It’s after 10 o’clock at night and my body is telling me it is time for sleep after a three-mile trek up the gravel side of a mountain in the Canada’s northerly Kuane National Park. But it is also two days before the longest day of the year and the sun is still boldly in the sky and giving me no rest.
We have been on the Alaska Highway for three days., starting in Dawson Creek, where, inauspiciously, heavy rains sent the creek over its bed, washed out a bridge and closed down the center of town, including the iconic “Mile 0” signpost that marks the beginning of the Highway.
The night before, in Grand Prairie, Alberta, high winds and driving rains forced us off the road where we sought shelter for the first time in a Walmart parking lots. Dozens of similar vehicles spent the rain-lashed night there.
Once the rain stopped, the beauty of the scenery shone through and wildlife – bison, elks and bear grazed along the edge of the road.
We spent the next night in a provincial park on Muncho Lake, a spectacular alpine lake where you could sit quietly on the shore and watch the birds fly by.
In the morning, we left as early as we can get going, around 8 am, and drove to the Liard Hot Springs, once a favored camp of some of the 10,000 plus US Army engineers and soldiers who built the highway in 1942 after the Japanese occupied one of the Aleutian islands. The blitzkrieg effort bulldozed through more than a thousand miles of wilderness and laid down a primitive road to the Alaska territory.
Today, the hot springs are part of a provincial park and we enjoyed a lovely soak.
In Watson Lake, workers on the road began a tradition of planting signposts to remind them of places they would rather be and that practiced has been carried on for 75 years by visitors to the area.
Mark drove for a third day on the 1,300-mile long highway and we spent our third night at a small RV park on Teslin Lake run by some of the local Tliglit First People. The next morning we visited the Tlingit cultural center where traditional practices like turning moose skins into soft moccasin leather and building painted canoes are taught to new generations.
We arrived at Kluane National Park around 3 pm and prepared to hike the King’s Throne trail, a 2,000-foot gravel climb above Lake Katherine. The view was magnificent.
From our campsite that evening we had a full view of the mountain we had climbed.
Ahead of us we expected an easy two-day ride to Anchorage. We did not know that the roughest road lay ahead.
Come with me to Canada’s Jasper National Park.
Watch a ripple blow across the green-blue waters of a pond.
Walk along a canyon trail.
Let the sound of the river wash over you.
Smell the flowers.
Try to touch the sky.
Medicine Hat, Calgary: Canadian cities that went flying by as Mark kept his foot on the fuel pedal. By dinnertime, we entered Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies and set up for two nights at a campground. Grey clouds shrouded the nearby towering peaks, parting every once in a while to reveal shattered rocks along the ridge lines.
The next morning, we decided to hike to an alpine lake about 5 miles up in the mountains. Perhaps we should have turned around when we came to the snow piles.
By the time we got to the lake, it started to snow (and the batteries on my iPhone camera died).
The next day we hiked to another turquoise blue alpine spot, Lake Moraine where canoers braved freezing water temperatures and cold gusty winds.
On the third day we drove north through the Columbia Icefields, where multiple glaciers spill over the frozen peaks.
We walked up to the foot of one of the glaciers that is melting so quickly from global warming that it will be nothing but a memory in 100 years.
An amazing stream of melting ice fell from the glacier then quickly turned into a roaring river, headed to the Arctic Ocean.
We will spend two nights in Jasper, a town at the northern end of the park, then resume our trek into the vast wilderness of the Yukon Territory and further north.
We headed west again on June 4, skipping across states where we have been before: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois. We spent our first night at an Interstate rest area, lodged between two tractor-trailer trucks that kept their engines idling all night. The next night we found a peaceful park on the outskirts of Madison, Wisconsin where we could walk around this quiet lake.
We hit Minneapolis on Monday, and spent the next 36 hours hanging out with Margo and John in their new downtown loft.
The loft also faces the Mississippi River, where the Flour Kings once ruled the economy.
The wheat fields of North Dakota are still churning out massive amounts of the grain, along with corn and soybeans. Industrial farms are the norm in the mid-West, while small farmers try to hold on.
We sped west and north to Montana, along the path of migratory birds.
The thermometer hit 101 degrees.
For two more days and nights, we drove and drove through massive expanses of rolling plains, then finally entered Canada. The border agent let us enter after we assured her that unlike most Americans, we carried no guns.
The month of May was one of reconnecting with friends and family as we visited in the Northeast. Before I arrived, I took a side trip to Ireland with my friend Barbara, then for a month we parked on the rural property of friends in Mountainville, New York, where we enjoyed sweeping views of fields and forests. Mark took his own excursion, biking from Geneva through France with his sisters and their husbands.
A visit with my mother in Bangor, Maine, was a highlight of our stay. We will be back to celebrate her 99th birthday in October, but wanted to take her out in our rig so she could better understand what our life is like on the road. I think she liked it.
Back in Mountainville, spring beckoned.
The beauty of the Hudson Highlands was revealed during hikes up Schunnemunk Mountain with friends.
At the Memorial Day parade in the village of Cornwall-on-Hudson I saw many of my old friends and captured the Civil War troopers and local fire departments on video.
I had a chance to catch up with my lively book group and to have meals with friends, .
Without doubt, the best of all moments were those I spent with my two sons who now live together in New York City. They came up to hang out at the rig and we all took a hike.
Thank you to Bea, Kurt and family for letting us park out in Mountainville! It was a welcome dose of friends and family as we prepared for a 4,500-mile journey to Alaska and another year on the road!
Listen as Johnny Cash & Lynn Anderson tear it up.
Where we are today.