1999 Alaska & Western Canada

Alaska – The Last Frontier

by Bill Swails

From June 1999 through October 1999, I went on my first extended expedition, traveling from Denver, Colorado through Western Canada and Alaska, all the way north to the Arctic Ocean. Following is my trip log and photos of the trip.

This was a good trial run for me, my ER2K truck and my equipment, and I learned a great deal about living on the road for an extended period of time, I had many amazing experiences, saw incredible scenery and wildlife, and met many interesting people.

Alaska is called “The Last Frontier” and the title is well deserved. It truly is a wild and wonderful place.

Alaska is not just big, it’s huge. Some guide books compare its size to other “large” states. For example, Alaska is bigger than Texas, California and Montana combined! Others compare it to small European countries. Alaska is bigger than England, France, Italy and Spain combined! Somewhere along the line, Rhode Island became the standard by which all big things are compared. For reference, Alaska is 120 times the size of Rhode Island. In Alaska, parks are bigger than many eastern US states.

Alaska has an amazing abundance of wildlife. Alaska’s incredible array of wildlife appears throughout the vast landscape creating a unique wilderness experience. My trip through Alaska allowed me to see and photograph grizzly bears, wolves, moose, caribou, Dall sheep, bald eagles, humpback whales, sea otters, sea lions, seals, red fox, snowshoe hare, falcon, loons, owls, geese, and ducks – up close and personal!


Grand Teton National Park

Wyoming, USA

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I finally get out of Denver. I had hoped to leave for Alaska in early May, but truck preparations took much longer than I anticipated. Even though I had several more items to complete, I finally decided I had better leave soon or I would be traveling in the snow.

According to my trusty guidebook, French trappers named these mountains Les Trois Tetons which is French for The Three Breasts. I don’t know about the “three” part, but any park named after breasts can’t be all bad.

Date Location GPS Location
June 29, 1999 Colter Bay Campground  

North 43.909 West 110.645

After a long day driving, I arrived in Teton park around sunset. The light was perfect for photography, but I was too tired, hungry, and anxious to set up camp to make time for photos.

I still have to take care of one piece of unfinished business before I proceed north; I need to put EarthRoamer.com logos on my truck. My sister has just started a sign business in Ohio and she is sending the signs to the local FedEx office for me to pickup. Jackson Signs in (where else?) Jackson will install them. I went into Jackson to pick up the lettering for my truck but there was a mix-up at Fed Ex, so the lettering won’t be in until tomorrow. I’ll have to spend an extra day in the Tetons. Life’s tough. Great chance to take some photos.

June 30, 1999Signal Mountain Campground 

North 43.84 West 110.617

I saw a moose on the way in to Jackson today, but I took too long setting up the camera. I’m still getting used to the new camera equipment. At least I got one decent shot. The first shot of the trip, and the first shot with my new Canon EOS 3 is of this moose swimming in a pond. I drove to where I saw a herd of bison yesterday, but no bison today. I’m sure they’ll be plenty in Yellowstone. I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening photographing the mountain scenery.

I set up camp in a light rain, the truck and camper are working out great. I can set up and break camp quickly and I have plenty of space. I barbecued a steak under the awning and had a great meal topped off with an Avalanche India Pale Ale. Decided to watch a movie and watched “Apt Pupil” weird title and a somewhat weird movie. The movie was OK, but I really should have been outside photographing the crimson sunset on Jackson Lake. I feel guilty when I pass up photo opportunities.

July 1, 1999, morning

It’s an inspiring day today. Sunny, with fog and clouds below the Teton Peaks. The views are awesome from my campsite. I’m taking the time to update my log while I wait for the sun to dry out the chairs and awning. I’ll go pick up the EarthRoamer.com lettering for my truck, wash my truck, and have the lettering applied at Jackson Signs. After all that, it’s off to Yellowstone. Today is Canada Day, and I’m in the US, for July Fourth, I’ll be in Canada. Go figure.


Yellowstone National Park

Montana, USA

 

ATTENTION CAMPERS. A bear damaged tents in the Indian Creek Campground on the night of June 28. The bear may pose a hazard to campground visitors. We are attempting to trap the bear. THERE IS NO GUARANTEE OF YOUR SAFETY. If you are uncomfortable with this situation you may choose to camp elsewhere.

      Unidentified Yellowstone Park Ranger

        (on a sign at my campsite, July 1st)

 

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Date Location GPS Location
July 1, 1999 Indian Creek Campground  

North 44.887 West 110.737

Ah Yellowstone. The national park with RV traffic jams. I would love to visit Yellowstone in the winter with no people, or spend time in the back country, but driving through Yellowstone just isn’t that much fun for me. It seems like every idiot in the world is out trying to pet the bison. Don’t get me wrong, the scenery and wildlife are hard to beat, but there is a price to pay and it’s a lot more expensive than the entrance fee. People – lots of people – go to Yellowstone every year. Every wild animal along the roadside causes a traffic jam. For some reason, more than any other national park I’ve been to, it seems that Yellowstone attracts the morons.

Fortunately, I missed a lot of the RV traffic by arriving late into Yellowstone. Arriving late also created interesting lighting for photographing bison. I met a father and son from Florida at the campsite and they were curious about the truck. The EarthRoamer.com logos on the truck is already generating questions wherever I stop. The father and son were going to travel to Glacier National Park, but after three blowouts, it looks like Yellowstone is about as far as they’ll get. I ate a nice steak, used my Magellan GSC 100 to email my latitude and longitude to a friend, and went to sleep.


Glacier National Park

Montana, USA

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Glacier is majestic park, and a refreshing break after the crowds of Yellowstone. Smaller in size with much fewer people. Bison won’t be found in Glacier, but mountain goats will, and the scenery is more striking than Yellowstone. The Going-to-the-Sun road is one of the most dramatic roads I’ve driven with expansive, exhilarating views throughout.

Date Location GPS Location
July 2, 1999 Apgar Campground  

North 48.549 West 113.98

The ER2K (my truck and camper) and gear are performing flawlessly so far. I was a little curious to see how the ER2K would do since I’ve been working on it continuously for the past several months. Everything is really quite comfortable. I enjoy driving and listening to CDs, almost as much as camping. I added some air to the tires, and performed some small modifications to the camper, so I was a little slow out of camp. It’s nice to slow the pace a little. At some point, I need to stay in the same camp for a couple of days and focus on email and my web site. I met a couple in camp who had suggestions on a scenic route (route 541) into Banff. I think I’ll check it out.

I drove the Going-to-the-Sun road, but with scattered rain showers and clouds, it wasn’t as spectacular as the first time I drove it. I met a couple on a motorcycle who were asking about my truck. Cip is also headed for Alaska, and had previously ridden his motorcycle to South America.

The Canadian border police were friendly, but were more than a little curious about my truck. Three of them checked the interior, inside the camper, and all of the storage boxes. Third world border crossings should be interesting. Nope, no guns (Canadians it seems, hate guns). Nope, no bear spray. Nope, no fireworks. Yep, one six pack. Yep, I just bought some firewood. I can’t bring firewood into Canada? Ah, protecting Canada from the US firewood menace. They were so preoccupied with my truck, they forgot to confiscate my firewood.

I planned on camping in Waterton National Park, but the campgrounds were full. Fortunately, it was still early, and the sun sets late, so I continued north to an unspectacular provincial park where I ate a fantastic barbecued trout, rice and caesar salad dinner, topped off with a Montana micro brew. It rained most of the night, which made for pleasant sleeping.


Banff National Park

Alberta, Canada

 

Sticking to the roadways here is like ordering a bottle of fine wine without drinking it.

      Peter Oliver

Fodor’s National Parks of the West

 

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The trip continues as I travel to and through Banff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta, Canada. The scenery and wildlife are amazing, and this is all new territory for me. In many ways, this is the true beginning of my adventure.

