Alaska, Last State in North America, 2017 (No Boat to Hawaii)

Monday, June 19, 2017

Midnight Sun plus Tok to Anchorage for repair appointments

Sunset or sunrise?  This is what the horizon looked like Monday morning at 12:06 AM.  Tuesday is the Summer Solstice. We do not have extra darkening curtains in the Alfa, but have not seemed to be kept awake by the all-night lightness. At first, the effect was to wake us up extra early, but after a few days we have returned to being able to sleep in. What does seem strange, is going to bed when it is still bright daylight. But our bodies seem to demand it.

Tok to Anchorage : 319 miles

We could have driven the entire 319 miles to Anchorage, but felt that the stress of the accident still weighed on us, and the challenge of driving separate vehicles would be more tiring. So before we left Tok, on Thursday, I picked out a park that was a little more than half way. The Slide Mountain Campground was small, but pleasant. 

It was a good decision. Although the Jeep and the Alfa are easy to drive, the road was a bit windy and we were constantly on ready for frost heaves, pot holes and construction zones. But most of the way was very smooth. We kept in touch with our Walkie Talkies and kept trading places.

The scenery was breathtaking
We were intrigued by this triangular mountain
Arriving in Anchorage Friday, we made an appointment with Karen's RV for Monday afternoon for an evaluation of the batteries and the metal tray they sit on. This is the most essential repair. They seem like an excellent shop, and were able to fit us in to do the work on Thursday. Seems they had two cancellations. 

Using a 4 pound sledge hammer purchased at Home Depot, Craig got the towing "horn" out of its connection on the Jeep. We were glad to see that it was the horn that was bent, not the face plate. It looks like everything will work with the new tow bar we are picking up on Tuesday. We found a place that would order it for us, and handle the air freight shipment, but will not install it.  But Craig thinks he can manage it.

On Sunday we went down to the river to see a bunch of people fishing for salmon. There was a festival/ contest.

Nobody seemed to be catching anything, but we did get directions to a couple of places to buy some. 

Probably not quite as fresh as if we had caught it ourselves, but it was still very good, marinated in a bit of soy sauce and brown sugar and cooked on the Weber Q. I even had some left over to make creamed salmon on toast for Monday night. 

My culinary goal is to cook fresh fish at least once a week while we are in Alaska. Yum!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Last day in Whitehorse, YT

If you are one of my regular followers, you will know how this post got out of order. As you can imagine, the accident shook me up so much that I didn't have this post ready to go up until almost a week later. 

On our last day in Whitehorse, YT we went to the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Center. It is an active gathering place for the First Nation people of the Whitehorse area. 

Craig caught his own reflection and the town behind him in this picture of a large etched glass window.

There was a large tent where native boat builders were working. The above pictures are of a canoe that is being carved out of a single solid piece of wood.

We also watched a good movie about the building of a bark boat. I'm glad these skills are being documented.

Next we went to a talk about the discovery of some old maps and the languages on it. It was interesting, but very non-touristy. For me, it brought back some of the stuff I had learned in an "introduction to linguistics" class I took in college.

Our next stop was at the McBride Museum of Yukon History

It contained the usual collections of 1800's gold rush things.

And some of the biggest trophy heads I have ever seen. We have been told that the moose of Alaska and the Yukon are larger than those in other areas.

Being interested in needle point, I enjoyed looking at this wall hanging created by the various needle point guilds in towns along the Alaska Highway to commemorate the 50th anniversary of its building.

This was my favorite. It is said that Whitehorse got its name from the frothy whitecaps on the river.

We ended our day in Whitehorse by taking care of mundane but necessary personal chores. We were both starting to look as shaggy as Musk Oxen, so we stopped in at a local barber shop for haircuts.

The fun thing is that the next time a hairdresser asks us when was the last time we got cuts, we can say "When we were in the Yukon!"

The Warriors won the game on Monday night, wrapping up the NBA championship. So it is time to get going again.  

(actually West)

Thursday, June 15, 2017


First off, before I get into a long narrative about the accident we had on Tuesday, I have to tell my dear friends and family that we are both OK. We feel very lucky that many possible things did not happen, and I have a new respect for the fragility of our lives.

