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Day 78: Departing the last frontier in style

August 16, 2010 8 comments

Location: 30 miles west of the Alaska/Canada border

Miles Driven: 346

Total Miles: 18,311

Around 2PM or so I was packed, the car was tidied up, and I was stocked up on some pb&js.  Definitely was tough to say goodbye to Vegas, as we had become pretty good friends in just a short period.  We got one last walk in around the neighborhood, and I got to tussle his furry head a bit before heading out the door.

The going was a bit slow getting out of the Palmer city limits, as there were some pull-offs to take in some of the nice views, and there was a Musk Ox farm on the way.  Unfortunately, the cost to see the musk oxen up close was $8, and the animals didn’t appeal enough to me to pay $8.  Also, I had felt some nausea and ready to puke (I suspect something was up with the grapes I had purchased the previous day).  But an hour napping off by a river helped alleviate that a bit.

I had mentioned the views, and you didn’t have to drive far out of Palmer to be astounded.

Spotted an eagle

The goal was to make it to the Canada/Alaska border (or close to it) before I was done driving for the day.  Eventually the route would take me to the Alaskan city of Tok, a place I passed through on the drive to Fairbanks.  From there, I’d take the Alaska Highway, just going the opposite way I originally came.

I passed the famous Matanuska Glacier on the way towards Tok.

More mountainous scenery

After a few hours driving, I came to the city of Glenallen.  From there, I could head north to Tok, or a bit south and explore Wrangell-St. Elias National Park – the largest National Park in the U.S.  But given that it was later in the day, and I wasn’t feeling all that great, I passed.  But I still was able to enjoy some of the park’s mountains from a distance.

I could be wrong, but I think that's a lenticular cloud on the right. Never saw one in person before

The Alaskan sky...around 10PM

A bit after 11PM I was ready to call it a day, and it worked out – I was just 30 miles west of the Canadian border.  Definitely was a bit sad to be leaving this gorgeous state, but what an amazing drive on the way out.

joe

An update

August 15, 2010 2 comments

As I mentioned in the previous post, it’s time for me to start making my way back home.  “Phase 3” of this trip was the journey to Alaska.  I actually made it here, got to visit a lot of amazing places, but it’s time for me to go.

Not that I feel rushed to go, it’s just fitting with my overall plan for this trip.  Recall I originally blocked off three months – June, July, August – for this trip.  Early on in this trip, I realized I probably would not arrive home until mid-September (so about 3.5 months), and that was OK, as long as the car was in good shape and I was still in check with my trip budget.

The only real constraint on me is my trip to Asia, which kicks off September 25.  Naturally, I’d like to be home more than a week before getting on a plane, so if I linger too long up in Alaska and Canada, I’ll be cutting it pretty short.  And what I didn’t realize until I started the drive north from Vancouver is that Canada is huge – it took me about 5 days of driving (around 400 miles each day) to make it to Alaska.  I’d prefer not to drive that much on the way back to the Lower 48, so it will be prudent of me to get started now.

So you’re probably saying to yourself, “Alaska to New York?  Joe, it’s not going to take another 30 days to get home.”  And you are right, except for the fact my route home is going to be a bit indirect.  In fact, a lot indirect.  Recall the original trip plan:

Yellow arrows indicate "phase 4", the final leg of the trip

I’m going to change things up a bit and take a little bit more of a roundabout drive home.  I’d like to see some of my friends at least one more time before I leave the country in January, so I figured, “What’s another 2,000 miles or so when you’ve driven 20,000?”  So I’ll be heading south all the way towards Texas, east to Georgia, then a final swing up the East Coast back home to NY.  I figure the time is there, so why not take advantage and see some friends one last time.

So that’s my route back when I’m in the Lower 48.  And what about the Canada portion of the route?  Like my initial plan above, I’ll be making my way to Montana via Alberta, home of Jasper and Banff National Parks.  The Canadian Rockies are not to be missed, I hear, and I look forward to exploring more of scenic Canada.

Now that’s my plan above, how about my actual trip route?  Here’s an update I finished just this morning, showing the drive from Vancouver to Seward.

Eventually a lot of these black lines are going to intersect, so I think I’ll have to use a different color to mark the journey home.

So here it is, Day 78, and it’s time to start turning back East.  It’s a sobering feeling, after spending all this time on the road, to know that the route I begin now will eventually bring me home.  But it’s exciting at the same time.  I’ll get to see new places along the way, and some familiar faces, as well.  As much as I am a self-proclaimed loner, I’ve really enjoyed the time I’ve spent with others along this trip.

joe

Day 77: A day of recovery

August 15, 2010 6 comments

Location: Palmer, AK

After sleeping in a bit, I had remembered there were a few items on the list that I had to take care of today.  First thing, I needed an oil change, and second, I wanted to buy some postcards.  Definitely not a hectic day by any means, but one that fit in nicely with the soreness that I experienced after yesterday’s hike.  My legs and arms were definitely feeling it,  especially my wrists from all the hanging on tree limbs when I was slipping on muddy downhill paths.

