On ‘The Road’…Again (the Finale)

A final reminder; unlike so many video series I’m not going to waste space and the reader’s time recapping ‘Part Three’.  If you are new to this blog or you missed it please read the previous entry or entries.  This final entry in my ‘R-pod Odyssey’ begins with our departure from Watson Lake (YT).

A glorious sunrise greeted us as we headed WNW from Watson Lake; the fog I’d watched envelop the town earlier that morning slowly dissipated yielding an overcast day.  While perhaps a bit gloomy I prefer driving in overcast conditions as I don’t have to deal with bright sun and the shadows it can create.  I was feeling very confident as we settled into the now all too familiar routine of trying to put down some serious miles on The Alaska Highway.  My abilities with respect to pulling the R-pod had increased with each day of the return trip and although I remained a bit concerned regarding the last 20 miles inside Canada, the Tok Cut-off and the Glenn Highway I was still sure I could successfully navigate these stretches.  I planned an even longer stretch today targeting Haines Junction (YT) which was 366 miles (589 km) distant.  While services were minimal for the first 272 miles (438 km) I did manage to fill up the Escape’s tank in the Teslin/Teslin Lake area which left me poised to easily make Whitehorse with its abundant services.

About 30 miles (48 km) west of Watson Lake a light rain began and became steadier continuing for the remainder of the trip.  Initially, it was no real problem but once we passed Whitehorse the road conditions worsened quite a bit and I began to see a lot of ponding on the road.  While the new Cooper tires did a yeoman’s job of maintaining traction it was asking too much of them not to ‘float’ a bit in standing water covering five or six car lengths.  This caused me to slow my pace a bit and I was relegated to making no more than 50 mph (81 kph) for the last 80 miles (129 km) of the trip.  I soon learned when approaching a longer area of ponding it was best to enter the water at an angle and try to keep the tires in the shallowest regions.  This could be difficult to discern at even 50 mph (81 kph) but I was getting more and more adept at guessing.  The real plus was an almost complete dearth of traffic; I pretty much had my lane and the oncoming lane to myself which made avoiding the ponding much easier.

We made Haines Junction in one piece and I decided to go with lodging I knew from previous trips and was lucky to snatch up the last available room at the ‘Al-Can Motel’.  I was not impressed with the room’s condition; this motel had definitely gone downhill since I last stayed there in August of 2013.  The seal around the door was almost non-existent – Anana liked this and slept right in front of the door – and the light over the sink was gone.  But it was a room and although I couldn’t access the Internet I was pleased just to be out of the Escape.  Once again, we completed the well-known drill of unloading the Escape, getting the kidz some ‘outside’ time followed by food and water and then settling in for the night.  I slept deeply and dreamed of spending the next night in my beloved Alaska.

After an early evening I awoke very early once again; I dressed and took the kidz out for an extended walk in the misty, damp morning air.  We walked maybe 2 miles (3.2 km) before returning to our room no more than fifteen minutes ahead of light rain.  I went through the ‘ready to depart’ routine as quietly as possible and loaded the Escape in the light rain.  We were on the road by 06:40 in complete darkness.  As such I held my speed to no more than 50 mph (81 kph) and made judicious use of my high beams and moose lights.  As we approached Destruction Bay the morning light was returning, although grudgingly, as there was a thick overcast.  I was targeting Tok (AK) at 290 miles (467 km) but knew we’d arrive early so I was leaving open the option of making Glennallen (AK) which was an additional 139 miles (224 km).  The road was now universally not good with some sections crudely repaired washouts and others a morass of frost heaves.  I refueled in Destruction Bay and now knew I most likely had sufficient gasoline to make Beaver Creek (YT) which was just around 27 miles (44 km) from the Alaska-Canada border.  But I also knew this portion of The Alaska Highway was by far the roughest and had seen the most construction on the trip south.  However, I also knew I had 12.5 gallons of gas in ‘Jerry can reserve’ so I had no fear regarding making Beaver Creek.  There are no services on the 116 miles (187 km) between Destruction Bay (YT) and Beaver Creek (YT); in fact, there’s virtually nothing but wide open albeit gorgeous spaces.  The rain let up on this stretch but the low ceilings remained.

