Thursday, July 2, 2009

After 11,000 miles...

I'm back in San Diego, and aside from the millions of people I now share the road with, it's great to be home! The last leg of the trip was an amazing week in Banff, Jasper and Yoho National Parks that I shared with a friend from San Diego. Here's some of the happenings from the week. Sorry. Not a single bear.

Beautiful Banff...

Banff was a short 90 minute drive west of Calgary and my city dweller friend was anxious to see what Westy wilderness living was all about. To her credit her learning curve was about one hour. She jumped in with a great attitude despite temperatures that dipped a little below what we both expected. In fact, she was so chilled on the first night she attempted to light her shoes on fire. While she continued to learn the finer points of gathering around the campfire, I went to work repairing the shoe meltdown. Moving forward we came up with a solution to her slowly freezing feet that did not involve a Shoe Bomber impersonation. She went to bed each night with four layers on her feet - plastic trash bags as layer one and three layers of wool socks. The result? A happy camper.

Canadian Rocky Mountain High...

Fishing was low on the priority list after my previous grayling successes, so we focused on hiking the Canadian Rockies. We actually saw more glaciers and ice fields on this part of the trip than I had seen in all of Alaska. This was due mostly to weather that cooperated for most of the week. We did have some rain, but as was the case during the Alaskan monsoon season I went through, the natural beauty trumped the rain.

Our four nights of camping took us to four different campgrounds - Mosquito Creek, Wapita, Wilcox Creek and Kicking Horse River. By sheer luck each successive campground was better than the last. Kicking Horse was a great place to spend our last night in the Rockies. We had the usual cord of free firewood (spoiled for life), camped on the river, had clean bathrooms with hot showers a short walk away, and we even had power in the bathroom to plug in the percolator the next morning.

Another Amazingly Lucky Break...

We left Kicking Horse early planning on doing laundry in Calgary and going to a nice Thai lunch. Well, we didn't get to the laundry, we didn't do Thai, and truth be told, we were damn lucky to get to the airport on time. I had seen a lot of construction delays during the journey, but any time I approached a flagman the wait was never longer than five minutes. So I wasn't concerned when we stopped on Highway 1 east to Banff. Five minutes went by. I turned the key off. Ten minutes went by. I checked the oil and organized some gear in the back. We continued to wait. After a solid thirty minutes I mentioned that I had never waited this long. We soon found out what the problem was. A guy in a van about five cars ahead made a U-turn and drove directly toward Stella and informed us that there was a serious accident miles ahead and the wait would likely be 4 or 5 hours (he was a retired cop and must have had a police radio). How did he happen to pick us? We would have sat there forever without his most welcome heads up. As we talked about the karmic forces at work, I turned around and followed our new best friend to the Box Canyon Parkway, which turned out to be a secret alternate route to Calgary via Banff. We still have no idea how he picked us out of hundreds of frustrated motorists, but we're not complaining. It did feel a little weird turning around, looking at the other drivers, and knowing we had information that they would crave. Sorry folks. We had a plane to catch.

Camped Out...

We made it to Calgary with time to spare and headed directly to the Thai restaurant I had scoped a few days before. My traveling companion promptly gave it two thumbs down so we went next door to the Indian restaurant. The buffet was closing in 15 minutes. Great. McDonald's anyone? We ended up having ribs at Tony Roma's, then headed to the airport right on time. As my friend waited for her plane, I gassed up and made a beeline for the border. I had 1,565 miles to get me from Calgary to San Diego. I figured I would do a leisurely 250 miles per day and arrive in San Diego for dinner on Friday, July 3rd. My first stop was Glacier National Park in Montana. I was excited about seeing the park until Ranger Smithette informed me that it would be $25 to pass through the gate and another $25 to set up camp. After camping for free throughout the Yukon that was a little tough to swallow. So instead of camping out, I was pretty much "camped out." They even wanted to charge me for firewood! This was more than I could bear, so instead of a liesurely 250 miles per day I planned to do about 600 miles per day and make it back to san Diego in time for the 4th of July festivities.

Back in Southern California with millions of my closest friends...

