Tuesday, May 26, 2009

We made it!

We are officially homeless in Fairbanks now! Alaska is incredible. INCREDIBLE. Imagine Michigan's Upper Peninsula but with beautiful, snow-covered mountains sticking up over the trees. I feel completely and utterly at home, and am even forgiving the mosquitos that are EVERYWHERE. They're good motivation to find a home.

Yesterday, we thought we saw a bag of trash on the side of the road, and went to drive around it when it moved! It turned out to be the biggest porcupine either of us had ever seen! We were so shocked that we didn't even try to get the camera out and we missed that picture, but we did finally get a picture of a moose!

Our final wildlife totals:
  • Caribou - Too many to count
  • Elk - Too many to count
  • Moose - 4-5
  • Porcupine - 1
  • Bear - 7 (including a mama and two cubs lined up patiently waiting to cross the road)
  • Bighorn Sheep - 10-12
  • Bison - Too many to count
  • Coyotes hunting - 1 pack
  • Cows
  • Deer
Final odometer reading: 3,550

Cost of gas: $862 (though I need to dig out my notes to verify this)
Cost of lodging: $523 (ouch! Over budget, but we couldn't cancel the hotel rooms to accommodate the new traveling dates and we needed internet for work, so we ended up staying in hostels for the extra nights)

Fun/weird sites we saw:
  • World's largest weathervane
  • (Possibly) Canada's largest beaver statue
  • Ghost town
  • Worst maintained roads on earth (personal opinion)
  • Alaska Pipeline
  • Santa Claus's house in North Pole, Alaska

Also, just to avoid any confusion for people out there who have not visited Alaska, there are quite a few mosquitoes here in the summer. We were a bit confused when we came up here because the City of Fairbanks official website says this in their FAQ section:

Are the mosquitoes bad in Fairbanks?
No. We have some of the best mosquitoes in the world in Fairbanks.

Seriously, I am not making that up. Look at the website. They are really trying to mislead people about the mosquitoes.

Also, Sarah has the incredible ability to kill mosquitos with one hand in mid-air. Very "Mr. Miagi". I'm going to give her a pair of chopsticks and see just how talented she really is.

Yesterday, Aaron's bank card started being declined. Turns out, someone (him) had obviously gone on a bit of spending spree (gas and lodging) in another country, and since the bank couldn't get ahold of him to verify the charges, they put a hold on his card. We are currently trying to get ahold of the bank to explain to them what happened.

On to the pictures!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Made it!

We are in Fairbanks, after driving a grand total of around 3550 miles. Just to put things in perspective, that would be like driving from New York City to Los Angeles AND THEN driving to Salt Lake City (which is 3480 miles). We are very tired and will put up a full post with details tomorrow. It's almost 10 pm and still light enough to read by. The sun is supposed to set around 11:41 tonight. We'll see how sleep comes (since we are in a tent tonight...).

Where in the world are we?

Miles so far: 2,668
Hours of Driving: 50

Miles to drive today: 589
Hours to drive: 11 hours, 40 minutes

Another long day, but it's our last. We decided to skip the really cool park with the volcanoes and glaciers because the road to get in the park almost needs 4wheel drive, and we have even less clearance than usual with our car so loaded down. Plus, most people see the park by bike and that's something we'd REALLY like to do, so we'll go after we buy bikes.

We're picking a hostel to stay at in Fairbanks, because we aren't sure how long it will take us to find a place, and hostels are cheap.

By the end of the day, we'll be in America again!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Yep. That's a bear. We saw a few today. And LOTS of Caribou. Still no Black Mountain Sheep though. Caribou are really pretty cool close up. They're huge and powerful and kind of cute.

We made it to the Sign Post Forest! We found signs from Lansing, MI and Longmont, CO and a lots of other familiar places. Apparently there are over 65,000 signs at the moment.

This was some of the coolest blue-green ice I've ever seen. It was all upswept and spikey.

