Canadian customs was a snap.
During the day Donna had developed a gradually worsening cold and sore throat, so we planned on stopping at the next town to get medicine, then stop at the next provincial park. The town we planned on stopping at was only a couple of miles past the customs station, but it wasn’t much of a town. We passed on the small gas station/convenience store thinking surely there must be something more substantial just down the road. There wasn’t, and there wasn’t anywhere to turn the beast around, so we headed off to the next town.
The next town turned out to be 125 miles down the pike, and a very rough pike it was. I’d heard stories from several other RVers about the horrible conditions of the couple of hundred miles of the Alcan east of the Alaska border. Two different couples told me they were going to return via the “Top of the World Highway” as there was no way it could be as bad as the Alcan. I’d love to hear what they say after making that mistake. The Alcan was rough, very rough, but nothing compared to the Top of the World road.
If we’d taken our time, the Alcan would have been no problem. But we were in a rush to find some medicine and a place to rest, so we pushed it. 35 to 40 mph would have been no problem but I keep creeping the speed up to 50 to 55.
When we arrive at the next clearing of wilderness with a few shacks scattered about that was the town, there wasn't anything resembling a store. There was a sign directing the way to a lodge that appeared to be the only commercial establishment. There was a visible light in the distance so in desperation we decided to give it a try. To turn off onto a winding, narrow, pot holed dirt road in the middle of the night, not knowing what will be at the end, while towing a 30' fifth wheel, one needs a solid shot of desperation. I was in luck as I'd just had a double. A couple of blocks in we find and old, typically run down, lodge with a few out buildings. There is a porch light on so we give it a shot. The only thing they had was some Hall’s throat lozenges, hardly worth a 125 mile push over terrible roads, but we bought them and headed back down the road looking for the next campable spot..
We had a mini disaster inside the RV. Cabinets had come open and broken bottles of food were laying on the floor. A few broken dishes, and a cat that was very happy to see us. All in all, considering just how hard and fast we hit some of the rough patches, I think the RV handled it pretty well.
We pulled into a rest stop with several RVs already in for the night. 11:00 PM, 13 hours, 500 miles. In RV terms, that’s a long day. Right smack in the middle of the entrance was a large Class A RV with it's towed unattached. I was pretty miffed at the people's apparent inconsideration as they not only made the entrance difficult, they took up four to six possible parking spots, leaving us almost no options. I had to pull through and turn around twice to figure out how to park.
Buddy needed a walk so we got a good taste of just how remote a location we were in. I can see spending summer months 100 miles from the nearest tiny town ( maybe 50 or 75 people), but this has got to be one remote place to spend the winters.
Getting here was a long, hard slog, with a late arrival, so we slept in. By 8:00 AM we were finished with breakfast and going about our “get underway” duties. All our neighbors, except for the inconsiderate folks in the Class A, were gone. Last in, last out is good enough for me.
As we were just about to pull out the folks in the Class A appeared. It turns out they weren’t as clueless as I thought. They had stopped during the day to have lunch and when they got ready to leave, the rig wouldn’t go into gear. A capable repair facility for their type of transmission wasn't available for several hundred miles in either direction. Of course this happened to them on a Friday afternoon, with Monday being a Canadian holiday. It turns out they were well aware of appearances and non-to-happy about how it made them look. Nice folks, I hope all goes well for them. They seemed to have it well under control with a good attitude.
We were at the NW end of Destruction Bay. The guy in the broken down Class A told us Destruction Bay got it’s name from the military. During the building of the Alcan, there was a large base on the shore of the lake and it was destroyed in a storm, hence Destruction Bay. We had missed this section of the Alcan on our journey to Alaska by taking the Klondike Loop that goes north through the gold mining country around Dawson City and the Klondike River. Destruction Bay, with it’s surrounding mountains and coastal swamps, has to be one of the most beautiful spots we’ve visited. If I’m lucky enough to ever get this way again I’ll be sure to set aside a good deal of time to explore and enjoy this magnificent lake.
Our next stop was Haines Junction. Haines Junction has several very photogenic churches, one being a Catholic Church made from a Quonset hut abandoned by the US military. This church is said to be the most photographed church in the Yukon. I don’t think that is such a lofty claim, but it is difficult not to reach for the camera when you see this place.