That just about closes the loop on one of the greatest adventures I have ever taken. I arrived in San Diego on Tuesday at precisely 4 PM on July 3rd. I'll miss the open road and the quiet solitude, but I squeezed everything out of this trip that I hoped for. I will never forget the support all of you gave to this endeavor - those that freely shared their upbeat comments, wit and natural history expertise, as well as those tracking the progress in the background. I hope you enjoyed the blog as much as I did. It was a great tool to chart the progress, sights and thoughts of the trip. I'm not saying this will be the last post, but it's time to get to work on the next project. McTavish is patiently waiting in the garage for his extreme makeover. As for Stella, after her award ceremony for the most dependable, toughest, 2-wheel drive, Arctic rock crusher I've ever had the pleasure to drive, she'll be taking a well deserved rest in Golden Hill. Thank you all again for being by my side in spirit for the last 6 weeks.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

OK, Wasilla. And then what happened?

When we last connected I was getting thrown off of Sarah Palin’s property like I was the paparazzi. Jeez. I was just a guy on a bike shopping for a windshield with a telephoto lens. I was able to avoid a free stay in the Wasilla Correctional Facility and made my way out of town heading south through Anchorage. This great city, which is not the capitol for those of you that are as geographically challenged as I am, was nothing more than a gas stop. After driving through thousands of miles of desolate wilderness I was compelled to keep on going. There was nothing there for me except civilization. On the road too long? Maybe.
Rained out in Alaska…
We all know, or at least we’ve heard, that Alaska is a stunningly beautiful place. This is probably true, but I missed it. I was there for sure, but saw low-lying clouds and torrential downpours instead of the endless mountain ranges, glaciers, moraines, fjords and, well, you get the picture. I was rained out. But before you label me as a wet towel, hold on. Even with a ten day rain system hovering over my head, the wilderness, wildlife and people did not disappoint. The bears were out in force, along with bald eagles and Missouri bikers. This bald eagle, on the Homer Spit, was perched majestically on a post looking for its next meal. I met Joe, the Missouri biker, while waiting for the ferry from Haines to Skagway. He lured the ravens to Stella’s grill with Fritos and got them to feast on the hundreds of bees, butterflies and assorted bugs on her grill. They chowed. As I got to know Joe I found that he was on a journey very similar to mine. Nice guy. When we hit Skagway I invited him to share the fresh salmon I bought from Clyde back in Haines. He agreed, and as I blackened the salmon, Joe stir fried scallions and potatoes. I don’t want to speak for Joe, but it was a meal to remember. Here’s a parting shot of him showing the miles he’s logged so far. Safe travels to you, Joe.
Itinerary Change…
After charging through Wasilla, Anchorage, Homer, Seward, Valdez, Haines and Skagway in 3 days of pouring rain, it was time to pray for sun and head east to Alberta. This fell in line with the original plan of heading across Canada to Boston, with some “minor” modifications. After a thorough inspection of Stella’s under carriage and my wallet, I decided to forego the additional 6,000 miles of driving and head south from Calgary through Montana and Wyoming – only after promising my disappointed, but very understanding, Mother that I would fly to Boston in the fall.
So with the rain fading in my rearview mirror I set my sights on Calgary. With my friend arriving on June 22nd I was actually on a schedule for the first time in a month. It felt good. Plus I had to get there before her so I could clean the 8,000 miles of dirt off Stella. After one night in the big city, the plan is to head to Banff and Jasper to see the sights and introduce her to the wilderness lifestyle. Something tells me she’ll do just fine.
The 2,000 mile drive from Valdez, which is where I was when I got the good news that my friend  was booking her ticket, was all about beautifully deserted camping spots, another Arctic Grayling slaughter and, of course, the never ending supply of wildlife photo opps. You would think by now that I’d be saying, “Whatever. It’s just another bear/moose/caribou/mountain goat/buffalo/fox.” But I stopped each and every time.
The latest Arctic Grayling outing netted me thirty, yes thirty, grayling. Either I’m a highly skilled flyfisherman or these fish hadn’t eaten in months. I stopped for gas near the Koidern River No.2 and walked over to check it out. It was still raining but the river looked too good to pass up. I went under the bridge and found a spot on the bank where the wind wouldn’t blow my fly back into my eye and proceeded to coax dozens of beautiful grayling to the surface. I can only imagine what Koidern River No.1 would be like!
Speaking of wildlife, you may remember the picture of Sasquatch in an earlier blog post. Well, I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw what I’m sure was a descendant of the Loch Ness monster caught up in the huge whirlpool at the free Whirlpool Canyon burn all the driftwood you can haul campsite. Next on my to-do list: The Yeti.
That’s it for now. I’m off to the airport to pick up a friend coming in from San Diego for the last week. Sorry if this blog post seems a little choppy. Since I have no hair my head is cold and I'm having trouble concentrating.We’ll try to post some pictures from our week in Banff and Jasper before we leave Calgary for San Diego – a short 3 hour flight for my friend and a mere 1,565 mile drive for Pete!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

