Posts filed under The great wide open

The Ultimate Roadtrip pt.3

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The Spell of the Yukon

There’s a land where the mountains are nameless,
   And the rivers all run God knows where;
There are lives that are erring and aimless,
   And deaths that just hang by a hair;
There are hardships that nobody reckons;
   There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There’s a land — oh, it beckons and beckons,
   And I want to go back — and I will.
- Robert Service


DAY 3, 05/23/16: Wolf Creek Campground to Liard River Hot Springs Campground - 408.5 miles

Alaska Highway - The Alcan

    On day 3 we started to see an increase in the number of cars and RVs on the road. This was also apparent in some of the campgrounds the following days. Many people drive the Alaskan highway, aka the Alcan, every year. Dawson Creek in British Columbia is where the highway officially starts, and it ends at mile 1421 in Delta Junction, Alaska. Back in the day the Alcan was mostly gravel, and of course fewer people actually drove it. W's mom and dad drove part of the Alcan back in the day. They got a flat tire and I think they had to wait almost a full day before someone drove by and could help them. Today the whole road is asphalt, with the exception for all the road construction areas, which as always seem to multiply in the summer time, everywhere. To guide you through the 1421 mile long roadtrip you should use the Milepost aka the road bible as I like to call it. It has every single small town and attraction listed in it, even specifics about anything you could possibly want to know. Information about how long time it takes to go from point A to point B, where the gas stations are or for that matter aren't, the towns you pass through, tourist attractions and information about other highways, ferries and such. Every year the Milepost is published, with updated information. As with any other road in the less developed areas of North America, the cellservice is mostly non existent. If you drive this road you are bound to run into wild animals, grizzlies, blackies, bison, caribou and moose are some of the more frequent ones you can see. We had been driving through amazing parts of Alaska and Canada, and Canada just kept on giving and giving. You drive on Empty roads, with more black bears than what I had ever seen, all along the road. You pass large rivers and small creeks, cross bridges, and you just keep seeing more mountains and deep forests around every corner you turn.

Some of the beautiful views we saw on May 23rd:

We stop at the Signpost Forest

Wolfcreek Campground

    We woke up early at Wolfcreek Campground, the rain had stopped and for once our tent was pretty dry. We were in the outskirts of Whitehorse and had pretty mixed feelings about the campground. Being so close to Whitehorse it draws more people to it, and sometimes not the best people. About 70% of the whole population of YT lives in Whitehorse (a whopping 25,000) which makes it the largest city in the YT. Our goal for today was to drive about 260 miles, until we arrived at the Signpost Forest in Watson Lake. Watson lake is one of the larger towns in YT (well everything is relative, right..), about 1000 people live here which makes it the third largest city in YT. The Signpost Forest itself was created in 1942 by a U.S. soldier recovering from an injury. I can only imagine how boring it must be to be injured at a place like this, in the middle of nowhere. Today more than 77,000 signs can be seen here.

We enter British Columbia and drive towards Liard Hotsprings

    We leave the Yukon and its vast wilderness and lack of humans behind us and enter into British Columbia, BC. It's crazy that we spent more than one day driving through the Yukon, just like Robert Service once said, 

"There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There’s a land — oh, it beckons and beckons,
And I want to go back — and I will."


About 4.6 million people live here, quite the contrast to YT's 35,000 people. We drive into the famous Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park with that rain constantly haunting us from behind. I have actually written about Liard Hot Springs in the past, but for a completely different reason. At Liard Hot Springs Provisional park, a well known bear attack took place back in 1997. You are in bear country all through the Alcan, Alaska and most parts of Canada.  The bear attack in 1997 was a random one, which is probably why it is so famous when people talk about bear safety, but you still need to be bear aware. Liard Hot Springs is surrounded by the deep boreal forest, tall black and white spruce, but also lodgepole pine are mixed in with the deciduous vegetation like aspen and birch. We walked on a long boardwalk over these beautiful wetlands, surrounded by the beautiful boreal forest. At the end of the boardwalk we walked into the forest and came out in front of the second largest hotspring in Canada. We swam for a while until those thunderstorms that had been chasing us for days arrived again, and we quickly got out of the water to head back to the parking lot. 

Come Rain Come Shine

    Once the rain stopped we walked back towards the hot springs again and shot some pictures. It was so beautiful there. The sun, the misty air that was created once the sun broke out after the short but heavy thunderstorm, and just nature itself. A typical summer evening was forming, a pretty damp but beautiful one. Later that evening we could go to bed with a smile on our faces, a reminder of how lucky we are to get to see places like this. 

