Cold, Hot & Finally Fairbanks

We have some unscheduled time before our next set of reservations in Fairbanks.  A nice soak in the hot springs sounds about right, so away we go.

Chena Hot Springs

This stop involves a 60 mile or so drive where the first 20 miles is uppy downy the whole way.  That rippled roadway I told you about.  That’s ok since we’re getting used to it and we hope to at least see some wildlife.  Pat actually gets the first moose sighting, or so he thinks.  I’m texting and miss it – drat!  This resort has a lodge, but also a campground.  No frills, no services including cell or wi-fi, but we are right by another babbling brook.  And by right by, I mean about five feet away.

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First the cold – about 25 degrees in the Aurora Ice Museum.  I’m seated on snuggly caribou hide covering barstools made entirely of ice.  In fact, everything in here is made from ice.  A couple carved everything in the place.  They win ice carving awards every year and maintain the exhibits.  Phenomenal work and I’m sure gives them something to do during the dark, cold winters.

We’re mesmerized by the gal carving the martini glasses out of ice blocks.  If you want, you can pay extra for an apple-tini served in one of these babies.  We’re not martini fans, so we just watched that part.  Apparently this is super popular in the Winter and they have to make 150-180 of these glasses a day to stockpile for the busy season.  This is a great Aurora Borealis viewing spot.  Not so much now since we don’t get any darkness!  A few of our favorite ice items – the expressive face, ice wall, jousting knights and the flowers encased in ice.  So interesting to hear about the carving techniques.  They had a sticker in there – “Alaska Chainsaw Club – 1 and 1/2 thumbs up”, plus an amazing array of carving tools and, of course, chainsaws.

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The Aurora Ice Museum – amazingly, this is not a permanent structure.  It is a giant greenhouse looking thing with canvas walls that are insulated to protect the ice sculptures inside.

Next – the hot!  We had to take a soak in the hot springs.  I am not a water person at all, but did break out the bathing suit for this part.  The springs are 165 degrees, so they actually have to cool the water down for the outdoor soaking pool.  Some parts of the water are so hot there is steam rising from it.  We steered clear of those spots and had a relaxing soak.

This place is proud of the fact that they are off the power grid and make their own electricity using the natural geothermal energy.  They offer free tours of their power plant and on site green houses.  Not only do they make their own power, they grow all the lovely plants used to decorate the property, and grow all the tomatoes and lettuce for the restaurant.

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It’s all grown using hydroponics.  We ate in the restaurant and enjoyed the super fresh tomatoes and lettuce in the salads.

They are also raising animals in the hopes of providing all their own meat eventually.  They have a small reindeer herd with a one month old baby reindeer.  Such a cutie, but I didn’t take a picture of him when I had the chance.  There are also chickens and goats who were not fans of Jackson, and neither was mama duck who steered her nine babies away when we got too near.  We didn’t tour the sled dog kennel, but we could hear them.  All in all, a very interesting place and we did see a big moose cow on the way to Fairbanks.  I wasn’t fast enough for a picture.

Retail Therapy

Fairbanks is a big enough city to finally source a few replacement items.  I now have a new cell phone, and we managed to ditch the old microwave/convection oven and buy a new microwave/grill at Wal-Mart.  We’re also able to eat a few meals out and buy our Alaska Tour Saver book.  This has some great two for one deals in it, and everyone says you much have one.

We saved our first few dollars at the theater.  The live production at Pioneer Park’s theater was hilarious and showcases how Fairbanks came to be, and how the full-time residents live.  We hadn’t been to an “act out” as Ethan used to call them in ages, so it was a nice evening out.  Plus, when else can you exit the show at 9:30 pm and still have broad daylight for the drive home?

Riverboat Discovery

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We saved again with a 2 for 1 deal on the Riverboat.  It was a few hours on the Tanana River complete with some other sightseeing moments.  We got to see a bush pilot take off and land on the river.

There was also a stop alongside the dog kennel that belonged to Susan Butcher – 4 time Iditarod winner.  This is the rugged 1100 mile dog-mushing race that takes place every year in the dead of winter.  She passed away from cancer, but her family maintains the kennel and they showed off the very enthusiastic dog team.

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One of the many dog kennels on the riverbank.

Finally, we stopped off at an Athabascan Native American village replica.

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This young lady told about her Athabascan heritage and described her family’s fish camp up river.  They still spend the summers there catching salmon and preparing them using their family recipe.

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She demonstrated preparation of the salmon for dogfood.  The dog teams need lots of fat and good protein to maintain their energy in the winter.  The people salmon is usually the better quality fish, but all are initially dried this way.  On the return boat ride, we got to try a scrumptious salmon dip.  I’m not a fan of cooked salmon, but have to say that dip was awesome.  I’m not ashamed to say I went back four times!

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They Athabascans are also great trappers and the guides showed off the fox pelts – four different breeds – red, gray, silver & arctic.  Isn’t the Arctic Fox gorgeous?

The North Pole

We actually stopped here on the way to Chena Hot Springs and again before departing the Fairbanks area.  Our campground technically had a North Pole address, so we can say we’ve lived at the North Pole – at least for a week!

The visitor’s center is great fun and they directed us to see a group of authentic log cabins complete with sod roofs.  The residents in this little area live in them year round.

20170408 Santa Claus is on duty full-time in this town.  Well except when he is busy on Christmas Eve.  I figured it didn’t hurt to get in a good word early this year.  Next to Santa’s house is a reindeer herd and the Police Department is located at One Santa Claus Lane.  The streetlamps are all striped like big candy canes and the church?  Well that would be named after Saint Nicholas.

Fairbanks was also the starting point for our big Arctic Expedition, but I’ll save that for a post all its own.  It was that awesome!  See you on the way!

Million Dollar Falls & The Recovery

Spring was just beginning to show itself in the Yukon after we left Haines.  We still weren’t feeling too hot, but were determined to move along as planned.