6-07-09 – Damage Report from The Snakepit

Have you ever done something at a birthday party that you regretted the next morning? How about something at your own birthday party? Well, I’m happy to say, that except for the red wig and dark glasses, I never have. I celebrated my birthday in style with the help of some new friends from Dawson City. Actually new friends from The Snakepit in Dawson City, a famous “beer parlour” known for frequent brawls and the occasional cross dresser. Oh yeah, and Barnacle Bob will belt out tunes on the piano if the crowd begs him enough. A birthday to remember if I could only remember what happened.

There’s an old saying that comes from The Snakepit - “What happens at The Snakepit appears on YouTube the next day.” That being said I have no intention of sharing the one hundred or so additional photos of the evening’s antics on the Westy Blog. After being sincerely welcomed into the local group, it just doesn’t seem right. I will however be conducting private viewings for those interested.

I slept in on the morning after the festivities (see wig picture), and set off well after lunch time for the drive over the Top of the World Highway to Tok, Alaska. My reason for lingering in Dawson City, besides a hankering for a birthday steak, was to let the rain pass. From what I hear the drive over the TOTWH is spectacular on a clear day. I didn’t have a clear day. What was spectacular though, was surviving the mud and gravel road and numerous frost heaves that will literally lift your front wheels off the ground. That is if you’re going way too fast. Or as fast as Stella can go, which is pretty fast. Either way rubber left the road. It was still a beautiful drive, though. It cleared up during the last 50 miles and I eventually rolled into the Tok RV Park for a hot shower, laundry (non-hippie method), water and electric for Stella, along with a car wash, and free Wi-Fi. All for $25. What a deal!

6/8 & 6/9 - Arctic Grayling Slaughter Reported at Tangle Lakes…

Fish count for June 8, 2009: Arctic Grayling (1), Clearwater River

Fish count for June 9, 2009: Arctic Grayling (14), Tangle Lake

Yes, it’s true! The first official Arctic Grayling was coaxed to the surface with a beautifully presented light gray mayfly imitation. It took standing waist deep in a 32 F crystal clear river until after 10 PM, but I am not complaining. It was magical. No pictures though. It was all I could do to keep myself dry, let alone my camera. I waded earlier in the evening to a gravel bar across the river. Uneventful. The return trip to my campsite? Eventful. I didn’t back track the exact same route and stepped into a hole. A deep hole. My waders took on about 2 gallons of ice cold water down each leg as I scrambled for footing. Fortunately the current bounced me off a conveniently placed boulder and I ended up getting my footing. I was frozen to the core but happy to have landed grayling number one.

Even with my high level of "proficiency" as a fly fisherman, I owe a lot of the credit to Jim in the adjoining campsite. I was pouring over my hundreds of flies realizing I didn’t have the one the grayling wanted. And with water as clear as this river you better be choosing carefully. Otherwise you’ll have nothing to show for the effort but a sore arm and waders full of cold water. Jim came sauntering through my campsite (I thought he was heading to the bathroom), and banged on my door. He must have seen my fly gear and asked how I did. I explained my plight and he proceeded to hand me about a half dozen flies that he said the grayling would love. I had none of these flies. Very cool. Here’s the not so cool part though. As we were talking his daughter Kate walked up with their yellow lab on a leash and proceeded to make herself at home (along with the wet-footed dog) in the Westy. Deep breath, Pete. Deep breath. Then I watched in horror as she stood on my mobile living room couch with her feet looking no better than the dog's asking if I slept up in the top bunk. On what freakin’ planet would this be OK?!? Deep breath. Remember, her Dad just handed you a half dozen flies that will allow you to slay the elusive grayling in great numbers. After cleaning the mud out of my bedroom, I headed for the river. Thanks to Jim I now have a total of one grayling under my belt.

