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Day 75

August 13, 2010 3 comments

Location: Seward, AK

Got the site updated at Seward’s lovely Sea Bass cafe this morning, and then around 11AM I made my way to the harbor where my tour boat was docked.  I found that I had a table to myself on the inside of the boat, so it was nice to have that as a home base for my bag and I wouldn’t have to be outside the whole time, especially if it got cold.  The captain introduced himself, discussed the usual safety measures, and I took a look at the wildlife pamphlet on the table.  There were a lot of animals we could likely see out in Resurrection Bay and the Gulf of Alaska, such as orca and humpback whales, sea lions, puffins, and porpoises.  I was especially looking forward to seeing whales, as I had never see one before.

At noon we headed out of the harbor for the five hour wildlife tour of Kenai Fjords.  Great scenery from the get go.

Alaskan Flag

Wasn’t too long before we got our first glimpse of wildlife – an eagle:

white seal near the bottom of this picture

The boat took us around some coves and there were some more great views to witness.

As we continued on, we were seeing wildlife every way we turned, albeit mostly birds.

little puffins

a comorant

Hundreds (thousands?) of Kittiwakes

Soon we came upon some islands with sea lions. 

And then we spotted more puffins.  I learned from the pamphlet that puffins often gorge themselves so much that they have trouble flying. I found one trying to take off:

After this, I kept hearing reports about humpback whales.  There was a park ranger on the boat with a microphone, and she’d announce if there was a water spout spotted.  Whenever I looked out at the water, I saw nothing, and sure enough as soon as I got back inside the boat, she’d announce a water spout was seen once again.  And then I began to get some feelings of nausea, as the boat would be moving, then slow down, and the process would repeat.

In any case, during the five hours I caught a glimpse of one humpback’s tail (I think), way off in the distance.  Bummer.  Spotted a sea otter on the way back to shore, though (but only thanks to my zoom lens): 

And then it was time to get back to harbor.  The five hour tour went by fast.  Overall, it was a nice ride, with good scenery, but I was a bit disappointed with the lack of sea animals.  Oh well, can’t be lucky every day.

Heading back to Seward

I then met up with Megan and her friend James, and we had a great meal of halibut and salmon, plus corn on the cob.  So delicious.  Thanks to those two for preparing a great dinner.

James, Megan, and the dogs

James just drove up to Alaska from Dallas in June, and he came through Alberta, which will be my route back to the Lower 48.  I’m very anxious to drive through the Canadian Rockies, especially after seeing the pictures from his journey.

Went back and crashed at Megan’s for my final night in Seward.  On Friday morning I’ll climb one of the nearby mountains with James, and then I’ll head back north along the Seward Highway towards Palmer where Megan’s sister, Susan, lives.  That will be one of my last major stops before I work my way east, back towards Canada.

Thanks to my new friends in Seward for a great time.

joe

Day 74: Built fjord tough

August 12, 2010 6 comments

Location: Seward, AK

Miles Driven: ~128

Total Miles: 17,556

My final morning in Anchorage was a pretty successful one.  Booked my plane tickets for October (after about a half hour on the phone), got some of my mail taken care of, and grabbed one final free breakfast at the hotel (thank you, Rachel).  Around noon I got on the road towards Seward.  After the several hundred miles/day driving in Canada on the way to Alaska, it’s nice to keep my latest driving down to the low hundreds.

The view from a gas station in Anchorage

The route to Seward is along the world-famous Seward Highway, one of only a handful of routes designated as an “All-American Road.”  You don’t have to be on the Seward Highway long to know why it received such a designation.  The drive from Anchorage to Seward is actually only about two hours straight-shot, but I found myself pulling over frequently to check out the views, and the drive took well over three hours.

