s something I’d never been told or understood before. So in that regard, I may be more willing in the future to respond to the ones relevant to whether they decide to tear my car apart or just let me through. Even though I’ve refused to answer questions, he and his associate accompany me outside, politely ask me to open the back of the van and the hood, spend about two minutes looking inside, and say, “On your way”. We shake hands and it ends up being a nice interaction, despite my bit of defiance.

I continue along the Alaska Highway but now, finally, in Alaska. The post-border landmarks are quite familiar despite my long absence but the road continues to be deserted.

Finally, on Day 7, the Alaska portion of the Alaska Highway!
Finally, on Day 7, the Alaska portion of the Alaska Highway!
Across the Alaskan border but still a long way to go.
Across the Alaskan border, yes, but still a long way to go.
This is how I feel after my 7-day "forced march" from New York to Alaska
This is how I feel after my 7-day “forced march” from New York to Alaska
Fireweed -- the emblematic flower of Alaska
Fireweed — the emblematic flower of Alaska

On this side, too, most of the lodges, restaurants, and gas stations are closed up or obviously abandoned and decaying. I stop at a visitor center in the Tetlin Wildlife Refuge that didn’t exist in the old days. I take some photos from the deck and look at the exhibits inside.

New Refuge Visitor Center
New Refuge Visitor Center
View of the expansive Tetlin Wildlif Refuge
View of the expansive Tetlin Wildlife Refuge

The center is staffed by local Alaska Natives from nearby Northway Village, an Athabaskan community off the highway but with a road to it. I speak to the greeter, who is 78 years old. We have a nice conversation about my experience in the old days and her experience as a younger person in the village in the same period. While I’m talking to her, I realize that in 1975, I designed a diesel generator for her village. I didn’t go there because I wasn’t involved in that installation, but it’s interesting that I have a long forgotten connection to her home. She says they now have a power line connected to the grid but there’s still a generator for backup power. Could it be the same one?

I’m no longer on any sort of schedule as I proceed onward. There’s no place to eat until I reach the first town which is quite a ways up the road. I stop at a nice, lakeside campsite and take a nap. I really need food and a shower, so I decide not to camp there.

The Taylor Highway (Alaska Route 5) is a more remote, summer-only route to the Yukon but its border crossing has been closed since March 2020.
The Taylor Highway (Alaska Route 5) is a more remote, summer-only road to the Yukon but its border crossing has been closed since March 2020.

Toward evening, I reach Tok, which in the old days was a… How do I describe it? Oh yes. It was a rip off joint. Back in the 70s and 80s this was a remote area with the roads mostly uninhabited — except for the junction town of Tok. I was always sure they had people scanning the highway with binoculars and when they saw somebody break down, they would radio each other and say, “Hey, we got one in trouble here,” and the vultures of Tok would circle, sucking every dollar you had out of your pocket before letting you leave.

Now it’s much more civilized. Wide highway, cell phone service, separated bike path, and a variety of businesses with only a few persistent echoes of its isolated, pioneer days.

Relic of the old Tok architectural style: -- quonset hut deco
Relic of the old Tok architectural style: — quonset hut deco

I look online and see there’s a hostel here with the curious name Alaskan Stoves. I guess that must have been what the proprietor originally sold, but now they have a campground and a hostel — and the hostel looks surprisingly cheap. I drive over there and find it, but the building is deserted. The rates are, indeed, just $30 a night for a dorm bed. I call the number on the door, getting a woman who is currently far away in Fairbanks. She says yes, that’s the price but as a means of controlling costs, they don’t provide internet. I take it anyway because I really want a bed and a shower to rest up after seven hard days on the road. I have my phone for internet and there’s also a restaurant a couple of buildings down that’s very generous with their wi-fi policies. She gives me the door combo so I can let myself in and it’s really a very pleasant place. It accommodates nine people but for my $30 I have the house completely to myself. Others could show up at any moment, but with the highway so restricted, it’s not very likely. Home, sweet home!

Next post: https://blog.bucksvsbytes.com/2021/07/19/road-trip-21-06-16-fairbanks-welcomes-me-back-yeah-right-after-40-years-away/

Road Trip – 21/06/13 Continuing My Mandated Race through Canada

Prior post: http://blog.bucksvsbytes.com/2021/07/07/road-trip-21-06-12-its-beginning-to-look-a-lot-like-wildlife-everywhere-i-go/

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About 3 AM, I wake up, unplug my laptop from the car wash building and continue beyond Fort Nelson. I decide to push on through the night to Liard River Hot Springs, in the old days my favorite stop along the Alaska Highway, and take an early morning bath, badly needed after 5 days and 3,500 miles of hard driving. This far north and this close to summer solstice, of course, there is no darkness, just a substantial twilight during the 5 hours the sun dips below the horizon. Driving at night is thus not much different than driving during the day.