The drive from Whitehorse to Beaver Creek on the Alaska Highway was not as smooth as some of our other drives, but not as bad as we expected. 

There were a couple of stretches of gravel road where they were rebuilding sections of the road, and many rough patches of filled pot holes and frost heaves. They try to mark the worst of these with red flags on the shoulders.

The last six miles or so are actually pretty smooth. That is where the accident happened. 

Craig was driving under the speed limit because we were approaching some red flags when for some reason the right front tire of the Alfa slipped over the edge of the pavement onto the shoulder. 

The picture at the right shows the rut as our tire left the pavement. How quickly it sunk!

This section of shoulder had recently been renewed with a base of extremely soft mud and gravel and large mounds  of rocks and dirt. The shoulder also had a serious slant away from the pavement, and was all the same color gray as the pavement with no white line to show the edge.

Once the tire was over the edge it was impossible to correct and the rig slid over the edge as well. It all happened so fast. All I really remember is seeing books and things falling from the overhead cabinets and sliding toward the right side of the coach. We ended up at a precarious angle that felt like we could tip and roll at any moment.

What saved us from that was that we ended up with the passenger side smashed up against a large pile of dirt and rock. 

At first we did not know this and although on the outside I think I was pretty calm, I was afraid to move about the rig, or try to get out the door since it was on the down side. I was afraid that my weight would cause the Alfa to tip over. You know, like the images of a car  halfway over a cliff, just balancing there!

When the dust settled and we realized nothing was on fire and neither of us was hurt, I found my purse and located our CoachNet card. Fortunately our cell phone worked, and I was able to contact them. This has got to be one of our best services as RVers. Their representative got our information, verified our account number, and located a tow truck for us very quickly. In fact the tow truck guys were there within 15 minutes, in a pickup, to assess our condition and figure out which trucks to send. She also contacted the police for us, and a Canadian officer showed up quite quickly. This may have been because we were only a few miles from Beaver Creek where both the station house and the tow yard were.

By the time they came, Craig had climbed out through the drivers side window. I did not. I waited until they had cables attached to the Alfa and they told me I should get out. Once out I could see that we were smushed up against a pile of dirt and could not have tipped. But I really didn't know this until I was out.

I felt like she could tip over at any moment

 Pull, Pull, Pull
And she is OUT!

This is the most visible damage:

The right front is really torn up. The entire right side is a bit broken, with the locks on the bay door damaged so it won't open, and sections of trim torn away.

The front tire was flat. Our new tire! But as it turned out Craig and the tow guys were able get it re-inflated so we could drive into town.

Some of the damage we couldn't see included the total destruction of our step, and the distortion of the metal tray that holds three of our big "house" batteries. 

The Jeep did not completely detach from the Alfa, but the tow bar was totaled.

The Jeep ended up on top of one of the gravel and dirt piles, and seemed to be OK.

Traffic seemed sparse on the Alaska Highway, but as we waited for help to arrive, many other RVs and pick up truck drivers stopped to ask if we were OK and if we needed help. Mary and Doug stoppedanother Alfa couple we had met at the park in Whitehorse. Later, when they saw us coming into the tow service yard, they came over and offered to save a space for us at the RV park. We had not made any reservations, and were glad for the help. That night the park was totally full!

That evening, Doug also helped Craig take things out of the bay from the driver's side and get to the lock on the big passenger-side bay from the inside.  When they determined the lock was broken, they reorganized things so important items, like tools, were more accessible from the driver's side.

Many of the other RVers who were at this park had seen us on the side of the road and stopped by to tell us they were very glad we were OK. Accidents bring out the best in people. 

The next morning we spoke to the insurance adjuster and verified that it was OK for us to move on to Tok. So far at least, the insurance company has been very responsive.

Because we totaled the tow bar we could not tow the Jeep. Craig drove the Alfa and I followed in the Jeep and everything seemed to be going fine for about fifty miles.