Unfortunately, a taste of Banff and Jasper is all I have time for. A couple of nights in camp, and a quick drive through is the best I can do with my time constraints. The Canadian Rockies aren’t as high as the Colorado Rockies, but a combination of lower tree line, active glaciers, and glowing glacial lakes make them appear breathtakingly tall, and incredibly colorful. I haven’t even left yet, and I’m already looking forward to returning in the future to spend time in Banff and Jasper’s back country.

Banff is Canada’s most popular park, but unlike the crowds of loud, rude Americans in Yellowstone, the Canadians (and many Japanese) who visit the park are quiet and friendly. The Canadian park facilities are nicer than US National Parks, but for some reason the Canadian Parks lose some of the feeling of raw wilderness.

Date Location GPS Location
July 4, 1999 Johnston Canyon Campground  

North 51.226 West 115.503

I had a lazy day today. I’m getting much quicker with the routines of the road, and today was a short drive day, so I had a lot of time to goof off in camp. Early in my drive to Banff, I was more than a little surprised to see snow on the cars coming out of the mountains. Sure enough, at around 5,000 foot elevation, the snow was accumulating. The ER2K was handling weird, and I thought it was the wind blowing it around. I got out to investigate, and realized there was a couple of inches of slush on the road. Time for four wheel drive. The roads actually got quite slick and a couple of trucks pulling campers were stuck climbing the pass. I saw a tow truck a few miles past the stalled campers and told him about the problems at the pass. He said he would drive up to help. I later found out that this was a very unusual summer snowfall, and that more than two feet of snow fell on the pass between Banff and Jasper National Parks.

I quickly set up camp in Johnson Canyon Campground, took some photos of the mountains, lake and Canada Geese during an intermission of the light rainfall. After updating my log, I built a fire with the dry wood they forgot to confiscate at the border (while others around me struggled with the local wet wood) and enjoyed watching the glowing embers until I was too tired to keep my eyes open.

July 5, 1999Lake Louise Campground 

North 51.417 West 116.181

I spent the entire forgettable day driving to Mount Revelstoke National Park west of Banff. The drive was much longer than I anticipated, and a delay at Rogers pass caused by a tractor trailer rig crash, resulted in a late arrival in Revelstoke. Frustrated by the long day and late hour, I drove back to Lake Louise in Banff and set up camp. It was pretty much a wasted day; no photography and no interesting experiences. It’s not the first time I’ve made the mistake when visiting a new place to try to see everything in a few hours. I’d be much better off to just find a trail or lake a spend the time getting to know one place well.

 

The Yellowhead Highway from Jasper to Kitwanga

British Columbia, Canada

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I leave the busy National Parks and the tourists for the remote, quiet beauty of British Columbia. The Yellowhead Highway does not disappoint with frequent black bear and elk sightings.

Just a couple of weeks ago, if someone would have mentioned British Columbia (simply “BC” to the locals) to me, I would have had to get out the atlas to find out where it was. I’ve seldom heard of BC, but it is simply one of the most pleasant places I’ve visited. The people are friendly, the scenery ranges from gentle farmland to thunderous mountains, and wildlife is abundant. Finally, to make BC even more pleasurable, RV traffic is relatively sparse.

Most people traveling from Alberta to Alaska take the Yellowhead Highway to Prince George, then head northeast on route 97 to Dawson Creek where they connect with the Alaska Highway. Checking out the map, I noticed another route further west that was largely unpaved and more remote that would cut over 130 miles off my trip. Not that I’m trying to make the trip any shorter, but I do need to get to Anchorage by July 18th to pick up my nieces. Looks like I’ll take the Yellowhead to Kitwanga, then head north on the Cassiar.

Date Location GPS Location
July 7, 1999 Fraser Lake Government Campground

North 54.102 West 124.722

Today was a day of easy driving and many photo stops for black bears, elk and wildflowers. When I arrived at Prince George, I stopped at Safeway to stock up on food since food and supplies would be scarce until I arrive in Anchorage in about a week. I had forgot my Safeway card, but in this small world that we live in, they punched in my Colorado home phone number and gave me the Safeway card discount. After fueling up and making a couple of cell phone calls, I again headed west.

After knocking off about another 100 miles, I was ready for a break and began looking for a camp site. I was near a lake called Fraser Lake and checked out a private RV camp on the south shore. Far too “civilized” for my taste. I decided to drive around the lake to see if I could find a more remote place to camp. After following several dirt roads to houses, I was about to give up when I discovered a small campground. It was right on the lakeshore, and there were only about three other groups camping there. After the relatively crowded national parks, I was elated with my find. I quickly set up camp when a couple of other campers introduced themselves.

After the usual “What’s EarthRoamer.com?” question and my explanation, Ken and another guy originally from South Africa (I forget his name so I’ll call him Mr. Cynical) invited me over for a beer. I quickly ate a sandwich for dinner and headed over to their blazing fire and comfortable camp to an awaiting chair. They introduced me to their girlfriends, and we had a great time discussing American and Canadian people and politics. I felt ignorant as they knew a lot more about US government than I knew about Canadian government, but they patiently explained the Canadian system of government to me.

They were extremely nice to me and with a little prying on my part they were quick to share their views. To summarize their view of Americans: we are fat, rude, and those of us who aren’t shooting each other are dying from lack of health care. And to top it off, our government is a mess. How could I argue with that? When I asked them how the US with all its fat, rude people and crappy government was the most powerful country on the planet, they were as perplexed as I am. Unfortunately, their perception of Americans was heavily influenced by the fat, rude people traveling through BC. OK, fun friendly Americans, go to BC!

As we continued to drink beer, soak in the warmth of the fire, and debate the merits of our homelands, I began to respect Ken and his girlfriend Jen’s intelligence and sincerity more and more.

Their friend, Mr. Cynical, on the other hand was loud and rude, and became more rude as the beers disappeared. He couldn’t accept the fact that I was paying for my travels with money I made in the stock market on my own. He kept insisting that I must have had insider information. Perhaps Mr. Cynical is in the wrong country. Maybe he should moved to the US and join the throngs of Ugly Americans, before his cynicism rubs off on the fun, friendly BC people.

I headed back to my camper around two in the morning to discover that my camper batteries were dead. I had left my refrigerator on 12 volts instead of switching to propane when I parked, and it had sucked the batteries dry in only a couple of hours. No lights, no fan and no pump for the water. And I couldn’t charge batteries for the GPS, digital camera, electric toothbrush and computer. Earlier, I had contemplated staying another day at Fraser Lake, but with the dead camper batteries, I was motivated to continue my drive north.


The Cassiar Highway from Kitwanga to Yukon Territory

British Columbia, Canada

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The Cassiar is an old logging road that starts out paved, and deteriorates as you drive north. The Cassiar Highway is truly remote, and large portions of it are still unpaved with narrow, one lane wood plank bridges. There are signs along the way telling when the forest was logged, and when it was replanted. Early on, it was a decade or more since the area was logged, and the forest appeared to be recovering nicely. Further up the road, the logging was much more recent, and some areas had yet to be replanted, so it was really ugly. But the “propaganda signs” had prepared me for this, and I know that in 10-20 years, all will be well again.

Date Location GPS Location
July 8, 1999 Meziadin Lake Government Campground

North 56.087 West 129.305

I stop in Kitwanga to photograph the Totem poles and I’m not disappointed. I spend a couple of hours there, but could have easily spent all day. The detail and alien beings depicted look like something from another planet. It would be fascinating to learn the meaning behind these bizarre figures. The stately totem poles stood in stark contrast to the rusted out cars, unkept lawns, and Brandy song blaring from the stereo of one of the dilapidated mobile homes.

Except for a brief shortcut on a gravel road in Montana, this is the first time I’ve been off of pavement for the entire trip. Facilities are sparse, traffic is light, and I’m finally getting the feeling that I’m entering a wild and remote place.

