Anderway

Alaska – An Epic Loop to the Arctic Circle

By August 31, 2015 Nature, People, Travel

He was our neighbor for six days in Fairbanks and we spoke every morning and evening, but I knew nearly nothing about the man; nothing except that our dog, who usually barks at strangers who approach too quickly, immediately knew he was good. Timber lowered his head and wagged his tail as he let the man with hard hands and a gray handlebar mustache scratch under his chin and behind his ears.

The man spoke without strain – even, confident and strong. With steel-toe boots, chain drive wallet and leather vest, my first read was that he must be a biker, and the way he carried himself spoke of tough-guy…if needed. He looked like a dude smart enough to stay out of a fight, but who would end it on his feet no matter the circumstances.

Introductions in RV parks are categorical. Passers-by will ask about the Airstream, the truck, the breed of our dog or where in California we’re from. As Timber rolled over and let the stranger rub his belly, the man asked, “how do you like the Ford Diesel?”

The man was chatty and intelligent; loneliness sometimes italicized his words or wrinkled his face, but overall he was a man who found goodness in life – he appreciated steak and beer.

Over the course of the next few days, I picked up bits and pieces about the stranger. He was from Pittsburgh and, after 50 years, ready to create a new life. He’d purchased on finance by the State of Alaska a 10-acre plot about two hours north of Fairbanks in the thick bush near Livengood (pronounced LIE-ven-good). The property had no services whatsoever and was thick with willows and spruce so that he had no access to its heart. He’d surveyed and started to fence it, but it was only his third year up in Alaska, so there was still a lot to accomplish. He’d carved enough of a path into the property to park a trailer and truck just out of sight from the road. He hoped that, if the weather held out this summer, he could continue cutting through the bush to the center, where he would eventually build a cabin.

Alaska is about futures, not pasts. We never talked about jobs or education. Only once did his talk deviate from practical matters and venture into the philosophical. It was when I asked him why he decided to go it alone in the Alaskan wild.

“It’s solitude I guess. It’s so darn far from everything that it’s just me. Mother Nature doesn’t cut any slack; people don’t ask your name.”

He paused and looked at me. “You think you could do it?”

“I read somewhere… how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong, but to feel strong… to measure yourself at least once.”
― Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

Mile 0 – Cincinnati, Ohio
It was a cool spring morning when we left Cincinnati, our starting point for the long journey to Alaska. Our end goal was the Arctic Circle on the Dalton Highway (famed thoroughfare for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline). It would be the northernmost point of our trip. From there, we’d wend our way back down to the Bay Area. The first step was to get to Davenport, Iowa and stop for the night. In reaching Iowa, we achieved a major milestone – Angela added her 48th state visited.

Launch day.

Launch day.

Mile 725 – Omaha, Nebraska
Mid-May in the upper plains can bring notoriously unpredictable weather. It was very cold, windy and rainy across Iowa, and spring hadn’t yet taken hold of the state. The farmlands were brown, trees hadn’t bloomed and there were no wildflower blossoms lining the edges of the highways. In Omaha, we stopped for a couple of days to rest, visit our friends Dan and Mary Ellen, eat delicious pizza from Big Fred’s and tour the Strategic Air Museum. Angela added her 49th state. Only Alaska remained for both of us.

Mile 1,046 – Chamberlain, South Dakota
Chamberlain is a quiet farming community along the banks of the Missouri River. TripAdvisor has only seven items on its list of Top Things to Do there. Three of those are bars. We found our first warm weather as Asher and I played baseball in an empty field along the river.

Mile 1,462 – Buffalo, Wyoming
Cold. Wet. Muddy.

Mile 1,837 – Bozeman, Montana
After nearly 2,000 miles in five days, we needed a break and decided to hunker down in Bozeman for four nights. Angela and I had visited Bozeman the year before we were married. It has grown a lot since then, with a revitalized downtown and considerable suburban sprawl. The surroundings are just as beautiful as we remembered, though. We hiked in the Missouri Headwaters State Park, where Timber sniffed out prairie dog holes and stared longingly at jack rabbits.

