Showing posts from May, 2016

Expedition Alaska 2015 ~ Rafting With Friends ~ Gulkana River

After spending far too much time in the smoke and ash in North Pole, we pulled up the jacks and headed down the road toward Valdez. Our original plan was to go the opposite direction and hit up Denali National Park but the prospect of more smoke made the decision all too clear (unlike the air). Plus, the Wynn's had invited us to go rafting on the Gulkana River. We couldn't pass up the opportunity to get to know them better or to raft a spectacular section of the wilderness.

After an overnight at Milepost V 214.3 (Red Canyon) we headed to Gakona for a rendezvous with the Wynn's and Banks and the inflatable rafts that would float us down the Gulkana River. Well, float wasn't exactly how I would describe this adventure. It was more like engaging in an intense arm workout while buckets of ice cold water are being poured down your pants as you attempt to dodge or duck under tree branches. In other words, it was a lot of fun!

The rafting company provided us with two rafts,…

Expedition Alaska 2015: Fairbanks and North Pole

Having lived in the Fairbanks area for 5 years (1987-1992) it was with mixed emotions that I was back again. Sure I was eager to show Clark around and take him to my high school (ended up we couldn't get on base to see it), the University I attended and some of the places I worked (I held 3 part-time jobs while going fulltime to college) but I also hold a secret disdain for Fairbanks. I never really liked it there. It's a sprawling, somewhat unattractive city. I much prefer the nearby town of North Pole but even it lacked the charm I many places do when we revisit them many years later. To me, Fairbanks is the kind of place you stop for maybe 3 days...tops. Get some supplies, see a few things, change your oil and then go explore the rest Alaska (that is, unless you drove all the way to Alaska to hang out in cities and have access to Walmart).

We were, however, eager to meet up with our fellow nomads. Pioneer Park (which had once been called Alaskaland) offers …

Expedition Alaska 2015: The Sourtoe Cocktail & Ferry Crossings ~ Dawson City, Yukon

When leaving Whitehorse we came to a fork in the road, literally. The road that led west was the Alcan and a span of about 60 miles of potholes, frost heaves, gravel and construction (as reported to us from friends who had already traveled it). The road that led north was the Klondike Loop and Top of the World Highway...a longer route that would take us to the infamous Dawson City. We put a message out to our Alaska Facebook group and learned that the roads were in great long as it didn't rain. North we went.

Once the capital of Yukon, Dawson City was the hub of the Klondike Gold Rush with an estimated population of 40,000 (including Jack London, whose novel Call of the Wild is set here, and Robert Service). Thanks to the construction of the Alcan, which bypasses Dawson City by 300 miles, the population has dropped to around 1400. In the 1960's the city was declared a national historic site so there is plenty to see and do here. We decided to spend two nights here …

Expedition Alaska 2015: Bear, Fox, Jade and Hot Springs ~ Cassiar & Alcan to Whitehorse

The Cassiar Highway ended up being a fantastic decision decision for us. The road was completely paved with only a few areas that required us to take it slow. The further north you travel the narrower the road starts to get, but nothing terrifying. And, with hardly any traffic in either direction there's really no pressure to go any faster than you're comfortable. We found adequate fuel stations along the way, thanks to resources like The Milepost and a Stewart-Cassiar flyer we obtained at the Prince George Visitors Center. The other nice thing about The Milepost are the warnings, annotated in red lettering, throughout the Milepost. As we drove I could tell Clark miles ahead of time that there was a narrow bridge coming up or a rough patch of road or a gas station that we needed to slow down for and not pass (there aren't many options for making u-turns on the Cassiar, it's just too narrow).

Now, I know that some people are a little off-put by Visitors Centers. After …

Expedition Alaska 2015: A Side Trip to Stewart, BC and Hyder, AK ~ The Cassier

Part of the reason we chose to take the Yellowhead and Cassier Highways was that this route offers access to the Canadian town of Stewart and it's neighboring town of Hyder, Alaska. This meant that technically, we'd cross into Alaska well before some of our fellow nomads who were way ahead of us (although we'd still have to come back to B.C. and drive through Yukon to get to Fairbanks).

Along the way, shortly after we turned onto the Cassier, we made a quick little side trip to the small First Nations village of Gitanyow.. Here you'll find a gas and diesel bar (which we soon learned has nothing to do with happy hour) as well as a tiny convenience store with a scattering of snack options. But the real reason we stopped was to see one of the largest collections of standing totem poles in British Columbia. I've always been fascinated with totem poles and the depiction of the various spirit animals. These did not disappoint.

Although Hyder is part of Alaska, it's…