Then ...
 All at once the Jeep came to a sudden unexpected stop. It wouldn't go forward nor backward. I quickly grabbed the walkie-talkie and called Craig before he was out of range. When I told him what had happened, he slowly backed up the Alfa for about a quarter of a mile to get back to me. Good thing there was no traffic! 

We were both baffled for awhile until Craig noted that the Air Force One emergency brake connection was missing. When they are connected with the tow bar, the Air Force One connects the Jeep brakes to the Alfa brakes. There is a wire that attaches in such a way, that if the Jeep were to separate from the Alfa while being towed, the wire would pull a loop that would cause the Jeep brakes to lock, thereby preventing a run-away Jeep.

Craig looked at it, but wasn't sure how to disable it. He did not want to start disconnecting wires without knowing what he was doing. Unfortunately, we had no cell service. Verizon let us down in an emergency! But my AT&T flip phone was no help either. 

So, I stayed with the Jeep while he drove off in the Alfa looking for a cell signal.  After a pretty long time I turned on the engine to see what time it was, and just for the heck of it I tried to move forward. Magically, the brake was unlocked. (It seems there was something to do with built up air pressure, and that goes away when the engine is off.)  Off I went: with my hazard lights flashing I crept along the shoulder for a while. Once I felt comfortable, I just drove carefully being prepared in case my brake should lock again. It didn't.

It  turned out that Craig had driven almost all the way to Tok, about 50 miles, got a signal, talked to the service rep, and was on the way back to me when we met up about 15 miles out of town.

He got turned around again, and we made it into town and into our campground for the night. 

Two pretty long days! Friday we will be heading to Anchorage for the first of the repairs.  Looks like the Alfa will have a broken nose for a few months. We don't expect to get the body work done until we get back to Southern California in fall. That seems to be fine with the insurance company, as long as we document the damage now which we did with lots of pictures.

This too shall pass. It will all become another chapter in "Merikay's Dream".

Monday, June 12, 2017

Whitehorse, Yukon Territory

Watson Lake to Whitehorse: 288 miles

We were up early on Thursday so that Craig could do a little more windshield cleaning in preparation for the day’s drive. He wanted  to go over it with some Bug-Off and Windex. We also wanted to watch a little of the Comey testimony, which started at 7:00 AM.

Much of our drive was smooth. Once again we saw distant  mountains and spruce forests that felt endless. 

Most of the time we could not see a vehicle either ahead or behind us.

But when we hit one 17 Km stretch of construction, we were stopped by a flag lady, and a there was a small backup. I know there were several more RVs behind us, and in the group ahead, only a few were cars. Everyone is going to Alaska, and there is only one road! It’s fun to look around the RV parks in the evening and see many of the same rigs. I suppose some drive farther, and some stop sooner, but if you prefer the same type of park we do, the choice is limited.

We all got dirty again. When we pulled into the Pioneer RV park in Whitehorse, we were glad to see they had a power wash station available.

We are staying in Whitehorse through the weekend. Friday night was the fourth game of the NBA finals.  The Cavaliers won, so there will be at least one more game on Monday.

The first of several days in Whitehorse:

There are a number of interesting things to see. Friday, we started out at the Visitor Center, then went out to the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center.

One of the sculptures outside of the Center. I don’t think he is quite full size.

Inside the Center there were a number of fossilized skeletons of mammoths, giant buffalo, prehistoric horses and camels, and informative dioramas about Beringia, which was the land bridge between Asia and North America during one of the Ice Ages when the world sea levels were lower.

There was also some art depicting First People stories. We are going to the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Center on Sunday, and look forward to seeing and learning more.

The Yukon TransportationMuseum was right next door so we bought a combined ticket. ($9 Canadian each).

This delightful engine was out front. When editing the pictures of the day we noticed how the cloud in the sky looked like it was smoke from the engine. Fun!

Great examples of modes of transportation: dogsleds, bush planes, snowshoes, trains, trucks, sleighs and stage coaches were displayed and explained.

This bus was one of a fleet that was used on the Alaska Highway. It must have been a bumpy ride!

The snowmobile evolved from machines like this one. The first ones were Skidoos.

