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Maryland to Alaska

The Alaska Journey begins – Driving to Alaska

April 19,2012

The possible quotes and cliché sayings to open this blog fill my mind.  We’ve all heard them, but do we really hear and take action.  Well, thanks to a few close friends I’ve found the strength to take this crazy journey. Driving to Alaska.

Preparing the tacoma for the drive to Alaska

At 2:53 PM on Thursday April 19, 2012 I left Westminster, MD and began the 3,500 mile trek across the country.  Yes, at the age of 45, I quit my professional career, loaded my 17 year old pickup truck full of camping gear, kayak and clothes, and am off to Alaska for summer employment.

Preparing the tacoma for the drive to Alaska

I had been complaining about my job for years.  The pay was good.  The benefits were really good.  The scheduling freedom was unbelievably great.   But still I complained.  So in October, God took it away from me.  The job had been my safety net for almost twenty two years.  No more safety net.    The new job held me at a desk for nine hours a day, five days a week.  It provided a paycheck.  The benefit package that made the commute to Baltimore and beyond worthwhile was now gone.

Please do not miss understand me, don’t think I am not thankful for the job given to me following my separation from my long time employer.  For I am.  It got me through the hard times of the marriage separation and maintained my finances.  But through it all, I was pushed to finally understand that a desk and four walls are not for me.  At least for now.

So that brings us to today.  The personal belongings are in storage.  Goodbyes have been said.  The savings account will cover the child support and health insurance for the next several months.  The oil has been changed in the truck.  Time to take that almighty big first step.

This morning I said my prayers, even wept a few tears of fear.  But by mid-afternoon the 1995 Toyota Tacoma fully loaded with camping gear, kayak, fishing gear, and clothes pulled onto interstate 70, heading west.

Preparing the tacoma for the drive to Alaska

For the next twelve days or so, I will be making my way across the northern reaches of this grand country of ours, stopping here and there to explore.   Then once almost to the western edge, I’ll turn right into Canada for another 900 miles to Ketchikan AK.

Wow, just what have I gotten myself into?  I don’t know, but it’s going to quite the adventure.

 the tacoma for the drive to Alaska

 

Friday April 20, 2012 – Day 2

As often is the case with our life journey, we sometimes have to drive long distances of interstate to reach a worthy destination.  And that was today.  By the day’s end, I have reached the 1,000 mile mark – only 2,500 miles to go.  The big event of the day was making it through Chicago’s traffic.  I’ve driven Baltimore / Washington DC traffic for more than twenty years, just more the same.

chicago skyline the drive to Alaska

“More of the same” I guess I could say that about much of the drive from Carroll County, Maryland to Chicago.  I have heard it said that the east coast is just one big large suburb running from New York to Richmond.  After today’s drive I would tend to agree.  The outlining neighborhoods of Chicago eerily look the same as the suburban homes circling the Baltimore beltway.

The Appalachian Mountains have been my escape for many years, and it is with some trepidation, I leave them behind.  The Ohio valley with its rolling green pastures, and wooded valleys, reminds me of a large Carroll County.  Since leaving Westminster, the smell of spring has been rolling in the open truck window.  The deep lush greens of spring grass have been accentuated with the bright colors of a blooming spring – a time of renewal and rebirth.

Here in Wisconsin, the air is still cold.  Last night the night air dropped into the lower 30s.  But even here, it is a time to begin cutting the grass.

The long seemingly endless miles of express toll roads are coming to an end tomorrow.   I’ve put in my miles and now it is time to slow down, investigate, explore and learn, maybe not only about my surroundings, but in turn, maybe about myself.

 

Saturday, April 21, 2012 Day 3 – Wisconsin into Minnesota

With the lights of the big city behind me, I reviewed the map and set a course for the North Woods of Minnesota.

The day started bright with the low early morning sun light illuminating the white birch trees and red barns in a warm glow.  However the tranquility of a morning sunrise was soon back in the forgotten miles.  By the time I entered into Superior Wisconsin, rain fell from a grey sky.

