Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Drive Home: July 10

After a speedy oil change in Medford, OR, it was 735 miles of the 5-freeway. Obviously the drive was uneventful, except dealing with the horrible smell of the cow "factories" at regular intervals along the freeway. We made it home around midnight. Although we are so sad that our trip has come to an end, we are so happy to be home. We have a new appreciation for our own bed, an easily accessible bathroom, healthy food, and all of the other comforts of home. THANK YOU to everyone who kept track of us and our trip by reading the blog, and thanks especially to our commenters! The only thing that we have left to post is more photos from our trip via Snapfish, which we'll take our time doing, starting with our kayaking adventure and through to the end of the trip.

Drive to Medford, OR: July 9

Two hour wait at the Vancouver border, loads of construction (freeway down to a single lane many times), rush hour traffic, and several broken down cars and accidents blocking lanes: these things sum up our day of driving. We had over 15 hours in the car thanks to these complications, but somehow we made it to Medford around 1:00am. Of course, just before we arrived the "maintenance required" light came on once again - a perfect end to our day.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: July 8

Vancouver is experiencing a record heat wave. Today reached around 88 degrees and last night it only went down to about 75 degrees (no A/C in our hostel). It probably feels warmer to us than it normally would, seeing as how we've just finished a month in very chilly weather wearing long underwear! We spent several hours walking around Granville Island (not actually an island). There's a public market with crafts and fresh food, and it's located on the waterfront. It's a haven for boaters and artists, so there were lots of unique shops. It was a beautiful day and such a great place to stop and catch our breath after so many driving days. After that we walked around the various downtown districts. We definitely got our fill of trinket shops selling Canadian flags and shirts, as well as the maple syrup vendors. Next we headed to Stanley Park where it seemed like everyone in Vancouver was walking, biking, or sunbathing at the beach. Everyone was trying to enjoy this unusually nice weather. We ended the day with a delicious veggie meal at a trendy Japanese eatery with the well thought out name of "Eatery."

Drive to Vancouver: July 7

This was another marathon driving day, not because of how far we went but because of how gnarly the road was. Thanks to Google Maps for sending us on the steepest, narrowest, curviest road in the world - fewer miles than the alternate route, which we later discovered was on a smooth, paved, straight parkway! Our speed never topped 35 mph and the thermometer read 98 degrees for a large part of the day.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Drive to Hyder & Prince George (Part 2)

We continued along the bumpy dirt road for about 25 more miles as it crisscrossed between the US and Canadian border. Our destination was Salmon Glacier, North America's 5th largest glacier. Eventually the road led us up a ridge to a scenic overlook that offered sweeping 180 degree views from high above the glacier. In the afternoon we drove to Prince George, British Columbia - 500 miles, 8 hours. We saw a chubby Hoary Marmot crossing the road (but we weren't able to get a photo because he was surprisingly quick on his feet) and a young caribou feeding by the side of the road. It's amazing how much driving Gabe has done...he actually has developed blisters on his fingers from gripping the steering wheel for so many hours. He's definitely been in "the zone" every day while Jenny has provided the entertainment (although she has offered to take over driving many times!). SIDE NOTE - Today we were lucky enough to drive past: the world's largest fly fishing pole, the "best place on earth to stay," the geographic center of British Columbia, the "world's best pizza," and many, many "gateway to..." towns. It seems that in Canada every single town has to have some claim to fame, and sometimes it's a real stretch! ANOTHER SIDE NOTE - Today the temperature hit 80 degrees for the first time since Utah (day 2 of our trip). This was a reminder to us that it's July and not January!

Drive to Hyder, Alaska & Prince George, BC (Part 1): July 6

Over the past few days we've driven so far south that we finally got our first night of real darkness in almost a month last night when we stayed in Stewart, British Columbia, which is just across the border from the town of Hyder, Alaska. Hyder, population 100, is a very unique place. It's situated on a tiny tip of land, surrounded by water and steep mountains on all sides. The only way to reach Hyder is via an extremely remote gravel road through the middle of British Columbia. The closest US town by road, Skagway, Alaska, is located over 1,000 miles away. As a result of its isolation from the rest of the US and its dependence on the Canadian border town of Stewart, Hyder is a very special town: the residents use Canadian currency, they set their clocks to Canadian time, and they send their children to Canadian schools. Each time they need to get groceries or go to the bank, Hyder residents have to pass through Canadian customs and immigration. Our first activity today was to travel just outside of town to the Fish Creek bear viewing area. Since the salmon aren't yet running our expectations were low. Later, the Ranger mentioned that several people had been waiting for days to catch a glimpse of a bear. However, within seconds of our arrival a big grizzly came ambling along down the middle of the creek, not more than 20 feet from the viewing platform, munching on nearby shrubs and checking for fish. This is the first time we've seen a bear in this type of habitat.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Last Bear, crossing road after coming right up to the car!!