Million Dollar Falls Campground

Next stop was Million Dollar Falls Campground, just south of Haines Junction, YT.  Another lovely Yukon Territory campground and a short driving day for us.  It’s quite a scenic drive, complete with trumpeter swans on the lakes, but we weren’t too interested in many photo stops.

We did pull off at the Haines Highway Summit at the top of Chilkat Pass.  Barren and another spot I’d call a lonely beauty.  This was the route used by the Dalton Trail during the Klondike Gold Rush.  Some really unforgiving territory for sure.

The campground got its name for the $13 million dollar price tag associated with the Haines Highway, built in 1943.  (That’s 140 million in today’s dollars).  Mile 103 where the campground is today was the site of one of the road construction camps.

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Our campsite was nice and private with the sound of Takhanne Falls in the background.

We walked the quiet campground road with Jackson and he managed to find and eat some moose poop.  Also checked out the rugged rocks at the falls.  The woods looked like a colorized black and white photo with the gray sky and dead Spruce trees mixed in.

We spent two nights here with no services – cell or wi-fi.  Not our smartest move considering how bad we felt.  Time to move on and we’re still feeling puny, aaaand Jackson has an accident in the night.

We Mush On

Onward we go and we’re shooting for Beaver Creek in the Yukon for the next stop.  We’re still pitiful and don’t make that since we had a slow start with the rug scrubbing required before leaving Million Dollar Falls.  (Jackson is very sorry…)  We see caution signs for an active forest fire, and in fact, a helicopter with a water bucket takes off right in front of us.

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Pat slowed down for this one in case the bucket took a bad swing.

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We also get a look at Kluane Lake – largest in the Yukon at 154 square miles.

Since Beaver Creek was just too far for us this day, we stopped at Discovery Yukon Lodgings.  It really isn’t in a town, so they have a generator they run 24×7 to power the place.  Interesting and a little noisy.  We had our own airstrip at this spot.

The Holding Pattern

This attempt to keep on schedule despite the flu is folly we decide.  We’re going to the next place with full services and stay until we die or feel better.  Such a shame to pass all this great scenery and say ‘meh’.  We cross back into Alaska and surrender to the rest we need for four days in Tok – rhymes with poke.  Fast Eddie’s is within walking distance for mediocre food since the cupboards are almost bare, and they have laundry since everything is yucky sicky dirty.

We had the most interesting experience at the Tok Medical Clinic.  I was worried about pneumonia and it seemed like a chest thing by now.  The focus here seems to be for the Native American community and I am grilled by nurse #1 on my issue before they agree to see me.  I fill out a clipboard full of paperwork, and then nurse #2 comes out to tell me they can’t see me until Monday unless it is an emergency.  It is Friday at this point.  Hushed talk ensues at the desk and nurse #2 does not seem happy at all.  In the end a nice young doctor from Chicago examines me.  He’s been there three weeks he says and essentially apologizes for their humble clinic while rubbing his forehead.  The x-ray machine has to be 35 years old he tells me. (Which would be older than him!)  Northern Exposure was based on such a premise.  Anyhoo, turns out I am going to live and just need more rest.  Still not sure if there was just some nurse power struggle going on there or if I was not the minority that was supposed to be there.  I was a “traveler” after all in their words.

Delta Junction

We are fit to travel again and stay one night in Delta Junction, the official “end” of the Alaskan Highway.  Normally people start at the beginning of the Alcan in Canada and finish up here, but we are doing it backwards.  We won’t actually do the “start” until the way back to the lower 48.

 

They have some fun stuff at the visitor center.  Fortunately we haven’t encountered any big wildlife in the road, but we have seem plenty of BIG mosquitoes.  I thought they were big in Florida until I went to North Dakota.  Then we made it here, and Alaska wins the prize!

Here’s one of the buggers I killed just tonight!  And my secret weapon – a bug zapper shaped like a tennis racket.  I cannot tell you the pleasure I get from this thing.  Zzzt!  Zzzt!

The Breaking Streak Continues

Yes, more “developments” to report.  When we arrived in Tok, I opened a top bin and wham – a ceramic flower vase came flying out and crashed on the counter.  I was so happy it didn’t break.  When I looked again I realize that it didn’t break because my phone broke the fall.  Argh – broken phone screen.  It still works, but is a little hinky, especially when I try and actually talk on the phone.  I slap a piece of packing tape over the top and we put it on the list of “stuff to do” in civilization.

When we’re leaving Tok, the car external brake isn’t “talking” to the monitor in the RV.  We had trouble with the connector cable and it seems to be the issue.  We put it on the list to order a new one.  Honestly.

Frost Heaves

We read about these before out trip and how they will jangle your teeth out.  They do indeed jangle you, the dog and everything in the RV.  Not quite what I pictured though.  Apparently the permafrost beneath the road thaws, and that causes the frost heaves, or waves in the pavement.  As you’re driving you can see the road literally rippling.  Road crews work tirelessly this time of year to repair the frost heaves.  That means asphalt haphazardly slapped on in the Yukon,  whole sections replaced in Alaska, and miles of it reduced to gravel road as they rip it all out and start again.  All you can do is slow down and hold on.

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Here’s a spot in the Yukon that doesn’t look promising.  The whole road is blocked with a big pile of dirt.

But good news.  You just go around the pile off the side of the road.  We can’t decide if a dry dusty road that chokes poor Bitsy is better or the wet, muddy stuff.  The best, or should I say worst, potholes and heaves are marked with orange cones.  Or lately they’ve resorted to paper plates on sticks.  Use what you got I always say.

Our next driving day takes us past the Alaskan pipeline.  We round the corner and there it is suspended over a bridge.  Pretty impressive sight.  Then we drive past a military base and four fighter planes land along side us as we pass by.  You just never know what you’re going to see on driving days.

The Midnight Sun

We come from the Sunshine State and are big fans of the sun, but we wish it would go away, at least for a few hours.  Right now sunset is at 12:40 am and sunrise is at 3:04 am.  I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around sunset on a different day.  And even when the sun is “down”, it’s twilight.  There is no true darkness, and it seriously messes up your sleep schedule.

