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

On ‘The Road’…Again (Part Three)

Once again a reminder; unlike so many video series I’m not going to waste space and the reader’s time recapping ‘Part Two’.  If you are new to this blog or you missed it please read the previous entry.  I’ll pick this up on our departure from The Super 8 motel in Fox Creek, Alberta.

I awoke early on Saturday morning (09/23) to a deep rumbling sound; I staggered to my feet and peered out the window to see thick fog and the ghostly silhouettes of numerous semis parked on the access road in front of the motel.  One of these was the source of the noise; had I known I might have tried for a different motel but Fox Creek is not large at a bit less than 2,000 people and most of the motels face the aforementioned access road.  Deciding I was up for the day I figured it was good to get an early start and we hustled across the next ninety minutes to get our morning routines handled and everything collected, packed up and loaded into the Escape.  I gave the kidz one last chance to take care of business, stopped in the lobby to grab some coffee and we were off.

My goal was Fort St. John (BC) which was 248 miles (399 km) distant.  While not a long drive staying there was based upon the next town with any real lodging being Fort Nelson and that was another 237 miles (382 km) or almost double the distance.  In addition, I would pass through Dawson Creek in 201 miles (324 km) and thus start my 1,264 miles (2,034 km) on the fabled Alaska Highway.  Although the eastern two thirds of this road had been ‘okay’ on the trip down, at least by Alaska Highway standards, I hadn’t been pulling an 18 foot (5.5 meter) travel trailer.  Therefore, I decided discretion is indeed the better part of valor and elected to reserve a room in the Fort St. John Super 8.

At this point many of you are probably wondering why I wasn’t using the R-pod to overnight.  I could have done so as the water and battery issues had been repaired but this late in the season I was finding many RV/trailer parks were closed and most of those still open were offering limited services as in just electricity.  Under such conditions I elected to continue to spend money and stay in motel rooms.  In addition, my canine companions were spending most of each day confined to the back seat of the Escape.  To then confine them to the almost as small floor area of the R-pod overnight just seemed unfair; while motel rooms are hardly palatial they offered much more room than the R-pod.   Finally, my poor ‘little’ angel – Anana – is really struggling with arthritis so giving her a warm place to sleep with at least a rug to sleep upon was the least she deserved.

The fog was with us for the first hour or so and then the sun burned it off and we saw partly cloudy conditions.  The Garmin led me on some very ‘back’ roads through northern Alberta and when we finally popped out onto a larger road we were crossing into British Columbia.  I dutifully shifted my clocks to from MDT to PDT, stopped to fill up the Escape’s tank and we continued onward.  We reached Dawson Creek around 11:00 and, as usual, the town was bustling with traffic.  I never cared for Dawson Creek; the place reeks of being a ‘tourist trap’ and I just wanted to get through it ASAP.  We did navigate it fairly swiftly and were soon heading WNW on The Alaska Highway with minimal traffic.

I had my first real scare regarding taking the R-pod downhill as we approached the Taylor River and the town of Taylor.  The incline is 9% plus and it has a couple of sweeping turns before crossing the bridge over the Taylor River which uses that open steel mesh surface.  I HATE such surfaces as it makes the vehicle feel as though it is shifting back and forth far more than it actually is which is disconcerting to say the least.  I knew of this portion as I’d driven it while relocating and on the way to Montana but somehow I managed to space out regarding its approach.  By the time I saw the Taylor Bridge in the distance and realized I was on the steep decline I was already doing 77 mph!  In this moment I had another key learning; when driving downhill one must switch from driving with the tachometer to driving with the speedometer!!  I shifted out of overdrive, checked my rear view mirrors and began to apply the brakes.  Thankfully the descent covers a long distance and with no traffic behind me – at least in my lane – I was able to get our velocity back under 50 mph (81 kph) before the final sharp turn onto the bridge.  I really berated myself for not paying more attention to my surroundings!!  I knew this situation was coming up yet I allowed my attention to wander and almost ended up in a very bad situation.  I’d like to blame it on fatigue but that would be a lie; I just became complacent and almost paid a nasty price.

We made Fort St. John in the early afternoon but the kind staff at the Comfort Inn gave us our room even though it wasn’t even 14:00 local time.  I unloaded, gave the kidz water and then loaded ‘em into the Escape and drove to a small park on the west end of town.  There we played, ran around and generally reveled in the sunny weather and cool temps.  I then hit the local grocery for some food and we returned to the room for any early evening.

Sunday dawned partly cloudy and cool; we were on the road by 07:30 which was pretty early considering we were ‘only’ going as far as Fort Nelson which was just 237 miles (382 km).  However, once again this choice was predicated on the knowledge the next lodging beyond Fort Nelson was just a single facility in Toad Creek which was another 117 miles (188 km) distant.  This is ‘life’ when traversing The Alaska Highway; one must balance the distances with the weather, road conditions, vehicle capabilities, traffic and especially the availability of lodging.  I also knew that road conditions were going to deteriorate once I was west of Fort Nelson and we’d be heading into the foothills of the Canadian Rockies.  The weather remained partly cloudy and seasonal with limited traffic so I was able to make good time with a stop for gas.  A bit further I found a small pull-out and I stopped so the kidz could stretch their legs, take care of business and drink water.  We were entertained by a flock of ravens who are the equal of any Mockingbird I’ve ever heard with regards to a huge vocal repertoire.  We made Fort Nelson in the early afternoon but the great folks at the Super 8 recognized me – actually, they recognized the dogs whom they adored – and allowed us to get into our room just a bit after 13:00.