Day 3 trip Details - Gas, Camping, and gas mileage

  • Canada: Jakes Corner Whitehorse. MP 866 Alaska highway, YT, 55 miles from Wolf Creek Campground. Gas mileage: 21.42 miles/gallon
  • Canada: Rancheria Motel and Cafe. MP 710 Alaska highway Watson lake, YT, 150.5 miles. Gas mileage: 30.967 miles/gallon
  • Canada: Somewhere...171.2 miles.  Mileage 25.22 miles/gallon
  • Total driving on day 3, about  276.7 + 31.8 miles from the gas station to  Liard Hotsprings Campground (408.5 miles).
  • The grand total of the whole trip: 1018.4 miles
  • Campground: Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park

The Ultimate Roadtrip pt.2

Flashback Friday

DAY 1, 05/21/16: Fairbanks to Lake Creek Campground - 369 miles

    Day 1 on our road trip we drove east, towards Delta Junction, Tok, and eventually into Canada. Fairbanks is an epicenter of the Boreal Forest. Deep forest consisting of mostly the fire-prone Black Spruce, but also the abundant White Spruce, Birch, Alder, and other deciduous tree species. As you drive east on the Richardson highway, you also drive along the Tanana River. It always makes me think about Paul Simons song "Diamonds on the soles of her shoes", in which he sings: 

"He's a poor boy
Empty as a pocket
Empty as a pocket with nothing to lose
Sing ta na na
Ta na na na"

    After you leave the deep forest behind you, the mountains move in closer, at the same rate as the braided stream comes closer to the road, and you are during many miles driving through the mountains, well if you can see them. Eventually, the mountains move away again, and you are left with more of a boggy wetland landscape with dead standing spruce and large mountains in the backdrop.

Crossing into Canada

    About 6:30 in the evening we got closer to the Canadian border, and eventually our campsite. With the midnight sun above us we didn't see any sign of a late evening.  The border crossing into Canada was smooth, they asked about our trip and where we were headed. Then the rhetorical question about fruit and alcohol, oh, and weapons. The only thing we could potentially classify as a weapon was the bear spray. The border crossing agent welcomed us and we continued into one of the most remote areas of our trip, the Yukon Territory (YT). The Yukon Territory has a very low population, only 36,000 people live here, in an area that is almost 3.5 times the size of New York State, which makes their slogan "larger than life" even more fitting. 

White River Lake Creek Campground

    Once you get into Canada and the Yukon we are back into deep forest and mountains for real. Mountains everywhere, just like Alaska. We finally arrived at a completely empty campground later that evening. It seems as everyone had disappeared after the border crossing. We got the tent up, had dinner and then went for a short walk along the river.  Later that evening rain that had been following us all day picked up and we fell asleep with the rain pounding on the tent. 

Day 1 trip Details - Gas, Camping, and gas mileage

  • US: Jacks service Delta Junction, AK, 99.5 miles. Gas mileage: 23.6 miles/gallon
  • US: youngs chevron milepost 1314 Alaska highway, AK, 109.2 Miles. Gas mileage: 26.25 miles/gallon
  • Canada: Fas gas beaver creek 1202 Alaska highway YT, 110.7 Miles. Gas mileage: 25.33 miles/gallon
  • Total about 319.4 miles + 49.6 miles from gas station to campground
  • Campground: Lake Creek Campground

DAY 2 05/22/16: Lake Creek Campground to Wolf Creek Campground, 241 miles

    The next morning we woke up early, it was still raining. At many of the campgrounds in Canada, they provided free firewood, unheard of in the US. Priority number one: coffee, priority number two: get a fire started, so we could get warm, and also try to dry our tent out before continuing. There is nothing worse than a wet tent. 

Summer is the season, for roadwork

    We continued through Canada, the Yukon, and the deep forests, mountains, and abundance of water. Never in my life had I expected Canada to be such an eye-opener. Here I had lived in Alaska for about 7 years and thought that nothing will ever top this. Well, I was of course wrong. With the northern region of North America being underlain by permafrost and the harsh winters, summertime not only means tourist season but also roadwork season. It is not uncommon to have to wait half an hour for a pilot car to guide you through the roadworks.

Hey Bear

    About 8:30AM we spot a car standing still by the side of the road. As we approached we could see the reason why. A grizzly, not only any grizzly, a mama grizzly with two bear cubs. Two bear cubs that can't have been more than a few days old. They even had issues with their coordination, and it was pure joy seeing them play with each other and loose their balance from time to time. Mama bear was of course patiently watching nearby.

Mountains

    The mountains disappeared and appeared as we continued driving through Canada. It's hard to fathom how large Canada is, if you thought Alaska with its wilderness was big, that is nothing compared to Candaland. When you think it can not get any more incredible it can, and it will. Again, and again, and again. We stopped at a rest stop by the Kluane River. Oh my, what a treat for the eyes. Those mountains are just right there, in front of you, and sometimes it gets hard to understand how mighty they actually are. 

