Monday, July 29, 2013

Day 15 of the Great Adventure: Tok to Eagle River

This was it, our final day.  We would finally make it to Anchorage (well, Eagle River, same municipality) and begin this new chapter in our lives we had been anticipating since February.  It would finally be real, because to this point it still felt like a vacation rather than a move.  But before I go on, I must make a confession about the brevity of the post.  Randi and I were unimpressed with Alaska.  There, I said it.  British Columbia and the Yukon had been so truly beautiful and grand that Alaska just didn't measure up on day one.  The drive to Tok was actually kind of ugly.  It was basically a lot of 'evergreen swampland' and not the grand views and sights we expected.  What we failed to realize was that we would begin to see those sights on this part of the drive and everyday since arriving at our new home, but we were kind of jaded and really didn't take many pictures of this day's drive.  With that said, this part of the drive was really pretty, we saw a giant bull moose along the way (no pictures), and the beauty of the state really began to unfold.  We just didn't take very many pictures of it for whatever reason - honestly, most of it would not have photographed well from the car and we didn't feel like stopping much, we just wanted to get to our house and clean our the cesspool of a car we were riding in.
So, with consciences clean, we embark on our final day.  

Last day, Brutus.  Let's do this.
First, we shall fill up.  See?  Much cheaper than Canada, still pricey, but easy to swallow after that past few days.  Also, what is that option in the middle??  88.5?  I couldn't help but snap a picture, I had never seen such shenanigans at a gas pump.  We opted for 87.
Not sure what was happening here, but ay-ay, Robby.
Our first view south, things are looking up.  Still 55 MPH speed limit though : (
 This picture and most of the rest in this post are our poor attempts to photograph Mount Sanford.  From Wikipedia - Mount Sanford is a shield volcano in the Wrangell Volcanic Field, in eastern Alaska near the Copper River. It is the third highest volcano in the United States behind Mount Bona and Mount Blackburn. - Pretty cool, huh?  Anyway, as one might expect, our pictures turned out poorly.  Enjoy!

This is the Matanuska River - The Matanuska River is a river, approximately 75 miles long, in Southcentral Alaska. It drains a broad valley south of the Alaska Range known as the Matanuska Valley - We took some pictures of it as well.

 While the drive was pretty, it was slow going, windy, and on narrow roads with some large drop-offs to the side.  This pretty well did away with my "I'm not texting I'm taking pictures of things" method of photography and Randi was trying to pacify the children who, we believe, had had enough of being in the car.  We finally made it to Palmer, about 35 minutes North of our destination, changed some diapers and grabbed drive through food (Robby had not yet figured out there are not "Chicken Lays" (Chick fil a) up here and was asking for some *tear*) and jumped right back on the road.  We wanted to enjoy the beauty of the rivers and mountains more, but at this point, we just wanted to get there.  We figured we'd have three years to enjoy our surroundings.

 I apologize if this is anti-climactic, but other than the joy/relief of finally arriving at our new house (rental - if you're wondering) it WAS kind of anti-climactic.  Still, we were so happy to have made it.  The boys immediately loved that it had stairs and that there was a play room for their toys to be strewn across.  We unloaded our stuff, gave Brutus a rinse at a car wash, made a run to Target, and settled in for the night.  Since that moment, this house has felt like HOME.  We love it here and would make the decision to come here a million times over if we could.  We both hope to have many many posts over the next three years of our adventures around the state.  We plan to see the sights: Denali, the Arctic Circle, the Northern Lights, etc.  And we will keep you updated on all of it.  I (Tim) plan to catch some fish (for Randi to eat, of course) and hopefully shoot something tasty, so hopefully there will be family-friendly photos of all of that as well.

Thank you for reading, please lob your comments and questions to us so we can share the details we probably didn't think to post originally.  We are home.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Day 14 of the Great Adventure: Whitehorse to Tok

Alright folks, we're back.  The past couple weekends have taken us exploring all over this beautiful land.  But it's Sunday night and in an effort to stave off bedtime and the inevitability of Monday morning, I bring you an entry from our journey.  Today we would finish the Canadian leg of the trip and enter into Alaska.  Very exciting for us, though we loved Canada so it was just a tiny bit sad.

