Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Travelogue: Alaska to New Mexico

After the movers and before the drive. Good-bye Kenai.

NOTE TO READER(S): As promised in the last post, here is the travelogue of our move from Alaska to New Mexico. Frankly, in the time lapse since the last post, we could have walked back to Alaska. My apologies for the extended stretches between posts. I have a collection of excuses, including crappy internet service, a new computer and getting settled. Thanks for hanging in there.

I am an unrepentant planner; always have been. Given any event or trip I develop a detailed plan on how things will not, ultimately, transpire. The drive down to our new home was no different. I pored over The Milepost, checking out distances between various towns through Canada and potential lodging. The goal was to only drive during the daylight hours, which are limited in the North during February and required intensive research into sunrise/sunset hours at various points along the way. I’d go into all the other minutiae researched in the planning, but suffice it to say I was potty-trained with a cattle prod.

We started the trip by going to Anchorage where we spent three days with our daughter’s family just to make sure they were ecstatic to see us leave. The real drive began on February 28th, with the 330-mile stretch to Tok, Alaska. Things were just hunky-dory until just before we hit the half-way point of Glennallen. At that point, our hunky-dory became a heaving-dory. Frost heaves were the only thing I hadn’t taken into consideration.

Fast Eddy's in Tok is a good place to stay.

For those unfamiliar with frost heaves, they are sections of road that rise and fall from the formation and expansion of ice under the roadbed. The result changes a flat stretch of road into a sine wave. Try as road engineers might, they can never completely eliminate the issue of frost heaves, but whoever was responsible for the stretch of road between Glennallen and Tok saw the futility of their efforts and said, “Screw it! Slap the asphalt down and let the drivers worry about them.” The wavy condition of the road slowed our progress to 35 mph for extended stretches. By the time we limped into Tok, we felt like bobblehead dolls.

Road conditions changed as we left Tok and headed for the Canadian border: the frost heaves got worse. While the road smoothed out at little when we got into Canada, things got a very bumpy at the Canadian Customs checkpoint. Not wanting to risk shipping them, I had two antique long arms with me: a rifle made in 1869 and a musket made in 1836. I had been warned to make sure I declared them when entering Canada so was prepared when we drove up to the dour-faced agent at the window. After providing our passports and proof of vehicle insurance the real inquisition began. 

Agent: Do you have any alcohol or tobacco with you?

Me: Yes, we have half a bottle of wine. 

Agent, eyeing me suspiciously: Do you plan to sell it or give it as a gift?

I gave a brief thought to asking what a used bottle of wine might bring on the black market, but decided to play it straight: No, sir, it is for personal consumption, when we are not driving. 

Agent, looking at our passports and typing into a computer: What is the purpose of your travel into Canada?

Me: We are moving from Alaska to New Mexico. 

Agent, after reading something on the computer: Do you plan to reside in Canada?

Me, certain there isn’t a New Mexico, Canada: No, we are only passing through to get to our new home in the United States. I do need to let you know I am transporting two antique firearms. 

At that point, I instantly became a dire threat to the security of Canada and was sternly informed the agent would be keeping our passports. He then directed me to pull over to a parking area and wait for a security agent for further instructions.

Upon very close inspection of the antiques, there was great consternation on the part of the Canadians that neither of the guns had serial numbers. Eventually I convinced them guns over 130 years old weren’t likely to have serial numbers, since they were made individually, by hand. Satisfied I wasn’t likely to launch an assault of any sort with a muzzle loader, they collected my $25 to transport the guns through the country, returned our passports and sent us on our merry way. 

We made Whitehorse after dark, just as it started to snow. My research showed the hotel was next to a large parking lot perfect for easy parking of the truck and trailer. Unfortunately, it wasn’t part of the hotel property. We were, however, allowed to park behind the hotel’s bar and schlep everything, including the dogs, around the building to get to our room.

The third day, Whitehorse, YT to Muncho Lake, BC, was supposed to be the longest distance we would drive in Canada. I had planned on ten hours of driving. There were issues, however. While the aforementioned frost heaves, patches of ice on the road and light snow slowed us down, it was the bison that brought us to a halt. 

Road hogs.

More than three decades of Alaskan living offered plenty of opportunity to deal with large ungulates on the roadway. However, moose normally move off the roadway with little or no urging. Not so with bison. Bison are under the impression they own the road and fully expect the driver to recognize that fact. The occasional individual or pair of road hogs slowed progress, sometimes even causing a brief stop. A novelty at first, the game changed considerably when we ran into a herd parked in the middle of the highway. A Canadian standoff ensued. Stopping short of the group, we waited for the surly crowd to disperse. No cooperation on their part. After ten minutes we inched forward, moving completely onto the left shoulder of the road. Begrudgingly the bison moved out of the way, glaring at us as we squeezed through. I’m exceedingly glad one didn’t get aggressive, as I’m sure an insurance claim would have met with derisive laughter and denial.

A casual check-in after 8pm
After more than twelve hours of driving we pulled into the Double G Service towing, garage, gas station, diner and motel at the far end of Muncho Lake. I had called to make a reservation before we left Anchorage. I was told that if we arrived after 8 pm, to look for our name on one of the six rooms of the log structure. (I rarely endorse a business, but for Double G I will gladly make an exception. The accommodations are rustic, to be sure, but the hospitality can’t be beat and the food is delicious. Get the breakfast.)

It snowed constantly between Muncho Lake and Dawson Creek. The Canadians deal with snow a little differently than in Alaska. In Alaska, the snow plows try to keep up with the snowfall, then sand is applied to the road surface. In Canada, snowfall is greeted with copious amounts of pea gravel. That’s it, just pea gravel. The result is oncoming traffic sprays you with pebble-laden slush that dries to a grimy film. 

Canadian road grime.
After leaving Dawson Creek the snow stopped abruptly about 100 miles out of Edmonton. In fact, it not only cleared up, it warmed up to fifty degrees. It was a beautiful evening when we stopped in Wetaskiwin, Alberta.

We crossed back into the U.S. with some trepidation about what customs would bring with the firearms. I was asked to wait while a check was made to ensure they hadn’t been reported stolen. While waiting, a couple of agents and several travelers stopped by to check the guns out. Not because of security, but because of interest in the history the guns represented. God bless the USA. 

Our new home.
Once we were across the border, the rest of the trip was a blur. I will say, however, that Montana is beautiful, even if it did seem like we drove uphill the entire breadth of the state. We arrived in Silver City on March 8th.  In total the trip was just over 4,300 miles.

Next post: The Great Lizard Roundup.