Simpson Creek Chippewa NF the drive to Alaska

 

Simpson Creek Chippewa NF the drive to Alaska

Lunch time arrived about the same time I drove down Route 53 in Superior WI.  Lucky for me, the biggest and best burgers are sold right there in a little joint named Gronk’s Grill.  A bass boat hung from the ceiling.  A massive Northern Pike hung over the door and a light pole sized arrow stuck in the ground in the parking lot.  Seemed just like a place for me.  Sitting at the bar sipping my coffee, the customer sitting next to me commented on my camera, thus beginning a new friendship.  Mike and Diana Mohr have owner Gronk’s for seventeen years, and quickly Mike and I started exchanging fishing stories.

Two hours later, I left Gronk’s grill only after enjoying one of the best cheese burgers I’ve ever had the pleasures of eating.  Good food like that combined with meeting new people and learning about the local flavor is exactly why I avoid chain restaurants the best I can.

 

In the beginning of this trip across the country, I was a little concerned that the big box stores and corporate food chains had taken over the country, leaving it sterile and boring with each town and cross roads being the same as the last.  But after my stop at Gronk’s, I have restored  hope for this country  maintaining some kind of regional individuality.

Minutes after crossing Lake Superior and out of Duluth, the mountains of the North Woods turned the rain into a wet snow.  I pulled off to the side of the road and texted those back in Maryland, “Snow in Minn.”

snowy MN road  the drive to Alaska

Making my destination for the day, I explored the back roads of the Chippewa National forest.  Snow fell.  I even had to lock in the hubs on the truck at one point, but never did put it into four wheel drive.  I believe that will come soon enough.  It was just nice to be off the main drag and cruising dirt, well muddy snow, roads anyhow.

snowy MN road  the drive to Alaska

With a few hours of daylight remaining, I choose to push on to Grand Forks North Dakota.  On those 130 miles, I watched as the storm front left my rear, and clear skies loomed ahead.  By the time I reached Grand Forks, the winds blew 30 and the temps were in the 30’s as well.  Ok, so I wimped out, it was dark, windy and cold, so I looked for a hotel room instead of setting up the tent.  Only one problem the local High schools were gathered in town for some kind of sports tournament and there were no available rooms.

Forty miles later and forty miles north when I’m traveling west, I found a place for the night.  Tomorrow I hope to make it to Theodore Roosevelt’s Ranch, where I’ll spend a day or so hanging around.

North Dakota  the drive to Alaska

 

Sunday, April 22, 2012 – Day 4

Leaving Grafton ND, I returned to the highway intent on making it about 300 miles to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  But here it is almost dark and I just finished eating dinner at camp in Grahams Island State Park on Devils Lake.  I never made it out of North Dakota today.  In all I made it 100 miles north, but traveled about 250 miles.

It all started as I was running full speed and decided to take a detour and drive the gravel county roads.  I’m glad I did.  I found the landscape littered with small pot holes filled with waterfowl.  Each small depression between the recently plowed fields was filled with water and that water held countless variations of waterfowl.  From the standard mallards to pintails, coots, red heads, teal, wood ducks and many more, I attempted my best at taking a few waterfowl photographs.  The slowdown diversion exploring the potholes of North Dakota is exactly why I choose to take two weeks for the trek.

North Dakota  the drive to Alaska

Following the straight dirt roads that run either directly north/south or east/west, I made my way toward Devils Lake North Dakota.  The next stop was the Sullys Hill Natural game Preserve.  I did not see much there, just a few prairie dogs.  Cool as they were, I was disappointed not to find any Elk or Bison.  I did get a chance to take a short hike along the lake and it was nice to stretch the legs after driving solid for three days.

North Dakota  the drive to Alaska

The weather today is far from the snow and cold of yesterday.  Today was a perfect sunny and 60 degrees.  Perfect for camping.

As I type this, I am sitting in my truck overlooking a grassy valley waiting to see if any deer wander out to feed.  The tent is set and dinner was cooked over an open fire.  For dinner I had venison Kabasa that was shot and made in Maryland, smothered in a barbeque sauce from Wisconsin and cooked over a fire in North Dakota – Pretty cool.

Tomorrow I will get an early start and see what the road has in store.

