Black From the Pot: Driving the AlCan in Winter

We headed out of Dillon, Montana in the morning and made our way up I-15 through Butte and Helena, both pretty mountain towns.  Someday, I’d really enjoy staying and exploring when the weather is more conducive to doing so.  Lots of mountainous winter driving with hills and turns until we dropped down from the hills towards Great Falls, then straight north on flat land towards Shelby and the border.  Mostly flat landJust before you get to Shelby is a small canyon that the highway dips down into before climbing back up which the Marias River flows through.  It wasn’t horrible when we went through but if the weather had been icy, may have been some trouble.

Last glimpse of blue skies, heading into the storm

As we continued north, we could see the cold front to our west that had been threatening.  It felt to me like we were racing against some really bad weather, which we were.  We made some last calls to family before we entered Alberta, Canada and garnered international rates, then went through customs.  I made a point to be sure the guards had a look at Moonlight’s papers this time.  I spent good money to make certain she had them, dammit!  LOOK AT THEM!  Which they did and we began our 1,900 mile trek across Canada.

It was starting to get dark as we got underway again but didn’t start looking for a place to stop until around midnight.  We saw the town of Leduc, which had some motels listed on Yelp but it seemed too far out of our way to consider stopping.  I found one that had been rated with 5 stars just outside of Edmonton, so we went there.  We were tired and agreed to the $100 deposit, since we didn’t have enough on our credit card to use it, then went to our room.

Moonlight did NOT approve

It stank like ancient chain smoker with stains and burns on every surface, but we took showers and tried to sleep.  After an hour and a half nap, we both woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep so we packed up, and got our deposit back and left.  What a nasty place.

Cigarette burns

We drove on for another few hours and then stopped in the parking lot of a large convenience store/truck stop in Whitecourt, where we fell asleep for a few hours in our seats.  We woke up, I went inside to use the bathroom and bought hot coffee while Robert walked Moonlight, and we traded places so Robert could sleep a little while I drove.  It was pre-dawn and the traffic was heavy with many pickups and semis heading out with us to the oil and gas fields, which got lighter as the day got brighter and we made our way towards Dawson Creek, the “official” start of the Alaska Highway.  Along the way, we passed over Pink Mountain, the nefarious bane of our journey south.  In the light of day, it almost seemed like a smallish hill.  But we know better, don’t we.  Yes.  We drove on and stopped at Sasquatch Crossing where we saw a truck with it’s blinkers on and a couple of people walking back towards the lodge.  They were actually from Indian Valley, close to Anchorage, and their truck had broken down.  I hope they made it to where they were headed to down in the Lower 48, the opposite direction we were headed.  If they had been interested in going back, we could have offered them a ride.

Slipping between two storm systems

We spent the night at the new Motel 6 in Fort Nelson, where there was even a little, snowy dog area in a corner of the lot for Moonlight to potty in.  It was comfortable, and we slept so very, very well and soundly that night.

Much better!

We sure did need it.  The only trouble we had was the light switch for the bathroom had been connected to the fridge, so we had to pour out the milk I had been keeping for our coffee.  It was almost gone by that point but still somewhat annoying.  Which brings us to the subject of what we’d been eating on this trip.  Well, tamales from Texas, of course!  Back in Arizona, we bought one of those plug in coolers for our food.  We had milk, eggs, cheese, hotdogs and 5 dozen frozen tamales that my father in law had bought us before we left Houston.

Plug-in cooler

The tamales stayed frozen, for the most part, since the cooler was well packed, but as we traveled on, the other things got used up and so they started to thaw after we left Colorado.  During one of our stops in Idaho for fuel, I saw a little portable oven that is apparently popular amongst truckers, that gets plugged into your 12-volt cigarette lighter like the cooler, and bought it along with some aluminum pan-type inserts.

RoadPro 12-volt oven

I tried it out with some hotdogs first.  After about 20 minutes of driving, we started to smell the hotdogs so I picked the cooker up off the floorboard by my feet and opened it up in my lap.  Hot water from condensation in my lap!  But then it was cold water.  Yuck.  But we had hot hotdogs! Then we had hot tamales.  And hot tamales.  And hot tamales.  We had tamales for three days.