Mazda just chillin by the mountains

Turnagain Arm

funny, the truck matches the mountains

I am caught off-guard sometimes by how green Alaska can be

While driving through the Chugach National Forest, I pulled over to a scenic vista that had some displays about Native Alaskans.  Here’s some interesting info I only recently learned about:

Near this sign were some more displays, one which had a quote I found really memorable, and probably pretty accurate:

“There is one word of advice and caution to be given those intending to visit Alaska…If you are old, go by all means, but if you are young, wait.  The scenery of Alaska is much grander than anything else of its kind in the world, and it is not wise to dull one’s capacity for enjoyment by seeing the finest first.” -Henry Gannett, Harriman Alaska Expedition 1899

grand scenery, indeed

I arrived in Seward a little after 4PM, and then drove towards Kenai Fjords National Park – Exit Glacier area.  Kenai Fjords is the smallest national park in Alaska, but the term “small” is all relative here in Alaska.

I thought I knew what a fjord was, but I looked it up. I had something much more complicated in mind.

Fjord

[fyawrd, fyohrd; Norw. fyohr, fyoor]

–noun
1.
a long, narrow arm of the sea bordered by steep cliffs:usually formed by glacial erosion.

Kenai (pronounced Key-Nigh) Fjords is an incredibly beautiful place.  Here by the Exit Glacier, you get to check out a little of the interior of the park, then there are boat tours so you can view the park from the outside (got my ticket for Thursday).

The view near the park entrance

Exit Glacier

Many tall mountains in the area

I made my way towards the main parking lot which lead to walks by Exit Glacier and another hike to the Harding Ice Field.  The full hike (and return) from Harding Ice Field is 8.5 miles.  I didn’t have time to do that, but I decided I’d hike up it about 2.5 miles where I was promised some good views.

On the way to the trail there were some postings about wildlife in the area.  It was here that I received the best advice on this trip, yet:

Appreciate the insight

I soon got started on the trail towards the Harding Ice Field.  It was a cool day, but I had pants on and a long tshirt that was enough in the steep climb that got you pretty sweaty early on.  Packed a fleece and winter hat just in case.

the start of the hike. Compare this to later photos from the hike

Good views just a little bit into the climb

The climb took me out of the forest area and into some grassy mountain slopes.

close up of the glacier

This marmot also enjoyed the views. These guys can whistle really loud, and it sounds human.

View of the valley. Parking lot near the middle of the photo

Arrival at my destination

At first, I thought there were only two mountain peaks in the background.  But those clouds move fast, and I realized one mountain peak had been obscured.  Three mountain peaks in the back – beautiful!

nevermind the sweat, it was worth it

A last look at the cold mountain peaks

After hanging out at the top for a while, I made my way back down.  Had a bit of a rough time making my way – twisted my right ankle twice (I always manage to twist it going downhill), and I slipped in some mud, fell forward, and banged up my knee pretty good (and ripped my pants in the process).  Nothing disastrous, but I was happy to know the next day I’d be spending a lot of time on a boat, so my body would have some time to heal.

My brother Mike in Oregon knows two people up here in Alaska, sisters, back from his crew days in college.  They both kindly offered me a place to crash, and one sister, Megan, lives here in Seward.  I met up with her and she led me back to her place, where I had my own room to stay in and the chance to get cleaned up and do some laundry.  Megan knows a lot about Alaska so I got some great recommendations from her on things to do after I go on the boat tour, as well as later in my travels.

In a few hours I’ll make my way to the port to hop on the Kenai Fjords Wildlife Tour.  It’s a five hour ride, so I have a good chance to see some birds, whales, sea otters, and other animals.  Also, I’ll be able to see some glaciers from the water.  I’m pretty excited.

Alaska just continues to exceed expectations.  What a state.

joe

P.S.  Thanks to Melissa for reminding me.  Tonight (the 12th) going into early tomorrow morning, the annual Perseid meteor shower peaks.  Looks like it’ll be cloudy here, but if you’re in a clear area I highly recommend you go to a dark site to check them out.  I caught them last year in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, and must’ve seen around 30 or so meteors. Added bonus – the moon is just a couple days past new, so you won’t have interference from moonlight.

http://www.space.com/spacewatch/perseid-meteor-shower-2010-100806.html

Day 73: More connections in Anchorage

August 11, 2010 8 comments

Location: Anchorage, AK

I spent the better part of the morning being lazy, but by afternoon I was in total “get stuff done” mode.  I had made an appointment with a local Mazda dealership, and within an hour after dropping the car off I had the passenger side headlight replaced.  We are back in business now, two new working lights. 