3 AM in Fort Nelson BC, 8 days before summer solstice
3 AM in Fort Nelson BC, 8 days before summer solstice

Taking advantage of the sparse traffic and roadside vegetation, wildlife of all sorts is foraging near the pavement. In the course of the night, I get closeup views of elk, caribou, moose, porcupine, and even stone sheep which typically frequent steep, alpine slopes. Few are particularly interested in the fact that I’ve stopped a few feet away to ogle them.

Porcupine along the road
Porcupine along the road
Caribou along the Alaska Highway
Stone Sheep grazing along the Alaska Highway

The highway is now crossing the Rocky Mountains, which are petering out this far north. They’re a far cry from the high peaks of Banff and Jasper to the south but still rugged and especially dramatic in the low light.

The Rocky Mountains near Summit Pass BC
The Rocky Mountains near Summit Pass BC

There’s no serious climbing and after two hours I reach the uninspiringly named Summit Pass. At 4,100 feet, this is the highest point of my trip to date.

Despite having very high, rugged mountain ranges, Canada and Alaska do not have the sort of dizzying roads found in the Andes and Himalayas. The highest I can get by car in Alaska is only 4,700 feet at Atigun Pass in the far northern Brooks Range, which I plan to do in a few weeks. Currently, even in midsummer, at 59 degrees latitude, Summit Pass’ modest altitude is not very summery. There are substantial patches of snow not far above the road.

As planned, I arrive at Liard River at opening time. The hot springs were made accessible by the US Army in 1942 during highway construction and although the area was made into a park in 1957, when I was last there in 1977, there were no controls or facilities beyond a rough boardwalk from the road to the hot pools. Now it’s much more civilized, with campsites, changing rooms, and a modest day use fee. Unfortunately, the springs have also had some tragic episodes. In 1997, a female tourist was killed by a bear right on the boardwalk in front of her two children. Several samaritans trying to save her, including her young son, were also mauled, one fatally, before the bear was shot. After this incident, the more remote, lower pool was closed for years. This year, the park has been enclosed with an electric fence to minimize human interaction with wildlife.

Today, I pull up to the booth, where a very friendly young woman delivers an unexpected blow: I’m not allowed in because, due to Covid, the park is restricted to British Columbia residents. Although the parking lot is empty at this time of day, she cannot make an exception. Even residents of adjacent Alberta and the Yukon are being turned away which must lead to some angry scenes. Thwarted, I park on the highway shoulder and sleep for a while until the hot sun forces me to wake up and get moving again.

A small sign leads me down a side road to a view of the impressive Smith River Falls. I’m tempted to walk the half mile trail to the base of the falls but decide to forgo it. I’ve warned people for years about solo hiking, where a mishap that would be trivial with a companion can be fatal when you’re alone. Social animal that I am, I almost always hike with others, sometimes shepherding a group of novices up a trail. It’s just more fun for me to share experiences. Now I’m solo in bear country and I start hearing my own advice in my head. Plus, a sign clearly informs hikers that the last portion is a steep slope that used to have stairs which burned up in 2008 and as of 2012 have not been replaced. The thought of a difficult down and up scramble reinforces my inclination that a closer view of the falls isn’t worth the risk, so I drive back out to the highway.

Smith River Falls BC

Just a few miles further, I encounter a herd of over 100 bison grazing both shoulders and blocking the traffic lanes. After watching these impressive but potentially dangerous creatures for several minutes, I edge the car through the herd and continue.

Herd of of about 100 Wood Bison calmly taking advantage of the Alaska Highway

Not long after, I stop at Coal River Lodge for gas and internet. Much of the Alaska Highway is off the electrical grid and the lodge runs on its own generator. Without power lines, there are also no cell towers for these long stretches. With the highway devoid of tourists for 15 months and counting, many travel-dependent businesses have gone dormant or belly up.

Ordering pie and coffee for breakfast, I ask about using their internet. Apologetically, they say they have it but an overnight guest used up almost all of the monthly data allowance. To avoid an expensive surcharge for more data, they have to save what little is left for credit card transactions and phone calls. While dawdling over breakfast, I have some lively conversation with the staff, three Utah Mormons who hired on to run the lodge during the summer for its American owner.