I was able to do a couple loads of wash, get the kidz to a park for exercise and hit the grocery store.  I also spent a few hours downloading my still and video files, organizing and cataloging them and creating yet another email update.  A couple of the housekeepers stopped by to see Anana; she reveled in the attention and proceeded to get both of them covered in dog fur but they didn’t mind.  We settled in for the evening and I decided Monday’s goal would be Watson Lake.

We were up and off Monday morning at 07:00 after I grabbed a cup of coffee in the lobby; I wanted an early start as Watson Lake was 319 miles (514 km) distant and portions of the road had been in rather poor shape on the trip down.  Additionally, this portion would take us into the Canadian Rockies with all the steep inclines and the narrow sections around Muncho Lake (YT) were exacerbated by numerous blind curves.  I also knew this was the first of two long throws of driving with very limited services.  I knew I purchased fuel in Muncho Lake while heading to Montana but that was about the only open gas station on this leg.  Thankfully there was almost no traffic and the weather held up although we did hit rain around Muncho Lake (YT), where I gratefully filled up with gas and we saw a rainbow, but we quickly drove out of it.  The trip was quickened by the gorgeous scenery but I remembered my Taylor River experience and didn’t allow myself to become too enthralled!  By mid-afternoon I found a scenic pull-out maybe 60 miles south of Watson Lake so we availed ourselves of the chance to stretch our legs and savor the view.  The kidz took care of business and drank copious quantities of water.  I was looking at the gas level as we turned into this pull-out and noted I might not make Watson Lake; as there’s no services in that stretch I elected to empty one of the 2.5 gallon Jerry cans into the Escape’s tank.

In another 75 minutes we made Watson Lake and began to look for lodging.  The facilities were very limited but I found a motel (Andrea’s Hotel) which accepted pets.  They had metered internet service but I was never able to get my laptop to connect.  We went through the now well-oiled routine of unloading our stuff, getting the kidz water and exercise and settling in.  The room wasn’t much even by Alaska Highway standards but it was serviceable.  Having driven such a long distance in good stead and needing just one 2.5 gallon Jerry can of fuel to finish the leg I was feeling very good about making the remainder of the trip in fine shape.  I’d been very careful to hold my rpm’s below 3,500 even when it meant slowing my speed to 40 mph (64 kph) or less on the inclines.  I’d dealt with a couple of 8% plus declines and hadn’t had to brake much at all by planning ahead and kicking the transmission out of overdrive on such descents.  I awoke very early, as in 04:00 early, the next morning and decided to take the kidz out for some solid exercise.  We walked around 1.5 miles (2.4 km) and I watched the fog roll across the town.  I was very annoyed to see a car with Quebec plates had pulled in front of the Escape leaving no more than maybe two feet (0.61 meters) of space.  I’d parked away from the hotel along a sidewalk in an effort to leave the single vehicle spaces available but apparently they had filled up later in the evening.  A large pickup had pulled in behind the R-pod but left almost 4 feet (1.2 meters) of clearance.  I hoped the car would be gone by the time I needed to depart; sadly, this was not the case so I spent a frustrating fifteen minutes jacking the Escape/R-pod combination back and forth until I could finally clear the offending car.  As it was very frosty that morning I left a: “Thanks for NOTHING!” note on the windshield frost and we departed.

Well, I guess this tale is going to require yet another installment as I’ve reached well over 1,900 words and there’s still almost three days remaining.  Once again, I’ll leave you with some images from this portion of our adventure:

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Heading Into The Canadian Rockies

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Canadian ‘Rocky Mountain High!’

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A Lone Mountain Sheep just north of Muncho Lake (YT)

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Snow in The Canadian Rockies

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A Plaque at a Scenic Overlook Around An Hour South of Watson Lake (YT)

Watson Lake Sunrise

Foggy but Gorgeous Watson Lake (YT) Sunrise

On ‘The Road’…Again! (Part One)

It’s been quite a while since my last blog entry which was made on September 4th from the Beaver Creek RV Motel in Beaver Creek, Yukon Territories (Canada).  This marked my first overnight on what I have dubbed ‘the R-pod Odyssey’ which became a 26 day endurance run from Talkeetna to Three Forks (MT) to finally pick up the R-pod travel trailer I’d purchased in June of 2016.  A good friend picked the trailer up from the dealer in Hamilton (OH) and hauled it back to SW Michigan where he made numerous upgrades to the unit.  Then, a friend of his (Dave) who was in the process of relocating to Three Forks put the trailer on his flatbed and hauled to his farm just outside Three Forks where it had been awaiting me.  Why did I purchase the unit from a dealer in Ohio?  I couldn’t find a Forest River dealer in Alaska with the R-pod so I had to look in the lower 48.  Every dealer I found in the lower 48 wanted between $16,500 and $21,000 for the 2017 model; however, the dealer I used is located just five miles from the Forest River production facility and I was able to purchase the unit for $12,900.  Having the trailer hauled to Three Forks saved me around 2,200 driving miles (3,543 km) for the round-trip.  All told, I was thinking I’d save money by going this route.