We had lunch at a local bakery and deli, as well as bought a week long supply of bread. After lunch I took a hike from the visitor center, unfortunately without the camera. Along the hiking rail were the remnants of a primitive cabin the likes of which I’d never seen. I deeply regret not having photos of this shack to make me eternally aware of just how lucky I am, no matter how old and run down a shack I live in.
Our planned stop for the day was Teslin Lake Provencal Park, about 260 total miles. After arriving at the campground, we found that the few waterfront spots were taken, with the rest being a bit crowded. We opted to put some more miles under our belts and head 140 more miles down the Alcan to a place we stayed on the way up, Big Creek Provencal Park.
After another long day I was very happy to see Big Creek finally show up. We were a little apprehensive about getting a spot as this was a three day weekend for Canadians. We were in luck as the campground wasn’t crowded and we ended up in the same spot we’d stayed on our previous visit. This was the first time we’ve pulled into a campground we’ve already been in and it was a nice change. We already knew the layout and that the access road in was good. We were set up in a jiffy and as an added bonus, the mosquitoes were nowhere near as bad as our previous visit.
8/14. By the time I stuck my head out the door in the morning, the park was pretty much cleared out, so I had the place to myself to play ball with Buddy. It was a glorious morning with the temperature around 42. The low was around 36 keeping me securely snuggled in my covers until the 40s made their appearance.
The only camping group left was a group of three local guys from Whitehorse. They appeared gruff and unapproachable, but Buddy has a way of bringing a friendly smile to most (most) anyone's face. I ended up shoot the bull with one of them who lives 70 miles outside of Whitehorse (now that’s out in the boonies) and runs a trap line. Very interesting guy with a lot of local knowledge. I find it very easy to connect to my inner red neck when in these situations.
It was then off to Watson Lake for groceries, fuel and one last glimpse of Sign City. By the time we headed south on rt 37, which is the Cassier Highway, we had 50 miles under out belts. We were now done with all but memories of the Alaska Highway.
I’d been told the first 150 miles of the Cassier was very rough, narrow, with no center line, no shoulders with a five to seven foot drop off, vegetation right to the edge of the roadway where there was no drop-off, and zero places to pull off. It was every bit of that. On the positive side, traffic was extremely light. We slowly bumped along all by ourselves to our first stop, Jade City, 70 miles down the road.
Jade City is not a city, really, but a shop and retail outlet for some locally mined jade. It always amazes me how cold and aloof some retail operators can be when you stop in their store. This wasn’t one of those places. The place was run by a woman and several young ladies, all very friendly and quick to laugh and chat with customers. I happened to catch a glimpse of the last few hours of credit sales on a computer monitor and these folks were doing a booming business. Donna did her best to help them have a great day.
The next scheduled stop was for fuel at Deese Lake. We were told you must fill up there on the way south and you must be there before 6:00 PM or you’ll have to wait for morning. With this in mind we pushed hard on the still rough roads, but we made it.
Deese Lake was a much more bustling and commercial operation than most stops. It was still a ramshackle collection of building in a large muddy clearing, but it was relatively busy with both locals and commercial vehicles. We didn't hang around to absorb the amiance but fueled up and were now ready to travel into the night to get as close to our next stop, Heider Ak, as we could.
The Cassier is more black bear country than anything we'd seen to date. We were able to keep ourselves entertained watching the many black bears along the road. Between Deese Lake and our eventual stop, we saw no less than 30 black bears and one certified Grizzly. The entertainment helped because I was dog tired and we didn’t get to our campground until 10:30 PM.
Mazitlan Provincial Park is a few hundred meters beyond the spur road leading to Stewart BC and Heider AK. We were able to find a spot right on the lake, but it was a most difficult maneuver to get the trailer backed in. We had to make a long S bend, while backing up, to get around the few other trucks and trailers, the picnic table and some decorative boulders. This was all done in pitch black and I discovered the obvious, the trailer doesn’t have back up lights. And we needed to keep as quiet as possible as it was late. It's hard to be quiet in a diesel truck towing a heavy load, but you still try. The camp hosts showed up just as we attempted this stand and told us we could just park right where we were, just like they had done at the Rocky Summit Provincial Park. We decided to give it a try anyway and did a splendid job of shoe horning the right in with only inches to spare on either side. This was my crowning moments, as far as parking RVs goes, and I felt after this maneuver, that I'd finally mastered the art of parking the rig.
