Posts Tagged ‘Alaska Highway’

Days 79 and 80: Return to the land of litres and kilometers

August 18, 2010 2 comments

Location: About 80 kilometers from Ft. St. John, British Columbia

Miles Driven: 1,180

Total Miles: 19,491


Early Monday morning I crossed Customs once again, heading back into Canada’s Yukon Territory.  This was my quickest passage yet – no car searches, no litany of questions…just a couple to answer and the nice officer sent me on my way.

Back in the Yukon, enjoying the early-morning views

I was soon back to my old ways of covering a lot of ground.  The spoiled days of traveling in Alaska, with maybe just 200 or so miles between destinations, were over.  But no problem.  I set myself a goal to cross the border into Montana by the end of the week, so I’d have to grind out a bit of driving these first few days back in Canada.  I was glad to have my satellite radio functioning again (in Alaska it stopped working, but learned that’s supposed to happen, and wasn’t an issue with my unit), and between that and some audiobooks (thank you, Elyse), the kilometers added up quickly.

It’s probably a psychological thing, but I think I prefer seeing distances to cities in kilometers as opposed to miles.  Even if I see a large amount, such as 400 kilometers, it still seems more visually appealing to me than 248 miles.

It was interesting traveling the opposite direction on the Alaska Highway.  I recalled all the little places I stopped to get gas, and the cafes I had visited to take advantage of free WiFi.  Once I made it back to Whitehorse, I felt like it was a return to a place I used to live, even though I only spent about a day and a half there before.

I had driven about 430 miles that day before deciding to call it quits.  I fell asleep early, and woke up shortly after midnight.  I had looked out my window and saw stars for the first time in…I don’t know…over 10 days?  Part of me wanted to get out and set up my tripod to take pictures, but that day I had been brutally attacked by bugs the second I stepped out of my car.  I decided to stay in the car, and quickly fell back asleep.

The next day, Tuesday, didn’t differ that much from Monday…had a lot of driving to do still.  The day was different in the fact I saw more bison than I ever saw before.  I must’ve seen at least three dozen bison in different spots along the road, most of them in little herds.

lots of bison butt

There were some stretches of driving where the air was smoky and hazy from forest hires (Watson Lake, noticeably), but it was to a lesser extent than on the drive up.  Incidentally, I stopped at the visitor center in Watson Lake (home of the Sign Post Forest), and saw that there are over 67,000 signs up there. Wow.

I passed Muncho Lake on the way, which I had seen before but my views were a bit obscured by haze from forest fires.  This time, it was a bit clearer.

I drove more than I intended on that Tuesday.  By 9PM or so I was ready to call it a night, after passing the city of Ft. St. Nelson, but I had a hell of a time finding a rest stop.  Prior to this stretch of driving, it seemed there was a rest stop every 50 km or so.  I had driven over 130 miles passed Ft. St. Nelson and hadn’t even found one.  Very surprised, and a bit annoyed, I continued driving in the dark.  I didn’t like it, as there were lots of signs regarding wildlife in the area.  It wasn’t until after 11PM I finally found a little place I could pull over and close my eyes for a bit. 

I ended up driving 747 miles that day – a new record, but not one I wish to challenge anytime soon.  I think the toughest haul of Canadian driving is over now.  Soon I’ll be in Dawson Creek, and from there the route will be entirely new to me as I go into Alberta.  Who knows, I might even make it to Jasper National Park before Wednesday is over.  Jasper and Banff National Parks are two of the “must-see” parks in Canada, and both are conveniently located on my route (well, I guess I somewhat planned it that way).

A side note – you’ll notice the Joe-tracker on the top right of the page still shows me in Palmer, Alaska.  Disregard that.  I think when I use the GPS on my phone, AT&T likes to charge me extra in Canada, so I’ve disabled it for the time being.


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 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.


Days 67 and 68: Driving along the Alaska Highway

August 6, 2010 8 comments

Location: Whitehorse, Yukon Territory

Miles Driven (past two days): 893

Total Miles: 16,458

So I ended the last full post telling you I was off to drive to a dark site to see if I could catch the Northern Lights. I did find a dark spot on the way to Tumbler Ridge, BC (south of Dawson Creek), but unfortunately the sky was hazy, and a bright crescent moon combined to make night seeing pretty poor.  Oh well, hopefully I’ll have a chance to catch the Northern Lights later in this journey up hear in the north.

