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Spontaneous Alaska

A Brit world traveler and a Hoosier from Indianapolis take on a four month truck camper expedition to Alaska through the western Canadian provinces and territories.

I am a 67 year old retired college professor / consultant from Indianapolis; Winston "The Beard" Wolfrider is a 32 year old accomplished world traveler, artist and writer from Bristol, England. We are two of the most incredibly different people you can imagine.

In the Spring of 2014 we met as The Wolfrider was hitchhiking across the U.S. on $6 a day, raising money for the World Land Trust (he was honored in November as one of their top fundraisers). It was a serendipitous encounter that turned into an awesome 6,000 mile, four week travel adventure in 11 western states and one province in my truck camper. Now, in June 2015 we are getting together again on a four month adventure to Alaska via the Alaska Highway.

It will be an unplanned adventure. We intend to experience as much of Alaska as we can spontaneously as the land and people present themselves to us. Our only desire is to drive the Alaska Highway, take the Dalton Highway to Deadhorse (where we hope to dip our toes in the Arctic Ocean at Prudhoe Bay), and return in September on the Alaska Marine Highway to Bellingham, Washington, winding up in Portland, Oregon.

Click on the points on the map to see what we did at each location.


I’m supposed to be in the sky...

I’m supposed to be in the sky, but even though leaving England maybe imminent, I’m having to wait just a little longer for my next big adventure.

“It’s not the destination, it’s getting there”….said someone once, about great travel. I think they may have been quoted prior to airport delays; when getting there, was most definitely not about sitting in a beeping, flushing, squeaking, clicking, hard seated, overpriced waiting room that smells of disinfectant and burnt cheese. With New York currently drenched in rain storms and engulfed by high winds, my patience is being tested by a slightly abrasive, Mother Nature from the big apple. I can hear her, whining over another clueless tourist arriving at her door. It’s ok though, I hate to over stay my welcome.

I’m heading across the North American continent again, but this time I’m throwing myself across Canada, through the Yukon and north to the Arctic Ocean, eventually ending in Anchorage, in the state of Alaska.

I’ll travel again with my trusty old copilot, KP, (who I randomly met in Indianapolis just over a year ago). Somewhere in northern New York we’ll meet, and then drag each other across the continent to the west. I’m looking forward to some highlights; polar bears, wolves, arctic scenery and orca to name a few, and some of the most remote and dangerous roads in the world lie ahead. We’ve had to wait for summer to access parts of America and Canada, but as with all long distance adventures, it won’t be without a few challenges. For me, just traveling with someone, will be a new experience…

North America might be a whole lot bigger this year, but without the strict budget of $6 dollars a day or an objective of raising awareness for a great charity, the next few months is “My story of New York to Alaska : Travels in a box with a dithering pensioner”.

Please sit back, relax, enjoy the inflight entertainment, and remember where the exits are. I hope to get us there safely…with a few gin and tonics on route. Next stop, New York City!


Jun 13, 2015

Choosing a starting point

It is hard to know just where our Alaska expedition begins--in London, England, Indianapolis, IN or somewhere in between.

My fellow adventurer, Winston Wolfrider arrived at JFK in New York on 1st June from London, beginning his part of the expedition across the North American continent to Alaska. The first leg of his journey was to visit friends in western Massachusetts and upstate/northern New York.

I left from Indianapolis on 7th June; heading east, first to Columbus, Ohio to visit a friend then on to Clayton, New York via a two day drive to meet up with The Wolfrider. It has been years since I had the opportunity to see that part of the U.S.

For anyone not familiar with the area, Clayton is in the awesome Thousand Island area on the St. Lawrence River, separating the U. S. from Canada. Clayton is home to Thousand Island salad dressing and the must-see Antique Boat Museum.

So, I suppose we will select Clayton, New York as the start of our across North America, North to Alaska adventure.

In Clayton, we were hosted by the Arnots. John Arnot is an accomplished potter at St. Lawrence Pottery. View his work at www. stlawrencepottery.com, and Lori Arnot owns the successful River Wellness Center, www.riverwellness.net.