No big deal getting those replaced.  Eventually, all lights will burn out, be they from a roadtrip or just the regular course of driving.  Have to say I’ve had great luck with the vehicle.  The only work I’ve paid for on the near 18,000 miles I’ve traveled is just regular maintenance.

I also spent some time tallying receipts since I left British Columbia.  More good news: I’m still on track, budget-wise.  Canada and Alaska have upset the balance a little bit by higher-than-anticipated gas prices.  Each place in Canada was at least $4/gal, and each place in AK has been at least $3.30/gal or so.  Regardless, I remain in good shape with my trip funds.

The rest of the afternoon was spent trying to manage my itinerary for my October trip: Binghamton -> Los Angeles -> Kathmandu, Nepal -> Osaka, Japan -> Los Angeles -> Binghamton.  I have never booked a multi-destination trip before, so it’s been a little tricky trying to get everything set.  Cathay Pacific Airline seemed to have the best deals, but their website was giving me issues, so I’ll give them a call.  Anyone out there ever fly Cathay before?

Rachel and Claire invited me to join them for dinner.  We hit up the Snow Goose restaurant here in Anchorage, and since I have had yet to try halibut in Alaska (everyone told me “try the halibut”), I ordered a halibut stuffed with crab.  Amazing.

We then spent some time wandering the various shops of the downtown area.  Funny thing, I stumbled across an art store.  For those who read the blog back while I was still on the East Coast, you might recognize the name.

You may recall my grandmother on my mother’s side was a Sevigny.  It was back in Rhode Island, early on in this roadtrip, where I learned a lot about that side of the family.  So given that Sevigny is a fairly unique name, I walked into the store and talked a bit with the owner, Katie.

Turns out Katie married a Sevigny, and his Sevigny relatives, like mine, hailed from Canada/Rhode Island/East Coast.  Wondering if this was just coincidence or perhaps an actual relation, I wracked my brain to remember the family tree, but my memory was limited.  Katie had called up her husband who advised his great-grandfather was Eugene.  I didn’t recall a Eugene in the tree, but I told Katie I would investigate and get back with her.

Fast forward to the next morning, and here I was just moments ago reviewing my post from my time in Rhode Island, especially Lynn’s family tree she drew for me.  And what do you see?  My great-grandfather, EJ, had siblings.  And one of those brothers….Eugene.  Unreal.

Now all I need to confirm is that Katie’s husband had a great-uncle EJ, and looks like I found a distant cousin here in Anchorage, Alaska.  Ha!  I sent an email to Katie so hopefully I can make the confirmation soon.

Now returning to last night, we finished visiting the gift shops and returned to the hotel.  Claire showed me a lot of her pictures from her stay in Alaska, which got me even more excited for my journey down the Kenai Peninsula (starting later today).  She and my buddy Matt both said the drives out here have been some of the most scenic roads they’ve ever seen.  I can’t wait.

I have a place to stay in Seward, my next destination, about a three hour drive from here.  On the way, I’ll check out some glaciers and do some hiking.  It’s a bit chilly here, but not too bad, and I have a winter hat if I need it (thank you, Kenneth).  I’ll also probably get a ticket for a boat tour of the Kenai Fjords area, and maybe do that on Friday.

Thanks so much to Rachel for letting me crash on her hotel couch.  The timing worked out very well, and I got to convince Rachel to visit Crater Lake when she is in Oregon next week.  I can’t wait to hear what she thinks of the place…I definitely hyped it up quite a bit.  Thank you, Rachel.

Hopefully I can take care of that plane ticket this morning, and then I’ll get the car set and be back on the road.  Great times in Anchorage!

joe

Day 72: Ok, meet you in…Anchorage?