Spent the early part of next morning walking around Dawson Creek for just a bit.  Found the famous “Mile 0” marker, which stands in the middle of a 4-way intersection, and indicates the start of the Alaska Highway.  I’ve only seen photos of this marker in some roadtrip books, so it was pretty cool to stand right in front of it.

I then went over to the visitor center area where they had a museum about the Alaska Highway. 

Some history about the route

Got some good recommendations of things to look out for along the route, and was told to keep my eye out for some wildlife (HINT: Foreshadowing).  After touring the museum, I was in the car on the way to Alaska.

The drive was scenic, despite some more haze caused by the forest fires in BC.  I also got to see caribou – five of them, in total, all in separate spots.  I was able to grab a decent, albeit blurry, photo of one of them.

Those things were big.  Hit one of those going 50 mph and that’s the end for the animal and the car, I’m sure.  Fortunately, they seemed to stay on the side of the road for the most part.  There was one who couldn’t make up his mind which side of the road to go on, but eventually he settled on a route and the queued up cars were able to pass.

I passed by scenic Muncho Lake on the way.  Very blue water, and a big lake, but vision was once again limited by the smoky haze in the air.  Still nice to look at, though.

Muncho Lake

The drive did not disappoint.  Lots of great vistas.

Looking back on the Alaska Highway

It was around the point where I stopped and took the above picture where I realized the driver’s side headlight was out.  I wasn’t sure if I could find an auto parts store in the next town, Watson Lake, but I figured at the very least I could get the light replaced further on in Whitehorse.  I’ve been avoiding nighttime driving, anyhow, so I figured I’d be in decent shape (though it is the law in Canada to drive with headlights on at all times).

I drove somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 miles that day and wound up near the Liard Hot Springs.  It was after 8, and I was pretty beat, and ended up sleeping until close to 7AM.  I was tempted to try out the hot springs, but I was easily discouraged knowing I’d have to tolerate the strong smell of sulfur in the air.

The goal for the next bit of driving was to make it to Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon Territory, before the end of the day.  Towns that have some size are found about 300 miles apart from each other on the Alaska Highway, and occasionally you can go 100-150 miles without services.  So I always make sure to fill up for gas even if I have 2/3 of a tank full.  All the pumps up here are pretty old-fashioned, but still have the digital readouts of the price and litres.  I’m wondering if I’ll see the style of pump that displays the amounts on those spinning dials.

Soon was on the road after waking up.  Passed a unique sign early in my driving:

At Liard Hot Springs, I had seen posting about how they’ve reintroduced bison into the area.  Sure enough, not long after seeing the sign above, I found a bison strolling along the shoulder.  I had seen bison once before in 2005, in South Dakota, but I think this one was easily the biggest I’ve ever seen.

I slowly drove past him, then when I was a safe distance ahead, I looked back and zoomed in with my camera to take a picture.

the size of the bison is staggering

Not long later in the drive I encountered another bison.  This one was well off the shoulder, however, lying in the grass.  So I’ve seen a good amount of wildlife (as promised), and there’s a lot left to my time on the Alaska Highway.  So far: caribou count – 5, bison – 2

I made good progress that morning, and by early afternoon I had crossed the border into the Yukon Territory.


I hit the town of Watson Lake just after crossing the border, and there I experienced the heaviest amount of smoke I’d seen yet.  The attendant at the gas station told me it’s been that way at least for a week now. 

Watson Lake is known for the famous “Sign Post Forest”, where travelers from all over the world leave signs from their home areas on their along the Alaska Highway.  Pretty cool, and I had no idea how big the thing was.  It was just like a maze.  I wish I had brought something to hang.  Oh well, next time.