While we were in Clayton, the Watertown Daily Times interviewed us about the trip. You can read it here:
http://www.watertowndailytimes.com/news03/british-world-traveler-sets-out-on-another-american-adventure-20150615

Following a community dinner Friday night at the Zenda Farm Preserve operated by the Thousand Island Land Trust (http://www.tilandtrust.org/Preserves/tabid/490/agentType/View/PropertyID/32/Default.aspx) and a family and friends dinner Saturday evening at the Clayton Yacht Club followed by a boat tour of some of the islands (including a stop at a home on one of the islands), we set off Sunday on our 4,300 mile trek across North America in my truck camper.

Here's what The Wolfrider blogged about our first day on the road:

http://wwolfrider.tumblr.com/post/121997942110/our-first-day-on-the-road-was-a-shaky-one-it-was






Jun 18, 2015

We saw a wolf!

After crossing the Mackinaw Bridge we turned west on the southern route through Michigan's Upper Peninsula, heading for Wisconsin and the border crossing at International Falls, Minnesota.

Expecting long lines and delays at the border crossing, we arose early at our unmarked, dispersed campsite in Superior National Forest, about an hour south of the border and started driving north.

Along the way, to our utter surprise, there, on the railroad tracks paralleling the highway was a lone wolf. Yes, it was a wolf, no question about it. It was nothing like a dog.

It was the first wolf either of us had seen in the wild. It made our day. Here's what The Wolfrider blogged:

"After last night’s hellish attempts at getting to sleep, we got things underway this morning a little before six am. Less than forty miles from the Canadian border, I saw possibly the one creature that I have so longed to see above all others. I didn’t spot one last year, I have never seen one in Europe, and they are so illusive in the wild, that I wasn’t harbouring much hope for this year either. I don’t believe in luck, and although I came here again for many reasons, on the list, was to give myself another chance of seeing one. I may get excited about wildlife more than I let on, but in this case, I couldn’t help feel my emotions grow quietly elated. Even though I knew what I was looking at (because I had spent so much time last year, inspecting every wild coyote and dog, just to make sure) I had to ask KP if I wasn’t imagining it. Standing proud on the rail road tracks by the high way, as we slowly drove by him, a lone, wild wolf was carefully watching us as we crossed his path. As if wishing us luck on our journey into Canada and onto to Alaska, I genuinely felt emotional, and even if just for a moment, utterly fulfilled."

http://wwolfrider.tumblr.com/post/122094217640/not-my-photo-but-my-experience-a-sleepless



Jun 22, 2015

Four days in Canmore--life can't get much better than this

Nestled in the Bow Valley with Rocky Mountains on three sides, Canmore, Alberta is a great town with ever changing and gorgeous views of the surrounding peaks, but growing rapidly beyond its capacity from tourists like ourselves and new condo construction. Canmore is located outside Banff National Park, about an hour from the town of Banff itself.

We arrived Friday evening to a huge traffic jam on Highway 1, and constant traffic on Canmore's Main Street. Parking was nearly impossible Friday evening, even in the city's outlying lots.

Transforming itself from its coal mining past into a tourist mecca has been achieved, with beautiful mountain architecture and numerous walking trails in town and into the surrounding mountains. However, high-end condo development is rapidly making Canmore a playground only for the wealthy. Already, it is difficult to hire seasonal workers, because affordable housing is in extreme short supply. Surprisingly, prices in the town are still reasonable for such resort destinations.

Our delightful and utterly hospitable hosts were Phil and Steph Jones. Phil is retired--well, sort of--and Steph owns the Wild Goose (https://www.wildgoosetrading.com/) a clothing store on Main Street (8th) with the largest selection of Woolrich products in Canada. Do stop in and browse. We stayed with them for four days, giving us time to explore Canmore and enjoy the eateries, shops, and trails throughout the area. I recommend The Wood restaurant and bar at the far end of Main Street.

