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!
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!