North Dakota  the drive to Alaska

 

Monday, April 23, 2012 –  Day 5 – North Dakota – From the wet pot hole region to the dry Badlands

The morning broke on day 5 crisp and cool with the pre-sunrise temperature in the low thirties.  I woke to the sounds of whistling woodducks and the quacking of Mallards.  In short order camp was packed.  Time to drive westward.  Well somewhat.

Today’s plan was to head over to the west edge of North Dakota in a southerly direction.  The destination – Theodore Roosevelt National grasslands.  I’ve read all of his books, and The Ranchman was written about this very place.  It was a must stop when I first began to contemplate this trip.

However, not much planning went into the trip.  For a reason, I guess.  I wanted to leave my options open, exploring as things came my way.  So, with little to go on, other than a state map and a full tank of gas, I embarked to my next destination.

Within 100 miles, I turned off the interstate and followed the “Scenic Byway” signs.  The view of the Badlands was well worth the few extra miles.  Hard to believe that just a few hours ago I was surrounded by water and now it was in limited quantities.  High above a few valleys I spotted the largest beaver dams I’ve ever seen.  Of course I stopped and took a few photographs.

North Dakota  the drive to Alaska

Back on the main road for another hour of travel, and then I took to the dirt roads that the map said would lead to the National Park.  The first road led to a dead end at a secluded ranch along the Little Missouri River.  No worry there was another dirt track to follow.  This one led to the southern unit of the park and after traveling 100 miles on dirt roads, I entered the park.

Along the way, I spotted pronghorn antelope, mule deer, and just inside the park I was greeted by a few bison.

Montana the drive to Alaska

Late in the afternoon, I found the campground and set camp for another night.  The temperatures today were close to record breaking highs, with it reaching 80 degrees.  No need to double up on the sleeping bags like last night.

Montana the drive to Alaska

Today I learned that even with a well laid out plan and a map to guide you, sometimes the road turns to gravel from asphalt.  The travel may slow some, but this only allowed me to slow down and take in the sights.  Sights I would have missed if I was traveling at 70 MPH.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012 – Day 6 – Visiting a hero’s home and the land of big sky – Montana

Day 6 awoke with mallards flying up the Little Missouri River within ear shot of camp.  How cool it is to have this experience. But the day just got better.

Little Missouri NGL drive to Alaska

After breaking down camp, I went on a pilgrimage.  Since leaving Westminster, I wanted to stop and see where Theodore Roosevelt called home while in North Dakota.  I soon discovered that the reason I could not find the Elkhorn ranch is because the buildings are no longer there.  The site is just a few foundations of what was once there.  Just as he laid the foundation for modern day wildlife conservation.

Little Missouri NGL drive to Alaska

But even more impressive, behind the visitor center was a small cabin – his cabin on his first visit to North Dakota.  He had left New York for a few days of Buffalo hunting, fell in love with the place and stayed to start his own ranch.

Little Missouri NGL drive to Alaska

To say I was in awe to be standing in the very cabin that Teddy once lived is truly an understatement.  I now understand how teenage girls feel at a Justin Bieber concert.  After spending more than an hour talking to the park rangers, it was time to leave and continue my travels.

TR National Park drive to Alaska

On to Big sky country.  Montana is a state I have wanted to visit for as long as I can remember.   Today I made it.  The big blue sign along route 94 marked my arrival.  I now understand why they call it Big Sky country.  It truly is.  What better place than a small town in Montana to do some laundry and catch up on some E-mails.  I also posted several photos of the trip on Facebook.

Arriving at the Charles Russell National Wildlife Refuge, I quickly headed off the asphalt and onto a gravel road leading to a camping area on the banks of Fort Peck Lake.  Finding a site out of the wind, I set camp and cooked an early dinner.  Following dinner it was time to explore.

Charles Russell camp drive to Alaska

The fresh smell of sage filled the windows of the truck in the 80 degree weather.  Turning off the gravel road, I ventured out onto a jeep trail.  With the Old Toyota in 4×4, I explored the endless horizons, gazing out over the coulees and wind swept sandstone cliffs.  Due to the unseasonable warm weather the deer and Elk were holed up in the shade.  At sunset the mule deer emerged and began to feed.

