Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Denali - it ain't just a river in Egypt!*

.... it's a wildlife preserve in Alaska! Howdy folks, Bayard here, doing a guest post on the blog as Pete and I prepare to finally head for Maryland tomorrow night and conclude the epic Alaska leg of our long journey.

I want to share the scoop on our 11-hour (!) trip through Denali yesterday, as seeing animals was one of my hopes for this Alaska adventure. I'm partial to critters, and this state has some nice ones (some "delicious" ones, Pete would say, but it's only a joke, as he's a vegetarian.) Alaska's interior has five large mammals (known as the Big Five) and in the following missive, I'll reveal how many we were able to shoot (with our cameras - of course)!

All aboard the fun-bus to Wonder Lake!

When setting up the Denali trip, I was concerned about the hit and miss prospect of animal viewing, which is dependent on many factors, perhaps the weather being the most critical. Weather.com predicted rain for a week or more, but Kim assured me the weather just isn't predictable here (well, it is almost always cloudy and cool, but it's hard to know for sure ahead of time). Sure enough, it turned out to be a very decent day weather-wise. As we began the bus ride, our driver promised to get us there and back safely, and informed us that looking for wildlife was our job - when we saw an animal, we were to shout "Stop" and describe its location using check-six (clock) directional language (for example, "Six o'clock" if the critter was directly behind the bus.) No one did this, but we got along fine anyway. The driver cautioned us that bear spotting had been so-so and that it was very hard to see animals like wolves or wolverines. The folks I'd met along the way said they hadn't seen any of these shadowy creatures.

The first 20 miles or so were animal-free, and we were told the next 30 were the best territory for animals. A long time seemed to pass without incident, and I began to wonder if the 11 hours would go by without an exciting sighting. Then people asked for a stop, due to a majestic caribou silhouetted up on a ridgeline. Pete and I had already seen quite a few in the far north on the Dalton highway, so this was not new to us, but it was good to see signs of life.

For the pictures, feel free to click them to bring up a larger size - the critters were a ways away in some cases.

We saw some lovely Dall sheep, named for the naturalist who first studied them:

We also spied a very nice female moose:

And then, the heavy hitter - an enormous lumbering grizzly, making his way along a river bank (he looks a little small in this photo, but we could see his tremendous girth - "Only" 350 to 400 pounds, the grizzlies of the interior don't achive the even more massive size of their coastal brown bear brothers, due to the lack of fat salmon in their diet):

I was happy to get to see some grizzlies; on the return trip, we spotted what appeared to be a family unit of very blond bears (I am told all Alaskan brown bears are the same species, but the ones with some gray in their coat are called grizzlies):

But still we had not seen the piece de resistance for me - I had really wanted to encounter a wolf on the trip, and so far, we had had no luck,
and I was about to resign myself to not seeing one. Then the driver broke his rule about the passengers being the ones to spot the wildlife, and commented that the white speck a mile or more in the distance, just might be a wolf. I was glad to have my rented binoculars in hand, and felt lucky even for this distant view of the Gray wolf - so often and quickly killed outside the park boundary. To my surprise, she came closer - and closer! Eventually trotting next to and even in front of the bus! From the stance she took while "marking her territory," we guessed her to be a female.

What a thrill to see all these wild animals - all of the Big Five! It was great. I was also fortunate to see many other animals on the trip, including Dall porpoises jumping a few feet away, super active and shy black bears all over Canada, many moose carefully crossing the road in Canada and Alaska, cute, curious and human-like ground squirrels, Steller's sea lions swimming in formation off the south coast, funny sea otters doing the backstroke in Ressurection Bay, snowy and great horned owls and other birds of prey, and perhaps my most unique sighting, a wolverine creeping into the underbrush. Less welcome were the many visits from some of the 40 species of mosquito they have up here - jokingly called the state bird.

Many thanks to Pete and Kimberly for making this such a memorable and fun trip, and to all we met along the way - human and otherwise. Loved ones, looking forward to seeing you soon!

* for those whose brains don't employ the same pretzel logic as mine, this is a joke about "Denali" being an anagram of "Denial". De Nile - get it? Oh, never mind.....