Black Bear checking us out from the side of the road

Black Bear stretching on tree, staring at us

Red Fox in the road

Stone Sheep on side of road

Drive to Stewart, British Columbia, Canada: July 5

We decided to exit the Alaska-Canada Highway early and take a detour on our way home on the Cassiar Highway south through the middle of British Columbia. Although this route is shorter in distance it takes quite a bit longer due to the rough road conditions, but it also offers superior scenery and wildlife viewing opportunities. It did not disappoint!! Our first run-=in was with some Stone Sheep, seemingly munching on gravel by the side of the road. They didn't seem to be bothered at all by our presence and went about their business as we stopped to take a few photos. The next encounter was with a very cute and curious red fox. First he circled our car to check us out and pose for a few photos. Then he sauntered down the street behind us and kept turning back to check on us every few paces. He looked pretty scraggly. Maybe he was hoping for a free meal. At this point in our drive we were feeling very content with the wildlife we had seen. We got to check off two new animals from our list, but we weren't done yet...Gabe's eagle-eye spotted a black bear (colored light brown) hanging out on the side of the road. When we pulled up close he walked over to a tree, stretched up, and put his paws on it and looked over and stared at us. That made for a very cool photo. During the last half-hour of our 12 hour journey (657 miles), we saw 4 additional black bears. Each one was eating grass beside the road and after making eye contact with us they went back to eating their dinner. However, the last bear experience was a bit different and more exciting. We pulled the car up alongside where the bear was eating and Jenny popped out of the sunroof to get some photos. The bear meandered over to the side of the car, and at one point was less than a foot away from the passenger door, just below where Jenny was!! Luckily, it wasn't acting aggressive so we just let him check us out and then he went on his way, crossing the street just behind our car. We expected to see animals, but this drive was a wildlife wonderland!!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Drive to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada: July 4

Happy 4th of July! If you're tracking our progress, you may have figured out that our plans changed slightly. We decided to push to the Arctic Circle and Fairbanks in one day instead of 2 so that we could shorten our driving time each day thereafter. Today was an uneventful 602 miles (13 hours) of driving to Whitehorse. We spotted one coyote and one moose along the way. Time to rest for another long driving day tomorrow - we're going to try to make it to Stewart, British Columbia, Canada. The next day we'll go to Prince George, BC, and then to Vancouver the following day where we're giving ourselves a full day to recuperate. We're cutting out Portland and will instead drive to Medford, OR so that we can avoid driving over 1,000 miles on our last day. I guess we've become more realistic as our trip has progressed!!

Drive to Arctic Circle and Fairbanks: July 3

It took us 14 hours to drive only 540.4 miles, so you can imagine the road conditions going up to the Arctic Circle! We had to contend with an obstacle course of muddy, rocky, gravely roads and hell-on-wheels big rigs. Ironically, this was perhaps our warmest day of the trip at a boiling 75 degrees! The Arctic Circle marks the point at which the sun does not set on the summer solstice. Once we had arrived, we were the furthest distance from home that we will be on this trip - a symbolic turnaround point: the beginning of our long drive home. Knowing what a grueling driving day this would be (and each day after until we reach home), we had made reservations months ago at a hostel in Fairbanks for a private room to ensure a good night's sleep. When we arrive there at 9pm (check-in was until 10pm), bleary-eyed and exhausted from our long haul, we were casually informed that our room - the ONLY private one - had been given away a half-hour earlier. However, we were told that we were in luck - they had 2 remaining beds available in the mixed-gender dorm room! After our 14-hour drive, we suspected that the frat-house atmosphere of the dorm room would not be conducive to a good night's sleep. We now have a profound appreciation for the comforts of Best Western, where we chose to spend the night rather than at the hostel (and the only place that still had a room available that late on a Saturday night the day before a holiday). The next morning we were pleasantly surprised to receive an apology from the hostel owner along with $100 to pay for the difference in cost of the hostel and Best Western. That being said, we still would not recommend GoNorth Hostel for anyone planning to travel to Fairbanks, Alaska!

Drive to & Camping in Denali NP: July 1-2

July 1st: We drove 423 miles from Kenai to Denali National Park. A black bear ran out into the road in front of us, but he turned around and ran back into the woods and we were able to stop in time. We saw two moose (husband and wife?) feeding on the side of the road as we entered the park around 10pm. We tried to go to sleep with the bright sun shining into our tent at midnight! July 2nd: We started the day with only a couple of hours of sleep - got on the 6am bus tour of the park. Denali National Park doesn't allow private vehicles into the park past mile 14 - Savage River - where we were camping. The bus goes 4.5 hours through tundra and mountains to a remote visitor's center. You can hop off the bus at any point and catch another one passing by when you're ready. We got on and off several times to go hiking and saw moose, bears, two wolf packs, coyote, caribou, and sheep (all wildlife sightings were from the bus). On the way back to the campsite a lazy porcupine meandered across the road in front of us. WOW - a first for us and something new to cross off our list!