Charles Russell camp drive to Alaska

Even with all that I experienced today, it was one little item of about 3 feet in length that made my heart completely miss a few beats.  While touring the jeep trails, I stepped out of the truck and walked a few hundred yards to get a better vantage overlooking a coulee.  As I turned to return to the truck, I heard an unfamiliar sound, then it registered – Rattle snake!  I froze in place only moving my eyes to find the noise maker.  There he was two feet away.  Luckily he began to move off.  Well, not exactly.  He circled around a small sage bush and started to come back toward me.  I froze.  I thought about what to do, as this was my first encounter with a rattler.  I remembered that I had packed my snakebite kit in the truck.  Good, I thought.  The rattler took one last look at me, and I swear we made eye contact.  He then turned and went his own way.  I slowly backed away and made a big circle of the area.

Charles Russell camp drive to Alaska

For the rest of the evening, I kept one eye on ground as I walking.

The sun has set on another day of my trek across the country.  In a few days, I’ll be in Alaska starting my summer job.  But not quite yet, next stop is the Fort Peck visitor center, then off to Glacier National Park.

Charles Russell camp drive to Alaska

Wednesday, April 25, 2012 – Day 7 – Long drive across Montana

Last night I fell asleep inside of my tent listening to the song of Coyotes in the distance.  This morning I awoke to the sounds of Canada Geese.  During the night I did hear footsteps outside of the tent, but I just listened and did not investigate.

Today, I said goodbye to the Charles Russell Area.  After poking around Fort Peck for a while visiting some landmarks explaining details of the Lewis and Clark expedition, I turned my truck west and continued my own journey.

While traveling along route 2 at 70 MPH, covering the miles quickly and looking forward to the shower that awaited me at the days end, I can only imagine the hardship and conditions that the Lewis and Clark team experienced, walking and paddling through the same area.

Today I covered over 300 miles reaching Cut Bank Montana around 4:00 pm.  I had intended to travel a little farther into the next town, but when I asked about that town, a local strongly suggested I not spend the night there.

Charles Russell camp drive to Alaska

The local I just mentioned was a young lady who was slowly shaping my new hat brim into my requested shape.  One idea I had when I left Westminster was to purchase a new hat in Montana.  I cannot think of a better place to buy a new cowboy hat.

With the windows down feeling the unseasonably warm weather here in Montana, and the radio off, I let my mind wander.

Since leaving Westminster, I have had to deal with the continuing collection of trash.  I now understand why so many expedition travelers use Trasharoos.  It is a spare tire trash pack, not sure where I would have put it, but it would have been nice to have along.

The passenger seat is cluttered with maps, camera, binoculars, notebook and snacks.  I have found that being organized is not the same as being neat.

Last night as I watched the sunset, I realized that here in the west in this open country, the twilight time between sunset and darkness is much longer than back east.  The same is true for sunrise.

RM sheep on drive to Alaska

Tomorrow I’m exploring Glacier National Park.  They are calling for possible rain and snow late tomorrow, we’ll just have to wait and see what comes when it comes.  That mindset has been the mantra of this trip.  I had planned very little for this trip.  Only a few must do’s formulated the trip.  So far this plan of attack has work well.  Maybe the same would work well toward an outlook on life?  Set far reaching goals.  Work generally in that direction.  Accept what comes along the way and deal with the small tasks as they appear.

 

Thursday, April 26, 2012 – Day 8 – I can see the Rocky Mountains – Glacier National Park

A few miles out of Cut Bank Montana, the snowcap mountain tops touched the clouds.  I pulled to the side of the road, took a picture with my cell phone, and texted to friends, “I can see the Rockies !”

One problem  – it is still winter here.  The famous road to the sun through Glacier National Park is closed because of snow and not expected to be open until June.  I drove into the Park as far as the closed gates allowed.  A sign at the Two Medicine Lake entrance explained the details of Trick Falls.  I was in the middle of figuring out how far of a hike it was to the falls, when a local pulled into the parking lot.

Glacier NP RM on drive to Alaska

Jess was hiking back to the falls, about a ½ mile hike, and offered for me to join him.  Together we hiked the unmarked trail over the snow drifts and through the pines.  Two hours later, we parted as friends.