Monday, June 27, 2011

Doing the Dalton

We made it, and what a trip it was! The road is this wonderful combination of crazy and magical. The road itself alternates between beautiful and smooth asphalt (very little of this!) to dirt which was rutted, muddy, narrow and seriously rough (a LOT of this!). A good speed for much of the road was 30 mph- but at times it was tough to keep Bessie above 15 mph! It took us 6 days at the wheel to travel it's 828 miles, round trip. Granted, this was a fairly leisurely pace, but we met a lady working in Coldfoot who had spent a summer ferrying people up and down this road. She'd drive the whole length in a day, sleep 8 hours- and drive the whole thing back again! She seriously earned my respect! Not to mention- she made one fine key lime pie! Despite it's roughness the road had this almost intangible quality to it. The road is a thin line that weaves deep in to the wilderness of Alaska. The is literally nothing, zip, zero, nada for a hundred miles at a time. As you are bouncing and wash boarding your way down this road, at some point it hits you how far away from everything you are! We met a fellow who was working at Prudhoe Bay who had driven up there once and had had two blow outs in a row, and only had one spare. He said he ended up camping by the side of the road for a week waiting for a new tire! It is truly the end of the earth out there. But somehow these factors all come together to give the road a real soul. You feel like you are somewhere special. It's hard to explain it, but we all felt sad when we finally pulled off the Dalton and back on to the smooth surface of state highway 2. The Dalton is road unlike any other, and it was a pleasure to get the opportunity to spend a week getting to know her. At the end of the road lies the town of Deadhorse. It is the publicly accessible half of the town of Prudhoe Bay. Together they are the staging area for the equipment and workers for the oil fields of the North Slope, and are essentially one big company town with nothing but oil folks. 6,000 temporary employees live in this crazy town, with only 4 permeant residents! We caught a tour of the oil fields, and got a chance to not only see the arctic ocean, but to even wade in to it. It was cold, for sure!

We dropped Kimberly off at the Fairbanks airport today, and Bayard and I are at Denali National Park with tickets for a tour tomorrow. Hope everyone is doing great!

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Didn't is used to, you know, get dark?

Call me crazy, but I could have sworn the sun used to set. The sun would go below the horizon and that was followed by something I think they call night? Well, if it used to, it sure doesn't anymore!! We're inside the artic circle and it's the summer equinox, which puts us at officially 24 hours of day light a day!  In your face! Errr- wait- that's another story! In this story- we just arrived at Deadhorse, AK! This is the farthest you can drive north in North America, the (almost) start of the Alaskan pipeline, and WELL in to the Arctic Circle! It is also the (almost) final destination to our trip. We have covered over 5000 miles from New Mexico to get here, and it has been well worth it! Kimberly has joined us for the trip up here from Anchorage, and it has been one heck of a trip! Once we got north of Fairbanks, we jumped on the Dalton Highway, also known as the haul road. For any of you that watch Ice Road Truckers, this is the road they drive in that show. It was built to build, and then maintain the Alaskan Pipeline. Did I mention the pipeline is here too! We've been driving next to it for 3 days now, and it's cool. Well- I think we have mixed feelings about it, but either way, it's one hell of an engineering feat! We've also seen a ton of critters, including caribou and moose, but no grizzly bears yet! We have a tour scheduled today to go to the Prudhoe Bay oil facilities, and the Arctic Ocean!  We're then going to head back south, with a hopeful stop for a Yukon rafting trip, and a tour of Denali National Park. We picked up some more hitchhikers (from Russia this time)- and the fellow was part of a hitch hiking club! Sounded pretty cool. We also have lost all sense of time- the endless daylight leads to very odd schedules. We drove until 2 am yesterday- but it felt like noon! Actually, all day long feels like noon! Oh- and Deadhorse ROCKS!!!

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Monday, June 13, 2011

The land of Palin

We made it to Anchorage! It was a couple of long days out of Whitehorse, but we pushed on and drove our butts off to keep on schedule. Well, not that we really have a schedule, but we had it in our heads to make it to Kim's place by Saturday, and we did! Kim (or as I like to call her, Kimberly) is an old friend of ours, who was kind enough to get a job in Anchorage so that we would have a place to stay on our vacation! ha! She's here working for the CDC as an infectious disease specialist, and is not only a wonderful hostess, but also has told us that pretty much everything we eat, touch or visit has the potential to kill us. I think I preferred being ignorant of all the infectious dangers! We spent the last day resting up a bit, and laying in some supplies. Tomorrow we're heading south to spend the week the Homer, and then Seward, both of which are suppose to be stunning. Hard to believe they could be any more stunning then what we've seen already, but then I've though the same thing from day one of this trip! Friday we are coming back through Anchorage to pick up Kimberly, who will join us for the big trip to our final destination- Dead Horse! Still not sure why they call it Dead Horse, but with a name like that, it's going to be a fun trip!