We're going to 'Alaka' so we had plenty to smile about (or make horrid faces in the kid's case).   If you're still following along on your maps (Google Maps is the best, true that. Double true!) you'll notice that Whitehorse to Tok is not exactly a straight line, as has been the case this whole trip.  We would make it south-ish to Haines Junction, then turn north for the eventual border crossing.  In any case, we were in for some great views and memories.
 These two pictures are a good summation of what we looked at between Whitehorse and Haines Junction:  tree-lined highway and snow-capped mountains.
 Haines Junction is aptly named.  This is where, if you take the Alaska Marine Highway ferry from Bellingham, WA to Haines, AK you will necessarily drive to in order to either go to Whitehorse and the rest of Canada or to get back to Alaska (since you go from WA to AK but have to drive through Canada to get to the 'mainland' of AK).  It is a very small town but has some nice little eateries.  We stopped at the Village Bakery for restrooms and food.  I got some sort of baked cheesy pastry with a Bison sausage in it.  I should have grabbed a few more. mm mm.
 Tempting as it was to continue straight, we turned right.
 The views
 The ride, going strong
 Coming up on the largest lake in the Yukon, Kluane Lake (kloo-AHN-ee).
 There she is, full of trout, pike, and grayling says the Milepost

 The lake was beautiful and really really big.  It took quite a while to drive around it.  But we needed a potty stop and I had been waiting the entire trip to stop at the next "town".  I had heard of the legend of this place and how the roads beyond it deteriorate into an unpaved mess of holes and dips.  This is where things would get rough and tumble and I would earn my stripes as an expeditionary explorer extraordinaire (you get the picture). Destruction Bay, YT, population 55.
 The famed Talbot Arm Motel offering full services from fuel, restrooms, food, lodging, restaurant, and the ability to call for emergency services.  We stopped and emptied our tanks but resisted the urge to fill up the 4Runner.  We had more than enough gas to make it to Tok and I figured even expensive Alaska gas had to be cheaper than the nearly $6/gallon rate we faced here.  So we picked up some chips for the kids (as had become a daily ritual) and moved on.
 The Destruction Bay Lodge, aka, the other building in town.  So, real talk, the road really did cease to be paved immediately after town.  However, that only lasted for a few miles and we had decent pavement for most of the rest of the way through the Yukon.  The horror stories I had been told were from folks who traveled this stretch after the previous couple winters which were some of the worst on record.  This past winter was relatively mild so the roads didn't suffer quite to badly.

 A couple shots of the White River.  I made a point to stop and take these pictures because I had 'found' this river and another like it on google maps while planning the trip and promised myself I would stop and take in the grandeur of them.  Well, the first one was a lot prettier but everyone was asleep so I didn't want to stop and wake them.  Speaking of everyone was asleep.  I got bored and started to throw caution to the wind.  The speed limit out here was around 90 km/h or like 50 MPH.  NO WAY.  Wide open roads and zero police presence?  Well, I had been a good law-abiding representative of the USA for several days already so I decided to open it up.  I was going between 65-75 for a bit (the higher speeds were a lack of attention to my speedometer more than a rebellious spirit) and the roads were actually pretty rough so the car was bouncing all over and the boys slept right through it.  Of course, Randi was asleep too and didn't have the luxury of a cushy Recaro car seat so her neck was a little sore after she woke up from having her head flopping all around for 15-20 minutes.  Whoops.
 Look at that!  Wait! What?  Why is there a stop light in the middle of nowhere??  We're so close to the border we can feel it.  Why do we have this red light?  Is this a prank?  Are we on Canadian Punk'd right now?
These were just a few of the questions and thoughts Randi and I shared as we happened upon this mobile sentinel of Canadian road works authority.  Turns out it was legit and after a 20 minute wait the pilot car arrived.  The pavement ended soon after and we putted along at about 25 MPH for a good 10 miles or so.
 This seemed pretty hardcore so I put it in 4-wheel drive just to be extra sure.
 The construction zone had passed and we were on the final stretch of the Yukon portion of the Alaska Highway.  The border was just around the far bend.
 The border!  We were excited to be here, so we stopped and took a couple hundred pictures.  