I had my first taste of Hard Tack.  If you have read any stories about explorers or sailors then you have heard of Hard Tack.  It is basically a large dry hard cracker.  I had read about travelers living for long periods of time on nothing but Hard Tack, and always wondered what it was.  Now thanks to Jess I now know.

Trick Falls on drive to Alaska

Jess suggested I take the hike up to Lower Medicine Lake, and lent me his bear spray for the hike.  Yep, this place is full of grizzlies.  They are fresh from their long nap and are hungry.

Because of the rain, I did not take the hike but went on to explore Logan’s Pass.  The locked gate kept me from going too far up the Pass.  Prior to the gate, in a meadow fed about 50 Elk.  I got to see Elk.  Elk hold a special draw representing the west for me.  I cannot totally explain it, but Elk are the western states for me and the trip would not be complete without at least one sighting.  Now I just need to see a grizzly.

Driving along the southern edge of Glacier and the only open pass, I enter into Lewis and Clack National Park.  The Toyota sees a forest access road and makes a hard left across the road and onto the gravel.  A map posted at the access entrance outlines the trails.  It is 4:00 PM; I’ve got a few hours until dark, and plenty of time to get to Alaska.  I lock the hubs, just in case.

Tacoma in snow in Alberta CA on drive to Alaska

Not far up the incline, wet snow covers the road.  With the truck in 4×4, I creep onto the snow.  Tires spin and forward progress halts.  I back up and try again with the truck in 4low.  I get a little farther before progress is halted.  One last attempt, with more speed, moves the limit of my tracks in the snow a few more feet, but again, I’m denied.  Looking over the situation, I could lower the tire pressure, give it a real run, and push it up the trail, but I don’t.  Too far from home, too far yet to go, and stuck in the real wilds of the Rockies with a storm coming does not sound too smart for a solo traveler.

I guess being adventurous can be fun, but knowing one’s limits can keep you alive, or at least from spending a miserable night stuck in the snow.

Twenty minutes later, a thunderstorm pushes through the lower elevations at West Glacier.  I get a room and eat the best BBQ ribs, fried bread and garden salad I’ve had in a long time.

Tomorrow I cross into British Columbia.  1,200 miles of Canada wilderness awaits.

 

Friday,  April 27, 2012 – Day 9 – Crossing the border – Into the Northern Rockies

 

The rain cleared out overnight and today dawned crisp and clear.  I get a late start, still living on east coast time.  It is 10:00 AM before the tires hit the asphalt.  Well, almost.

Leaving West Glacier, I made a quick stop visiting a local art gallery shop.  The sign on the window said it was open, and the one truck in the parking lot meant at least one person was there.  I walked through the door and was greeted by the owner’s puppy.  The shop was filled with a collection of western themed art and native art, including both world famous and local artists.

We quickly engaged in conversation, talking of art, and travels.  I discovered he was also from “back east”.  In 1963 he brought his family from Boston to the west escaping the crowds.  I cut our visit short, as I could have spent all day in his shop talking art and life experiences, but I had miles to cover.

Tacoma in snow in Alberta CA on drive to Alaska

Eighty miles later, I crossed the Canadian Border without incident.  I had heard stories that the crossing could be difficult, but after only a few questions, and declaring my two guns with the proper paper work, I was in Canada.  Yes, I brought my shotgun and rifle along in hopes that I might just get in a hunt or two while in Alaska.

So far I’ve traveled through the rolling hill farm country of Pennsylvania and Ohio, the North woods of Minnesota, the pothole region of North Dakota, the Grasslands of North Dakota and Montana and the U.S.  side of the Northern Rockies, but nothing could have prepared me for the sights of today.

Driving along route 93 in British Columbia and Alberta Canada, I traveled through the most majestic snowcapped mountains one could ever dream.  Around each bend in the road, a new vista grasped my attention, taking my breath away.

northern rockies road on drive to Alaska

When planning this trip, I paid little attention to the Canada portion of the road.  Out of ignorance, I did not realize or know what was in store along the 1,200 miles through Canada.  I should have investigated this route some more.  The plan was to push through the miles, covering miles as fast as I could having seen what I wanted to see while in the states.  The trip through the Canada National parks in the Northern Rockies is worth a trip of its own and I could have spent a week here exploring and hiking the mountains.