I also banter with a local truck driver, who lives here year round, and he recommends a scenic viewpoint along the way and tells some colorful stories about delivering fuel along the highway in mid-winter. Since my progress through Canada is substantially faster than my 4-day time limit, I’ve had time yesterday and today for stops and short side trips. Leaving the lodge, I follow a sign for Whirlpool Canyon into a pleasant riverside campground, where a sharp, narrow bend of the river creates a powerful eddy in a rocky corner. During floods, the water throws piles of trees up onto the shore. There’s quite a jumble of dead wood there. It’s an interesting spot and I spend a few minutes sitting in a random chair enjoying the scenery.

Whirlpool Canyon BC with its observation chair
Flood stranded wood at Whirlpool Canyon
Flood stranded wood at Whirlpool Canyon

The next stop is the place the truck driver mentioned. Indeed, it is a beautiful observation point above a bend in the Liard River looking up and downstream, with picnic table, bench, and a stone monument to the 1942 Alaska Highway surveyors.

Liard River from Allen's Lookout
Liard River from Allen’s Lookout
Allen's Lookoit with Surveyor plaque
Allen’s Lookoit with Surveyor plaque

Cleverly, the plaque is produced with the same hand stamped letters used to label individual survey markers.

Plaque dedicated to 1942 Alaska Highway surveyors
Plaque dedicated to 1942 Alaska Highway surveyors

I’m almost out of British Columbia now and I stop at Contact Creek where a historical sign denotes the point where Army crews working up from Fort Nelson met their counterparts working down from Whitehorse, both racing to get the first, primitive version of the road completed. The sign reminds me again of how monumental and unprecedented a task was planned and executed in just a year.

Alaska Highway, Contact Creek link up plaque
Alaska Highway, Contact Creek link up plaque

Another 45 minutes brings me to the Yukon Territory border. A series of signs seem to imply the Yukon motto is, “Forget lax British Columbia. There’s a new sheriff in town.”

At the Watson Lake weigh station just across the border, all drivers must fill out Covid forms and receive instructions. The Yukon has more stringent requirement than other provinces. You get 24 hours to drive the 560 miles of Alaska Highway across the territory. You must use only services directly on the road and not leave it. No side trips, no entry into villages, no entry into downtown Whitehorse, and no entry into provincial parks, which eliminates all public campgrounds. I’m startled to see an instruction on the form exempting vaccinated travelers from the isolation requirements but when I ask the official about it he informs me it only applies to Canadians — my momentary hopes are dashed.

I’m not particularly low on fuel yet, so I proceed about 15 miles, reconsider the remote stretch immediately ahead and backtrack to Watson Lake to gas up and buy some juice before continuing. The 24 hour exit requirement means I can’t really enjoy much except the views from the road.

Fifty miles further on, getting tired, I pass a very tempting campground along a little lake. But there’s a big reminder sign right at the entrance, “Off limits for transit travelers,” so I pull off on a little spur road that goes down to the Rancheria River and take a nap there. An hour or so later, feeling refreshed, I continue another 160 miles to a roadside pulloff opposite Squan Lake. There, around 11:30 PM with sunset finally approaching, I park in a group of trucks and crawl in the back to get a longer sleep, ready to start again in the morning.

Interesting Yukon sky
Interesting Yukon sky
Late evening sky in the Yukon
Late evening sky in the Yukon
Almost midnight, 7 days before summer solstice, Nisutlin Bay BC
Almost midnight, 7 days before summer solstice, Nisutlin Bay BC

Next post: http://blog.bucksvsbytes.com/2021/07/16/road-trip-21-06-14-alaska-at-last/

Marker at the original start of the Alaska Highway, Dawson Creek, BC

Road Trip – 21/06/12 It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Wildlife, Everywhere I Go!

Prior post: https://blog.bucksvsbytes.com/2021/06/27/road-trip-21-06-10-another-long-driving-day-but-featuring-a-solar-eclipse-and-getting-into-canada/

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Yesterday was, frankly, boring. I drive 740 miles across the Canadian prairie, cruising northwest across Saskatchewan and Alberta, got an oil change and ate a meal in Edmonton and completed the torturous required “Day 1 in Canada” mandatory Covid test. This has to be done under the video supervision of a nurse and when I go to the website (apparently designed by a high school slacker during video game pauses) I’m told I’m 350th in line. Mercifully, the number decreases pretty quickly and after only 2 hours or so I’m able to make the nasal swab, seal up the envelope, and drop it off at a nearby ship point. All of that uses up the day.

