Amanda Dorough | The Beautiful Journey


2 Comments

Off to Alaska: Days 5 & 6

I purposefully planned the last 2 days of my road trip so that I would only have 6-7 hours of driving each day, so on day 5 I was in no hurry to get up.  I figured I could take my time and get rolling whenever so I ended up leaving the campground around 9:30.  Thankfully there wasn’t a rain cloud in the sky which I thought was a good sign compared to the last few days!

Alaska Highway

When I looked at a map it didn’t seem like I had far to go to reach the Alaska border so I thought the morning drive would be cake.

Oh was I wrong.

While I’d had some pretty bad stretches of road the day before the last stretch was by far the worst.  At one point I came upon a stoplight, in the middle of nowhere (which seemed really out of place) advising me to wait for a pilot car which comes around every 15 minutes.  Great.  So I turned off my car and settled in for the wait.

 Alaska HighwayThis seemed so out of place.

About 5 minutes later a RCMP officer (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) pulled up behind me and walked up to my window.  My first thought was that I was doing something wrong and didn’t even know it, but no, he just wanted to chat (since he was now stuck waiting for the pilot car too).  He asked me where I was from and where I was going.  I let him know I was moving to Alaska to go to Paramedic school and he thought that was pretty cool.  After our chat I didn’t have much longer to wait, only a couple minutes later the pilot car showed up and we were on our way.

I learned really quick why we needed a pilot car.  The road was crap and my car got a nice mud bath.  In fact my car is still covered in mud.  Even the rain won’t wash it off.  There must be something about  Yukon mud…

Alaska HighwayPlaying follow the leader.  This was a nice, muddy, bumpy 10 minute drive down half finished highway. (BTW, the original color of the pilot truck was white, betcha couldn’t tell)

About 30 minutes down the road, I rolled into Beaver Creek and thought it would be a good idea to get a little gas since I was pretty positive what I had in my tank wouldn’t get my to Tok.  I reluctantly put in 8 liters (just over 2 gallons).  At roughly $5.55 a gallon I couldn’t let myself get more without crying.

Just 2 minutes down the road I was excited to come upon the Canadian border station.  I pulled out my passport and got ready to head back into Alaska, and then I saw the sign…

US Border station: 30 KM.

Really?  That’s odd.  Why is there 30 KM of wilderness between the US and Canadian border stations?  I may never know.  And for some reason those 30 KM seemed to take FOREVER.  Thankfully when I finally reached the US border crossing there was no line (because honestly I hadn’t seen another car since Beaver Creek) and I got through without any issues.

Alaska HighwayStraddling the international border between Canada and the US.  There’s actually a stone obelisk marking the border as well as a 20 ft or so swath cut through the trees stretching as far as you could see.

Alaska HighwayYay!  Finally in Alaska!

Onward to Tok!  By this point I was starving and I could not wait for lunch.  Alaska is an hour behind Yukon so I set my clocks back an hour and headed on.  I had decided to stop at Fast Eddies in Tok for lunch because apparently it’s THE place to go.  They talked about it on the Milepost and they raved about it on the ferry.  Honestly I thought it was good, not extraordinary, but good.  It was definitely a nice break from driving and the first time I’d allowed myself to eat at a restaurant on the trip (aside from the two times I bought stuff on the ferry). I also saw my first state trooper while I was there, which is no big deal in real life but it made me super excited since I’ve probably watched every episode of Alaska State Troopers.  Love that show.

Alas I needed to keep moving on so I filled up my gas tank ($4.29/gallon, ouch!) and headed off.

The rest of the afternoon was rather unextraordinary.  After the incredible scenery in BC and the Yukon the sites from the Tok Cutoff where just kinda blah.  After I moved onto the Glenn Hwy things started looking prettier, thankfully, I was beginning to worry about all the grand visions I’d had of Alaska’s beauty and wondered if I was wrong about anything else.

Glenn HighwayThe Glenn Highway is when things started to get really pretty again.

Glenn Highway

I stayed that night not far from the Matanuska Glacier and overlooking the famous “Lions Head.”  I pulled into the campground and got set up right before the inevitable rain storm rolled in, thankfully it only stuck around for about 20 minutes and then it was all blue skies again.

Glenn HighwayWhere I camped for the night.  I snapped this pic before I set up my tent right there in front of my car.  That cool shaped mountain formation in the middle is Lions Head.