One of my favorite places.

One of our favorite places.

Mile 2,204 – Lethbridge, Alberta
We stopped for the night in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Lethbridge. Many of their stores allow overnight RV parking and it’s not really as bad as it sounds, but it’s not great either.

Mile 2,412 – Banff, Alberta
One of the joys of life on the road is the contextual blindness upon waking and stepping out of the dark-shuttered coach. Where am I today? Sometimes the effort to simply get off the road and collapse in bed the night before doesn’t allow us to properly fix our location…mentally, I mean. That we experienced this untethered feeling our first morning in Banff, a place of such unreal natural beauty, was a surprise and delight. Imagine the thrill of being able to fall in love again for the first time.

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Sunset at Lake Louise.

Since it was so early in the season, the Tunnel Mountain Village campground was nearly empty. Our campsite was isolated from the rest of the RVs, many of which would come in after dark and leave before dawn—clearly visitors looking to places beyond Banff. The weather in general was unpredictable – typical temperamental mountain, but definitely cold at night. The ground was pitted with gopher holes and covered in elk scat. Mosquitoes were aggressive and descended in swarms at sundown. When we walked Timber, we tried to do it during the brightest parts of the day as the area had recently seen both bear and wolf activity.

We didn’t have an agenda – no vista points to get to or reservations to make. So we moseyed along Bow Valley Parkway, where we encountered several black bears who loped along the roadway edges without care. Our first-ever encounter with a grizzly was on our way back from Lake Louise. He was massive, with a shoulder hump like a Brahma bull, and stood alone along a ridge about 100 meters off the highway. We stopped and anxiously got out of the truck to get a closer look. We were all excited—especially Asher, who pressed his face against the thick-gauge fence that separated us from the wild. For 15 cold minutes, Asher and Angela watched the bear as he flipped over rocks and ripped out tufts of grass, searching for grubs and berries.

Banff and Jasper National Parks are among the most beautiful places we’ve visited in our travels. The snow-covered, craggy peaks and thick forests of pine, fir and spruce create a serene home.

Mile 2,822 – Prince George, British Columbia
One of the longest driving days so far on the journey, plus I was tense from running precariously low on fuel. The elevation gains and losses as we passed through the parks ate up much of my anticipated reserves. To make matters worse, we were denied service at the (only) local restaurant in Prince George, who had a no-kids policy. The family had to wait in the truck while I got take-out from a greasy spoon.

Mile 3,072 – Dawson Creek, British Columbia
We were more than 3,000 miles into our trip as we reached “Mile 0” of the Alaska Highway. After taking the obligatory photos in front of the gateway sign, we were ready for a good dinner. After too much fast food and convenience store snacks, we got lucky and found a local Canadian joint that served fresh salads, good soups and excellent beer.

The official start.

Three thousand miles in before we reach the official start of the Alaska Highway.

Mile 3,354 – Fort Nelson, British Columbia
The roads in this part of Canada, which are used mostly for transporting petroleum, lumber and minerals, slowed our travel. They also made the drive a countdown of sorts: how many miles until I lose my temper? Answer: 282 miles, which took about eight hours of intense driving. The good news was that the further north we went, the more bears, elk, caribou and bison we saw traipsing along the narrow cut of road through the boreal forest. There were long periods where the family was quiet reading or staring out at nature, followed by excited shouts such as, “two bears! Right side! Near the creek! Did you see them??”

Mile 3,673 – Watson Lake, Yukon
We stopped at two RV parks in Watson Lake. The first was little more than a gravel parking lot, the second was a parking lot with a view. Sometimes, that’s all that separates winners from losers in the camping world.

