Wonders Never Ceasing

20170815_140631~2Valdez on the day of my leaving had sprung into definition when the clouds lifted and the incredible mountains and tucked in glaciers went visible. Wandering in the Blueberry Lake Recreation area on Thompson Pass was deliriously beautiful and I more or less floated to Kenny Lake, another access point into the Wrangell-St. Elias Park. Kenny Lake, like Slana, is a successful community of homesteaders but I don’t know about “the hotel.” For 70$ I got a stark room with stained floors, stained towel and bathroom across the hall. Luckily I was alone and the young attendant came and figured out the stove for me. (It was mid-40s.) The owner was very pissed off with me because I told her that Selkie, as a service dog, could not be charged to stay there under the ADA. That was uncomfortable and bleached any flavor of optimism I might have had about the adventure of staying in yet another unique environment. After spending over 100$ for a dump with paper thin walls in Valdez I wasn’t excited to be running the budget down further at another one. Despite being off my magic carpet I slept well and we left there uneventfully.

The road north again was long. I got a little better view of the Wrangells but the sky grew more gray with the afternoon. I stopped in a few First Nation communities, like Copper Center, trying to locate a small hair clip for myself or affordable gifts but most stores seemed to be owned by Caucasians and were not what I hoped to find.

Finally, with grogginess overtaking me I came off the road at a small family owned grocery store (Midway Services, next to Autell Creek, near Talkeetna–its For Sale!) Owner Jay and his wife Debbie offered me their school bus to stay in for FREE! This is what they have done for years and the entire ceiling is Thank You notes from internationalists—many riding bikes (eg Anchorage to Argentina!) The bus looks very much like the one in Into the Wild, although it is only a few hundred feet from the roadway.

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It rained in the night and the temperature dropped close to freezing. The propane tank went empty and I didn’t want to stay long enough to use the woodstove so I left and finished my meander to Tok where I stayed in this unconventional housing for the night.

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I’m now in Beaver Creek. The second I hit the Canadian border (and the border guard had given Selkie a Milkbone,) the sky opened up and immediately the road went white with hail. Luckily, Beaver Creek is just about 2 km from the border and I could quickly get in here for the night.

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And this is my wonderful lodging for tonight. 5 separate rooms, bathroom across the hall but I’m luckily alone and the price is right! Don’t knock it… it’s like heaven to me. (Think of the Seven thousand people who have fled Trump’s U.S. for Quebec seeking refugee status!) Tomorrow will be a long haul to Haine’s Junction on more bad road… It has gone into the 30s at night now and the rains are unpredictable… don’t think I’ll be camping again despite how lovely it is to have fewer mosquitos.

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Valdez and the Glacier of Time and Travel

I was released from my worries this morning Thanks to the combination of Mabel’s land line and my credit union explaining why they blocked my card and no it was ok they could unblock it. (Never go to two gas stations in a row… this automatically triggers the Fraud Alert!)

After that it was such smooth sailing! This post will mostly be about glaciers. Not the politics of climate change but just the beauty and grandeur of glaciers. (I even have one outside my window here in Valdez although you might mistake it for the cloud that it is hanging out with.)

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Some glaciers along the road to Valdez weren’t ones I can fix a name to but I took a few angles of the Worthington glacier. They are all melting at an accelerated rate.

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Rivers are swollen with gray glacial waters.  It gives birth to gorgeous waterfalls too.

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One summer after I’d graduated from nursing school my ex-husband Steven Watson and I came up to Alaska to spend time with his friends Bonnie and David and their daughter Crysanna at their homestead on Day Harbor, the next harbor over from Seward and to go on a tour of Prince William Sound… this was in the 70s. It was the most beautiful and amazing trip I’ve ever been on by water—the only one. Their boat was a 28 foot Bristol Bay double ender that they used for halibut fishing. It wasn’t big enough for all of us so we would sleep on land with David’s huge old rifle in the tent with us. We got to visit incredible islands and communities in Prince William Sound but when we got to Valdez, which was in the middle of the pipeline boom, the harbor master came out and asked for me. My uncle was the Police Commissioner of Baltimore with connections to the FBI and he’d put out an alert. Turns out my dad was born with only one kidney and the other one was seriously infected and he needed surgery. I flew home to be with him–from Valdez to Anchorage then to St. Louis, over the vast glacier just over the mountains to the north.

Nothing of that time is familiar to me here. I remember bits and pieces of that scary day but this does not look like the same place at all. Now it is crowded with tourists, the harbor looks different and the rugged quality is gone.