August 10, 2010 10 comments

Location: Anchorage, AK

Miles Driven: 160

Total Miles: 17,428

After a chilly night in the car (thankfully, I have two blankets), I was on the road around 6AM continuing the drive south towards Anchorage.  I had plans to meet up with a buddy from back East, Matt, who coincidentally was in Alaska the same time I was.  Last I saw Matt he told me about tentative trip plans, then sure enough he ended up flying here on the 5th.  If he was a weekend earlier, as originally planned, I would’ve been too far away yet, but the timing worked out well and I got to see a familiar face all the way in the capital of Alaska.

Matt and me hanging out in Kincaid Park

Pretty crazy how the timing works out, right?

But before I saw Matt, I had to make the drive down to Anchorage, and I had a little over two hours ahead of me from where I crashed the night before.  The drive wasn’t bad…saw a bit of rain along the way, but near Wasilla (home of Sarah Palin) the skies started to clear up a bit.

could you imagine living near this?

By 9AM I had arrived in Anchorage, and met Matt at his friend Rachel’s hotel.  Great to see a familiar face this far away from familiarity.  Not long after, Matt and I headed out towards the downtown Anchorage area to explore a bit.

the view from downtown

A friendly Anchorage bear

Matt and I had a good lunch with Rachel (mmm, peanut butter and jelly gourmet sandwiches on bagels), and then the two of us headed over to Kincaid Park, where recently he and Rachel had seen a moose.

While walking through the park, I had been asking Matt about the moose encounter and innocently asked him “Do you know if there are bears here, too?”  He thought there might be, but wasn’t positive.  We found out the answer to that question a few minutes later when we saw something coming around the corner.

My first instinct was “Oh, a little dog is coming this way.”  I was wrong.

Considering the bear was slowly making his way in our direction, I put the camera down and we slowly backed up a bit.  Or I did, as Matt had already got the hell out of dodge.  I looked to my right and he was gone.  I’ve never witnessed such speed in a human.

I managed to back up a ways and then the bear jumped off into the brush on the left.  The bear never charged, or even got with 20 feet or so, so I didn’t have to employ any of the bear avoidance tips I learned from the rangers at Denali.  But whew, that was a fairly close encounter.

Matt and I chose to take another path in the park.  And this time we got some nice views of the water and the mountains in the distance.

lots of soccer fields at this park

We were also near the airport, so we got to see a lot of jets taking off.

After an exciting afternoon full of bear encounters (1 real, 1 fake), we made our way back to the hotel and eventually joined Rachel, her friend Claire, and Claire’s sister Carolyn for some dinner.  We hit up a hole-in-the-wall called Tommy’s Burger Stop, billed as the “best burgers in Anchorage.”  It lived up to the billing.

Great burger. Jalapenos on a burger = brilliance

Matt had to go back to Georgia, so we took him to the airport and said our goodbyes.  What a great addition to the trip, getting to see a good friend this far away from both our homes.

Rachel kindly offered me her couch to crash on at the hotel, and I was spoiled for yet another night.  On Tuesday, I’ll try to fix that last elusive headlight, and then maybe get out and do some hiking.  Come Wednesday, I’ll head down the famous Seward Highway down the Kenai Peninsula.

joe

Day 71: One word – Denali

August 10, 2010 10 comments

Location: Near Cantwell, AK

Miles Driven: 200

Total Miles: 17,268

It’s a small world.  My dad has a friend, Frank, who’s sister, Betty, and her husband live in Alaska.  Several months ago, while I was still in Georgia, my dad had sent me some CDs with video clips and pictures of their visits to Denali National Park.  Visiting Denali was just a pipe dream at that point, but here I was, only about 2 hours away in Fairbanks.  I had the chance to talk to Betty on the phone before leaving for the park, and got some great recommendations on what to do.  Denali is a little tricky compared to other national parks I’ve visited in that you can’t take your car on the 90-mile main road that goes through the park (outside of the first 13 miles).  The park holds a lottery each year where a select number of cars can go out on the main road, in September, but everyone else must travel via the park’s extensive bus system.  It sounded a bit unnappealing at first seeing the park via a bus, but I did know I’d have the chance to see a lot of wildlife and get outside now and then; in fact, the buses run in such a way you can get off one bus, do a hike, and then flag another down for the way back.