We’ve tried a few things to darken the motorhome.  I started with a towel over the shower door to block the skylight, then progressed to a blanket with pillows stuffed in the gap between the door and the ceiling.  A few stops ago we took down the skylight cover and wrapped it in tinfoil.  Light still peeked through the cracks so I sacrificed some of my black craft paper and taped it to the skylight.  You need the light on to take a shower now, but at least we have our little hibernation chamber in the bedroom.

Next up – Fairbanks and vicinity.  And a special appearance by St. Nick!  See you on the way!

 

 

Haines & The Wheels Come Off the Bus

This was one of the Alaskan cities I didn’t think we’d get to, but so glad we did.  Another beautiful Southeastern Alaska gem, with a vigorous hike, another “development”, more new friends, and then it all unraveled…..

The Journey IS The Adventure

For Haines, getting there truly was the adventure.  The drive to Haines is about 350 miles in a roundabout way.  The ferry, however, can do the same trip in 45 minutes by water through North America’s longest and deepest fjord.  It amounts to just a few miles of driving.  We’re calling it our longest “mileage” day even though Pat only drove about 5 miles in total from campground to campground.

It was one of the few “grumpy” days we’ve had so far weather-wise and seemed like a good day to do it on the ferry.  Before we departed, we managed to squeak out one more meal with our friends Cheryl & David.  Then it’s off to wait in line to board the ferry.  I’m at the head of the line in lane 1, seated and ready to pilot Bisty aboard the Fairweather.  Pat is back in lane 3 and behind the wheel in Lucy.

They guy on the dock starts waving people in a specific order.   Those going to Juneau drive aboard first and disappear.  Then those of us going to Haines queue up.  I’m bringing up the rear and the guys says that way I get to be first off.  I’m behind this bigger truck and can’t see Pat ahead of me at the end of the dock.  We wait and wait and finally I see Lucy’s nose pull around…to BACK on board the ferry!  Holy smokes!  I’m dying and taking all kinds of pictures from my vantage point.  There are no less than 5 people circling the motorhome and putting down pieces of wood and picking them back up as Pat inches over transition points on the ramp.  Turns out all those going to Haines have to turn around to face out, but Lucy’s too big for that inside the ferry, thus the backing on.

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Pat is my hero this day!  I give him high marks for this park job.  He says he just did what the guy told him.  Took about 15 minutes at least to get him in there so the rest of us could come aboard.

I’m still all jazzed about Pat and his backing up.  People are getting out of their cars so I do, too, and go back to talk to Pat.  He is parked with the door and steps right next to a big pole.  He doesn’t think he can get out since the stairs are automatic and would clang the pole.  I agree and he hands me money out the window so I can get him a snack.  Pat had planned to stay with Jackson anyway, so no big deal.

I go up to the passenger deck and browse around the snack bar as we start cruising.  I’m delighted to find ice cream bars as well as candy bars.  Pat will be so pleased.  I’ve paid for my purchases, but now can’t find the stairwell that goes back down to the auto deck.  “Excuse me”, I ask the clerk.  “Where is the door back down to the cars?”  She proceeds to tell me that I can’t go back down, and I proceed to show my ice cream bar just waiting to be eaten by my husband who is down below in the RV and cannot get out I explain.  Anyone figured out where this is going yet?  A flurry of walkie-talkie talk ensues and she trots me over to a control room to yet another stern-faced woman.  NO ONE can be down in the cars she says, and dons her very official safety vest.    She unlocks a cryptically marked door (why I couldn’t find it), and shoos me down the stairs like the bad little kid.

I knock on Lucy’s window and proudly hand over the ice cream bar to Pat and we tell him he has to come out.  Frown.  Ok, but he doesn’t think the stairs will allow it.  While he’s putting on his shoes, the lady says to me “How did YOU get out?!”.  I was driving the car I say.  Oh.  Pat slowly eases the door open and the stairs come out just inches from the pole.  Ta-da!  She marches us back up stairs and we apologize profusely.  And that is the story of how we got into hot water on the ferry, and I ended up with zero pictures of the voyage and fjord.

The Development

So big day on the ferry and we’re tired.  How about we bake that pizza in the convection oven Pat suggests.  Capital idea and I start pre-heating the oven.  Zzzztt and off goes the oven.  Or some noise kinda like that.  I think we’ve tripped the breaker, but Pat checks and says no.  Out comes the multi-meter and Pat works his electrical magic.  We were just extolling the many virtues of the microwave/convection oven to our Texas friends over lunch.  Seems the magical creature picked this moment in our journey to die the big death.

Have I mentioned that we have never. ever. ever. used our regular oven before?  Well, we now have a thawing pizza on our hands and no wherewhithal to scrounge up anything else.  Pat proceeds to light the gas oven so the baking can begin.  I don’t think the people who owned the motorhome before us ever used the oven either, so smell with me the odor of all that dust burning off the element.  Yes, we did eat our dinner and it was fairly evenly baked pizza.  And thus ends day one in Haines.

Haines

This is a beautiful spot and seems to prove what our Hyder host said.  All the prettiest places in Alaska are along the coast.  So far that’s pretty much all we’ve seen so we can’t argue.   We originally timed the trip over here to coincide with the Alaska Craft Beer & Homebrew Festival.  After getting here we learn it is completely sold out, but also that it is flat expensive.  Since I’m only going to drink the equivalent of one beer total and Pat doesn’t even like anything with taste, we’re ok with skipping.  Instead we set off to see the sights.

I regret that we didn’t go to the hammer museum, but I’ll explain why in a bit.  We did go to Battery Point to take Jackson on a short hike.

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I can’t say enough about the different variations of blue in the clouds, water and cliffs.  Patti – that sailboat shot is for you!  You need to be sailing up here!

The woods are just what I pictured with big tall firs, and a carpet of moss to blanket everything from the roots to the rocks.