We reached Beaver Creek (YT) in the late morning and I refilled the almost empty Escape and headed for the border.  Within a few miles I was forced to stop and wait for a pilot car – what is it with pilot cars being required in construction in Canada? – which consumed around 15 minutes.  Once on our way I was impressed to see no real road issues and no ongoing construction!  In fact, this newly renovated portion of The Alaska Highway was in better shape than anything I’d driven in the last roughly 750 miles (1,208 km)!!  Still, I dutifully followed the pilot car to the point it turned off just prior to the US Customs checkpoint.  As usual, I opened the windows to allow the kidz some fresh air and to interact with the customs agent and, as expected, the agent took time to pet both dogs and even went into the building to get another agent who obviously was a dog lover.  I could just imagine the people behind me fuming the agents were wasting time with the dogs but I also was pleased I didn’t have to pull out so the R-pod could be inspected.  We were soon on our way and I breathed a sigh of relief to be back in my new home while the kidz crunched away on the treats the agents had given them.

As I continued along The Alaska Highway the skies cleared to partly cloudy conditions; it was as if Alaska was smiling on us!  We made good time and by noon we were in Tok.  Now I faced a choice; I could overnight around Tok or I could drive the really rough Tok Cut-off and a bit of the Richardson Highway (AK 4) and make Glennallen.  Doing this would put me another 138 miles (222 km) closer to home and leave us with only 211 miles (340 km) to Talkeetna; it really was a no-brainer and we struck off SW on the Tok Cut-off.  The road was the worst during the first 70 or so miles (113 km) and I was forced to slow to 35 mph (56 kph) for fear of separating the Escape from the R-pod on the bad portions of the road.  I stopped to get some gorgeous video about half way through the drive and for the first time the kidz scared me by disappearing down the slope into the trees while I was busy with the video camera.  For five minutes I called and called, becoming more and more concerned.  Finally, Qanuk appeared trotting towards me and while angry at his wandering I still praised him no end.  Anana eventually showed up in her slow, “what’s the big deal” manner but I had to praise her as well.  I stuffed both of them into the Escape and we set out once again.

By around 16:00 we made Glennallen and the first thing I did was fill up the Escape with gas, then we hit a small grocery for some minimal food and a treat for the kidz.  I again returned to lodging I knew – in the case ‘The Caribou Motel’ – and was again disappointed at its decaying condition.  While never a ‘premium’ motel it had definitely fallen into dis-repair since my last visit a bit more than four years earlier.  But it was the last night we’d be in a motel and I was tired and worn out so we took a room.  For what was the final time we went through the well-oiled drill of unloading the Escape, getting the kidz water and exercise and then settling into our room.  At least the internet access was solid and I was able to send out my first ‘real time’ update in three days.  A bit later a group of kids knocked on my door and wanted to play with the dogs; they’d met them while I was checking us in.  I said ‘sure’ and accompanied them outside just because I wanted to keep an eye on Qanuk.  While not aggressive or mean he is uncertain around children and I didn’t want any problems.  Thankfully, the kids gravitated to Anana, just like always, and she reveled in the attention.  I finally gathered up the dogs and we headed back inside for an early evening.  I once again slept deeply; it felt so good to be back in Alaska.

Yet again I awoke early and took the kidz outside; as I stood in the shadows of the building I contemplated at the ghostly outline of Mount Drum to the east.  As I stared I thought I was seeing faint clouds emanating from the NE; soon I realized I was witnessing faint aurora!  I remained outside for maybe five minutes watching the show.  While hardly bright or obvious I felt this was a good sign and Alaska was welcoming us home.  I finally gathered up the kidz and we returned to the room where I shaved, showered and packed up our stuff.  However, it was still quite dark at 06:10 and I knew the area I was about to drive was loaded with moose so I decided to send out a brief email update while I awaited more daylight.  I also finished loading the Escape such that we were all ready to head home.

Once it was twilight I could no longer contain my enthusiasm and we headed west on the Glenn Highway (AK 1).  The first 70 miles (113 km) were in good shape and I saw just one moose but the final 40 miles (64 km) are notorious for all the narrow stretches, lack of regular pull-outs, steep grades and blind curves.  I was well amped on coffee and extremely alert; even so this portion was a challenge for us.  I was heartened to see a brief rainbow in the Matanuska Valley as we headed west!  The Escape did very well hauling the R-pod through this section and I was continually monitoring the traffic behind me and pulling off at every opportunity.  Thankfully, traffic was minimal and I was able to make good time under the conditions.  Once we made the Parks Highway (AK 3) I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I am extremely familiar with this portion of the drive but I reminded myself this was no reason to become complacent.  We stopped into Fred Meyer so I could gas up and pick up some groceries.  Then we settled in for the final hour plus drive to home.