After talking to Betty, I purchased a ticket online for the “Eielson Visiter Center” bus tour, which goes 67 miles into the park, and then turns around.  Eight hours round trip.  Also had heard another friend from back home, Nate, took this bus tour and he said it was very enjoyable.  It was a $46 ticket, but confident the cost would be well worth it.  Thanks for all the tips, Betty!

I checked out of the hotel and got on the road around 10:30.  I was slow-moving that morning and cut things a bit close, Denali being a 2 hour drive from Fairbanks (not including road construction in some areas), and my bus tour was scheduled to start at 1PM.

I was undaunted, however, and looked forward to the drive.  I view any day less than 300 miles of driving as an “easy day.”  Also, the scenery on the way south to Denali was beautiful.

The road to Denali

I got to the park with just minutes to spare.  Quickly threw on my hiking boots, packed up my backpack, and then caught the bus just as they made the last call for passengers.  Phew.  I got to sit next to a polite little 4 year old kid, Caleb, who was there with his family – residents of Palmer, AK.  I shared a majority of the bus ride out to the Eielson Visitor center with them, and also got some recommendations of sites near Palmer to check out.

On this 8 hour bus trip, the expectation was we’d see a variety of wildlife – grizzlies, caribou, moose, sheep, and maybe even some eagles.  In addition, we’d be able to enjoy the natural scenery of Denali National Park (a park the size of New Hampshire), and perhaps get a glimpse of Denali itself (Mount McKinley), the tallest peak in North America.  In the Athabaskan language, spoken by the natives of northern Canada and Alaska, Denali literally translates to “The high one.”  In a bit of controversy, the Alaska Board of Geographic Names officially changed the name of the mountain from Mt. McKinley to Denali years ago, but the US Board on Geographic Names never has, hence you’ll see it as McKinley on maps.

My National Parks book said only 1 in every 3 visitors to the park gets a clear look at Denali since it is often covered in clouds, but the book did say August might be one of the best months to see it.  The book cautioned “don’t count on it,” though.

We had a great bus driver, Travis, who advised us to holler whenever an animal was spotted in the wild, and he would subsequently pull over so everyone can look/take pictures.  We weren’t far into the park when a passenger with eagle eyes spotted a bull moose far from the road.

enormous, and this was from a distance of at least 75 yards

I think it was just about 90 minutes or so into the trip and I was treated to my first view of Denali.  Picture-perfect clear to see.  I’ve benefited from some lucky timing on this trip.  Here in Alaska it has been unseasonably rainy, but the day I head out to see Denali I get this amazing view of the mountain.

Staggering

This was still early into the 67 mile outbound trip, and our drive would take us closer to the mountain.  So the hope was the clouds wouldn’t roll into the mountain by the time we got nearer.  The weather can change fast here; the saying is “Don’t like the weather in Alaska?  Just wait five minutes.”

The scenery we got to check out along the way was absolutely outstanding.  Unreal.

dude from the bus checking out the view

Another great view of Denali

Great views, and we weren’t even near the visitor center.  But can’t forget about the wildlife.  The first grizzly I ever saw:

Another big, big animal

Those things are huge, but they move really well in the brush.  I understand why park rangers advise you to never run from a bear, since it will easily overtake you, no matter what obstacles might be in the way.

A little later, after driving along some narrow roads with no guardrails, we had some closer views of Denali.  Each view kept on getting better than the last.

Yours truly in front of Denali. The wind made it pretty cold out there

Not long after we arrived at the Eielson Visitor Center, our turnaround point.  We had 20 minutes to mill about, so I grabbed a few more shots of Denali, here at our closest point to the mountain.

