Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Santa's House

Haines to Fairbanks

The road between Haines Junction and Port Alcan was probably the worst we have had on the whole trip. It’s the end of the Canadian section of the Alcan and I guess they just give up on it. It has a number of gravel sections with a couple of 15km stretches, lots of potholes in the bitumen and permafrost which sinks, tilts or raises the bitumen that makes it very hard to go at a reasonable speed when you are towing as you can end up all over the place. As soon as you go over the border, even the gravel bits are better!

Back through US customs again. We thought we’d get off lightly as we had a bit of traffic behind us as we had just been through roadworks. But we couldn’t fit under the overhang above the normal vehicles section and had to go around the side to the commercial vehicles, so there was no-one behind us. Because we now have all the answers to the usual questions down pat with direct specific answers and no extra information, he had to come up with some new ones to annoy us with. We were asked three times when we were leaving the US. Guess they don’t really want us here…. LOL

Today was moose day, we saw two mothers and their babies and one by itself.

We visited Santa’s house at the North Pole which was kind of fun, and I bought some socks with reindeers on them, which are very cute. I had no idea such a place existed. I met my own moose there!

Santa's house, North Pole Alaska 

We are in Fairbanks, the most northern town we will go in Alaska. They are having their hottest summer on record, tomorrow will mark the third day of 28C. It is glorious.

To get satellite TV up here you need two satellite dishes to bounce off each other because of the way the earth curves at this point. We sat outside with Bill and Michelle at 11pm last night and it was the as if it was still 4pm, it is so light up here!


Saturday, 27 July 2013

What country are we in?

Haines, AK

Haines is actually in Alaska. We didn’t realise we would be crossing the border today, so we weren’t really prepared food wise. The officer at the border control gave us a bit of a hard time with questions like who owned our car, did we own property in South Dakota, did we pay taxes to the US etc. Pity you have to hold your tongue. Imagine what they could put on their computer about you if you pissed them off? We had to go back to Canada and get rid of all of our firewood because of beetles. We couldn’t take in our tomatoes, apples and capsicums because of their seeds. No citrus or potatoes because of the skin. We now have a list, so will be better prepared next time. After about 10 minutes he decided we were okay and changed his attitude and told us about all the things to do in the area.

The road into Haines is in excellent condition. There were hundreds of prairie dogs all the way along the roadside, which are like squirrels that have been to meerkat school. When they aren’t running, they are on sentry duty looking for danger. Pity one didn’t realise our horn meant get off the road! Sadly he didn’t make it.

they fish with the bears up here!
We missed out on a spot at the state camping ground but we probably couldn’t have fitted in anyway. It was a pity because it was right near the Chinook River where we wanted to be. The first night we went out after dinner and saw a sow and her cub on the beach of the inlet. The next day she came along the river, within a few metres of us and Lindsay got some fantastic shots. Last year there were eleven bears weaving their way around the fishermen. The bears weren’t concerned about the fishermen as they were catching more fish than they were! When a bear comes, someone will call out “bear” and everyone just moves off to the side, no drama. If they are in the water and the bear doesn’t look like it’s going to come in, they don’t even move. They have never had an attack here. The local info sheet says that if a bear wants your fish, don’t throw it at him, just release it into the river so that he has to go after it naturally.

Black bear - sow and cub

Black bear cub
We are a bit early as it has been a very quiet start to the fishing season. We should come back in late August. We saw an older grizzly male today that came down to the river, but he got scared when he saw a group of people on the bank and ran back into the forest.

People come from Whitehorse for the weekend which is about 250 miles away, how cool to go to another country for the weekend?

We only saw about three bald headed eagles, in November they get about 3,500 here. They are majestic raptors, that I would put in the same league as our wedged tailed eagles.

Bald Eagle
No dramas at the Canadian border but she did advise us that the US would probably give us a harder time as the years go by. Great.


Thursday, 25 July 2013

Whitehorse, YT Canada

Whitehorse is the largest city of the Yukon where three quarters of the population of the province (state) of the Yukon live, but it’s still just a small country town, with a population of 25,000.

One of the first things we did when we arrived was find a car wash to clean the truck and trailer. The height of the opening was 13’11” and we nearly didn’t fit in. Just in case, we reversed out as I didn’t think the second air conditioner would fit under the swinging arm of the sprayer and I wouldn’t be able to let Lindsay know to stop in time. So now we know that we really can’t fit under any bridge less than 14’. It took forever to clean both the car and the truck, the guy estimated that it would cost about $50 to clean but we cheated a little and I helped with the car sponge while Lindsay used the broom. We bought some tar and bug cleaner to clean both those suckers off from the previous drive, which helped a bit. Just as well it was a nice sunny warm day as we got very dirty and wet. It’s a pain that they only use cold water in car washes, so Lindsay wants to get a high pressure cleaner so we can use our own warm water. We should have got a stone guard before we left the States, but we really didn’t think about it and so we got one today to try and protect the trailer from getting muck and stones thrown up from the rear tyres; better late than never.