Hot food while you drive

It was a very long day, preceded by a very long night, preceded by a string of very long days, but since we no longer had our travel trailer to sleep or eat in, we were compelled to keep going.  That takes coffee, and lots of it.  Whether in the form of those bottles of Starbuck’s chilled mochas bought at the store or steaming hot, black from the pot at a lonely lodge along the highway, caffeine is the fuel that keeps the weary traveler alert and content enough to keep driving on.  Coffee and cinnamon rolls.

There are two places we stopped at where they make their cinnamon rolls fresh every day, and they aren’t too far from each other.  Plus, they’re both really good! The first we came to was the Tetsa River Lodge, where they have a great little ad in The Milepost for the “Cinnamon Bun Centre of the Galactic Cluster”.  The coffee was amazing as well, and we had a nice chat about Trump with the owner.  The next place we stopped at was at Double G, where we got more coffee and more cinnamon rolls!  Yay!  Robert took photographs of the old lights above the fuel island, he’d been wanting to since we’d passed by on our way down, so I’m glad he had the opportunity to do so.

Robert taking pictures before going in and finding fresh cinnamon rolls and coffee!

Backstory:  In 2010, when Robert and I were traveling up from Alabama so we could live together as man and wife, finally… we stopped at the Double G for breakfast one morning.  We enjoyed a wonderfully delish meal but the proprietor was super cranky so we ever afterwards called him the surly cook. He wasn’t there this time, but a super friendly younger guy was there with the coffee and rolls.  Apparently, the old guy is the owner and spends the winters down south now.  I’d love to go back through in the summer while he is there just to see if his attitude is any better.

Folded Mountain

Another long day and driving and driving.  Moonlight is starting not to like going for rides in the truck.  Even if she gets to look out the window and bark at the locals.

Wood Bison

We spend the night in Teslin at the Yukon Motel.  It’s older but clean and quiet, so we wake up in the morning ready for strong coffee and a last, great push towards home.

We make stops to fill up the truck with diesel at every major town along our way, because you just don’t know who’s going to be open this time of year.  It’s the 23rd of December and there might be folks out visiting family.  So, stops in Whitehorse, Haines Junction and Destruction Bay before we make our way up towards the Alaska-Canada Border, where the guard on duty on the U.S. side gives Moonlight a biscuit and talks about bushwhacking on his off days to a local lake in the area.  It’s remote forest, what else is he gonna do when he’s not working?  We totally get it.

The sun is going down as we cross into Alaska and is full dark by the time we get to Tok.  I briefly consider going into the RV campground to retrieve the stash I hid there but there’s no way I’d be able to with all the snow.  We continue on, keeping ourselves going with music and conversation, already planning our next adventure.  We know we’re going to do this again and we outline some of the changes we’ll make and ways to do things better.  We pass familiar landmarks in the darkness, a faint green glow to the north, not enough to really call it auroras.  We pull into our driveway at 1:22 am on the 24th of December, Christmas Eve.

What a trip!

Tok-in

We two. Thank you to Yael Hickok for being our photographer!
We two. Thank you to Yael Hickok for being our photographer!



We got a little bit of a late start leaving this morning and it’s not my fault, not this time. I’ll blame it on the blanket I bought yesterday. Yeah.

Okay, so several nights ago we had woken up chilled after running our propane out during the night. (Because when you run out of propane it’s going to be in the middle of the night, right?!) The vents were blowing frigid air from about 2am when we groggily got up and just shut off the system, then until about 5:30 we tossed and turned and shivered but were too sleepy to actually get up and DO anything about it. I woke up with an amazing title for this choice piece of fun, “The Wool is Not Enough”, but I got too ferociously busy in preparation for the start of this trip to write it.

But really, wool is what we have on the bed, along with flannel sheets. Talk about cozy. The only thing is, is that the bed is about a queen size and the blankets are twin so I laid them across the bed sideways. The only thing about THAT is, when you’re huddling under the blankets and drawing the top edge within comfort range of your chin, your feet are simultaneously exposed. No. Thank you.  I made it a part of my to do list to buy a real, full/queen sized blanket, which I did. Whew! One thing!

We were so warm and so comfortable this morning that we stayed put for at least an hour longer than we planned to, but we still managed to NOT forget the rice, silverware, oatmeal, a load of laundry, dog treats, dog leash or my shoes. Seriously, I almost forgot all that stuff. I made sure I had that blanket though, by god.