Last night's hotel room was TERRIBLE. And the night before didn't have wireless internet (which made working hard) or a continental breakfast (which made eating breakfast hard). But tonight's is so pretty, all decked out to fit the whole 'gold rush' theme, the bed is super comfy, and we drove twice as long today as any other day on the trip. Plus, we aren't sure where we want to go tomorrow, so I'm going to sign off, and enjoy a great night. Hope yours is just as good!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

in Fort Nelson tonight

So, I have to apologize. I was a little harsh on northern Canada yesterday. There is some stunning scenery. It's generally pretty flat, but most areas are blanketed with trees. And the wildlife is also impressive. We had a caribou run in front of the car today:

That being said, there is still this weird propensity for flat places to make giant statues of things. Why? Well, to get people to stop. Today, we stopped at what MIGHT be the largest beaver statue in Canada.

There's another beaver statue in eastern Canada, we were told, that could possibly be larger, but they just haven't gotten around to measuring to see which one actually hold the title. Also, they apparently have had some trouble with people getting hurt on, around or maybe even by the statue:
We also tried to stop at the worlds largest glass beehive, but we must have driven right past it. And we were looking.

Oversided beavers aside, we are now officially on the road to Alaska. There was a momentum they erected for the occasion (I guess they didn't put it there just for us, but whatever).

And here is milemarker zero on the Alaska highway:

Food in Canada is not that great

(This is Aaron writing) I don't want to tick off any Canadians out there, but food in Canada is pretty bad. Two national chains, Boston Pizza and Tim Horton's, are pretty bad.

First, Boston Pizza. It reminds me of Chuck E Cheese pizza, after you have been playing skeeball for about three hours. It's weird because the restaurants are very nice looking, well decorated, a nice selection on the menu. But the pizza is gross, and it must be the only place for the local high school kids to work over the summer. Seriously, the clerks were passing notes, giggling and holding very vocal side conversations while there was a line of five or six people waiting on them. Maybe I just hit them on a bad day, but I think Degrassi must have teen life in Canada spot on.

Then there is Tim Horton's. It's got all the hype of Krispy Kreme circa 2000. I was excited because everyone said that their donuts are good, but what they really do well is coffee. Not true. Admitted, the donuts were good. Not any better or worse than Dunkin Donuts or Kripy Kreme (is there a rule for donut stores to alliterate?). But their coffee was like freeze-dried Folgers. They brew it really hot (seriously, hot for even me) so you can't drink it until you are out of the store, and then then you only have your maple donut to complain too... sad state of affairs really.

We are in Grande Prairie now. And it looks like a grand prairie... If you have driving through Kansas or Nebraska, then picture that but a thosand miles longer. I say longer instead of larger, because places like this are not areas to enjoy but places to get through.

Zach and Lindsey, by the way, the meatballs were excellent. Eat them without fear.

Halfway Point?

Today we learned that you should really buy gas. Even if you think you don't need it, even if it's probably overpriced. Buy it anyway. A non-freaked out wife costs much less in chocolate penance. (Note from Aaron: We didn't actually run out of gas. The low gas warning beeped... and then thirty kilometers later beeped again... and then thirty kilometers later we finally got to a town that had gas.)

Animals we've seen so far this trip:
  • Bear Cub (we decided to stay IN the car, since one of us has never seen a bear that close up before, let alone without fences)
  • Moose (much more intimidating up close than the stuffed animals and cartoons would lead you to believe - these things are HUGE)
  • coyotes hunting deer
  • Buffalo
  • elk
  • caribou (so cool!)
  • deer
  • Bighorn sheep
Unfortunately, I was working in the car yesterday so my shutter finger wasn't as quick and we missed some good pictures. Hopefully today will be better.

Here's some of what we did get:
Aaron is so darn cute. He found a friend!

Apparently, this canyon is a huge mystery to geologists. It's pretty to the rest of us.

How old is it? How did it get here? I wonder what weird stuff people have dropped in?

