On the Road Adventures

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

June 29 - Anchorage

Rafter on the Susitna River with Denali showing its top

The cinnamon bun was the best one we’ve had so far on the road. The Alaska Highway is supposed to be famous for a succession of wonderful, over-indulgent cinnamon buns, but we have not been impressed until now. The cinnamon bun from the Talkeetna Bakery lived up to the legend.

After breakfast, we hooked up and headed to Anchorage. As we got closer, the traffic got heavier until we were in genuine big-city traffic, which comes as something of a shock after pretty much having the whole road to ourselves for the last month.

We’re staying in the Ft. Richardson Fam-Camp through the 4th of July, so we plan on doing some serious housekeeping, maintenance, and re-stocking, along with a long visit with our friends Deb and Jerry in Wasilla. And maybe a museum or two. Big city stuff like that.

I’m already anxious to leave!

This is a Snowshoe Hare we saw on the roadside in Denali - this doesn't have anything to do with Anchorage, but I like the picture. When Gypsy spotted this big guy, I learned that she can yodel, because that's what she did but he was quite unimpressed.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

June 28 - Talkeetna

We had an easy drive down the highway to the little town of Talkeetna. Once again, Denali accommodated us with some beautiful views. It wasn’t totally in the clear but still visible through the clouds. It was as if the mountain was doing a dance of seven veils, swirling its clouds around it, letting the audience see a peak here, a long slope there – what a flirt!

The little town of Talkeetna is the hub for river rafting/jet boating/flight-seeing trips for the cruise lines, so the Alaska Railroad pulls in, swarms of buses appear, people madly make the rounds of the gift shops and restaurants and then disappear again. We had lunch at the Wildflower, where I had a very good fresh king salmon and Caesar salad wrap, and a piece of chocolate cake that is yummy and will last me several days, it’s so rich. Gerry had a chicken and veggie wrap and carrot cake. We recommend the place most highly.

We’re staying at the Talkeetna Camper Park just .3 of a mile from the center of town. Water and electric, and right next to the Alaska Railway line, so we’ll feel like we’re in a KOA every time the train comes by and blows its horn, but it sure is convenient to the town, which we will appreciate in the morning when we stroll down to get our cinnamon bun and coffee at the bakery.

June 26 and 27 - Monster Trucking

At 8 in the morning, Matt, of Denali Sightseeing Safaris, pulled up in a very prosaic van. We said hello, and he told us that the rest of the group that was supposed to go along today had backed out, so it was just the three of us. Great! A little way off the highway he came to the monster truck parking area, and we switched to one of those trucks with huge tires and a ladder to climb in, for a great aerial view of the road.

We bounced down a narrow dirt road that was the original track for the highway, first going through the thriving metropolis of Colorado, population 2, and right into the south end of Denali National Park. The locals still have the right to use and maintain it, so it’s a view of the park you don’t get on the green bus. We crawled through deep streams and up the banks, through the gravel riverbed, and up into the alder forest with branches swishing along the sides of the truck.

Eventually we got to the top of the Dunkel Hills where we had lunch and took in a great vista in every direction. Poor Matt, he was so frustrated that we weren’t seeing wildlife. We had gotten a look at a moose with a calf, and later a yearling moose, but while we saw all sorts of bear sign, we didn’t see a trace of an actual bear. We did see the tracks of a wolf which had chased a moose through a patch of mud, and talk about big feet on that puppy! Otherwise, we saw a mama green-winged teal with a dozen babies, and an assortment of small birds.

Despite the reclusive wildlife, the day was lovely, the views were great, and Matt was a font of information about the plants, animals, and geology of the area. This obviously is not just a job, it’s his passion. If you are ever planning on a trip to this part of the world, go check out their web site at http://www.denalisights.com/
Steve and Angel run a great operation, and it's a great way to get just close enough to the great outdoors!

June 26 - from Denali to the Igloo

At 4 this morning, Gerry got up and when he came back to bed, he put his icy feet on me and told me that I should go take a look at Denali, which we could sort of see through our front window. I got up and saw the mountain all pink and orange from the sunrise. Now a REAL photographer would have gotten dressed and driven down the road to the really good viewing spot, but hey, it was 4 am, so I snapped the picture through the window and went back to bed to put my icy feet on Gerry. When we really woke up, the mountain was hidden by clouds again.

