My original idea was to ferry from Skagway to Juneau and then Juneau to Haines. That changed after finding out it would cost $300+ to ferry the van back and forth. A more feasible option, at $90, was to ferry from Skagway to Haines. Either way I was planning on driving down to Haines so this option would save me the gas money it would take to drive to both cities.
I went to the ticket office to book my one way trip to Haines. There was only standby left for the 3pm boat and check in was at 1:45pm. I didn’t feel like wasting my day waiting around not knowing if I’d get on that day so I booked the next day boat at 8pm. This gave me more time to check out Skagway and Dyea.
I got into Haines around 9:30pm. I didn’t want to blaze through Haines in the dark so found a spot just down from the ferry terminal off the highway. Next morning I drove around the small town, stopped at a park to walk with Pup and decided to roll out. Well, apparently I was on the wrong road out. I came to a dead end which would lead to a trail head for Chilkat State Park. Signs, Signs everywhere a sign…haha. Let’s hike!
The beautiful trail meanders a long and finally opens up to the bay. Pup takes the lead and goes all the way down to the opening. That’s when I meet Shaun from Colorado! Pup does his normal routine of going up to people with assumptions they want him to or not. Shaun and I begin to talk about Alaska and where we are from. As we talk I see a spout of water come up from the bay just behind Shaun. Is that a whale? Sure enough it was! We hopped the rocks down to the bay to watch for the whale. We continue to talk about our travels as we both sit with our cameras out waiting for the whale to put on a show.
Shaun is from technically from Colorado but he also travels and lives in a Toyota Dolphin. He’s looking at maybe getting a seasonal job up here in Alaska. This is his first visit up north so the location is still undetermined. Hanging out with him has made me contemplating how to prolong my own travels with odd jobs.
First official Alaska sign!
No thanks Soapy, I mean Jefferson, I don’t want to send a telegram back home to my family!
Visited my first National Park in Alaska, hiked to Dewey Lakes with Pup, Ran to AB Mountain, boondocked in an amazing spot in Dyea and took the van on its first Ferry ride out of Skagway!
I took a Ranger led walk through Klondike Gold Rush National Historical builds of downtown Skagway. The Jefferson “Soapy” Smith story was probably my favorite. Jefferson was a con man of his day. He grew up in a well to do home in Georgia but some how he became one of the greatest criminal bosses of his time. This guy got his nickname Soapy for his scheme of selling bars soap. He would supposedly wrapped a select few bars with money ranging from $1 to $100 and sell each for an insane amount of money for the late 1870s. Of course people would actually buy a bar of soap with cash wrapped around it but it was his buddies. Another scandal Soapy ran was the telegrams. He’d charge the stampeders to send telegrams but the only thing was the “line” only went to the bay and no farther. The Park Rangers tell the stories better then I can write it but I’ll leave a link if you want check it out (https://www.nps.gov/klgo/learn/historyculture/jeffsmithsparlor.htm).
Crazy to think that all those people were coming through Skagway for good that was another 800+ miles away in the Yukon. They had to hike supplies up Chilkoot Pass, over glaciers and snow fields. If I were coming for the Klondike Gold Rush I would have stayed right in Skagway and enjoyed the views…and that’s exactly what I did!
The Signpost Forest in Watson Lake, Yukon.
I don’t plan anything really. Maybe a few things here and there but generally I look at a map and drive. Along the way I stop when I see something that looks like fun. So to my surprise I find Signpost Forest in Watson Lake. A famous stop along the Alcan/Alaskan Highway where people from all over the world bring a sign to hang from their home town.
The tradition was started by an Army of Engineers Private that was injured while working on the highway. He was commanded to repair and repaint the directional sign outside of Watson Lake. During this repair he placed a sign of his own from his hometown in Illinois which began the start of Signpost Forest. Around 72,000+ signs are scattered throughout more than two acres and I didn’t bring anything!?
I met a couple from Nevada that were doing a three month retirement/anniversary trip to Alaska. Her parents have a sign up somewhere in the masses that she couldn’t find. As we talked I watched them hang their own sign to commemorate their trip.
Dang it, I wish I had a sign to hang! I roamed the rows and rows with Pup looking at signs. Then it hit me…I have a sign!
I open the back door of the van and dig through my bins. Yep there it is…Jayden St! Heck yeah! I find a spot that has an opening to fit the small street sign shaped plaque. At least Pup will have his own sign hanging up to carry out his fluffball legacy in the World Famous Signpost Forest!
Do you or someone you know have a sign up at Signpost Forest?
Hold on to your baby floats! It’s gonna be a fun ride!
As I get to the border of Hyder, Alaska I pull over to get a picture (it is officially State 50 but that’s another story!). It is strange that there is no customs to enter this small town of about 80 people. After exploring the area I decided to try and find a spot for the night. I noticed a little road just outside of town that might be a great boondocking spot. As I start down the narrow road that was semi over grown with bushes I began to regret this decision because it’s next to the river. I generally walk roads like this so I know if there is a turn around or if there is even a good spot at the end. But, on the drive into Hyder I saw my first Grizzly Bears! That made me hesitant to walk into a bush covered road.
