Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Aug 6 – Anchorage Redux

Driving to and from Anchorage along the Seward highway is amazing, with the cliffs on one side and water on the other.  Just beautiful.
Upon arriving back into Anchorage, we spent the next few days taking care of chores, such as dump tank, food shopping, blog posting, etc.  We also drove over to the Flattop Mountain trail head seeing as how it was supposedly Alaska’s most popular trail.  Although we've run along some much better trails, Flattop did not disappoint.  It was only a few miles to the summit and provided incredible views overlooking the city.  It was drizzling and so the views were not as far reaching as they could be but it was still quite impressive. 
There were long stretches of trail leading away from the summit of Flattop that Vanessa and I planned on running the following day but the rain storm intensified and we couldn't do it due to the steep, dirt road leading up to the trailhead.  Instead, me met up with some friends for dinner, called it a day, and then left the following day.

Top of Flattop Mountain

Monday, August 26, 2013

Aug 1 - Nikiski/Girdwood

While we were touring the peninsula, I figured we should head north as far as possible on the westerly side.  Not much to offer except a lot of oil industry stuff.  A few lakes looked promising but offered no access and we had to pass.  We managed to find some beach access near a dock and parked there for the night.  Great ocean views with a beach that the dog could play on.  An occasional helicopter would buzz over us to land at a very nearby landing pad.  I assumed they were flying to and from the oil rigs that were visible not too far out.  These helicopters proved to be a huge problem later when we were trying to sleep.  The next morning, Vanessa took the dog for a walk along the beach while I whipped up some breakfast and shot some pictures of a pair of eagles flying along the treeline.

Our tour of the peninsula was done and we headed back towards Anchorage.  A few people mentioned the beauty of Girdwood, which was about 20-30 miles south of Anchorage and so we headed there, paying another visit to the park in Soldotna as well as the local brewery there. 
Girdwood is a very lovely ski resort town, nestled amongst some snow covered peaks with nearby glaciers.  The majority of the trails started at the nearby ski lodge and we headed there for the night.
The following morning we hit the trail that led up to the top of the ski lifts, a 2.2 mile trail that went straight up the mountain, delighted to find some blueberries along the way.  
This particular trail is part of a local race where contestants have 10hrs to climb the hill as many times as possible, taking the tram back down each time.  The day was rather dreary with a light mist that proved to be extremely cold at the top of the trail.  Having Ginger with us prevented us from going inside to lodge to warm up and so we immediately headed back down the trail.
The following morning we hit up the areas most popular trail, the Winner Trail, a 5 mile trail that went through some amazing woods and ended up overlooking a river.  There was a hand tram that you could use to cross the gorge and continue but it was down for repairs and we had to turn back.
The next morning we researched the Turnagain Arm trails since Summer had recommended them to us.  It turns out that there was a recent bear attack on this trail resulting in the death of the bear.  The bear’s carcass was left along the trail and the trail was closed for the meantime.  This meant that the only section of trail open to the public was only a few miles long and so we passed and headed on into Anchorage.

Only 2.2 miles to get to the lodge

Plush carpeting

July 29 – Homer

We left Seward heading towards Homer and made the town of Soldotna our pit stop for the night.  We found a nice park and went down to the river to watch people fishing for salmon along the banks.  The next morning we loaded up on gas and headed out to complete our journey to Homer.
Wow, words can not describe the beauty of Homer.  About a mile out of town there is a lookout along the road that offers some amazing views from up on high.  From there the road drops into a quaint little town.  Homer is a fishing community but not commercialized like Seward is.  The Spit attracts a lot of tourists, mostly RVers and people looking to try their luck on the fishing charters.  There are also boats taking you over to where the glaciers are, where you can go sightseeing for bears, try some halibut fishing, or spend endless days camping out in the wild wilderness.
The town of Homer isn’t impressive with its selection of trails but we did manage to find one and got in some nice views.


Homer overlook
Ginger loved our campsite as much as we did

July 26 – Kenai Fjords National Park

Exit Glacier

After doing some chores and checking out the local brewery, we headed over to the local national park for the night.  Black flies everywhere!  The following morning we attempted to tire out the dog before tackling the trail leading up to the ice fields.  We made it about halfway before water shortage and the black flies made us decide to turn back.  Even the short distance we did offered up some incredible views of Exit Glacier.  This wouldn’t be the first time we underestimate the amount of time it’d take to tackle a trail and bring an inadequate amount of water with us. 
We headed back to Seward for the night and explored the town a little bit more.  Seward really doesn’t offer up much unless you want to hit the trails or take advantage of one of many fishing or tour charters.