Glenn HighwayI may have been trapped in my car waiting out the rainstorm, but I had to step out for a second to take a picture of this pretty double rainbow over the campground.

I slept Ok that night, I did get pounded by another rainstorm and had moments when I thought a bear might come by and eat me (irrational), but I survived and by 9:30 the next morning I was on my way again.

I stopped briefly to take pictures of the glacier and then headed on to civilization.

Matanuska GlacierThe Matanuska Glacier as seen from the highway.  You can actually do glacier tours, but obviously I didn’t have time for that.

Anchorage did get a little confusing.  I managed to get on the wrong highway in town but I did end up finding my way in the end.  I met up with a college friend from Liberty for lunch, Sarah, at the Olive Garden and then began the last leg of the journey, which was also the part I was most excited about, the Seward Highway!

I had heard on so many occasions that the Seward Highway was gorgeous and since the day was sunny I knew I was in for a treat.

It didn’t disappoint.

Pardon the lack of pictures from this leg.  I was both really excited to get to the school and a bit pressed for time so I didn’t pull over anywhere (also I figured I’ll have plenty of chances to do it in the future), but trust me, this was the Alaska I’d always pictured.

Seward Highway

My not so great pictures of the Seward Highway.  I actually took them while driving.  I know, shame on me, but that tour bus in front of me was going 10 mph below the speed limit, that makes it a little better right?

Seward Highway

It’s actually a pretty sizable journey from Anchorage to Soldotna, about 2.5 hours.  Luckily, like I said, most of that is beautiful.  Sadly, the ugliest part is actually when you get closer to Soldotna.  You’ve left the mountains at that point and are surrounded instead by these strange stubby trees.  Oh well.

I pulled into the school around 4 in the afternoon unloaded my car and started to settle in, so relieved to be at my final destination.

I’ll write another blog later showing you guys around my new home, but thanks for following along my journey to get here, it really was an adventure and I can already tell that is going to be the theme for the year.  I can’t wait!

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Journey to Alaska: Let the Roadtrip Begin!

The wake up call my last day on the ferry was definitely early but not so bright.  We officially docked in Juneau (well, 12 miles outside the city actually) at 3:30 in the morning, and, despite the early hour the purser still came over the loud-speaker to announce our arrival, of course waking me up.  I think most others fell back asleep, I tried but for some reason I couldn’t.

Even though Alaska is “the land of the midnight sun,” this part of Alaska, and at this time of the year still has darkness early in the morning so there wasn’t a lot to see off the ship, so instead I just people watched, people getting on, people getting off, making up stories in my head of where everyone was going.

At 5:30 we finally pulled away and were on our way to Haines, my departure port.

Sometime during the night we had outrun the rain so I kept my fingers crossed that it would stay away.  I had heard that this was the most beautiful section of the journey with snow-capped mountains and glaciers.  unfortunately, even though the majority of the 4 hour journey was rain free, low clouds and fog made visibility poor.  Every now and again we would see something spectacular peek through a crack, but that was it, a small peek.

Alaska FerryThe first peek that there were good things behind all the clouds.

Alaska FerryAnd sometimes the clouds would part a little more to show something even more spectacular.

Alaska Ferry

Alaska FerryHanging out in the Solarium.

Alaska Ferry

Alaska Ferry

As we approached Haines my heart began to sink a little.  It was that same feeling you get when vacation is over and you know you have to go back to work.  Even though the ferry was far from luxury it was nice to allow someone else to do all the work for me for a few days while I sat back, read, took pictures and talked with new friends.  Even though I was excited to get to Soldotna I knew it was going to take a lot of work to get there and I would be by myself most of that time, so I just wasn’t looking forward to it.

As we pulled into Haines, new friends helped me carry my ungodly amount of items down to my car, making the three deck journey infinitely less painful.  I wasn’t sure how long they would give us before we needed to be off the ship so I wanted to make sure I was loaded up as quickly as possible.  It seems that I forgot the whole car elevator part though, because it was a good hour before I was off the ship.

I made a quick stop in Haines to give my Mom a call to let her know I was alive before crossing into Canada and then I was on my way.  The further I drove away from Haines the nicer the weather got, Thank goodness!

Alaska Roadtrip

I drove through an eagle sanctuary, where I didn’t see a single eagle (come on!) and 40 miles down the road officially crossed into British Columbia.