Signpost Forest, Watson Lake
It seems they still use CDMA here which is why no 3G or 4G networks will work out here.

It’s cold and raining again. We seem to have two days of sunshine then about three of rain. When it’s sunny, it’s warm and when it’s raining it’s cold. At night it’s getting quite cold in the mornings around 3am. I’m in jeans and jumper today while the locals are still in shorts and t-shirts. 16C probably is very warm to the locals when it gets down to more than minus 40C in winter.

SS Klondike

They have the old SS Klondike here, a paddle steamer that used to run up the Yukon river to transport goods up to Dawson City and back before the roads were built. It hit a rock and partially sank, so they salvaged the top section and put it on a new hull. So it’s really the Klondike II or as some people say, the 1½. It’s a lovely old boat and they have it all decked out with cargo and furnishings.

There is a fish ladder here that redirects the salmon from the main river through a tunnel that leads them to a ladder (a stepped up creek) to take them to the next level upstream. The salmon can weigh up to 40-50lb. Sometimes the fish jam is so great, they have to be lifted through. The staff shut a gate so that they can count how many go through, which is typically only about 1000.  A lot must get eaten along the way. They come from the Bering Sea down the Yukon River passed Whitehorse, where they spawn and die. One thousand doesn’t seem very much but when you consider all the fishermen, bald eagles and bears that catch them on the way, it’s amazing any survive. Unfortunately, they are still in the middle of their journey and won’t be at Whitehorse for another three weeks, so we didn’t get to see them.

We were told that a great place to fish and see bears is at Haines, just south of Haines Junction. While we aren’t interested in fishing, we are interested in photographing the fisherman and the bears, hopefully in the same picture.


Friday, 19 July 2013

Hot Springs in the middle of nowhere

Liard Hot Springs, Summit Lake, BC Canada

The girl at the information desk in Fort Nelson suggested that we stay at Summit Lake on Stone Mountain. We got a campsite with a million dollar view, right on the lake and it was stunning. Talking to a couple from Fort St John, they told us they had seen some moose just up the road. So we went to investigate to find our own, but unfortunately we didn’t see any moose. They came for drinks that night; our first Canadian visitors and hopefully we inspired them with some travel stories. They want to travel but just don’t have the confidence, it seems to be a common concern amongst Americans and Canadians. 

Summit Lake campground
The following day we got up at 6am and went in search of our quest again, it was very foggy so the photos wouldn’t have been great, but still nothing. Later that day we went out again and saw our first Caribou. At first I didn’t know if it was a moose or a Caribou – truth be known, I still don’t really know. It was very skittish and kept running around. I think it thought my binoculars were a rifle as they hunt around here. It then started to rain and it disappeared. Later on that day, even though the skies looked ominous, we set out again. Lindsay spotted something in the water; no it wasn’t a log, it was a Caribou with a large set of velvety antlers. Boy, they can swim fast and before we knew it, it had run up the embankment and was running along the road. We followed it along on the other side of the road and it was doing 56kmh (35mph), we were trying to get ahead of him, but some cars were coming the other way and we didn’t want him to come to any harm, so we stopped. After they had passed, he crossed the road and ran into the forest. Wow, not something you see every day. Later on that afternoon the weather closed in for the night, so no more outings. Good thing we aren’t in that Dodge van.

Caribou
We had a look at Muncho Lake but the campsites were a bit small, ditto for the next one up the road so we headed on up to Liard Hot Springs. Just before the springs were 14kms of gravel and as it had been raining, everyone’s cars and trailers were covered in muck. About 2kms before the springs we could hear a screeching sound coming from the truck wheels. Lindsay said it sounded like a stone had got caught in the brakes, but even after reversing and going forward a few times, it wouldn’t budge. We had to get somewhere where he could take the wheels off. It was a welcome sight to see the 2km sign that heralded our destination. Screech, screech we made our way into the campsite. He had to take both rear wheels off and with the help of a our neighbour from the previous night, who just happened to be camped right next to us again, both he and Lindsay managed to get the annoying sucker out from behind the shield. Lucky I have such a handy husband, who was by now a very muddy husband. Time for him to hit the hot springs.

Liard Hot Springs

The mosquitoes were bad (as usual) so I tried on my insect suit. I didn’t care that I looked ridiculous. Lindsay decided that he had to show me off to our neighbours Teresa and Jeff and three of their boys, but they had something better, they had a mozzie zapper in the form of a mini tennis racquet that you could use to swipe the mosquitoes! We were offered some merlot that Jeff had made with a kit and I tell you what, it was amazing. It started raining again so we continued our drinks back at our trailer.
The campsites are very generous and well laid out. The hot springs are very warm. The left hand side is warm and the right hand side gets progressively hotter. We only made it to the bottom of the right hand side. The springs are along an 800mt boardwalk, then at the springs are change rooms, restrooms and decking, then steps down into the water. They have put a gravel base on the bottom and while it’s not very deep, you have to practically sit or kneel on the bottom, it’s still very relaxing


Saturday, 13 July 2013

The Alcan - here we come!