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Of tires and truckers

"Bayard, I think we've got a problem", I said. 
Bayard replied, "Are we too handsome again?" 
"Sorry, this time it's with the tire."
That's how the fun began! Turns out there are two types of tires in the world, bias and radials, and you ain't suppose to mix them. Trouble was, we here mixing them! Being a mechanic, I knew you aren't suppose to mix them. Trouble is, as a mechanic, I tend to be overly confident in thinking it will all work out! Anyway, how bad could it really be to mix them? I mean they are both round after all! Turns out it's bad. I came to realize that we had one tire that was fixing to blow, but the good news was that we were mere kilometers from the capital city of the Yukon, Whitehorse. Trouble is, that even as the largest city for hundreds of miles, it's still tiny! Long story short, we donated $1200 dollars to the local economy, secured 4 new tires (out of 6) and spent 24 hours getting to know the greater Whitehorse area, but we were back on the road! 

When Bessie rolled out of the shop, I was rarin' to make up the time lost! But, I was still on vacation, and so when I saw a glorious view of the mountains, I just had to stop to take a picture.  Bayard had not been feeling well and was resting in the back, "Just pulling off the road to take a picture". Hmmm... what's that sinking feeling? Why is the RV leaning so much? Why isn't the RV moving? 
"Bayard, I think we're got a problem!" 
Bayard replied, "Is the Swedish bikini team after us again?"
"I wish- because they could help push! I'm afraid we're stuck."
Stuck we were. Both tires dug in to the axle, and mere feet off the road. You know those signs that say "soft shoulder"? Well, they mean it. Boy did I feel dumb. We worked at it for awhile. Dug, put logs under the tires, dug some more. All our effort got us was more stuck. We were realizing that we weren't going to get out of this without some help. Then an amazing thing happened. I looked up from digging to see a truck backing up our direction. And when I say truck, I mean semi. Eighteen wheeler. Those guys don't stop for nothing. And yet, here he was backing up towards us, in the middle of the road no less! I walked down to him, figuring he must have mistaken us for the Swedish bikini team or something. But I'll be damned, he rolled down his window and said "You boys need some help?" Boy was that was an understatement! He backed all the way in front of us. He pulled out  a big strap from a compartment, which I promptly tied off to my frame and his bumper. He then backed up his rig while I was goosing the RV. Out we came! Glory be- it was a wonderful moment! Truckers Rock!!

Our spirits undaunted, we plowed on with our goal in sight, Alaska! The last 200 km of road to the border was some of the worst i've ever seen. RV-sized pot holes and literal valleys running across it! Rough going, but it only made us more determined to reach our destination. At the border we were greeted by a young border guard. He tried his best to be a hard ass, but our enthusiasm was contagious, and he finally burst out a big smile and said "You boys have a great day" and waved us through. As Bessie pulled on to the beautifully smooth road, driving past pumps full of (relatively) cheap gas, you could hear us chant "USA! USA! USA!" All is good again.

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Head North, Middle Aged Men!

We finally hit the Alaska highway! Hit it last night outside of Watson's Lake. Looks like any other road in the world, except with much better views, and a whole lot less stuff! We are steadily but surely getting farther north. The sun set last night at 11 pm(!), and it's coming up earlier and earlier. Too early if you ask me, but the going down late is great! We drive and drive, and it always feels like it's just after lunch! This time of year they are getting around 18-19 hours hours of daylight! Not sure when (or if) people sleep, but I bet they are damn productive! Our path has taken us through British Columbia, and now we're officailly in the Yukon! Passed a big forrest fire along the way, and went down one of the most desselt roads i've ever been down! Paid 1.54/liter for gas- which works out to an amazing $6 per gallon! Yowzers!! And just finished one tasty slice of rhubarb pie- life is good! 

Don't let all those names fool you-
most of those 'towns' were nothing
more then an abandon building!  

We picked up some fellow travelers the other day, a really nice couple from the Czech Republic, Jera and Petr. They travelled with us for the better part of the day. They are planning to take a year- go all the way north, and then all the way to mexico! They've been all over the world, you can see their site at http://www.cestounecestou.net/. Their pictures are good- but good luck reading anything!!

Hope to make it to Alaska late today or early tomorrow! Hope everyone is doing well!

Petr and Jera chowing down with us on some grilled cheese sandwiches!
Fire had burned a huge path for miles- and it was still

Arty shot with the moon, mountains and Bessie!