The Alaskan Highway was built in the midst of WWII to move military equipment and supplies from the continental U.S. to Alaska, where it could be transported to the Soviet Union for their fight against the Germans. It took me seven days to drive the 1,500 mile stretch of road that took only eight months to build. The biggest surprise to us was how beautiful it was. In our minds’ eyes, we’d imagined a flat and mostly treeless plain. Instead, we found thick forests of spruce and willow, towering snow capped mountains, sparkling rivers and crystal clear ponds. Wildflowers filled the deep moat that ran from the edge of the forest to the lip of the highway.

Watson Lake, Canada - Signpost Forest.

The Signpost Forest is a real place in Watson Lake, Canada.

The Highway is not just beautiful, it’s dangerous. Very. The roadway itself is a narrow two-lane cut, built up anywhere from five to fifteen feet above the surrounding terrain. It has no shoulders. If you blow a tire or bust a radiator, you might have to drive 50 miles in search of the next pullout. If you lose your concentration for just a second you can slip into the deep ditches on either side of the highway, and then have to hope a trucker or fellow RVer will see you and call for help. Parts of the highway’s surface are paved, but ponderous stretches are nothing more than pea gravel and mud. Even the asphalt portions hide frost heaves that will pop rivets on the trailer and threaten to separate the coach from the rig.

There were times when I didn’t see another vehicle for an hour, or when we didn’t have phone reception for hundreds of miles. At times the GPS placed us in a lake or meadow. We were off the grid.

Mile 3,933 – Whitehorse, Yukon
We arrived late in the day and got the last spot open at the campground. Whitehorse is a relative oasis in this part of the world – cable TV and Starbucks. Speaking of cable … we needed an extension line for the coach and stopped by Wal-Mart to buy one. “I could have one for you in two weeks,” the electronics manager said. “This is Wal-Mart, correct,” I asked? “Yes. It’s different here.”

Mile 4,319 – Tok, Alaska
We made it. We crossed into U.S. territory again and made it to our 50th state. The immigration agent inspected our coach, and made us throw away our eggs and chicken (bird flu concerns). In Tok we stopped at the first campground in town, which sits next door to the famous Fast Eddy’s Restaurant. We ate both dinner and the next day’s breakfast there. We were far enough north now that sunrise was around 3:30a and sunset was at 11:30p.

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Welcome to Alaska!

Mile 4,521 – Fairbanks, Alaska
It was a short drive from Tok to Fairbanks, where we settled down for several days and relaxed. We secured a great site overlooking the Chena River. It was peaceful and beautiful. Despite the eye masks, the continuous sunlight caused all of us to literally lose quite a bit of sleep. The boys spent many hours doing schoolwork and playing catch.

Fairbanks, AK in the middle of the night.

Fairbanks, AL in the middle of the night.

Mile 4,717 – Arctic Circle 66°33’45.9”
We were within 20km of the Arctic Circle in Iceland last year – separated only by the cold waters of the Greenland Sea. In Fairbanks the only thing that separated us from the Arctic Circle was a full tank of gas and a willingness to spend 12 hours driving across spine-rattling muddy, rocky roads.

We were prepared for just about anything. In the truck, I had extra fuel, water, generators, tools, blankets, medical first aid, a bunch of PB&Js and a Party Size bag of Doritos. And we had a Delorme Satellite Communicator in case something catastrophic happened. This time of the year, weather was still the major concern as they will frequently experience random blizzards and gale force winds.

Yet it was weather that made the 195 mile drive to the Arctic Circle so much longer. Once we connected with the Dalton Highway near Livengood, the rain started – never hard, but constant. The road was a series of steep grades up and down over the mountains and through the boreal forests of black spruce and willow. Much of our drive ran parallel to the great Alaska Pipeline, a shiny zigzag of steel tubing that feeds North Slope petroleum down to the tanker port of Valdez. It was quickly evident that the rules of the road are governed by the semis who carry equipment and food north to Prudhoe Bay. They screamed by us on the downhills and slowed us on the uphills. I was a tourist in a fancy truck. They were working.

And this is a rest stop.

And this is a rest stop.