Wolf Creek Campground

    We finally arrived at Wolf Creek Campground, after about 241 miles of driving. In comparison to the previous campground, this one was a bit more crowded, as in there were other people than us there. Of course it was still raining. I had been dealing with an early rainy field season, but also rain, rain and rain the past couple of years in the field so I guess I had been hardened a bit. W had not. When the rain finally stopped we put our tent up and tried to dry our sleeping bags that had gotten damp earlier. We even had a fire before going to bed after another late dinner. 

Day 2 trip Details - Gas, Camping, and gas mileage

  • Canada: Petro express Haines Junction, YT 135.9 miles from Lake Creek campground. Gas mileage 31.66 miles/gallon
  • Total driving on day 2, about  135.9 + 105 miles from the gas station to campground (240.9 miles).
  • The grand total of the whole trip: 609.9 miles
  • Campground: Wolf Creek Campground

The Ultimate Roadtrip pt.1

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Flashback Friday

Two Years ago

    It has now been two years since I packed up all my belongings and took the car south, from Alaska, and into the lower 48. Well, I didn't drive all by myself, which was nice, considering that I think we ended up with about 4500 miles or so (7200km). People in Alaska generally call the rest of the US the lower 48, or just straight the US. They say that many people go to Alaska to disappear because you easily can. Alaska is larger than any other state in the US, and it is impossible to see all incredible places in one short trip. 

The Last Frontier

    There is a reason why Alaska is often referred to as the Last Frontier. With only one road going north and south from Fairbanks. The road north eventually turn into a gravel road, and once you hit Atigun pass, it's just you, you and the 18-wheelers. There are many villages in Alaska that have a road system, but a road system that does not connect to any of the major road systems in Alaska. Which mean that the only way to get there is by plane. 

Tundra, Mountains and deep Forests

    I have often wondered why I fit in so well in Alaska, and I am pretty sure one of the reasons are the fact that the vegetation in the interior of Alaska is almost exactly the same as in Sweden. In Fairbanks, you are in the boreal forest, the same boreal forest that covers almost all of Sweden. There are some differences though, I am pretty sure there is no black spruce in Sweden, and the dominant Scots Pine in Sweden (or at least in the boreal forest I connect to over there) is non-existent in Alaska. Then we have the ocean, or rather the lack of ocean in interior Alaska. That is a big difference, and I think I missed the ocean and water in first year or so in Fairbanks.

Packing the Car

    W always talk about this when the move from Alaska to Wisconsin comes up. And lately, he's been pretty forceful about packing up our home in Madison, in preparation for the big move to New York. W flew to Fairbanks a couple of days before we had planned to leave, and as he describes it, nothing was packed. I on the other hand, still believe that some things were packed, while other items such as bedding and clothes you wear were not. I can admit that I probably had not packed as much as I should have, that on top of some things that needed to get done in the lab before I left, made for some stressful last days at the cabin. But we packed the car and departed on May 21st. 

The typical Alaskan Weather

    The weather in Alaska is always changing, and one day it might be rainy and cloudy and the 40's, while the next is full on sun, accompanied with smoke from wildfires that fills your lungs, along with mosquitos from hell. The day we departed was cloudy, and Alaska did not let me leave on her best behavior. I would have wanted a clear blue sky while driving east through the mountains. But, there would be no lack of mountain views on this trip, especially since we also had half of Canada to drive through.

Wilder pt. 2

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"Wilder than a brushfire burns deep inside the bramble
Baby, I think God made your soul born to ramble
Maybe you'll take to the far away places
Where life is gonna deal you a hand full of aces
But it doesn't really matter how great the spaces
We're chained, and when everything else changes our love will stay the same
We're chained, and when everything else goes away our love will still remain"

Flashback Friday

Getting Married, Again

    This past summer we got married, again. Well, this was more of a wedding celebration, a celebration where we were able to invite our friends and family on this side of the ocean, to the state that holds our hearts, Montana. Last Christmas we went skiing at a place called Homestake Lodge, outside Butte, MT. It was one of those places where you felt like you were in heaven, snow on the trees, newly groomed cross-country ski tracks and rolling hills and mountains. I happened to notice that the lodge also hosts wedding parties, and after some debating over where to have our wedding celebration, we decided to pick Homestake Lodge. 

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Homestake Lodge

    There are many wedding venues around Bozeman, Montana. I really wanted a place surrounded by mountains. We talked about renting a forest service cabin, but with all the additional logistics that a place like that would bring, and our limited budget we figured that we probably were better of with a place that had the amenities a social gathering like this would require. Paradise Valley is as it sounds like a very beautiful place, located between Bozeman and Gardiner. I have seen many different lodges around there, all beautiful and all very expensive to rent. Instead, we dialed down on Homestake Lodge in the mountain pass between Bozeman and Butte and right on the Continental Divide. Homestake Lodge itself is this beautiful rustic cabin that sits on top of a small hill overlooking the deep forest and the mountains surrounding it. We rented the whole place, which included a couple of cabins and one yurt. It was a great way to host a wedding celebration, having the option for a lot of people to stay at the lodge and surrounding cabins. Butte is only about 20 minutes away, so we had a few guests who went back there as the afternoon slowly transitioned into the late evening. It was my dream wedding, being surrounded by these mountains and the deep forest. 