The ever intense views kept on for the day, and before I knew it, I had traveled over 500 miles and been on the road for 10 hours.

avalanche sign

avalanche northern rockies road on drive to Alaska

The one thing that really struck me was seeing the landslides and avalanches.   Large trees tossed like match sticks laid in mounds at the bottom of the slides.  While taking a few photos of the slides, I met up with a Canadian scientist who was recording the movement of the slides.  He explained how the forest fires of nine years earlier had weakened the soils and the root system of the vegetation, thus following years of snow melt the ground gives away and slides down the mountain – changing the landscape forever.

Saturday, April 28, 2012 – Day 10 – Out of the Rockies and onto the Pacific coast.

 

Six hundred and fifty two miles to go.  The trip is almost to a close.  I’m eager to complete the drive and begin the next stage of my adventure – summer employment as a guide in Alaska.

northern rockies road on drive to Alaska

Unlike the day before, I get an early start.  At 6:30 AM, I take the by now well-formed driver’s seat in the Toyota and embark on the last leg of the journey through British Columbia.

northern rockies road on drive to Alaska

Elk and Mule deer feed in the green pastures along the early morning drive.  They feed far from the road in the lush green hay fields.  Even with my 200 MM lens they are too far for good photographs and I drive on.

Every few miles, signs warn of crossing moose, my hard scanning finds no moose.

After a few hours of nonstop travel, I spot a demonstration forest at the rest stop.  I pulled in the parking lot, strapped on my bear spray, tossed my camera bag over my shoulder and go for a hike.  Everything out here is bigger than back home.  I follow Moose scat and tracks along an old fire road partially covered in snow.  The size of the moose signs makes the sign of our whitetails look like mice tracks.

The wind direction on the hike was perfect for stalking moose and deer, but not so good for grizzlies.  I make a mile or so loop through the forest, not finding any game, but it felt good to stretch the legs and walk around in the woods for a while.

Northern Rockies on driving to Alaska

Back on the road, I do not go too far before spotting another trail beckoning for investigating.  This time I drive the truck down the muddy trail.  It soon becomes snow covered and once again my exploration is cut short.  No need to push it too far back and get the truck really stuck.  I backed out and pushed on toward Prince Rupert, BC.

It began to rain and rained for most of the 500 mile run to the finish.  Snow melt ran off the mountains in grand style of raging waterfalls.  The road was too narrow for me to stop and take pictures.  I watched the view from my truck’s sunroof.

I spotted my first black bear of the trip and did a quick turnaround taking a few photos of him.  I got a few shots before the wind shifted and my stalk to get closer is busted.  He looked in my direction at two hundred yards away, and slowly walked off.

Northern Rockies on driving to Alaska

I arrive!  4,297 miles and ten days have passed since I left Westminster.  I don’t know what to say at this point.  I guess I should have something profound to say summing up the trip of a life time, but I’m speechless.  Wow, what a ride.  I saw and experienced so much, it is hard to comprehend.

I find the ferry port to Ketchikan, AK.  It is a ghost town.  I returned into town and stopped a hotel.  Checking the ferry schedule, I find that the next ferry does not run until Tuesday.  Today being Saturday, I’m stuck but a few miles from my final destination but will have to wait a few days to make the water trip.

Sunday, April 29, 2012 – Day 11 – Hanging out in Prince Rupert BC

A day of rest.  The ferry to Ketchikan AK does not arrive until Tuesday.  Today I did some laundry and rested up from the long run across the country.

At daylight, I did take a walk through town, stopping at a local breakfast shop for tea and egg sandwich.  Just as with any town across the country, this was the place for locals to stop for a morning coffee and catch up on the daily gossip.  In Montana the talk was centered on the conditions of the hay fields, in North Dakota it was about beef prices, here the talk centered on fishing and latest arrival of ships needing unloading.

Northern Rockies on driving to Alaska

Late in the afternoon, I went for a short drive out of town and found a hiking trail.  The 2.8 Kilometer trail highlighted the Butz Rapids.  Here with the incoming tide, the water runs up the rapids, filling the upriver lake.  When the tide returns to the sea, the river once again flows out.   Reading the informational sign, another sign grabbed my attention.  The sign warned of wolves and bear in the area and hikers should not bring their pets on the trail and should carry bear spray and whistle.

wolf sign_edited-1

A light rain fell on the afternoon.  I heeded the warning sign and over my rain gear I strapped on my bear spray.  Not far along the trail, two college aged girls passed returning to the parking lot.  Each girl was walking with their dogs and was dressed in jogging attire.