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Nice, easy softball hike for Jackson.  From there we grab lunch out and then head over to the fairgrounds where they have the set of Dawson City from the 1989 movie White Fang.  Disney built the set, but the citizens paid to move it here to outfit their fairgrounds.

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Mt. Ripinsky

Now we’re ready for a real hike and we stopped by the visitor center to get the scoop on where to go.  The Mt. Ripinsky summit is a full day affair and still snow-covered.  We are waived off of that one, but the tower hike is an afternoon option.  As I’m leaving, a guy tells me about a short half-mile extension and promises a stunning overlook of the city at the end.  We’re sold and off we go.

This was only a four mile hike total, but not well-marked after the first mile or so.  It was extremely strenuous and we did as much climbing and clambering over things as we did actually putting one foot in front of the other.  Also the first time we had to stop multiple times on any hike and retrace our steps as we realized we were no longer on the path.  At one point I asked if we were on the path or in a runoff area.  Perhaps both Pat declares.  Fortunately we found markers that other hikers had tied to tree branches to steer us clear.

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I almost suggested we turn back at the two hour point and then, wow!  That guy did not lie.  We had a view of the bay over my left shoulder and further out the Chilkat River.  Haines sits right in between.

More shots from the top of the rock.

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That rocky outcropping right above Pat’s head is where we were overlooking the city.

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Zoomed in you can see the campground below.  Lucy is the backed in motorhome to the far right at the end of the horseshoe drive.

The Rest of the Haines Experience

We originally had 3 days planned for Haines and then I found this wildlife center I just HAD to see.  Expensive, but I was willing to spend the money on that.  They had a playful wolverine after all and a moose you could pet.  So day four, Sunday, is added on.

In the meantime, I have my hair cut and colored by a delightful woman named Judith.  Yes, karma I think.  She’s lived here for 20 odd years and just loves it all.  Although she says if she’d known how hard she’d have to work to live here full-time, she probably wouldn’t have made the move.

We also find a nice little Catholic church and attend Mass.  Imagine our surprise when Father Perry asks if we’d like him to come and bless our RV?  I don’t think there’s a way to turn that down, do you?  So we put him in our car, drive him over to the RV park, and he blesses us inside and out, including Jackson.  Holy water all around!

Finally, we get a chance to join some new friends, John & Debbie for dinner.  They’re also from Florida and on a similar trek as us.  Former live aboard sailors, turned full-time RVers.

And this is where the wheels come off the bus my friends.  By that evening, I’m running 100+ fever and Pat is not fairing much better.  Sunday dawns and we are absolutely not going to the wildlife center.  I am disappointed, but truly feeling so bad I don’t care.  And also the reason we don’t see the hammer museum.  That was only $5, by the way.

So that’s the Haines saga.  Next up – Million Dollar Falls and our strategical error.  See you on the way!

 

Skagway

We’re feeling like bears just coming out of hibernation and slowly getting ready to jump start our travels again.  I don’t know what got a hold of us, but it has been the lost week of our lives.  My friend Barbara dubbed it the AAWF (Alaskan A**-Whooping Flu)  “Right on!” as they say in Canada.

Got My Reflections

The lakes along the way have been just stunning, but I’ve been hoping for an opportunity to capture perfect reflections of the mountains.  So far that stillness is only early in the morning and I haven’t been inclined to get my butt up to take pictures at that hour.  The drive to Skayway was another beautiful day and I got my wish for reflections at Tagish Lake.

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This one was my favorite.  Even some locals stopped to take pictures with their phone since they said the water is never this calm.

Lunch timed out right at the Carcross Desert.  An interesting mix of the typical snow-capped mountain views with northern sand dunes at the base.  Yukon boasts this as the smallest desert in the world.  It’s the work of the last glacial period when glacial lakes deposited silt, and lots of it.

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Back Across the Border and Gear Down!

Back in the USA again and the border guard is all business.  Still only interested in alcohol and weapons, so no big deal for us.

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We are loving seeing all the tippy tops of the mountains.  Cannot ask for better weather for this drive into Skagway.

The sub-alpine area is so interesting.  Stubby trees and lots of snow and rock.

Pat crosses the road and climbs up the hill to take the shot of Lucy, Bitsy, Jax and me.  Jackson is flatly refusing to get back in the RV at this point and Pat has to start the engine and threaten to drive away to get him back on board.  He’s a little travel weary at this point.

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It’s a windy steep roll right down the mountain into Skagway.  The signs for truckers say to gear down!  And we do the same.  Pat doesn’t get to see much when the drive is like this since he’s focused on the road.

White Pass Railroad

When we were in Skagway on a cruise back in 2000, we didn’t ride the train.  It is touted as the thing to do when in town, so this time we made it our big outing.

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Early on the in the ride we are able to look back at Skagway in the distance.  You can even see a few cruise ships in port.

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It is all green and full of waterfalls until we get up to White Pass.  Tons of snow and a 150ft deep glacial lake is at the very top.  Also, quite the crack in the earth.  This ride took a bit longer than expected since we were chugging along on one and a half engines.  It was very stressful for quite a few cruise ship passengers who were supposed to be pulling out before we were due to get back into the station.  Fortunately they had safety in numbers and we had all the time in the world.

Different Than the Cruise Ship View

We opted to stay at the campground on the opposite end of town and not in the middle of the port.  It was a quieter spot in the middle of regular neighborhoods.  Jackson liked the walks and we saw some fun things along the way.

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Get a load of Sleddie Van Halen!  Someone has a sense of humor.

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Great garage door painted as the Alaskan State Flag.  Skagway is known for very high winds, especially in the Winter.  We found it to be windy for us, too.

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We’re finding it fascinating how everything gets used and re-used here.  Building materials and everything else are at a premium we’re guessing.  Loved this example of the trailer room off the side of the house.

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And a sign you don’t see everyday.  Fortunately no tsunami scares while we were there.

Finally, a look from our side of town on the left with the Skagway River and the tourist side of town on the right.