July 24 – Seward

After dumping sewage, stocking up with fruits and veggies at Costco, we headed south to Seward.  We stopped by the little town of Hope but there really wasn’t much to see or do except to buy a bumper sticker and kill a few mosquitoes. 
The drive to Seward is just incredible.  The natural scenery takes your breath away and you never want the journey to end.  However, Seward is really all not that far away and we soon entered the fishing community.  One of our first stops was to the Mt Marathon trail head where we would spend the night.  The following morning we attempted the trail but its steepness and rugged terrain, as well as stinging wasps, proved too much for Ginger and we headed back to the RV.  The biting black flies and mosquitoes were no joke either.  We found out about a jeep trail that connects to the Mt Marathon trail and decided to check that out since it seemed a bit more canine friendly.  This turned out to be a beautiful but steep trail that gave us some amazing views of the town and the bay.  On the way back down we took the connection to the Mt Marathon trail and still couldn’t believe that people could actually run, let alone climb this ridiculously rough trail.

The start/finish of the Mt Marathon race
Incredible views from town

July 22 - Anchorage Part 1

I was surprised by the size of Anchorage, expecting something just a tad bit larger than what we encountered in Fairbanks.  It had everything one could expect from a large city but all packed in a seemingly 20 mile radius, mountainous trails included.  This was great since we were never far away from whatever we desired. 
Upon arriving, the first order of business was to hit up one of the breweries to sample their wares.  Good stuff.  The business area was mostly paid parking and not very RV friendly so we didn’t hang around there too much.  Instead we investigated a few nearby parks and found one that had access to a beach, albeit a very muddy beach.  Later, we parked at Earthquake Park where we had a nice moose encounter until a car rolled up and scared it away.
We were supposed to meet our friend Summer the next morning but a glitch in communication happened and so we planned to meet the following morning for breakfast.  We went to University Lake where Ginger played in the water and socialized with her fellow canines.  Spent the night parked at the train station where Vanessa got to hold a freshly caught salmon and we woke up to our very first parking ticket.  Had I known it was a paid lot, we would have found other accommodations since we refuse to pay for our nightly stays.  Since I considered this parking lot sneaky with their lack of signs, I refused to pay the fine and will hope it doesn’t catch up to us later.
The following morning we had breakfast with Summer and then went to the local dealer to order a new door handle for the RV, which we’d pick up when we swung through Anchorage again.  Now its time to head south and see what the rest of Alaska has to offer.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013