We're still happily married, don't worry : )
Yukon Robby, Yukon Charlie, I dub thee, Alaska Robby and Alaska Charlie
I fear for the ants of Alaska
Remember those chips from Destruction Bay?  Charlie does!  Old Dutch ketchup flavor, this guy will eat anything.
 Our first views of Alaska after the border crossing.  Yep, 55 MPH.  That's pretty much the entire state until you get to the developed areas.  That's a lot of miles to be traveling that slow.
 But... you get to notice things like this!  We had been in Alaska for all of 20 minutes when these idiots were stopped in the middle of the road in front of us.  Good thing, that way we knew to look out and become the next set of idiots stopped in the middle of the road.  MOOSE!  I can't wait to shoot one of those (tee hee).
We finally arrived in Tok and found our accommodations.  The Burnt Paw cabins were cute, quaint, and affordable.  They were comfy, fully modern (minus A/C) with fridges and cable and all that. 

I know a couple of munchkins who were happy to be out of the car.  Especially since Charlie had decided to defile his surroundings moments prior to arrival.

Gotta rehydrate after all that fluid loss.
Robby had the best time 'finding' rocks and playing in the little water feature they had.  He also played in the sprinkler out in front of the office.  The people that run the place were so nice and great with the kids just being kids.  Robby and I explored a little and walked to the store to get diet cokes and chips for the next day.
After a while I ventured to Fast Eddie's which is the main restaurant in town.  It also bears no relation to the chain of pool halls that are somewhat common in Texas.  I figured Randi's first meal in Alaska should be Halibut, so that's what she got.  I'm told it was delicious.  I don't eat fish because they're gross.
We have one more day of travel.  I hope to bring it to you very soon.  After you have finished reading about our travels, feel free to leave a comment and ask questions or for more pictures.  I'd love to do a Q&A type entry about it all.  Thanks for reading.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Day 13 of the Great Adventure: Dease Lake to Whitehorse

When we last spoke, I was complaining about the heat and mosquitos in our hotel room.  Well, morning came (after I had fallen back asleep from the mosquito bites at 4am) and the room had cooled, though it was still quite a bit warmer than outside, and the mosquitos weren't quite as vicious (they were all over our room though).  Still, we got to look out to a beautiful sunrise to begin our day.
The sunrise in question.
We were not in a huge rush to get out of town in the morning... because the gas station didn't open until 9 o'clock.  No really, it was Sunday.  So we let the boys play for a while while I loaded the car.
Family picture, still smiling.  Today we had the excitement of entering the Yukon Territory as motivation.  

The boys with their daily 'treasures' from Lala.

Good news!  The gas station is open.  Bad news! This is the middle of nowhere Canada and gas was $1.59/L or somewhere around $6.36 a gallon.  At least that was $114 Canadian so we made out like bandits in US dollars ($112).  That's ok though, we would only need one more tank in Canada and this was the most expensive gas we encountered.

Made a left out of the gas station and headed north to the Yukon!

But then we stopped about 20 miles later to throw out some diapers.  The bright side was that we actually got to see Dease Lake itself for a few minutes.
The fairest damsel in the land... with a bag full of trash.  Fun times!
Not too long after we got back on the road we encountered a patch of unpaved road.  It lasted a couple of kilometers and then returned to pavement.  
We then happened upon a bridge and, again, it had water under it.

Fun, windy roads (reminder: that's 60 Km/h) leading to beautiful views.
This day we were not in a hurry.  If there was a photo op like this, we pulled over and took it.

The boys were chugging along in good spirits, mommy's iPad contributed to this in no small way.

We didn't get a ton of pictures along the rest of the Cassiar highway, but we did get a drive-by shot of the Cassiar Mountain Jade Store. Fun fact, the Cassiar Mountain Range is home to around 90% of the jade in the world.  We didn't stop, I only buy jade on the black market from China.  
Can it be??