I stopped at a couple of roadside rests, and once for fuel, and followed an old logging road for a few miles, but mostly, I drove and listened to CDs. Around nightfall, I pulled into camp at Meziadin Lake. After the campground host makes the obligatory warning about “the bears that were in camp last night…” I introduced myself to the Vermont Subaru Women camping next door.

Yep, two young women, a Husky dog, and a bunch of stuff heading from Vermont to Anchorage. They both went to school in Vermont, and the one was accompanying the other on the drive to Anchorage. They must have been good friends to be traveling together in their cramped small car. As I cooked my dinner in the screened in safety of my camper, I watched them struggle to avoid the mosquitos. I love to tent camp, but it’s nights like this that I really appreciate the comfort of my condo on wheels.

The next morning, they were up breaking camp and pulled out at least an hour before I crawled out of my down sleeping bag. After a leisurely cup of coffee and breakfast, I hit the road again, making frequent stops to photograph the many black bears. I met up with the Vermont Subaru Women at the first fuel stop where they blocked my pump for about 20 minutes. After fueling up, I passed them about five miles later creeping along the rough road toward Anchorage. That’s the last I saw of the Vermont Subaru Women.

July 9, 1999 Teslin Lake Government Campground

North 60.233 West 132.914

The Cassiar has become dusty and long, with many one lane bridges, and I’m getting tired. I finally reach the Alaska Highway, and I’m pleased to find that it is smooth. No more bumps, shudders, shakes, rattles and bangs. I drove on, fueled up at Teslin, and on the gas station attendant’s recommendation, stopped at the government campground on Teslin Lake. It was a quiet, peaceful spot, the sun was shining, and the days were long. I drank a beer, ate my dinner, and planned the next day’s adventure. My first crossing into Alaska, on my way to Skagway.


Turnagain Arm

Alaska, USA

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Wow! After 2 weeks with plenty of long drive days, I finally arrive in Anchorage. I set up camp at Hope Campground just south of Anchorage on Turnagain Arm, and enjoy a warm day of sunshine, the first since Denver. The scenery is spectacular, and I constantly have to remind myself that I’m not in the mountains of Hawaii. I spend 2 nights in the same campsite resting, relaxing and getting organized. I then move camp to Portage Glacier to be closer to Anchorage for a week of running errands and preparing for the arrival of guests. I play super model for a day as a photographer takes photos of me and my truck for an article in the October issue of Money Magazine.

Anchorage is just about like any other urban city in the United States. It seems out of place in Alaska. Much of Alaska feels more like another country than just another state, but Anchorage is a strong reminder that Alaska is part of the U.S. One of the best books I read about Alaska is John McPhee’s book “Coming into the Country.” In his book, McPhee describes Anchorage in one sentence better than I can with paragraphs: “Almost all Americans would recognize Anchorage, because Anchorage is that part of any city where the
city has burst its seams and extruded Colonel Sanders.”

Date Location GPS Location
July 12-13, 1999 Porcupine Campground, Chugache National Forrest, Hope, Alaska

North 60.93 West 149.664

Today is a day of relaxing and cleaning up. I spend a quiet day soaking up sun and enjoying the view of Turnagain Arm from Hope campground.

I’m in cellular range, so I schedule my photo shoot with for Money magazine. Before I left Colorado, John Heylar a writer for money magazine, contacted me about an article he was writing about America Online. While researching his article he ran across a couple of articles about early investments I had made in AOL on The Motley Fool. He sent me an email and asked to use my story for the AOL article he was writing. One thing led to another, and now they were flying a photographer up from Portland to take my picture for the article. Bizarre. I’m starting to feel like Forrest Gump.

The silence of the camp is rudely interrupted by the obnoxious rumbling of a generator. After suffering through the noise for about an hour, I politely ask the man how long he’ll be running his generator. He rudely informs me that quiet time doesn’t begin until 10pm. The sound is about to drive me nuts, when it abruptly stops.

July 14-19, 1999 Williwaw Campground, Chugache National Forrest, Portage, Alaska

North 60.785 West 148.879

July 14

A day of running errands. I take my truck to a shop in Anchorage to get my side windows tinted, then I head to Eagle Hardware. I’m excited to find both an Eagle Hardware and Home Depot, along with a WalMart and Super K-mart. I can buy more junk for my camper. I buy fittings to repair my leaking water tank, carpet for my camper floor, and extra water jugs.

July 15

More errands. Today I have my oil and differential fluids changed in the truck at Cummins and do my laundry.

July 16

John Clark, the photographer for money magazine meets me in camp. We spend the entire day driving around the Kenai Peninsula looking for a good place to take photos of me and my truck for Money Magazine. After taking a few near Seward, we end up back at camp, and realize the best place we’ve seen all day is at my camp. John takes a bunch more pictures, and I’m somewhat relieved when my day of modeling is over. I’m really not very good at smiling on demand.

July 17

It’s raining today, so I fix my leaking water tank, read and hang out in camp. My nieces (Jessica and Katie) arrive tomorrow.

July 18

I pick up Jessica & Katie at the Anchorage Airport and we immediately jump into adventure mode. After lunch we head for REI to outfit them for Alaska. We buy them hiking boots and return to camp for a burger barbecue

July 19

We start the day with a boat tour of Portage Glacier, then head into Anchorage to stock up on food and fuel. While fueling up, I meet Michael, a wildlife photographer who is interested in my truck. After chatting about trucks and photography, I invite him and his son to stop by our campsite.
Michael and his son stop by camp, and he gives me tips on getting my truck into Denali National Park, and also about a guy in Vancouver who builds expedition campers.


Kenai Peninsula

Alaska, USA

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Date Location GPS Location
July 20-21, 1999 Breeze Inn, Seward

North 60.11 West 149.44

July 20, 1999

We drove to Seward, stopping at Moose Pass for pictures. We went on an enjoyable tour of the Sea Life Aquarium, and after discovering the less than desirable camping, decided to stay in a motel.

July 21, 1999

Today we went on the Kenai Fjords Glacier tour and we all had a fantastic time. We saw an incredible abundance of wildlife, including a bald eagle, puffins, sea otters, humpback whales, Stellar sea lions. The glaciers and scenery were nothing short of spectacular. Jessica and Katie make friends with two girls their age from Arizona.



Seward-Valdez Ferry, Denali Highway

Alaska, USA

 

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Date Location GPS Location
July 22, 1999 Bear Paw Camper Park, Valdez, Alaska

North 61.12 West 146.35

We get an early start since we will be taking the ferry from Seward to Valdez today. While waiting in the ferry line, a lady driving a little Ford Ranger truck backs into my quad cab door. It was quite a jolt for all of us, but Katie was in the back seat and got the biggest jolt. Fortunately, it was a company vehicle and it was insured. After exchanging insurance information, we boarded the Ferry.

Katie and Jessica waste no time making friends with the Hockenberrys, a family vacationing from Hong Kong. We are treated to another sunny day and an awesome ferry trip through icebergs from the calving Columbia Glacier.

Prince William Sound is where the Exxon Valdez spilled all the oil, and for the first time I realize the magnitude of this tragedy. It would be like dumping a tanker of oil in Yosemite Valley. We don’t see any remaining indications of the spill and I hope that is a sign that the area will completely recovery. This is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

We make a grand entrance into Valdez with a setting sun and nearly full moon. Once we off-load in Valdez, we quickly set up camp in a local RV park.

July 23, 1999 Tangle Lake, BLM Campground, Denali Highway, Alaska

North 63.06 West 146.01

After eating breakfast while our flat tire is fixed, we see the Hockenberrys and make plans to meet up with them in Denali. We drive most of the day until we find a campsite about half way across the Denali Highway. We have several hours of daylight left, so we explore the area and fix dinner.


