And In The End…

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Canada

Day 25: Banff, AB to Regina, SK (879km, 15929km total)
As we left the Rockies, highway 1 treated us to just a few final sights, perhaps even the best mountain views in all Banff.

There was even an elk, the last of the northern wildlife we’d missed up until this point, as if it knew we were one short of completing our menagerie.

Unfortunately, after a traffic-ridden stop and go through suburban Calgary, the road led only to Saskatchewan, a land of flat boring nothingness interspersed with ghost towns and these.
This particular one, unlike most, is not abandoned yet. While Saskatchewan is still the breadbasket of North America, with the decline of rail and availability of trucks, it no longer makes sense to store grain in every town, and most of it is brought directly to the East for storage and sale, or exported to Europe and Asia.

And so, in these ever more mundane surroundings, we make our way back to Regina all too uneventfully.

Day 26: Regina, SK to Fargo, ND (824km/512mi, 16753km/10410mi total)
Leaving Regina, the only thing we could expect was even more flat boredom, blanketed in amber waves of grain. However, starting around Estevan, the flood waters were rising higher and higher, our of the failed wheat crops and into the highway.

Approaching the border, the flood only got worse, encompassing the entire road in places.

…and even covering railroad tracks as the trains pressed on through.

We managed to avoid the worst of the flooding, in Minot, but unintentional, unnatural lakes like these were a common sight.

Just before Fargo, I caught this incredible sunset. It really was just this orange, if not more so!

Day 27: Fargo, ND to Chicago, IL (643mi, 11053mi total)
Day 28: Chicago, IL
Day 29: Chicago, IL to Rochester, NY (602mi, 11655mi total)
…the scenery was so bad I ddin’t even take out my camera. At least Chicago does have one thing going for it: its food. I can’t go anywhere past Chicago without a visit to Harry Caray’s steakhouse for a filet and garlic broccoli, and Geno’s East for classic Chicago pizza. Yum.

Banff Is A Funny Word

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Canada

Day 23: Prince George, BC to Banff, AB (659km, 14670km total)
Finally, a beautiful wilderness I have no desire whatsoever to climb all over… these mountains are just too much! This was just a first glimpse coming into Banff; before we spent a whole day wandering around the Canadian Rockies today…

Day 24: Banff, AB to Lake Louise, AB/BC to Radium Hot Springs, BC to Banff, AB (380km, 15050km total)
This has to be one of the most beautiful scenic routes on earth, going for a day’s drive through giant mountains filled with exotic wildlife, it felt more like a safari (and a successful one, unlike the tour-bus variety in Denali) than anything one should find in Canada.

A mountain goat in its natural habitat! These things feel such incredible apathy toward humans that it is possible to walk right up to and pet one, without even carrying food.
Mountain Goat

Lake Louise is perhaps the most iconically Canadian scene possible. I found it beautiful but a bit overrated in summer, with its enormous resort hotel and lines of tourists, but what the region is best known for is skiing, which runs from October into June or July on the extremely snowy mountains above the lake.
Lake Louise

These baby-looking birds are everywhere in town. What are they, besides cute? And one hell of a pest when you get one in your plate at the terrace bistro and it wants your french fries?!

Snowball! Even in the last week of June!

There is something quite intense about standing face to face with a moose.

I think these bears are getting just a bit too wild?

Why did the antelope cross the road?

This was not unusual along the entire route, having the road slice through a narrow pass or blasting canyon.

Or is this an antelope? What exactly is an antelope anyway?

Look at this! The wildlife poses right in front of my camera too!

The deer even know exactly where to go! Approximately anyway, maybe they don’t realize the sign is asking for elk.

In case you’ve ever wondered, this is what a new baby moose looks like

…and this is probably just about the end of the interesting sights on this trip. I’ll post one more time at the very end in case there is something not worth missing between here and Rochester, but I kind of doubt it…

Slow Boat to Canada

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Alaska, Canada

Day 20: Lake Laberge, YT to Sbekagway, AK (221km/137mi, 13293km/7638mi total)

Most of this route was on roads we’d already seen back through Whitehorse. On the branch toward Skagway, though, there was one of the most bizarre landscapes in the entire north: the Carcross Desert. This tiny true desert, created by a mountain rain shadow, looks spectacularly out of place at best in its climate.

