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.
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.
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!