Now on to Tangle Lakes. When I told Jim which way I was headed, he said he had just come from there. He told me of a turnoff that would take me 20 miles to an amazing spot he and his son fished a couple of days before. With arms waving enthusiastically he said, “If you want grayling, go to where the lake empties into a small river. They’re stacked up right at that point!” Generous Jim, who also gave me a hand drawn map that would have blown Lenora’s away, knows a lot about fly fishing. And he was absolutely right. I ate lunch at the edge of the lake and studied the water. After 20 minutes I knew where every single grayling was feeding. I tied on another of Jim’s recommendations and proceeded to slaughter grayling. It sounds worse than it is. I have a zero limit policy, so the barbless hook was gently removed from each of their mouths and they were set free. Too beautiful to eat.

The drive to see Sarah Palin in Wasilla...

The drive from Glennallen to Wasilla was spectacular. I don't know what else I can say. Here's a picture that I hope is worth a thousand words. This is the Matanuska Glacier, the largest glacier accessible by car in Alaska. It was really an amazing view for 100 miles. Next stop after Wasilla (Speedy Glass windshield) is Homer, Alaska. I drove by Sarah's house, but there were way too many private property and no trespassing signs, so no pictures. The good news is I think you know what she looks like! After Homer I'm off to Seward, Valdez, Haines, Skagway and then back to Whitehorse in the Yukon to complete a very large circle. I'll keep trying to post pictures along the way!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Live from Dawson City, it's Saturday afternoon!

