Alaska and the Yukon
Alaska and the Yukon
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Day 5: 31 May 2000
Today we have to drive to the town of Tok, which used to be called Tokio Junction up until the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in World War II. Originally we would only go to Fairbanks and then stay the night there, but since we arrived a day late in Alaska we have to make some shortcuts. So that's why we made an attempt for the artic circle yesterday and also why we have to go to Tok today. When we arrive in Tok we will be on schedule again with our original itinerary. First stop along the way is Fairbanks, we have to drive the same stretch of highway that we already drove twice yesterday. In Fairbanks we had lunch at Taco Bell and filled up the car with gas again. The car is not really a gas guzzler, but we like to keep the tank as full as possible, because there are not that many gas stations around in Alaska.

Next stop is North Pole, Alaska. The post office in this town is the one where all the Christmas mail send to Santa Claus ends up. So besides the famous post office there is of course a Santa Claus house where the good guy supposedly lives, but we don't believe that, because all we saw there was a souvenir shop, so Santa must really be living somewhere else.

The road from North Pole to Tok is sparsely used by other motorists. Maybe every ten or so minutes we get oncoming traffic from the other direction, most of them rental cars (judging by the colors) or RV's. Apparently tourist season hasn't really started yet. What we do see are a lot of immensely wide riverbanks and big mountain ranges in the distance. Very nice to see and also a lot of good photo opportunities.

We arrive in Tok at 18.07. The town is nothing more than a small collection of motels, restaurants and a couple of houses. So not much, but it's the largest city we encountered today after leavind North Pole. We have dinner in Fast Eddy's restaurant. For a reasonable price we get a large amount of food, which we both have trouble with to finish it completely. Fast Eddy also is a motel owner, so we decide to take a room there.

In the motel room we do have a telephone line, but it can only be used to dial local numbers and for use with calling cards, so we can't connect to the internet from here. When we entered town we saw a cyber cafe. So we decide to go there to read our email, but we find out that the cafe is already closed. We then try to use a calling card, which we have bought at the local gas station to connect and indeed that works, but in the 40 minutes the card lasts we only manage to read a couple of messages and send two. First of all the laptop is really slow because of the small amount of memory and secondly the connection is dropped a couple of times. So that was rather expensive for the $10 we paid.
Day 6: 01 June 2000
After having breakfast at Fast Eddy's we are back on our way down south to Prince Rupert. Today's goal is to reach Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon Territory. First we have to cross the border from Alaska into Canada.

At the US border crossing there is no need to stop for customs, we can just proceed to the Canadian customs which lies 20 miles further down the road in Beavercreek. That sounds strange but since there are no other roads connecting to this part of the Alaska Canada highway that is no problem at all. There's nowhere you can go other than the Canadian customs, or back to the United States. Getting into Canada is no problem, after maybe a two minute delay we continue our trip.

The mountain scenery along the way is breathtaking. All mountains are still covered with a lot of snow and some of them reach a height of almost 5 kilometers. The scenery is particularly beautiful in Kluane National park. The reflection of the mountains in the water of Kluane lake is awesome.

By the way, judging by the amount of snow along the road, winter season has ended only quite recently. This is probably also the reason why we see hardly any mosquitoes. About 20 kilometers before Whitehorse we see all kinds of billboards for fastfood chains and motels, so it looks like Whitehorse will be a lot bigger than Tok or the other towns we passed through today. Around 19.00 we finally reach Whitehorse. Indeed it is a somewhat bigger town, but still not very impressive. At least they have a Pizza Hut where we have a delicious Super Supreme and a Canadian eh? pizza. After dinner we check into the Stop 'n Family hotel. We have a room with two single beds, a television that stops working during the evening and again a telephone line that gives us a hard time to connect to the internet.
Day 7: 02 June 2000
In the morning we wake up shaking in our beds, first thought is that we are experiencing an earthquake, but we soon find out that it's only heavy road construction equipment working on the road in front of the hotel. Weird feeling though and it can't be good for the hotel's structual integrity. After taking a shower and getting dressed, we check out of the Stop 'n Family hotel.

We walk around town to find a post office and a store to buy a PCM/CIA adapter for Rien's digital camera Smartmedia cards. We have been looking for one for days, but couldn't find one in the bigger cities like Anchorage and Fairbanks, but in this small town they actually have one. So now Rien can transfer his digital photos to his laptop and free up some of those memory cards. After buying breakfast at a grocery store we're on our way to Watson Lake and beyond.

Along the way we encounter several black bears and one fox. One bear along the Alaska Highway in between Whitehorse and Teslin and the other two and the fox along highway 37 in between Watson Lake and Cassiar. Around 20.00 we arrive in Dease Lake, where we refill the car with gas, oil and windshield cleaner. We take a motelroom at the Northway Motor Inn and eat dinner in their restaurant. We finally manage to send a couple of emails but we have to do it by dialing in to our internet accounts in the Netherlands.
Day 8: 03 June 2000
What a lovely day it is, all blue skies and a pleasant temperature. We buy our usual breakfast mix of donuts, rolls, oranje juice and chocolate milk at the local grocery store / gas station. We also buy a bag of crusty whites for lunch. The road from Dease Lake to Kitwanga takes us through an alpine landscape with a lot of lakes and snow covered mountains. Most of the trees have their leaves on now, because compared to Alaska and the Yukon it's a lot warmer here in the South of Canada.

