This is only a partially annotated chronology of the trip so far...it is not meant to be a descriptive, well-polished piece that addresses the road, the views, the camps, the people, the adventure, my thoughts or observations, or, from Donner's perspective, the uncountable dogs and new smells he encountered along the way. I am writing this off the top of my head ..and do not intend to go through revisions except to add subsequent chronology. It is really for the benefit of those who are just coming onto this blog or for those who don't read it for one reason or another.
The journey this year, my eighth long road camping trip, was planned to outline the previous seven, and to take us from DC to the end of the road in Labrador, up to James Bay in Quebec by way of the long dirt and gravel Route du Nord, and then west to, through and beyond the Canadian Rockies to Kitwanga BC, where we would head north to Alaska by way of a side trip to the Dempster Hiway to the Arctic in the Northwest Territories and then over the Top of the World Hiway from Dawson City, Yukon. The two indispensable legs of the trip, though, were to make it just beyond parallel 68 over Atigun pass on the Dalton Hiway in the Alaskan Arctic to the site where I scattered Sonntag's and Kessie's ashes in 2001 and, of course, Denali National Park, where I was fortunate to have obtained, thanks to 28 friends and relatives, three passes to drive the Defender over the splendid 90-mile park road.
The long trip home was planned with a stop at Yosemite, which I had never visited, and Donner Pass in California, for reasons That should be obvious by now to readers of this blog. To be sure, an ambitious 130 days and more than 16,000 miles, but I was fully aware that some legs might have to be set aside for a future trip. To make the two indispensable legs, I had to arrive in Fairbanks Alaska by no later than Sunday, September 11.
The trip got off to a six-week late start due to an issue that developed last December with my right leg that required surgery, 40 sessions of PT and three epidural shots, and a serious last minute issue with Donner's skin allergy. Finally, on August 9, the road beckoned and we pulled out in 90 degree weather from Washington DC. But before we left, knowing the risks these road trips can pose to me, my dogs, and the Defender, I postponed my early November appointments and parked more cash in my bank account just in case. Stuff happens on these trips too, just like at home, i figured.
My plan was to keep my eyes steadily on the September 11 Fairbanks deadline and cut out legs as needed as I went along.
(Below I will only show the campsites, the roads taken and the like without the detail provided in my postings. I will also not go into detail about some other things referenced as they too are in my blog postings. Again, this is only mainly a chronological outline for the trip.)
Days 1-3, Moving north fast to get out of the heat
Camped at Mongaup State Park NY, at the foot of the mountain of my old Boy Scout Camp, Wells State Park MA, and Acadia National Park in Maine.
Next day we had a decision to make...Labrador and places in between would have to wait. For now, we head north to Quebec, Chibagomau and the Route du Nord.
I noted some Defender problems during first three days. Left front tire abnormally low on air. Hmmm. Oil back flowing from my rear differential lock air compressor, and noise from rear left wheel.
Day 4, Oops
Camped at St Jacques Provincial Park in NB.
About 5O miles up the road from camp, I stopped for a coffee break in a small French-speaking town in Quebec, about 50 miles from our night destination, Riviere du Loup on the St Lawrence. Pulling out of the parking lot, the Defender stalled. It would not restart. I had to make a decision. Stay where I was and have the Defender fixed there and camp two miles away, or have the Defender towed 50 miles to Riviere du Loup and fixed there. With the help of Denis, a town resident who spoke English, I had the Defender towed to Riviere du Loup to the river campsite.
Days 5-14, the Defender idled for 10 days
Camped at the riverside camp waiting for Defender problem to be diagnosed, parts ordered and installed. The distributor went out. Thanks to Shaun at Lahey Garage, Defender got on the road as soon as possible. Shaun told me that my front right tie rod was problematic, so I ordered a new one to be shipped to me down the line for installation before I got to Alaska. Shaun also told me that the wheel noise was because 4 of the 5 lug nuts on the wheel had been loosened. Hmmm. How did that happen?