I finally get to an open area where I can turn around. I park and walk in a little ways. The road just seems to go on forever. My fear is that I get to a sandy spot along the river and get stuck. As I begin to maneuver to turn around I see a white van with a yellow canoe coming. The driver rolls down his window, “you looking for a spot?” “Yep, just not sure what’s that way and don’t want to get stuck. You too?”, I replied. “I’m just cruising, checking out the river conditions. You might get a few scratches but you’ll make it. It’s the best spot, just follow me!”, he says. I follow him down the bush hugging road with the sound of branches scrap the side of the van. The path ends with an amazing view of mountains and river
Meet Dallas…30 year old from the Midwest. A town in Iowa not far from my hometown in South Dakota actually. Vanlifer for around five months. He has traveled to quite a few states. Decided to go on a trip to Alaska in the van. His first stop was Hyder…and he never left.
I tell him I am jealous of his canoe cause there is always sweet spots to kayak or canoe as I travel. He asked if I want to go out on the river tomorrow? Heck yeah I do!
The next morning I meet him at his place to find a spot for Pup while we go for the ride. His current set up is pretty rad! He bought a lot on the main strip of Hyder next to the library/community center/forest service building. Got a big yellow school bus and lives in that. Moving here just before winter last year the wood burning stove he added inside keeps him toasty warm. He claims the winters are nice compared to our Midwest winters where it gets below zero. Surrounded by mountains and glaciers I would have to live there to believe it…haha.
We get to the spot where we are going to drop in at the river. He hands me an orange life vest and tells me it’s all he has. The river isn’t deep but it’s ripping fast in some sections so you’ll want it. I try to suck it in and connect the straps. I know I’m out of shape but I can’t get around me. He hands me some rope and we make shift a knot to strap it tightly around me. This is going to be an adventure.
Dallas is fairly new to canoeing on white waters but he takes a moment to tell me a few things to know. Before jumping in we pull the canoe into a calm section of the water. Not Long into paddling down we come to our first decision. The river is ripping really fast. In this section there is also a tree. Dallas says we should walk to canoe through that first section. I ask, “what’s the worst that could happen?” He replies, “we could die!” I start to laugh Way too hard because he didn’t hesitate for that response. After walking past that section we jump back into the canoe. We came to a few other spots that were flowing really fast! We managed to draw ourselves into good positions leading through the rest of the ride. Along the way we stopped at few sand bar stops for a beer, Honey Stinger Waffles and soak in the beautiful 360° views!
As we safely made it back to town we passed by a few of Dallas’s friends. He tells his friend Dick to stop by because he’s going to make dinner. While Dallas is cooking up a chicken stir fry, Dick busts out his guitar to play a few songs.
When you tell people you have been to Hyder the first thing they ask you is, were you Hyderized while you were there (apparently it’s when you drink a 100 proof shot at the bar)? Not knowing what that means I tell them yes. Hyderized on the white water waves! Thanks for the hospitality Dallas! What a way to bring in State 50!
I pull into the Nairn Falls Provincial Park parking lot outside of Whistler, B.C. and go to the end that is shaded. As I park I see a young scraggly bearded kid sitting at a picnic table eating. Leaning on the table is an older red road bicycle loaded with what looks like everything he owns.
What’s his story?
The path through the picnic area leads to the short 1.5K trail to the falls. Pup being Pup, runs up to the kid thinking he will get butt pets or food. I apologize for Pups pushiness and ask if he is riding cross the country? He replied that he started in Las Vegas and was only going as far as Whitehorse, Yukon right now. He put a lid on his rice, grabbed an apple and banana and asked if he could hike with us (us being me and the Pup).
Our story swapping led us to the waterfall before we officially introduced ourselves. His name is Jesse. Being from Wisconsin his lust for living simple was just that, simple. At the age of 22 he has biked a lot of the lower United States. Returns home, saves up some money, regroups and hits the road on his bike. Sure wish when I was his age I wasn’t driven by money and material things.
We say our safe travels farewell and I take off for Joffre Lakes Provincial Park. I enjoy a crazy snow packed trail run/hike to upper Joffre Lake and Mt. Matier Glacier. After bombing the snowy down hill, with intermittent ski sessions, back to the van I hear someone say my name. It’s none other then Jesse!
“Dang kid! I was just thinking of where you were…how did you make it this far so fast!”, I yelled at him. The drive is only 22 miles from where we met but the whole way is straight up (13% grade)! We were both going to setup camp at the trailhead for the night. Jesse though, he was sleeping under the night sky in a sleeping bag on the lower lake view point. Total dirtbag!