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Mainly I remember the life teeming in the Sound and how all that was destroyed by the Exon-Valdez oil spill. How I mourned then and how good it is to reconnect with this little outpost of it even if it is completely fragmented by memory, pollution and change.

Tomorrow I have been gone for a month. Tomorrow I turn back toward Tok, then the Yukon… moving slowly back to Skagway and the Malaspina (ferry.) I don’t have any profound feelings to express. This is neither a pinnacle nor a sad thing to be at the pivot point. Considering how worried I was this morning I’m still in the aura of delight and contentment where I want to remain for the balance of this journey, if possible. It’s a very long journey, this reverse direction.

 

 

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Alaska Bits

My time in Tok (first town up from the Yukon border on the Alcan Highway,) revolved around not much… I gloried in staying in an RV the first night when I was exhausted from the road and the next day I had a meal out, went to the library and read under my mosquito net. The second night Selk and I slept in a Teardrop trailer, a little box really.

The country on from Yukon was probably fantastic, with little lakes and lots of wildness but I didn’t really register it as beautiful until I started out on the road south-west toward Valdez. Now mountains are cropping up and the road isn’t so straight, in fact there is a lot of roadwork and gravel patches but nothing to prepare me for Slana.

Slana community is one of the two land entrances into the Wrangell-St. Elias mountain range and National Park. Where I’d made reservations was miles off that paved road on a doubtful gravel road in vast country where a couple have carved out a life for 33 years, quite beyond my imagining since this area gets to minus 50  degrees and has many feet of snow. Right now though it is idyllic with two greenhouses brimming with flowers and food, a sweeping lawn and tidy cabin house.

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My cabin is beyond vision and shouting distance from the main house or anything else human. It’s about the size of my old cabin on Pine Creek and uses kerosene lamps and an outdoor shitter just like I had there… more than 36 years ago. For 70$ I’m here for two nights.

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The silence has built in around me so that my ears ring a little. The tall skinny spruce trees rock a little in the wind—good, less mosquitos for when I go out next. I tried some of the wild blueberries but they weren’t so tasty… (remembering crystal clear Carp Lake where we swam and paddled in B.C. grazing on them and they were so delicious.)

I am glad to stop moving through a continuous postcard- To have a chance to see wildlife after hundreds of miles in the wildest part of the world and seeing none but giant ravens. Already what looks like a Goshawk has flown over, giving me joy since I’m reading a fascinating book about them by Helen Macdonald called, H is for Hawk. And even if I see no wildlife to just not be next to a road carrying endless travelers one direction or the other is enough.  To just BE grounded for a little while in Alaska. (I’d thought earlier about how the imminent drop in temperature and rain coming would throw me into a panic of wood cutting if I lived here. I’d also thought about the First Nations people living and moving through the density of the woods and brush in all seasons when bear and wolves were in balance with all the other creatures that filled the capacity of these great lands. Those thoughts fill me with imagining.)

I have no skill set that helps me now. No great love or talent that sustains me. I am just going to be here.

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And so I have… I’ve wandered the land but not really seen other than beaver, grouse and moose or caribou tracks. It started raining heavily a couple of hours ago and that makes the cabin even more cozy… there’s a faint cloud from the oil lamp and the sky is as dark as an Alaskan summer night.

I’ve had a lot of time to think but not much of what I thought needs replaying. I’m fairly used to solitude after these last almost three years but I still carry a taint of restlessness. I slow down and open up my sensing to accept my options and am grateful to have a day without any outside world input. There is innocence in solitude but also room for fabrication and private drama. I have had some flapping about the weaknesses that come with age. Mainly I’ve just been present to my space and the crawl of time as the thirsty plants outside sponge up this needed rain and the gray sheet of Alaskan darkness settles early over this small patch of Alaska.

The next day in Glennallen I found that my debit card won’t work due to a fraud alert. Great. It’s raining and I have 35 dollars. Luckily I got to Mendeltna Creek Lodge and got in a bunk house (alone) for 10 bucks a night. The owner’s husband is away and so Mabel and I have been doing everything together. I got to card while she spun, do yoga with her, harvest food, go in the hot tub, have a home cooked (all grown on the land) meal.

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It’s satisfied some of my barely acknowledged people craving.

Tomorrow I’ll try to sort it out with the bank. At least I’ll have a fully charged car when everyone else is waiting at the pumps (and it was a pump in Tok that triggered the fraud alert…) Hopefully Mabel and I will stay friends and I’ll get to go on to Valdez.