Monday, June 6, 2011


I'd never really given much thought to Banff before. I guess I knew it was somewhere in Canada, and was suppose to be nice, but that was about it. Let me tell you- nice is an understatement! It's AMAZING! I know I just wrote about how nice Yellowstone is, and it is nice, but Banff makes Yellowstone seem like your third bowl of ice cream in a night. It's still a bowl of ice cream, but it ain't as good as the first! We ended up spending 2 days in Banff, and every place we stopped was better then the last. Waterfalls and vistas and turquoise streams and MOUNTAINS and snow capped peaks and wild animals. It was one gosh darn good time! See the pics below and see what you think!

We had our first dinner guest last night! He was fine fellow by the name of Roger Corlone. He's 65, and in his own words "I retired April 1, and hit the road April 6th on my dream trip- biking to Alaska!". Bicycle?! That is impressive! And he's going solo no less!  I asked him how long he planed to take and he responded, "I told my wife 3 months, to infinity!" Guess his wife didn't like that answer and gave him 6 months max! ha! By an odd coincidence, he's taking a very similar route to us, starting in Arlington, TX and ending in Fairbanks. He's been traveling for 2 months now, and has made it just outside Prince Gorge, British Columbia. Damn impressive. He was camped out at the rest stop we decided to sleep at, and so I went and introduced myself, and invited him back the the RV for dinner. We talked a couple hours, but my favorite thing he had to say was in response to my question asking about his favorite part of the trip? "The people" he responded, and then proceeded to regale us with stories of kindness and generosity he'd experienced on the road. It warmed my heart, and helped my faith in humanity hearing that people do still help a stranger in need. We've also hit mosquito country. They are thick as thieves and twice as mean!

Other funny story for the day was a fellow we met shopping today- we were talking about traveling (a popular topic when people find out you're not from around here!) and he said, "Canadians are know for being such nice people when they travel, but it's not that they are normally so nice, it's just that they are so happy to be out of the cold in Canada!" ha! That one cracked me up!

Oh- and tonight is the first shower in 8 days! Let me tell you- we were stinky!! But maybe it was keeping the mosquitoes at bay!

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Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Great Wilderness of Walmart

Did you know walmart allows camping in their parking lots? They do- and so we did!  We were in a long way from anywhere good, and it was getting dark, so we decided to call the Walmart in Helana, MT home for a night. Evidently camping at Walmart is a pretty common practice, as there was a whole little community of RVs, out of work folks, and people living on the cheap all camped out at the back of the parking lot. I'm not normal a big fan of walmart, but honestly, I have to admit it was a pretty handy place to stay because it was: free(!)- safe- and if you needed anything- anything at all- there's a walmart right outside! It was also the first time on the trip we found people driving campers as old as ours! There were a set of minor repairs I needed to make to Bessie, so we decided to take the morning and work on a couple of them. One of our parking lot neighbors, who was staying with his wife in a beat up older coach of his own, saw me working and came over to offer a hand. He turned out to be a damn fine fellow, and we chatted awhile. We got to talking about crossing the Canadian border, and I asked if they had ever gaven him any trouble because of the way his rig looked. He replied, "The never gave me a second look, but then I didn't have polka dots all over the side of mine!" From his lips to the ears of Jebus. I don't know if it was the polka dots or what, but when we tried to cross the border, our delightfully mean and cranky inspection agent told us to "pull over there and report to immigration". Damn. That's never a good sign! After an hour or so of waiting to see the immigration agent, it turns out he didn't like our answer that it might take us two week to cross over to Alaska. The more common answer is 4 or 5 days, which means you'd have to drive 70 miles and hour- he clearly didn't look very closely at our rig! ha! We had another nice camp site last night, by another river! We are now in Vulcan, Alberta! No idea which came first, but they have a big model of the Enterprise in the middle of town!
Rest stop T-rex at Sweetwater

Bayard and the polka-dot wonder down by the river.

Lakes and streams every where- it's kinda freaking me out!

Poutine- a Canadian delicacy! Fries, cheese and gravy- yummy!
(the gravy is meat based, but you gotta try Roman food when in Rome!)

Beam me up Scott! According to the plaque, this thing was
bought by the local chamber to increase tourism. I have a
feeling they lost their shirt on the deal!

Look- Dr.Spock grew a beard- and looks just like Bayard!

Friday, June 3, 2011


Yellowstone!!! It's one hell of a place! You've all heard about stunning vistas, majestic waterfalls and gaggles of wild animals. I'm here to tell you it's all true! I can tell you it's truly breathtaking, but beyond that I doubt if I can add much to what others have said in writing or sung in song. If you've never been, I highly recommend considering it. It's the kind of place that is inspiring and humbling all at the same time. So instead of blather on about what a fantastic place it is, I'll let our pictures do the talking, so below are some of our favorite pictures from the past couple days.  (You may need to click "fullscreen" at the bottom of the window to see the slideshow.)