We had a short drive down the highway to an abandoned motel shaped like a big, white igloo where we were to meet our guide tomorrow for an off-road tour. We just spent the night in the big gravel lot in front of the igloo. Gypsy was greatly entertained by the people who frequently stopped for a rest there. The mountain views were pretty spectacular for our entertainment

June 25 - Denali

Yes, this is really Denali, taken with my very own camera. The day started with a perfect, cloudless sky, a big improvement over yesterday, even if there was a brisk, chilly wind blowing. We said sad farewells to Pam and Dave, and a little later, Bob and Sharon, and then packed ourselves up to move into the park at Savage River Campground. It is 15 miles into the park, and is as far as private vehicles are allowed to go. We knew there was a spot along the road where Denali was supposed to be visible, so as we drove along we were watching, watching. Is that it? Could it be that mountain? And then it came into view and there was no doubt whatsoever. Denali, all bold and blue and white, just towered over every other peak within sight. It was an absolutely perfect, Chamber-of-Commerce view of the mountain. This makes us members in good standing of the 30% club, the number of visitors to the park who actually get to see the mountain during their stay.

After we got parked, we took the car on to the end of the road, just a couple miles farther along. There is a hiking loop right along the edge of the Savage River, so we set off, along with quite a few other people who were taking advantage of the beautiful day. There were white-crowned sparrows singing their little hearts out, one every 5th bush or so, and the river sang a descant under their songs. Tiny wildflowers were out in full force, and every blossom had a little fly taking advantage of the bounty. We saw a ptarmigan family, mama and papa and 5 chicks.
Three of them stayed close to the big birds, but two of the babies were bold explorers and got quite close to us. Farther downstream, another ptarmigan eyed us suspiciously before ducking into the willows. Mew gulls were nesting on the gravel bars in the river. It was a lovely walk.

For all the sunshine, the animal spotting wasn’t great. We saw caribou in two different places, and I caught a glimpse of what was probably a fox scooting across an open space. There were also many sightings of “snow clump sheep,” those white flecks which are surely sheep until you look at them closely with the binoculars; and “fallen log moose” and “willow clump bears.” But even if the wildlife was sparse, having that big blue sky overhead, with white mountain peaks all in bold relief more than made up for it. We drove around later in the afternoon, and the mountain (The Mountain!) was still partially visible, but beginning to be obscured by clouds, and now at 7 pm it’s completely hidden from view again.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

June 23 and 24 - Denali

We drove the hundred-some miles to Denali National Park yesterday. It was showery and cloudy, but the drive was lovely. We brought along a whole bunch of books on CD to listen to while driving, and this whole trip so far we’ve listened to about half an hour of one. The road itself provides a constant source of entertainment, looking for animals, reading the commentary from Milepost and enjoying the constantly changing scenery.

We pulled in to Denali Riverside RV, and it is truly on the river. The Nenana runs a hundred feet below our front window, and Gypsy has been very entertained by the gulls flying below her perch on the dash. We’ve waved at rafters floating below us, and watched the Alaska Railroad trains almost at eye level across the river. We laughed about the trains. It’s the first time on this trip we’ve felt like we were in an official RV park, because everyone knows RV parks and train tracks go together.

24th - We had tickets for the shuttle bus into the park. There’s only one road and no private cars allowed past the 15 mile mark, so you have to ride the bus in. Bob and Sharon chose an 8-hour round trip; Pam and Dave, Gerry and I opted for the 6-hour trip. When we woke up, it was raining, and through the clouds we could faintly see the tops of the mountains near us and they looked suspiciously white. Snow. On the 24th of June it snowed, and continued to shift between rain and snow all day. Our bus driver was informative and entertaining, but because of the mud that kept getting thrown up on the windows, we didn’t see a lot of wildlife – a moose, a caribou, and 5 bears was our animal count for the day. Two of the bears did provide a show for us. One was lying down in the middle of the road. Then he got up, staring off into the forest, and in a moment a smaller, female bear came out of the woods. They flirted around in front of the bus for a few minutes, and then she gave him a come-hither glance and they headed off into the woods for a more private place to play.

We all had a grand finale dinner at a local Salmon-bake place, since tomorrow we’re all going our separate ways. We’re moving into one of the campgrounds inside the park for one night and then going down the road about 30 miles to meet up with an outfit that does off-road tours and the others are headed for Anchorage today. It’s been fun traveling with them and hopefully we'll cross paths again on this trip, but they have schedules, poor things, and we don’t, so we’re dragging the Denali experience out while they have to cover ground.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

June 22, Fairbanks

Pam, Dave and Alan all agreed that they had a great time at the ball game last night. There were lots of people there, and the locals did a good job of welcoming the visitors and they were as interesting as the ball game itself, which ran through midnight with no lights on the field.