We also do a little shopping since I’m hot on the trail for a replacement bracelet.  I bought one here when we were on our cruise and I loved it, but lost it.  It was made of amber, jade and wooly mammoth fossils.  So far no luck finding that combo, but I’m hopeful at some point during this trip.  We also manage to have dinner again with our friends Cheryl & David who overlap with us at the campground.

At this point we’re so excited since we’ve booked all our worldly goods on the ferry to Haines.  Stay tuned for tales from the ferry and how we got ourselves into a little hot water….

See you on the way!

Part 2 – That’s a Wrap!

Even though Alaska is the main event for this trip, we couldn’t help but be taken by the beauty in British Columbia and the Yukon Territory.  I’m sure some of those sights will rival The Last Frontier state.  It is truly a looooong way to Alaska through Canada – thousands of miles worth.  We tried to enjoy it as much as possible while making time to AK.  We made a few of you (and us) really tired just watching our campground hopping, but it has been so worth it.

Back in British Columbia

We last left you in Hyder, Alaska, and have several stops to share from Part 2 of the Epic Journey.  Our first one was in Kinastin Lake, BC at a provincial park.  These are much like our state parks, except they typically don’t have any services, so no water, power or sewer connections.  Since Pat solved the refrigerator electrical problem, we are good to go for at least a day or two just on our batteries.  And short generator bursts for the coffee maker, hair dryer, microwave and vacuum cleaner.  I haven’t given up too many comforts as you can tell.

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Since we didn’t care about what side of the coach went where for services, we parked nose in to take advantage of the magnificent view of Lake Kinastin.  So quiet and so beautiful.

As they say, the journey is as good as the destination and this day was no exception.  We saw 9 bears, 1 bobcat, 1 marten, and 1 wolverine.  The bobcat stopped and I swear looked me right in the eye.  Gorgeous creature right by the road.  As for the marten and wolverine, we weren’t sure what we saw until we described them to the camp host.  After looking up pictures once we had internet, we’re convinced those were the culprits.

I tried to take some sunset pictures at this stop, but sunset is elusive this far north.  At 10pm, I snapped these…

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Yes, those are loons and I love their haunting call.  They obliged and swam right where I needed them for my dusky shot.

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I stood out here freezing just so I could hear the crackle of the neighbor’s fire, call of the loons, and lapping lake water.  And nothing else.  Now THIS is peaceful.

Drive to Dease Lake

More BC and we are on some interesting rough roads by this point.  We had expected that on the Alcan or Alaska/Canada Highway, but not quite yet.  No center line, no shoulders in some cases and the pavement is noisy-rough.  We knew to slow down for cones on the side of the roads, since those mark the particularly rough spots.  And cones with flags in them, beware!

This day adds two caribou to our animal count at Gnat’s Pass.  Notice the road in the picture.  This is the Cassiar Highway and in some cases isn’t much better than going down a gravel road.  A short travel day and a bit of a slow go.  We did enjoy the frozen lakes and can’t believe that they still are!

Dease Lake Campground is nothing special, but we are finally in a town with fuel and a grocery store of sorts.  We also have some wi-fi provided by the campground since my phone continues to disappoint.  I’m hanging out by the garbage cans with our new friends from Vancouver so we can get the wi-fi signal and catch up with the world.  The grocery store is an unexpected bonus and we are relieved since we misjudged the amount of dog food left.  Fortunately they have big bags so Jackson doesn’t have to forage.

Driving to the Yukon

Today is exciting since are headed to the Yukon Territory.  I don’t know anyone who’s actually ever been and it sounds so remote and exotic.  After leaving Dease Lake civilization, we have only passed 3 vehicles, one a semi, and we’re about halfway to the Yukon when we spy a garage sale sign.  And they have pizza!  Seriously, who is going to that garage sale in the true middle of nowhere?

We also learn that Dolly Varden is a fish from our handy Milepost book, and can be caught in the rivers we are passing.  The Milepost is a mile-by-mile Alaska travel planner that tells about every route in, out, and around Alaska.  And you guessed it, talks about the routes mile by mile.  I have a love/hate relationship with this piece of literature.  I can’t navigate with it since it goes into nauseating detail about everything.  BUT it does give you great peace of mind after miles and miles of nothingness.  It also lets you know when you can count on fuel or not and where there are campgrounds and food.  I get lost in it, but you really do need it for this journey.

I don’t think it’s possible to pass by Jade City on the way North.  This isn’t really a city, but a store selling jade to passersby and offering free coffee and clean restrooms.  I’ve read that about 90% of the world’s jade is mined from the Cassiar Mountains in BC right around here.  This spot is family-owned and they mine their own jade for the beautiful things they sell.  Pat is posing by a huge piece of jade before it is cut and polished.  I’m with the Jade City sign and bear.  Sign you say?  Well, Pat did not get that part in the picture and has been chastised for it.  I have a lovely jade ring to show for this lunch stop.

Yukon Ho!

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Such a thrill to cross the border into the Yukon Territory!  They aren’t kidding with the larger than life slogan.  Those of you who are Calvin and Hobbes comic strip fans will recognize that I stole the title for this section.  Pat is a huge fan and read all the books to Ethan as a child.  I couldn’t help but remember this one and the sentiment is so apt for our journey.  We feel like kids again and escaping all the grown-up rules!  Just so you get the idea, here’s Calvin’s song by author Bill Watterson –

“My tiger friend has got the sled,
And I have packed a snack.
We’re all set for the trip ahead.
We’re never coming back!

We’re abandoning this life we’ve led!
So long, Mom and Pop!
We’re sick of doing what you’ve said,
And now it’s going to stop!

We’re going where it snows all year,
Where life can have real meaning.
A place where we won’t have to hear,
“Your room could stand some cleaning.”

The Yukon is the place for us!
That’s where we want to live.
Up there we’ll get to yell and cuss,
And act real primitive.

We’ll never have to go to school,
Forced into submission,
By monstrous crabby teachers who’ll
Make us learn addition.

We’ll never have to clean a plate
Of veggie glops and goos.
Messily we’ll masticate
Using any fork we choose!

