Tuesday, August 21, 2007
One thing very much worthy of mentioning about our stay at Dick's house is:
THE THURSDAY NIGHT BBQ!
This BBQ is the reason we met Dick quite a few weeks ago now, and has kept us entertained ever since. I'm sure Dick is now wishing he never did tell us we could stay in our van on his driveway, because you see, we're still there!!! Too much fun, we are simply unable to leave.
Every Thursday night a whole bunch of Fairbankiers gather at Dick's house for a night of food, wine and loads of very interesting conversations. This social event has been happening for years and there's even a website with photos and stories created especially for this weekly gathering: www.barbequenight.com
All it takes is a group email every week by Dick to a whole list of people and the request to bring some wine and food along and of course the willingness to entertain whoever else decides to show up. What a great idea, I will certainly start a similar event after this trip, but it may involve some tequila and very loud music, just to personalize it a wee bit.
The best key to success of this BBQ night, I believe, is the consistency in which it is organized. For example, last week Dick was not even going to be home on Thursday night, but still sends out an email inviting people to just show up and have a good time. How cool is that! Anyone keen to start a similar weekly social night back in NZ?
Plan A: Dick and Amy flying to Anaktuvuk Pass on Thursday august 16Th for a 5 day tundra-hike, returning Tuesday 21st
Plan B: Duane and Dan will join them on this wilderness adventure
Plan C: Dick is sick on departure day so will be leaving Friday instead, no worries according to the airline
Plan D: Anaktuvuk Pass is cancelled when: we get to the airport to find out the flight is actually full and because Dick and Amy had gift vouchers they had to fly stand-by. Duane and I could go, just not our gear we were told....
Plan E: No worries, let's drive up to the Brooks Range instead because that is where Amy really wanted to go hiking. No trees just tundra. So we jumped in Dick's car and set off for a short 9 hour drive up north... back on the Haul road. We camped next to the car on the North Slope and would head out on our hike in the morning.
Plan F: Amy wakes up miserable with a sore throat and thus is not up to a big adventure. Ohh well let's drive up to a nice spot to park and we'll do day-hikes instead. So we drove south a little and decided to go for a little hike into this amazingly beautiful valley with a stream and camp there, just out sight from the road.
Plan G: Well we had a great afternoon lazing around camp, chilling out, eating and reading books. Duane built dams of course! But Amy hardly slept that night as her cold got worse and now Dick was starting to feel bad too, so when we got up in the morning plan G was formed: Let's drive back home! Forget about hiking up to this little glacier we had planned to do that day and end this madness. Maybe it was just not meant to be!! How plans can change...
(last photo shows bear digging, probably looking for a squirrel or some other small creature)
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Last weekend, August 11/12 Duane, Dick and I drove down South for the 2nd weekend in a row for some weekend fun. The previous weekend we went to Valdez, a 6 hour drive, because Dick was after some Salmon to stock his freezer for winter. Not much luck they had on that trip as all there was were a few million pinks, which apparently are not worthy of eating according to Alaskans: bottom of the range.
So this time Dick took us on a ice caving excursion inside the Castner Glacier, off the Richardson Highway. Well this was just an amazing experience for Duane and I. Having never done such a thing before, we were very lucky to be in the company of a seriously knowledgeable ice-caver. Dick has been exploring this glacier and many others for a very long time. He used to do these trips with his son Tyson (now 23), when he was a little boy and still does them many times a year. He's even mentioned in the book The Reader's Companion to Alaska, a gathering of some of the best travel writing ever about America's last great frontier, edited by Alan Ryan. (This particular story is written by Kris Capps and is called: Ice-caving Beneath the Castner Glacier, Alaska Range. I bought the book straight away after reading that story and recommend reading it if at all interested in Alaska!)
We walked a short distance off the highway until we reached the large entrance cave to the glacier. After having a quick look inside we continued our way, exploring the glacier and climbing all over it. Now don't think of this glacier as being a crystal clear moving mass of ice with blue ice tunnels. No this glacier you can actually walk over the top without realizing you are on a glacier. Loads of gravel and rock has made its way up and now covers the glacier with blueberry bushes growing amongst the rubble.
So finding a cave entrance is quite and exciting activity. We found a little entrance and had an explore without much success so we walked on searching for more. And we found more!
A large heart-shaped entrance was waiting for us to explore its dark depths....
The cave went from light-filtered and large to a crawling space where one needs a proper army-crawl to get through. By now the light is fading fast and headlights are switched on. In the middle of the cave we took a moment to enjoy the darkness by turning off our lights and staring into the absolute pitch black of the inside of a glacier. How amazing to be inside a GLACIER!
After some more crawling and walking we found ourselves once more in a large cave where light streamed in and we could walk out to the other side. We had a quick look outside and stood in the sunshine before making our way back through the darkness and cold of this fascinating cave. What a good time!
That night we stayed at Dick's cabin, where we drank wine and ate cheese-fondue (with soy for me of course) while watching the sun set on the snow-capped mountains to the west.