We all trekked out to Chena Hot Springs today. It’s 56 miles out in the country, at the very end of the Chena Hot Springs Road, appropriately enough. The drive is very nice, going back and forth across the Chena River. It was prime moose-watching country, and we were pleased to see one grazing alongside the road.

There weren’t a lot of people in the hot springs, and it's not as sylvan as Liard, but it's still a nice place to soak and chat with other travelers. It was very hot, so we moved in and out until we were all nicely parboiled.

The drive back could be a problem, what with the relaxation from the steaming hot water, but the road provided some entertainment. Because it was late afternoon, we saw moose after moose. Some of them were in the distance, but some of them were right near the road. Two big moose and a baby were snacking in a pond in easy view of the road, so we joined the “moose jam” to take pictures. And then there was the one that decided to jump out of the streambed right at the edge of the road just as we were driving by, thereby terrifying all three of us. I could see the whites of the moose’s startled eyes as he swerved right and we swerved left. I didn’t get a photo.

Tomorrow we move on down the road to Denali.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

June 21 - Summer Solstice

Today started off raining, so we all had a leisurely morning. It started to clear late in the morning, so we tried Creamer’s Field again, and spent a couple of hours walking the paths. We saw Sandhill Cranes, swallows and some juncos, heard a lot more birds, and fought off the mosquitoes that appeared the moment we stopped to look at the scenery or take pictures. Good thing we were well sprayed!

The next stop, still taking advantage of the sunshine, was the experimental farm on the University campus, which was bright with flowers of all types and some of those monster cabbages, which were still in their infancy.

Then it was mid-afternoon, we were hungry, and there was the Solstice Fair in the middle of Fairbanks, so we headed that way for some food on a stick. It was pretty much the standard street fair, but the food choices were plentiful, and what we had was very good, especially that monster cream puff with chocolate and about two cups of real whipped cream. Better than fried twinkies any day! We got the official solstice t-shirt, too.

One of the local mushers had some of his puppies at the fair to promote the Yukon Quest, which is a 1,000 mile race between Fairbanks and Whitehorse, much like the Iditirod. They were very cute, and you wouldn’t expect them to be so driven to run, based on their puppy behavior with the kids. Both this little girl and the little guy she was holding were pooped pups.

The Tookers went to see the midnight baseball game, but we decided to skip it. The game starts at 10:30 and hopefully ends around midnight. Sunset is at 12:48 and sunrise is 2:48. Then the nights start getting longer. Ha!

June 20 - Fairbanks

Pam and I started the morning off with a visit to the Farmers’ Market. Unlike Dawson, this market had farmers there, with enormous heads of lettuce and radishes larger than golf balls. There were also about 30 other vendors of all sorts of crafts, artwork and baked goodies. The prune-walnut bread we bought is quite yummy!

We all wanted to see the Alyeska pipeline exhibit, so we trekked out to see the pipeline and read up on all the information. It is an impressive achievement, but doesn’t take long to see. Then Gerry and I and the Tookers decided to go to Creamer’s Field, which is a large bird sanctuary just the other side of the river from town. We got there just as a storm blew in and on further consideration, after watching a few lightening strikes off in the distance, we decided it was a better idea to go to the museum at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. It’s really a nice museum and, unlike most of the other so-called “museums” we’ve passed, this one is very well worth the time to go see. It covers the native wildlife, geology and early peoples of Alaska.

19 June - Tok to Fairbanks

Today we reached the end of the Alaska Highway at Milepost 1422. There was the standard, mandatory picture. They had some sculptures of giant mosquitoes, so Gypsy got in the picture with one of those, just to give it perspective. The road is much better from Tok to Fairbanks, with only a few areas of construction and frost heaves. We enjoyed the view of the Alaska Range and the braided Tenana River.

We are staying at the River’s Edge RV park, which is nice enough, but full up because of the festivities in 2 days for the summer solstice. There is about 2 hours between sunset and sunrise, and this is what the park looks like at almost midnight. We have had to start eating and sleeping according to the clock instead of how we feel, because there are no cues to tell us when noon comes, or when it's time to go to bed. Tonight "sunset" is 12:47 a.m. and sunrise is 2:57 p.m., but the fact of the matter is it will never get dark. Thank goodness for black-out curtains!