The timber wolves will be our friends.
We’ll stay up late and howl,
At the moon, till nighttime ends,
Before going on the prowl.

Oh, what a life! We cannot wait,
To be in that arctic land,
Where we’ll be masters of our fate,
And lead a life that’s grand!

No more of parental rules!
We’re heading for some snow!
Good riddance to those grown-up ghouls!
We’re leaving! Yukon Ho!”

Watson Lake

We’re able to meet up with our new friends Cheryl & David for dinner #2 at this Yukon stop, and we also head over to the Sign Post Forest.

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We didn’t think this would be much of a big deal, but it has posts covered with signs from all over the world.  Everything from toilet seats to spatulas to actual road signs commemorating their Alaska treks.  My mom & dad visited here when they made their journey from Florida to Alaska, but don’t think they put up a sign and neither did we.  We did take another couple’s picture to document their new sign.

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This little Catholic mission church was literally behind our campsite.  We only had to walk around the campground fence to get there and you can even see the campground sign to the right in the picture.  I mention this because the two priests were so excited that one of them just got his driver’s license and they were headed to White Horse the next day to get a car.  No more bumming rides from parishioners to get to the remote spots in their parish.  A great reminder of things we take for granted such as transportation, reliable communication and the ability to get to church, any church.

Teslin Lake Territorial Park

When we were at the provincial park, the camp host offered a piece of advice.  If you have the time, stay at Yukon territorial parks.  They don’t have services either, but come out to roughly $9 a night for camping.  Practically free and just as gorgeous as BC.

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The lake was still frozen and the ice chunks were pushed up on the shore.  They shifted and moved and sounded like ice cubes chinking in a glass.  Or maybe a tiny glass avalanche.  Another peaceful spot hearing only the crunch of boots on the rocks and the shifting ice shards.

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The rocky shoreline was tough on Jackson’s feet.  He seemed to like the snow better, but did a little slipping and sliding.

Other Stuff to Report

So we’re driving along after leaving Watson Lake, and the tire pressure monitoring system sounds the alarm.  It’s my job to monitor this when we drive and it tells us pressure and temp on all our tires – Bitsy & Lucy.  So far it just alarms when it loses connection with one of the sensors and needs a reset.  This time, however, it is crying out for one of Lucy’s duallies and reporting a temp of 298 degrees.  That can’t be good I say, and fortunately we were just passing a place to stop.  I’m happy to report that it was a false reading and reset after Pat checked all the tires.  I’d rather do an extra check if it means we prevent blow-outs.

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We enjoy finding humor in the ordinary.  The Chinese restaurant in Watson Lake painted their propane tanks.  A little whimsy on the roadside.  Which do you like better – Cheshire Cat or Yellow Submarine?

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And our new shredding method.  The real shredder took up too much room, so we gave it away.  This low budget method seems to work just fine, although I tend to put too much in at a time and snuff out the fire.

Next up we’ll be in Part 3 of the Epic Journey starting back in Alaska with Skagway.  See you on the way!

A Taste of Alaska

That’s right!  We zipped in and we zipped out of the self-proclaimed friendliest ghost town in Alaska.  Hyder is a town of only 100 residents and many of them are only seasonal.  Tiny little place, but it has all the basics, including some mighty friendly folks.

Drop Dead Gorgeous Drive

To get to Hyder, AK, you drive a stretch of road in British Columbia that is truly stunning.  We were lucky enough to make the trip on a dazzling bright blue day.  We both agreed that this would be good enough to call our Epic Journey a success.  Fortunately we’re just getting started.  The pictures don’t do justice to the views around every corner.

We saw our first bears on the way to Hyder and were soooo very excited.  Jackson has a total fit when he sees them and barks like crazy.  I thought he was going to get up on the dash for one of them.  From then on we’ve been hyper-vigilant watching for bears.  We’re seeing all kinds now – tree bears, rock bears, drain pipe bears.  There was this one sign that we swore was a bear, until we got closer.  That was the one that had Jackson all worked up.

Run-A-Muck

Hyder has one open campground, or so we thought.  Camp Run-A-Muck looks like the rest of the place – deserted for the most part.  Feeling smug about our drive up with no reservation success, we pulled in here and found the big “sorry we’re closed” sign.  And no other campers in sight.

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Sorry – we’re closed!

Fortunately a guy sitting in his van saw us drive by.  No mistaking where we’d be going in our giant motorhome towing a car.  He followed us and says he knows the guy running the place.  He’ll just go right over to his house and tell him we’re here.  Just when we were to the “uh oh, now what” point, Doyle drives up.  He says he’s kinda closed and I say can you be kinda open?  Of course the good thing is the campgrounds seem to try hard not to turn people away.  This was no exception.  They are kinda open and we have the pick of the spots.

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Does it get any better than this?  Well, yes, but we’re pretty happy right about now.

And Jackson? He made a new friend.  Mud was a very enthusiastic host and was hard to resist.  Doyle says he was a rescue, living with a family member, who said if he chased the chickens one more time, his name would be Mud.  You know how this turns out and now he lives with Doyle.

What to do?

Hyder is known for two things – bear and glacier viewing.  We were able to see the Bear Glacier on the way in and out, but not the famous Salmon Glacier about 21 miles out of town.  We drove our little Bitsy as far as we could go, 12.5 miles, until we got to the part of the road still blocked by snow.  It is May mind you!  We were told not to push it in that little car, especially with no cell service and an obvious avalanche/mud slide area that we picked our way through.  So no glacier, but fantastic views and a story to tell.

Bear Glacier will have to do this trip.  A pic on the way in with the bright sunny day and a pic on the way out with some clouds.

Bear viewing is the other hot ticket in town.  There’s a great wooden viewing walk-way that the park service built to keep the looky-lous safe while photographing grizzlies and black bears fishing for salmon.  Of course, that happens for the most part in July and we’re a tad early.  Good news – the platform is free this time of year since mostly nothing is stirring, and one fine bear obliged and showed up for the picture-taking session.