On Saturday, though, things get a little more interesting as I move into rolling hills and true north country. From my improvised sleeping spot northwest of Edmonton (it was a gratifyingly cool 46 F when I awoke), I continue up Alberta Highway 43 which, along with a stretch of British Columbia Highway 2 brings you to Dawson Creek BC and the official start of the Alaska Highway..

Unlike the “old days”, Hwy 43 is completely modernized, transformed from a gravel road into a divided 4-lane highway with breakdown lanes, a wide right of way, and plenty of services. In other words, boring.

Alberta 43, so modern they've taken all the fun out.
Alberta 43, so modern they’ve taken all the fun out.

I’m surprised, though, to still see microwave relay towers along the route.

In the pre-satellite, pre-fiber optic 1980s when I lived in Alaska, the only means of long distance telephone transmission was via microwaves. Long chains of line of sight towers were constructed over thousands of miles of remote territory. A dish antenna on one side picks up the signal from the prior tower, the signal is processed in the hut at the base, and retransmitted on to the next tower in line. Most towers were off the electric grid so they had their own diesel generator and needed regular fuel deliveries, generally by airplane or helicopter. There was no alternative across these vast stretches of often roadless northern territory. Now, with more advanced technology, I’m surprised to see such antique transmission still in use, but there the towers are.

Line of sight microwave relay tower along the Alaska Highway
Line of sight microwave relay tower along the Alaska Highway

By early afternoon, I reach Valleyview, Alberta, notable mainly because it’s where the two primary northern routes diverge. If I bear right, I would eventually arrive in Wrigley, deep in the Northwest Territory, along the banks of the mighty, north flowing MacKenzie River.

Divergence of two major Canadian Northwest routes
Divergence of two major Canadian Northwest routes

Instead, I stay left continuing on Highway 43 toward the Yukon Territory. The divided highway continues for another 90 miles, turning into a still very modern 2-lane route for the last 30 miles to the British Columbia border, which persists the rest of the way to Dawson Creek.

Dawson Creek was the start of the Alaska Highway, the initial version of which was built by the US Army, 1700 miles slashed through forbidding terrain in just 8 months. Although contemplated for many years, the attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequent declaration of war with Japan made it a strategic priority. When first completed it was a very rough route, suitable mostly for heavy military vehicles. Although the highway became very important in opening Alaska to the “Lower 48” states, ironically, it was not of great immediate strategic importance as most wartime goods were shipped by sea from Seattle when it became apparent that the Japanese didn’t project much naval power to those sea lanes.

Downtown Dawson Creek is still pretty recognizable since I last drove to Alaska in 1977, but the town has sprawled into the surrounding area. The “Milepost 0” monument is unchanged.

Marker at the original start of the Alaska Highway, Dawson Creek, BC
Marker at the original start of the Alaska Highway, Dawson Creek, BC

Even as it opened, the highway was being improved, a process that continues to this day. Over its 80 years, over 300 miles have been cut by straightening out its contour-following, “just get it done” original alignment. In many places along the road, you can see earlier versions of it either as abandoned stubs or local byways.

Just 21 miles out of Dawson Creek is a good example of both “version 2” construction and abandoned alignments. The original route involved a difficult fording of Kiskatinaw Creek. Within a year or two, a 100 foot high, curved, wooden trestle bridge was built to cross the steep valley. This was in use for about 35 years despite the fact that vehicles exceeding the bridge’s 25 ton limit still had to use the old ford through the creek. In 1978, a new all-traffic road was built that bypassed the bridge, which was still used for local traffic. In recent years the bridge was closed entirely and now serves only as an historical attraction.

The 1942 curved wooden trestle bridge along an early alignment of the Alaska Highway
The 1942 curved wooden trestle bridge along an early alignment of the Alaska Highway

A bit further on I turn off toward something called the “Site C Viewpoint”. This turns out to be the public relations overlook for a large BC Hydro dam site. The parking area has nicely designed displays touting the indigenous heritage of the local tribe and paying lip service to its importance. Turn your head and you see an enormous construction project transforming square miles of forest into concrete, which will then flood a large valley. I’d say the indigenous people are sacrificing a lot.

BC Hydro honors local tribes on a display sign...
BC Hydro honors local tribes on a display sign…
...but hydroelectric production is the priority.
…but hydroelectric production is the priority.