Yes!  We've made it, and Robby and I can finally adopt our recently given names.  A fellow from work back at Randolph told me that after we left he would ensure that my legacy grew to legendary proportions.  He said he would tell tales of "Yukon Tim" and other fanciful tales.  So I took this home and told Robby that he would be "Yukon Robby" soon which he liked very much.  Once we made it to the border I informed him that we had made it to the Yukon and soon we were a whole Yukon family: Yukon Daddy, Yukon Mommy, Yukon Robby, Yukon Charlie, and Yukon Annie.  He made sure not to leave anyone out.

We only stopped for tourist pictures this once.  If you check the map from where 37 intersects with the Alaska Highway, you will see that it crosses back into BC and then back into the Yukon for good.  This seems like unnecessary mileage to cover, but these dang mountains keep getting in the way of a perfectly good straight road.
This sign is a good indicator that you have reached the end of the Cassiar Highway.  Mainly because there isn't any more road on the other side of it.  Also, because the only options are for the Alaska Highway (which is a good thing when you're heading to Alaska).  Clearly we had a decision to make, but first we decided to top off the gas tank and empty our bladders.
So we turned into the only gas station/place of business at this junction.  Seeing as I had geeked out over the "North to Alaska" sign back in Kitwanga, I though this sign was equally cool and worth photographing.  It may seem weird to go south to get to Alaska from here, but Alaska has it's 'lower arm' (not an official term) that contains Hyder, Juneau, Sitka, and some other places most people haven't heard of.  
Super awesome adventure bike was also filling up so I took a picture while the owner was inside and couldn't judge me for creeping on his ride.

After filling and emptying, as appropriate, we decided west was the best way for us and headed off to Whitehorse.  It was always nice to see what seemed like a long distance to go and realize that those were in kilometers and, thus, were meaningless to our American minds (just kidding, but 260ish miles sounds a lot shorter).  
The Yukon.
More of the Yukon.  By the way, it's beautiful here too despite what BC license plates might lead you to believe.

The bridge at Teslin Lake which leads into the town of Teslin, YT which is home to the Teslin Inland Tlingit First Nation.  Teslin has one of the largest Native populations in the Yukon and much of its livelihood still involves traditional hunting, trapping, and fishing. (All educational sounding information was stolen from the Milepost and Wikipedia)
Of course, we didn't get any good pictures of the lake or the town since we didn't feel like stopping.
Teslin was the last noticeable town before Whitehorse which was still a ways off, but the scenery didn't change much (fine by me) so we didn't take any pictures until we arrived at...
The Yukon Inn!

The scenic view from the parking lot.  Whitehorse is the capital and largest city in the Yukon with a population around 23,000 folks, eh.  We ventured all around looking for food later on but didn't take any pictures as the city map I had acquired earlier in the trip was confusing and most of the restaurant options weren't terribly toddler friendly.  

Remember how miserable we were in Dease Lake due to the lack of air conditioning?  Well the Yukon Inn had a welcome sight underneath each room's window.
Yes my friends, those are A/C units for each room.  It was gloriously cold in our room that night.  
Eventually we did find food.  We decided on G&P Steak House and Pizza (something for everyone, am I right?).  Turns out, this was as close as the area had to fine dining (note the candles on the tables and the fancy white table cloths) so we felt underdressed at first.  Of course, it was a non-issue and our waitress was very friendly and loved talking to the boys.  Randi got steak, I got pizza, and the boys and I split some fried calamari.  It was all very good and predictably expensive given the location (Whitehorse is pretty much in the middle of the middle of nowhere).
Our night dinner pictures.
As I wondered around the parking lot a couple times, to take Annie out and to venture out for supplies, I noticed the awesomeness above.  The fabled Northwest Territories... that giant expanse of ice and snow and polar bears... has the coolest license plates on Earth.  Period.  No contest.  It is shaped like a polar bear!  Anyway, I just thought this was super cool and felt it necessary to inform you lower 48ers of this, in case you don't make it up this way anytime soon.  Plus, I wanted to justify creeping around the parking lot at night (despite the sun being up) taking pictures of people's license plates.