18 June - Tok, Alaska

It rained on us pretty much all night, which sure made for good sleeping. While we were outside this morning, I was talking to Dave, when I spied a large mosquito on his head, so I said, “I’m going to smack you in the head.”

And he said, “okay.”

So I swatted the mosquito, and then he said, “So, was there a mosquito there?” Implying I was smacking him upside the head just for fun. Give the number of mosquitoes there, even if I was, chances were I’d get a mosquito for a bonus.

It was a very slow drive from Lake Creek to the Alaska – another day of alternating washboard gravel and frost heaves. There was one point on the road where there was just a forest of little orange flags. They could have just put up a sign saying “Awful road – 10 mph until further notice.”

At last we got to the border, where we stopped for the mandatory group sign shot, and then moved on to the customs booths, where the nice customs guy spent more time petting Gypsy than asking us questions.

A little way down the road is the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge visitor center. It’s well worth a stop, for the breathtaking view if nothing else. The staff was very informative about the wildlife in the area, and they offer a free CD tour you can pick up, listen to for the drive to Tok, and then turn in at the Visitor Center there.

We made the stop at the Visitor Center and got the 16” tall stack of books, maps, and pamphlets that the volunteer there thought we needed, and then we checked in with the Bureau of Public Lands, and got some good information about state parks, BLM camp sites and other free or cheap places to boondock throughout the state.

Our camp tonight is the Sourdough RV park, where their claim to fame is the sourdough pancake breakfast they serve. They have a pancake toss in the evening. You get two chances to get a day-old pancake into a bucket and if you make it, you get a free breakfast. The guy who checked us in was running it, and he had thought it was funny that two brothers were traveling together, so he had the guys stand there and the offer was if Sharon and I could hit our respective husbands in the back of the head with a pancake, we’d get a free breakfast. I missed both my shots, but Sharon hauled off and smacked Bob in the back of the head like she’d been throwing pancakes at him forever. Then it was turn-around-is-fair-play, and the guys got a shot, so Gerry picked up the whole pile and started chucking them at me. It got a good laugh, but not as good as the one I got when I told him that was all the fun and games he was going to get tonight. Then everyone got in the act, trying to come up with places he could spend the night. Much fun. But since we didn’t win a free breakfast, we had breakfast in the morning in Cleo. They wanted $12 for their feast, which, given how much we eat in the morning would have worked out to $6 per pancake.

Friday, June 19, 2009

17 June - Not in Whitehorse

It’s so nice not to write “Whitehorse.” We had a very nice stay there, but it was time to be out on the open road again.

Dave started the morning off well. He was standing just inside the door of their motorhome, bringing in the awning, when it decided to relieve itself of its load of water. Cold rain water. All over him like the winning coach having a Gatorade moment. We missed it, but it must have been funny, because Pam laughs so much when she tells the story she can hardly talk.

It doesn’t take long to get out of civilization up here in the Yukon. There was a frosting of snow on the higher mountains just out of town, and for most of the next couple of hours we had the road all to ourselves. A hundred miles later we came to the next little town, Haines Junction. We were going to stop there, but zip, blink, and we were out of town again. The mountains were getting taller and more impressive as we rolled along. What didn’t get more impressive was the road. They use these signs with what looks like waves on them, usually in conjunction with little orange flags at the side of the road. This code means “frost heaves.” What gets heaved is the motor home or trailer that unwisely hits them at anything over 25 miles an hour. It’s a real roller coaster ride! If it was a rodeo event, we’d get extra points for spurring. Then there is the construction. Gravel washboard roads that fortunately were mostly wet from earlier rains, but still were dusty. I was driving through a long stretch of construction, and when we stopped Gerry told me I did very well. I was only doing 15 mph for most of it – it was easy to do it well. And that’s the way it went: dust and gravel, poor paving with frost heaves, more dust and gravel, then more frost heaves, hop-scotching across at least 60 miles. According to Milepost, this is a long term improvement project to turn this stretch of road from Haines Junction to the border into a smooth, modern road. It’s supposed to be done by 2010. When we all heard that, there was silence for a moment, and then a burst of laughter. Yeah, right!

