The other day I was going through my drawers to declutter some stuff. It’s crazy how fast you accumulate things when you have an actual place versus a van. I came across this postcard and a copy of quotes in a folder from my travels around the country.
It came from a lady I met on a trailhead in Dogtown, Massachusetts. Before I talk about this amazing woman let me explain the trail a little bit. This trail, Babson Boulder Trail, was very interesting and it was such a great stop during my travels. A guy by the name of Roger Babson created a trail where he etched sayings in over 30 boulders. Each boulder giving inspirational self improving quotes.
“Another thing I have been doing, which I hope will be carried on after my death, is the carving of mottoes on the boulders at Dogtown, Gloucester, Massachusetts. My family says that I am defacing the boulders and disgracing the family with these inscriptions, but the work gives me a lot of satisfaction, fresh air, excerise and sunshine. I am really trying to write a simple book with words carved in stone instead of printed paper. Besides, when on Dogtown common, I revert to a boyhood which I once enjoyed when driving cows there many years ago.” Roger Babson
Now the lady I met at the trailhead was Peggy, at the time 74 year old cancer survivor with tons of wisdom you don’t pass up a conversation with. We talked about life, traveling and Pup (of course Pup!). She had just wrapped up her hike when we met and I was just getting ready to head out for my hike. Upon my return from my hike I had treats for myself and Pup and two notes in my windshield. She made a copy of the quotes she said she read everyday, to which I read frequently during my travels. I’m glad I found this because it’s much needed! And I’m also happy to say I reached out to her via the email she gave me and she doing well four years later.
Like Peggy said in the postcard – Enjoy this precious gift called life! Peggy if your reading this thanks for the wonderful memory!
Yay! Made it to the Alaskan Arctic Circle!
Only problem was when Pup and I got done stretching our legs from reading the displays…the van wouldn’t start! One crank, two crank…luckily on the third crank the van fired up.
Now what? I’m about 200 miles from Fairbanks at this point and I’m at 1/2 a tank of gas. The van gets around 400 miles on a full tank. Question is continue north into no mans land hoping the van starts or begin heading back to Fairbanks calling the Arctic Circle sign a win?
I doubt my AAA covers the remote frozen tundra…time to double back!
On my way back from the Arctic Circle I saw a sign for gas as I came up on the Yukon River. I pulled in and sure enough they had gas, $5.50 a gallon! I was at a 1/4 tank so I only put in 10 gallons to get me back to Fairbanks where gas is $2.90. Lol.
You have to leave a card inside to be able to pump. As I was walking back in to get my card I met Yukon Jeremy. He said to go down and check out his gift shop and his mom was down there. “One of a kind Alaskan gifts”, he said.
I was more worried about if my van would start after the scare up at the Arctic. Luckily it fired up perfectly!?! I drove over to the little shack that had the words ‘Mostly Birch’ painted on it.
I met Yukon Jeremy’s mom Dorthy. She was organizing the knick knacks. There were animal jaws made into little sleds with little Eskimos made out of fur. Necklaces Dorthy made from shells and necklaces. Also necklaces Yukon Jeremy made from bear/wolf/wolverines and a few others toenails or teeth. Fur hats, and other stuff.
I chatted with them a bit about before trying to race the midnight sun to find a spot for the night. If you’re ever up the Dalton Highway stop by and let Yukon Jeremy tell you a few stories…you won’t be disappointed!
On the way north the summit of Mount McKinley (or Mt. Denali) popped out of the clouds for a rare appearance. By the time I got pulled over to take a picture it was covered with clouds again. Enjoying the views, I didn’t pay attention to what time it was. Got to the visitor center at 6:30pm and it was closed. But lucky me, as I walked back to the van I saw a sign for a playing of a historic film in the theater at 7pm. It was the first film footage, and second ascent of the summit in 1932. I quickly went back to the van to let Pup out and get him
situated so I can go to the viewing.
In the theatre I sat next to an older lady, Annabel. She’s from New York City but lives in Alaska half the time and in New York the other half. We talked for a while before the movie started. In her 20s she was working in a small town where there was nothing to do and nowhere to spend her money. So after five years she “retired” for four years and traveled! Loved listening to her stories!
The video was of the Lindley-Liek expedition which was the second successful summit of North Americas highest peak. The speaker for the night was a retired historian for the National Park. She had a wealth of information about the parks history. During her research she found a lecture giving by one of the mountaineers and dubbed it with the film. Such an interesting video.
After the film I drove the 15 miles into the park that was accessible by car. The road ends at Savage River trailhead. At roughly 10 PM and the midnight sun still up I decided to run the river loop trail. The loop followed along the river and some beautiful rock croppings. After my run I let Pup roam for a little bit in the parking lot before heading to find a spot for the night. The nights are extremely bright but the “sunset” last night was amazing. Orange yellow, pink, red and blue filled the sky!
Drove outside of the park to find a free spot to boondock for the night. Then the next morning for some reason I drove south. I was trying to see if I could get a clear shot of Mount McKinley. No such luck because it got dark and rainy. So I turned around and headed back to the National Park. Got to back to Denali 45 minutes before the sled dog demonstration. The clouds and breeze was perfect timing to keep the van cool for Pup while I was at the demonstration. I walked around and petting all the sled dogs that were out before the demonstration. During the summers the dogs train with a go cart looking sled on wheels. The Park Ranger gives a spiel on the history of the dogs and the Park. He calls out to get the dogs ready, the kennel area fires up with barks of excitement! They all want to be part of the fun!