We are a Fiery Couple   

    The morning of the wedding we found ourselves driving from Bozeman to Homestake Lodge through Homestake Pass. Smoke from wildfires across the state covered the pass and the mountains surrounding Bozeman. The smell of fire was in the air. In some sense, this is kind of ironic, because we both study fires, so of course our bond to each other would be tied during a fiery day like this. Every time we drive anywhere in this state I have this feeling of excitement and love in my heart, love for all this nature surrounding us that is also tying us together. We met once upon a time when I moved into the cabin across the driveway from W's cabin. Since then we have helped each other with fieldwork in our different systems. W has helped me in the deep forests of interior Alaska, and I have helped him in the deep forests of Yellowstone National Park. We have lived apart for several years to be able to pursue our PhDs, me in Alaska and him in Wisconsin until I was done with all my fieldwork and was able to join him in Wisconsin. 

Walking down the aisle

    In my dreams leading up to this wedding, everything was already planned, my mom and dad would be there. I would finally be able to show my parents one of the many places that now holds my heart. Life doesn't always turn out the way you expect them to, and mom passed away about 10 months before the wedding. She had been so excited and had already planned everything she wanted to do and see. My dad came alone, but instead of thinking about all the sadness surrounding the fact that my mom was not able to be there, we made this trip all about us. We drove together all the way from Madison WI, through Badlands National Park, through the Beartooth Pass, and through Yellowstone until we finally arrived in Bozeman a few days later. We camped along the way, and dad had not been sleeping in a tent since the 70's or 80's. And then at the wedding, my dad finally got to walk me down the aisle. 

Not your average kind of wedding

    We are not the average type of people, so our wedding was not the average kind. We chose for instance very untraditional music for the wedding. We walked down to Brandy Carlile's "We're Chained", had two of our poet friends marry us, and walked out to John Prine and Iris Dement "In Spite of Ourselves". Because we are not your average type of human. We have been shaped by our surroundings, W in the backcountry of Montana, and then the forests of Alaska, and me as a full-on city girl from central Stockholm with my heart in northern Sweden, and then the sharp turn to dry cabin life in Alaska. We don't blink or hesitate about camping along a frozen river at 20 below and get up and do a 20K ski race the next day. We see possibilities where others see problems. 

A Dream Wedding

    As the afternoon turned to evening the hazy air, created by the smoke from all the wildfires, developed a beautiful veil over our wedding venue. You could smell the fire in the air, but those fires were far away from where we were. The kids were playing and family and friends helped out to bring the dessert out to the pavilion where the homemade smoked pulled pork dinner had been served. W had spent days with his aunts' husband, smoking the pork on low heat. We moved between tables and talked to all of our friends we hadn't seen in a long time. 

A Couple of Post-Wedding Photos

    Before the darkness arrived and within the magic hour of sunset and light we went out and took some pictures of us with my dad. So that we could keep some memories from this wonderful day. We didn't hire any photographer but instead we took turns taking pictures of each other, and I think we did a good job!

The Yurt

    There were a couple of cabins at Homestake Lodge and many beds at the actual lodge, and then additionally we had the yurt. W and I decided to stay at the yurt because we would not mind using an outhouse, or the fact that the place had no running water, it would be just as in Alaska. Past midnight, in the dark summer night we found ourselves trekking back to our yurt. We managed to get one of the lanterns from the party because of course our headlamps were already in the yurt. We kind of knew how to get to the yurt, but since the lantern was not that bright, and we did have a bit to walk it was a bit of challenge. I instantly started thinking about this Swedish comedy where they are waiting for Santa to come. A Santa that they dropped off, a couple of km from the cabin, with a car. The guy was supposed to bring all the gifts on a sled back to the cabin, equipped with a sled, the bag of gifts and the lantern and a bottle of whiskey he slowly approached the cabin, and about two hours later (much later than what they had anticipated) he finally arrived. We finally arrived at our yurt and slept until sunrise, which was a few hours later...

The Morning After

The morning after the wedding we were greeted by a beautiful sunrise. I don't know if you have ever experienced a sunrise in a fire-prone environment with wildfires surrounding you, but the sunrises with the smoky veil are always out of this world. We woke up filled with beautiful memories that we will cherish for the rest of our lives. Later that day we went on a short hike with some of our friends and later on camped by a lake, in the deep forests of Montana.