Thursday, April 29, 2010


A few weeks ago, my friend Karen asked if I wanted to bring her second sled and drop bags back to her from Iditarod. Understand, Karen lives in Alberta, Canada and I live in Willow, Alaska. She had to get home before the Iditarod folks could get her stuff back from the trail. So I thought for a while--maybe two seconds---and said, YES! Road trip!! To sweeten the deal, I would return with two dogs from her kennels to add to my small team.  So, on April 12, I became Alberta Bound. Check this video of the song:Alberta Bound by Paul Brandt---it's one of Karen's favorites!
While Alaska was slowly heading into Spring, we also had the chance of snow showers, which is exactly what it was doing the morning I left. Great. I tied the GATT sled ( to the roof of my Blazer, checked all the gear I had packed the day before, kissed the huskies good bye and off I went. I had asked a couple people if they wanted to go for a ride, but some didn't have passports, some couldn't get away and some just thought I was crazy. HA---that's OK, I probably am.  I stopped at Iditarod HQ to pick up two more of Karen's drop bags, at a friend's home for three more they had retrieved for me, filled up with gas and off I went down the Glenn Hwy. to Tok. A windy day, with the promise of more snow, I decided to take it easy getting there. Karen says they drive it in 3 twelve hours days. Well, not me! I like to stop and take pictures and look at scenery and maybe have a nap.
The scenery on the way to Tok is just lovely and I just drove and looked. I took only a few pictures the first day. I stayed at the Burnt Paw and Cabins Outback that night. Bill and Nanci Arpino are wonderful Alaskans. Bill ran the the first Iditarod in 1973. Their cabins are first rate.

The next morning I awoke to several inches of snow. Oh boy, guess it will be a slow travel day. After a good breakfast from Nanci I was on the road again. Twenty miles out the snow stopped and the sun came out. A gorgeous day. My first wildlife viewing was a small group of caribou crossing the road.
I stopped and waited while they decided whether to cross the road.

My next stop would be the international boundary 90 miles from Tok. You drive right through American customs. They don't care if you leave the USA.  It's another 20 miles to the Canadian customs stop, but meanwhile there is the boundary line. I found it kind of funny--an obelisk with the names of Canada and the United States on each side and straight out from it a line of cut trees. 
It reminded me of the lines we see on the maps in geography books. Only this one was real. And it went as far as you could see. There was a bench with the words Alaska/Yukon on it, appropriate flags and signs for each side and the inevitable plaque marking the site. A nice place to stop for a few minutes to stretch. The funny thing was the road. As soon as it hit Alaska, it became dirt.
You can see Karen's GATT sled just under the sign. Went I got to Canada the customs agent wanted to be sure I hadn't bought it in Alaska and was bringing it to sell in Canada. I wanted to say, "Are you kidding??? It's a GATT sled. Hans lives in Canada!" But I didn't. Some things you should only think. 
The next part of the drive is around Destruction Bay in the Yukon. Very windy and very beautiful.
The road here is full of frost heaves so driving is not quite so fast unless you want the road to be your chiropractor. Only one place open between Beaver Creek and Haines Junction as I recall, and that was the gas and restaurant at Destruction Bay.
That night I stayed in Whitehorse at a new hotel by the airport: Skye. Pretty fancy! Then it was down the Alaska Hwy to Ft. Nelson. This would be the tough day of driving: at least 12 hours. But, it's also the area with all the wildlife and a drive through the northern range of the Rocky Mountains. No matter how much I love the mountains in Alaska, my heart belongs to the Rockies. 
When the road signs say an animal in the next number of km, you better take heed. First up: buffalo!!
There were small groups of them everywhere. I would see them for the next hour or so. And when I came around a bend here is what I saw: Elk!!!
They were large and moved away quickly.Then looked back as if to let me know I had disturbed them. They are so pretty. Between the buffalo and the elk, was Muncho Lake. A very windy road, with some beautiful vistas.
By the time I got to Ft Nelson it was dark. I found a Ramada to stay in and I highly recommend them, especially if you travel with dogs. The pet rooms have tile floors with radiant heat. The breakfast available in the morning is not your typical fare, but not complicated either. Good stuff to get you on your way.
This day would be a short drive to Dawson Creek and the end of the Alaska Highway---or the beginning if you're headed North. I was able to meet up with an internet friend from Karen's group. Gail, her husband Roy, son Kyle and the two Siberians, Ice and Ayla, made me feel very much at home. What a great way to relax and make new friends. Thanks so much Gail!
The next day I was bound for Alberta for sure. Across the range, it was dry, dusty and warm for April. But it was a pleasure to make the Ramstead home and be greeted by so many howling Siberians---and Cricket and Bet and Kara and Bait....and of course Karen and Mark.