We stopped briefly at Yukon River Camp, where I fueled up on diesel (at $5.97/gallon) and bought a sticker and postcards. The camp is comprised of a dozen or so industrial-strength mobile homes bridged together with a long hallway — all function, no form — serving as temporary apartments for the pipeline workers. The restroom had a hand-written sign on the wall that read, “Don’t complain about the smell. Be happy the toilets work.”

Once we arrived at the Circle, we pulled off the highway and into a grove of low scrubby, wind-pruned trees. The parking lot was disproportionately large, built to accommodate 18-wheelers needing chains rather than tourists sedans. It was ringed with several pit toilets, bear-safe trash cans and a couple of picnic tables. It was around 5:00p, which in Alaska is midday, so we planned to enjoy our lunch in the lot. But the clouds of aggressive mosquitoes undeterred by the rain thought otherwise. After taking a few photos next to the Arctic Circle sign, we retreated into the truck and wolfed down our picnic before driving another 5 hours back to camp in Fairbanks.

Made it.

Made it!

Mile 4,817 – Denali National Park
There are many warnings throughout Alaska to watch for moose, which cause major accidents, but there are no warnings to watch for red-tailed squirrels, who scurry across the roads at the last possible second. They almost seem to be making a game of it. On an otherwise uneventful drive from Fairbanks to Denali, one squirrel came to a rather dramatic end, with his tail end ending up on our Airstream.

Denali NP is not accessible by vehicle unless you have a special permit or participate in one of the bus tours offered by the Park Service. Our tour was the Kantishna Experience, which takes visitors to the deepest part of the park, and our driver’s name was Scott. He was very late, which he blamed on a series of unfortunate occurrences that “in no way” cursed our 12-hour-long excursion into Denali. “Don’t you worry yourselves. This isn’t going to be a tragic story,” he said and smiled mischievously. Scott was a tattle-tail who ratted out passengers in other buses when he spotted them throwing food to animals (in reality they were swatting away the massive Alaskan biting flies). He also rushed us through animal sightings saying we’d “see more ahead,” but usually didn’t. And although he was a stickler for rules, at one point he made a stop along a river and told us all to skip the pit toilets and just pee in the woods.

Kantishna Road.

Kantishna Road.

On our journey into Denali we saw plenty of caribou, elk, bald eagles, and dall sheep. We also saw a sleeping grizzly – lying flat on his back with his massive paws twitching as though catching salmon in his dreams. We learned a lot about the flora of the region – Scott dated a botanist, and taught us which plants could be eaten and which would kill us.

Denali, aka Mt. McKinley, is a notorious recluse. The mountain is usually hidden in a shroud, wrapped by clouds that make seeing the massive peak a rarity. Like so much of Alaska, it prefers to remain isolated and alone.

Mt. Denali.

Mt. Denali.

Over our four days in the national park, we saw Denali everyday. “You got real lucky!” said the guy at the coffee shop in Anchorage. “Most folks miss it entirely.” The park service estimates that the mountain, which is so massive it makes its own weather, is only even partially visible one of every three days. We’d seen many mountains during our travels, but Denali literally stands above them all. The base-to-peak rise of the mountain is a staggering 18,000 ft.

Mile 4,835 – Healy, Alaska
Outside the boundary of Denali, we traded solace for adrenaline, renting ATVs for an evening of tearing through the forests, splashing through the streams and getting dirty. In fact, we got so dirty that at the end of the ride we were given “dirt showers” with air pressure hoses to remove the dust from our clothes. After a gorgeous evening of riding through the wilderness, we experienced the flavors of 49th State Brewery and checked out the “Into the Wild” bus parked in its front lot.

Pausing the ATV adventure for an ‘usie.’

Mile 5,044 – Wasilla, Alaska
The drive from Denali to Wasilla was complicated by the Sockeye Wildfire near Willow. Through traffic had been restricted as the fire was burning on both sides of Highway 3. It had already crossed and re-crossed the road several times over the previous few days. After evaluating and then ruling out a much longer alternate route, we waited, discussing options with ten or so fellow travelers, when word finally came that the road was open for the day.