Robert and I had sad goodbyes with Veronica, Gabe and puppy Hugo, then our next door neighbor, Glen, stopped by with a farewell packet of his smoked salmon as we settled into the Excursion. We waved. Robert pulled us out of the driveway; Moonlight standing midway into the front seat and I still waving at my daughter. So grown up. A few minutes out of town, we stopped to say hi-bye to Yael in Chugiak on our way out, and she met us with fresh squeezed apple juice and big smiles. I had made her a little winged horse and gave it to her but forgot to give her a box of rocks we had intended for her son so now they’re coming on the trip with us. I hope they’re good traveling companions.

Somewhere on the Glenn Highway between Sutton and Glenallen
Somewhere on the Glenn Highway between Sutton and Glenallen

After a day of driving we bought fuel in Glenallen and again here in Tok, then had ourselves excellent burgers and fries at a place called Fast Eddie’s. Fun fact: I have a cousin who goes by the same name. No shit! He’s a DJ. We drove around for a while trying to find an open campground and after trying a couple of possibilities with no luck, we were directed to the Sourdough Campground. Hurray! We backtracked down the road a little and found that no one was home, but the light was on. Robert went to see what the sign on the locked door said and found a stack of site maps and an envelope in which to fill out some info and put cash money in. We picked out a spot, which was the very best spot in the the place since we were the only patrons….so far. We’re expecting our friend from the rock club (Chugach Gem and Mineral Society) to meet up with us tonight and we’ll all continue on together in the morning. We two and our doggy Moonlight and Sue with her three cats.

There was a burger here.
There was a burger here.

In the meantime, we’re in Tok, Alaska. And I’m not going to spend the evening in Tok, Alaska without doing just that. 😉

About the Name…

The whole premise of the name of this blog stems from the idea that if one lives in Alaska, one oughtn’t live in Anchorage.

When you think of Alaska, thoughts of wide, wild expanses come to mind.  Lofty mountains and wide valleys with sparkling rivers.  Forests and tundra and gigantic cabbages.  Right?  Not Olive Garden.  Not Pier 1.  Not traffic.

I came up to Alaska to be with my best friend and husband, Robert.  It wasn’t really a decision that came about because I wanted to live in Anchorage, but ancillary to wanting to be with him and he already lived up here.  (Long story…another day.)  Now that I had been here for a couple of years, I wanted to get a little further out.  I’d been wanting to live in the bush but it doesn’t seem like that’s actually going to materialize in this lifetime.  We’ve talked about it and calculated how much we would need to save in order to be able to live out in the middle of nowhere and in order to be somewhat comfortable, it would need to be a bit.  We thought that having a small farm to grow our food and perhaps growing peonies for money would be the answer. Or at least a large part of it. Plus a nice workshop for Robert, so he can work his wizardry.

Anyway, The Bush.  That is anywhere off the road system in Alaska, and what’s accessible by road up here is a very small percentage of the state.  If you have a boat you can use the rivers to barge yourself and the result of shopping forays up to your remote cabin, if it’s nearby a river.  If you have a friend with a plane, you could buy them some fuel and maybe dinner and hopefully they’d take you and your groceries out to your homestead. In the winter, you could snowmachine out or travel by dog sled if you have dogs.  And a sled.  In the summer, some people ride ATV’s out to more remote areas by trail.  And if one’s land is conveniently close to the Alaska Railroad, you could ride the whistle-stop train and let the conductor know where you’d like to get off with your supplies so you can hike the last miles in.

Many people are familiar with the story of Dick Proenneke, who was dropped off near Lake Clark with supplies and who built his cabin and most of his tools by hand.  He is our hero.  I’m not even certain if it’s legal to go into the forest and set up house and farm anymore, since it’s mostly owned by the government.  Someone would squawk.

So, we had come to the conclusion that looking for vacant land to buy outside of town would be the way to go.  First, we looked out in the Matsu Valley, traditionally the most fertile and hospitable area for farming.  The Matanuska-Susitna valley was the destination of scores of farmers and their families, brought from the upper midwest during the dust bowl years, as relocated by the government.  Today, these original settlers are referred to as Pioneers or Colonists with prestige, and have schools and mountains named after them.  But much of the original farmland has been developed into subdivisions, made into bedroom communities for people who work in Anchorage.  It hasn’t done a thing to help the food security issues in Alaska, but that’s another story.  We did look at a parcel of about 5 acres outside of Trapper Creek, and although partially cleared and lush with fireweed, it was in a flood zone.  Also, it had once had a cabin on it which burned down and we couldn’t be sure that someone hadn’t been in it and we didn’t want to be haunted.