Along the way we encounter several road construction sites that lead us over gravel roads. One is so bad that we can hardly see the road because of all the dust that's trown up in the air by our predecessors. Our 4x4 car has no problem with the road, but visibility is a problem sometimes.

Around 13.00 we stop at a rest stop to have lunch, we take out the bag of white crusties and find out that these are not hard rolls but actually are completely dried out bread that almost falls apart when pointing at it. We have to eat something, so I eat two rolls and some BBQ potato chips, but Rien doesn't like the rolls and just eats the chips.

We also encounter several more bears today, two black bears only a couple of hundred meters apart along highway 37 to Kitwanga, one blond bear (probably a grizzly) crossing the road in between Kitwanga and Terrace and finally another black bear crossing the road in between Terrace and Prince Rupert. So that makes 6 black bears and 5 grizzlies up till now.

Around 18.00 we arrive in Terrace and after seeing the first McDonald's in days we decide to have dinner there. Tonight is probably prom night at the local highschool, because we see several dressed up pairs passing by the McDonald's. Prince Rupert is only about 140 kilometers away from here, so we decide not to stay in Terrace tonight and instead drive on to Prince Rupert. We arrive in Prince Rupert at 20.00. The first motel we try has no vacancy left, the second motel does have a twin room available. The frontdesk lady mentions something about a shutdown of the workers in town and that's why there are so little hotel rooms left. I have no idea what she is talking about. The motel room is huge, it actually has two separate bedrooms. It also has all kinds of movie channels, so before we go to bed we watch the South Park movie "Bigger, Longer & Uncut".
Day 9: 04 June 2000
I wake up at 7.30 am this morning, Rien is still asleep in the other room, so I take a shower, get dressed, type in this story and then decide to wake up Rien at 9.00 because we do have to catch a boat sometime today. When we get outside the motel, we notice it started raining. Where did yesterday's blue sky go? After having breakfast at a Safeway, we shop around some more in the local mall for CD's. We are getting tired of the only two CD's we have and which we play over and over again in the car's CD player because there usually is nothing but static on the radio.

Today is a Sunday, so all the smaller shops in the downtown area are closed, the movie theater won't open till 7 o'clock tonight, so what else is there to do in Prince Rupert than visit the Seaplane base? Indeed, nothing! So after eating something at McDonald's we sit out our time at the ferry terminal where we will start boarding the ferry at 15.00.

Our ferry, the M/V Taku arrives on time, so after going through customs (we leave Canada for Alaska), we drive our car up the ramp onto the ship's cardeck. All cars are parked close in line with just centimeters between them. After going up two decks we arrive at the cabin deck where we have to pick up the keys for our two bed cabin at the purser's desk. The cabin looks great. Of course it's a lot smaller than a hotel room, but we have two beds, a shower and a toilet, so we've got all we need. The boat is on Alaska time, so as soon as we entered the boat the clock went back one hour. Not really a problem, but it means we have to wait another hour before the buffet will open for dinner. After looking around at all the decks for a while we have dinner. Rien takes the halibut and I take the beef. Not too bad for a cafeteria and also quite affordable. Late in the evening the Taku arrives in Ketchikan, but we are already in bed and have no desire to take a look. We won't be here much longer than half an hour anyway.
Day 10: 05 June 2000
In the middle of the night at 4 o'clock the boat arrives in Sitka. Taku stays here for nearly three hours. I vaguely hear an announcement of our arrival but it doesn't ring any bells and I keep on sleeping. As we wake up around 8 o'clock we have already left Sitka and it's still raining outside. We go to the cafeteria to have breakfast. All the lighter breakfasts have already sold out, so the only one left besides cereal is a big ribeye steak with eggs and hash browns. Not really something you would expect for breakfast, but it tastes great.

In the forward observation lounge Don Lassoff of the US Forest service is giving periodic speeches about the things we encounter along the way including whales and bears. Don has only been on board for a week, but has seen whales everyday so far.

In the afternoon we pass an area with possible whale sightings, Don is explaining some of the differences and everybody is looking out again for whales. One family sitting near a window makes three or four false calls or sees so called "log whales" (pieces of floating wood). Rien and I go outside and during the next hour or so we spot about seven humpback whales in the distance. Through our binoculars they can be seen clearly, but the magnification of my 300 mm camera lens isn't nearly enough to see more than a spout in the water.

In the evening we meet a couple from Melbourne, Australia, they have been traveling around Canada for a couple of weeks and they are now going to visit Alaska. They explain that they bought a digital camera in the airport's tax free shop in Australia, together with an Iomega Click drive to transfer their photos to, but the damn thing doesn't work. So now they have camera, but they can't take anymore pictures because it's memory is full. I offer to help them with Rien's laptop. First thing we try is to see if the Click drive works with one of my compact flash cards, and it does, so the problems it their flash card. We use Rien's laptop to transfer the pictures from their flash card to the harddisk and then to my flash card. After that we download them into the Click drive and that all works out fine. So everybody's happy again. We talk some more with the Australians about our countries, Canada, Alaska and our jobs and after that they go to bed and Rien and I got to the bar to have a couple of beers.
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© Copyright 2000 Raymond de Hilster