From Canmore we are headed into Banff and Jasper National Parks on Tuesday along the Icefields Parkway, hoping to find a campsite during the mid-week tourist lull. From there, it is on to Dawson Creek and the beginning of the Alaska Highway.




Jul 08, 2015

Not a horse--dead or alive--in sight

We made the final 130 miles to Deadhorse in the early morning after camping at Galbraith Lake. This is an industrial compound with few, if any, permanent buildings apart from the airport. No paved roads, but we expected none. Again we found Alaska hospitality exceptional. A big shout-out to the Arctic Ocean Hotel for allowing us to park the camper and connect to shore power and access their free wi-fi.

The summer is a quiet time in Deadhorse. I was surprised to see all the heavy equipment parked in neat rows at the oilfield service companies's camp. The busy time is in the winter when the ground is sufficiently frozen for the heavy equipment and trucks to get to their isolated destinations on the Prudhoe Bay oil field. The compound--it's difficult to call it a town--is only lightly populated this time of year. I was told that there are only 10 official, full-time residents here. The remainder of the population are oilfield and service workers. There is not much for visitors to see or do in Deadhorse. There are no schools (no kids), no church, no library, no bar, no community center, no grocery store which we found in other small Alaska communities.

And, as far as we can tell, we are the only adventurers in town. No other RVs, although we did see some motorcycle and bicycle travelers (and a couple of hikers as well) on the way into the compound.

Today, we take the shuttle from Deadhorse Camp at the south end of the compound, through the restricted oilfield area to the Arctic Ocean. When they say 24 hour advance reservations are necessary, they mean it. Reservations must be made on line at www.articoceanshuttle.com--$59 per person. Have some form of approved government ID available (passport, secure drivers license, etc.)


Jul 08, 2015

Forest Fires, Smoke and Fog--Driving the Dalton

Probably everything you have read about the Dalton Highway is true. About the only things that surprised us were the long stretches of pavement in the oddest of places, the surprising absence of truck traffic (we expected much more--but this is the summer season--quiet time for the oil fields) and the absence of wildlife. Ground squirrels, an occasional grouse, and a Peregrine falcon were all that we saw.

Knowing that we would be driving the Dalton and possibly the Dempster (which we did), I purchased five new oversize, heavy-duty, all-terrain truck tires before leaving home for our Alaska expedition.

As additional protection, I installed a front grill/radiator protector and clear headlight protectors--both of which proved of great worth with sharp stones flying in our directions from on-coming trucks. And the warnings about replacing the windshield proved true. Several sharp stones hit with enough force to crack the glass. But the new tires held true--no flats.

We passed by several forest fires raging to the west, with one coming up to the Dalton. The smoke they created obscured all of the views we hoped to see south of the Brooks Range. At times visibility became seriously impaired, causing us to slow down. Seeing many fire crews along the way, we expected the road to be closed, but it remained open.

We pulled out several times each day to test the fishing at several streams, but with little success. The fish are there, but not much interested in feeding at this time of year.

We stopped at the Yukon River to top off our gas tank, and then again at Coldfoot to fill up. We made it to Deadhorse with less than a gallon of gas in the tank and the low fuel warning light blinking the last 16 or so miles. (As a precaution, we carried an extra five gallons of gasoline--something I would recommend to everyone. Not only providing peace of mind, the extra fuel offers more flexibility to explore one or two of the few side roads along the way.)

We chose to camp in isolated turnoffs, rather than the developed, yet primitive campgrounds. As usual mosquitoes were horrendous, forcing us to retreat inside, rather than enjoying the landscape.

The final night on the northbound Dalton before Deadhorse, we camped at the BLM Galbraith Lake campground just before a large, persistent thunderstorm hit the area. Griffith Lake campground is largely undeveloped with a few tables and a pit toilet with widely spaced campsites. If you don't expect much, you won't be disappointed.

And, it's true--no Wifi or cell phone service between Fairbanks to Deadhorse.