Chapter Eighteen: North

There are a few things you notice as you start driving north of the 49th parallel, once you’ve passed the lower cities like Vancouver (where we stopped at Momo for some sushi), Squamish and Whistler Village: The roads deteriorate, the nights get cool and the days stretch nearly into midnight. There is also an almost palpable lack of other people. You can drive the hwy 37 up British Columbia and go hours without seeing a single car. Stocked with canned ravioli, a spare gas tank and heavy blankets, we were prepared physically if not mentally. Suddenly it really felt as though it was actually just the two of us on this trip. No distractions, just an open road, increasingly large mountains and some wildlife. The first time we saw a bear on the side of the road, we drove back past him two more times. By the sixth or seventh, we shared a smile and a, “That’s nice.”
We really enjoyed the longer days. Our first night after veering north, we lit a bonfire and waited…and waited… and waited for it to get dark and then it finally dawned on us that the sun would be setting much later in these parts.
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We did notice that, once the dark had come, it was getting much, much cooler. British Columbia was tolerable, but in northern Alaska, I camped out in two pairs of pants, thick socks, a shirt, two sweaters and a jacket, hood up, sleeping bag and duvet on top. It was cold. But I’m getting ahead of myself. In BC, we stopped at Pemberton and Boya Provincial Parks, visiting the lackluster Prince George in between. The parks were beautiful and on pristine, turquoise lakes. We visited Joffrey Lakes outside of Pemberton and rented a canoe for a morning paddle in Boya. We were sometimes very lucky with our meal breaks, when we would see a beautiful scenic or lakeside pullover, to enjoy a meal with a view. We also had a lot of campfires in this part of the trip (often with roasted marshmallows and spider dogs). It felt very North American again, after four months in Europe.
 
We got into the Yukon on a Saturday and booked into a motel in Whitehorse by that evening, hungry for some entertainment and food that was not a cold salad wrap. We went to Klondike Rib & Salmon for their namesake platter and mixed game meatballs, which were delicious. We walked around the main street strip hoping for some saloon-style bar reminiscent of the gold rush era. Instead, we found a modern bar full of tourists and a hotel bar with a local act playing some live music. We stayed in each for a drink but were a bit let down and headed back to our motel to cut our losses. At least we caught a magnificent sunset at 11:30 p.m.! We would head on towards Alaska the next morning but come back to Whitehorse a couple of weeks later on our way out.
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The road to Alaska was long and scenic, along the Alaskan Highway. We passed through Kluane Territorial Park, known for its abundance of dall sheep. The scenery was a mix of mountains, forests, lakes and glaciers. It was incredibly beautiful. We attempted to go to Wrangell St. Elias National Park but turned around at the one horse town of Chittina (with the trademark motel-restaurant-bar combination) when we realized the next three hours drive would be pot-hole ridden dirt roads and our little sedan may not have made it.
 
We drove on to Anchorage, where we booked two nights in the sleaziest inner-city campground I’ve seen. Most of the sites were occupied seasonally and it had a very rough and tumble crowd. No matter as we wanted to spend the days in the city… which proved to be more time than needed. The city of anchorage is beautifully situated. Aside from that, however, we found there was not much to do in the city itself. We walked the downtown, bought some reindeer sausage, stopped at the 49th State Brewery patio and walked the waterfront trail. We went to the Native Museum. After that, we were hard-pressed to fill the rest of the time we had allocated to anchorage. We explored the greater city hoping to find a cozy café to read in. All we found were strip malls. We were a bit disappointed as we had high expectations of anchorage after seeing beautiful Juneau last spring. I suppose it is best left for a hotel, hot meal and afternoon stroll.
 
We rode on, through Sarah Palin’s hometown of Wasilla, and toward Denali National Park. ❤
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