Hah, so much for the best laid plans!  I believe in the final analysis I might have saved four thousand dollars over the most expensive quote but probably broke even on the lowest price I found outside of the dealer in Ohio.  I knew even mediocre rooms on the Alaska Highway would run between $110 and $150 Canadian per night.  I had planned to stay in the R-pod on the return leg of this adventure but the unit had a severe water leak which forced me to lay over a couple of days in Great Falls (MT) while a dealer repaired the problem.  All told I stayed in motel rooms 23 of the 26 days I was on the trip.  I knew my Escape had a non-functional air conditioning unit but I was thinking I might not need it because of the dates I was traveling.  So much for that idea; by September 6th we were driving in sunny and warm conditions with the outdoor temps pushing the lower eighties.  I had decided to bring both my canine companions on the trip and they were real troopers given the schedule upsets and weeks they spent sharing the back seat.  Qanuk, my 86 pound (39.1 kg) male German Shepherd Dog, was very verbal in expressing his dissatisfaction with spending most of every day in the back seat yet every morning all he wanted to do after getting some exercise was jump into the Escape.  Anana, my 112 pound (50.9 kg) female Alaskan malamute, is very easy going and she just ‘went with the flow’.  However, the warm temps I mentioned were just too much for her and my poor ‘little’ angel really struggled with the heat.  By the time I was stopping over in Red Deer (Alberta) I knew I had to get the A/C repaired.  The motel folks recommended ‘Canadian Tire’ and I was able to get an appointment the next day.  I planned to get the unit repaired, recharged and then continue my drive south.

Once again, HAH…so much for my plans!  The A/C had a severe leak in the plumbing and the parts to repair it had to be ordered and wouldn’t be in until the following Tuesday.  It was Friday so I faced either really stressing Anana or losing four more days.  I was very aware of the heat and wildfires in western Montana and I was sure we’d need the A/C.  I also knew my Michelin All Season tires had 67,000 miles (107,890 km) on them but they still had reasonable tread.  I told the Canadian Tire folks my plan to drive to Three Forks (MT) and back to Talkeetna; they felt I could do so safely on the existing tires.  But when I mentioned I’d be pulling an 18’ (5.5 meters) long , 2,200 pound (1,000 kg) travel trailer on the return that all changed.  They highly recommended I get four new tires so I bit the bullet and purchased four new Cooper winter rated tires and scheduled a front end alignment as well.  I was able to get the Escape scheduled for a 09:00 appointment on Tuesday morning.  The folks at Canadian Tire thought everything might require five to six hours so I decided I’d stay yet another night in Red Deer and head out Wednesday morning.  Thankfully, Red Deer had a large, leash-less dog park so I could get ‘the kidz’ lots of exercise across the weekend.  Come Tuesday I turned in the Escape at 08:45 and Anana, Qanuk and I settled into the Canadian Tire waiting room.  The staff loved dogs and just went wild over Anana; they came from all over the store to see her, pet her and encouraged her to howl.  Soon, many of the customers were also stopping in.  I was so proud of both my canine companions as they were models of good behavior and extremely social.  In the end the work on the Escape only required a bit more than three and a half hours.  But it cost me almost $2,200 Canadian for the tires, the A/C parts, the front end alignment and the labor.  While the tires are great and probably saved my butt more than once on the return leg when you figure in the $120/night I paid across the six days I stayed in Red Deer I dropped right around $3,000 to remedy my mistakes and ignorance regarding towing a trailer.

Once we were driving again I was motivated to really make tracks and I did get us from Red Deer (AB) to Great Falls (MT) during the day which is around 420 miles (676 km).  In Montana we hit temps in the middle eighties and I was so happy I had the A/C repaired as Anana was comfortable.  Driving out of Red Deer I hit heavy rains which were causing some ponding on the road (AB-2 south); the Cooper tires had great traction and I began to realize just how worn the Michelin’s must have been before I replaced them.  Just dumb luck things worked out as they did; the Universe was definitely looking out for me!  We overnighted in Great Falls and to my surprise I smelled no smoke from the horrific wildfires burning mainly in the western portion of the state.  The desk clerk told me the previous day there had been a lot of smoke; the most I saw was some obvious high level haze composed of smoke lifted up into the atmosphere.  From Great Falls we made Three Forks by 12:30 MDT; most of the drive was done in rain which the locals were just so happy to see.  I was able to rendezvous with Tony (Dave’s son) who owned the farm where my R-pod was stored and follow him to the farm.

Once there I checked out the R-pod, received a quick tutorial from Tony and prepared to settle in.  It was during this time I discovered the severe water leak just behind the toilet; I couldn’t put water in the R-pod’s tank or run a water hose to the trailer’s inlet without seeing a spray of water from the leak.  Thankfully I had purchased ten one gallon jugs of water in Great Falls just in case so I had water inside the R-pod but couldn’t use the toilet or the sinks.  The rain continued to increase and it rained across Saturday with snow occurring Saturday night into Sunday morning.  The farm land became a morass of mud which ‘the kidz’ picked up like sponges pick up water and then deposited the mud in the R-pod.  I had a broom and dust pan and used them with abandon but even so the trailer definitely received its ‘baptism’.  On Saturday I drove the Escape back into Three Forks to get cell reception and called my dear friend (Kev) back in Kentucky to vent.  During the conversation he was able to locate a RV dealership in Great Falls; after I hung up with him I called the dealership and made the earliest appointment I could which was Wednesday morning although they felt they might be able to get it handled Tuesday afternoon.  By this point I was pretty frazzled and willing to take anything just to get the unit functioning properly.  I decided to leave with the R-pod Monday morning, drive to Great Falls, get a room and drop the R-pod off at the dealership in hopes it would be repaired and ready to go by Wednesday.

