Days 3 and 4; trouble with the interwebs…

Part 1: Spindrift; Ghosts of the Greyscale and travels to the Other Side.

Bed and Breakfast operations are, in principle, a fine idea. Truth be told, I have not stayed in many… perhaps for a reason. Last night’s stay was not bad really, but neither was it overly conducive to sleep; very small room, incongruously noisy neighbors, banging water/baseboard pipes. The hosts were congenial enough, and breakfast was good, though a bit more spartan than I might have liked. The coffee was good at least.

We made our way to Front Street in downtown Whitehorse as I wanted to see the Yukon in that place, given that we got to see it in Dawson and Eagle this past summer. It was worth it. There, at the White Pass train depot, once again, and perhaps even more dramatically, the sunrise pulled out all the stops.

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From there we headed ever eastward, winding through a monochromatic wilderness. Persistent winds blew what was left of the sparse snow around, snaking across the road surface and leaping and swirling through the air currents on the roadside like some frigid, elemental beings, dancing off into the wooded hills beyond. Hills that at times appeared either very young or very old; dramatic, jagged peaks or rolling, knobby ridgelines. The sun, all the while, darting among them, splashing the country in scattered light. The road, rolling and winding, and undulating seeming to embrace the landscape rather than trying to control it.

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As we began to descend into Teslin River country, the veil between this world and another began to waver. The sun, leaping above the mountains to the south, adorned the scattered tree tops and rugged knobby hills to the north in a brash, golden light. Mining country coming into its own. As we approached the point where the river begins to masquerade as a lake a fog came up and the whole of the country was bedecked in a shimmering, ethereal gown. Without a doubt we seemed to be crossing over, into what was uncertain, but then the Wife read briefly from the book and it began to make sense.

Teslin is the home of a historic band of interior Tlingit; peoples that are notoriously coastal, peoples that, to some, are synonymous with this northern land. Think totem poles and raven masks, dugout canoes, ceremonial spruce root blankets, and killer whale effigies. The confluence of these people in this place is just that, a confluence; a crossing over. The bridge across the river, up and out of the place, seemed to waver in the mists.

From there, up and out of the Teslin River/Lake region, through rolling hills and forests, with rugged mountains in the distance. A surprising paucity of wildlife, though we have seen considerable sign; mostly the shadowy, meandering paths through the snow along the roadside, but also the yellow reflective version. Only once, Red Fox, busy rooting in the snow; a solitary magpie, a handful of raven.

On towards and along the Swift River and up, up to the Continental Divide. Once across this not well marked demarcation, we passed into yet another world; one not immediately affiliated with the Yukon River. We had officially left The Country. As we rolled on down the other side, more changes. One we had noted previously, the changing flora; here there be Lodgepoles. And the road wound on, and the mountains softened, and the forests grew closer.

Along the Rancheria River, down into Liard Country, which feeds the Mackenzie River, which drains this country much as the Yukon does back away behind us. On to Watson Lake. Here, the forest stretches on, seemingly forever. Without a doubt, despite the over-enthusiastic efforts of the local road service crews, we are merely borrowing the winding, sinuous path we call “highway” Without a doubt, one day, the forest will take back its own.

Part 2: As it ends, so it began.

The sun sank behind us, the shadows wavered and finally melted into the flat black and white world. The upper reaches of the Lodgepoles, needles shaped into puffballs, festooned with snow, looked not too unlike something out of Dr.Suess’ universe; the young spruce trees, along the roadward edge of the forest, similarly adorned, trying their best to mimic snowmen; the light fading, the monochrome descending. We top a last rise before rolling down into Watson Lake, the truck thermometer reading -11, the radio saying this is the cold spot in the Territory at the moment, only to be confronted by a small pack of local dogs, 6 or 7 strong, frolicking in the highway with reckless abandon. Watson Lake, home of the Signpost Forest, as noted yesterday, and what we find to be a curious, shoddy place.

And then, at dinner, headlights through the window. A reminder of dining at Fast Eddie’s, back in Tok, and there, again, in the booth behind us, the elderly woman with the little dog. Fellow travelers, oddly also bound for Arizona. This roadtrip, this river through life.

For our turn, we look forward to tomorrow… and the truly fabled hot springs at Liard and ceremonious festivities at Muncho Lake.

Until then…

…aaannd Day 4…

Day 4, Muncho Lake

Part 1: The Best Place on Earth… what else can you say?