We awoke to find ourselves in a very beautiful provincial park. Mezidian Provincial Park is located on a very large lake surrounded by mountains. It is impeccably maintained and costs a mere $12 per night. Daylight also brought to light just how difficult the parking job was. We only had inches to spare on either side and we managed to put it in as straight and centered as we’ve done to date. We’ve (I) have bungled so many parking attempts it’s nice to bask in the glory of a 10 point landing.
We make an early exit to explore the much acclaimed towns of Steward BC and Hyder AK. Stewart is a pretty straight forward town laid out in a grid pattern. Fuel is available, as well as a grocery store and a few restaurants. The streets of Stewart are paved and social order seems to be the norm.
Hyder, AK, although just one muddy road away, migh as well be another world. Unpaved muddy streets laid out in no particular fashion with potholes the order of the day. Hyder has the appearance of a wild west hippy camp. The big draw of Hyder, besides it bohemian style, is a 26 mile long dirt and gravel road with a bear viewing observation deck at the three mile mark, and a glacier view and gold mine at the 26 mile mark.
We make the trip to the bear viewing area. It is supposed to be three miles of good gravel road but we found it to be a torturous route. The bear observation deck was well worth the trip but we were there during the noon bear siesta. The action must be hot and heavy mornings and afternoons as there were pro looking photographers set up all up and down the boardwalk.
We decided to pass on the rest of the 26 mile masochist trail to the glacier view. Afterwards I heard the road to the glacier smoothes out and it's a worthwhile trip. Maybe next time.
Our border crossing from Hyder, AK, back into Stewart BC was more difficult than I'd imagined. Although we'd just crossed in a few hours ago, and the agent had to remember us as it was a tiny two man operation that maybe had 20 cars pass while we were visiting, the customs agent grilled us like no other, especially about guns. Obviously it was a sore spot for these uniformed Canuks. I heard later that there was bad blood between the little American enclave and it's Canadian neighbor it had to pass through it transit anywhere. At some time in the past someone blew up the little customs shack to get the point across. Odd sense of humor some of these Alaskan's have.
We sort of both came to the conclusion we’d seen enough muddy, pot hole ridden streets, dilapidated buildings, and very over priced supplies for this trip. We thought we’d get the lay of the land and come back early the next day to enjoy what Hyder/Stewart had to offer, but instead we opted to leave in the morning to make a dash for the US border.
We were up somewhat early, 6:00 AM. Dark, cool, and rainy mornings had made sleeping in part of our recent routine, but this morning we were ready to go. We had run out of water the previous night and were able to scrounge just enough H2O for one small pot of coffee. Quiet hours here ended at 7:00 AM and by 7:01 AM Donna was pushing me to hitch up the trailer. By 8:00 AM were making way down the last 100 miles of the Cassier Highway.
At the end of the Cassier we turn east on the Yellowhead Highway towards Prince George. As we travel the roads gradually get better and better. The remote wilderness begins giving way to manicured farm and ranch land. The first town of any consequence as far as retail supplies goes, was Smithers, BC.
We pull over in the town of Burns Lake for a brief rest and enjoy the sight of their Volkswagon Beetle all decked out in flowers.
Prince George is a fairly substantial town that seems to have everything anyone could want in a material way. Prince George also marks our 400 mile mark for the day. We fuel up and head south on route 97, looking for a place to stop after hopefully putting another 100 miles under our belts.
Ten Mile Lake Provencal Park is at the mile 475 mark for our days journey, leaving us just under 400 miles to the US border. We decide to pull in for the night. The park is right off the main highway, clean, pull through sites and $16 a night. We’re parked, set up, and cooking dinner within 10 minutes.
I'm writing these entries from my log, from photos and from memory. Each and every stop and campsite it still vivid in my memory like it was just yesterday, with the notable exception of the Ten Mile Lake stop over. Although it's in my log, and we must have stopped for the night along here, I can't job a memory of it out of my memory banks. I didn't take any photos of the campground, nor do looking up photos from the internet seem to bring back recollections. It will be interesting to see if someday our stop will return to memory.