As this is getting to be rather lengthy and marks what could be considered to be the halfway point in the journey – at least in terms of mileage – I think this is a good place to end ‘Part One’.  But I’d also like to offer some additional thoughts and observations as well as share a few images.  In hindsight I really didn’t think this entire situation through well enough and it cost me.  I wanted a small trailer so I could take ‘the kidz’ camping with me when I visit Alaskan state and national parks; almost all require a hard sided trailer or similar if camping with dogs due to the bears.  The R-pod was almost the only hard sided trailer light enough to be towed by the Escape with relatively minor wear and tear (more on this assumption in ‘Part Two’) on the transmission and drive train.  I had towed small trailers a few times in the past but nothing larger than a ten foot (3 meter) long enclosed U-Haul trailer and not for more than maybe a hundred miles (161 km).  The R-pod is 18 feet (5.5 meters) in length and has a dry weight of 2,175 pounds (989 kg) which makes it almost twice the length and probably three times the weight of anything I’d previously towed.  Somehow the enormities of these magnitudes escaped me when I decided to make the purchase.

Many of my well-meaning friends shared horror stories of towing trailers and I began to realize just what I was getting myself into in terms of a long, grinding chore.  I was going to have to get my learnings regarding pulling such a trailer while on the road with a pair of canine companions.  In hindsight, I’d liken it to something one should never do:  try to break in a pair of hiking boots on the trail!  But I’d put myself in a situation with no options; the trailer wasn’t going to get up here unless I went down, picked it up and hauled it back here.  Dave had already been gracious enough to store the unit for a full year and I needed to get it.  Therefore, I’d left myself in the onerous position of having no alternatives to driving to Montana, picking up the R-pod and learning to tow it while driving back to Alaska.  Good grief, talk about ‘on the job training’!

And I knew a bit about the roads I’d be traveling; in particular, The Alaska Highway (formerly known as the Alaska-Canada Highway or ‘the Al-Can’) was a major concern.  I’d driven it once in the Escape with the kidz when I relocated to Talkeetna from SE Michigan and that had been an adventure.  On the trip south I was paying very close attention to road conditions, construction and the weather; I even took notes regarding the first two items.  Technically, I didn’t drive the entire length of The Alaska Highway; I drove ‘just’ the 1,257 miles (2,024 km) from Dawson Creek (BC) to Tok (AK) where I then used the Tok Cut-off to reach the Richardson Highway (AK 4) and finally the Glenn Highway (AK 1).  The Alaska Highway extends another 108 miles (173 km) beyond Tok to Delta Junction (AK) where it intersects The Richardson Highway.  However, I drove the worst sections of this fabled road which are almost always the first 140 or so miles (225 km) from the Alaska-Canada border to Destruction Bay (YT).  This section also had the bulk of the construction.  Beyond Destruction Bay the road begins to enter the western foothills of the Canadian Rocky Mountains and becomes very sinuous with many steep inclines and more blind curves than one would ever hope to face.  The road remains in the mountains for another roughly 650 miles (1,047 km) before it begins to wind down through the eastern foothills of the Rockies.  ‘The Road’ was in as bad condition as I remembered from my 2013 trip but then this wasn’t unexpected and I made reasonable time.

For those interested here’s my route:

  • 09/03/17 – Talkeetna (AK) to Beaver Creek (YT): 465 miles (749 km)
  • 09/04/17 – Beaver Creek (YT) to Watson Lake (YT): 548 miles) (882 km)
  • 09/05/17 – Lake Watson (YT) to Fort Nelson (BC): 319 miles (514 km)
  • 09/06/17 – Fort Nelson (BC) to Grande Prairie (AB): 364 miles (586 km)
  • 09/07/17 – Grande Prairie (AB) to Red Deer (AB): 378 miles (609 km)
  • 09/13/17 – Red Deer (AB) to Great Falls (MT): 422 miles (680 km)
  • 09/14/17 – Great Falls (MT) to Three Forks (MT): 156 miles (251 km)

And now some memorable images from the trip south.  Stay tuned for ‘Part Two’…

Entering Western Canadian Rockies

Entering the western foothills of the Canadian Rockies

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Kluane River Basin

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Wind whipped dust and spray around Destruction Bay

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Foothill fog banks

Muncho Lake Sheep

Mountain Sheep at Muncho Lake (YT)

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Anana and Friend at Oxbow Leash-Free Dog Park in Red Deer, Alberta

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Miles and miles of brown Montana!

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R-pod, Escape, Dave’s barn and trailer on his farm

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Driving from Dave’s farm into Three Forks (MT)

Pushing The Envelope One More Time..!