Monday, August 13, 2007
These are Dick and John and this is their cabin a few hours south of Fairbanks off the Richardson's Highway. What a great spot! The only way to get here in summer is by hiking in and in winter by snow machine. Check out the bear protection.
Friday, August 10, 2007
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Off we went two weeks ago for a big roadie North. After an evening spent with our new laywer friends having dinner at Beaver's cabin, a hard-core goldmining lady, we hit the highway North.
The total length of this trip measures 498 miles from Fairbanks to Deadhorse. I suppose this may not even seem that long, but on a mostly gravel road, where potholes are the norm rather than the exception, travel takes a little longer.
As a brochure describes: 'At first, the highway was called the Haul Road because almost everything supporting oil development was "hauled" on tractor-trailer rigs to its final destination' : Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay, a large oilfield, the reason for the construction of the Alaskan Pipeline.
Fuel is not plentiful on this road and so when we pulled in to a gas station just north of The Yukon river, I wasn't too pleased when the lady told us they didn't have any fuel.
Note: Don't ask for 'Petrol' in the States, they do not know what that means.
A calculated risk it was and according to that precise calculation we would run out just before our next fuel opportunity. Well, I was wrong! We made it to Coldfoot and now know that Vinnie easily does 450 k's on a tank! Not bad for an old van. It turns out though that there was another fuel pump near the Yukon, but we had driven straight past. Advertising is not high on the priority list up there, so you have to be in the know, otherwise you simply miss out.
In Coldfoot we organized our gear and hopped on the middle fork of the Koyukuk river for a little overnight canoeing trip. The river is classed grade 1 and 2, so just right for a nice float with a few exciting moments. We camped opposite Wisemen, an old mining 'town' with about 12 residents and after a stroll around this remnant little town we made it back to Coldfoot that afternoon, where we picked up a lone Swiss hitchhiker named Martin. He accompanied us up the Haul road to Deadhorse, which took us 2 days.
The first night we stayed in the van, the 3 of us, at the top of Atigun pass in the Brooks Range. A barren land with treeless mountains, where mountain sheep roam, chased by wolves and bears, as well as caribou herds that often contain thousands of animals. While north of the Brooks Range we saw one wolf, a whole bunch/herd/group of Muskox, caribou and a marmot. Ohhh and North of Coldfoot we finally saw our first Grizz!! Crossing the road with his fluffy bum shaking at us!
The landscape up there is beautiful, huge, barren, wide and open with no trails, one road and loads of wildlife. Permafrost starts within 'inches' from the top of the ground and mosquitoes breed by the billions in the bogs.
Deadhorse was awefull I thought. It's not a town but an oilfield, where all employees are flown in for two to six week shifts. No one lives there perminently and you wouldn't want to either.
Caribou and bears live amongst this industrial zone as if it doesn't exist. To make things even worse, a fog usually hangs over the area, as was the case when we were driven around Prudhoe Bay on a tourist tour to view the Arctic Sea. Well, what a waste of time that was! For $36 pp we sat in a bus and couldn't see s... because of the fog, just to be allowed to venture out of the bus and touch the water for a minute or so. Apparently there had been a polar bear in the area, so they were paranoid about us leaving the bus.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
On our perilous journey north in the land of the midnight sun, daytime heats of 30+ degrees, hundreds of miles of taiga and tundra landscape, but mile by mile the highest peaks of the Alaskan Range and the North American continent come into view: Denali 'the mighty one'.
After quite a few debates on whether it would be too heavy on our fibreglass roof and pop-up.... we bought one anyway!
Worked till 'de kleine uurtjes' (dutch meaning late) putting some anchor points onto the roof to hold the canoe on. This picture was taken on our first canoeing trip on the Nancy Lakes an hour north of Anchorage. This was a canoe loop trail that crossed 14 small lakes with portages connecting them. This means carrying your canoe across trails to the next lake, which can be quite a challenge especially at the end of the day. We saw a moose and thought of how much the crew would have liked this place. What a pity!
Friday, July 20, 2007
We stayed in a hostell in Seward that night and went for a popular day hike up the side of Exit Glacier that flows out of the Harding Icefield. It was a great hike, saw 7 black bears and some dahl sheep ( or goat, not sure through binoculars). Very, very sore knee on the last stretch of the hike down, not a good thing. (Had it looked at by now, nothing to worry about)
Where are the travellers of our own age?
The bulk of RV owners are retired americans who now have made the RV their home and travel their livestyle for most of the year. The campervan'ers are mostly German or Dutch and a lot of these vehicles are rented. These people are usually retired as well and if not, they are at least 45+.
We have stayed in a few hostels, where we have met people our age but on the road, at reststops, provincial/state park campgrounds the selection is limited to families or 45+ 'ers.
When we first arrived in San Francisco and explored Yosemite NP for a few days we saw a lot of young people, so do they just hang out down there?