Denali National Park

Alaska, USA

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July 24-28, 1999 Denali National Park, Riley Creek Campground

North 63.73 West 148.897

After a wet, muddy drive to Denali, we set up camp at Reilly Creek Campground and eat dinner. The next morning we catch the bus into Denali National Park and see grizzly bears, caribou, Dall sheep, owls, falcons, ptarmigans, hoary marmots, and moose. It’s a long day on the bus and we are all tired when we return to camp. Walking out of camp that night, we see a moose.

The Hockenberrys arrive in camp, and Katie and Jessica are very excited. I’m happy to see then too, especially since I greatly overestimated the availability of food in Denali, and greatly underestimated the appetites of two growing girls. The Hockenberrys generously invited us to share dinner, and we eagerly accepted. The next day was another rainy day and we went to see the sled dog demo. That night we all had fun playing and talking by the fire until late into the night. The next day was sad as we said goodbye, but we’re looking forward to meeting up with the Hockenberrys again – maybe in Australia?

July 29-30, 1999 Springhill Suites by Marriott, Anchorage, Alaska

North 61.19 West 149.88

We drive to Anchorage wash our laundry and wash the truck. We spend the girls last day in Alaska shopping, running around Anchorage and visiting the zoo. Tonight, my friend Patrick arrives for a week of fishing on the Kenai.


Kenai Peninsula and Anchorage

Alaska, USA

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Date Location GPS Location
July 31, 1999 Morgans Landing, State Park Campground

North 60.51 West 150.83

Patrick and I head to Kenai for lunch at a restaurant with an incredible view. Ugh, the first campsite on the Kenai Peninsula is the worst camp on the trip so far. It is a crowded state campground, and somebody is running a generator. It feels more like a constructions site than a camp site.

August 1, 1999 Moose River tent camp, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

North 60.608 West 150.596

What’s worse than being up a creek without a paddle? Being down the Moose River with paddles and a half baked scheme to paddle upstream. The idiot at the canoe rental chose not to inform us of the sheer lunacy of our plan, a kiss-my-ass award goes to that jerk. The “map” showed a short paddle up the Moose River to our takeout and portage point. Wrong. Patrick and I were on the “canoe trip from hell” attempting a 20 mile upstream paddle of the Moose River. We finally found a spot where we could set up camp and abandoned or canoe trip.

August 2, 1999 Dolly Varden Lake, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

North 60.702 West 150.797

Dolly Varden is a nice camp site, but still no fish.

August 3, 1999 Rainbow Lake, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

North 60.718 West 150.818

Ah, life gets a lot better. We enjoy an awesome lakeside camps where Patrick catches salmon for the grill, and I catch an incredible sunrise with my camera.

August 4, 1999 Anchor River State Recreation Site, Anchor Point

North 59.771 West 151.851

Awesome sunrise on Rainbow lake, money phone interview follow-up, drive to Anchor Point, almost get stuck, clamming, Dolly Varden

August 5, 1999 Johnson Brothers Guide Service parking lot, Soldotna

North 60.49 West 151.05

Finally, we end the week much as it started with a two failed fishing trips. A failed halibut excursion is immediately followed by the king salmon fishing trip from hell.

We drive to Homer, Our Halibut trip is cancelled due to rough seas, but Patrick arranges late trip out of Homer. We are delayed for about an hour because the guy can’t lower the engine. We finally head out to fish as the other boatloads of fishermen return. We catch a couple of small Halibut, but mostly just junk fish. We get back to the truck around 11:30 pm and Patrick begins the late crazy drive to Soldotna where we camp in the parking lot.

August 6, 1999 Fred Meyers parking lot, Anchorage

North 61.194 West 149.868

Our alarms rudely awake us at 5am, to a miserable, rainy cold day of King Salmon fishing. I catch a 9 1/2 pounder – while sleeping. We’re, finally done fishing at noon, and find a place to car wash where we repack the truck and take showers. We drive to Anchorage, and have a great dinner at Glacier Brewery, where we see Dusty Hill from ZZ Top. I drop Patrick off around 11:30 and sleep in the Fred Meyer Parking lot along with many other RVs.

August 7-8, 1999 Hope Highway

North 60.93 West 149.542

After 2 weeks with my nieces and a week with Patrick, I’m on my own again. I meet insurance agent about my smashed door, do some shopping at REI, get new tires at Sears, and set up appointment for Tuesday at Northern 4×4 to install my new tires. I get my slides developed and mounted, wash all my laundry including sleeping bags, and find a great “unofficial”campsite near Hope. I
spend entire day of the 8th in camp, taking a few photos of the tide, catching up on phone calls, and sorting slides. It’s great not to have to break and make camp for a day.

August 9-10, 1999 Bird Creek State Campground, Anchorage

North 60.971 West 149.458

August 9, 1999

I stop at the Dodge dealer at 8am to get appointment to replace damaged door. The insurance just wants to repair it, but the dealer says it needs replaced. Back in camp, I build an awesome fire and enjoy a couple of beers as the fire fades.

August 10, 1999

I stop by Northern 4×4, but they can’t get to truck until Wednesday, so I head back to Bird Creek. I photograph dall sheep on Turnagain Arm, and watch people fishing for Silver Salmon in Bird Creek. Back in camp, I finish sorting my slides.

August 11, 1999Centennial Park Metro Campground, Anchorage

North 61.23 West 149.71

 

More Errands. I drop off truck early in the morning, get a rental car, drop off slides for Photo CD, pick up film ordered from B&H Photo at Mail Boxes Etc. When I pick up my truck with new tires and shocks, I’m please to find it’s the best it’s driven since new. Centennial Park Metro Campground is among the worst places I’ve camped, barking dogs, engines revving, but a least it has hot showers, just don’t touch anything!

August 12-13, 1999Byers Lake State Campground, Elliot Highway

North 62.746 West 150.119

 

August 12, 1999

I’m ready for the remotest part of the journey so far, a trip up the Dalton Highway – also known as the “Haul Road.” New tires, shocks and a new track bar make the truck drive like new again. A full load of fuel, food, water and film, and the adventure continues.
I drive to Byers Lake in Denali State Park and set up camp. I hike around lake to scout photo ops, and decide to spend my 38th Birthday at Byers. It’s nice and peaceful with no phone contact.

August 13, 1999

I wake up to a partly sunny 38th birthday. It’s quiet and peaceful here. I read book about bear attacks until late morning (nice light reading), made a cup of coffee to go with my morning bowl of cereal, and now it’s time to finally get serious about updating my travel log and building my web site. I spent the entire day, and well into the night working on my EarthRoamer.com web site. It’s a lot of work, and I really don’t know what I’m doing, but I like the results so far. Going through the pictures and logs, I’m amazed at how much I’ve seen and done already.


Dalton Highway, Deadhorse and Manly Hot Springs

Alaska, USA

Click here to see the photo gallery

Date Location GPS Location
August 14, 1999 Dalton Highway Milepost J 23.9, unnamed pond

North 65.666 West 149.111

It’s good to be on the road again. I spent some time in Fairbanks FedExing my trading records to the writer for Money magazine, and paying bills through CheckFree. I finally found a place with strong analog cell phone access and was able to log on to AOL using my Nokia cellular phone. Communication has been a bigger problem than I thought it would be.

I met a couple in the Mail Boxes Etc. parking lot who are planning on driving to South America. They bought a diesel Land Cruiser in Canada (can’t find them in the US) and are getting jobs in Fairbanks to save money for their trip. They gave me a phone number, so I’ll try to stop by for a visit when I drive back through Fairbanks. I topped off my fuel and water tanks, and headed north. The road was rough, and the scenery less than spectacular, but I found a nice place to camp next to a pond just past Hess Creek.

So far, I’ve spent more time working on updating me web site than enjoying the scenery along the Dalton, but the scenery is beautiful if somewhat bizarre. The road follows the Alaska pipeline which provokes mixed emotions. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the road and pipeline, and I’ll certainly burn my share of diesel fuel driving around the world. But the pipeline seems like a huge gash that completely severs Alaska.