As bands of moderate rain showers sweep through this area tattooing a rhythm on my home’s metal roof I’m staring out my office windows while contemplating an upcoming major ‘adventure’ which will likely consume the entire month of September and will almost assuredly tax my endurance, creativity and self-confidence to their limits.  It has been a full year in the making and while it is a bit daunting I will be very pleased to get it underway and probably even more pleased to see it through to a (hopefully) successful completion.  At this point I feel this undertaking will be on a par with, if not exceed, my relocation from SE Michigan to Talkeetna during the late summer of 2013.  In an interesting piece of ‘synchronicity’ this trip will be undertaken in the late summer as well although it will likely extend into the early fall.

I remain somewhat uncertain as to the outcome largely because it is an undertaking of huge proportions replete with more than its fair share of ‘unk-unks’ (unknown unknowns).  In June of 2016 I made the decision to purchase a hard sided camping trailer so I could begin to explore more of Alaska with my two canine companions.  Anana, my 112 pound female Alaskan malamute, and Qanuk, my 88 pound male German Shepherd Dog, are both seasoned travelers having made the relocation up here in my Escape and are a joy to have as companions.  But to safely camp with them in many Alaskan locations a hard sided shelter is required for protection from bears.  To this point I’ve been unable to really get out and explore my new home due to this limitation.  Therefore, once I decided I needed a hard sided trailer I did a lot of research and based upon my relatively small and low powered Ford Escape I decided upon the 2017 Forest River R-pod 172.  The unit is completely hard sided but comes in with a dry weight of around 2,300 pounds which is well within the Escape’s max towing capacity of 3,000 pounds.  I had a chance to briefly ‘tour’ a R-pod over Memorial Day of 2016 when one was parked at the Tesoro gas station located at the ‘Y’; while small it had everything I wanted as in a full kitchen, fridge, shower, and bathroom.  I found there were no dealers in Alaska so I started perusing the lower 48 and found a wonderful deal at an RV dealer in Hamilton, Ohio.  I worked with a dear friend in SW Michigan to make the purchase and had him and a friend pick up the trailer and haul it back to SW Michigan where he made extensive improvements in the basic unit.

Mast_Down

My R-pod with a collapsible mast added atop which I’ll place my wireless weather station when overnighting. This work, along with much more, was handled by dear friend, Sarge.

Then, a friend of his put the R-pod on his flatbed trailer and hauled the unit to Three Forks, Montana.  This was to happen by early September of 2016 but thanks to mechanical issues with his truck he didn’t get the unit to Montana until late October; by this point it was too late for me to make the 5,300+ mile round trip to pick it up.  He was able to store the unit in his barn over winter; I had planned to drive down in mid-April of 2017 to pick it up but a leaking heater core in the Escape forced me to postpone the trip while it was repaired.  By the time this was finished it was already early May and the tourists were out in force so I elected to wait until early September to make the run.  Now I finally find myself preparing to make the 2,650+ mile drive from Talkeetna to Three Forks to finally take possession of my 2017 R-pod.

The very distances involved are a bit intimidating especially as I’ll be the solo driver with only my canine companions as company.  While they are wonderful accomplices they cannot spell me behind the wheel so I all the driving will fall upon me.  And it is telling the total trip will involve more miles than I drove on the relocation to Alaska.  While during that trip I was driving the Escape solo with ‘the kidz’ aboard I also had a friend driving a 26’ U-Haul van in close proximity; we shared overnight motel rooms and having him along meant I wasn’t really alone.  On this upcoming trip it will be just me and ‘the kidz’.  In addition, I’ve never pulled a trailer longer than ten feet and it probably weighed a thousand pounds fully loaded.  My R-pod is eighteen feet in length and when loaded with water, food and supplies it will probably tip the scales at 2,600 pounds.  It does have electric brakes which are good but I will have to configure said brakes before I start the long drive back to Talkeetna and I’ve never done so previously.  Assuming I can get said brakes properly ‘lined out’ then I will have to learn to tow an extra eighteen feet and 2,500+ pounds on a variety of roads from multi-lane highways to single lane back roads.  And then there’s the always ‘interesting’ aspect of backing a trailer into a specific spot…

The drive down to Three Forks will be a ‘speed run’; I intend to make it in a comfortable six days arriving at the farm where the trailer is stored around noon on the sixth day.  Doing so will minimize the number of nights I’ll have to pay for a motel room and insure I have plenty of time for a slow, leisurely return trip before the snow starts to fly.  I’ll be able to really learn to haul the R-pod across a variety of road conditions and varying degrees of traffic.  I’ll also have the time to learn to utilize the R-pod to its fullest extent.  I’ve rented pickup trucks with simple campers all the way to 28’ RVs so I do have some experience with using the built-in amenities like fridges that run on electricity or propane.  But the very compact nature of the R-pod means some of the gear will be new to me so I will have a definite learning curve.  This same ‘compact nature’ means me and ‘the kidz’ will have learnings regarding how we live in such close proximity.  Both my canine companions love to stretch out when sleeping and this isn’t something they’ll be able to do very well within the ‘compact’ confines of the trailer.  In addition, I’ll need to be able to navigate the narrow center aisle which will almost assuredly mean I’ll be stepping over the kidz.  I can put sheets down on the seating areas and the one bed so they can use them but it will still be a very confined lifestyle.