I took care of the oil change at a nearby Midas.  This is probably one of the last few oil changes I’ll be getting before this trip is over, and the mini-inspection that comes part of the oil change showed no issues with the car.  Not that I was expecting any, but after close to 18,000 miles driven thus far, I need to be prepared for regular issues that may come up after a year’s+ worth of driving.

I then hit up a local gift shop, then came home to walk Susan’s dog, Vegas.  I haven’t had the chance to walk a dog since I left Georgia, so it brought back some good memories of Sally and Marba.  Vegas is especially well-behaved and friendly; in fact, the dog insisted on sleeping next to me the prior night.  Hasn’t barked at me once, yet.

Vegas the dog

I spent the remainder of the evening laying low and relaxing on the couch.  Watched a couple movies (Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino is a great film, by the way) and then got to bed early.

The plan for Sunday is to hit the road by early afternoon, and I’ll be making my way gradually East towards the Alaska/Canada border.  It’s a six hour drive from here, per GoogleMaps, but I’ll be making some stops along the way, so it’s up in the air even if I’ll make it to the border tonight.  In any case, the journey in Alaska has come to its end…the long journey home soon begins.

Thanks very much to Susan who offered me the use of her awesome home.  I had such a great stay hanging with Vegas, and am very grateful for a comfortable place to relax and sleep.

And big props to my brother Mike – it was through his connections I’ve had three places to stay – two friends in Alaska, and one in Vancouver.  Thanks Mike.

joe

Day 76: Forecast calls for…mud (and some amazing views)

August 14, 2010 11 comments

Location: Palmer, AK

Miles Driven: 170

Total Miles: 17,726

James had the day off, and had agreed to go hike a nearby mountain, Mount Marathon.  I met him at his house in the morning, and a few hours later we were on our way.  Although it was another overcast day, the forecast did not call for rain (at least not in the late morning when we were going to hike).  We were looking forward to a strenuous hike which promised some good views both along the way and at the peak. Also, James had completed the hike once before, so it was good to go with someone familiar with the route to the top (there were no markers or clearly-defined trails, like other hikes I’ve been on).

Mount Marathon, 3000 feet in height

I did not take a lot of photos on the way up, as I needed both hands to help me along the way.  The muddy paths were slick, and made worse by rain that began to fall when we were about 1/4 of the way up.  A couple times I wouldgain 10 feet of ground or so, just to quickly lose that same ground by sliding back to where I started.  It was, indeed, a muddy (and slow) affair.  James had a much easier go at it – he credits that to a strong equipoise. 

But our spirits remained high and we wanted to see how far we could make it, hoping the slick paths wouldn’t deter our route to the top.  There were some great views of Seward and Resurrection Bay not far into the hike, also.

Eventually the slick, muddy, forested paths give way to gravel (note the gray section at the top of the mountain).  The gravel was a bit easier to move around on; however, the climb became significantly steeper in this section. 

The top looks deceptively close, but trust me, it was not

There was still about another hour to the top once we reached the gravel section.  It was tough, but worth it when we arrived at the peak of Mount Marathon.

A little muddy and soaked, but happy to be at the top

James at the peak. Noticeably less muddy and drier than me

Great to hang out at the top and take in the views.

Can you believe those mountains??

The weather at the top was getting a bit cold, compounded by my wet clothes.  It was time to head down.  The route down was a bit tricky, but fun.  It’s gravelly most of the way, and steep, so James likened it to slalom skiing skiing, but just in boots – run a bit, slide on your feet, run a bit, slide on your feet, etc.  Fairly challenging, but less so than going up.  And before you know it, you’re halfway down the mountain.

Later the path cut through a long stream, and we encountered more muddy paths.  It was a veritable “slip N slide”, and I had never gotten that muddy in my life.  But I was able to keep on the path for the most part, and it wasn’t long before we returned to James’ truck.  It was about two hours to the top of the mountain, and I think about 50 minutes down.

Every Fourth of July in Seward, a race is held here at the mountain.  I cannot even fathom how people run up and down (well, I kind of understand the down part, now) this mountain, with or without slick paths.  Congrats to Megan who has run it before.  I still think it is somewhat insane.

Arrived back at James’ place a soaking mess.  James kindly let me shower and use his washer and dryer, but first we needed to document the price I paid in this climb:

Look on the back left of the shorts. There is a dry patch! How that occurred is beyond me

Very much worth it.

I was able to get everything (including myself) cleaned up, and just before 5PM I was on the road, heading out of Seward.  My route was north to the city of Palmer where Megan’s sister, Susan, lives.  Susan wasn’t planning on being home, but kindly offered me the house for as long as I needed it.  Very generous.  While here, I will keep an eye on her dog, a friendly Springer Spaniel named Vegas.  Susan started to defrost some halibut for me, as well.  Once again in Alaska, I had a great dinner.

This trip to Palmer marks the near-end of my stay in Alaska.  After another night or two here, I head east, to eventually link up again with the Alaska Highway and work my way back into Canada.  I just realized that means I have shifted into phase four of this trip – the “indirect” journey home.  It will still be a long while before I am back in NY (especially after you understand the route I’ll take), but it’s another milestone, and the last major one on this trip.  Kind of sad, but still thrilling to know how far I’ve made it, the spectacular places I’ve been, and the wonderful people I’ve met up with along the way.

joe

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