One advantage of going slow was that there was plenty of time to take in the scenery. We saw Kluane Lake, an enormous body of water, and the east side of the St. Elias Mountains. We had seen the west face of the Hubble glacier on an Alaska cruise a few years ago, and now we’ve seen the eastern side of the same glacier. Granted, it was from quite a distance, but the view was still amazing. Of the wildlife sighted today: a moose, a black bear, a coyote who looked very well fed and sleek, and a porcupine. We saw some vintage Bentleys that had taken part in a road rally up the highway. What a way to travel! In an open, ancient car through all the dust and gravel. There were two guys wearing goggles (smart!) and we laughed at what their faces were going to look like tonight.

We stopped for the night at a wonderful government campground, Lake Creek, which has nice long, level sites, trees, a nearby river, and right now, lots of blue and pink wildflowers. It’s a great place to camp, and when we got here we were just about the only people in the park. I think it’s fuller now, but we’re at the end so it’s quiet and peaceful. I’m glad we didn’t let the first provincial park we stayed at keep us from giving others a try. All the rest, this one included, have been great places to stay, and cheap. This one was $12. Not bad for such a lovely location.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

16 June - Whitehorse - The Last Day Here

It rained today. This is the first time this trip I’ve had to say that. And it was chilly, in the mid-40’s. We broke out the rain jackets and fleece liners and they really felt good. Since the repair guys were still putting Cleo back together, we went to the Murdock Museum in town. It’s a small museum that covers the geology and botany of the area, as well as the history. More stories about the gold rush. Let me summarize: lots of people who had no idea where they were going or what they would find when they got there; much struggle and hardship; and most of the gold was gone when they finally arrived. I think we’re ready to move on!

There were some very interesting pictures of people in ramshackle, make-shift boats and rafts being swept through the rapids at Miles Canyon, which is a narrow basalt canyon that squeezes the Yukon into a ferocious maelstrom of water. Bob and Sharon had gone hiking in Miles Canyon yesterday and highly recommended it, so we stopped by the overlook. Then we decided to at least walk out on the swinging bridge over the narrows, even if it was raining down with enthusiasm. The rapids have been “tamed” now by the dam downstream, but while we were there a small tour boat came through and it was really struggling to make headway against the current, so I can only imagine what a terrifying ordeal it was for the miners in their flimsy, hand-made rafts.

We checked back with John and Jay at New North Truck and Equipment, our great mechanics, and found Cleo all buttoned up and ready for her test run. Those guys are the best! They were concerned for us, always willing to tell Gerry just what they’d done, and they were so proud of the work they did. We were both really impressed with their skill, tenacity and professionalism.

We gave Cleo a test run, which she passed with flying colors, so we are ready to hit the road tomorrow morning. We did decide that because of a number of reasons: the delay, Alan’s schedule for his flight home (poor boy has to go back to work. Bummer.) and because of the forecasted rain, we are not going to try the Dawson City to Chicken run, but we’ll stay on the Alaska Highway to Tok. It’s shorter, so we’ll make Fairbanks for sure before solstice. We’ll just have to do the Chicken to Dawson City route on the way back.

Monday, June 15, 2009

15 June - Whitehorse still

But the good news is that the radiator is fixed and the shop guys just need to finish putting all the nuts and bolts back where they belong, including, I hope, the several very large ones under the bed, next to the engine access. We spent the better part of the day at the Transportation museum, which covers everything from dog sleds to bush pilots. Then we checked out the fish ladder that bypasses the hydroelectric dam on the Yukon. One more day to finish the work and do a test run, and then we'll head to Dawson City on Tuesday. This has been a good place to spend a few days, but we're all ready to move on up the road.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

14 June - Whitehorse, Yukon

If you have to get stuck somewhere, Whitehorse is a great place for it to happen. We all enjoyed the day. Pam, Dave and Alan rode their bikes all around the many miles of bike paths. Bob and Sharon spent quite a lot of time in the transportation museum, which they said was very interesting. Gerry and I took Gypsy for a long walk along the path beside the river and through the town, and went to the Yukon Wildlife Preserve a few miles out of town.

It was yet another (knock on wood) blue sky day and the residents of Whitehorse were out to enjoy it. There were lots of walkers and children playing in a wonderful playground near the river that had all sorts of water features where they could safely get good and soaked. It was so much fun to watch them squirting one another and tipping water on their own heads.