After the demo I took Pup for a walk on the only dog friendly trail inside of the Park. For dinner I drove back to Savage River Trail and sat in the van at a view point. I made up my sandwich with turkey, cheese and some horse radish sauce I got at a fast food place. As I was just getting ready to eat a guy with his family pulled up to the view point. He walked up to my side door and asked if he could get a picture with me and Pup. After a picture I put Pup back in the van so the kids could get out their van (Pup is 50/50 with kids.). We talked about my vanlife travels to trail run in all 50 states. Turns out he’s on a similar quest, he wants to run a marathon in every state. He is currently at 23 states. He was running a marathon the coming weekend in Anchorage to check off Alaska as state 24. When I got back in the van Pup was being really weird and adorable. Took me a second to figure out the little shit ate my sandwich! Dude is going to shit his pants tomorrow! Hahaa!
I was going back-and-forth trying to figure out what to do. Makes it hard in the National Park when you can’t have a private vehicle go any farther then Savage River. The bus ride was to time consuming to try and coordinate. Trying to find a dog sitter outside of the Park was turning into a hassle too. So I called it quits…time to roll north. On the way to the park entrance there was a mama moose and her baby on the side of the road. They walked right by my driver side window and I got some really great shots! Great ending to Denali National Park.
After helping 3 mom’s with 11 kids cross the the Winner Creek Hand Tram my arms were jello! But Pup and I made it to the gorge before helping more people cross the hand tram on the way back. Sure wish there was a foot pedal because we all know my legs are stronger the my upper body.
Before getting to Anchorage I made a few stops along the way. A hike with Pup on some trails around Thompson Pass for beautiful 360° views! Boondocking off of Soup Lake and running up some random trails just to see where it would lead me too…more amazing views
But my favorite was when I went to a spot in Eagle River. I drove from Soup lake to try and find the Pioneer Trailhead. No such luck finding it. I did see a place situated between private property signs that may have been the trail. I did not go checking into it because 99% of Alaskan have a gun. I did not feel like getting shot just to run a trail so I headed out to the next stop. I opened the iOverlander app to see if there were any good spots listed. Closest one was at the end of a street where locals watch the Aurora Lights.
Around 10:30 pm, I drive up the long windy road to the end. It’s a trailhead parking for Mt. Baldy. I park in the flattest area of where the signs direct me too. None of the signs indicate I can’t overnight park here. As Pup and I walk the trail the sun starts to make its way down out of the clouds. This is my first Alaska sunset! Or as close to an Alaskan sunset as you will get with the midnight summer sun. I walk to the van to grab my camera to capture the moment. Walking up to the edge of the road I hear some one say to me they like my stickers.
Annie and Chris are two young local badass trail runners. They stopped to walk Chris’ cute corgi puppy up the short, but steep 1,200 ft gain, one mile trail to the summit of Mt. Baldy. We talked for 45 minutes before they headed up the trail. With the midnight sun still hanging above the horizon, and the inspiring talks of the Mt. Marathon race, I laced up my shoes to run. It probably was not the smartest thing to go for a solo run at 11:30pm but I knew the youngsters were up there to scare away the bear if there were any. Man, did that straight up hurt but the view of the sunset at the top was worth it!
The next morning I rolled toward Anchorage. I pretty much b-lined it through the city to head to the next trail. I made a quick stop at the highly talked about Flattop Trail to find the parking lot slam packed full…no thanks I’ll find a less popular spot.
Did some bird watching at Potters Marsh, hiked with Pup at McHugh Creek Falls and then finding a spot for the night in Chugach National Forest.
As expected the rain was on and off as I got to the main highway from McCarthy. But as I drove up to Worthington Glacier there was a break. Hike a Pup to a glacier time!
Worthington isn’t my first glacier but it is the first most accessible one that I could hike old man Pup. I chose to take a path with Pup that didn’t involve crossing the water. It didn’t get me close to the glowing blue I hoped for but it was still a nice hike to a view on a mound. You better believe Pup got plenty of fresh glacier water drinks along the way too!
After getting back to the van it started to sprinkle but I decided to run quickly to the base. I got lucky on the path I took with Pup. The glacier silt was almost like quicksand in some spots.
Once I got up to the base I had the glacier all to myself. When I touched the blue glowing ice I felt a little like superman. It’s possible the double waterfall on the side made it feel unrealistic.
Well worth being covered in glacier silt by the end!
There’s a long 60 mile drive on a gravel road to the town of McCarthy, AK. But only a short 3/4 mile walk, crossing a foot bridge, gets you to the town.
Pup and I walked into McCarthy from the free parking area around 8pm. As usual my planning was way off. I thought this is where the historic Kennecott Mill was located but it’s another 5 miles. The sun stays up long but rain clouds begin to roll in as we make it to town. I decided to head back to the van and reassess my last idea.
Not sure how rain will change the condition of the road into town I check the weather. Turns out rain is in the forecast for the next couple days. I decide I better get my non-4wd van back to a paved road…hhaa.
I found a great spot to boondock for the night on the edge of Moose Lake. I didn’t see any moose on the lake but I did see one just off the road nibbling on some trees. Also got to hit Liberty Falls which is on the way. Kind of bummed I didn’t make it to the mill but time to keep rolling.
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!
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!
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!