As soon as I left the garage, the red check engine light came on. I guessed it was the emission check reminder, but would watch performance and divert my route about 1000 miles from Edmonton Alberta to Calgary Alberta to have Defender serviced at the Land Rover dealer there and the engine checked with their computer and make a decision on whether to continue the trip or head for home and get Defender dealth with there.
Days 15-16, Heading North toward James Bay
Camped at Val Jaubert in Lac St Jean and Faunique Reserve on Route du Nord north of Chibagomau.
At last, I made Chibogamou, my goal for five years. Decided that to make Fairbanks on time, I would have to give up the Route du Nord, a 300-plus mile dirt and gravel road to James Bay south of Hudson Bay, and come back for it in the future. So we turned back after 30 miles and headed south, but not before being stopped by a local police officer because we looked suspicious. He did not earn a coveted On the Road patch for that.
Days 17-24 - Go west, young man
Camped at Esker Lake Provincial Park ON, Fushimi Provincial Park ON, Pukaskwa National Park on Lake Superior ON, Sleeping Giant Provincial Park ON near Thunder Bay, Aaron Provincial Park ON, Audy Lake the bison reserve in Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba, Buffalo Pound Provincial Park in Saskatchewan, and Eagle Lake RV camp in Alberta.
On the way to Esker, a little medical problem popped up. Blood in my urine. Oops. A show stopper for sure. I called my physician, took some measures, and watched it for several days. It disappeared.
Days 25-26, North to Alaska, part 1
Had the Defender serviced at LR Calgary, and the new tie rod installed that Shaun told me was about to go. LR could not check the red engine light because they did not have the Defender 's computer, but suggested it was the emission check reminder. I agreed. And since Defender was running beautifully, I made to decision to continue north, knowing that if anything happened to me, Donner, or the Defender , we would have to tend to the issue there. We had reached the point of no return.
Days 12-13, the Wonderful Canadian Rockies and a brief encounter on the road.
Camped at Bow River Camp just south of Rockies and Wabasso camp in the north near Jasper.
Stopped at Lake Lousie for my 4th visit with my dogs. Wonderful every time.
Heading toward Jasper at a rest stop, briefly met two uber-pleasant young women (Stefanie and Kira) from Germany touring Canada. After talking for 10 minutes, I invited Stefanie to watch my blog for an open invitation for readers to join me on my Denali drive if none of those who applied for the road permit lottery accepted the invitation. A brief encounter on the road, morphed into a memory, I figured.
Days 27-30, North to Alaska, part 2
Drove Hiway 16, aka the Hiway of Tears, and spectacular route 37, Cassier Hiway, to the ALCAN.
Camped at Pruden Lake Provincial Park, Seely Lake Provincial Park, Kinaskan Provincial Park, Boya Lake Provincial Park, all in BC.
Days 31-32, The Yukon at last.
At Alaska Hiway junction with 37, I decided to bypass Whitehorse as I had been there before and take the 362-mile rough dirt and gravel Campbell Hiway to the road leading to Dawson City and the Yukon River. Wonderful road....saw perhaps 10 vehicles the entire 2-day drive.
Camped at isolated Lapie Canyon camp and then on the Yukon River in the Yukon park across the river from quaint Dawson City.
Waiting for the ferry at the river, I got internet connection for the first time in a week, and found a message from Stefanie asking if the seat for the Denali drive was still open. I told her it was and two days later, (see below) she flew in from Alberta and I picked her up at the airport at midnight in Fairbanks so she could join me for the Dalton Hiway leg of the trip as well. Brave, brave young woman.
Day 33, North to Alaska, part 3
Drove the spectacular Top of the World Hiway to Alaska and the Alaskan Hiway (ALCAN). (This is the same road where a wheel fell off my dog Leben's wheelchair that was riding on the rear of my Defender in 2013.) Then drove the ALCAN to Fairbanks.
In Alaksa at last, en route to Fairbanks, camped at Moon Lake State Park.