I did a quick run to the grocery store for, among other things, packages of the best ginger snaps ever, and yes, I did sneak a photo of the Cheese Whiz. Only to look up and see one of the store employees frowning at me. “What is it with Americans and Cheese Whiz?” he wanted to know. “You’re always taking pictures of it!” So I guess I’m not the only person to be enthralled with the monster jars of Cheese Whiz.

The Yukon Wildlife Preserve was holding an open house this weekend to celebrate 5 years of operation. It has 600 acres fenced for rescue and breeding of threatened species. We got the free bus tour around the facility, and got to see several of the new babies that have been born in the past week or so. They have forest bison (smaller than their plains cousins), elk, mule deer, forest caribou, several varieties of mountain sheep and goats and musk oxen.

Most of the babies were well hidden from view, but one of the mountain goat mamaaaaa’s was co-operative and brought her twins out to view. The musk oxen were interesting. They resemble walking hay stacks. It was a fun way to spend the day.

On the way home we encountered two winged things: The first was a DC-3 that is mounted as a weather vane at the Whitehorse airport. It is a real working weather vane and is in a different position every time we go by it. It started life in 1942 as an Army Air Corps cargo plane, and after the war it was brought to Canada where it hauled freight and passengers until 1970. It's quite a story, and quite a feat to balance it to move at the will of the wind.

And the second flyer was a bald eagle, who was hanging out next to the Yukon, probably scouting for an unwary fish below.

Here it is at 10 pm and the sky is as bright as noon. We’ve put a foam core board insert into the sky light because it’s just annoying to wake up, think you’ve overslept until 9 or so, only to find that it’s 4:15.

Tomorrow we find out what the deal is with fixing Cleo, but we aren’t sorry to have yet another day to spend here.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

13 June - Whitehorse

No adventures today. We are parked in front of the RV repair place and got to talk to the owner this morning when he stopped by the office for a minute. He's a nice guy, and confident that he'll have us back on the road quickly. I turned on the generator and ran the vacuum to get some of the talcum-powder fine Yukon dust out. My recommendation to anyone who faces this dust is to just start with the ceiling and work down. It gets into everything. Then I did a couple of loads of laundry. Gerry got to meet a local amateur radio operator who started talking to us on the radio.

The Tookers and Bob and Sharon got into town, and we all had a great dinner at Klondike Ribs and Salmon restaurant, and we're having an early night of it. We'll do more exploring tomorrow.

12 June

12 June – Watson Lake to Whitehorse

The motorhome now has an official name. I’d never figured out just what to call it, but I knew that some day a name would come. This is the story about how the motorhome got her name, or Gerry and Theta’s Excellent Adventure.

We started off on another hard day’s drive, 150 miles up the road to a little community called Teslin Lake. Its claim to fame was a stop called Mukluk Annie’s, kind of a cult RV place where you ate what was reputed to be a very good meal of salmon or steak with all the trimmings, and then you could stay in their RV lot for free. Good deal! It was another blue sky day and the scenery was again spectacular. (Are you going to get tired of reading that? Tough.)

About 60 miles up the road we ran into our first construction with lots of rocks and dust, so Gerry slowed way down and we crept along, as advised by all who have driven this road before. After a while, we pulled off into a rest area that overlooked the Liard River, the ponds and pools in the woods below and snow capped mountains surrounding the valley. A great spot for pictures. I jumped out and went to the back of the motorhome, where to my dismay there was liquid coming out the back end. Not in drips or drabs, but an arterial stream of bright green fluid, gushing out the back end beneath the engine. Dave, in his laconic Dave way, said, “That would be coolant.” What was crossing my mind were the words of another friend of mine: “Oh S**T, oh dear!!!!!!!!!!”
There was a brief moment when we all hoped that something had just come unscrewed, but noooooo! It was a nasty, sharp little rock that had evaded the mud flaps and the rock screen surrounding the working parts and punched a hole though one of the radiator fins.

So, now what? Bob whipped out his satellite phone and played tag with the comm satellites that were peeking in and out over the horizon. While he was trying to nail down a signal, we perused the Milepost and found that there was a motel and gas station 10 miles up the road with a phone number. If they were open, then they might a working phone. (These things are not guaranteed around here – it’s OUT there.) So Gerry took off in the car, and the rest of us had lunch, did some bird watching, tried to evade the clouds of dust that were thrown up by the big rigs that came roaring through the construction area, throwing up clouds of dust like a squid blowing ink. A nice couple, Janet and Neil from Boise, Idaho, stopped to take photos and stayed for while to offer sympathy and corn bread, both of which were most appreciated.