Mr. Black Bear is chowing down and they chew with their mouth way open.  We were so quiet until he backs up to the river to poop.  I laugh out loud and he turns to see who’s watching.  He walks off, in a huff it seems.

Seeing the Other Sights

The walk down the road from the campground is just as interesting as the drive up the mountain.  We marvel at the river with the glacier melt.  It’s old-fashioned coke bottle green.  Hard to capture in photos, but I tried my best.

We also see a river otter scooting upstream.  He was a quick little guy and pics were blurry.

Doyle also told us that the Tidal Basin has some good views and we’d possibly pick up some cell service scamming off the Canadian side of the border.

We had to drive through an area that looked like where all the old mechanical things go to die.  Abandoned cars, trailers, fuel tanks, you name it.  Seriously, that seems to be the way up here.  Drive it off into the woods and wish it well.  But, if you work your way through, the views are worth it.  So glad we have Bitsy to get to these out of the way places.

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Turned out to be my favorite shot of this drive.  The tidal range is huge here, not to mention the wild rushing water from the snow melt down the mountains.  Apparently the tree debris gets washed down and left in the marshy areas.  This old man definitely marks the spot.  Can’t you just smell that salt air?  It was a delightful combination with the snow-capped mountains and squishy tidal mud.

And yes, we did scam a little cell action.  I got a text from Ethan while we were here and was able to send him one back.  Ah, civilization is a good thing.  We were also fortunate that the forestry guy/librarian/road-grader/wi-fi hooker upper came by the campground before we left.  We have internet for a brief moment in time!  It seems all the folks around here wear multiple hats to get things done.  Our campground manager is also the pastor at the Baptist Church next door.

Poop Visits Alaska!

We haven’t forgotten about Poop.  He’s been sleeping since Oregon, but I rousted him out to prove he was in Alaska.

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He sneezed and laughed all the way to the PO.  Which, buy the way, was a whole quarter mile from the campground, if that.

We also finally get to meet our new RVillage friends, Cheryl & David, who are from Texas.  Dining options are slim and we eat at the one restaurant open that day.  Looks suspiciously like a dive bar, but when in Rome….  Fun time getting to know them and swapping Alaska trip stories and we will intersect again down the road.

Epic Journey Part 3

For those of you following along with the itinerary, we will be zigging and zagging yet again.  Doyle from Run-A-Muck recommended the ferry from Skagway to Haines.  We looked it up with our new-found internet and determined it to be affordable even taking our whole house, and fits our timeline pretty well.  It allows us to intersect with a craft beer festival in Haines (woo-hoo!) and see a city we thought we’d have to miss.  But, we’ve decided that it doesn’t make sense to head to Whitehorse after that, so we’ll save that stop for the way out.  Suffice it say, we’re now officially in Part 3 which includes one small stop back in the Yukon, but the rest in Alaska until sometime in August.

Also for those keeping track, the wedding ring left the finger once more.  Pat found it on the ground outside the car.  Still got it though.

Next up, Yukon Territory and land of no internet, cable, cell service and some pretty rough roads.  See you on the way!

 

 

Epic Journey – Part 2

We’ve actually been in part two since our departure from the lower 48 back on May 8th, but spotty wi-fi and near constant travel have slowed down my posting.  Before we go too much farther, I thought I’d better outline the schedule since we don’t expect connectivity to improve.  Plus, I’ll be trying to enjoy the moments and not spend a lot of time writing about them!

Part 2 Itinerary – In Pencil

One thing we’ve learned is that the “plan” often does not pan out.  Fortunately, we seem to end up in a better place or in better weather when that happens.  Missing a campground one night meant we found one better positioned for the next day’s drive to avoid a storm.  Also staying in a not so great place for 3 days to rest meant we missed the underwater road on our route.  So, if we just go with it, everything seems to work out fine.

Part 2 stops include everything up to the point where we enter the main part of Alaska – British Columbia, a few stops in Alaska’s Southeast, and Yukon Territory.  Here’s where our noodling and re-noodling has taken us:

  • 5/8 – Enter Canada – Kaleden, BC (Banbury Green RV Park)
  • 5/9 – Kamloops, BC (Knutsford RV Park)
  • 5/10 – Williams Lake, BC (Wildwood Mobile Home & RV Park)
  • 5/11 – 5/13 – Prince George, BC (Mama Yeh RV Park)
  • 5/14 – Houston, BC (Shady Rest RV Park)
  • 5/15 – Hazelton, BC (‘Ksan Campground – and where I’m tucked in with the computer currently)

All the above already happened of course, and not exactly as we planned, but all good. All are noted on the travel map with a picture for each stop.  Check it out.  Next up:

  • 5/16-17 – Hyder, AK – Yes for you doubters, we will finally make it to Alaska TOMORROW!
  • 5/18 – Kinaskan Lake Provincial Park outside Tatogga, BC
  • 5/19 – Dease Lake, BC
  • 5/20-21 – Watson Lake, YT (Yukon Territory!  I feel remote just typing it.  And this is where we are for sure the cell coverage ends for a while)
  • 5/22 – Teslin, YT
  • 5/23-26 – Skagway, AK
  • 5/27-30 – Whitehorse, YT
  • 5/31 – Carmacks, YT
  • 6/1-5 – Dawson City, YT

From here we will enter Alaska for the balance of the Summer, thus embarking upon Epic Journey – Part 3 and the main event!  Keep in mind, the stuff above will likely shuffle about a bit, and hopefully for the good, but at least you have some idea of where we’ll be.

O Canada!

We were so excited to enter Canada since it really felt like we were getting somewhere.  However, a look at the British Columbia map just shows how much farther we have to go.   A couple of firsts on our first day in Canada.  We successfully complete our first border crossing in 15 minutes.  That included parking and going in for the required background checks.

Fortunately we’re not very exciting in the criminal mastermind department, had only one bottle of wine & a few bottles of beer to show for ourselves, AND no weapons.  We are free to move about the country.

