The gang goes North: Part 8- Girdwood, Valdez, McCarthy/Kennecott and the Yukon

July 26-August 1

Glass on Kenai Lake awaited us the next morning. We’d decided to make our return trip back up the Kenai Peninsula that day, but had some time to spare.

Blowing up the kayak, we floated out onto the water. About a mile wide, and about 22 miles long, with two deep bends, I wanted to get to the east side, across the skinny way. A mountain cascade poured into the lake from beneath a tunnel of small trees, and we traveled to the mouth of it and relaxed for a half hour or so, in silence, save for the stream. Jamie and Charley took a nap. I couldn’t stop staring up at the long bowl that we floated within.

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The gang goes North: Part 7.2- Kenai Peninsula (West side)

July 21-25

Not shockingly, we left Seward the morning of the 21st in the midst of a rain shower. Heading north along the Seward Highway, then splitting off west along the Sterling Highway, our surroundings changed from mountainous to rolling forested flats. Homer sits at the end of the Sterling Highway, and “The Spit” stretches a handful of miles out into Kachemak Bay, only few hundred yards wide and marks the end of the road- as far south on the Peninsula as a car can take you.

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The gang goes North: Part 7.1- Kenai Peninsula (Seward)

July 17-20

Rain again. We slept in at Porcupine Campground in Hope, hoping it would dry up outside before we started packing. It didn’t.

Jamie finalized a blog post as we huddled under our awning. We’d be heading further south in the Kenai, to Seward, so we grabbed coffee at Kayak Coffee Co in town to give our bodies a little extra fuel. I spotted a guy wearing a Bills hat under a pavilion beside the coffee shop’s parking lot.

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The gang goes North: Part 6- Turnagain Arm- Girdwood, Portage Valley, Hope

July 11-16

Oatmeal, yogurt, coffee. It’s amazing that we haven’t tired of the routine yet.

We left Eagle River campground and made our way back into Anchorage for a few more items we’d decided were necessary. I picked up a new air compressor for the tires, as we’d given ours away to a poor soul on the Old Denali Highway with 2 hissing wheels and a handful of miles to get to a service center. Jamie popped into the grocery for a couple more things, and we wasted no time getting out of Anchorage, heading eastward along the Turnagain Arm.

A long, skinny waterway branching east from the Cook Inlet about 40 miles, Turnagain Arm is a a sight. Massive heaps of rock rise up from the mudflats of the Arm on both sides, and the extreme tidal changes give birth to bore tides- one of only a couple places on the planet where you can see the phenomenon. One long, subtle wave pushes massive amounts of water from Cook Inlet into the Arm. Some folks will surf the wave for miles, as it gently ushers them east beneath the towering mountains.

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The gang goes North: Part 5- Hatcher Pass, Eklutna Lake, Anchorage

July 6-10

We grabbed breakfast in Talkeetna the morning after our flightseeing tour.  We talked with Nguyen, Jim’s wife, before leaving the Homestead cabin, as their home was on the same property.

“I used to live in Anchorage. Too many people, and no peace. There’s always noise. Here I’m happy. I hear the birds and the chickens and no people. I work hard on the gardens and house, and it’s long days. But I’m happy here. And now I’m thin! Always moving. When I lived in Anchorage, I was too heavy!”

We chuckled together, and she wished us well on our trip. Charley gave her some sniffs and Nguyen reciprocated with pets.

Denali was in clouds that day. It made us even more grateful to have seen her the prior day. We set out towards Wasila, down in the valley, taking the Parks Highway south again. Groceries and laundry. By now we’re at our most efficient getting errands done. I drop Jamie at the market, and head to the laundromat (in most towns we’ve come across, the two are quite proximal). Charley lays in bed in Archie.

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The gang goes North: Part 4- Old Denali Highway and Talkeetna

July 3-5

“Get off my dog!” Jamie yelled at the mosquitoes.

Ever since entering the Yukon several day prior, mosquitoes had been our unwelcome company. These ones were unlike any we’d encountered before. I was describing them to my dad over the phone as, “it’s like they have a lieutenant and they get their mission and fully commit to it. They’re not haphazardly flying and maybe biting. It feels like a coordinated attack, and when they get you, you can visibly see their bodies swelling red with blood.”

We left Delta Junction that morning, happy to start our Alaska adventure. Jamie and I decided that it was the worst of the campgrounds we’d stayed at. Unkempt, overgrown, ragged. Situated a stones throw from a helicopter-field for wildfire management. We were treated to the whooshing of heli-blades for a good portion of the night.

The old Denali Highway is exactly that: the original approach route to Denali National Park and its surrounding wilderness. But first, we rode the Richardson Highway southbound to catch the old Denali highway in Paxson. We passed stretches of wide, rubble filled drainage areas, with grey serpentine rivers meandering through the massive glacial valley floors. So much water. The Alaska Range came into view as we ascended into the tundra of the Old Denali Highway, furthermore known as the 8.

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The gang goes North: Part 3.2 – detour from the AlCan, Klondike edition.

June 30-July 2

“…we were planning on heading south on the Alcan  from Whitehorse. Is the northern way to Dawson worth it?”

“Oh man, it’s a beautiful drive. Lots of construction, sure, but the tundra parts of the drive are incredible, and so is the Top of the World Highway.”

It felt like we’d had a similar conversation with more than a couple folks along the route through BC and the Yukon in prior days. So we pivoted from our plans.

Leaving Whitehorse, YT, the Alaska Highway heads southwest, then northwest to Delta Junction, AK. The Klondike Highway moves northwest to Dawson City, and the Top of the World Highway swings you back down to meet up with the Alaska Highway prior to Tok, AK. That’ still a couple hours east of Delta Junction. A choose your own adventure scenario.

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The gang goes North: Part 3.1

June 24-29

The Alaska Highway: Dawson Creek, BC to Whitehorse, YT

“Name’s Jim Connors,” said our neighbor at the Dawson Creek Mile ‘0’ Campground. The rolling hills and farms surrounding us reminded me of Upstate NY. It felt familiar, though so far away from home. 

An older gentleman with a hardened smile, Jim gave us the skinny on his upcoming northern journey. His beat up wood-paneled Chevy pickup hailed from Wyoming, as did Jim.

“I get 9 miles to the gallon in that thing, and the front tank doesn’t play nice with ethanol. I’ll try to keep the back tank good and full, but that’ll mean stopping every 120 miles or so.”

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The gang goes North: Part 2

June 19-23

Passports, check. Rabies vaccination card, check.

“Anything to declare?”

“Just a couple beers left in the fridge, two cans of beer spray. Some raw meat, a couple multi tools and a hatchet.”

The border agent went through their questions methodically, making sure we didn’t slip up about our doings in Canada.

From Camano Island in northern Washington, we’d be making our way onto the Sea-to-Sky highway north of Vancouver.

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The gang goes North: Part 1

June 14-18

Archie was all stocked up the morning of the 14th. We were anxious as hell to get going. It seems that the longer you wait to set out on a trip like this, the more things pop into your head. “Maybe we need to get another basin for the camp kitchen. Do we have enough fire starters? Is my sock stockpile enough?” Sometimes you just got to get going.

It’s a big trip, no doubt. 7 weeks through Canadian and Alaskan wilderness, camping and living out of the car. But the anticipation can breed stress, and the best remedy is: to go. It’s not a regular vacation. It will be gritty, tough, stressful, spiritual, soul-filling, rewarding. A premium moment in our lives. We’re going to learn, grow, persevere, improvise. But staying present is the goal. We are here.

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