Thanks to our ham radios, we found out that Gerry had arrived at the motel, the Rancheria Lodge, and had conferred with the insurance folks. Pam, Sharon and I were in Pam’s motorhome when a guy pulled up in a pick-up. Pam said, “I wonder what he’s doing?”

I said, “If he has a camera in his hand, he’s taking pictures.” But it wasn’t a camera, it was a honking big wrench in his hand. It was the owner of the Rancheria who had come to see if he could fix the problem. Gerry was astonished – he hadn’t even known the man had left. Dennis Bouchard, our knight in a blue work shirt, peered at the back, then came inside and joyfully dove head first into the engine compartment to try and find the leak. By this time most of the liquid had filled up a wash pan and the better part of an empty cat litter tub (carried along because ‘ya never know when ya’ll need a bucket’) so it was difficult to see the hole. So we got out the funnel and filled the radiator back up with the salvaged fluid and a few buckets of water from the water tank. Now mind you, the guys are having as much fun as a litter of puppies, conferring about this and plotting about that. They finally decide that we needed to move the motorhome on down the road to the lodge on the chance of fixing it there. The guys poured more water into the radiator, and I started the motorhome up, Pam riding shotgun with me, for the 10 mile drive.

I kept an eagle eye on the temperature gauge, watching while it climbed to 50% and then up toward 75%. Bob was behind us, giving me all sorts of advice like, “put it in neutral and let it coast down the hill.”

Pam said dubiously, “Are you comfortable with doing that?”

“Nah,” I replied. “I’m just ignoring him.”

When the needle slid over the 75% mark, I found a wide-ish place and pulled over, with the whole wagon train behind me. By this time someone had gotten smart and we pulled out a section of hose, hooked it to the faucet to the water tank and stuck the other end in the radiator reservoir to refill it. The temperature went back down and we started off again. This time we made it to the turn off for the lodge before the temperature got critical. I pulled in, shut it off and thought, “that was longest 10 miles I’ve ever driven!”

While all the men resumed discussing possible scenarios, the three women retired to the café for something restorative.

A word about the Rancheria Lodge: It’s a small motel and RV park and restaurant out in the middle of nowhere, otherwise know of as Historic Mile 710 on the Alaska Highway. The family runs it year-round, even with the 14’ of snow that they got last winter, and are often filled with people seeking refuge from the wild weather. If they have empty motel rooms, they leave them unlocked so if someone needs one, they can go right in, get a good night’s sleep and settle up in the morning. They are shepherds of the road, taking care of all the lost, cold, broken-down sheep who find themselves on their part of the highway, and they are real heroes.

The final decision, made after much consultation with the insurance people, was to have the motorhome towed to Whitehorse, 200 miles away. We settled in for a long wait until the tow truck got there, and while we waited, we enjoyed some truly excellent homemade pie and coffee. We were astonished when a truck pulled up barely an hour later, and not just a standard tow truck, either. This was a big tractor trailer with a bed behind it that was long enough to put the motorhome up on the trailer completely. A burly young man jumped out and introduced himself as our driver. Through an amazing process, he guided Gerry as he drove the motorhome up onto the trailer, and talk about driving to the inch! There was less that 12” on one side, and about 8” on the other. I am so glad I didn’t have to do that bit of fancy driving! Gerry said he just looked at the driver and did what he told him, because he sure didn’t want to look down and see what he was doing.

We loaded the car with dog and other necessities, and took off following our poor, broken motorhome as she sailed serenely down the highway like Cleopatra on her barge. And that’s when she finally got her name: Cleo, sailing up the Alaska Highway instead of the Nile. And let me tell you, she traveled faster than she ever has before or ever will again! There were times when we were pushing 80 trying to keep up with the tow driver. We made Whitehorse faster than we ever would have otherwise, even just driving the car, and so now we are sitting outside the diesel repair shop, dry camping until Monday when they open for business and will finally take a look at Cleo and do what needs doing to get her back on the road again.

The Tookers and Bob and Sharon traveled on to our original destination, Teslin Lake, only to find that Mukluk Annie’s was out of business. I hope they found some place to have dinner. They’ll catch up with us tomorrow, and then I guess we’ll go check out the exciting scenes of Whitehorse. I hear they have a museum!