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Bayard and I are having a great time. The RV is working well (knock on virtual wood), we've had fantastic luck with camping places, and being on the road simply feels great! We spent most the past two days driving around being awestruck with beauty, befuddled by the designs of nature and making lots of jokes about geysers!  Life is good! We're holed up outside of Helena, Montana tonight, and plan to start the long push north in to our socialist neighbors to the north tomorrow! Hope everyone is doing great!

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Sheeple Known as The People

He might be a touch crazy, but
Mr.Bishop knows how to build a castle!
Today will be remembered as the day we met Jim Bishop. It was a good day- with many fine adventures including a hell ride in one hot hotrod, snow storm at ten thousand feet, and an amazing riverside campsite, but even with all those, Jim Bishop still rises to the top.

We awoke this morning and both knew that we needed to keep moving, Ruth and Jerry are wonderful hosts, but the road was calling. We fired up Bessie (our beasts new name!) and headed to Bishops Castle. We climbed the towers, marveled at its size, and pondered at how one man could build such a thing. Then we noticed a funny little fellow off to the side of the site working to raise a log with a winch. He was so out of place with the rest of the people milling around, and were drawn to go speak to him. Despite the place being packed with people, no one was paying this fellow any attention, and he seemed equally drawn to us as literally he stopped working and watched us cut across the crowd as we approached him. "Howdy" he said, "Did you know the Free Masons are running the country?" We both knew we had found a new hero. It was of course, Jim Bishop, the castle builder. After a good 10 minutes of hearing about the plans for the castle, and how Michelle Obama practices witchcraft in the the white house, it happened. Jim was getting worked up in to a bit of a frenzy with our talk, and so he suddenly climbed atop the front end loader we'd been standing next too, cupped his hands and yelled to the crowd, "Obama works for Satan", and then proceeded to sing his hit song that went something like this: 

"The banksters are stealing 
from the sheeple 
known as the people
they are all panksters 
gang bang up the butt gangsters" 

The song alone was quite good, but what made it truly great was him thrusting his hips and grabbing his crotch as he sang high above the crowd. What was the crowds reaction? You guessed it, nothing. No one did so much as glance at him. I don't know if we've all gotten too callused, or they were simply too scared. Either way, it was an amazing moment.

25 degrees and snowing! Yowzers!

We can only hope tomorrow holds as many wonderful surprises!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

On the road!!!!

Ritz like living- at least on the road!

Question: how many miles per gallon does our RV get? Answer: about $100 dollars a day! ha! We managed to shove off at the crack of noon this morning- but thanks to smooth sailing and a nice tail wind- we managed to stay on schedule and arrive just in time for a delicious dinner at my aunt Ruth and uncle Jerry's place. Thanks Ruth for the delicious meal- vegetarian no less!! The tail wind was not only helpful for the gas milage (first tank we clocked in at 10.5 mph!) but it also felt like a good omen for the trip because you NEVER get the wind at your back! 336 miles down, 3,330 to go!

The boys are ready for action! Hey- are you
buying the first tank?
Interesting sights for the day included one hell of a forrest fire outside of Raton and one hell of a matchbox collection (not to mention some real sized hot rods!) belonging to uncle Jerry. Things seems to be mostly working on the RV- had to make a small pit stop to adjust the timing a smidgen, and to kludge together a better way to secure the metal sheet coving the fridge. Tomorrow is unsure. Ruth and Jerry have tempted us to stay another day with offers of a trip to Bishops Castle and a ride in a his open wheeled hot rod! But we are feeling anxious to keep putting some miles behind us, so we're torn. We've decided to let sleep decide for us and see what mood the morning finds us in.
Fire outside of Raton. Drove towards it for over an
hour and it just got bigger and bigger!

Many many thanks to all of you who came to the bon voyage party last night! Nothing funner then bashing tweety and playing settlers! And many thanks to those who didn't make it to the party, but who have blessed us with well wishes and thoughts of safe travel. And double thank you to Colin for hooking us up with this SWEET cell modem- we've go internet on the open road and feel like we're living a the Ritz! Also- thank you for all the gifts of bumper stickers, talismans, alligator heads, thumbs up jesus, Ganesha, pray sheets and reading material! May their protective auras protect us from grizzlies and high gas prices alike!
Jerry and Pete admiring Jerry's prized Midget Racer!
Who knew midgets liked to race!