It’s always a hello and goodbye to each bite of Alaska I take.

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The South-west corner of Yukon

20170808_095602_Burst01It was hard to leave Haines because I was comfortable there. Going into Canada, without even a decent map was like going off the edge of the earth. I had 74 miles of EV, the most the car had ever charged to. The road at first wasn’t bad but it was a very long road and I was often impatient and bored despite the beauty.

I made it as far as a government campground (12$ Canadian before I even had to think about the rate of exchange.) Here the bitey flies and bees made for an imperfect stay but at least there was the Million Dollar Falls (more like 100 Dollar Falls if truth be told.) I set up camp with all my bear fears surrounding me—I peed the perimeter, slept with the car alarm, the bear mace, my walking stick and my faithful dog and a neighbor not far away. I carefully laid out everything I would need to reach emergently in the dark but in the long sunset and later the faux dark I realized this far north it doesn’t really get dark. I set my alarm for midnight but the moon was still out, doing a very low Southern arc, but after that it was still light out and before 4am I looked at the clock since I was having so much trouble sleeping with it being so light. I finally wrapped my eyes in my scarf and got a little more sleep.

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In Haines Junction I decided to go wimp after seeing the buff young guys at the Backpackers Hostel. I just wasn’t up for it. My motel was 85$ Canadian and 69$ US. A budget buster but good night’s sleep. This morning my mosquito bites are less insistent and the view out the window is peaceful but the sounds of the Alcan Highway out front remind me that I have an hour to vacate and take up the road again. Three weeks more of travel and I feel burned out from driving and living out of the car. I’m sitting this hour with my reality… sniffing the sweet air and grounding with what is rather than some negative projection. This could be my last great adventure.

Yesterday Selk and I had two short hikes, one up to the rocks at the front end of an ancient glacier (edge of Kluane National Park) and the next along the Dezadeash River walking distance from the motel and the pub where I had dinner.

 

 

 

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Haines, Alaska (with a visit to Skagway)

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This area has been settled by the matrilineal Tlingit for 8000 years. The town sits in a (currently) tranquil fiord and gently responds to tourists and changing seasons. The channel here does not support docking of multiple cruise ships so there is less attendant consumer economy on shore but still plenty of access to the things that support a comfortable life style.

I got a bed in a hostel cabin for 25$ a night and the owner welcomed Selkie. His 11 and 13 year old sons help maintain the place so things are unevenly managed but the price is right and I have no complaints.

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(Above is NOT my lodging. It is Fort Seward, from the bad old days of dispute with Canada.)

On Day One I explored out toward Battery Point but didn’t quite make it. It wasn’t just my complaining knee but also my fear of bears that turned me around when I got to a meadow dense with cow parsnip and lots of large animal sign. Just after that a young man whisked through on his way back to start sourdough at the bakery where he works. He had seen a pod of dolphin and was in a great mood and said I should walk out with him next time so I wouldn’t feel alone and he told me how to find him. IMG_2528

I visited stores and cafes and had sweet little conversations everywhere I went. ‘Even found an art exhibit with little peace flags, pussy hats and little felted demonstrator grannies with big tennis shoes.

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Lastly I followed the Chilcoot River out to the lake and saw this little bear fishing at the weir.

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That evening the only FM station was playing Chopin. The sun came out and I got some beautiful photos of the area. I was as elated as the young man who’d seen dolphins. IMG_2597

Day 2 On my Fast Ferry trip to Skagway with Selkie I had a very dog-centric experience. Of the thousands of people visiting that commercial tourism center I’d say a quarter of the ones I got within 20 feet of wanted to comment on or pet the dog. I think she liked it but it was exhausting for me.

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The only parts of the town I enjoyed was a relatively quiet outdoor salad and seeing salmon swimming their ancient way upstream in the little creek paralleling town.

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Day 3 was my last day to piece together the (accessible) geography experientially. Today I went out the Mud Flat Road to Chilkat State Park, which is less visited that the Chilcoot inlet on the other side of town. From there I could see the incredible hanging Rainbow Glacier with the grand waterfall below it as well as dolphin and bald eagle.

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I drove up the Chilkat inlet later in the day, on the Haines Highway I will take when leaving town, I saw no more eagles but there were miles and miles of incredible scenery. So much so that I had to stop and rest from grandeur fatigue.

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The Malaspina

The northern migration of this ferry has been noteworthy from my own experience as a human traveler and from my experience as a dog owner.