6-6-09 - Congratulations, Samantha!
Today is my cousin Sam’s high school graduation party. I hope to be on Skype with Pat, Matt and the rest of the crew around 2 PM this afternoon. I’m in Dawson City for my long awaited steak dinner. There’s a small casino here and a handful of crusty gold miners walking around. Real gold miners. I asked Pat in the Goldrush RV Park office if anyone pans for gold besides the many tourists that pass through. He described a dozen or so real life prospectors living in the hills. They come into town every month or so for groceries and then head for the hills again. A different breed for sure.
Thanks again to all of you for following the blog and sharing your wit and kinds words with me. I miss you all, but this has truly been the adventure of a lifetime. Hope you enjoy the picture of Smiley, the lovable, smiling grizzly bear. Zoom in. The picture is not photoshopped!
5-31-09 - Provisions in Whitehorse then on to the Klondike Highway…
I spent a leisurely morning and early afternoon at Dawson Peaks Resort knowing that the symbolic goal of Whitehorse was only about 100 miles away. It’s symbolic because I’ve been using it as a reference and jumping off point to the last two legs before reaching the Arctic Circle and Inuvik prizes. Progress has been good.
After stocking up at Wal-Mart in Whitehorse, I loaded my cache of smoked baby clams and sardines into the Westy. Wal-Mart Kevin gave me clean directions to the turnoff from the Alaska Highway to the Klondike Highway. Since I left Dawson Peaks so late, Kevin also pointed me toward the first two or three campgrounds on the Klondike. Even though it stays light out until almost midnight I knew I’d be crashing hard soon.
6-1-09 - Loons at Fox Lake…
The first campground I came to, LaBerge, was like camping on Fiesta Island in San Diego. Too close to Whitehorse. Since it hardly ever gets dark around here I figured I would try Fox Lake about 50 miles up the Klondike. It turned out to be a most excellent choice. I pulled into a choice spot on the lake. I emphasize “on” because this phenomenon is near impossible to come by in California. Here they encourage you to get as close to the lake as possible. “And please use as much of our free firewood as you can burn.” So, for $12 Canadian, I pulled into the best spot on Fox Lake, burned a cord of wood before bed, and slept a solid seven hours. Then the loons came a calling. So I did what I’ve done every morning since I left San Diego; I plugged in the coffee grinder, ground some French roast and got out the maps.
6-2-09 - The Drive down Sponge Cake Road…
During breakfast back at Fox Lake I picked Ethel Lake as my next destination. This was one of Greg’s (Dawson Peaks) Yukon Favorites. I zeroed the odometer and set out on the 166 mile drive to the Ethel Lake Road turnoff. Watching the miles click by I finally approached the 166 mile mark. No sign of Ethel. I blew past a small dirt road on the right and figured that had to be it. I turned around and began the 24 mile drive to what I hoped would be the lake of my dreams. You see, I had just purchased my official Yukon fishing license at the Mountie (RCMP) Station back at Pellings Crossing. The officer wished me luck after informing me that the lake had an abundance of Arctic Grayling. Now I was excited. I’ve caught a lot of fish with my fly rod over the years, but never an Arctic Grayling! This was huge.
As I started down Ethel Lake Road I thought it would be cool to pose for this picture with Stella and a sign that said “Proceed at own risk.” Notice the cocky look on my face? Well, that look changed to the perfect blend of frustration and “I sure am glad I didn’t drive into that mud pit” about 3 miles down the very rough road. Just ahead I saw a patch that looked really shaky, like someone had been stuck there before me. I got out and did a little recon. The well worn tire tracks appeared solid, but when I walked on them it was like walking across a mattress. Very strange. If my body weight could deflect the road surface almost 2 inches, what would Her Portliness, Stella, do to it? I grabbed a stick to poke through what seemed to be a dirt road floating on air and dug down a few inches. I got nothing but a mixture of clay and gravel. Perfectly normal. What the hell was under there? I paced back and forth between the sponge cake portion of the road and Stella, and finally decided to turn around. I was already a few miles from the main road with two wheel drive and no cell phone reception. As I proceeded back to the highway I flagged down a Highway Services guy coming in the other direction. I asked him about the spot he was heading toward. “We’re really shorthanded and we’ve been focusing all our efforts fixing the potholes on the Klondike Highway. The spot you’re talking about is basically a swamp running under the road. We have to deal with it every year as spring goes into summer.” Had I not turned around I would have very likely been sitting in that Yukonian bog. Imagine that, the warning sign was there for a reason.
6-2-09 - Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…