Then, we looked into buying land on the Kenai Peninsula.  There are some very nice spots to set up a small homestead down there, it’s largely road accessible and the climate is great.  Some of the more affordable parcels we looked at were swampy, especially down towards Anchor Point.  The black spruce will tell you where the muskeg is!  We also looked around the North Kenai/Nikiski area and were turned off by the proximity of a superfund site left over from the petroleum industry.  Some chemicals had gotten into the water at some point.  Whatever, not going to live there.

After searching for a couple of years, one of Robert’s friends up in North Pole asked us if we wanted to buy their log home, situated on a few acres, on a lake.  Uhhhh.  So that was the end of our search for vacant land.  I really wish I could tell you that we bought that house, with it’s awesome shop and pole barn and lake view and garden area….but we didn’t.  We could have, but then we wouldn’t have been able to afford anything else.  No flowers, no trips to see family Outside, nada.  So, we passed it up and I don’t think I’ll ever recover from that dream we had.  Robert, either.

These days, I have given up my search for “Our Place”.  I have emptied my bookmark folder and unsubscribed from getting email alerts from Zillow.  Maybe I’ll start again in the spring.  Then, perhaps, we can get Out of Anchorage.

 

Dirt road

Healthy Living

So, my husband and I have some friends who live up in North Pole, outside of Fairbanks, Alaska.  This is a couple in their 90’s who have been married for over 70 years now, and since we, too would like to live together into our 90’s, are interested in adopting some of our friends’ lifestyles.  Mainly, to get the hell out of Anchorage and to put less stuff in our coffee.

Robert and I love to doctor our coffee with honey and cream.  Not creamer, which is some nasty chemical concoction which is found in either liquid or powdered form.  No.  We like cream, either full strength, half & half or, lately, whole milk.  It’s tasty and delicious and really good for you.  I have another friend who has taken to blending coconut oil into hers, but without the honey.  When visiting, we’ve tried it that way, but with the addition of her bees’ honey and a little raw cream, and it is amazing!  Sweet, creamy, silky.  Coffeelicious heaven in a cup.  But only one!  Our friends in North Pole have a rule where they doctor the first cup of the day and any coffee after that is black.  Black!  We tried it yesterday and it was very successful…at curtailing our intake of beverage.  Of course, that could be good for us too, right?  Maybe.

The other issue is for us to move out of the city of Anchorage and out to the country.  We have a small farm in our back yard with raised beds and chickens, a raspberry patch and compost.  We want to go a little bigger and try to feed ourselves a little more and support ourselves.  It’s the new dream, isn’t it?  So many people are opting out of the rat race and we’re no exception.  I already have with my occupation as a massage therapist but it’ll have to include my husband as well.  Two hoses pulling as a team get the wagon where it needs to go faster and more efficiently.  If you’re working against each other, you may as well just pull alone! And it’s good that our dreams align because I’d rather live with my husband in a cardboard box than in a mansion without him.

Anyway, that’s today’s plan on a healthier lifestyle.  The coffee is calling.

 

Dream

I had an early morning dream wherein I was picking cherries but had nowhere to put them except my hands.  There were smaller, bright red, tart pie cherries along with dark red and sweet eating cherries, staining my fingers purple.  I think I was eating them in my sleep.  Across the yard was a house, a beautiful old Craftsman style with wood and deep forest green paint tucked into the trees.  It looked like summer but the air was crisp as Alaskan autumn, as there had already been frost.  However, as I was moving branches aside looking for cherries, there was a bird’s nest in one with a couple of fledged babes in it looking at me and they didn’t fly away as I gently let go of the branch.  I went to the house to look for a container for my cherries and realized that it was a clubhouse for my friend Yael and I and our families.  When I got there, the door was open but it wasn’t supposed to be for some reason.  Anyway, it gets confusing and jumbled after that with dirty kitchens and helping pregnant women who have nothing, kids with sticky fingers and stuff of that nature.

 

The accompanying picture was taken while cherry picking this summer.

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