The road to Alaska:

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Things that we've learned in Canada...

So, we've been in Canada for a few days now, and there are a couple of things that we've found out:

1) DON'T SPEED! Since we got in to Canada, we've seen at least four people pulled over per day. It seems to me like the police don't have any other crimes to worry about, so they actually enforce speed limits... crazy, I know. Today, I was driving 40 km/h in a construction zone (the speed limit), and someone flew around me in a no passing zone. About 2 km down the road, a police car came up behind me with his sirens on, passed me, and then pulled that guy over (actually, it was a middle aged woman). So, lesson learned... don't speed in Canada; they will get you. Here's a picture of that poor individual who was smart enough to speed pass me in a no-passing, construction zone:

2) Be careful about the wildlife. They will sit in the middle of the road, and they don't even care that you can't get around them.

3) Also, if you are staying in a hostel, bring amazing food to cook. Seriously. Breakfast, lunch or dinner, people are making meals that wouldn't be out of place in a decent restaurant. I don't have a picture here because hostel kitchens are not places that you generally would like to see a picture of. Think school cafeteria with a bunch a twenty-somethings instead of a lunch lady...

4) John Denver wasn't full of crap when he sang about Jasper, Alberta (two men, four ponies... you know the song). I was stunned after every corner we turned.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The hobos have crossed the border!

Well, we're officially in Canada. We also forgot to put the SD card back in the camera, so all the pictures we took in Glacier National Park and crossing the border are gone. Oops.

So last night we got into camp at a reasonable hour, but we were the only ones tent camping in the park. There was a reason for this. Glacier National Park is not a park to be trifled with. More than once we heard something outside the tent (hopefully an herbivore of some kind), saw/felt/heard something nudge the tent, and got up to go look. Does anyone actually know the correct protocol for when a bear is outside your tent? We never saw anything, but if it had been a bear, are we supposed to await our death there or try to make a run/slow walk for the car when the bear goes to the back of the tent?

Other lessons learned:
1. Don't use a tarp outside the car until you NEED it. No matter how you bungee cord, rope, tape, or otherwise adhere it to the car, it will be blowing in the wind, and that will make it tear. We have switched to trash bags.
2. Cut the rope. Yes, it's nice to have a long length when you need it, but if you leave it one long piece it becomes useless. USELESS. And the flapping end will fray and tangle with the fraying tarp and you will end up cutting it apart anyway.
3. You cannot truly appreciate a mountain park with a snowstorm coming over the mountain toward you. Glacier is stunning, but coming early to avoid the crowds may also mean avoiding the scenery as well.
4. You're ambition to hike will be diminished in a cold, gusty wind. Especially when there is also sleet. You may end up looking out the car window at the park. Check the weather before you go.
5. Tearing down a tent in sleet/wind is miserable. Especially when you have to pack it down correctly because you don't have room to just stuff it in the trunk. Check the weather before you go.
6. Put your SIM card IN the camera when you are done taking off the pictures.

This reads: Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump Interpretive Center. The people in this area would stampede buffalo off a cliff, kill the buffalo that were injured but alive, then butcher and eat all the buffalo that died. And they used this technique, and this same cliff, for at least 5,600 years. Apparently, the buffalo never figured it out. How long does it take to evolve exactly?

The killing fields. Apparently, the fall used to be a lot farther, and therefore more effective, but over the years the carcasses built up so much that the people had to kill most of the buffalo after they had been stampeded. Um, gross.

Anybody remember the movie Cool Runnings? This is where they wiped out!

I think it's nice that they've kept up the signage. Apparently this is now a really fantastic rec center (basically). You can go for real training, or you can go play on a zipline, or go down the ski runs inside large plastic balls. Crazy.

Apparently no one has told the Canadians that the American flag must be flown highest, and that there really shouldn't be a bigger flag of a different country nearby. I actually did a double take when I realized that our flag was the same size as the rest, and in the bunch with the rest. I'm not sure when I became a snooty American, but I seem to be one now. Oops.