It took a long time, but when we finally arrived on the outskirts of Willow, we passed through a smoldering landscape of blackened trees and wisps of smoke rising from mounds of grass. Firefighters were actively stamping out fires along the side of the road. In Wasilla, we caught up with Charlotte, a lifelong friend who had moved to Alaska four years earlier. It was great to catch up after almost thirty years, and fascinating to hear about her experiences in moving to such a remote region and to learn just how long it takes Alaskan-born to accept newcomers.

Fires.

Most of our travel time in Alaska was spent circumnavigating wildfires.

We learned that when Alaskans travel beyond their state’s borders, they refer to it as traveling “outside.”

Mile 5,245 – Kenai, Alaska
Our campground in Kenai was hosting a folk music festival the evening of our arrival, but attendance was sparse – just a smattering of musicians and their friends. Pigs roamed freely, snuffling the grounds presumably in search of bits of food left by campers. We set up camp in a narrow slot between thick shrubs of willow and white-bark birches. We were farther south now, so Kenai got about two hours of true darkness at night. We were hoping to catch up on sleep during our six-night stay.

We celebrated Fathers Day with fresh ground coffee and homemade waffles for breakfast. Easy, right? Camping is an incredibly relaxing experience unless you have to cook multiple meals in a miniature kitchen, which is what Angela did. A dog underfoot, shifting boxes of food, pots and plates like a tile-puzzle to make room for eating – all this sharpened awareness of the journey we’d been on for 12 months. We started talking more seriously about re-entering the routine and normalcy of life, but not too much. We still had many more miles ahead.

Father's Day.

Father’s Day.

Mile 5,349 – Seward, Alaska
As we crossed a narrow wooden walkway to the Kenai Fjords National Park ship, a group of fishermen steering a wheelbarrow holding a 400 pound halibut pushed through the crowds. Tourists snapped selfies with the catch but the men were ready to move on quickly. This was a working port.

Out to sea, just clear of the harbor walls, our captain sighted whales ahead and steered toward them. Over the next six hours, we chased large gray whales and finbacks who all seemed as interested in seeing us as we them. Each time a whale or pod would surface, the boatload of tourists would scurry to the outer deck.

Our captain, who’d been guiding tours in Alaska for thirty years, revealed his inner-child. “Whoa! Did you see that?!” he’d exclaim over the loudspeakers as gray whales breached in the distance. “How close can we get to that big guy? Let’s see!” The captain was as thrilled as the rest of us. “I’ve never seen that before. Wow!”

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Right place right time.

We steamed into Aialik Bay for a loop by the glaciers as puffins flew overhead and more whales breached. Our captain positioned us about a kilometer away from a twenty-stories-tall chunk of ice on the leading edge of the glacier. It was creaking, a sensation more felt than heard – as a heavy resonant rumble in the pit of the stomach. “That’s about to break off,” the captain said. We waited as long as possible, until it was time to head back to port. “I’m sorry folks, but we gotta go. I was hoping we’d get to….” And then it happened: the skyscraper of ice fell forward and twisted into the ocean, radiating enormous waves across the bay.

Years from now, when our kids talk about this trip, I suspect they may get more questions about glaciers than anything else. Glaciers will exist only in pictures and stories told by the few who saw them.

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Glacier calving off the bow of the ship.

Mile 5,430 – Homer, Alaska
We drove down to Homer Spit, where Angela and Asher fought the wind to explore the shoreline and gather rocks. Afterwards we enjoyed lunch at The Little Mermaid café as throngs of cruise ship passengers loaded buses for return to their boat. Bustling when we arrived, the town quieted as the locals fell back into their daily routines. Later that afternoon we drove along the northern edge the peninsula, where a wrong turn on the beach left me stuck in soft sand with a rising tide. If you’re in Alaska and driving a truck with California plates, the last thing you want is to need local assistance getting unstuck. Ten minutes of concentrated 4×4 driving and a very capable F-350 saved my pride.

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Obligatory family shot.