The crossing back into Alaska, on the same mountain pass once traversed by the dreaded Chilkoot Trail, was still snowy even in late June. It’s easy to see why so many 99ers’ journeys ended here, as even the lure of gold might well have been insufficient to motivate the average adventurer into carrying two tons of gear up this in a frozen winter hell.

Skagway itself was, as expected by its position in the cruise shipping business, more or less a tourist trap. We never particularly planned on coming here, other than to catch the boat out; as far as we cared it might as well have been Dawson-by-the-Sea, but without the casino, and with all the hotels sold out months in advance to cruise ship people on package tours and Alaskans ferrying back to the lower 48.

The one thing I did find particularly enjoyable here was the local brewery, a place that may derive its business from tourists, but was a few blocks off the tourist strip. Its beers, which I consumed abundantly despite the early hour, were uniformly delicious, hoppy West Coast brews. But after a few rounds at the brewery, it was time to get on the SSV Matanuska. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but she’s actually a kind of ugly, very authentic boat; utilitarian, not touristic, built with Northerners in mind.

Day 20/21: Skagway, AK to Prince Rupert, BC (501mi/806km, 8149mi/14300km total)
For the rest of the afternoon, we sat on the topdeck, watching the beautiful Inside Passage go by.
Inside Passage



I think this is the Mendenhall Glacier, just outside of the state capital of Juneau.

We slept on the swaying, rocking boat pleasantly drunk, and woke up just outside of Wrangell. The boat would stop here for an hour, we took shore call and stopped by this garnet stand we saw from the docks; Laura’s favorite gem is the garnet so I think she may well be glad I did!

And then, getting out into the open water, I saw this. What do you think it is? Fish jumping? Whale tail?

Oh, look! There’s four of them! But what are they?

Despite its name, the MV Susitna is not this boat’s sister ship; it is actually a crabbing boat of the same class as the Deadliest Catch ones.

On another shore call, we went to a seafood restaurant in Ketchikan and ate some of these fresh Alaskan snow crabs, which were absolutely delicious. Back aboard ship, I spent the rest of the night in the ships’ bar, one Alaskan Amber after another. Sometime after midnight, the heavy seas hit, and the seasick world started rolling and pitching, fore to starboard, port to aft.

Far too early in the morning, the ship foghorned its lumbering way into Prince Rupert. I think this is my favorite view of the entire trip so far…
Rupert's Fog

Day 22: Prince Rupert to Prince George’s, British Columbia (718km, 14011km total)
The fog hung around for a while longer on the coast road. Just what I always thought British Columbia would look like… I’m glad the weather sucks actually!
Prince George

This road was very kind to us for wildlife, with a black bear and a wolf in the starring roles on an otherwise unremarkable and boring route.


It Was On the Marge of Lake Laberge

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Alaska, Canada

Day 18: Anchorage to Tok, AK (318mi, 7061mi total)
Leaving Anchorage, we passed through Mat-Su County, a region named for its two spectacular glaciers, the Matanuska and Susitna, which form the two main rivers of southeast Alaska. It was a tourist experience again, basically, but I got to see and almost approach the Matanuska glacier. (Leave it to my parents to stay off the ice, even the part on the tour, on trumped up fears of falling through!) From a distance, the glacier looks almost like a snowfall.

But not so much standing at its icy face!

This was as close as they would have me to the ice. Even though the rest of the tour got to go on the glacier and walk quite far into the ice.

What may or may not be a pingo, a small pyramidal hill caused by expanding and melting ice

This is the entire Susitna valley, glacier and all, a few miles away from Matanuska. Both glaciers begin in the St Elias mountains, the second highest in North America.

Fuck. Not this again.

The dirt road continued most of the way to Tok, alternating rough gravel and broken pavement. At least every day southward gets us closer to civilization and normal road.

Day 19: Tok, AK to Lake Laberge, YT (398mi/640km, 7501mi/13072km total)
Today was just another long drive through beautiful mountains… and still more wishing I could climb them. There isn’t even much to say about them, I don’t know what the mountains are called, how high they are; even the wildlife was mostly missing.