Given the location of Three Forks – a bit southeast of Helena – on the return trip I’ll be entering Alberta (Canada) via I 15 and heading north on Canada Route 4 to Canada Route 2.  But just outside Calgary I’ll be making a detour on Canada Route 1 into Banff National Park and visiting this park as well as Lake Louise and then taking Canada Route 93 north into Jasper National Park before taking Canada Route 16 to Canada Route 40 and finally Canada Route 43 to Dawson Creek and the Alaska Highway.  I plan to spend at least three days in Banff and Jasper national parks and possibly more depending upon the weather and the tourists.  Wildfires are also a concern; British Columbia is seeing very dry conditions and a myriad of wildfires raging across its southern extremes.  These fires could easily cross over into southern Alberta and that’s where the aforementioned parks are located.  Once on ‘the Highway’ I’ll be stopping at numerous places of which Liard Hot Springs Provincial Park is just one location.  I plan to take time to visit so many of the locations I had to speed by on the relocation trip in early August of 2013 due to my buddy’s time constraints.  The beauty of a travel trailer – or any RV – is the ability to stop in any acceptable location and spend time be it a few hours or a few days.  Of course, it is a requirement to not trespass on private land and this is a tenant I respect with all my being.  I’ve seen too many witless tourists just pull onto someone’s property in Alaska to overnight; this is rude and of questionable safety.

Once I make Tok I plan to take ‘the cut-off’ and follow the Alaska Highway to Delta Junction, then head north on the Richardson Highway (AK 4) to Fairbanks and pick up the Parks Highway (AK 3) which I’ll drive back south to Talkeetna.  While this looks rather convoluted on a map and isn’t as short as heading onto the Glenn Highway (AK 1) from Tok I’ve driven the Glenn Highway many times and remember all too well the myriad of hairpin turns, narrow single lane roads and difficult driving conditions.  I cannot imagine driving that route pulling an eighteen foot trailer!  The ‘Fairbanks loop’ adds another 180 miles to the trip but involves much safer roads lacking the tight turns and extremely difficult passing issues encountered on the Glenn Highway.  I’d rather take a bit more time and get myself, my canines and my vehicles back to Talkeetna in good shape than risk the shorter but less ‘driver friendly’ Glenn Highway route.

It should be obvious from the aforementioned monologue I’ve already invested a load of time into researching and planning this adventure but I also know so many factors like the weather, road conditions, traffic, wildfires and similar can make chutney of the best laid plans in the blink of an eye.  I will have my copy of ‘The Milepost’ with me as well as my Garmin GPS unit and a list of websites offering travel info in Alberta and British Columbia.  However, there are a very limited number of routes to get me from The Alaska Highway to Three Forks (MT) so I will have to be very aware of the conditions and also have at least a plan ‘B’ – if not a plan ‘C’, ‘plan ‘D” and similar – in my back pocket.  While this is a huge undertaking for a solo sixty four year old man it will offer incredible scenery, amazing wildlife, exceptional experiences and opportunities to meet a bevy of new and interesting folks.  Assuming I have internet connectivity at the places I overnight I plan to send out updates on my progress and share some of my best images and experiences.  If all goes according to plan I should be pulling out of my driveway fully loaded before 06:00 on Sunday, September 3rd.  Let the adventure begin..!!!

R-pod Door side

Another view of my R-pod this time from the ‘door’ side

R-pod inputs

An image showing the many inputs/outputs of the R-pod

 

Firsts for May 1st

I’ve been meaning to get this brief piece finished and posted since the first couple of days in May but ‘Mr. Murphy’ and outside commitments conspired to make that a pipe dream.  Given I now have a bit of free time after completing my last 1,355 steps – I try to put down at least 1,150 steps at the top of each hour from 05:00 to 11:00 with a current target of 10,000 plus daily steps – I decided to get this piece done and posted.  My blogging has kinda fallen off across the past four to six months; not sure why other than to observe my creativity just hasn’t been flowing.  Of course, dedicating almost a quarter of each hour during the mornings to stepping does eat into my available time and the fact that I am a morning person and hence do my best work before noon only exacerbates this situation.

Anyway, as we rolled into May I was struck by some ‘firsts’ which I’d observed during this time.  Some are reoccurring while some are just new activities/observations.  One of the former variety involved observing my first American Robin of 2017 on April 24th in the early morning while walking with my Alaskan malamute (Anana) and my German Shepherd Dog (Qanuk).  Actually I heard him – I’m pretty sure it was a male as it was well up in a birch and singing loudly so probably marking territory – first and then was able to visually locate him.  There may well have been other robins around earlier but this was the first I’d heard and then seen in 2017.  For those of us who observe birds in this area the arrival of robins from the lower 48 signals spring is definitely here.

Another reoccurring observation was awakening in the wee hours of the morning of April 27th to the ‘tap-tapping’ sound of rain on my metal roof.  I love that sound but in a normal year one doesn’t hear it from mid-October to mid-November until April because most precipitation that falls during that time period is snow and the roof has a coating of ice and snow.  I look forward to many more upcoming rainy nights as I love to lie in bed and listen to that sound.  It also fascinates me to listen to the ebb and flow of the rain rate; in this area we don’t usually get a steady rain but rather experience rain bands of varying density.  This can produce what is almost a melody if the bands are spaced in a continual pattern which is repetitive.