For my friend John. Go 'Cats

Gig 'Em

Across the street from the Sign Forest was the “Northern Lights Centre”, a small planetarium/museum I had heard about back in Dawson Creek.  I love planetariums and anything space-related, as many of you know.  It was good timing, too, as a planetarium show was starting an hour after I arrived.

cool sign outside the planetarium

The planetarium show ($10 admission) was split up into two parts – first part dedicated to the Northern Lights, second part a presentation about space and the Universe.  The first part alone about the Northern Lights was well worth the cost of the admission.  The show explained the cause of the Northern Lights, some of the mytholigies, and had some great video filmed right from Watson Lake.  Unreal.  If you never saw a video of the Northern Lights, enjoy this time-lapse video I found on youtube.  Amazing.

The latter half of the presentation I could have done without.  Maybe I’m a bit snobby about space education, but there were some things in the video that were either wrong or no longer relevant.  To wit:

  • Talking about the Galileo spacecraft “currently exploring Jupiter”.  The mission ended in 2003, when NASA sent the craft plunging into the Jovian atmosphere
  • Explaining that the Voyager I and Voyager II spacecraft, currently the farthest man-made objects in space, are “nowhere near the edge of the solar system.”  Both craft, relatively speaking, are fairly close to entering the Heliopause, where the Sun’s influence gives way to the space beyond our solar system
  • A graphic of the asteroid belt inside our own Solar System (between Mars and Jupiter) which showed, like the movies do, asteroids just feet away from each other.  In reality, these asteroids are very far apart

Not that I got bent out of shape about these things, but I would’ve preferred something a little more up to date.  Then again, I can understand that it must be hard to keep up on these kinds of things when advances are made everyday.  Presentations about space are probably out-of-date a month after they are made.  And it can’t be easy for a planetarium to get funding to update their videos.  The people at the Centre are very friendly and I had a great time overall.

I left Watson Lake after that and it wasn’t long before I saw clear skies again.  Seems Watson Lake sits in some kind of valley and before I knew it, the skies were blue and I could see the colors of the mountains again.

On the way I passed the scenic town of Teslin.  Hung out at the overlook, got some exercise, and enjoyed the nice breeze in the air.

It was somewhere around here that I realized the headlight on the passenger side went out.  I suppose that’s a good thing, that they both lasted around the same length of time.

Made it to Whitehorse after 7PM that day.  I hung out for a while at some local bars.  One had a jam session where people in the town just went up and played guitar/sang, and that was pretty enjoyable.  Never heard Bach’s Prelude in C on a Spanish Guitar, but it was pretty cool.  Enjoyed talking with the locals.  Canadians are some of the kindset, most welcoming people I’ve ever met, and they have a great love for their home.  I definitely understand why they do after having driven all this way.

Reminds me of a joke I saw posted above a urinal in a bathroom I used along the route that day:

A man decided to write a book about famous churches around the world. So he bought a plane ticket and took a trip to Orlando, thinking that he would start by working his way across the USA from south to north.  On his first day he was inside a church taking photographs when he noticed a golden telephone mounted on the wall with a sign that read $10,000 per call”. The man, being intrigued, asked a Pastor who was strolling by what the telephone was used for. The Pastor replied that it was a direct line to heaven and that for $10,000 you could talk to God. The man thanked the Pastor and went along his way.
Next stop was in Atlanta. There, at a very large cathedral, he saw the same golden telephone with the same sign under it. He wondered if this was the same kind of telephone he saw in Orlando and he asked a nearby nun what its purpose was. She told him that it was a direct line to heaven and that for $10,000 he could talk to God. “OK., thank you,” said the man. He then traveled to Indianapolis, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Boston, and New York. In every church he saw the same golden telephone with the same “$10,000 per call” sign under it. The man, upon leaving New York, decided to travel out to the Midwest to see if western states had the same phone. 
He arrived in Canada, and again, in the first church he entered, there was the same golden telephone, but this time the sign under it read “40 cents per call.” The man was surprised so he asked the Pastor about the sign. “Reverend, I’ve traveled all over America and I’ve seen this same golden telephone in many churches. I’m told that it is a direct line to Heaven, but in the U.S. the price was $10,000 per call. Why is it so cheap here?
The priest smiled and answered, “You’re in Canada now, son, it’s a local call”. 


No doubt Canada could be seen as heaven on Earth.  Beautiful country, and great people.


BONUS: I learned very early this morning that Mazda twittered about my roadtrip and website.  I was thrilled.