Bear Viewing Part 2: June 30

We also watched a mom with very young triplet cubs for about an hour, eating grass, playing, and napping about 30 feet from us (see photo above). We also saw three juveniles roughhousing nearby. After watching them play-wrestling for several minutes, we trekked into the forest toward another bear viewing area. Along the way we were taken by surprise as the juveniles, still in play-mode (which looks awfully similar to hunting-mode!), bounded right past us. Although they were less than 20 feet away, they didn't seem to know or care about our presence. This was an amazing day!

Bear Viewing in Lake Clark NP, Alaska - Part 1: June 30

We caught a tiny 4-seater plane from Kenai to Lake Clark National Park, across the Cook Inlet. We spent today up close and personal with bears in the Chinitna Bay. Seventy-five miles from the nearest road (only accessibly by boat or plane), our plane had to land on the pebbly beach. As we were flying in we crossed over a large meadow adjacent to the lodge where our tour began. From our vantage point above we could make out several dozen large brown bears. Some were sitting still eating grass while others were running around the meadow creating trails in the grass that appeared to us as geometric patterns. Even from several hundred feet in the air it was clear that these powerful creatures could run with authority far faster than any human. Upon landing we were met by our "grizzled" bear guide. We knew he meant business when he pulled up in a beat-up truck with a bullet hole in the windshield, a massive handgun strapped to his side, and a loaded shotgun sitting in his passenger seat. Fire power was a necessity as there were over a hundred gigantic brown bears within a mile radius of where we landed. In fact, only minutes earlier one had wandered along the stretch of sand where we were standing. Over the course of the next 7 hours we were lucky enough to witness dozens of bears up close in their natural habitat. This included a mom and two cubs digging for clams just off-shore from where we were situated on the beach (see photo above).

Kenai Fjords NP & Drive to Kenai, Alaska: June 29

Rain greeted us on our last day in Seward. Luckily we were inside a boat for the day, so we were able to keep relatively dry. We took a day-long tour along the coastline of Kenai Fjords National Park where we saw lots of wildlife. Right off the bat a bunch of fin whales made an appearance, which the captain said was very rare. How lucky! Maybe they knew we still needed to check them off of our list of wildlife viewed! We also passed a pod of humpback whales, sea otters (playing, of course), puffins, and Dall's porpoises that followed our wake. The Aialik Glacier was our final destination. It was a majestic blue and larger than any glaciers we had previously seen. It was also active, so we saw it calve multiple times during our visit. We had another double-header today, having to drive 3 hours to the city of Kenai. We went to bed immediately, knowing that our day would begin at the crack of dawn the next day. Oh wait - there is no dawn when the sun barely goes down!

Seward, Alaska: June 28

We awoke to bright sun shining through our tent. As many of you may know, we aren't experienced kayakers, but we decided to include one paddling adventure because we heard it was a good way to see the coastline and wildlife. We were in a double kayak, Jenny in front as head-paddler and Gabe in back as lead-steerer. The trip was an all-day affair through Resurrection Bay, 6 miles up and back. In preparation for the trip, we had to don "splash skirts," huge rubber overall/skirt combo - they really came in handy when the wind and waves picked up, preventing water from drenching us. Our route hugged the coastline up the bay where we spotted several bald eagles. At our turnaround point we beached the kayaks in a small pebbly cove. We got re-energized with a picnic on the beach IN THE SUN - a rarity in these parts! Our guide led us on a hike through rainforest out to another cove that was used as a gun station during WWII. On the way back our arms were definitely feeling sore - we discovered new muscles in our upper bodies! A few sea otters came very close to the kayaks and peeked their heads up to say hello. Although we were exhausted at the end of the day, there was still more to see and do! We headed over to a dog sled camp run by a former Ididarod champion. This is an 1,150 mile, 10-17 day race between Anchorage and Nome. In fourth grade students read several stories that take place in Alaska, and one in particular about the Ididarod, so it was especially cool for Jenny to see this dog sled camp in person. We toured the kennel and met the dogs, who are all competitive sled dogs (prepping for the winter races) and who couldn't wit to get hooked up to the sled. We sat on a wheeled sled and were pulled along a forest trail. Then a musher, someone who drives the sled, showed us a real sled and all of the gear that she takes along on a race. Lastly we met the newborn puppies that would soon begin their training. We came away with mixed feelings about the sport - the dogs were obviously well cared for and loved, but they were kept in cramped quarters and the idea of them spending their lives hooked to a sled was disturbing.