In July 2011 we sat down for a buffet lunch at Sammy’s Pizza in West Duluth. Drunk on excessive amounts of ‘za and hot wings we hatched a plan to go to Alaska (Figure 1). Since then three dramatic changes have occurred: 1) our understanding of North American geography has greatly increased, 2) we have a dog named Flint instead of Cleo, and 3) we made it back from Alaska alive and well.
It was a beautiful journey. However, we can’t help but note that we only accomplished 50% of our ‘list of things to do on the Alaskan Adventure’ (Figure 2). The BC Spirit Bears will have to wait for a future trip!
A tour around our campground at Lake Louise… bear fence here, bear fence there… electrified Texas gate here… warnings everywhere.
It’s a plus to not have internet or smartphones as we quickly wonder why Lake Louise Campground, Lake Louise Fortress rather, has the security of an airport.
Dogs in sweaters… Not for bear protection, but for cool Mountain nights.
The scenery of Banff, Jasper, and Yoho National Parks is some of the best of the trip. Our only regrets are that we don’t get to see the Burgess Shale, having arrived too late in the year, and that ice-cream bars are $13. Notwithstanding the bright and warm daytime weather, we decide it’s time to head home, back to a familiar species of blue jay (although the gray and black corvids are the same in Northern MN)…
A blue jay or Blue Jay or Steller’s Jay?
The semi driver wipes sweat from his brow as he passes us on the highway. We stop again to watch the bison from a closer range and wipe the sweat from our collective brow, as Gunnar nearly flies out the window with quivering excitement at his seemingly bovine find.
Our last dip in natural waters was in early August. Alaska was simply too cold. But when the waters are heated by earth’s internal energy, it’s hard to decline… The Laird Hot Springs (services thermales in French) is the busiest campground we have seen since Olympic, and for good reason.
Whitehorse hasn’t changed too much. But, we do get to see two of the token characteristics previously left out from our trip to this Yukon metropolis; grizzlies and Aurora.
We also get a taste of the regions’ remoteness when a tree (as we found out later) fell on a power line and the WHOLE Territory lost power, cell-phone reception, land-line connections, etc… If you fell and broke your hip while sneaking out to your cache for a strip of moose-meat you would be grizzly-bait. Yes, we are talking about a Ham-radioers dream.
This issue manifests itself in two ways for us; 1) the excitement of peering into a community’s response via local CBC radio and 2) mild desperation in the realization that we had $20 of cash, an empty gas tank, and zero working ATM/credit swipes within 500 miles.
The YAHRO (Yukon Amateur Ham Radio Operators) representative who takes over the CBC’s morning line-up of alarmism puts the whole experience into perspective… “Well, yeah, we got repeaters in Teslin and Dawson City, and Haines Junction, for that matter… But you know you might just have to hop in your plane and stop in to tell the guy in Teslin (200 miles) to turn his on…”
For the sake of funding not adventure we opt against the Alaska Marine Highway and arrive back at Tetlin NWR, leaving Alaska the way we entered. The popples have shed a few more leaves, the cygnets appear a little less ugly-duckling-ey, and our first wolves of the trip howl from across the marsh…
The clouds slowly congeal into manageable masses that, for the moment, are not dropping rain. Through the openings, sun drops to earth and mountains rise to sky. The striking beauty of the Knik River Valley is both above and below water. Salmon, sockeye or maybe chinook, traipse through the shallows ahead of the canoe. A few loose flocks of ducks trade between lakes, wetlands, and creeks. All the while, the 300,000 + metro area sits quietly, undetectable, 30 miles away.
Re-energized after taking in some much needed human interaction and seafood at the Storrs household in Eagle River, we spend our second to last day exploring the Jim Creek area via canoe. The night brings stars along the Matanuska River…
At the outset an Alaskan cabin is a fantasy. Glowing night-time windows, yodeling loons, and pure quiet are things of books and calendars. We are lucky enough to live like Old Dick P., if only for a few days at the Tom Lomas Camp on the Kenai. Pretending to be secluded trappers, we don’t leave the premise for three days, only caring about wood-fired warmth and where the next meal might come from…
Flint’s first fowl
What are you guys watching!?
…Watchin’ the swans!