Border, Moose, and Home at Last!

Friday evening, which was the completion of seven days of travel, found us in a motel in Destruction Bay, Yukon. I had a bout with a stomach bug and was feeling weak and tired. We had stopped to examine nearly every consecutive outhouse in an approximate 30 mile stretch of the highway; I felt so bad that I even relinquished the driver’s seat for several miles. During those few miles I emptied what little was left in my stomach and felt much better. I blame the sickness on a little generic energy drink that I purchased at Watson Lake.  My wife pulled into a gas station to fill up the van and to empty the contents in the trash can; I then jumped back into the driver’s seat. It is not that I didn’t trust my wife to drive but I felt it was my responsibility to get my family safely to Alaska. Unfortunately, I cannot say that I drove for the entire trip; I missed about five miles.

Motel at Destruction Bay, Yukon (Pictures do not do justice to the incredible display of beauty of the mountains glowing in the early morning light)

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There are quite a few rest areas along the highway with outhouses and bear-proof trash cans.

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We had an excellent night’s rest at Destruction Bay and continued our trek after the sun rose high enough to warm the road. I was concerned about ice because the temperature was 24 F and there was ice coating everything. We had driven through several snow squalls the day prior and I just didn’t want the added stress of slippery roads. By 7:30 the sun had risen over the eastern mountains and we set off for home!

A beautiful scene after a brief snow squall. (Sorry, we were anxious to keep the wheels rolling so we just took a snapshot through the windshield.)

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Shortly after Destruction Bay we arrived at the Alaska border. This crossing had the potential to get a little sticky. My wife and I did not have our passports or our birth certificates with us. They were probably at the Sterling AK Post Office because we left before they arrived in the mail and our mail was being forwarded. I needn’t have worried at all. The border agent listened to my story and looked at the printouts I had that proved we had applied for passports. That was all he needed and in a matter of 5 minutes we were through! After a short visit with the US Fish & Game officers we were again rolling in Alaska! We still had many hundreds of miles to go but everyone in the van was very excited to see our new home state at last.

The roads didn’t improve in Alaska, in fact, they were worse. A driver has to remain alert for the many frost heaves and potholes that frequent the highway. These frost heaves are hard for a person who has never experienced them to imagine. With our rig they were even more pronounced because we would get to bouncing as the van went over them and the trailer would then give a few more bounces as it passed over.

We stopped for lunch at Fast Eddies which is a really nice restaurant in Tok, Alaska. We pressed on with satisfied stomachs and a fervent desire to see our new house.

The fun wasn’t over yet. We encountered more mountains and steep grades but these didn’t seem as bad for some reason. Of course, a day couldn’t pass without something frazzling our nerves. On one particular winding downgrade heading into the Mat-Su valley we met a moose. It was an encounter that I was trying to avoid and by God’s grace we survived with nary a scratch. The roadway was somewhat narrow and had a high bank on the right hand shoulder. A moose just plunged over the bank at the precise moment we were near it. I yelled and yanked on the wheel the best I could without wrecking the van and trailer and cringed waiting for the impact. I still have no idea how we missed each other but as we passed I looked in the mirror and the moose had managed to turn on a dime and was now running parallel with us. Despite their clumsy appearance it is evident that moose are nimble and quick. I was trembling a bit after all that excitement and we praised God over and over for saving us.

The day grew very long as we traveled the last leg of the journey. We passed through Anchorage around 9:30 pm and headed down the Seward Highway with a few more hours left to travel. The daylight faded into dusk and then darkness and we were now exhausted which made the last hour seem so very long. We saw another brown bear a few miles after Cooper’s Landing and soon after turned into our new home. We praised God for the miracle of safety and good travel. I felt so often throughout the trip that I was testing Him.

We made it by God’s grace!

So concludes our journey to Alaska.

Our journey of life still continues and that too is only by God’s grace and marvelous provisions. As I write this we have now lived in Alaska for about 3 weeks and are absolutely loving it! We have had many gorgeous days and are settling in to our cozy home nestled in a bunch of pine and birch trees. There have been disappointments and trials as you would expect with any significant move but we feel very, very blessed.

Praise be to God!

 

Into the Wilds at Last

My initial thought as we started on the Alaska Highway was that this road is as good as any other. I was preparing myself for a good 1,000 miles or more of gravel or crumpled blacktop. Fortunately most of the Alaska Highway is paved and it has a few stretches that are smooth. The first several hours of travel were pleasant and my confidence began to build. The first steep mountain downgrade eroded that confidence significantly. We came to a pull-off at the top of a hill that was there for trucks to pull into and check their brakes. No big deal. In the East there were plenty of places like that as well and most of the downgrades following seemed easy enough. We stopped to look at the sign which indicated the turns and grade of the hill. There were several turns and the steepest portion was 9% grade. I kept the van in a low gear and started down. I could always feel that we were overloaded, but these steep downgrades sharpened that sense of feeling substantially. I think I could have stopped if I had so desired. I am still not sure. What they don’t tell you on the sign at the top of the hill is that the road is narrow and rough and under construction!