Driving to Grande Cache the weather definitely improved. Sunny and low 20’s C. When we got to Grand Prairie it was 29C. The Australian sheepskin boots I got from Costco can go back into the cupboard for a while longer. We are back in shorts and t-shirts. We did our washing and stocked up on groceries as we know it’s going to get more expensive as we go north. I have read that Alaska will be fifty to a hundred percent more expensive than the states.

When Lindsay said the sewer hose was going to live in the back of the truck I expressed my concerns. No-one is going to take a sewer line I was told. No? well, they either did, or it was left behind somewhere. Luckily John from Queensland was with Lindsay when he was dumping, so he was able to use his hose. His wife and I were in the Visitor centre using the internet. I had a bill to pay, some money to transfer and emails to reply to.  As Kay said, you might be on holidays but you still have work to do. We found a few places where we might buy another hose but thought we would check out Walmart first as Kay said she saw an RV section. We got the last one there. Imagine if we weren’t near a large town to be able to buy a new one, we’d really be in the shit!

Driving into Walmart we noticed another Montana in the carpark, same model as ours. Lindsay decided to ask him if he knew how the TV aerial worked as he had unsuccessfully tried ours the night before. It turns out that Canada transmits on a different frequency to the US. So no TV here for us. But interestingly a few months later when we were in Port Angelses, WA we got Canadian reception from across the water!

The other Montana and the Queenslanders are going to Alaska too. I’ve read that most of the traffic from now on will be RV’s heading to Alaska. The other absolute is that there will be delays due to road construction; we have just stopped for the fourth time this morning on our way from Grande Prairie to Dawson Creek.

In Dawson Creek we watched a documentary on the making of the Alaskan Highway. It was originally built as a military road back in the forties to guard against Japanese attack during WWII. Both the USA and Canada paid for it to be built, but there has been much debate over the years as to who should be responsible for the maintenance and upgrading. We took our photo at the site of the original Mile 0. The new post is further into town but we missed it. We got a list of campgrounds and gas stations showing what type of fuel and what facilities the campgrounds offer which should be useful over the next week or so.

We have crossed into British Columbia today so are back on Pacific time, though a number of communities don’t observe day light saving so are still on Mountain time; the old milking the cows at the right time thing presumably. We are going to change our watches anyway; well I would if I could find where I put it.

In Fort St John, we met up with John and Kay from North Queensland again and found out over drinks that they have been to most of the places that we have in the Australian outback.

We have an electronic copy of the MilePost which is the Alaskan Highway bible. So I’ve been reading the bits on the towns out loud as we drive along. I’ve also copied a blog off Trip Advisor, which was recommended to us to see what they did as well. We also picked up another pamphlet on the Alaskan highway I really like. The highway used to be called the Alcan Highway and I didn’t realise what that meant until I saw it written as AlCan and realised that was an acronym for Alaskan/Canadian.

We set off for Fort Nelson quite early as our body clocks were still on Alberta time.

At a rest stop along the road, we met up with the other “Montana” couple from Oregon again and their friends who were travelling in an RV. At 7am that morning a class C motorhome was left in gear and ran up the back of the RV, bending all the hydraulic jacks as well as smashing the rear of the coach. They couldn’t lift the jacks, which meant they were stuck and were waiting for the insurance engineer to arrive to disconnect the hydraulics. Makes our sewer line theft seem pretty insignificant.

We had a number of steep inclines and declines after Fort St John and that really chewed the fuel up. One decline had a 9% fall, which is very steep and even though we used the jack brake on the engine, our truck brakes really stank afterwards. We did an extra fill up at a place called Pink Mountain. While waiting to pay for our fuel there an old man ahead of Lindsay that said in a slow drawl to the lady “it’s too hot for me to go outside today”. The cat must have thought so too as he was sitting in the refrigerator behind the counter. When Lindsay pointed him out to me, I said naah, it’s not real “Yes it is” he said. After I walked out, apparently he got up, walked around in a circle and settled back down again. Needless to say there weren’t many drinks in the ’fridge and he had the whole bottom shelf to himself. Outside it was only 24C!

We were heading for Muncho Lake today but decided to stop the night on an abandoned emergency air-strip where we had lunch. It started raining in the afternoon and got heavier as the night went on. Lindsay thought about moving the trailer off the grass/mud but didn’t until we went to bed. Lying there he thought that we could be stuck here for a few days. So in the dark pouring rain, he managed to hook the trailer onto the truck and turn it around with all the slides still out and had us back on the gravel, not that far from nearby bushes. For his efforts he got massacred by the mozzies. Well done, but next time I think we should bring the slides in, okay? Where was I? … oh, still in bed.