I didn’t listen to any music for the entire 9 hours it took to drive from Anchorage to Beaver Creek on the opposite side of the Alaskan border. I thought hard about the people I was leaving, people who had just become new friends. I thought about the cultural activities I had not yet participated in, the hikes that were left un-walked, the mountains and snow left unridden; it was all hitting me pretty hard.
Luckily a few bobcat sightings put me back in the traveling spirit. I put my amateur electrical engineer skills to the test the next morning and fixed my water pump, then only drove 15 miles down the frost-heaved road to where I thought an abandoned air strip was. Snag, as the area is called, is known to have the coldest recorded temperature in continental North America. I parked a couple of miles in and decided to have a walk, 2 hours later I still hadn’t run into the damned airstrip. I turned a corner and 100 yards ahead saw a bobcat, given that the day before was my first sighting ever of this animal, I was still very excited and with one hand on my bear spray, tried to follow the funny looking cat. I’m still a little hurt I never saw the end of the road.
The next morning I found a couple of hitchhikers coming out of the campsite and obviously had to give them a ride. They were two Russian girls my sister’s age that had just spent the last month going around Alaska and now shooting down the Yukon. “I never imagined Canada to be like this! There are so many mountains, where are all the lakes?” It was fun to be part of someone else’s adventure for once and the grandiosity of their plans of making their way down to Patagonia only made me more excited, even if I recognized a bit of the naivety of the trip. Having passengers made me stop more times along the route and enjoy a bit of the sights I hadn’t spent the time to know on my way up. I dropped them off in Whitehorse and finally made a divergence from my initial route by turning in toward Skagway, camping out for the night along some downhill mountain bike area in Carcross.
Cruised into Skagway before noon/ 11am AKST/Yukon time, passing by a small wildfire before hitting the border. Like many an Alaskan coastal town, I was met with the cool damp clouds and wind coming off of the ocean. A tourist town with a rich mining history, this one of the oldest gringo cities of Alaska and many prospectors in the 1898 Klondike gold rush came to try their luck amongst massive glacier cut mountains. I spent the day combing the museum’s exhibits and wearing flip-flops amongst the parka-laden cruise ship tourists. I must give the brewery a shout with an excellent spruce tip golden ale.
Skagway is basically still a mining town, it just mines tourists. It brought me to wonder about AK in general and how all it has to offer is raw material and not much else. After a good run/hike up to Upper Dewey lake, I spent hours reading some old articles from the original Skagway News on microfilm, it was entertaining to be getting back into my historical element. There had been a great emphasis to make it seem like Skag was a nice place, playing up the routes to the gold in the Yukon, and downplaying the original Chilkoot trail from Dyea, the rival neighboring town.
I checked out the other brewery, Klondike brewing. It was more of a straight shot only beer establishment and did some solid brews too. Certainly at Skagway prices. Driving out of town was a gorgeous 3000ft climb up White’s pass, this time with clear views all around.
I happened to glance down at the temperature gauge as I rolled out of Carcross and noticed it was almost hitting the red, so I quickly pulled over and steam came out from under my hood. I had an inkling that it might be the thermostat not opening up and after calling AAA of Canada and learning the tow would be over $200, I got out my tool kit and decided to get my hands dirty. Luckily a passing motorist had a bit more intuition on car mechanics than I did, and pointed out where the thermostat would be. It was in such a place that the small ratchet I was using would not budge the bolt that needed to break free. Another passerby came and looked at my situation before we were able to devise a bit more leverage and loosened up the bolts. Sure enough, the thermostat was clogged with a brown sludge and after cleaning it off and reinstalling it, we got the cooling system working again. I knew he really wanted a bit of payment for his work, and while I was a bit annoyed that someone would act in such a way to a stranded motorist, I passed him some cash as I really had saved a lot of money and time thanks to his help. My 5 hour dilemma set me back so that I was only a third way through the Cassiar before setting up camp, but it ended up being the best spot of my entire trip upon a smokey lake.
The Cassiar has to be one of my favorite highways I’ve ever driven, rolling along for hours at a time without seeing another vehicle. Perfection. A highway where horses have the right of way.
Picked up hitchhiker the next morning and was every bit jealous of his huckleberry exploits as I retraced the route I had taken a year ago back to Smithers. I spent that night hopping from brewery to brewery chatting with locals about their ski hill and mocking US politics.
The day after I plunged deep Into the smoke of lower British Colombia; everything burning. I pulled into Marble Canyon Provincial Park, getting off the main Canadian highways for some spectacular rock formations towering above. The next morning I tried going further down the scenic 99 byway but saw the temperature gauge hitting red again and had to repeat the thermostat repair shuffle. It was time that I just stayed on the road and didn’t try anything fancy.
The border hop took forever but I was back in the lower 48 a mere year after I had left them. Met with a few friends in Seattle and had some good brews. The night was warm stationed across the park.
As I crawled in gridlock over the bridges into Portland, I felt the familiar sensation of starting a new chapter in a new place.