Another first in the first big city.  We discover that we have no coverage on my phone, so no Googling for directions any longer.  Seems we’ve come to rely heavily on that.  Our paper atlas proves to be woefully inadequate in Canada.  This results in missing a turn to the campground and our attempt to turn around lands us in a gravel dead end.  Complete with big pile of gravel, aaaand the dump truck comes to bring more as we are unhooking the car.  Yes, we were in a tight spot and one we could not get out of without releasing Bitsy.  We knew this day would come and at least it didn’t block traffic or require law enforcement intervention.

The easiest thing we did all day was exchange money.  Oooh the pretty colors and the bills have see-through windows.  We are such dumb American tourists.

Driving in Canada

A few observations about driving in Canada.  The road sides are covered with signage.  Everything from badger crossings (I kid you not – there was a sign!) to km/hr to parks to not passing snow plows on the right.  You get the idea.  It was a bit bewildering, plus I was going old-school navigating with the paper map.  We think it was also a psychological game.  We knew we were in another country and just expected it to be tricky.  It really wasn’t.

Some examples of the signs.  Sorry I missed the badger one.  But logging trucks?  Yep!  Lots and lots of logging trucks.  Also no moose sightings yet, but we can now identify moose droppings.

I also shut down the first full day and I’m blaming it on a raging headache.  I was no help at all and the twists, turns, bobs and weaves of the motorhome scared me and the dog.  Fortunately one day only and Pat persevered.

Advantage to no cell coverage and wi-fi – no worrying about nonsense in the news.  The most news we had for a few days was from our camping neighbor.  He told us who was in the Stanley Cup playoff game that night and the unsavory US political scandal of the day.  We had not missed that at all!

Eating in Canada

We thought we had the rest stops on the map figured out.  It was a BC map after all and proving to be much more helpful that the US Atlas we started with.  So, we missed the rest stop I had carefully picked out.  Pat quickly whipped off the road (yes he did – seatbelts definitely required!) when he saw a spot big enough for us at Diner 97.  This was the greatest place.  We had our first order of poutine and I say first because it definitely won’t be my last.  Poutine is a delicious pile of fries covered with brown gravy and normally cheese curds.  Diner 97 style has grated mozzarella instead of the cheese curds.  Fantastic!  We followed this up with hot-out-of-oven lasagna, Canadian-style of course, and finally homemade apple pie and ice cream.  Roll us back out to the RV!

This is the spot where we also learned about mean hummingbirds.  Turns out the diner owner had to get 3 additional feeders due to the one hummer bully.

This is not the bully, but another hummer from another campground.  They are everywhere up here.  Diner guy also told us that the scenery is “shocking” when we get further West.  He also introduced us to the Canadian phrase “right on!”  We’ve heard it now from several people along with the predictable “eh”.

I’ve also learned that a sleeve of beer is 14 ounces, eggs are graded like ours, and meat in Canada is AAA for the best cuts.  Pat has learned that Canadians like their food just like he does.  Nothing to offend anyone and not a bit spicy.

People in Canada

The best thing by far we’ve found is the people.  They are so very friendly.  The campground manager at Wildwood came out of the office with two slabs of chocolate zucchini cake.  Truly hit the spot since this was the day we missed our planned stop and drove longer.

We also met some new friends in Prince George.  We post our whereabouts on RVillage, a social media site for RVers, and it always shows us if anyone else is in the same park or the surrounding area.  At this stop Lyla & Bill reached out to us and we were able to meet them for lunch.  We had a grand time and they told us things the locals know along with  some great stopping points on the way to Alaska.  Believe it or not, Bill is an avid sailor and electrician, so lots in common with Pat.  Lyla and I determined that we are happy to be landlubbers and sit on the shore sipping a beverage.  She made us homemade ginger cookies that were outstanding.  Reminded me of the ginger snaps my mom always brought along on car trips.  I’m eating them as we drive and smiling.

RVillage also got us in touch with another couple also heading to Alaska.  We hope to rendezvous with Cheryl and Dave when we get to Hyder.  They are from Plano, so a fun Texas connection and they, too, have a son named Ethan.

Roadside Oddities

The towns along the way in Canada all have RV and dog-friendly information centers.  In front of most of them, there is some “biggest one in the world” item that just makes you stop for a picture.  I’m sure this is by design.  Here are the ones we’ve stopped for thus far:

Biggest set of cross country skis at 100 Mile House, Mr. PG in Prince George, biggest fly fishing rod and reel in Houston and the lumberjack in Hazelton.  Jackson is not sure if that is a real guy or not.  He did a double take.

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And for my good buddy Wendy.  You can charge up your Tesla at the Kamloops visitor center!

Best of the Best

I have some favorite shots from all the stops so far.  They just do not do this country justice.

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From Kaleden on the banks of Lake Skaha.

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100 Mile House visitor’s Center.  Love the velvety grasses.

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Overlooking Prince George and the Fraser River from LC Gunn Park.  Grumpy weather, but our raingear passed with flying colors.  Also the one campground where we were afraid we might get stuck.  The campground water tasted like metal and even Jackson wouldn’t drink it.

Houston, BC.  Poor cows up to their knees.  The creeks and rivers were over the top due to all the rain and snow melt combined.

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I think we’ve finally made it to “shocking”.  Lucy at the foot of the mountains.

The peaceful walking trail, Jackson reveling in the sun and grass and the boys by the riverbank.

We had to cross this single lane bridge to get to ‘Ksan, where we are now.  It has an open metal grate bottom and it is high.  In a show of solidarity for Pat, I couldn’t look either.  Just straight ahead and hope we make it.  Good job Pat.  Now we just have to do it again to leave!

For once we had a short day so we could sight-see.  We took a drive to nearby Kispiox to see the totem pole village.

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Two more for you.  Top one shows the raging river and the bottom one is at the campground.  Rows and rows of trees like sentries on the high bank.  And the mountains – so very blue.

That’s it for now, and probably will be for a while until we have cell service & internet access again.   I’m taking notes each day so I don’t forget any good stuff.  See you on the way!