Stompin' on the Terra

"And he said, 'Stomp upon the Terra.'" – Lord Buckley (via Hunter Thompson)

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Location: Plum Island, Massachusetts

22 October 2010

Dateline: Shelby, Montana

Fort St. John, B.C. to Shelby, Montana
846 miles, 13.5 hours

That's right: Shelby, Montana. Out here on the high line, where an impossibly bright full moon is lighting up the plains as bright as daytime. The moon is so bright that it takes a couple of seconds for your eyes to adjust when you look straight up at it after you've been staring ahead into the dark night while driving for so long.

Instead of turning right at Grand Prairie, Alberta, and heading back up into the Rockies and Jasper, I went left and out to the freeway, down through Calgary and across the border back into the United States. Not much to report: driving south on Highway 2 in Alberta is pretty much identical to driving south on I-25 in Colorado: Rocky Mountains to your right, northern plains as far as the eye can see...and cancerous subdivisions exploding out across the prairie around the cities. Other than the full moon, it was a pretty straightforward drive (no photos to share as a result).

Waking up in Fort St. John this morning, it was apparent: the wilderness part of the drive was over. With that in mind, the transportation aspect of the trip I mentioned yesterday came to the fore...and the miles just started rolling by. And with that, reports from the road come to a close.

21 October 2010

Dateline: Fort St. John, British Columbia

Whitehorse to Fort St. John, BC
852 miles

Up and on the road in the pre-dawn darkness this morning...dark even though it was already 7am. Daylight is gettin' scarce above 60 degrees and there are still two months to go until the solstice. Lock away those firearms, folks!

In the past two days I've driven most of the Alaska Highway (that main stretch, the run south of Watson Lake, Yukon, for the first time since July 1992). And after fifteen hundred miles I've come to a conclusion: the Alaska Highway is no longer a wilderness road. It is now a fully modern road that just happens to be in the wilderness.

As an example: I was able to cover 852 miles from Whitehorse to just short of the end of the highway itself in a day -- and that included an hour's interlude at Liard Hot Springs and a 15-minute construction delay. While I may or may not have exceeded the speed limit today, I got my doors blown off by a few people who were absolutely rollin'. And we all could have gone faster -- the road is, for the most part, that solid. Fact: from Destruction Bay on Kluane Lake to where the road enters the Rockies just east of Liard Hot Springs, the Alaska Highway is bomber: well-built, solid, wide, safe. Sure, conditions -- snow, ice, fog, wildlife nearby, etc. -- can conspire to slow a drive down, but the windy, twisty, half-dirt, steep roadway of old -- the one I remember from 1992 -- is gone. Yes, from Destruction Bay west to the Alaska border there are frost heaves that will jar the fillings loose from your teeth. And yes, from Liard up and over the Rockies, it's a windy, twisty drive that demands your attention. But other than those stretches, it's a set-the-cruise-control-and-go drive with spectacular vistas.

And that's what I did. This was not a journey -- I'm not looking for any life-altering epiphanies this week. It's not even a vacation or a photo expedition. This is a trip, plain and simple. As in: transportation. Moving from one place to another. And to that end, speed -- while enjoying those spectacular vistas -- is the name of the game.

Speaking of photos: I'd like to apologize for mine. Between my trusty, old little digital -- which is about to give up the ghost -- and me not bothering to slow down or do anything else to optimize a shot, the photos I've included here are just quick glimpses of what I'm seeing. And while I'd love to come back and get those eye-popping shots someday, there's really only one lens that does justice to the vistas one can see from the Alaska Highway in places like the Yukon: the human eye. Nothing mechanical can adequately convey the sizes and distances here. It's truly mind-blowing.

And since the road isn't such a big deal anymore, you should make the trip someday.

PS: Liard Hot Springs…the pool all to myself…ahhhhh!
PPS: BIG jump in the critter count today: bison, caribou, moose (of course), stone sheep, a red fox...and the all-too-brief highlight of the trip: a wolf. Jet-black, bigger than Spooner but more lithe...gorgeous. Of course, when I spun around to get a closer look, he evaporated into the trees.

Morning in the Yukon
Yawn...just another roadside vista in northern BC
Bison beside the road, northern BC
Liard Hot Springs
Sheep foraging along Muncho Lake, BC
Caribou, near Muncho Lake, BC

20 October 2010

Dateline: Whitehorse, Yukon

Anchorage to Whitehorse
727 miles, 12 hours

Ran the gamut today. From warm, moist and maritime in Anchorage (drizzle, 41 degrees) to cold, dry and continental at several points in the interior (clear, 16 degrees). The drive was quite nice, despite sketchy conditions for long stretches.

The clear, northern skies made up for any slushy, slick road conditions. Once I got to the upper reaches of the Matanuska Valley, the clouds had parted and bright sunshine predominated. And that clear sky persisted until the evening drive into Whitehorse, when a shockingly bright, almost-full moon shone straight above the roadway in the east (with the also-bright Jupiter right below), like that famous yuletide beacon of old (though I have yet to find any manger here in Whitehorse). In the mirror, a sublime twilight settled over the coastal mountains as the Alaska Highway turned east toward the interior of the continent. The fauna checklist was kinda sparse, though: a couple of moose, a porcupine, a beaver, a bunch of elk, a ptarmigan and one extremely large bald eagle.

Some photos:

The Mentasta Mountains between Gakona and Tok

Kluane Lake, looking west

The road (and the views) go one forever and the party (and driving) never ends

If you saw my rainbow photograph from the drive up in early July...that's the same lake there in the foreground, same view looking east. A wee bit different, eh?

Moon over Haines Junction, Yukon

19 October 2010

The Best-laid Plans

OK, on the house took a little longer than a couple of weeks. And as expected, the allure of Alaska was quite strong. The desire to stay was -- and is -- strong. But comes a time…

I had planned to be here until the house sold or Labor Day; well, the work was completed around Labor Day and there's been little to no activity in terms of people looking at the place, so I stayed until mid-October. Today, to be exact: October 18. St. Luke's Day. That's right: it's my namesake saint's day today. That's an auspicious day to make a bold decision. So on that note, I'm heading south starting tomorrow.

It's time to get busy again. It's been an uncharacteristically spectacular autumn here in Southcentral Alaska, but with the last leaves falling from the trees in my yard in this evening's breeze and the termination dust in the mountains, it's time for me to follow the V's of geese departing to the east and south. And practically speaking, all my cold-weather clothes and toys (hockey equipment, skis, etc.) are in storage in Solana even if I were going to stick around for the winter I'd need to go get 'em. That, and sleeping on an airbed for three-plus months is getting old.

Tomorrow, it's northeast to Tok (as in: "One ___ over the line, sweet Jesus...") and the border, then southeast, around the Wrangell Mountains and the St. Elias Mountains to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. On Wednesday, down the Alaska Highway to Fort Nelson (with a stop at Liard Hot Springs, of course). From there, either south to Jasper or southeast onto the plains and the Edmonton area. That's TBD. Then across the 49th parallel and into the Lower 48 on Friday.

I'll try to post updates from hotels each night along the road -- this time of year, sleeping in your car is not advised and driving at night isn't wise, what with all the mega-fauna (bears, moose, bison, caribou) along the road and the potential for slick spots. The weather forecast is quite good for the coming week (another reason I'm bolting on such short notice) so I'm hoping for some jaw-dropping visuals; if so, hopefully there will be photos.

And then, upon arrival in the mainland U.S., we shall see where the road leads...