I proceed northward into rainy weather and less populated terrain, the road undulating over gentle ridges and bridged across the low lying rivers.

Rain ahead on the Alaska Highway
Rain ahead on the Alaska Highway
Scattered showers. literally. ahead near Taylor BC
Scattered showers. literally. ahead near Taylor BC

There aren’t many people, but lots of roadside wildlife. I first spot a brown bear, shy enough to amble into the forest when I stop the car, but over the course of the day I see four sets of black bears and several large porcupines, all unperturbed when I stop within yards of them.

Grizzly bear along the Alaska Highway
Grizzly bear along the Alaska Highway
Black bear foraging roadside grass along the Alaska Highway
Black bear family along the Alaska Highway
Black bear family along the Alaska Highway

As evening sets in — by the clock, not by any approaching darkness — I stop in Fort Nelson BC for gas. The station insists on full service, a nice change of pace from pumping my own fuel. It’s time for a rest so I drive to the town’s A&W intending to buy a drink and use their internet service. A sign on the door says that due to staff shortages they are only serving at the drive through and I find that closed a few minutes ago. I decide to lurk in the vicinity and use their internet from my car once they close down, but even that doesn’t work because their cleaning person never leaves and apparently sleeps there. Eventually, I pull up anyway and connect, but the next frustration is their outdoor AC receptacle doesn’t work so I can’t charge my laptop.

Throwing up my hands, I drive to the adjacent, deserted car wash and successfully plug into their outdoor receptacle but, of course, I’m now a little too far to pick up A&W wi-fi. I give up and go to sleep while the laptop tops up. It’s been a long day on the road.

Next post: https://blog.bucksvsbytes.com/2021/07/09/road-trip-21-06-13-continuing-my-mandated-race-through-canada/

Road Trip – 21/06/10 Another long driving day, but featuring a solar eclipse and getting into Canada!

Prior post: https://blog.bucksvsbytes.com/2021/06/18/road-trip-21-06-09-sallying-forth-on-new-tires/

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About midnight, I get back in the driver’s seat (remembering to close the side door first), work my way out of the woods to the pavement, and continue to head northwest through through more of Wisconsin and into Minnesota.

A partial solar eclipse will occur just at sunrise and I’d like to see it. I set an alarm for 15 minutes prior and when it goes off I’m just past Minneapolis. I start looking for a vantage point with a mostly clear view of the northeast horizon, where the sun will shortly be appearing. I exit the highway and park near a busy overpass. It’s just a few minutes to sunrise so I run over to what seems like the best position and ready the camera. The sun comes up moments later and through the viewfinder I can see the bite the obscuring moon is taking out of the sun’s disk. I’m standing just on the other side of the guardrail from a continuous stream of early morning cars and trucks and I have to time my shooting to the traffic gaps. I can’t look at the sun directly but I do get few good photos.

Partial Solar Eclipse, 10 June 2021, near Minneapolis
Partial Solar Eclipse, 10 June 2021, near Minneapolis
Partial Solar Eclipse, 10 June 2021, near Minneapolis
Partial Solar Eclipse, 10 June 2021, near Minneapolis

After that bit of excitement, I race onward across depressingly flat country, mostly on interstate highways, until I get well into North Dakota where I diverge onto 2-lane routes, working northwest toward Portal and hoping my Covid test results will show up about the same time I get to the border. As the remaining distance starts to drop to reasonable numbers and it’s getting a little bit late for for my plan, I decide to hurry and that turns out to be a significant miscalculation.

Based on the fact that North Dakota has virtually no visible state police and the roads are flat with little traffic and miles long sight distances, I start speeding up quite a bit, figuring I can avoid problems. That works well for a long time across this empty state. Finally, as I’m about an hour from the border, my overconfidence betrays me. My normal maximum driving speed, when conditions permit, is 9 mph over the posted limit and I’ve passed hundreds of radar traps at that velocity with never a problem. Today, though I’m moving considerably faster. Ahead of me are two cars on a long straightaway. I move out to pass and as I come abreast of the first vehicle, I see the second is a Highway Patrol car. In an obviously futile attempt to save myself, I abort my pass and pull in behind him. There’s nothing I can do and, of course, he moves over to the shoulder to let me get ahead and then flicks on his lights.