Mount Brooks on the left, Denali on the right

Just stunning.  I was giddy, just standing there smiling, looking at this mountain that not all park visitors get to see…even the ones who sign up for the bus tours.

It was time to head back towards the park entrance.  I hopped up back on the bus, and we even had some better wildlife viewing along the way back.

Caribou

Dall Sheep. A moment before this picture was taken, these two butted heads

Had some more great view of the landscape on the drive back, as well.

The road was a bit narrow at times

And even more wildlife:

big moose

A Grizzly not far from the bus

The bear was the last animal we saw before arriving back at the park entrance.  Before I knew it, 8 hours had passed, and it was after 9PM.  What a great bus tour.  Next time, maybe I’ll take the 12 hour one-way, 92-mile tour to the end of the park road.  What an amazing park.

Although it was after 9PM by the time I got on the road, I still had a couple hours of daylight ahead of me.  So I figured I’d work my way south a bit in the direction of Anchorage.  The plan is to arrive in Anchorage on Monday and I’ll meet up with a friend, so driving a bit this night would make it easier in the morning.

Once again, great scenery on the drive.

Just an incredible day.  Tomorrow – Anchorage, and more of this amazing place.

joe

Day 70

August 9, 2010 5 comments

Location: Fairbanks, AK

It was so nice to have a home to stay in for the first time since Vancouver.  Ericka hosted me along with her boyfriend and some other travelers, and it was fun to swap stories of their lives on the road, in addition to hearing about Alaska from people who live there.  We hit the hay by 2AM or so, and I got some great sleep on a foam mattress she offered (after sleeping in the car, sleeping on a foam mattress is like sleeping on clouds…so comfortable).  Big thanks to Ericka.  This was my first experience couchsurfing, and it was a good one.

The next morning I was invited to join them in a canoeing trip, but I had to pass as there was some personal business I needed to attend to, in addition to seeking out new headlights.  By noon or so I had left Ericka’s to find some kind of mechanic.  The Mazda dealership in town had a service area, but that was closed on Saturdays.  I did end up finding a Jiffy Lube/Quick Fix it place, and the mechanics told me they could make an attempt at replacing the headlights.  They were able to replace the driver’s side one, but the passenger side they could not as it would involve taking off parts of the headlight unit they were not comfortable with.  OK, better one headlight than none, right?  I resolved to continue to drive during the day, and I would find a Mazda place down in Anchorage that could replace the passenger side headlight.

Hung out at a coffeeshop for a while and took advantage of the free WiFi.  A big thing I have to take care of is booking my tickets for a trip I’m taking in October to Nepal and Japan.  Not the easiest itinerary to figure out, as there are a lack of direct flights.  Soon I’ll have that squared away, though, and be in Pokhara, Nepal with Lucky Monk.

I also decided to splurge a bit and booked a hotel for the night in Fairbanks.  That way I could have a desk to work at, as well as take advantage of things like a fitness center and pool.  I hung out there a while, and then around 9PM headed towards the fairgrounds in Fairbanks.  I just happened to be in town while the annual fair was taking place.

Fairgounds around 10PM. Still a lot of daylight left

I had a good time hanging out at the fair.  I’m not big on rides, but I do like sampling all the different food at fairs.  I had a spicy “reindeer dog.”  Hit the spot.

"Denali Creampuffs." Very good

Great time at the fair, and only $10 admission, too.  Eventually made my way back to the hotel, and got some sleep.  The next day would be one of the most anticipated days of this trip – visiting Denali National Park.

joe

Day 69: Dreams realized

August 7, 2010 20 comments

Finally arrived

Location: Fairbanks, AK

Miles Driven: 610

Total Miles: 17,068

Well, as you can see in the picture above, I finally made it to Alaska.  Over 17,000 miles since leaving Acworth, Georgia…I’m finally here.  Feels great, and it’s pretty surreal.

Now that was a picture taken earlier this afternoon, but there was a lot of driving before that photo (and after), so let’s go back to the morning when I was in Whitehorse.