One fun quote I read went something like this:
 “If you could drag yourself back onto the sled, the dogs would get you home, a Skidoo could never do that!”

Saturday’s  adventure was to the Yukon Wildlife Preserveand Game Farm. It is not a zoo. The animals live in huge natural habitats on 700 acres of grassland, marsh and hillsides. Small enticements like water stations and supplemental foods are located near the fence lines, but the animals are free to roam out of sight into woods and more distant parts of their enclosures.

As visitors we had a choice of taking a bus tour, or walking the 5.5 km (about 3 miles) of road and trail. We chose the walk. The day was warm and sunny, but not too hot to hike.

Animals we saw were:

How would you like this guy to land in your bird bath?

I think these were young buck Mule Deer. They were munching on a scattering of fresh branches next to the fence. Perhaps they had already eaten all of this favorite kind of tree in their space, and this was a treat.

I think all the deer in this enclosure were female. They had a large grassy area, and some nice shade trees.

Speaking of shade, this group of Dall Sheep were snoozing among the trees. We almost missed them, even though they were pretty close to the fence. Can you see all four?

Most of the caribou were in more distant parts of their habitat. A few were snacking on some choice tree branches that had been left for them near the fence.

It seemed all of the mountain goats were sleeping high up on the rocks or in the shade of the woods. However as we walked along a wooded path that ran along a fence in a different part of their enclosure, and I was looking out into the large grass field, Craig said “Merikay” in a quiet voice. I turned to him and he pointed at a huge mountain goat lying up against the fence next to me. 

As I tried to get a frontal shot, he got up and kept his back to us. He was in no mood to move, but if he had to, he was poised to bolt forward. Eventually he moved away, but never turned our way. Once we moved on, he went back to his favored spot and resumed his nap.

This thin horn sheep was not shy. He and several of his friends were in an area much closer to the road. There was a large watering station next to the fence and some feed on the ground.

We also saw buffalo, elk, and several other kind of deer, but didn’t get decent pictures. We got a good view of a ragged white Arctic Fox that was losing his white fur in favor of summer gray, but he ran and hid before I could capture his portrait.

The musk oxen and moose were so far away they really shouldn’t be counted as among animals we saw.

All in all, the Yukon Wildlife Preserve lived up to its name. Not a zoo, but an opportunity to see wild animals in wild like settings, where they lived an almost wild life with minimal human intervention.

 It was a good three mile walk too.  

More about things we did in Whitehorse in my next post ...

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Northern Lights at Watson Lake, Yukon Territory

Liard Hot Springs to Watson Lake: 130 miles

The road was good, the weather was fine, scenery was interesting, and the fuel stop was convenient. As we were getting fuel I chatted with the operator of the station.

 I asked if people lived in the area, and he told me there were four of them there, but the next closest neighbors were 40 miles in either direction. I asked how cold it got in winter, and he told me the coldest he had seen was -70°F. Last winter was warm, it only got down to -40°F.  Brrr!

Coming out of the Hot Springs Provincial Park we saw two bears on the other side of the road, and later a few buffalo. I also noticed a caribou warning sign. Sure enough, later when reading the Milepost I notice a warning to watch for caribou on the roads in that area. I hope we see some, but not on the road!

From Hot Springs to Whitehorse is farther than our self-imposed 300 mile-per-day limit, but on researching RV parks closer to the halfway mark I didn’t come up with anything. Craig is very interested in the NBA playoffs this year, so when there is a game on I try to find a park with a cable connection. I am pleased to report that the Downtown RV park in Watson Lake provides a decent cable connection, including ABC which showed the playoff games. 

The Golden State Warriors won, and are now only one game from  taking the championship.

On our half day in Watson Lake we did not unhook, but were able to walk to the Northern Lights Center, which was just across the Alaska Highway, and see their two really neat movies projected on a domed, planetarium-style overhead screen.

from the web
One was about our planet, life and the global climate. 

The other was about the Northern Lights. Since they are only visible in winter, when it is dark, we will not be here to see them in person. But this show was pretty good, and makes me really want to fly back here, or to Finland and see them for real. 