If or when I ever come back somehow, this is where I’m camping. Even though it’s 50 feet from the road, this has to be one of the best views in Alaska

This little guy was waiting for us just past the border checkpoint into the Yukon. I’d love to take one home with me…

Judiciously avoiding Whitehorse this time, we stayed instead at an eco-tourism resort north of the city along Lake Laberge, best known perhaps for its appearance in a Robert Service poem. It is, however, a beautiful lake with radiant blue-green water!
Lake Laberge

On Top Of The World

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Alaska, Canada

Day 11: Dawson, YT to Fairbanks, AK (623km/387mi, 8129km/5051mi total)
In the mountains above Dawson, last winter’s snow still hasn’t melted, this despite being above tree line and in direct sunlight at least part of the day! It wasn’t even cold here… maybe 60-65 degrees.

Starting to sound like a broken record here but… I want to get outside and be a part of this!
Green Mountains

The border checkpoint was tiny, and consisted of this informational sign, a cabin, and a little shack no larger than a toll booth. Which is probably about what one would expect all the way up here.

Alaska is cold. Or something. It’s the 49th state to join the Union, and the 49th state I’ve been to.
Frozen River

This was the most exciting part of dinner in Fairbanks at a mediocre seafood restaurant: sitting out on the deck watching a beaver swim back and forth.

Day 12: Fairbanks, Alaska
Stuck inside of the world’s northernmost Ford dealership, getting new tires before the drive to the Arctic Ocean. Other than the 23 hours a day of sunlight, and the occasional moose wandering through a neighborhood, this could be any mid-sized American city… most of what I’ve seen so far looks an awful lot like Binghamton. I’m not sure what I expected to see here, or why — with almost 100,000 people, even if it’s thousands of miles from the mainland, it’s only natural it would develop into a recognizable city. Even one that I can’t escape the feeling that I’ve been here before. The one thing missing is a photography store. After those relatively distant encounters with wildlife, I really could use a zoom lens. Especially going to the Arctic ocean and Denali this week…

There are Strange Things Done in the Midnight Sun

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Canada

Day 9: Fort Nelson, BC to Whitehorse, YT (951km, 6974km total)


Finally, this was the North we were looking for! Back on the Alaska Highway, the scenery opened up into the far northern end of the Canadian Rockies, towering stone peaks I would have loved to climb if I ever had the chance again.

We were isolated enough though that even car-window wildlife watching was possible. Mountain goats would wander straight into traffic, giving the perfect opportunity to see them up close and personal.

One of the more notable roadside attractions on the way to Alaska is the Signpost Forest. Started by a bored soldier in World War II, it has grown to tens of thousands of signs, license plates and plaques from around the world. I should have brought one…

More of the Yukon… I REALLY want to come back here when I can leave the road and experience this spectacular nature!
Beautiful Yukon

Unfortunately there is little I can recommend about the capital city, Whitehorse. Despite being a tourist outpost and the largest city in the Canadian Arctic, the downtown is quiet and boring, and the largest hotel is a filthy wreck. I would rather have stayed in an abandoned hotel than this one… it would be cleaner, and less full of unsavoury characters. I didn’t take any pictures of the shithole so this will have to do:

At first we thought we’d stay in Whitehorse two nights, take the scenic train out to Skagway for the day today or something. But this place is just too disgusting — it’s so bad we have to change around the whole trip! So we booked a place in Dawson City last minute, knowing it can’t be any worse… maybe it won’t be quite so rotten there.

Day 10: Whitehorse to Dawson City, Yukon (532km, 7506km total)
We left the infested hotel as quickly as we possibly could this morning. As one last parting gesture of inhospitality, even the breakfast they put out cold in the lobby was growing its own boreal forest of blue-green mold. I’m not sure if they serve beer in Hell, but I don’t doubt these greenberry muffins are on the menu.

Just out of town toward the Klondike road, we stopped for breakfast at a roadhouse. Their speciality, 1-kilogram cinnamon buns, were amazing and FAR better than the hotel’s rotten tableau.

Why did the wolf puppy cross the road?

Because there’s rainbows on the other side! Of course there would be — Dawson City was the centre of the Klondike gold rush of 1898-99.

I’m not sure how much of this is tourist façade and how much is the actual city, but Dawson really looks like the old West, with wooden clapboard downtown and dusty mud streets of saloons and gambling houses.

I tried my fortunes tonight at Diamond-Tooth Gertie’s blackjack tables… just like 115 years of drunken gamblers before me, I lost all the cash I brought. Which doesn’t make me any less happy to be here on a warm, sunny Arctic night!