Now plan B became plan A. Fresh off of my Ethel Lake Arctic Grayling slaughter, my next stop was The Silver Trail, and in particular the Keno City loop. By the way, here’s a great picture of the Arctic Grayling I didn’t catch at Ethel Lake. Yeah, it’s the first one I’ve ever seen, too. So on to the Keno City Loop to put my Yukon fishing license to good use. I gassed up at Mayo Village and brought my map in with me to pay. I asked the owner for Arctic Grayling recommendations on the Keno loop. He pointed me toward the dam at Mayo Lake and Minto Lake. Maybe tonight would be the night. The map I got from Lenora’s “Here’s everything you’ll ever need to know about the Yukon” kiosk at Stewart’s Crossing was not the most detailed I’ve ever seen. I mean it had the squiggly lines we’re all used to seeing. But her map, which came with a small box of crayons, also had large icons of coffee cups, hamburgers and gas pumps to denote where one can get these things. I did not see one icon of an Arctic Grayling. So with the equivalent of a child’s road map I set off to catch my fish.
I came to the turnoff for Minto Lake first. Fifty feet on to the road a very informative road sign let me know the road was closed. “You gotta be kidding me,” I screamed at the sign. Maybe they just haven’t taken it down yet. Lenora’s map did say Minto Lake Road was a seasonal road. Few people understand how a fisherman’s judgment can go out the window when there’s a real opportunity to catch a fish he’s never caught before. Hell, I don’t understand it myself, but you probably know where this is going.
I proceeded down the narrow road and kept telling myself, “You can just back out if it gets too hairy.” Of course, I forgot to mention that after a reprieve from bear sightings all the way from Whitehorse to Mayo Village, they were coming out again in force. Great. I white knuckled it down the road and watched the tenths of miles click by. How far could it be? Well, according to Lenora’s map, it was either pretty far or really close.
I was on the lookout for the same sponge cake roadbed I saw on Ethel Lake Road. Like I could recognize it. I came upon several sections that made me stop, peer through the windshield, question my sanity, and then go flying through in first gear at about 5ooo rpm. One by one the successful stream crossings started to add up. I was feeling as good as one can when he’s scared shitless that he’ll be sleeping in the woods for three weeks while waiting for someone to happen down the road.
Finally, after 11.3 miles I was magically transported back to the late 1800’s. I arrived at the most rustic campsite I have ever seen, complete with a dilapidated cabin (circa a really long time ago) and a “slightly used” outhouse. I parked in what I thought looked like a campsite and walked down to the water’s edge. The dead calm of the lake was unsettling. I strained to hear even the smallest sound, anything. Nothing. I walked back to the Westy, loaded the shotgun, made dinner and prepared for what would turn out to be the quietest night of my life.
This "road closed" picture was taken the morning after the ordeal. The cockiness has been replaced with a look of, "Man, it's good to be alive!"
6-2-09 - Laundry Day at Tombstone…
With my spirits flying high after catching zero grayling at Minto Lake, and risking my life to do it, I drove the short distance to the Dempster Highway turnoff. Here we go. The last leg before hitting the Arctic Circle and Inuvik! My first stop on the Dempster came up pretty quick. I wanted to get just a few miles of the Dempster under my belt before camping, and pulled into Tombstone in less than an hour. As usual I had my pick of spots. I found the perfect site right on the North Fork of the Klondike River. There was one, maybe two, other campers in the whole place. Never in California.
I put my river access to good use and dragged out the overly ripe laundry bag that the Sumas Border Agent had rifled through. It would have killed her today. Using Stella as one end of a clothesline I strung a few bungee cords together, attached the other end to a tree and headed for the river. My transition to full hippiehood is progressing nicely. Today I washed my laundry in a river and sharpened my hatchet by hand. Tomorrow I plan to crunch granola while simultaneously hugging a tree.
With my laundry drying in the mid-afternoon sun (I think it was about 9 PM), I checked on the water temp in the solar shower. Nice and warm after days of crystal clear weather. The fact that the sun hasn’t set in I don't know how long helps a little, too. I set off on a short run, looking forward to a very warm shower.
6-3-09 - A new level of desolation and solitude…
During the last few weeks before leaving San Diego, the map of Northern Canada was open on the dining room table. Cat and I became quite familiar with the tentative route and even started logging distances between key points. But every time I passed by the map my eyes were always drawn directly to the Dempster Highway. What would a 455 mile dirt and gravel road be like? Would it be nothing more than featureless tundra? Would Stella be able to hang?
Over a couple of days all those questioned were answered. I was awed by the vastness and pure desolation. As I drove on, each vista topped the last. There were grizzlies and black bears casually strolling along the road, as if man had no business being there. With the support of family, friends and an amazing girlfriend, I came here seeking raw nature and real solitude. No phones, no stock market, no news. I got exactly what I bargained for, and couldn’t be happier.
6-3-09 - I’m on top of the world (almost)…
We’ve all been there. You wake up one morning and say, “Hey, let’s drive to the Arctic Circle!” Well, I had one of those days a few weeks ago and here I am. Actually, the primary reason for this trip was to verify that they put the sign in the right place. As you can see from the readout on my trusty Garmin, they’re dead on.