We met quite a few trucks on the Alaskan Highway. We often met them at the times when I was frantically clutching the steering wheel and developing spasms in my leg from braking. They would calmly or not so calmly pull out from behind me and roar on past. I couldn’t help but admire these truckers. My guess is they are not wearing skinny jeans. We even had a greyhound bus passing us periodically!

We now had to watch our gas gauge and plan accordingly. Throughout the trip we did not have a problem with “potty breaks” like I thought a family with six children would. One of the reasons is that we stopped so often for gas that everyone had frequent opportunities to use the washroom (as they call restrooms in Canada). The gas stations on the Alcan are further apart and some were not open for the season when we passed through. Gas stations along the Alaskan Highway tend to be more interesting. One had thousands of hats hanging from its ceiling. Some are just shacks with fancy names.

Below was an interesting gas station/lounge.

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We drove until nearly dark and decided to try sleeping in the van for the night. We looked on our Alcan map and saw a rest area a few miles ahead that had bathrooms. The only bathrooms that we found however were in the trees. Other travelers must have been deceived by the map as well because toilet paper was strewn throughout the branches of bushes and trees in protest.

We all found a spot in the van to sleep and actually slept well for a few hours. Exhaustion enables a good sleep even when you are cold and laying over a hard arm rest. We got an early start that morning because everyone was shivering. Fortunately daylight comes early in the North so we could easily see the random Bison that wandered onto the road. (Our windshield was cracked on previous road trips through the Alcan when driven by the Snaders.)

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We saw lots of bison and other wildlife along the Alcan. The scenery improved dramatically in British Columbia and the Yukon Territory. I would highly recommend the drive but I would not recommend pulling an overloaded trailer.

Our God is an awesome God! His handiwork is evident everywhere but through this area it is loudly proclaimed. We stood in awe at the majestic mountains, beautiful rivers, and the wildlife. I absolutely loved it in spite of the stress!

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Below are Dall Sheep on the mountainside. The picture is a little blurry because we were freehanding with a telephoto. I couldn’t find any full curl rams.

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Another point of interest was the Sign Forest in Watson Lake, Yukon. There are literally thousands of signs from all over the world. We saw quite a few from Pa including Ephrata, Harrisburg, Lancaster, and others. I substantially expanded the hunting opportunities for the PA hunters by nailing a Pa Game Land boundary sign on a tree.  (I did not steal the sign – I purchased it at an auction.)

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We ran into some snow squalls in the Yukon20170506_075352-2

 

 

 

Onward, Still Onward

After a good night’s sleep in the dirty but cheap motel, we again began our journey with perhaps a bit more enthusiasm than the first day. I was still very apprehensive and was a bundle of nerves heading toward Chicago. Fortunately the flat roads of Ohio and Indiana were a much easier drive except for the frequent construction zones in Indiana that were a little sample of what was to come later on the Alcan highway. We made it through Chicago by Sunday afternoon and continued into Wisconsin where we found a resting place at the Orange Moose Motel. We were going to do a family picture with the big orange moose statue but it was cold and rainy, and we were anxious to keep the wheels rolling.

Monday found us rolling through Wisconsin, Minnesota and into North Dakota. We enjoyed the many lakes along the highway through Minnesota and North Dakota but after several hours of exclaiming over all the waterfowl the scenery all began to become a bit mundane. The rolling hills and lakes I can enjoy, but the long stretches of flat farmland had me bleary-eyed. I guess I am not much of a farmer.

The grain elevators are the most striking pieces of landscape with the exception of the tractors. The farmers out here use tractors and implements that could barely turn around in the eastern fields!

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We stopped in a small town of Harvey, North Dakota at a little motel that we later found was very near the railroad tracks. I heard a train or two but after battling the rig all day I probably could have slept through a tornado.

The next day we drove for a bit and entered the town of Portal, North Dakota. This is where we planned to cross into Canada. We were a bit unsure of how border crossing would go with such a tightly packed trailer and no passports. Our passports had not yet arrived in the mail by the time we left so we went anyway hoping to make it through. You do not need a passport to enter Canada but you do need a passport to enter US.

We were pulled into the inspection bay and we had to answer lots of questions – mainly regarding the handguns that I didn’t have along. They inspected my long guns and ammo which I carefully declared and filed the correct paperwork and about an hour later they left us in. We continued nearly through Saskatchewan before stopping for the night.

Saskatchewan is mostly flat as well with lots of grain elevators, trains, and tractors.