Mile 5,588 – Anchorage, Alaska
One more visit to Ship Creek RV Park, this one highlighted with a visit to local favorite recommended by Charlotte—Moose’s Tooth Pizza and Brewery.

Mile 5,906 – Tok, Alaska
Our final stop in the U.S. before heading into wild Canada was a chance for mobile coverage and laundry—and not much else.

Mile 6,292 – Whitehorse, Yukon
Right before we left U.S. territory, Angela called ahead to the Whitehorse RV Campground as we were now in the heart of the season. We got their last site. When we arrived at 10:00p, the sun was still above the horizon and a squatter was setting up camp in our spot. As exhausted as we were, we still had to wait another 45 minutes while the couple broke camp to let us in. Our neighbors were a couple from Colorado who were following a similar path as us – traveling the world. Jason and Jes shared their firewood, recommendations for our return trip along the western side of BC and website tips. Their experience is found at http://allpointsinbetween.com/.

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Angela and Mark waiting for lunch.

Mile 6,710 – Dease Lake, British Columbia
We called an ‘audible’ and overshot Watson Lake, pushing on to Dease Lake instead. After two nights of rest in Whitehorse, we were anxious to get home and endured a long driving day to cover more miles. Just ahead of that evening’s campground, the road had been closed because a fellow RVer had crashed and died on the thoroughfare. By morning, only the broken tree limbs revealed where the tragedy had occurred.

Mile 7,082 – Smithers, British Columbia
We were starting to get far enough south to shorten the daylight hours, so we stayed in BC for a couple of nights of better rest. The boys and I visited a local school to play football and to wash about 80 pounds of dirt off the truck.

Mile 7,458 – Williams Lake, British Columbia
Here we stopped at the famed Williams Lake Stampede, a professional rodeo arena. Despite hopes that we’d see roping or riding competition, the annual event had concluded a couple of days before we arrived.

Mile 7,829 – Arlington, Washington
About 100 miles south of Williams Lake, we paused for lunch at a log cabin café. Outside, we heard helicopters and sirens and smelled smoke. Another wildfire had started along the side of the highway while we ate. We were so close to the fire that the bucket of water carried by the chopper sprayed across the front of our truck.

More fires.

More fires.

It was the 4th of July, and we had to make a choice. Do we stop short in Canada, where of course they weren’t celebrating the holiday, or do we continue into the U.S. where finding a campground likely would be impossible? We chose the latter and found ourselves along the back edge of a Walmart parking lot (our only option). After dinner at Panda Express, we sat outside and watched fireworks erupting in all directions while Timber tried to hide in the coach.

Seems fitting to wrap up this leg by watching fireworks in a Walmart parking lot.

Seems fitting to wrap up this leg by watching fireworks in a Walmart parking lot.

Mile 8,231 – Bend, Oregon
Bend was one of the first places we visited on our journey, and we liked it so much then that we decided to swing through again. But while we love the freedom of traveling without reservations, that doesn’t work so well in a tourist hotspot like Bend. Unfortunately we ended up parked in a field for three nights while the batteries on the coach slowly died.

Mile 8,669 – Vacaville, California
We stopped a few miles short of the Bay Area to drop the coach at the local Airstream service center. After traveling the rough roads of Canada and Alaska, we had several popped rivets that needed to be replaced. The pit-stop RV park in Vacaville was miserably hot and dusty; most of its similarly miserable, unsmiling residents were there to work seasonal jobs nearby.

Mile 8,716 – Emeryville, California
Finally…a hotel room with hot showers and cool breezes off the Pacific Ocean. We had several days to visit with friends and prepare for the wedding of Stephanie and Martin. We weren’t done driving entirely, however: with family members arriving from across the U.S., I had volunteered to act as San Francisco guide. We rented a 12-person van and conducted a whirlwind tour of Union Square, Chinatown, Lombard Street, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands and Muir Woods.

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Russ, Joan, Marcia and John posing along the California coast.