Sitting at a border crossing waiting on Vanessa while she peeled orange after orange after orange wasn’t my idea of fun but this was her penance for trying to cross the American border with citrus.  All she was required to do was peel all of the citrus, place the peelings in a bag, hand the bag over to the border patrol agent and we’d be on our way.  All 10lbs of them. 
Crossing into Alaska was kind of a big deal for us.  This had been our goal ever since we first hit the road many miles ago.  The road was windy with lots of detours and distractions, but here we were.  Finally.
  Our first stop was Tok, one of the first towns you pass by on the Alaska Highway.  Our hitchhiker friend Michael has posted on facebook that he had spent the night here and recommended a restaurant called Fast Eddy’s and we figured we’d stop in for a bite and spend the night in their parking lot as well before traveling on.  Fast Eddy’s was worth the stop.  They had great food, nice selection of desserts (cheesecake!), and free wifi that we could pick up while kicking back in the RV in their parking lot.  We enjoyed it so much that we went in for breakfast the next morning as well (more cheesecake!).
The end of the road
Our next stop was Delta Junction, the official end of the Alaskan Highway.  We had picked up the highway at its start in Dawson Creek 1,422 miles ago and had traveled almost every inch of it.  I say almost since we took a little detour to get to the city of Whitehorse, effectively skipping about a mile of it.  I had briefly contemplated backtracking in order to travel every inch of the highway but ended up shrugging it off.
The North Pole was up next.  This is a town in year long Christmas mode.  Every year they elect a person to be the town’s official Santa Claus, not positive what their duties are since we stopped by the post office and saw 3 other Santa dead ringers walk by.   Doppelgangers everywhere.
We were going to visit Santa’s House along with whatever else the town is known for but decided to skip all of that and head over to the Chena hot springs which were about an hour away, since this is where I wanted to spend the majority of my birthday the following day. 
The Chena Hot Springs were a nice attraction.  For a $15 fee, you could soak all day until midnight in the 3 different hot tubs, swimming pool, or outdoor hot springs.  They also had an ice sculpture house, horse rides, sled dogs shows, and I suppose a few other touristy things to spend your money on but we were there for the springs.  Since we were too late to warrant purchasing a pass, we toured the grounds and then drove right outside their grounds to camp for the night.  We had to stay indoors all night since the mosquitoes were crazy and would blanket us and the dog as soon as we would step outside. 
The next morning we bought our passes, and spent a leisurely day soaking, swimming, playing ball with the dog, and soaking some more.  After we had our fill we drove over to the Silver Gulch Brewery in Fairbanks for dinner and drinks.  Fairbanks would become our home for the next few days.  I’m not certain why since it was hot, muggy, full of drunks, but it is what it is.  We did get in a few runs, found some nice places to eat, and soaked our feet (and our butts) in the river whenever the temperatures became too unbearable to hang out in the RV.  And Ginger really took a shine to playing in the river which surprised me since she usually goes out of her way to avoid getting wet.
Again, I have no idea why we spent so many days in Fairbanks but eventually we decided we had to get going to the Denali National Park, which happens to be where we are currently holed up. 
Denali is beautiful but I am slightly disappointed and I will tell you why.  The park is huge and goes on forever, and forever.  However, you can only drive or take the free shuttle for the first 15 miles of road.  If you want to travel further into the park, you have to hike or pay for their shuttles.  We had planned on taking a to Wonder Lake where we read that you can glimpse bears, moose, and even Mt McKinley but found out you have to pay $46 per person and it is an 11hr round trip.  Are you kidding me!?  Still, if it wasn’t for the dog, I’d be very tempted to do it.  The joys of puppy parenthood.
Overlooking Denali
What we settled on instead was a run up to the Mt Healey lookout, a nice 4ish mile trail that takes you straight up a mountain near the park entrance and offers some spectacular views.  Plus the trail goes on further and so we got in some extra bonus miles, finishing up with about 10 miles for the day.  We didn’t see any moose or bear but we did see some wolf scat, lots of ground squirrels, and fur from what I suppose once belonged to a snow hare.
I am not certain how long we’ll hang out at Denali but there are still a few trails to keep us entertained, a couple great restaurants, and a few places offering free wifi.  What more can one ask for?  And we can always drive down the road to the Denali State Park and visit the trails they have as well.

Life is still good.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Yukon, Jack!

For a while there, we had hopes and dreams of making it to the city of Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon Territories, before sundown of July 1st, Canada Day, in hopes of catching their fireworks celebration.  See last post as to why that was a fail.  Anyways, 4 days later and we finally arrived.  And what a great trip it's been getting here!  We picked up a hitchhiker, spent some time at a really cool hot springs, and saw loads of wildlife.  And the views!  But first lets talk about the hitchhiker.
We didn't get the new tires installed until the 3rd of July, having to order them on the 2nd and waiting for the 12hr delivery time.  Very grateful for this because the other shops we talked to quoted us anywhere from 7 to 14 days.  Thank you Integra Tires!  By the time the tires were on, it was getting a little late but we figured we should get down the road and spend the night at Fort Nelson, a 4 hour drive from where we were.  No real problem since the sun doesn't set until 10pm these days.
Upon arriving in Fort Nelson we immediately hit up the Visitor Center for their free wifi.  We arrived just as they were shutting down and the signal was too weak for us to pick it up outside the building.  Leaving the parking lot we noticed a hitchhiker and vowed to pick him up if he was still around in the morning and drove off to a quiet street to spend the night.  The next morning we went back to the visitor center for the wifi and guess who comes strolling in?  Our hitchhiker had tracked us down saying that he noticed our South Dakota license plates and figured we were heading to Alaska and figured he'd try to charm us into giving him a ride.  His name is Michael and he is a journalist for the Huffington Post.  Michael is currently a few months into a year long project in which he is hitchhiking around to various carnivals in order to interview carnies as well as work as one himself. We talked for about 30 minutes telling stories about ourselves, welcomed Michael aboard, and hit the road.
Our destination for the day was the Liard Hot Springs, a cool little place we read about that was less than 200 miles up the road.  Michael wanted to shoot for 500 miles but was willing to take what he could get from us.  Along the way we listened to Michael's various stories with awe and wonder.  He once interviewed Imelda Marcus and later went to a party and danced with her.  Not that I'm a fan of hers but wow.  He's also been to practically every country in existence for one reason or another.  During his stories, I'd point out the various wildlife along the road and slow down so he and Vanessa could take pictures.  A few times, the wildlife would be right in the middle of the road and I'd have to stop until they cleared out of the way.  I'm not complaining about it since it was one of the coolest experiences ever.