I did see them as a child in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was a rare year and my Dad took us out into the country where the skies were very dark. Even though we only saw a glimmer, I will never forget the experience.

Next stop:  Whitehorse, YT

Thursday, June 8, 2017

On the Road to Alaska

Dawson Creek to Fort Nelson: 283 miles

A quick camp review from a one-night stay.

I know some of you just drive and find a place to stay at the end of the day, but I am most comfortable if I have a reservation, even if it's called-in the same day.  There have been plenty of open spaces at the parks we have stayed in since leaving the Vancouver area, and I know we could have just driven in, but try as I might, I feel uncomfortable for the last few hours before arriving without one. 

Monday we were at the Bluebell Motel and RV park in Fort Nelson. I called on Saturday. It was easy to find, right on the highway where our Rand McNally said it was. We have full hook-ups, and because we were in the pull-through spot that is closest to the building, we had excellent WiFi. The space was super level, there is a gas station out front for our morning fueling, and because the motel is between us and the road, it was very quiet.  Good place!

Note: I should have posted the above while I had good internet. It was hopeless for the next few days! 

Fort Nelson to Liard Hot Springs: 190 miles

It was very nice to be able to leave the Jeep hooked up overnight and to be able to just pull out in the morning.

We are now well into the "land of the midnight sun". I have read that in Fort Nelson, on mid-summer’s eve it never gets truly dark in the night. Well, on the 6th of June, morning comes very early. I woke up to morning light and was ready to start the day. But then I looked at the clock and saw that it was just past 4 AM! Back to sleep I went.

We had two destinations today. The first, Testa River Services and Campground, was only 70 km up the road.

I had read that they had wonderful cinnamon buns and were a “do not miss” delight. 

Well, if you like cinnamon they really are great. Note: that is a full size paper plate it is sitting on.   Yummy.  Craig passed, choosing only to have some coffee because he doesn’t like cinnamon very much.

On our way from Fort Nelson to Liard we saw two bears and our first moose. All that time in the far Northeast last year, and I never did see a moose. Well there it was just standing by the side of the road, watching us drive by.

We also saw several groups of stone sheep, and several groups of buffalo.

They like to lick the salt on the edges of the road. They don’t seem to mind the cars at all.

The scenery was beautiful and quite varied. This was one of the many mountains we saw.

We did go through one awful patch of highway. It was being regraded and was dirt and gravel. I’m not sure if they were getting it ready for repaving or not.  But it was very dusty and all the vehicles, including ours, got terribly dirty.

Ok, so the Alfa doesn't show the dust very much, but it was like fine cement.
You can see it behind the wheels and on the Jeep. Dark cars and RVs looked terrible.

Our second stop was at the Liard Hot Springs Provincial Park, where we dry-camped for one night. The campground has a very easy entry, off the Alaska Highway. The system is to drive in, pick out a site, unhook and back in, and then go and pay for it at the entrance. We arrived at about 1:30 PM and there were still many empty sites, but several rigs had to wait for us to get out of their way. Thereafter we watched numerous RVers drive past our site looking for a place.

Soaking in natural hot springs pools is another “everybody does it” experience.  After getting settled we donned our swimsuits, grabbed our towels and went over to the springs.

There is a good size day-use parking area that many RVers use, who do not want to overnight. We drove the Jeep there, after washing the mud-like grime off the windows.

There is a quarter-mile boardwalk through a boggy area to the springs.

There is a changing house and a deck along the natural pool. This is the hot side, and at the far end, under the bridge is the spring itself. The farther from the spring, the cooler the water gets. We tried going in this side first but it was, as Goldilocks said, “too hot”!

We were happy to hear that the other pool was much cooler, so went there first. 

After awhile we were prepared and went back to the hot side. 
It is nice and in the center of the water there are several benches, which we took advantage of. 

Another tip is that if you go, wear water shoes or flip flops in the water. The bottom is covered with rather sharp stones.

After a nice soak we were happy we had decided to camp there for the night.  We were both very relaxed, and driving was the last thing we wanted to do at that point.

We were well rested the next morning, and got an early start.

Check back soon for more about our trip.