He’s very friendly and courteous but there’s no way I’m getting off with just a warning at that speed. I do learn something interesting. I’ve suspected for years that moving radar can measure velocity both ahead of and behind the car but had never confirmed it. Today, the patrolman informs me of the exact speed at which I was coming up behind him, and that was with another car between us. Suspicion confirmed! I accept my ticket graciously and am pleasantly surprised that the fine is pretty nominal. In New York, speeding that far above the limit would have been a serious amount of money. In ND, I now know, they ticket excessive speed but it’s not considered a very big deal. Lesson learned, I check my email while still parked on the shoulder and see that test results haven’t yet arrived.

Suddenly (and ironically), I have some time to kill and I happen to be at the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge, a series of flowages along the same-named river heavily populated with migratory and resident birds. Small gravel roads parallel the lakefront, so I dawdle along enjoying the scenery.

Red winged blackbird
Canada Geese
Canada Geese
Godwit
Godwit

After about 30 miles of shoreline, I reach a very nice, wooded, lakeside picnic area and decide to stop here until my test results email appears. Sitting there idle, I realize I’m very hungry. I’ve hardly eaten anything but bread and cheese out of my cooler in over two days.

I backtrack about 15 miles to Kenmare ND, the only town in or near the refuge. It’s quickly apparent that, commercially, Kenmare is not just sleepy but comatose. Most of the storefronts around the attractive town square are defunct. The only operating business at 8:30 PM is a bar. Searching for restaurants online, I drive by every possibility. All are out of business except a shabby looking Chinese hole in the wall. I get out of the car to check it out and see that it closed 30 minutes ago. As I’m staring at the window planning my next move, a heavily accented voice says, “You can come in.”

I enter to see a woman cleaning up for the day. She says, “You can have takeout only.” I choose something off the menu and she calls it out to her husband out of sight in the kitchen. While I’m waiting, I ask to use the bathroom — a big mistake to my peace of mind. She directs me through a back room which is almost completely dark and full of large, unrecognizable items.

Chinese restaurant. Note the "black hole" in the rear.
Chinese restaurant. Note the “black hole” in the rear.

After groping my way through the apparitions, I find a very scuzzy bathroom. I try to wash my hands after but both hot and cold faucets have no water. I step out and call over to the couple asking if I can wash up. After a moment of consternation she calls me to the kitchen sink and hands me a bar of soap. For rinsing, rather than turn on the faucet (perhaps it’s dry, too) she pours a pot of water over my hands. Even in South America, I don’t think I’ve ever knowingly gotten food from a restaurant without running water, but I’m committed now.

My food’s soon ready. I pay, take the container out to the car and return to my little picnic haven. On the way, a weather report is warning (“Run, run, take shelter! The sky is falling! We’re all going to die!”) of destructive thunderstorms and golf ball size hail about 50 miles to my west. At the same time, I’m seeing very severe weather in the near north in the direction of the border.

Lightning approaching in North Dakota

When I regain my picnic area there a few raindrops coming down but no bad weather yet. I look around, planning where I’ll put the van if it starts hailing and where else if severe winds kick up. If both happen simultaneously, I’m just screwed. Just as I start eating my possibly dangerous Chinese food, my phone beeps and there’s my result email from Google. The day is saved, even if my immediate prospects are quite hazardous. I scarf my generous portion of chicken in minutes (it actually tastes quite good), put on better clothes (long sleeve shirt and long pants), comb my hair, and start heading the last 40 miles to the border. The first 12 miles are over gravel roads which I’m sure will turn to slippery mud as soon as the imminent downpour begins. I make most of that distance before it really let’s loose. By the time I reach the paved highway, I can barely see a quarter mile, but fortunately there’s no hail.

I desperately follow a semi up the road, whose tail lights I can barely see ahead of me. With that assistance, I finally arrive in North Portal, ND. The rain has stopped and I decide to top off my fuel while I’m still on the cheaper US side. I pull into the only gas station, which despite being brightly lit turns out to be closed. It’s just a trick, apparently. I drive another quarter mile to the Border Station and pull up to the CBSA booth at about 11 PM. The first officer asks me screening questions and takes my passport and driver license. After a few minutes fiddling in his booth he directs me to park and go into the office. This is it. I’ve researched and prepared for this but the outcome is far from certain, even arbitrary.