And, Oh. My. Gosh.

Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park, which covers essentially the entire drive through BC along the Haines Highway is INSANE.  I don’t think I could ever think of the correct words to describe it or ever take a picture that would do it justice.  It was an otherworldly beauty.  Like being on top of the world, far above any tree-line, and the glaciers, oh the glaciers.  There were dozens of them.  Everywhere I turned there was a new glacier.  Guys, if you ever get a chance to drive this highway through the park, do it.  It’s so worth it.

Haines HwyYou can just see a glacier straight ahead.

Haines HwyI haven’t even edited this picture, these vivid colors were real.  It was amazing.

Haines Hwy

I was a little sad to leave the park but as I continued into the Yukon it was still beautiful, different, but beautiful, and just so you know, everything you’ve ever thought about the Yukon, you know, that no one lives there and that its vast stretches of empty wilderness, ya, it’s all true.  I felt like I pushed forever just to reach Haines Junction, the point where I would meet up with the Alaska Highway.  I thought I would find a nice little town when I got there, but seriously, blink and you’d miss it.  I was so confused.  It’s definitely not a town that you need to spend any time in.  I filled up my gas tank and headed on my way.

Alaska HwyThe sunshine in Yukon was a vast change from the rainy weather that morning.

About 45 minutes down the road I officially made it to Lake Kluane, the Yukon’s biggest lake, and it definitely lived up to all my expectations.  It was beautiful (and freezing!).  The water was a pretty glacial blue, so photogenic, so I found a place where I could pull over and take some photos.  I could have honestly spent hours there but I had no idea how long it would take me to reach my campground for the night. I’d heard this would be the most difficult portion of the Alaska Highway to drive (and boy was it rough), so I wanted to make sure to give myself enough time.

Alaska HwyLake Kluane with a couple cairns stacked in front.

Alaska Hwy

Alaska HwyLook at the color of the water.  So, so pretty.

Alaska Hwy

Alaska HwyThe bugs in Yukon y’all, there were SO MANY!  My windshield was gross.

Not even 30 seconds down the road, I look out my window and what do I see playing on the shores of the lake?  A big ‘ole brown bear (Aka grizzly).  It’s a good thing the road was empty because I slammed on my breaks and yelled “that’s a grizzly!” out of sheer excitement.  I didn’t stop and take any pictures, although looking back I wish I had, but it was a pretty cool site and one of only a couple of wildlife sittings I had on the whole drive (the other was a group of wild horses about an hour down the road).

The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful although very rainy.  I swear, I just couldn’t escape the stuff.

Alaska HwyThe road was terrible in many spots.  This is a small taste.  Later on it was full on gravel.

Alaska HwyThe rain would come in swift and hard.

Alaska HwyThen it would be as if the sun had never left.

Alaska Hwy

I ended up pulling into my campground around 5, it wasn’t raining at the time but the sky showed a real potential for it and I wasn’t excited in the least to set up my tent and spend the night in it, so when the owner of the campground offered to rent me one of their hard sided tents (it was only $10/night more) I jumped at the chance.  To have walls, a floor and a real bed?  Not a bad deal.

I moved in, cooked myself a bowl of ramen noodles for dinner and watched a movie, simply because I could.

Alaska HwyMy home for the night (the tent, not the car) at Discovery Yukon Lodgings.  I totally recommend this campground (they have cabins too!) for anyone traveling the Alaska Highway in the future.

Alaska HwyIt’s a bed, a real bed!

By 9:30 I was so wiped out I was more than ready for bed however I looked up and there was a spider on the ceiling directly above me.  Oh no, that was not going to work.  I jumped out of bed and did my best to explain to the spider that it needed to leave or I was going to be forced to kill it.  This went on for 20 minutes, 20 minutes!  I really tried but unfortunately in the end the spider had to meet its maker, I just couldn’t sleep otherwise.  The funny thing was though, as soon as I killed the spider I began to hear howling outside.

I thought “it can’t be…nah…..wolves???  wolves!” and a whole pack of them by the sound of it (at this point I was really VERY happy that I had opted not to sleep in my tent).  They could have been half a mile away, I’m not sure, but they sounded a lot closer, like feet away.  Way to close for comfort.

My thoughts?  Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Stay tuned for one more blog post as I wrap up the journey with days 5 and 6!