After taking the obligatory stroll through the peculiar signpost forest, under yet another incredible sunrise, we fueled up and headed out of town, more or less quite ready to be leaving Watson Lake behind us. Not the most terrible place we had ever been, but it seemed to me, in the words of Frank Zappa, “a little bit cheesy, though nicely displayed.”

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And then, there were bison. First one, then two, then a few scattered here and there, then whole flocks of ‘em. Lumbering malingerers munching away at remnant grasses on the side of the road. The only ungulates we had seen thus far, this side of the border, despite warnings of moose, elk, caribou, horse… it was like driving back into the Pleistocene. Well, not really, although it was often windy.

Anyways, we spent the day winding back and forth across the YT/BC border (BC by the way is the self-proclaimed Best Place on Earth…), through Liard River country where, for much of the time there was not that much to see. But then, perhaps we were feeling a bit blasé, as we were bound for Liard River Hot Springs, which is a very fine place indeed. From there we would head into the Northern Rocky Mountains, but more on that later.

Liard Hot Springs is a place not to be missed. When traveling the Alaska Highway, it is my opinion that one is either a fool, or very unfortunate, to pass by this place. I have been every time, except the first, as we took a different route. That said, I have never been in the winter. As expected, it was pretty magical. I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

It was a short day, and there are festivities tonight, here at the Northern Rockies Lodge, on the shores of, now frozen, Muncho Lake; a glorious place to spend an evening. Only moreso this particular evening; the end of the year, and, as we will very shortly turn due south and head to more “civilized” locales, the end of… well, I’m not sure. Maybe it is better to look at it simply as a turning point. Either way, tonight is our last night in “The North”. A new beginning. Tomorrow, on to Fort St. John.

Until then…

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Day 2: Whitehorse.

Part 1: Trails in the Taiga or, The Ragged Road through the Drunken Forest.

Harrison Ford, in American Graffiti (I believe his big screen debut), leans out the window of his car to razz a fellow hot rodder. In critiquing the color of said hot rod, he says something along the lines of “What color is that, somewhere between piss yellow and puke green?” I my have gotten the quote wrong, but that was the gist.

Looking at the bathtub and vanity prior to departing our room in Tok, I thought to myself “This is the color of that car from American Graffiti.”

We loaded up, fueled up, and rolled on out of town. It was dark, and a bit cold, but we expected that. Today’s mileage was to be nearly twice that of yesterday’s, so we knew we needed an early start. Some hours later, I realized that I forgot we would lose an hour to a change in time zones. Alas.

The sunrise was even more spectacular than the previous day, especially as we were headed straight for it, on a very lonely road, through some very interesting country.

As the day grew, we ventured ever closer to the “international border”, which, given all that we were hauling, gave me some mild trepidation. However, as hoped, the legendary Canadian hospitality won the day and we were allowed to sally forth on into Beaver Creek, where, at Buckshot Betty’s, bikers — but not pets — are welcome. 2 cups of not very good road coffee and we were back to it.

The scenery got progressively more impressive, while the road got progressively more ragged.

 

Through the course of the morning we passed through endless forests of spindly black spruce, leaning akimbo as they are wont to do, situated as they are atop a thoroughly permafrosted substrate. The taiga; “land of little sticks”, or as some would have it, “the drunken forest”. On across the Tok River, across and along side, the Upper Tanana River, then later across the White River and the Donjek River, on our way towards the Yukon River at Whitehorse. All this of course had me thinking about rivers and courses and how a roadtrip, rather than the singular event we often refer to it as, is really more of a continuum of events (e.g., hot rods and graffiti spilling over from yesterdays musing). If one embraces it and goes with the flow, one can experience the road, rather than just drive it.

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Early on, Coyote crossed our path, making me wonder what else the day might have in store for us… Especially given that we were destined to pass through Destruction Bay, which has stories to go along with it, but I think I have told them too many times already.

Part 2: Hareville; the Land of Little

Our four legged companion is not really the road tripping type. Given her blue heeler heritage, she is much more inclined to run and romp with reckless abandon. We knew this, but given the nature of our journey, there is nothing for it.  The resolution is to stop reasonably often and let her, and us, out for numerous brief romps. this makes, on the one hand, for slower going, but on the other, yet another way to actually experience the road, rather than just drive along it.