I won’t go into the details of my bureaucratic strategy, but suffice it to say there’s some carefully constructed artifice and a smidgen of insincerity involved. Inside, mask on, I present my set of relevant documents and wait anxiously to see the reaction. I’m questioned fairly closely about them for a few minutes. In addition to the primary items and my negative test result, I’ve included the deeds to my three Alaska properties as evidence of my ties to the state and that yields the encouraging comment, “This will help.” The officer takes everything back to his desk away from the counter while I cool my heels in a plastic chair. He comes back a few times with questions like, “Have you ever been arrested since you were 18?” “Do you have any DUIs on your record?” and “What are all the states you’ve ever lived in?” Gradually, I’m feeling like I’m going to be let in. A while later he returns and says, “We’ll get you on your way soon.” I dare to try a little humor by responding “North or south?” and he smiles a little as he answers “North.” SUCCESS — I’m going to Alaska!

Before I can leave, there are more formalities. I’m given two Covid test kits and instructions for submitting them, a list of restrictions while in Canada, and a document with my required departure date along with the warning, “If you don’t turn this in at Beaver Creek [the CBSA office at the Alaska border] within 4 days, an automatic arrest warrant will be issued, and you don’t want that.” I’m given a paper that must sit on my dashboard so any passerby can see that I’m in transit to Alaska and what my “leave by” date is. I look it over and note my expiration date is today instead of 4 days from now. The officer is obviously a little embarrassed by this blunder and goes back to his desk to generate a corrected set of documents.

In my nervousness, I had left the car window open as I went into the office during a break in the rain. Now, an hour later, it’s been pouring. When I return to the car, the entire driver’s area is a swimming pool. Regardless, I hop in and drive northwest for half an hour and pull off on a wide shoulder in the rain to nap and appreciate my good fortune at being granted my wish to cover 2200 miles in 96 hours.

Next post: http://blog.bucksvsbytes.com/2021/07/07/road-trip-21-06-12-its-beginning-to-look-a-lot-like-wildlife-everywhere-i-go/

Sienna van getting new tires

Road Trip – 21/06/09 Sallying forth on new tires

Prior post: https://blog.bucksvsbytes.com/2021/06/17/road-trip-21-06-08-driving-through-flyover-country/

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As I wake up in a parking lot in South Bend, Indiana, it incongruously occurs to me that my father, had he been relatively immortal, would have been 108 years old yesterday. He loved travel at least as much as I do, although he was very constrained in the early years by finances and family, not that I wasn’t. Nonetheless, he and my mother went to enormous effort taking our family of 4 on long, low budget road trips every summer through the US and Canada. Never a restaurant or motel. Tent or trailer every night, 3 meals a day on the Coleman stove. I wish I’d comprehended their dedication more rather than taking it all for granted, unappreciative brat that I was. I did try to make it up to them later in life.

Dad & Mom circa 1977
Dad & Mom circa 1977

Some years ago, impressed by its selection, competitive prices, and prompt delivery, I ordered high quality snow tires mounted and balanced on rims from tirerack.com. My Toyota van takes “run flat” tires, designed with a stiff sidewall so that even after they go flat, you can still drive on them for about 50 miles or so at moderate speed. I don’t like the idea overall, because it means you’re totally depending on that run flat feature. And because it’s equipped with run flat tires, there’s no place under or outside the van to store a spare, even if you want one.

I got 26,000 miles out of the ones that came with the Sienna and they were already used. I’m definitely not going to Alaska on those, so it’s time for a new set. I shopped Tire Rack a month or so ago and saw they stock the appropriate size Bridgestone run flats. But, to my surprise, I found something I’d never heard of before: they had the regular tires, at the typical $200+ each price, and they also had what they called 2018 production tires — the same model for about half the price which, for run flats, is almost a giveaway. I did some research and found that tires expire after 10 years, You’re supposed to retire (get it?) ones that were produced in 2018 by 2028 no matter how much tread they may still have. That’s not an issue for me. I’m gonna use up these tires way sooner than 2028, maybe even this year. So I ordered a set of those. As I was checking out online, I noticed they had an option for pickup in person where they discount the $40 they don’t charge for shipping. Just for the fun of it, I looked up their distribution centers and one of them was in South Bend, Indiana, which is exactly along my path out west. Checking further, their South Bend location is the only one where they do installations. That decided me. By getting them in South Bend, I would basically have them installed for free, between the pickup discount and their modest installation charge.

So here I am in their parking lot. Online, tirerack.com could be any size company. You probably know, the old New Yorker cartoon captioned, “On the internet. Nobody knows you’re a dog.” in the sense that you can look a lot bigger than you really are based on having a good website and a good support. So I get here to Tire Rack in South Bend and to my surprise it’s an enormous complex.