As to some firsts that are truly ‘firsts’ on April 30th I completed 35 consecutive days of 5,000+ steps per day.  More than half of said 35 days involved putting down more than 8,000 steps and have helped me push my daily steps to their current 10,612 steps/day average.  I’m fighting hypertension and obesity so I had to find some form of exercise which I could, and most importantly ‘would’, do at least six days a week.  As of this writing I’m working on 44 consecutive days of at least 5,000 steps a day.  Much of the daily morning muscle/joint pain and stiffness is now just a distant memory and I just realized I haven’t had a bout of depression since I began this regime.  I saw no weight loss until I reached 9,500 steps per day; now the weight is very slowly beginning to disappear.  My goal is to push myself to 12,500 steps per day; given 10,000 steps is the equivalent of around 4.9 miles for me such a goal would see me putting down at least six miles a day.  I intend to continue walking at least 1,150 steps at the top of each hour between 05:00 and 11:00 in an effort to keep my system ‘energized’.  I’m aware stepping as I do it is not a true aerobic activity but it does ramp up my system and it forces me away from the monitor and into motion once an hour.  With luck as I drop more weight I’ll be able to start bicycling which will help my overall condition.  Of course, my canine companions love my lifestyle change and are now completely expectant of at least one long walk every day.  For anyone interested I use a Garmin Vivofit 2 wrist fitness monitor; the ‘Garmin Connect’ web-page is wonderful for tracking steps, calories burned, hours sleeping and similar!

A final ‘one time first’ for me occurred on April 14th when I sat in with my good friend Randy during his Friday evening classic rock music show at KTNA.  Anyone following this blog knows I spent almost three years doing both newscasts and music shows at KTNA but I decided I’d come to philosophically based parting of the ways with the station at the end of December, 2016.  While I’d done shows with other folks sitting in this was the first time the roles were reversed.  It felt great to be back behind a mic and during Randy’s two hour show we received three calls complimenting us and our performance.  All told it was a lot of fun although given it was a two hour show running until 23:00 it was a bit past my bedtime!

I put together this blog as a kind of celebration of life; not just my own but that of Nature and other folks as well.  I’ve been so blessed to experience a two decade dream of living in semi-rural Alaska but coming up on my fourth full year of such an existence I’ve noticed I’m becoming a bit blasé regarding this situation and that both angers and saddens me.  I know it is human nature to become ‘used’ to situations but I do not ever want to become ‘used’ to the majesty and splendor of my Alaskan home.  If writing this helps me re-energize the awe and wonder I feel almost daily when I walk outside and immerse myself in Alaska’s magic then it has served its purpose.  If it does so for others, regardless of where/how they live, then so much the better!

Tek Robin

An American Robin atop a black pine at Teklanika campground in Denali NP&P

Spring Collage

In what was the swiftest transition from winter to spring I’ve yet witnessed across my four winters in ‘The Great Land’ we now find ourselves solidly into spring and starting into break-up.  Just a couple weeks back this area was experiencing daytime highs in the low to middle twenties and night time lows in the negative single digits along with a 32” (81.3 cm) snow pack; now we’re seeing daytime highs in the low to middle fifties and a heavy, dense snow pack of 10.7” (27.2 cm).  I’ve already killed many mosquitoes but to this point they’ve been those that ‘over-wintered’ apparently by hiding in decaying organic matter before the snow accumulated which generates enough heat for them to survive.  They are large, slow and noisy mosquitoes and hence easy to locate and kill.  As soon as we see much in the way of standing water within and around the periphery of the boreal forest these insects will lay eggs which will soon hatch into larvae that will become hoards of the much small, much quieter and far more ravenous mosquitoes I so abhor.  So it goes; this is south central Alaska…

As the snow dwindles and the temps rise so, too, does the daylight.  As of this writing (04/13/17) we’re already seeing 14 hours 41 minutes of direct light on our way to 19 hours and 55 minutes come the Summer Solstice on June 20th at 20:24.  Even without all these cues I’d know spring was upon us simply by observing the rather ‘flaky’ nature of my female Alaskan malamute (Anana); her behavioral changes are no doubt driven by hormonal shifts and while I’ve seen similar changes in other canines she really becomes wacky.  She is much more aggressive towards other animals – but she remains so loving of anything on two legs – and she is starting to ‘cock her leg’ when she pees.  She is also becoming even more headstrong than usual – I know of no other breed which is natively so headstrong – and she refuses to listen to me much at all.  Because of this I can only walk her at times when there are no other people with dogs out and about or I have to keep her on her lead.  I hate doing the latter as she spends much of our walking time sniffing out wildlife spoor and similar as well as running after Qanuk, my male GSD.  Assuming this spring is like all those previous this phase will last for maybe three to four weeks before she reverts to her generally mellow and regal self.

With the advent of spring I’ve taken to walking both dogs in the early morning hours when the air temp is still a bit below freezing and the ground frozen.  This area was once buried under glaciers and as the ice retreated it ground up inestimable rocks leaving behind a fine gray silt often called ‘glacial flour’.  This ‘almost dust’ clings to anything wet and the dogs are very skilled at getting their coats damp by breaking ice and wading in puddles.  The muddy result is almost impossible to remove with a wet towel; it has to dry and then slowly fall off their coats.  When walking them in the afternoon when the ground is soggy they are covered in dirt and I generally force them to spend 90+ minutes in the mud room after we finish.  This allows maybe 50% of said mud to fall off but that still leaves more than enough to make my floors ‘crunchy’!  Not that I needed the assistance but I can easily locate all of Anana’s favorite sleeping areas just by looking for the layers of gray silt she leaves behind.  This is life with two large canine companions in semi-rural south central Alaska.  It can be a pain but I wouldn’t do without my two family members just because of a bit of mud!