Our playlist so far:
The Call of the Wild - Jack London
Restaurant at the End of the Universe - Douglas Adams
In Cold Blood - Truman Capote

The rest of our audio books got screwed up on the discs so we're going to put them on an IPOD and hopefully start more Alaska stuff tomorrow!

Tonight we're at a hostel in Banff (yay real kitchen!) and tomorrow we'll enjoy some more incredible Rocky Mountain Loveliness!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Our first post from the road!

For starters, we didn't leave Denver until 5:30 pm. Then, we took a wrong turn. The upside of getting lost in the middle of Wyoming in the middle of the night is that we got to our campsite at sunrise. Watching the sun rise and slowly illuminate the Grand Tetons is good for the soul. A sight like no other. The snow capped peaks shone like the stars. It was awesome.

Since we were running a bit late, we didn't see much in Yellowstone. Tonight, on to Glacier. BEFORE sunrise!

Now, on to pictures! These are all out of order and not edited or even cropped down yet, but you get the idea!

We are usually tucked in bed no more than 15 minutes after we've picked our site, after driving until 5 a.m. I think we might have done it in under 10!

Blue Steel, all fixed and ready to go.

So, it never actually occurred to me that the 45th parallel exists outside of the northern lower peninsula of Michigan. This was quite a surprise to the part of me that apparently felt the entire parallel was in MI.

Old Faithful was late!

What part of the "Do NOT feed the wildlife" signs did you not understand? This little dude was TERRIFIED for the record. Apparently, he did was not inside this lodge of his own volition.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Here's something to be happy about...

Forecast for the Auroral Borealis

You can see the northern lights around 240 days a year in Fairbanks... There's something to be happy about!

New Plan

May 18th, Day 1: Monday: Car done in afternoon, drive to Grand Tetons
May 19th, Day 2: Tuesday: Grand Tetons/Yellowstone to Glacier
May 20th, Day 3: Wednesday: See Glacier, drive to Banff
-Hostel in Banff $30/person (shared)
-Hostel in the park, Lake Louise
May 21th, Day 4: Thursday: See Banff, drive to Jasper
May 22th, Day 5: Friday: Jasper to Grande Prairie
May 23th, Day 6: Saturday: Grande Prairie to Fort Nelson
May 24nd, Day 7: Sunday: Fort Nelson to Whitehorse
May 25rd, Day 8: Monday: Whitehorse to Fairbanks

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Blue Steel, our modern day trusty steed, is out of commission:

Somehow, this accident that looks like a fairly minor accident came close to totaling our car. Even more bizarre, it was nearly totaled (according to the insurance company) but it will be fixed either Friday night or Saturday morning.

The show will still go on! And no more than a few hours late!
All we had to do was tell the insurance company and garage that we were supposed to be leaving this Saturday and the put a rush on everything for us. So far, really loving Geico. Really.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Menu! (I think we need more work!)

Yay food!

breakfast: @ home
lunch: chicken/tortilla/veggie wraps
fruits and veggies for snacks
Dinner: macaroni & cheese with broccoli

Breakfast: oatmeal with raisins and honey
lunch: chicken/tortilla/veggie wraps
snacks: finish our our fruits and veggies
Dinner: tuna cakes

In Canada we'll get more fruits and veggies.
Breakfast: yogurt and cereal
Lunch: lunch meat turkey/tortilla/veggie wraps
Dinner: spaghetti with turkey meatballs

Breakfast: more of the same
Lunch: lunch meat turkey/tortilla/veggie wraps
Dinner: grilled cheese with tomato soup

Breakfast: more of the same
Lunch: lunch meat turkey/tortilla/veggie wraps
Dinner: in a hotel

Breakfast: continental breakfast
Lunch: breakfast leftovers
Dinner: in a hotel

Breakfast: continental breakfast
Lunch: breakfast leftovers

Breakfast: continental breakfast
Lunch: breakfast leftovers
Dinner: at the hostel in Fairbanks!