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We found another motel that was cheap enough, that is if I made my calculations right from Canadian to U.S; and continued on bright and early the next day. Soon after we entered Alberta we discovered that one of the trailer tires had a hernia. There was a small bubble beginning to protrude from the sidewall. We continued on to a larger town where we found several tire shops but only one that had the time to change our tire. They had a new 10-ply tire in stock and promptly went about changing it. As I was watching the mechanic struggle to lift the trailer with a 10 ton floor jack I became very thankful and apprehensive. Thankful that we were replacing this tire here at the garage and apprehensive regarding the other tires and my inability to even get any of my jacks under the squatting trailer. The young mechanic asked where we were from and I said we were from Pennsylvania. I knew I was far from my previous home when he asked, “Where is that? Is that in Canada?”

This picture was taken along the road somewhere in Alberta.

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After a few more prayers of praise and even more of intercession for the tires we headed for British Columbia. We pulled into Dawson Creek later in the evening and stopped for the night at a motel that was nearly full of oil & gas workers.

Tomorrow we begin to travel the Alaska Highway!

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Learning to Drive

After casting off more of our earthly possessions we set off toward the northwestern horizon and far beyond it. We certainly moved at a faster clip than the covered wagons of old but if compared to a wagon and team of oxen, our team had a limp.

We had a decent F-350 Ford van to do the pulling but with the weight that we were pulling I think a semi truck would have been more in order. We seemed to have taken care of the swaying issue but the top speed was still 55 mph. I did manage 60 mph on some stretches but I had to be very careful especially on downgrades and when a semi truck went flying past.

The first leg of the journey was through western PA on Route 80. That seemed to be one of more tense stretches because 1.) I was still learning how this rig handled, 2.) There were many hills, and 3.) there were many trucks. The speed limit was 70 mph for most of  Route 80, so you can imagine how fast those trucks barreled around me doing a measly 50-55mph. Perhaps the other motorist would have been more understanding if I  had an orange triangle on the back of the trailer and an Amish hat on my head.

I had to keep two hands on the steering wheel practically the entire trip but especially on Route 80.  Several times I was caught relaxing or reaching for another sip of my coffee. A semi would sneak up and pass me before I noticed it. I was constantly watching my mirror so as not to be caught off-guard, but in spite of my efforts I was  blown onto the shoulder of the highway several times. Something about the air turbulence of a passing semi caused our rig first to be drawn toward the passing vehicle but then as it was almost passed it pushed me away toward the right shoulder. The result of all that was me gripping the steering wheel and gritting my teeth as I sawed away on the wheel trying first to avoid a collision then next to avoid all the obstacles on the shoulder of the highway. Sometimes there was no shoulder. Those miles were even more tense.

Despite the difficulties and dangers, we kept plodding on. Our first night was spent near Cleveland, Ohio. We were completely exhausted after packing and repacking and the tense drive through western PA. We were exhausted enough to not care that the cheap motel room I found smelled like a cigar bar and the towels in it were only somewhat white. We were just praising the Lord that we made it as far as we did. Every mile seemed like a miracle.

One day down and many more to go.

The driving posture needed for the overweight rig. (Note that I am trying to smile in spite of the stress.)

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Start & Restart

All of our plans, preparations, and packing for our move finally ended on Saturday, April 29 when we pushed, or rather, smashed our mattresses into the back of the trailer and we loaded our suitcases into the van. After a prayer we took off, or more accurately we set forth about like a snail with an oversized shell would begin a journey from one side of a forest to another. The prayers continued on down the road (and they continued in varying fervency for the duration of the trip).

As we were packing, I knew our trailer was getting heavy when we kept finding things that would be great in Alaska and we started having to stuff every nook and cranny so these things might fit. I had prided myself somewhat with the amount of “stuff” of which we sold or disposed but I realized quickly that we still had too much. So we stuffed the stuff in as best we could and embarked with trailer tires bulging and the rear of the van sagging.

We had gone nearly 10 miles when we realized that something was wrong with our setup. After going over a few bumps (very, very minor bumps in comparison to what lay ahead) the trailer went into a wild swaying and swinging. This was not good! I got the rig under control and we proceeded more cautiously to a gas station for our first of very many fill-ups. I cranked the friction sway control down very tight and thought that that should fix the swaying problem. Nope! The van and trailer still had a propensity to tango. We pulled into another gas station and made arrangements to dump more of our stuff at Jo’s sister’s place. We crawled our way back to their place and proceeded to unload our carefully packed trailer into their hoop barn. I rearranged some heavy pieces of stuff and left a more of it behind in their hoop barn.  My brother-in-law and I also worked on our weight distribution hitch and got the rig into a somewhat better condition for travel.

So we embarked again.

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The van with the happy Weavers and the trailer with all we owned.