I wake up to Jesse’s bike leaning up against the front of my van. I see him drying out his sleeping bag from the morning dew in the sun. He is usually up extremely early in the mornings. Sleeping under the night sky comes with the early morning sun waking you up. We exchange contact info before saying farewells again. I have a strong feeling our paths may cross again!
Pictures don’t do Joffre Lakes any justice.
There was a semi narrow snow packed trail leading the way, but do not step off the path or you’ll sink waist deep. I learned this quickly when I stepped off to let a couple pass in only the first 100 meters to the lower lake view point. I decided then to run the short distance back to the van to get my slip on cleats. The trail is a short 5K/3.1 miles to the upper lake with 1300+ feet of climbing, 10K round trip hike.
I’ve never tried to run up a mountain on a super narrow trail with snow and ice. Some parts of the trail were also slushy so coming down was almost like skiing. I’ve seen some glacier in the Lower 48 as I traveled but nothing like the one like Mt. Matier’s with the beautiful light blue glow in the middle. I have video of the run/hike too so I’ll post that once I get it clipped together.
Between the middle lake and upper lake there is an amazing waterfall. This cascade made the pain of climbing much more worth it! So hard to show the true experience in photographs but it’s always worth a try!
They let Pup and I in to Canada!
Not much different from the states when it comes to cities. Although the measuring system is taking some adjustment but lucky for me time is on my side! My trail running experience is coming in handy with distances. A few people I have met that have recommended trails mention how many “K” the trail would be. I have a good guesstimation of what I’ll get myself into for distance.
My first day in Vancouver was rainy so I took a drive tour of the city. Cruising through downtown my first stop was Stanley Park. In between heavy rains I would jump out get some photos. Great views of Vancouver can be had all through the park. During the rain and cloudiness the downtown skyline was visible but not the mountains on the other side of the park.
After roaming the park I decided to go check out a recommendation from a Instagram friend. Of course it’s still raining when I got to Lynn Canyon but noticed the Park Rangers office was open so I stopped by to check on the weather. Not having data service is kind of a nagging thorn as I travel! The Rangers on duty were awesome. We chatted about vanlife, travel and then the weather. Tomorrow is suppose to clear by the afternoon!
Over the last two years my eye has become accustom to seeing good spots I can possibly park for the night. So along Mt. Seymour Pkwy I noticed a spot I would come back to for the night. A quick walk with Pup at Cates Park and linking to Starbucks wifi from my van it was time to call it a day.
Heck yeah only a lite rain! Sitting at Lynn Canyon I debated if I wanted to run first or take Pup for a hike and get some photos. Not long into my debate a handful of mini vans pulled up, loaded with kids. They all walked into the nature center so that was my que for the photo-op. When I got to the bridge no one was there but a girl who asked if I’d take her picture. As I waited for her to cross I snapped a few photos of Pup on the empty bridge.
About the time I finished a guy with a bushy red beard wearing bright running clothes began to cross. I chatted Marcus up about running and local races. After crossing the bridge I met up with Oleisha again. Pup was off leash and ran up to her as she was getting some video of the creek. She was from the part of Canada I didn’t get to see since I didn’t have my passport, Ontario. Our conversation turned into hiking all of Lynn Canyon together.
By the end of the trail the sky was blue and the clouds were puffy white! As I was leaving I ran into the three Park Rangers again. They asked where I was headed next? North to Alaska of course!
I recently posted a picture on my personal Facebook page of Pup with piece of paper and asked for everyone to guess what it meant!? I loved everyone’s responses! Well, the answer is…Alaska!
After finishing the road trip across the Lower 48 states in the van and a trip to Hawaii I contemplated settling down in Southern California again. Not really knowing what I wanted, I bounced around Orange County for two months. Once I wrapped up 49 states I told myself Alaska would have to wait for another year or two. I took a recent short trip to Sacramento to visit family over Easter, with a stop at Yosemite and Carrizo Plain National Monument on the way back south.
I began to apartment hunt with 100% intention on calling Vanlife quits. With a week into the search I began to remember why I chose Vanlife in the first place. The stress of finding a place that was pet friendly and affordable was topping out on the ridiculous meter.
I text my dad about the stress and a got a lengthy reply that would plant the Alaska seed. “Hey Joel, something to think about. You realize that you have not finished your state road trip. You are 2600 miles from Juneau Alaska…”. This text brought back the same feeling of when my dad sent me the photo of my van for sale in my home town back in September 2014
The older I get the less time I take to think about doing things I want. Talked about moving to California for 4 years before doing it. Talked about living in a van for 2 years before doing it. Took me a few months to actually leave my home town once the van was ready. Now Alaska, that only took me a day to decide on a HECK! YES!
I have no clue where I’m going, if roads are even open or what trails I’ll try to run. I did just purchase the book The Mile Post 2017 – Alaska Planner which is jammed full of all I need to know. For now…I’m headed north to Washington and I’ll plan along the way!