So we can't take any fruits or vegetables over the border into Canada. On Wednesday we'll go grocery shopping and buy fruits and veggies to last until Sunday night.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Elaborated Itinerary

Saturday 5/16
On the road between 6 and 8 am!
8 hours, 20 minutes to Grand Teton National Park
Hiking:Inspiration Point (2.2 mi from the shuttle) Shuttle boat for $10
Phelps Lake Overlook (1.8 mi)
Leigh Lake (2 mi) - might be a frontrunner because it's so easy. Tomorrow's hike is of moderate difficulty so we may need to keep it easy today.
Camping at Jenny Lake Campground

Sunday 5/17
Drive to Old Faithful - 1 hour 10 mins

Yay Old Faithful!
Hiking: Mystic Falls (2.5 mi, plus a short hike to get to the trailhead) This one might be a stretch, so we'll see how I feel, but we missed it last time and I really don't want to miss it again.
Leave Yellowstone through the Roosevelt Arch and keep driving to Glacier National Park. The drive will be one hour to the Arch, then 6 hours to the east side of the park, a bit longer if we decide to check out the west side of the park.
The only campground is St. Mary, so I guess we'll be staying there!

Monday 5/18
Updated Glacier Snow Plowing
Glacier Trail Status
I have no idea where to start picking a hike here, maybe we'll just ask the Rangers for advice, they've never steered us wrong before!
Also, I've been told the Canadian side of this park is better than our side, so we should stop at Waterton Lakes National Park.

Why is it that Canadian National Parks all have some unbelievable perfect lodge sitting just right, looking like a castle? We hide our buildings, they make castles. I'm not saying one is better than the other, I'm just happy to experience them both!
We need to get up to Banff or just outside it this night. We haven't decided where to stay yet, we though we wanted to camp in the park but no soft-sided camping is allowed after the bears wake up! So we'll either stay outside the park (do the bears know to stay INSIDE the park?) or find a hotel. Drive time: 5 hours 25 minutes

Tuesday 5/19
Let's enjoy Banff!
Maybe hike to Stewart Canyon:

1.4 km one way

Maybe we should do Bow River:

It's gorgeous! And 5k is 3.1 miles, since this has very little elevation loss or gain, I'm thinking it might be doable!

Johnston Canyon Lower Falls:

1 hour roundtrip, 1.1 km one way

Johnston Canyon Upper Falls:

2.7 km one way

Silverton Falls

.7 km one way

Fairview Lookout

1km one way

Banff is going to be AWESOME!

We should make it to Jasper tonight: 3 hrs, 30 mins
Not sure where we're staying yet. We'll get back to you.

Wednesday 5/20
Jasper National Park!
I'm still looking for recommendations about what to see.

Tonight, we drive to Grande Prairie: 4 hrs, 30 mins
We're staying in a hotel this night, so I can work on Thursday and not take any time off (aren't we crafty!).

Thursday 5/21
Grande Prairie to Fort Nelson: 7hrs
Today's the day we officially begin driving on the Alaska Highway!

I'm not sure there's a whole lot to see here, I'll have to check the Milepost to be sure, but it looks like a nice day of rest and work.

We have our hotel room reserved for tonight.

Friday 5/22
Fort Nelson to Whitehorse: 11 hrs
Long day.
But we'll start the day with Laird Hot Springs and end the day with Takhini Hot Springs! Apparently, Takhini's hot pools are odorless, no sulphur smell. That sounds good to this pregnant nose.

We have a hotel reserved for this night as well. Still working!

Saturday 5/23
Whitehorse to Fairbanks!: 11 hours
We have a tent site reserved at a hostel in Fairbanks so we can camp while we find an apartment, look for jobs, etc. And since so many people in Fairbanks live in dry cabins, there are lots of places to shower, etc. And the hostel even has wireless internet. What a place.