Caribou (cariboo?)

Cook's Sheep (look at the baby!)

Wood Bison
Being entertained by Michael as well as Mother Nature made the trip pass in no time and we found ourselves at the hot springs.  Michael wanted to continue on down the road and so we posed for a couple pictures and said our goodbyes.  The hot springs had an entry fee but a lady came over to us and handed us her pass, saying it was good for 24hrs and that we could have it since they were leaving.  FREEBIE!  That saves us $10.
This side is much too hot

This side is just right

The hot springs were wonderful but after a few hours I got jonesing for the road and asked Vanessa if she'd mind if we'd drive some more rather than spending the night here.  We packed up and drove out.  Michael was still right outside the park trying to get a ride and so I honked at him and he joined us once again.  Our new destination was Watson Lake, an easy 140 miles just across the border of Yukon.  Again, we reveled in swapping stories with Michael and counted wildlife along the way and shortly found ourselves at our destination.  We dropped Michael off at the visitor center, agreeing to meet up later that evening but never saw him again.  I assume that he hooked up with another ride and hit the road.  I'm going to miss that guy.

Look ma, we be in the Yukon now!

Michael, Vanessa, and myself posing outside the Signpost Forest
Safe travels to you Michael.  Perhaps we'll run into you in Anchorage.  I hope our next passenger is as cool as you.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Is this thing on?

It's been a few months since I last posted an update and I am uncertain as to how to properly proceed.  Do I post about where we currently are and skip over everything we've done since my last update?  Or do I put what we are currently doing on hold and try to catch up?  Or I guess I could post a current update and fill in the blanks later.  I think I like how option #3 sounds.  At least Vanessa has been taking care of the pictures as we travel and so if you want to travel back in time, please feel free to visit her facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/vanessaruns and check out the photo albums residing over there somewhere.
Anyways, so here goes...

July 01, 2013 Fort St John, British Columbia, Canada
A couple days ago we passed through Dawson Creek, the starting line of the Alaska Highway.  Being on this famous highway made me all kinds of giddy and I was hoping that we could make it to the capitol of the Yukon (Whitehorse) in time for Canada Day, which happens to be today.  Afterwards, we'd try to hit up Fairbanks Alaska for the Fourth of July if possible.  Or use Haines Alaska as a second option.  But Shit Happens.  And here's the story.
I was anticipating some 400-500 kilometer days in order to meet our goal.  Vanessa didn't seem very happy with it, preferring to stop everywhere and hit up some trails, but I think I convinced her to suffer along with me for a couple of days and then we could slow down our travels once again and enjoy life.  Let's just get to Whitehorse ASAP.
I felt as if we were making good time, enough to even stop at Pink Mountain which is about an hour West of Fort St John.  There we could have lunch and get in a short run on the trails.  It'd make everyone happy, especially the dog.  However, a few hundred yards from the turn a loud slapping noise started coming from the rear of the RV.  At first I thought it was a flat but I wasn't drifting off to the side so I figured I lost some tread on one of the rear tires.  I slowed way down, turned on the road leading to the Pink Mountain Park and lucky for us, there happened to be a paved pullout right there where I thought I could easily change out the tire.