We sat in a warm sun in Bellingham for about three hours cued up in parallel lines of funky and fit looking Alaska bound vehicles. Once aboard Selkie had to stay with the car in the “car park” which is really the belly of the ship. It is loud and shuttery from the huge diesel engines but also stuffy with no natural light or air circulation.

Lugging three days of sleeping gear, clothes, food and stuff to do up about two flights of stairs was a hurdle for me. I settled in the “aft” part of the ship near a window, in a corner… your typical Crab place to hide. Upstairs the adventurers had set up tents in the open air, anchored with rope and tape. Others were set out on the Solarium which is covered and open air but apparently heated. Other folks without cabins settled in other little outposts around the ship. There are probably 400 of us wandering souls compacted loosely through the steel fabric of this vessel.

The first morning I was awakened before 6am by a couple who shared my spacious room, there were about 6 of us… they were talking in normal voices… so the day started and it was gray and has remained gray with various lightening, mist and heavy rain. We were in Canadian waters, still hadn’t cleared Vancouver Island but on Alaska time.

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I made it my business to roam everywhere, watch old movies, walk a mile (8 laps of the deck) and on that day we also had 3 car park 15 min breaks to go down and walk dogs since there were no ports til Ketchikan. Dog owners would hover by the stairs, race to their pets… Selkie was clearly dismayed by the experience of being penned in the car alone but she kept a good appetite and peed if I let her off the leash. Those little breaks went far too fast and I was greatly concerned for her well being.

There were nice connections on the ship—a woman from New York, a couple from near Portland, another woman from near Fairbanks… Most people were in couples or family groups. I felt alone but not lonely, completed Turning Fear into Power, One Woman’s Journey Confronting the War on Terror by Linda Sartor, crocheted, even got to lose a game of Gin Rummy.

Yesterday when we entered Alaskan waters there were stops in Ketchikan, Wrangell and Petersburg. Selkie got to walk on terra firma and we got drenched but she got to poop and I got to see a glimpse of these towns. We stopped in Juneau at about 4am and it was definitely not very scenic in the dark but at least was not raining. I had moved forward because of an influx of kids on fieldtrip in my aft quarters to what would have been a lounge with alcohol served in another time.

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Soon we’ll arrive in Haines. I’ve enjoyed the respite of this unusual space, the levels and length of it, the cafeteria, the funky movies, the folks I’ve talked with, the rare sighting of whales or dolphins. It is a completely safe and controlled environment that soon I will leave for my own devices. This has been an adventure but the true adventure really begins when I have to start navigating on my own and budgeting to stay on for some weeks. I have this to look forward to in reverse in a month or so.

 

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Washington, Saved by the Goldsmiths

20170723_115311I entered Washington via Ferry from Westport, Or to Puget Island and over the Columbia by bridge. ‘Spent one night vegging out on TV at a Motel 6 in Kelso (after a long warm afternoon charging at the Berry Patch Restaurant in Westport.) In the morning I charged without incident in Castle Rock Washington, a sweet little town on the Cowlitz River and then made it up to the Eastcreek RV Park for the next night. 20170724_064300_Burst01

Then today began.

First I lost some of my charge going the wrong way out of the RV park then I drove away from Mt. Rainier instead of toward it… probably another mistake.20170724_123234_Burst01

I thought I was going to have a leisurely drive to an RV park in Puyallup but that town sprawled for miles and when I got where I was going I didn’t want to be there so then I started looking for a charger.

So I followed an app to Federal Way. Apparently there was one in a mall but I could not find it. I was used to the big green towers of Plug Share in Oregon and EV signage… neither of which Washington has. After that I tried at a Fred Meyers in the community of Kent, again struggling through lots of traffic but still on my original RV park charge. That’s when I met up with Blink.

Blink seems to have the Washington market. They are slender, nondescript gray towers. The first one didn’t work at all and the next one gave instructions I couldn’t follow so I called, took a brief survey before the line hung up on me. No Blink for me.

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At that point I called friends from Chico, Steve and Charlotte Goldsmith, who have a summer home in Kirkland. To get to them I had to drive about 25 miles on gas but I was absolutely done by the time I’d called them. I’d tried RV parks and Airbnbs and come up with nothing. It was time to ask to be rescued and now the car is charging from their garage and Selkie and I are in hog heaven after being fed and having a lively conversation with people I actually know and like! What a Lucky turn of events!

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I have now signed up for a guest Blink account and are feeling more confident for the last leg of Washington that lies ahead. So Grateful for these Good People!

 

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