I’ll leave you with a collage of recent images and a few from previous springs as well; I hope you enjoy the beauty of Alaska’s spring!

EBD,Break Up & the Kidz

The dogs enjoy the beginnings of break up during a walk along East Barge Drive

Mud Room floor

There’s about three times as much ‘glacial flour’ on the mud room floor as seen in this image

Roof snow and ice on driveway

This is why Alaskans are careful about where they park their vehicles during the spring thaw!

Cloud Capped Denali Awaits Climbers

‘The High One’ – Denali – is capped with clouds and blowing snow as he awaits the crush of climbers due to begin in a few weeks

Matanuska Glacier

The toe of the mighty Matanuska Glacier as seen from the Glenn Highway in early April

Front Porch Colorful Sunrise

A beautiful Alaskan sunrise greets the rapidly disappearing snow pack

Suggestions of Spring

The sun is not yet above the horizon at 07:51 AKDT on the Vernal Equinox – which arrived in this area at 02:29 this morning – but it is light enough to see the surrounding space which remains cloaked in a 22.0 inch (55.9 cm) snow pack although the incessant winds across March have cleared virtually all the snow from the trees.  Our maximum snow pack was 35.5 inches (90.2 cm) back in middle February but within a week or so of that time all precipitation ceased.  This dry spell, coupled with almost Chinook style winds and the longer, sunny days definitely did a number on the slowly compacting snow pack.  Yesterday we flirted with 35° F (1.7° C) under sunny skies but at least the winds of March seemed to have weakened to just gentle (8-12 mph or 13-19 kph) breezes.  This morning the air is calm for the first time in over two weeks.

As I stare out my second floor office window I can just recognize some suggestions that spring is not far away even here at sixty two degrees north latitude.  The exhaust from my Toyo stove, which drifts almost directly across my office window when the air is calm, is much less dense and is occurring less frequently than a few weeks earlier.  While we are seeing a -2.2° F (-19° C) air temp I’m also expecting to see an afternoon high around 35° F (1.7° C) under sunny skies.  The boughs of the spruce trees are beginning to ‘perk up’ a bit after bearing heavy amounts of snow from late December through middle February.  And our direct daylight is now up to 12 hours 17 minutes and increasing daily by 6 minutes 1 second!  These longer days are beginning to slowly melt the snow pack even if the air temps remain well below freezing.  Indeed, when working towards my goal of 10,000 steps/day – I’m currently around 7,800 steps/day – I have started taking a collapsible walking staff with me as the icy hard packed snow coverage on the back roads is becoming slippery especially when just a thin layer of water appears atop it.  This lack of traction is emphasized as I watch my male German Shepherd Dog (Qanuk) perform multiple slips and slides along with a few face plants as he revels in our daily walks.  Anana, my female Alaskan Malamute, is more restrained and hence remains upright most of the time.  There is something to be said for the wisdom of age!

I finally was able to experience a ‘real’ south central Alaskan winter after three previous ‘winters that weren’t’.  I did feel the bite of -40° F (-40° C) air temps, wind chills another ten to fifteen degrees below those temps and an almost three foot snow pack that remained for at least two and a half weeks.  I was treated to intense and vibrant auroral displays across much of the late fall when clear skies coincided with the Aurora Borealis.  Having completed my fourth consecutive winter in Alaska I think I can finally claim to be a veteran of ‘The Great Land’ and its kaleidoscope of weather conditions.  But maybe most surprising to me is I’m actually ready for the seasonal change.  During the three previous Vernal Equinoxes I was lamenting the end of winter and not enthusiastic about the oncoming spring with its insects and tourists.  But now I find myself awaiting the warmer weather even if it brings mosquitoes and the inevitable tourist traffic and congestion.  Perhaps I’m finally becoming sanguine with the aforementioned as well as the knowledge that within five to six weeks there will be no dark night skies again until early September?

Before long I’ll be indulging in what has become a ritual involving preparing for spring and summer.  I’ll be swapping tools and equipment between the mud room/front porch and the shed.  The generator will be drained of fuel which will go into the Escape’s gas tank.  The battery conditioner/recharger will be stowed in the shed and I will be getting the ‘Mosquito Magnet’ ready for operation.  I’ll be smearing some ‘bat attractant’ on the entrance to the bat house which my buddy Sarge hung last October; hopefully I’ll attract some Little Brown bats and convince them to set up house and help control the mosquito hordes.  In this same vein I’ll be relocating my tree swallow houses for the third time in the hopes I can attract some nesting pairs to add to my attempts at natural mosquito control.  So many of these actions are now ‘old friends’ and form a kind of seasonal dance or celebration.  For the first time since I relocated I’ll be doing them with joy and the knowledge that regardless of what the upcoming six months may hold for me winter will again return and I will have the opportunity to experience yet another spring, summer and fall in ‘The Great Land’.

Muskeg Under Clouds

The last of the ice on muskeg a bit east of my place on East Barge Drive is disappearing in the image from spring of 2015