Maybe the ones that do make it up here, travel by bus from one hostel/hotel to the next and then book package deal tours to see/do the highlights.
I suppose a big difference in travelling Alaska and parts of Canada, compared to places like Australia, is that you need more toys and equipment to be able to enjoy yourself. Duane and I now have bought two bikes and a canoe, so that when we get to a lake we can go and explore. There is so much land out here and so few people that one really has to be selfsufficient. No coastline of easy accessible beaches, warm enough to swim and provide fun for days, but an ocean of trees as far as the eye can see and way beyond with a lake behind every second trunk.
Water in the lakes, rivers and ocean is often too cold to swim in and if not there is a high possibility of Mozzy invasion!
It's maybe not that this part of the world has more extremes than a place like Australia, because in many ways they are actually very similar:
- Big country, not a lot of people per square kilometre
- Loads of gravel roads, not well maintained
- Wildlife that is very capable of killing and eating you
- Areas where there will be no one to turn to for help in case of an emergency
- ...and much more
Perhaps it's the types of extremes that are more or less easy to cope with..
Often they tow cars, even 4WD's, have bikes mounted, as well as canoes. The owners obviously come in all sorts too. One thing most of them have in common though is having little wee dogs they sometimes allow to venture outside, on a leash of course, cause you wouldn't want the little darling to escape to fall into the claws of a.......................marmot or porcupine!
These little creatures are walked around the reststops for a few minutes before savely returning to the RV.
I often wonder if, apart from fuelstops and perhaps Visitor Info Centers & supermarkets, these little dog outtings are the main 'outdoor activity' for these 'Recreational' Vehicle drivers...
I could of course be very wrong, but it sure looks like a rather introvert world, that of the RV'er.
Although, even Duane and I have found ourselves guilty, in several occasions, of adopting this vehicle syndrome. We blame it on the ohhh so evil bloodsucking little fuckers: The MOSQUITO.
I simply have no positive angle to take to justify their existence.
Yes they are food for birds, frogs, fish and insects but so are ladybugs! Maybe we could have a few more of them!
And so returning to the vehicle syndrome....
We stayed in this lovely little campground in Stewart BC (pre mozzytent) and had to close all doors and windows, locking ourselves inside the van on a most beautiful sunny summer day, because of those little suckers.
Looking outside we were surrounded by campervans with tinted windows behind which people were 'recreating' in the same way. The only difference: they had aircon and a toilet.
The result of this phenomena is that the opportunity to meet fellow travellers is greatly reduced.
Other than a short conversation with a lady in the restrooms, while she was......washing her tiny shivering poodle in the handbasin (obviously), we were lucky enough to meet some guys our age, when our car wouldn't start due to a flat battery.
So maybe that's the key to meeting people here: Car trouble
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Nearest town: Smithers, BC
Area: Babine Range
Our first wilderness experience in Canada!
A 9 kilometre hike/snowshoe adventure to a logcabine above the snowline in the Babine Range. The night before we stayed in the van at the trailhead after having hired some snowshoes from the local outdoor shop.
Some details that might juice up this story a bit:
1. A faulty car battery, which was likely to fail us upon our return
2. This area has a healthy population of bears, moose, cougars, wolves and wolverines
Enough reasons to keep the mind on edge!
So we set off, following an old road that would lead us most of the way to the cabin. Armed with bearbells, spray and Pino singing of course, we started our ascend.
On the way we saw paw prints in the mud then snow and claw skretches high on the treetrunks. Once we reached the snowline it wasn't just those big footprints that sparked our imagination...
It was the continuous red sprinkled colour in the snow.
It lead our way and made us wonder...
Was this the trail of a wounded animal? A bear's path after a big feed? A cougar dragging something back to its den? Or...
Until this day this curious observation remains a mystery to us, although we now believe it must have been pollen of the trees, since we discovered this redness to be everywhere we went. Eerie though.
After 2 k's of snowshoeing we reached the logcabin, which was empty and for only $5 each a night a true palace. It was equipped with a fireplace, plenty of firewood and even a half functioning gascooker. Once settled in and tasting some of BC's finest, Pino took time out to read the logbook. One story in particular is worth recalling.
In May, two people stayed in the cabin and were woken up at night by a loud noise upstairs. Note that no one else was staying at the cabin that night. It sounded like footsteps on the stairs. A short while later their bedroom turned bitterly cold and the noise continued. All this happened between 1 and 3 am.
Nice one. That really helps to put the mind at ease when you are about to go to bed...
Suddenly we woke up to the loud sound of something upstairs. I ask Muza: "What's the time?"
"1 O'clock" he replies. So Duane investigates the eerie situation and concludes that it must be a rodent in the ceiling. We left it at that.
Next day we snowshoed up to a pass, chilled in the sun and bumslid back down to the cabin. On our way out we spotted some fresh wolverine prints in the snow as well as some other humangous and unidentified animal prints. Luck was on our side back at the Van ( Vinnie we named him) as he purred when his ignition was turned.
Off we went!!!