August 15-16, 1999 Dalton Highway Milepost J 274.7, Galbraith Camp

North 68.455 West 149.479

August 15, 1999

I quickly broke camp and headed north, making frequent photo stops. I set up camp at an Galbraith Camp, an old pipeline camp site.

August 16, 1999

I spent the entire day web building, reorganizing my belongs and reading about the pipeline. Somehow, I managed to fill two large garbage bags with trash from my truck. I can’t believe what a mess I’ve allowed this to become. Somehow, I hoped that when I hit the road, my housekeeping habits would improve. No such luck. I’ve lost things for days at a time, only to find them tucked away in some corner. I haven’t been able to locate my spare set of keys for a couple of weeks. I’ve looked almost everywhere, and I would bet they are somewhere in the truck, but I sure can’t find them now.

August 17, 1999 Fleet Services Parking Lot, Deadhorse

North 70.205 West 148.441

I found a nice scenic spot to stop for photography, but what I hadn’t realized is that the most scenic views were at my feet in the tundra. The tundra is incredible. It was like a forrest that is only a couple of inches tall. I grabbed my close-up lens and spend a couple of hours taking pictures of little berries, lichen and the beautifully colored leaves of tundra plants. I expect that these will be among the best shots of the trip.

I saw a large bull Caribou along the road and shot many pictures of it. His rack was huge and he was really close, so I’m hoping for some good shots. Some hunters stopped shortly after I did, and began their hunt. Caribou can be hunted with bows here. The caribou seemed to know the hunters were itching to turn him into Caribou stew because he wouldn’t let them get nearly as close as I did with my camera. I waited a while to see if I could get hunting action photos, but got bored with the hunter’s lack of success and headed north again.

Later, I was driving along enjoying myself when I noticed the “BRAKE” and “ABS” warning lights lit up. I don’t have antilock brakes, so I wasn’t surprised to find the ABS not working, but I WAS surprised to push the brake pedal and find my brakes not working. I coasted to a stop to check it out and found brake fluid all over my rear axle. The brake line had been hit by a rock and was broken. There was nothing I could do but keep driving to Deadhorse. I tried the brakes, but there were none, but found that by using second and low range gears along with the parking brake, I could eventually stop. Fortunately, I was only about 90 miles from Deadhorse and I had already passed the steep grades. I coasted into Fleet Services, and Mike the mechanic quickly verified my broken brake line diagnosis. Since Fords are the truck of choice in Prudoe Bay, he ordered a brake line to be flown up the next morning from Fairbanks.

Mike claimed that everyone drove Fords in Deadhorse because Dodges didn’t hold up in Prudoe Bay, but I later found out they all drive Fords because of the great fleet prices Ford gives them. Many of the oil field workers were drooling and asking about my truck, and it was clear to me they would rather be driving a real truck. I could camp anywhere I felt like driving to with no brakes, so I decided to camp at the Fleet Services parking lot.

August 18, 1999 Sagavanirktok River, Dalton Highway

North 69.63 West 148.653

Mike at Fleet Services fixed my truck, and it was obvious he knew what he was doing. He eliminated a proportioning valve at my request. This valve keeps the rear brakes from locking up when the truck is lightly loaded. Since my truck is always running at maximum load, it is unnecessary and reduces braking performance. I decided to have him take a look at my auxiliary gas tank to see if he could make it functional. He quickly discovered that it was a screwed up mess, and the people who tried to install it didn’t know what they were doing. They had ruined the tank by cutting an oblong hole in the top that wouldn’t seal, used rubber lines that were too small and incompatible with diesel fuel, and had created a bizarre plumbing mess. He explained what needed to be done and suggested a shop in Anchorage (Bob’s Services) that could install an auxiliary tank correctly. I spent the rest of the morning trying to get permission to drive the ER2K the final 5 miles to the Arctic Ocean, but the bureaucrats at Arco and BP were too concerned about my safety to allow such an outrageous endeavor. I paid the $25 and along with two other people, took the bus like a good tourist. I found that other than Chuck the tour guide with a good sense of humor, the Arctic Ocean view at Prudoe Bay isn’t all that interesting. After the tour, I headed south and found a beautiful campsite by the Sagavanirktok (say that five times fast) River.

August 19, 1999 Dalton Highway Milepost 274.7, Arctic Circle Camp

North 66.557 West 150.793

The winds were very strong last night which made for restless sleeping. Several times I awoke to howling winds shaking and rocking my camper. I’ve never camped with the camper in high winds before, but luckily I had parked with the tail end into the wind rather than sideways into the wind. Other than the noise, the camper help up very well. I got a fairly early start since I was anxious to get out of the wind. The weather was rainy and overcast for most of the trip, but I was able to stop for several photo shoots. The colors of the tundra had changed dramatically since my drive up only two days earlier. It’s clear that fall and winter come quickly to the North Slope. Since the weather wasn’t the best and it was getting down to the upper 30′s at night, I decided to knock off some miles and make it as far south as I could.There was a half hour delay for road maintenance, so I chatted with the flag woman who summers in Wiseman and winters in McCarthy. I made a quick fuel stop in Coldfoot, and proceeded south. With fuel stations few and far between, It’s not wise to pass up opportunities to top off my tank. It sure would be nice to have the extended range of an auxiliary tank. After checking out a couple of roadside pull offs, I ended up camping at an unimproved BLM campsite at the Arctic Circle. It’s more than a little strange to drive south for two days, and end up at the Arctic Circle.

August 20, 1999 Manley Hot Springs Campground

North 65.1 West 150.89

Before I pulled out of the Arctic Circle camp area, I stopped for a picture in front of the sign. I was in too much of a hurry to stop on the way north. After a long drive trying to keep the ER2K on the dirt road while admiring the scenery, I stopped for a sandwich at the junction of the Elliott and Dalton Highways. I was trying to decide wether to drive the 75 mile Elliot Highway southwest to Manley Hot Springs or head back to Fairbanks. In Fairbanks, I would have phone access, laundry facilities and hot showers. I drove about three miles towards Fairbanks before making a U-turn and heading for Manley Hot Springs. I wasn’t ready to go back to a city just yet. The Elliot Highway is a dirt and gravel road that travels along high ridges with expansive views of rolling hills, lakes and mountains. I ran into a lady from New York that that I met on the drive to Deadhorse. We stopped to chat for a few minutes, and she was travelling with a friend from Colorado Springs. I’ve met many people from Colorado on this trip. At Manly Hot Springs I set up camp across from the road house, and went to the roadhouse to get some food and a beer. On the way in, a little kid grabbed my hand and wanted me to go outside with him; he had “something to show me.” After getting his mother’s permission, he wasted no time showing me where the playground was. We played on the swings and slide like he had known me forever. I went back to the roadhouse, ate dinner, and drank beers with other campers and the locals. I met Daryl, a gold miner who winters in Louisiana who invited me to stop by to photograph their mine the next day. I met a woman from Lakewood Colorado, and enjoyed a long discussion about Alaska, Colorado and life in general.

August 21, 1999 Whitefish Campground, Chatanika River State Recreation Area

North 65.084 West 147.729

I awoke early for me (around 8am) to sunshine and the sound of my camping neighbors from Minnesota breaking camp. All of the other campers managed to leave without me hearing a sound, but somehow these people seemed determined to keep me from sleeping too late. They were in Alaska visiting their daughter who attends college in Fairbanks. They seemed like a nice family, but the mother was particularly annoying, so I didn’t spend much time talking to them. I went to the roadhouse for breakfast, ran into a guy from Denver that I met in Coldfoot on my way to Deadhorse.