The wedding at Panoramic Hills in Berkeley was beautiful. It was our first time wearing suits, ties, dresses and hard-soled shoes in such a long while that we weren’t sure we’d done it right. The boys danced in celebration of both the wedding and seeing Stephanie, Martin, Grandma, Grandpa and Aunt Kate and the rest of the family.

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Jim and Stephanie.

Mile 8,938 – Truckee, California
After the fancy clothes were stored and a few extra days in the Bay Area, it was time to head back out on the road. Our first stop was Truckee, CA to visit with Brett, Stacey, Travis, Colby and Austin with whom we’d started our journey [INCLUDE LINK] back in June 2014. Bike rides and storytelling along with a margarita-making contest filled the day and night with fun.

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Kids and water.

Mile 9,258 – Elko, Nevada
Elko was a flat and windy one-night stop. Given that it was summer in Nevada, our short stay was suprisingly cold.

Mile 9,488 – Salt Lake City, Utah
One of the best elements of our travel is getting to reconnect with friends. Thanks to Brad, Lisa, Todd and Kaori for the hospitality in SLC.

Mile 9,783 – Grand Junction, Colorado
Grand Junction is a beautiful part of western Colorado, but this was a one-night stopover for us. The RV park had a very nice dog run which gave Timber an opportunity to stretch his legs and make new friends.

Mile 10,075 – Estes Park, Colorado
Finding an open spot in a Colorado RV park in the summer is tough. Angela worked the phones for three hours on our drive into Denver and finally found a great place–with a view, no less—near the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park. Thirty years prior, my sister and I visited the NP with our grandparents, driving along the sweeping curves at 13,000ft. At the top of the same loop this time, the air was icy. On the way back we stopped at a picnic area for PB&Js and spent time talking and sharing food with folks from Modesto, California.

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Rocky Mountain National Park.

Mile 10,170 – Golden, Colorado
We reset camp closer to Denver, this time with reservations. Here too we saw friends and explored everywhere from Boulder to Castle Rock. There were fantastic thunderstorms every afternoon, keeping Timber on his toes.

Mile 10,780 – Kansas City, Missouri
We spent one day of hard driving to go from Golden, CO all the way to Kansas City. It was dark by the time we arrived and set up camp.

Many from KC will tell you that August is its most miserable month. It’s hot, and the humidity is killer. Good fortune was with us this time though, as the temps stayed in the low 80s and cooled considerably at night. Ronan and I visited with Paul, a good friend of mine from college, while Angela saw her friend Alison for dinner.

For years I’d shared stories with the boys about how I used to go to Royals games with my grandfather and uncle, and how we’d stop at Arthur Bryant’s BBQ for dinner beforehand. The Royals weren’t in town during our visit, but Arthur Bryant’s was open. So we had a very tasty and filling lunch…twice.

Mile 10,928 – Carthage, Missouri
Carthage is a small town in southwest Missouri locally famous as the birthplace of Marlin Perkins (of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom) and as the site of a Civil War battle. There we caught up with good friends and family, spent a blustery and rainy day fishing on Grand Lake in Oklahoma and introduced Timber to Midwestern Thunderstorms.

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Fishin’ for blue cats on Grand Lake.

Mile 11,545 – Cincinnati, Ohio
102 days after leaving Cincinnati on a cold spring morning, we arrived back where we’d started. 14 days later, we’d hit the road again for South America and Africa. In the meantime, we were anxious to spend time with Grandma and Grandpa and spread out a bit outside the coach.

The round trip to Alaska, filled with so many hours of family time, visiting friends and meeting new ones, was an experience we’ll remember forever. As we sat down to a home-cooked meal with Joan and Russ, I thought back to the question my nameless friend in Alaska had asked, could I live alone in Alaska?, and answered to myself: no.

“There are two occasions when the sacred beauty of Creation becomes dazzlingly apparent, and they occur together. One is when we feel our mortal insufficiency to the world, and the other is when we feel the world’s mortal insufficiency to us.”
― Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

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