Welcome to North Wapiti Kennels. (North Wapiti)A great place to visit and stay with friends and Siberians. Karen has this cool blue jay wind flag just outside the dog lot. Since it was so warm, the dogs were all being lazy. I only got a greeting as it was close to dinner time. We feed them all after Karen feed us shrimp fettucini and home made bread. Boy was that good! She's quite the cook.The princess Kara laid on her cloud the whole time and Bet wan't far away.

Then it was time to feed the dogs. Boy, that is a fast paced time. Karen fills the bowls and we take them to different sections. I got the pens. Then we go back around and pick up all the bowls before they get batted around like hockey pucks....or worse, peed in, which happened anyway. DOGS! Then, it's poop patrol and quiet reigns again.
I took the time to go visit my new kids. We put Nahanni, who is 9, in the same pen with Fritter, is is almost 3. Nahanni took it well, but Fritter was most rambunctious. This would be interesting. HA.

Nahanni (top) and Fritter in their pen to give them time to get used to each other.
I like to play with all the dogs during poop patrol, then I go back and visit my favorites.

Shooter---who I told to remember me, cause in five or six years, he's coming to live with me. LOL!! And Pop---who has red whiskers.
Before we turned in for the night, Karen, Cricket, Bet, Kara and the two cats, Tic and Bait would take a walk up the road. Cricket is a wonderful gentle giant, but don't be fooled. I suspect she can take care of business!

The next day proved to be hot and dry again. Karen and I unloaded my Blazer of the sled and all the stuff  I brought for her. We spent some time organizing things and getting things ready for an auction I would do for Karen. I spent a little time with my new kids and also visited X who was recuperating from  a training injury. He's doing great.
I also took a look at the Inukshuk Karen's handler left for her. Very nicely done, Richard! It is a great trail marker that Karen will see every time she takes a team out. Cool!
The inuksuk may have been used for navigation, as a point of reference, a marker for hunting grounds, or as a food cache. I've seen them in various places, but mostly in Canada. The winter Olympics this year used one as their mascot.
We ended the day by meeting Mark in Athabasca for dinner. Then Karen took me on a tour around the small town by the river. We discussed how someone with vision could develop this riverside into a gathering place for all kinds of good stuff. She said that she and Mark have taken teams out on the frozen river---which causes quite a stir with the locals. I really liked the town. Built to help the gold rush and the railroad which followed, like a lot of northern towns, it has seen boom and bust.
Sun dog
Karen and I along the Athabasca river
railroad bridge

That evening as we took the scenic route home, Karen told me about the people who lived in her area and what a great place to be. I could certainly see why. We would continue chatting in the hot tub outdoors before a good night's sleep.
Next morning was as early as I could make it. Packed the car and the new kids and hit the road. Nahanni settled right in, but poor Fritter was quite nervous and upset and took a big poop in the back of the Blazer. Five minutes into the ride I stopped to clean everyone up. Then we drove---all the way to Ft. Nelson. We did stop for a few minutes in Dawson Creek with Gail and Kyle and to give the girls a walk. That was nice. But, it was a long drive. Since the season has not really begun along the Alcan, not all services are available everywhere, so really need to be careful where you end up for the night. My favorite sight was this Christmas tree out in the middle of nowhere along the highway, still decorated.
That night the girls would spend their first night indoors. I think they adjusted very well. At least, Nahanni did---she slept on the bed with me. Fritter laid on the floor, but I'm not sure she slept at all.

The next day would be an equally long drive to Whitehorse. I was determined to stop if I saw any critters along the way. The girls settled in relatively quickly and before long I did see my first wildlife--a small black bear.
Then it was time for a scenic stop at Summit Lake. I'd like to bring my Scamp back here and stay a few days. Gosh, it was so beautiful. And surprisingly warm. The sun reflected off the snow and I only had on a light shirt. 