After a great breakfast, I headed out to the gold mine, the road was muddy from the rain during the night. The further I drove, the worse the road became, and after fishtailing, I decided four wheel drive would be prudent. I saw a moose on the drive to the mine, and later a large black bear as I was leaving. I found the mine and Daryl pointed out scenic mine roads for me to check out. After having fun for a couple of hours on muddy mine roads, I was running a little low on fuel and headed back Manley. I found the local guy who sells diesel fuel, but he wasn’t home. I drove around for a few minutes, went back to the Diesel Guy, and he showed up as I was about to leave. I topped off my tank, while he told me about moving to Alaska from Seattle in 1924 at age 13, and raved about the merits of his V10 Dodge Ram. This guy was as authentic as they come and was Alaskan to the bone. It’s fun talking to these old guys, because they love to tell stories, and always have a story to tell. While each are unique, there’s a common trait of independence, and an attraction to adventurous, wild places that they all share.


Fairbanks

Alaska, USA

Click here to see the photo gallery

Date Location GPS Location
August 22-23, 1999 Chena Marina RV Park, Fairbanks

North 64.817 West 147.913

August 22, 1999

Today was a wash everything day. I drove the remaining 30 miles to Fairbanks, and decided to stay at Chena Marina for three main reasons: I could was my truck for free, I could do my laundry and I could take a shower. Yep, after over a thousand miles of dust, dirt and mud, it was time to clean everything. The Chena Marina offered a free car wash because they were next to a lake and pumped the water out of the lake. I spent over 3 hours trying to find the truck I knew was located somewhere under the grime. I pumped so much water on the truck, I was afraid I had lowered the water to the point the float planes would no longer be able to land. Finally, I found my truck, took an incredibly long hot shower, and washed three loads of laundry. Chena Marina also had a modem connection, so I checked my email.

August 23, 1999

I barely left my camper as I spent the entire day working on my web site. It is far more work than I imagined, but it is also quite fun to review my photos and relive the trip so far. I’m amazed at the ground I’ve covered, the sights I’ve seen and the people I’ve met in the past two months. To think that this is my life, driving around, explaining the world astounds me every day.

August 24-25, 1999 Norlite RV Park, Fairbanks

North 64.833 West 147.778

August 24, 1999

I decided it was time for a change of scenery and time to run errands. I went in to Fairbanks, bought a pack of CDRs (recordable Compact Discs) at Fred Myers. Fred Myers must be the only store in the world where you can buy a hunting rifle, an engagement ring, a bottle of wine, some sushi, a gallon of milk and oil for your car! Seriously, they have everything. I figured I had better book my return trip to the lower 48, and found a local travel company. Jessica at US travel told me to take a hike for 30 minutes while she worked on an itinerary, and sure enough, about a half hour later she presented me with a plan that included stops in Juneau, St. Petersburg and Ketchikan. I found a place to get my last batch of slides developed, dropped them off, and then went to get my flat tire repaired. the tire was beyond repair, and after calling every tire shop in Fairbanks, gave up on the possibility of finding a BF Goodrich Mud Terrain 255-85-16 tire in Fairbanks. I had them put a used tire on the rim so I would at least have a useable spare until I could buy the correct tire in Anchorage.

August 25, 1999

Another day dedicated to web development. I burned my web site to a CD, and about 5 PM after working all day without stopping for lunch, I took a shower and headed for the University of Alaska Fairbanks hoping to find an internet connection so I could FTP my site. No luck at the University, but I later found a Kinko’s that was up to the task and began transferring the 17mb of photos and stories. I was within about 6 files of completion when the clock struck midnight and Kinko’s booted me out the door. Back to Norlite to set up a quick camp and go to sleep.

August 26-27, 1999 River’s Edge RV Park and Campground, Fairbanks

North 64.84 West 147.838

August 26, 1999

I headed back to Kinko’s a spent the afternoon finishing the site upload and fixing errors. I picked up my slides, only to discover that Fast Photo was more than a little sketchy. The slides were out of order, not numbered, and had water spots. After a brief lunch search, I stopped back at the Diner I had lunch at yesterday. I was famished, since it was about 5pm and I hadn’t had lunch. The waitress suggested the lasagna special, so I ordered the special. This turned out to be a serious mistake. I haven’t had food this bad since I was in the hospital. I was starved, so I ate as much as I could, but felt like puking after every bite.
August 27, 1999

I decided a needed lead in pictures for my trip down the inside passage, so I called Jessica, the travel agent who booked my reservation, and she agreed to a few photos. There was a nice restaurant by the campground, so I headed over for dinner. I ended up behind a group of about 20 people, and the service was terrible, but it gave me ample opportunity to polish off a few glasses of wine and read my book.


Denali National Park

Alaska, USA

 

The bear held him down with one paw and chomped on his thigh with his

teeth, ripping out a mass of flesh… Forest broke his hand pounding on the bear’s face, and the beast continued to shred his lower limbs… The pain was excruciating; but Forest did not move. The bear took a few

more bites, ripping three ribs loose from the spine and opening the chest cavity… he lit into Forest anew, spanning his buttocks with its jaws and biting to the bone, picking him up and shaking him. Forest thought his head would pop off and his spine would snap.

    Larry Kaniut

(describing a grizzly bear attack on Forest H. Young, Jr. in the book: Bear Attacks, Their causes and Avoidance)

 

Click here to see the photo gallery

Date Location GPS Location
August 28, 1999 Riley Creek Campground

North 63.73 West 148.897

August 28, 1999

I’m a bit hung over from the wine at dinner last night as I prepare to head out of town. At the Mail Boxes Etc., I run into the couple with the Landcruiser that I met when I came through Fairbanks headed North. We chat for a while, and then I hit the road for Talkeetna. My plan is to drive to Talkeetna to check out flying over Denali, but on a whim, I decide to stop at Denali to see if I can get a campsite. I began to feel like I don’t know what to do next, and feel the first signs of being a little homesick.

August 29, 1999

I get a campsite in Riley Creek, and until the first opening in Teklanika, about 30 miles inside the park. I hike to Healy point, and meet two women, one from Houston and the other from Sonoma.

August 30-September 21, 1999 Teklanika Campground

North 63.67 West 149.581

Today I get to drive to Teklanika, about 30 miles inside the park. I drive slowly, stopping frequently for photos. I see three caribou up close and a grizzly crossing the road. While photographing the caribou, I run into Hugh Rose who saw me on the Dalton Highway (about 500 miles away) a week earlier. I get into camp and, run into Mike, the photographer I met about a month earlier in Anchorage. Mike tells me about another photographer, David Hoffmann, and says I should introduce myself.
The next morning, I catch the early bus and meet Sarah, a guide on the Kenai in summer and volunteer teacher in Yosemite. I meet many people who summer in Alaska and winter elsewhere. I have the bus drop me off to photograph a bear and meet some of the pro-phos (professional photographers), including Dave Hoffmann. I’m amused to see the people in the visitor center dutifully wearing their bear bells. The bear danger in the visitor center must be high! It’s an awesome sunny day but I’m beat when I get to camp.

I sleep in and wake up with a headache, I’m going to spend one more day in Denali, with hopes of a clear view of Mt. McKinley. I shower, catch a late bus, and once again, the mountain is obscured by clouds. I take some photographs of Naomi, the bus driver with the pretty smile who works in Alaska summers, and the South pole during northern hemisphere winters. Buck, the Idaho wildlife photographer, annoys me by copying my shot of the driver in the mirror. We’re just about back to camp when we see a wolf. The drivers have said that it is very rare to see a wolf in Denali, and I’ve heard estimates that there are only about a 100 in the whole park. I thought today would be my last day, but I’m so excited by the wolf sighting, I decide to take the bus in one more day.

I catch the bus again, but still no mountain. I decide to ride all the way to the visitor center anyway. At the visitor center, I see David Hoffmann, and stop to chat with him and his wife. After getting back on my bus, he come over and knocks on the window, and asks me if I would like to join him! David has a pass to drive in the park which is the key to getting close-up shots of the wildlife. After an immediate “yes” response, I’m get so excited I leave my $800 tripod on the bus. Fortunately, another passenger sees my mistake and brings my tripod to me.