Further along the trail, I crossed paths with a family complete with two little dogs and a baby stroller.  Ok, so now I was feeling a little over dressed for the trail.  Several joggers were also using the trail.  Seems like here in the pacific rain forest a little drizzle does not keep people at home.  People of all ages, most with their dogs in tow, and, at the most, wore only a light rain coat hiked the trail.  Here I was in my total rain suit of bibs and jacket, and my bear spray hanging over my shoulder.  I felt a little over dressed and embarrassed.

me in full rain gear_edited-1 locals on the trail_edited-2

Close to the end of the hike, I met up with a few women, walking their dogs and young son.  I asked about the sign.  They explained they have not seen any sign of wolves or bear in the area for a few years, but said they are around.  And the rain, it’s just part of life around here.  Driving back into town, I noticed a family picnic including a bone fire and a baseball game being played.

Tomorrow, I’m going to drop the kayak into the sound and do some back cove exploring – rain or no rain.

 

Monday, April 30, 2012 – Day 12 – Paddling the ‘yak and fishing

All of the water surrounding me was getting the best of me and I needed to get the kayak floating.  I did not carry it 4,000 miles for it to be  just a truck ornament.  Even though I did get a few odd looks driving through the Grasslands and Badlands of the west with a Kayak.  More than one person questioned my use of such a thing in their part of the country.

Today, with the same light on/off rainy mist that has been falling since my arrival in Prince Rupert BC two days ago, I ventured out for some paddling water.  The search was easy.  I am on the Canadian Pacific Island coast after all.

pierhouse

I head east on Route 16 – the only road in and out of town.  I crossed a rusty steel bridge with a tidal creek flowing under.  The creek opened up into a large tidal bay.  Clumps of kelp, seaweed, floats with the tide on top of the dark almost black acidic looking water.  From my roadside vantage, I can see several rocky islands, and channels weaving in and through the countless islands.

A muddy road beckoned.  The Toyota turned and began to travel the muddy road.  The narrow road quickly opened up into a large muddy, what seemed to be, parking lot.  The area looked very similar to some of the construction sites I have worked over the years.  Only one big difference, this one had a boat ramp.  Closer investigation revealed that this was a logging staging area for floating logs down the river to the pulp processing plant.

I’m standing next to my truck, looking things over when I guy walked by.  I ask, “Is it OK to launch my Kayak here?”  Half an hour later, I know all I need to, to catch the “jacks” in the area.  These are young salmon that have not made the return to the ocean yet.  These fish are over five pounds in size.  Sounds like a deal to me, not many five pound smallmouth swimming in the Monocacy back home.

cloudy cove

My new local friend is joined by the rest of the carpentry crew and they drive farther back the muddy road.   They are building a floating dock home.  I don’t fully get it, but don’t push the issue, I got fishing intel and that’s cool enough for me.  See the tides run almost ten feet here, it seldom is sunny, or warm, but someone wants to have a floating dock home?

The fishing gear has been s packed in the front section of the truck bed in a large BassPro waterproof tackle bag since my leaving Westminster.  My rods have traveled the trek across the country on the ski rack turned fishing rod holder on the bed rack.  As I unload, the kayak, remove the rods, roll up the bed cover, and remove the bag and began to assemble a reel to a rod, I notice the local carpenters are watching.  One comments, “nice packing job.”

“Thanks.”  Is all I say, but inside I swell at the comment knowing all the planning that went into converting my truck into the rig I wanted.  So far, it has worked as planned and that’s a nice feeling of accomplishment.  Anyone can spend a lot of money for a new fancy truck, but I have less than half what a new truck would cost into this Tacoma, and it serves me much better than a new one would.