A small herd of caribou crossed right in front of me.
I didn't see any wild horses in either direction while driving near Muncho Lake. But I did see this nice group behind a fence. Pretty nice place to live.

Speaking Of Muncho Lake, I found a good place to stop and walk the dogs along the still frozen lake. Fritter had a nice roll in the snow.Then I had a nice nap in my car by the lake.

Fritter was warm and loved to roll in whatever snow I could find for her. Nahanni on the other hand thought that was childish. :)
Next two stone sheep would cross right in front of us. Good thing we were going slowly on the very windy road.
Then for many miles were buffalo. I took so many pictures I couldn't begin to post them all. I pulled into another rest area where a small group was hanging around on both sides of the road. I just sat and watched them when some of them crossed the road and walked right by my car. The dogs didn't even blink! I don't think the buffalo did either.

The buffalo were great company, but it was time to move on again. I had to laugh a few miles further up the road when I had to stop for a traffic light! There was nothing coming, no road work, no other cars, no other people. I wondered if some strange experiment was going on to see if people would stop. Of course, I did. :)     Then the rain started. Not heavy, but the clouds were low enough to block the mountains. Fortunately, it wasn't cold enough to freeze. I thought for sure I would make Whitehorse in the dark. But, what a pleasant surprise. As I approached Teslin and the bridge, the rain stopped and those beautiful after storm clouds appeared. I was in for an amazing sunset. At one point I was literally in tears, it was so beautiful. I couldn't find a spot to pull over and photograph when it was at it's height, so that remains a heart memory. But what I was able to capture was pretty special.
The bridge at Teslin.

Next day, I left Whitehorse as early as I could. I stopped in town at the local Timmy's---you must go there if you get to Canada--- and got a sandwich for the road. Just before Haines Junction, I spied some Spirit Houses on a hillside and decided it was a good time to walk the girls. Our drive that day was only to Tok, so we had time to spare. We took the hand made bridge across Canyon Creek and climbed the hill to the houses and an incredible view.

Sprit houses may contain remains of the departed and some of their worldly goods. Sometimes, they are playful. When I first came upon this house, I thought, on no, someone has been up here drinking and left their cans. I was wrong. The cans were unopened. Perhaps left for the Spirit to take to the next life? Some of the houses on this hill were new and very well built. I was impressed with the workmanship---and the eternal view.

The walk back down would yield this old log cabin. I wonder what stories it could tell. What lives were lived here and what adventures did they survive?

As we left the area, a group of what I believe are deer passed our way. Nice.
I also drove by this site. It was much too windy to try to walk to it from the road, so it's on my list of to do's next time I drive this way.

Continuing,we drove back around Kluane Lake. There are so many spectacular places on this drive that it's hard to pick the most beautiful. In fact, I can't. I enjoyed every bit of it.
We would spend that night back in Tok and about 7 hours from home. It was good to stay in the Iditarod cabin outback. :)

Another gorgeous day for the drive home. Right away I spotted a couple moose and got a shot of this one.
 I stopped near Sheep Mt. to take some pictures. I've wondered about this old log octagon shaped building. The view from it's hillside post is wonderful.

The great thing about driving nearly 4,000 miles by yourself is the time you spend in your own head. Considering your life; what is was, what it is, what it may become. I listened to the music of my youth; the Beatles mostly. When I was in the Rockies I listened to John Denver and was sad that he's no longer with us, but happy that he opened my eyes to the mountains. I listened to my friends of Barleyjuice and laughed at lots of their lyrics. I played with my new canine friends and wondered how life would be when we got home. (It's fine!)  Mostly, I savored the journey. It's a perfect time to travel as far as I'm concerned. Not much traffic and the road to yourself. I guess what always gets me is how much land there is with no humans on it. I hope it stays that way forever. It really does bring peace to the soul to be  in it.
And just as I was shaking my head at how lucky my trip had been with weather and road conditions, it started to snow just outside of Chickaloon. It would continue all the way to Willow. Welcome back to reality. Heck of a trip though!