The next three weeks quickly become a blur as we spend every waking hour photographing wolves, bears, caribou, fox, beavers and all the other great wildlife of Denali. Every day is a new and exciting experience, and I come to appreciate the beauty and magic of Denali a little more each day. The scenery and wildlife of Denali are nothing less than spectacular, and I feel very fortunate to have experienced it close-up for an extended period of time.

Thanks to
David Hoffmann’s generosity, I spent an incredible three weeks in Denali photographing wildlife from sun-up to sun-down. It has been one of the most exciting events of my life, and I think the photographs illustrate clearly David’s skills and patience as a wildlife photography mentor. I would have experienced none of these magical moments, nor had the knowledge and skills required to make these photographs without David’s selfless generosity. Thanks David, for sharing your infectious passion for Denali!


Anchorage

Alaska, USA

 

Almost all Americans would recognize Anchorage, because Anchorage is that part of any city where the city has burst its seams and extruded Colonel Sanders.

      John McPhee

What They Were Hunting For

 

Date Location GPS Location
September 22, 1999 Healey Hotel  

 

It’s been an intense 3 weeks of wildlife photography in Denali, and I’m totally burnt out. I just want a hot meal, a hot shower, a soft bed – and last but not least – a connection to the internet. I’m definitely too burnt out to camp, so after eating a nice dinner, I get a room in a crappy little hotel in Healy. As soon as I get to my room, I try to dial into AOL to get my email. This is painful, 2400 baud is the best I can do. It’s not much of a connection, but at least I’m online. After a badly needed hot shower, I spend the evening responding to email.

 

September 23, 1999 Wasilla Campground
—->
North 61.569 West 149.48

I stop by a local store and pick up a copy of Money Magazine with the article (AOL: The One Stock You Can’t Ignore) that John Heylar has mailed to me. It’s strange to see my smiling mug in a full page shot. I think the article is very well written, but the photo of me looks a little strange. I run into a German photographer I met in Denali and we chat for a while, and then I begin the drive to Talkeetna. I though I would get a room in Talkeetna, but change my mind and decide to find a quiet camp site. After three weeks hanging out with wildlife in Denali, I’m not quite ready to reenter the populated world just yet.

September 24-October 5, 1999 Holiday Inn, Anchorage  

Pulling into Anchorage, I go straight to PhotoWright Labs (927 West Fireweed Lane, Anchorage 907-277-0518) to drop off the 100 or so rolls of film I shot in Denali. As far as I can tell, PhotoWright is the lab for professional photographers in Alaska. I discovered them via the yellow pages phone directory when I first arrived in Anchorage, and later found that most of the professional photographer I met use PhotoWright. Everyone at PhotoWright is very friendly, and the do great work. It becomes a fun place to hang out, as I spend the next several days checking out my slides, and sharing images and stories with other photographers.

I check into the Holiday Inn, drop off my truck at Anchorage Dodge to get my repaired, smashed door repaired, and pick up a rental car.

Allstate Insurance Company gives me the run-around, and wants to repair my door rather than replace it – after they had already agreed to replace it with a new one. Anchorage Dodge takes my truck to another shop to do the repairs, without telling me. I should have waited until returning to Denver to repair my truck.

The next week becomes a blur of sorting and scanning slides, going out to dinner and movies with new friends, and answering email. The Coshocton Tribune from my hometown in Ohio picks up the Money Magazine story and interviews me for a “story about the story.” WTNS, the local radio station quickly follows with a phone interview. The Alaska Business Journal publishes a story and picture about my trip. Wow, this is really weird.

After 12 days of sorting, scanning and web building, I finally post an update to my web site, and leave Anchorage for Haines where I will catch the ferry home.


The Inside Passage

Alaska, USA

Click here to see the photo gallery

Date Location GPS Location
October 6, 1999 Glen Allen, Hotel

North 62.108 West 145.537

 

I ended up pulling out of Anchorage at around 3 pm, even though I was trying to get on the road by noon. I had two pretty long days of driving in front of me, and I was starting out tired. I had spent far too many days and late nights in front of my computer, and I was totally burnt out. Hoping to make it to Tok, I only make it a little past halfway to Tok before deciding to stop for the night in Glennallen. After dinner, I get a room and go straight to sleep with plans for an early start in the morning.

 

October 7, 1999 Haines, Ferry Terminal

North 59.282 West 135.466

Early the next morning, I start my drive in total darkness. I’m in bad need of a cup of coffee, but there isn’t much between Glennallen and Tok. When I ask the twenty-something year old at the gas station how long it takes to drive the 200 miles or so to Tok, he says he doesn’t know, he’s never been that far.

I finally get my cup of coffee in Tok, and my outlook on life improves dramatically. There is snow falling in the high passes, and I realize I’ve been true to my word. I have been telling people all summer that I would leave Alaska when the snow drove me out, and now the snow was driving me south. After an uneventful border crossings I get into drizzling Haines around sunset. I find a restaurant, eat a halibut sandwich and camp in the ferry parking lot for the night.

 

October 8, 1999 Juneau, city street

North 58.299 West 134.402

I’m up early to pick up my reserved tickets for the ferry. I thought I had reserved a cabin, but there were no cabins available. I’m still tired, so I do what most people do, crash on the floor.

We arrive in Juneau, and as soon as I get off the truck I head into town for a coffee. After getting my caffeine fix, I drive to the popular Mendenhall Glacier to make some photographs. The drizzle continues, and the lighting isn’t very good for pictures, so I drive the road to nowhere.

The only way to get to Juneau is by plane or boat – there is no road to Juneau even though it is the state capital. So Juneau has the Veteran’s Memorial Highway, a 60 mile or so road that goes nowhere. It is really strange on a Friday night to see all the traffic on the road. Where is everyone going? Do they just drive to the end a turn around?

John McPhee’s book “Coming into the Country” tells the story of Juneau’s struggle to remain the state capital and I highly recommend his book about Alaska and Alaskans.

I decide to go out for a beer at night, and after driving around for several minutes I find a quiet street where I can park my 21 foot truck for the night. After checking out several bars, I end up at the Alaskan Hotel. There is a band playing, not a very good band, but at least they have live music. I chat for a while with Dave the drunk who is celebrating his 43rd birthday. With his level of intoxication, it’s a birthday he’ll soon forget. He asks me what I do, and told me in no uncertain terms that I was full of shit when I told him I was driving around the world. In fact, he wasn’t interested in talking to me once he heard my unbelievable plans, and that was quite all right by me.

 

October 9, 1999 Juneau, ferry terminal

North 58.381 West 134.687

Juneau is an interesting town. With the big highway, government offices and Alaskan’s in suits, it seemed like it wants to be a little version of San Francisco. A little town trying to act big.

Today, I try to play tourist, but the touristy stuff is all closed for the season, so I go shopping, buy some books and go to a movie (Three Generals) shop at mall, and then camp at ferry terminal so I can catch the ferry early the next morning.

 

October 10, 1999 Juneau, ferry terminal

North 58.381 West 134.687

Whoops! I wake up early to catch the ferry, but I’m informed that I’m a day early. What an idiot. I completely lost track of the days, and I’m trying to catch the Ferry a day early.

I spend the day taking pictures of an Eagle, hanging out at the library and coffee shop, and running errands. I fuel up and fill my water tank, and then its back to the ferry terminal for attempt number two.

 

October 11, 1999 Petersburg, Campground  

I catch the ferry for Petersburg, and once again it’s raining. I began to realize that the 2-3 days I had scheduled is going to be way more time than I want to spend at these places with the cold drizzle, so I reschedule my trip.

After eating out for lunch, I explore another road to nowhere, head for the campgrounds and read a book.

 

October 12, 1999 Petersburg, Ferry Terminal  

I check out the town and once again it is raining. This is starting to get depressing, I need sunshine!