A silver Mepps #2 in is tied on the 12 pound test line of my seven foot heavy fresh water/light salt water weight rod.  With the camera stored in a waterproof backpack, and life jacket on, I stepped over the kayak and dropped in.  One push of the paddle and I’m here doing it.  I’m kayak fishing a Pacific Coast tidal river for salmon.  Wow.

Not all goes as planned.  The lure selection based on the local’s suggestion is too light for the heavy line.  My casts do not travel far enough to get the spinner as deep as needed. Not that it matters a whole lot.  The sights of my surroundings hold my attention more than the possibility of catching a fish.  Three eagles are perched on a tall pine.  Ducks swam in the back coves.  Bears are commonly found feeding on the river banks during this time of year, so I’m told, and I am constantly searching for them.

three eagles

The sounds coming from the thick dark woods above the rocky shores are unfamiliar.  A whole different collection of birds and mammals live out here.  I float, drifting with the tide and wind listening to the new sounds.

For the next few hours, I explore the back coves, and cuts between the islands of the tidal river bay.  A light rain fell the entire time, but I am getting used to it and like the locals hardly notice the watery sunshine.

river cut

This is going to be a cool summer.  Tomorrow I ride the ferry over to Ketchikan.  This stage of the adventure has come to a close and tomorrow starts a new phase.  Am I a little just apprehensive?  Sure who wouldn’t be.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012 – Day 13 Arrive in Ketchikan, AK.

Today is the day.  The day I make the final stage of the trek across the continent and arrive in Alaska.  I board the ferry at 8:00 AM.  The ferry ride will last five hours.  A time to reflect of the last 12 days and ponder the next 5 months.

DSC_8890

In some ways, the trip went extremely fast and in many ways it feels like a lifetime ago I was in Westminster commuting to Baltimore daily.

The final days before leaving was a whirlwind of packing and storing stuff, finishing the preparation of the truck and saying the good byes.  Not until I reached the Northwood of Minnesota, did what I was doing really register, even then I was focused on the trip at hand, not giving much thought about the 5 months ahead at the end of the road.  But now as I sit on the ferry gazing out at the snowcapped mountains touching the ocean, I cannot help but notice the other passengers.

The feeling of loneliness overcame me, as I noticed the others travel in groups.  I’m 4,000 miles from my home, my family, my friends and all that is familiar to me.  I began to wonder and question what I am about to undertake.

Quietly I pray.

lighthouse on island

I over hear a group of college aged students talk of their jobs of the summer and their excitement is catchy.  A little while later I step outside of the ferry to take photos of a light house on a rocky island.  A passenger standing next to me opened a conversation.  In a few minutes, I am sharing my photographs of my recent travels.  As it turned out, the other men sitting in our area are also in route to Ketchikan to work for the summer.  One older gentleman has guided fishermen and currently drives the tourist duck boats, working in Ketchikan for 28 years.  Another is working for the summer as a pilot.  They told stories of past summers.  I met a few other people on the five hour trip also traveling to Ketchikan to work for the summer.  We exchange stories of what has brought us here, and I quickly feel as if I am among like-minded people.  A feeling sometimes missed back home.

The ferry landed.  I phoned my landlord and we met at a local diner for a quick cup of coffee and directions to the house.  He had to go and make one more fight, taking fishermen out to a lodge.  I found the house with the front door unlocked and make myself at home in my new place.

For the next five months, I will be working as an Adventure Kart tour guide.  What my life beyond that has in store, I do not know.  I do know my life is in God’s hands and with him I’ll be taking this walk.


  • Evan

    This was a really good read! I hope you still check this blog, maybe you can give me some more insight on what exactly you were doing in AK and how you got involved? Thanks and God Bless!

  • http://www.augiesadventures.com augie

    Evan,

    When I was in AK, I was working as an offroad adventure guide in Ketchikan AK. We would take tourist out in Tomcars on a tour through the AK wilderness. It was a lot of fun and I totally enjoyed the work. I hope to be able to return to AK and explore the interior more and even work as a guide again.

  • Clifford

    Hey there! Thank you for sharing your driving journey from Maryland to Alaska. I am glad to stop by your site and know more about your adventures. Keep it up! This is a good read. You have such an interesting and informative page. I will be looking forward to visit your page again and for your other posts as well.

    Clifford
    http://www.nicaraguabirdhunting.com

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