Tire Rack customer building
Tire Rack customer building

There are several buildings on a green campus. There’s a cavernous shop and a retail store. I had no clue.

Tire Rack installation shop
Tire Rack installation shop
Sienna van getting new tires
Sienna van getting new tires

Eight AM rolls around, the doors open. I go into the store, and they have my appointment set up. Within 20 minutes they call me in, I drive into one of the bays and step into the waiting room. Less than an hour later, I have four brand new tires on the van and I’m ready to roll.

So off I go. Heading west on on US 20. I’m following my usual quirk of staying off toll roads as much as possible. I haven’t paid a toll yet on this trip. I’m not in a hurry so why does it matter? It’s interesting when I compare the toll vs non-toll routes on Google Maps, the difference in time over a longer trip is often less than an hour, sometimes just 10 or 20 minutes. And usually the toll route distance is several miles longer.

As I travel west, I’m planning on getting a COVID test in North Dakota to satisfy the Canadian requirement of having it done less than 72 hours prior to arrival at the border. I had talked to the to the testing agency in Minot a couple of weeks ago and they indicated there’s no problem. They’ll test non-residents, no charge, no problem. Just for redundancy, I pull over for a minute and call again to ask what the turnaround time is for results. In my many previous tests, results have arrived by email in 16-48 hours. The Minot answer, though, is 3-4 days because they have to send the samples to the state capital first. That’s a major issue because of Canada’s 72 hour time limit. Of necessity, I rethink the plan. I’ve had a lot of experience with with Google Baseline project testing, which I’ve done six times since the pandemic started, but that test is only available in certain states. Heading west from New York, the last one is Michigan. Fortunately Michigan is almost in my rear view mirror at the moment. I find an immediate appointment in Bridgman, spin the van around, backtrack 40 minutes to the RiteAid, and get my test — no fuss, no muss. Then I turn back around and head down through Gary Indiana around the bottom of Lake Michigan, and up through Chicago toward towards the Wisconsin border.

It’s around 90 F out with fierce sun to boot. That kind of glare just makes my eyes want to close. Mid-afternoon, I check the map for a spot of green, turn off the highway and end up in a school parking lot under a shade tree in Kenosha. Two hours sleeping in the driver’s seat with the windows open resets my eyeballs and I proceed northwest through Wisconsin, heading as directly as possible to the border crossing at Portal, North Dakota. I figure my test results are likely to arrive about the same time I do, in perhaps 24 hours. It’s 16 hours of solid driving and I have do it all myself. So I continue on this straight rather uninteresting flat route, planning on arriving in the right time frame.

As darkness approaches, I need another nap so I turn off I-94 in Milton, Wisconsin, following a sign for Black River State Forest. In a few miles I find a picturesque lakeside campground, but since I’m only going to be sleeping for a few hours, there’s no point in paying fees. I go up a little further and find a number of grassy tracks going off to the side that are obviously rarely traveled. I pull into one of these, go a quarter mile off the road, U-turn the van, crawl onto the comfortable bed, and sack out in minutes. It’s a nice cool evening and I leave the sliding door open through the night — not necessarily a smart move — and sleep very well.

Next post: https://blog.bucksvsbytes.com/2021/06/27/road-trip-21-06-10-another-long-driving-day-but-featuring-a-solar-eclipse-and-getting-into-canada/

Sunset over Sandusky OH

Road Trip – 21/06/08 Driving through flyover country

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Well, it’s my first day of a road trip to what I hope will be Alaska, Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) willing. Canada is still closed to Americans, with a few narrow exemptions. For reasons not relevant here, Susan has decided not to accompany me, so she’s back at home. I drive from Livingston Manor to South Bend, Indiana in one grueling 11 hour day with barely a break — over 700 miles!

Sunset over Sandusky OH
Sunset over Sandusky OH
Twilight thunderstorm near Toledo OH
Twilight thunderstorm near Toledo OH

At 1 AM, I arrive at the Tire Rack facility where I’ll sleep, doubtless under the watchful eye of security cameras, until my 8 AM appointment. I’m going to get 4 new tires mounted and after that I’ll move forward. So I’m where I need to be, but an uninteresting day and a lot of time on the road with nothing but gas stops. And here I am in Indiana, my favorite place in the world. Riiight.

Next post: https://blog.bucksvsbytes.com/2021/06/18/road-trip-21-06-09-sallying-forth-on-new-tires/