This evening I hung out at a little bar across from the ferry terminal and pass the time talking to fisherman. The two guys I’m chatting with have just finished up a good fishing season and have netted about $10,000 each for the three month season. After listening to a couple of their stories, it sure sounded like a tough way to make $10,000. Once again, I camp at the ferry terminal after revising my trip schedule.

 

October 13, 1999 Ketchikan, State Campground  

More rain. Ketchikan, Juneau, Petersburg; these towns are starting to all blend together in my mind. I check out the shops and totems, and decide to escape the rain by going to see The 6th Sense. It’s a great movie, but camping in a dark isolated campground alone isn’t highly recommended after this movie.

The campground had signs posted warning of flood danger. With thoughts of flooding and ghosts, I drift into an uncomfortable sleep.

 

October 14, 1999 Ketchikan to Rupert Ferry  

The inside passage is wet this time of year (as it is most of the year), but the slow pace of the ferry, and the serene showers are the perfect conditions for enjoying good books and endless cups of coffee. Today, Thursday, October 14th, I’m in Ketchikan Alaska, tonight I’ll catch the ferry to Prince Rupert British Columbia, then early Saturday morning, I’ll take the British Columbia Ferry to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island. From Vancouver Island, I’m only a days drive and a short ferry ride back to “The Lower 48″ — the preferred Alaskan term for the contiguous United States. Another three days of driving, and I’ll be back in Denver after about four months on the road.

I stop to take pictures of the floating houses I noticed yesterday, fuel up, and fill my propane tank. I find a laundromat that also has showers and get cleaned up. At the laundromat, I run into Thomas, a Swiss guy I met in Denali; it’s nice to see a familiar face. We go see Mystery Alaska a movie about a small Alaska town, and we both agree we’ve never seen so many happy Alaskans. We share wildlife photography and stories of home over a Mexican dinner and catch the ferry to Prince Rupert around midnight. I’ve got a cabin for this leg, and crash to the sounds of droning engines and the barking dogs on the deck below me.

 

October 15, 1999 Prince Rupert, Ferry Terminal  

Prince Rupert, a town connected to the rest of the world by a road! My quest for a coffee shop leads me to a cow motiffed coffee shop. Pictures of cows everywhere. Strange. At the visitor season, I meet a nice lady who invites me to join her for a hike.

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I can tell I’m back in BC (British Columbia). It seems the people are just a little friendlier, the town a little cleaner, and it feels safer. After our hike and chat, I head for the library to pick up my email.

At the library, I meet Don and Robin who are also checking their email. I discover that they are experienced world travelers from my home state of Ohio, and they’re taking the same ferry as I am to Port Hardy.

You know you’re in Canada when you go to a Chinese Dinner and the fortune in the fortune cookie is in both English and French. My fortune: “Happy events will take place shortly in your home.” Sounds good to me. Once again, I camp in the ferry line, falling asleep to the sound of rain.

 

October 16, 1999 Port Hardy, British Columbia, Canada

North 50.711 West 127.474

I wake up and Don and Robin are parked behind me. We have a 16 hour ferry ride ahead of us, but the time passes quickly as I have a great time hearing about Don and Robin’s travel adventures and lifestyle. They spent a couple of years living on a sailboat and have traveled all over the world, and have many great stories.

About 2/3rds of the way into our trip, we get into open water and I began to get a little seasick. I don’t need spectators if I get sick, so I head to my cabin and lay down. After a soda and a nap, I feel much better. We arrive at Port Hardy around midnight and I camp at the first campground I come to.

 


Vancouver

British Columbia, Canada

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Date Location GPS Location
October 17-19, 1999 Vancouver, BC

North 49.181 West 122.845

I drove most of the length of Vancouver Island, staying on the eastern coast. After hearing many people talk about the beauty of the west coast of Vancouver Island, I am severely disappointed with the east coast. The only time I stop to take photos is of a logged out area. It’s sad to see what should be a beautiful wooded coast reduced to stumps and trash.

I catch the ferry at Departure Bay, and after spending the past week traveling on ferries, I’m happy to see it’s only a 1 1/2 hour trip. It is a bright sunny day – the first I’ve seen in a couple of weeks – and the sun lifts my spirits. I’m only a couple of days from Denver after nearly four months on the road, and I’m beginning to get excited about returning home.

My main reason for stopping in Vancouver is to check out camper manufacturers. I schedule a meeting with David Lam at Safari Vehicles Manufacturing, Inc. David’s company builds campers that are a quantum leap ahead of typical RVs. David is both an engineer and a craftsman, and his campers are best described as functional works of art. After visiting David’s shop and spending an afternoon discussing expedition camper design, I quickly become convinced that David will be building my new camper.

The exchange rate in Canada is in my favor, so I enjoy many nice dinners, reasonable hotel rates, and have the windshield I broke in Anchorage replaced.

October 20, 1999 Best Western, Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada

North 49.886 West 119.429

Northern Lite Campers in Kelowna British Columbia makes high quality fiberglass slide in truck campers, so I decide to travel to Kelowna to check them out. Unfortunately, most of the models are too large and heavy for expedition use, but it looks like their smallest 6 foot 10 inch “Lite” model could be adapted to a full size truck and would make an excellent expedition camper.

October 21, 1999 Montana Roadside Rest

North 46.561 West 112.886

I met with Mac (one of the Northern Lite owners) and took a brief tour of the Northern Lite manufacturing facility. I really like the idea of using their 6 foot 10 inch “Lite” model as a base for my new expedition camper, but they won’t sell me an unfinished shell, so it ends up being a wasted trip. Time to head for Denver. I travel small country roads and cross the border into the US near Danville, Washington. I drive steadily until 10 pm when I find myself somewhere in Montana. I pass a sign that says the next roadside rest is 212 miles, and decide that it’s time to stop for the night. One more day and I’ll be home.


Littleton

Colorado, USA

October 24, 1999 Littleton, Colorado – the place I call home!

It’s early Sunday morning, October 24th. I awake from a confused sleep, trying to figure out where I am. The room is dark, but it seems oddly familiar. I look around in the near total darkness, and I’m surprised that the room is laid out exactly like the bedroom in my Littleton, Colorado condo. After straining my brain to remember where I had last stopped, it suddenly becomes clear to me. I am home!

After nearly four months on the road, I have arrived at the point where I had started. In my condo, I find the same disastrous mess I had left behind in my haste to begin my journey. The place is frozen in time. It feels distant, and somewhat strange. It is the same. I have changed.

My 4 month Western Canada and Alaska trip was a stunning success! I met extraordinarily cool people (as well as a couple of jerks). I made many new friends and shared incredible experiences. I looked a wolf in the eyes at less an arm’s length away, and I photographed grizzlies from a few short feet away. I watched the sun rise and set from my camper window. I watched northern lights while enveloped in the warmth of my down sleeping bag. I drove as far north as the arctic ocean, and almost as far west as Hawaii. As the jet flies, the distance from Denver Colorado to Deadhorse Alaska and back is over 5,200 miles. As the EarthRoamer® roams, the journey was closer to 16,000 miles.

I broke a brake line, busted a windshield, got a couple of flats, wore out some tires, and wiped out a set of shocks. A lady backed into my truck and destroyed my door. I didn’t get sick, I didn’t get hurt, and nothing was stolen.

Most of the trip I practically lived on salmon and halibut. For three weeks in Denali, I lived on cup-o-noodles, toll house cookies and twizzlers. I basked in the sun, sulked in the rain, and shivered in my camper when the temperature occasionally dropped to 15 degrees Farenheit. I lived life to the fullest.

In the warm, dry comfort of my Colorado condo, I envision winter descending on the Alaska landscape as the long days of summer are transformed into the long nights of winter. I will always remember the vast, wild and spectacular beauty of Alaska. In many ways, I’m sad that this leg of my journey has come to an end. But I’m already looking at the maps, and dreaming of my next adventure. Steamy tropical beaches…