Ever have one of those days?
I emptied out the back where the jack and accessories are stored and proceeded to start jacking up the rear of the RV.  Problem #1 - the jack is too short and can not raise the tire off the ground.  No worries.  I'll deal with that later and loosen the tire first.  Problem #2 - no hub cap removal tool.  No worries.  I keep a large flat blade screwdriver in my tool bag which popped off the cap with a little effort.  And now for the lugs.  Problem #3 - where the fuck is the lug wrench?  No problem.  I waved down a young couple in a car and asked to borrow their wrench.  Sadly, it was the wrong size.  I thanked them for trying to help and wished them a safe journey.  At least I have Good Sam Roadside Assistance, right?  They'll swap out my tire for free.  Problem #4 - My phone doesn't have Canada coverage.  No problem, I'll bite the bullet and pay the stupid roaming fees (ouch!).  An hour later, the lady finally confirmed that someone was on the way to help me out.  An hour of roaming charges.  Great, can't wait to see the bill.
Around 30 minutes later a guy pulls up and I describe the problems and he gets to work.  Two jacks and some power tools later and the spare tire is on.  I ask him where I can get some new tires and receive some bad news.  Problem #5 - It's the day before a 3 day weekend (Canada Day) and most of the shops shut down early.  We have to wait 4 days to get new tires.  We can either drive 90km back to Fort St John and spend the weekend there, or we can risk driving 300km to Fort Nelson and sit there for the weekend.  I'm not one to take unnecessary risk and so I opted to backtrack to Fort St John.  I didn't want to risk another blowout along the highway in the middle of nowhere and left stranded along the Alaskan Highway waiting for the shops to open on Tuesday.
And so that's how we ended up spending Canada Day in Fort St John.  It's not exactly what we wanted, but it's not too bad.  There's a Walmart, a Safeway, a few coffee shops and fast food places to snag free wifi.  There's even a free dumpstation with clean water right at the city's entrance. Too bad this city is infested with giant mosquitoes though.  We tried to hang out at a local lake for a day but gave up thanks to them critters.  This morning we gave it another go at a local forest trail.  Can't stop moving or you're mosquito bait.  Too hot to keep moving for long periods of time.  No win situation.  But at least we got in a couple of miles.  And the city is actually kinda nice.  Sort of.  And later tonight we get a free fireworks show.  See, not too bad.  These local tire shops better have the tire size I need though!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Parks Continue

After saying goodbye to the Zion area, we had a whirlwind adventure hopping from park to park on our way back to the West Coast.
First up was the Great Basin. It was a bit out of our way but were told it was a can't miss park due to it's remoteness and scenic beauty.  And indeed, it was very remote with absolutely nothing to see along the road except for pastures full of cows and sheep.  The park was quite beautiful but the snow levels prevented us from hiking to the summit.  Instead we spent out time exploring the Lehman Caves and then continued on down the road.

On the way to our next park, the Mojave Desert, we stopped at a couple of hot springs I had read up on.  Sadly, they were closed to the general public.
The Mojave Desert park was pretty barren, with not much to see or do except for the Kelso Dunes which we pulled up next to and called home for the night.  In the morning, we headed out to climb the tallest dune which was quite the undertaking.  A sandy trail leading straight up, but causing you to slide backwards at the same time.  It was a struggle but everyone eventually made it to the top and was rewarded with a great view of the desert.

The giant Sequoias were calling and so we continued on down the road leaving the desert in our rear view mirror.  I think I recall seeing some giant trees as a wee lad but am not sure if they were sequoias or redwoods.  Regardless, these trees had me absolutely mesmerized.  The crowds at these two parks were minimal and the trails were abundant.  If time weren't an issue, we could have easily spent quite a few extra days here.

I've always heard great things about Yosemite growing up and never had a chance to visit.  I actually came close to working there for a Summer, even submitting an application and having it approved.  However, for some reason I joined the Navy instead, forever changing my life's direction.  Or did it?
I was disappointed in this park for two reasons.  First, the crowds.  OMG where did all of these people come from?  And its not even peak season yet.  Secondly, no overnight boondocking.  You either had to stay in a campground of leave the park every night.  We met one of the rangers who kindly let us park in front of his house every night during our stay, even allowing us access to his showers and wifi.  Matt, we are greatly appreciative of your generosity!  

Whew, I think that wraps it up for now.  There will be quite a few more National Parks in our immediate future.  I think if I had to pick my favorite so far, it would be Sequoia.  Yosemite would definitely take the top spot if there weren't so many people messing it up for me.