I’ll readily admit I’m not the handy-est of people.  My skills with a car are limited to changing tires and jumping batteries.  So when I realized I needed to replace two headlight bulbs, I was hopeful I could get someone at the NAPA Auto Parts store to give me a hand.  See, my car owner’s manual was not incredibly helpful.  In the section entitled “replacing headlight bulbs” it said:  Be sure to visit an authorized Mazda technician…  Not the biggest of helps there.  So I got to the NAPA store shortly after it opened, and checked with the mechanic dude that was working there.  He was real kind, but admitted he’s never been under the hood of a Mazda before…and after a quick look inside realized there was more to take apart then your typical bulb change.  My experience was limited to changing bulbs on an old Mercury Topaz years ago, and I recall little to disassemble in that operation.  Not the same here, it appeared.  The mechanic suggested I hit up a Mazda dealership in Fairbanks, and not to worry about the law where you need to keep your lights running during the day.  “You’re a tourist, you’re fine…hell half of the tourists don’t even know the law.”

An added bonus I didn’t think about…what better place for your headlights to run out than in these northern latitudes.  In Whitehorse, there was still daylight the previous night after 10PM.  Daylight will last even longer when I’m up in Alaska.

So I was in the car and got back on the Alaska Highway, heading northwest towards Fairbanks.  I had about 600 miles ahead of me, and it seemed a bit daunting, especially after all the driving I had done since the start of the week.  But it actually went by quite smoothly.  The nice scenery certainly helps there.

It’s difficult to make progress driving when you’re distracted by all this spectacular scenery.  I found myself pulling over quite a bit for some nice views.

For some reason I had a good amount of energy, and outside of the occasional gas-up and leg stretch, I was able to keep plugging away along the 600 mile route.

Kluane Lake

Around 3PM I was approaching the Canada/Alaska border.  There was a rest area just 20 miles outside where I stopped.  Another clear blue Canadian body of water – Pickhandle Lake.

Before I knew it, I was at the border.  The “Welcome to Alaska” sign was just before Customs, so I got out to take some pictures.  Met a nice couple from Michigan and the man kindly took my photo (the one you see above).

Amazing to see that sign in person

I made it through Customs relatively unscathed this time.  The officer asked me a lot of questions, but I think he was more trying to see if I would trip up than he was actually paying attention to my answers.  He didn’t like my passport.  Apparently I’ve bent and warped it a bit in my travels, so it doesn’t easily scan.  As he put it, “Since your passport has been to the Himalayas and back, it can’t be read by the scanner.”  He told me I need to get a new one.  I think he just doesn’t like typing.  Also, I have never been to the Himalayas.  I was expecting my car to be searched like the previous border crossings, but he waved me through and I was on my way.

I didn’t have to drive long to see some of the beautiful country for which Alaska is known.

I experienced a bit of rain not long after crossing the border.  Can’t complain about that.  I could barely remember the last place I saw any sustained rain in my travels. I think I narrowed it down to when I was on the way to Big Bend, in Texas.  Almost a month ago.  I’ve had some great weather while touring the western US and Canada.

I arrived in Fairbanks not long after 8PM.  Still a lot of daylight remaing when I arrived.  In fact, as I write this, it’s almost 11PM and there’s still a good amount of daylight out there.  I love it.

For the first time since Will’s place in Vancouver, I have a home to stay in.  Thanks to couchsurfing.net I linked up with a Fairbanks local, Ericka.  She has been extremely generous, having offered me her couch with limited notice, in addition to hosting another couchsurfer.  She even plans to take us out for some outdoor activities…maybe go out on a lake or go hiking, even.  I’ve only communicated with her using email and text messages, but she sounds like a great person to link up with.

I’ll go to Ericka’s later tonight, get some much-needed rest (and shower), and then tomorrow is my first full day in “The Last Frontier.”

Coming here was just one goal, of many, along this trip, but was definitely the major goal.  Thanks to all my friends and family who have been so supportive along the road here.

joe