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In one of these stops we came upon a little snow covered track that looked perfect for a short stroll. Turns out it was a veritable hare thoroughfare. None of us had ever encountered such an open air warren, as it seemed to be. But even more peculiar to me was the nature of the local flora, dominated as it was by these curious stunted trees; birch, aspen, spruce… few in the immediate area were much more than a few feet tall. It was curious indeed, but a good place to walk. Little was right at home and romped here and there among the invisible hare, while a solitary raven swooped by, did a low, slow circle around me, then casually winged off.

On to Whitehorse, though we would not make it before dark. And tomorrow to Watson Lake and the “legendary” sign post forest.

Until then…

Bella’s Big Move. Day 1: Tok.

Part 1: The trouble with rumble strips.

Once we actually got on the road, it wasn’t bad. The temperatures kept climbing as we made our way around the northern outskirts of town. A big storm was blowing in from the south bringing warm weather and, further down the road, wind. Farewell to Fox as we rolled on past. Harrumph to Lil’ Anchorage as we did the same. Hit every other stop light on the way down the Steese, watching the temperature rise and the roads get slicker. On down the Richardson, briefly noting the tourists taking photos of, and with, Santa in North Pole.

On past Moose Creek bluff which I have always found interesting, largely due to the graffiti. Not that I am overly fond of graffiti, but in this case, if memory serves correctly, said bluff is the only place in the Interior where prehistoric pictographs have ever been found. Something just deems that rock be defaced I guess. On we went, past the Air Force base, back into the trees towards Salcha, where the sunrise treated us with a flourish of color on the hills.

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Into the great wide open.

Through Salcha, which doesn’t take much, along between the hills and the Tanana, both of which were beginning to look rather wind blown. On through and past the Shaw Creek flats, where have been found some of the oldest known archaeological sites in Alaska, indeed in much of North America. The winds picked up and by the time we hit Delta Jct., thoroughly buffeted, we were quite ready for the requisite donut stop at the IGA.

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A Delta resident at the IGA

On that stretch of road, between North Pole and Delta, AK DOT, when resurfacing the highway once upon a time, put a rumble strip right down the center line… the only stretch of road that I know of like that. Which, you know, is fine. It is just that when ever I think about rumble strips, you know the chatter marks on the road that let you know when you are out of bounds, I think about my old dog, the dogface. Every time I would accidentally swerve and run over a rumble strip while driving, she would completely freak out. I do not recall quite exactly when this behavior started, but I cannot help but think that it was likely related to that one time that I wrecked a vehicle while she was riding shotgun. Thus, when I think of rumble strips, I think about the dogface, now past, and about wrecking a vehicle. Which I suppose is the point, but still, it is a bit unnerving when just starting out on a 3700+ mile road trip…

Anyway, once on the ALCAN proper, (which ends — or begins in this case — at Delta Jct.) the winds calmed down and by the time we were rolling past Dot Lake, the temperatures were flirting with zero. The sun was starting to set by this time (we had not yet gone 150 miles…), and the colors on the surrounding hills and forests were fantastic. The photos will not nearly do it justice, but then, they rarely do.

As mostly expected, the road was pretty lonely, in fact, I’m not sure we saw another vehicle until we got to the outskirts of Tok. We stopped a few times to let Little have a break for nature, but otherwise it was smooth rolling, and -5 when we hit Tok.

Part 2: What’s in a name?

On our way in, there was some brief postulation regarding how Tok got its name. The Wife read from the Milepost (the must have travel guide for driving this route), but in the end, no queries were illuminated.

It is hard to know what to expect from a place named Fast Eddies. I suppose the first question ought be, what manner of place is it? In this case it is a restaurant, which I knew. Having blown through Tok a number of times this past summer en route to and from Eagle, I had occasion to experience the place. Though I mostly ignored it.

Given the name, I am inclined to envision hot rods and a chrome diner atmosphere. Not so. Rather, one must assume that, in this case, Eddie is the poor chap fleeing for his life from the ravening Grizzly, thus depicted on the business logo. Aside from the suspension of belief required to accept that Eddie, or anyone in a similar circumstance, could be quite fast enough, one is uncertain how the scenario played out.

Anyway, the whole business seems a bit odd to me, but that is just me. I hear they have good pizza. Either way, this is where we check-in to the motel that is to be our home for the night.

Bella too, seems uncertain.

However, we did find a very nice trail out behind the neighboring establishment, that despite sporting some curious false advertisement, offered a very nice place for all of us to stretch our legs and a breath some fine, sub-zero Alaskan air. Tomorrow we attempt to cross the border, bound for Whitehorse.

Until then…