Although I don't remember it, I'm sure we got up and got underway early as we were excited, this was the day we'd return to the lower 48.
Since before we crossed into Canada our first time we'd been driving in lush, wet, well wooded landscape. Today we moved a bit east, over a mountain, and we were in a dry, desert like valley, with the road and rail beds winding along a river. The Fraser Valley was an interesting contrast but it didn't last. Before long we were back in lust forest making plans for our border crossing.
Our plan was to cross the border in the US from Abbotsford, BC. After a couple of wrong turns in the heavy afternoon traffic we make it to the large and mobbed customs station. There are three lanes of auto traffic, plus a lane for RVs. The RV lane had a large metal contraption that you drove through that must have been some kind of scanner. Two customs agents descended on us and began searching around and under truck and RV in a most thorough method and rattling off a steam of questions about our trip and our future plans. In spite of this onslaught, these two were the most pleasant customs agents to date. They were even cracking a few jokes and seem genuinely interested in our adventure. That said, there were certainly all business about the task at hand. But they did made the reentry a pleasant experience.
After clearing customs we exited onto a narrow two lane country road through small towns with lots of orchards and vegetables growing profusely beside the road. Thirty miles later we were united with Interstate 5 and heading towards our rush hour encounter with the traffic on the Seattle loop. For whatever reason I was bound and determined to make it south of Seattle before settling in for the night.
We ran headlong into Seattle rush hour traffic right at 5:00 PM. At this point driving in heavy congested city traffic, while not something I enjoyed, didn't panic me. We were sitting, then inching along, then sitting, like rush hour folks all do, then the low fuel alarm goes off for the first time on the trip. Ok, now I'm not liking this. Normally when the fuel alarm goes off in the beast I've got plenty of time, but when hauling the fifth wheel the gauge goes from very low (alarm) to bone dry amazingly fast. But, the RV gods were smiling on us, just like they were at customs. There is an exit just ahead. I can't tell if there's a diesel station there, but I need to exit anyway. I'm in the left lane, but I put on my blinker and, unexpectedly, people allow me to move over and exit. Right at the exit is a station with diesel and decent RV access. In five minutes I've gone from butt puckering problem to a full tank of diesel and back into traffic.
An hour or so later we're clear of the worst of the big city traffic and starting to look for a place to spend the night. We target Lewis and Clark State Park, south of Tacoma and pretty darn close to our final destination on this leg of the trip.
Unfortunately darkness came before the campground and I'm not a very good night driver anymore. In northern Canada and Alaska darkness was never a problem, but it was finding this park. We follow the signs, exiting the interstate and heading east on a pitch black two lane road. At this point I'd have paid $100 to find a crowed, noisy Walmart parking lot to sleep in, but there wasn't so much as a gravel pull off to grab. On and on we pushed into the darkness with the camp ground not appearing where we expected it to be.
We passed one sign to the campground, but it was small and came up with no warning. We were past it before I could react and turning around wasn't an option. So we pushed on and, miraculously, found another entrance, the real entrance. We pulled in, exhausted, only to find the gates locked.
I pulled into the turn around, thank goodness there was one, and got out to ponder my next move. I actually didn't want to move anymore and was considering getting some shut eye right here, in spite of fairly sternly worded signs to do no such thing. Then an angle dressed up in a ranger uniform stopped to ask what we were doing. I told him of our plight and he asked if we had reservations as they were full up. Since leaving the southern deserts during spring break we hadn't seen a campground more that 30% full so reservations never crossed our minds. But now we were in Washington State, in prime season, in a prime park.
After hearing my sad tale Mr. Ranger did some checking around and found a spot for us, even taking the time to escort us through the dense old growth trees that this park was known for. It was a long winding route that I never would have been able to follow without an escort. Our rig just barely fit through the passage in the trees. But we got there, set up and hit the sack. I don't think I even ate dinner that night.
As Portland was only a few hours down the road we were in no hurry to break camp and tangle with the I5 traffic. I took a long walk with the dog and Donna did her tidy up and clean the RV routine. We broke camp in late morning and by early afternoon were sitting in front of King David's Estate.