This portion passed quickly and my excitement increased as we passed ‘milestones’ I knew all too well.  I finally pulled into our driveway at 11:59, switched off the engine, set the parking brake and let the kidz out.  Then I breathed another huge sigh of relief; we had made it!!  I still had a couple of hours of unpacking to handle but tonight I’d be comfy in my Sleep Number bed and the kidz would have ‘their’ house in which to wander and sleep.  They were obviously delighted to be home; after I unpacked the Escape and the R-pod and managed to back it into its over winter resting location I tried to get them to come back outside so I could get a picture of them alongside the Escape/R-pod.  Both declined the opportunity to come outside; it was almost as though they were saying; “No way Jose, we just came back home and we’re staying!!”.

In homage to my age I required a full week to really decompress; the kidz handled it in less than half that time.  This odyssey consumed a total of 5,892 miles spread across 25 days involving two countries, two American states and three Canadian provinces.  We saw desperate, desolate lows and giddy, soaring highs along with amazing scenery and way more motel rooms than I ever want to see again!  I proved to myself I could undertake such an effort and come away successful although there were many times I was honestly unsure.  I learned to tow a small travel trailer across some challenging landscapes often in less than desirable weather conditions and also surprised myself with how quickly I learned to do so.  Of course, I’d left myself with little or no options!  Once again, I’ve come to learn that it is only when we really push the envelope do we learn of what we’re made.  It was a truly major effort on my part but in the end I triumphed.

And so ends my account of ‘The R-pod Odyssey’.  Hope you enjoyed reading of my trials and tribulations.  As always, I’ll leave you with some images from this last leg.  At some point, hopefully this winter, I’ll get reacquainted with the vastly upgraded version of Pinnacle’s “Studio 21” and will get my video rendered.  At the very least, I should be able to post some good frame grabs.  With that said, here’s some imagery…

Gunsite Mountain

Gunsite Mountain on the Glenn Highway (AK 1); notice the notch in the low point of the gap

Mat Valley Rainbow

Faint rainbow over the Matanuska Valley south of the Glenn Highway (AK 1)

Fog Over Matanuska Glacier

Thick fog marks the Matanuska Glacier

AK 1 & Sheep Mountain

Heading west on the Glenn Highway with Sheep Mountain in the distance

R-pod Settled In

Getting the R-pod settled into its ‘over winter’ resting place

8 thoughts on “On ‘The Road’…Again (the Finale)

  1. I am happy that you are back home safe with your new R Pod. As always, I enjoyed “travelling” with you on your adventures. Thanks for the great journal. I was worried about your pulling a trailer with your Escape.

    • Hey Sammy – Thanks for the kind words! Believe me, after the initial run from Great Falls to Calgary I was ready to just dump the R-pod on the side of the road and leave it to its fate while I beat feet back to Talkeetna. Since that wasn’t really an option I just soldiered on. I did get invaluable advice from a number of friends regarding properly loading the trailer; most correctly diagnosed I lacked sufficient weight on the trailer’s tongue. Once I added a few hundred pounds to the nose of the R-pod the ride smoothed out quite nicely. Learning to keep my speed at or below 55 mph was key but even more importantly learning to drive with the tach and not the speedometer made a huge difference in gas mileage. Without question I was ill-prepared for this challenge and the blame lies squarely on my shoulders. I should’ve replaced the Escape’s tires while still in Alaska; I’d probably have saved a hundred bucks doing so. Same is true for the AC but I really didn’t think I’d need it. And, to be honest, I could’ve easily gotten by without it; it was poor Anana who was struggling so with the heat in far southern Alberta and Montana. A lot of folks have encouraged me to use the this blog as the starting point for a book; given we’re coming into winter I just might consider doing so. Out of necessity I kept the blog short on details as it was already getting far too lengthy but in a book I could incorporate all those details along with more observations, learnings and anecdotes. While this event by itself might not support a book if I combined these experiences with others I’ve chronicled since moving to Alaska I just might have enough material. Who knows; I’ve had ‘big ideas’ before…

  2. Life is and will always be a learning process….it’s what we do with our new found knowledge that make the difference. Welcome home and thanks for sharing your journey!

  3. Thanks so much for sharing your journey. I really enjoyed reading it.

    • And a big ‘Thank You’ for reading this blog and especially for all the sage and invaluable advice you shared! I will be reviewing them when spring rolls around and it is time to get the R-pod back in action.

  4. A belated congratulations on completing a truly “interesting” road trip.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts
    and welcome home!

    • Thanks Buddy! It was quite the adventure and now that I’m able to put some distance between myself and actually undertaking the effort it doesn’t seem as bad. But I’ll be honest; I really was on the verge of a complete mental meltdown as I waded through the Calgary traffic to get to Travel Lodge! I know one must experience some really ‘low’ lows to appreciate the highs but that was a bit much! Still and all, it showed me that life can appear so dark just before that all important dawning arrives…

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