OK, kidding aside. I lingered here for over an hour. I don’t really know why, but it was hard to leave. Reaching the Arctic Circle with Stella was a key milestone on this journey, and it just felt good. I took one last look at the marker and hopped in the Westy for the short drive to Rock River. I was now past the halfway point on the Dempster Highway and right on target to arrive at Inuvik Village on or before Saturday, June 6th.
6-4-09 - Drove the entire Dempster without breaking down (almost)…
I pulled into Fort McPherson to top off the gas tank. I had just driven off the free, on-demand ferry over the MacKenzie River about ten miles back. Driving off was easy. Driving on was a little more challenging. It looked like the steel ramp wasn’t lowered completely as I approached the ferry. I felt like I was starting to sink in the loose soil and had to keep moving or risk getting stuck. I assumed the ramp was spring loaded and would just lower the last several inches once my front tires touched it. Wrong. The steel ramp rattled Stella to the core. I think I swallowed a tooth. Once on the ferry I did a walk around checking for visible damage. Everything seemed OK.
After gassing up I pulled back on to the Dempster. I was headed to Deep Water Lake to have lunch, and fish, based on info from the Fort McPherson welcoming committee. Two guys walked up to the Westy while I was at the gas pump. They were bent over in front studying my license plate. “California? Wow, that’s a long drive,” they said in unison. We chatted for a bit and I asked for grayling assistance. Charlie recommended Deep Water Lake about ten miles north. Perfect. Maybe today would be the day. As I took the nondescript road exactly where Charlie said it would be, Stella could barely make the turn without me strong arming the steering wheel. Now what? Could I have shuddered Stella so hard getting on the ferry that I damaged the power steering pump? Is that even possible?
I did a very strenuous three point turn and drove back to the stop sign leading to the Dempster. I slowly walked back to the engine compartment repeating my favorite power steering mantra over and over. “Please be a belt. Please be a belt.” I had visions of a seized, smoking power steering pump bleeding fluid all over the ground. “Please be a belt.” It was! But the belt wasn’t severed or missing. It was sitting there in one piece. Well worn, but in one piece. I figured the only explanation was that a piece of gravel flew up into the engine compartment and spun the belt off the pulleys. It’s possible. But here’s the best part. I actually had a belt with me to replace the well worn one. Installed it in 15 minutes and got back on the road in search of the elusive grayling.
6-4-09 - Camping in downtown Inuvik…
I took advantage of a long awaited cell phone signal and called Cat to let her know I was alive, happy and driving into the Inuvik town center, clearly months ahead of schedule. In true Cat fashion she suggested I savor the moment and call her once I got settled. I did. Driving down the main drag I saw a sign with the familiar tent symbol on it. Cool. After spending the last few nights in virtual isolation, I was happy to camp across the street from a small subdivision and a central power plant a short distance away.
As I was making dinner and settling in for the Lakers/Magic game on XM, my campsite was overrun by a local biker gang. I guess the road has mellowed me a bit. I had them doing jumps one after another while I snapped photos. Maybe I was just happy to see people. Honestly, they were very cool kids. I even made a small repair on one of their bikes. Wow. Changing times for me.
While it’s true that Inuvik was a definite northern prize on this journey, the town left a little to be desired. Did I want to celebrate my 49th birthday here? Probably not. So, with the sun not setting on a long day, I crawled into my bunk to try to get some sleep. I looked at the clock. One A.M. and the sun was still above the horizon. I tossed and turned in the sunlight until about 5 A.M. The poor, confused birds never shut up. Finally I said, “That’s it. I’m hitting the road.” If I timed it right I would hit the first ferry crossing at the MacKenzie River just as they started their day. I was on a mission to reach Dawson City by dinner time. Southwest to Alaska, Lokedog!
6-5-09 - Stella takes one for the team…
Well, I reached Dawson City in time for dinner. Full hook ups for Stella and free Wi-Fi. But not before an unforgettable southward drive down the full length of the Dempster Highway. All 455 miles. In one day. And it was no less spectacular than the first time. The bears were out in force, along with fox, beaver, rabbits (snowshoe, I think) and a half dozen birds of prey. I was driving along thinking of ways to adequately describe this place. Tough job.
I drove on in solitude counting every mile to Dempster corner. I hadn't seen another car or truck in the last 150 miles. That was about to change big time. With only 100 miles to go, Stella took one for the team. An 18-wheeler came flying around the corner like a runaway locomotive, billowing dust and spraying gravel and rocks in every direction. Stella sustained a direct hit to the windshield. The rock hit the windshield so hard there was powdered glass and glass fragments flying into the front seat. I was grateful the strike was on the empty passenger side. But dammit, I just bought the windshield three months ago. I field dressed Stella's wound and continued southward. I will never forget the 455 mile dirt and gravel road they call the Dempster Highway, but I'm about ready for some pavement.