Day 34, Fairbanks, right on schedule. 7103 miles and 34 days after this journey started,
We arrived in Fairbanks, not a day too early or a day too late. I set up camp at 5:00 p.m. at the Cheena River State Recreation Park and picked up Stefanie, my risk-taking 24year old German medical student travel companion for the next 10 days, at the airport after midnight Sunday morning.
Days 35-37, The Dalton Diary
I still need to transcribe and post the Dalton Diary that Stefanie and I worked up together, but let me just say this here. We drove the Dalton on Monday in rather tough conditions, and camped that night right on the Arctic Circle. The next day, we drove up to the final crest of the treacherous Atigun pass (featured for two seasons on Ice Road Truckers) in snowy conditions, just past parallel 68, our goal . We took a break at the crest and jointly decided to turn back just a few short miles short of my destination, because of the very serious change in weather. Suffice it is to say here that as soon as we turned back down the pass, on the most treacherous stretch of that infamous road, the road turned to ice and, well, posed at least five serious challenges for the Defender and its driver, me. But the Defender came through. To all intents and purposes, we had achieved our number one goal, return safe. Details will be in the Dalton Diary.
We camped once again that night on the Arctic Circle and then headed south to Fairbanks the next morning to the Cheena River RV camp, where I had camped twice before, after we discovered the other Cheena River Camp had closed one day early because of the weather. Softies up here too, I guess.
Days 38-42, The Denali Diary
I still need to transcribe and post the Denali Diary that Stefanie and I worked up together, but let me say a few words here.
On the way to Denali, we passed the Stampede Trail where the unprepared and hapless Chris McCandless started his final journey. This had significance to me only in that in early August 1992, on my first trip into Denali, I backpacked and camped about 16 miles from him the week he supposedly died in that old school bus, the story of which that was told in Into The Wild.
We camped at wonderful Teklanika Campground all five nights where I introduced Stefanie to s'mores, among other American camping traditions. What a wonderful stay.
We drove the Denali road over three days, all the way to Wonder Lake twice, and Denali blessed us with weather that ranged from the absolutely splendid to absolutely horrible by some people's definition, but wonderful to my mind's eye. Stefanie drove the Defender half the time, the first person I allowed to drive it ever, and her driving skills equaled, if not exceeded, mine, except for putting it into reverse. We saw every animal people long to see in Denali, except wolves, especially a lone wolf like me. But just knowing they were out there was enough to bring tears of joy to my eyes.
Days 43-46, The Gradual Goodbye to the brief encounter.
I drove Stefanie to Anchorage where four days later she took the first of several flight that would eventually take her back home to Germany, her family and friends, and medical school. We said our goodbyes gradually over those four days. What an absolutely wonderful travel companion she was. A brief, chance encounter, now morphed into a wonderful memory.
I camped at an RV camp during my stay in Anchorage, the lone camper except for a hardy fellow traveler named Jim Freeman who was camped there with his two wonderful dogs, Daisy and Darcy.
While in Anchorage, I took Donner to a vet to deal with his four-week old diarrhea problem et al. I had to visit a vet in Whitehorse later to cure it completely. He apparently picked up some parasites along the way.
Day 47, the beginning of the long journey home.
I drove the spectacular Glenn and Richardson highways to the ALCAN and camped that night at the empty Wolf Trail Campground, one of the few camps still open.
Days 48-49, The ALCAN Diary
The Defender, which for the first time ever had been having trouble starting in cold weather since day 31, but it always started, took about 30 turns to fire up at Wolf Trail camp, but it started. Thank God that I am heading south into warmer weather, I thought to myself. I thought too soon.
Heading down the ALCAN to Destruction Bay, we entered the Yukon again and hit some pretty rough, hard-to-see frost heaves, made worse by huge potholes, one of which gave the Defender its worst drubbing ever.
At about 5pm, I started scouting out possible bivouacs for the night, thinking we might not make Destruction Bay or that no campground there would be open or permit tent camping within 50 miles because of the large population of grizzlies in the area. I found no suitable bivouacs, so after gassing up at Beaver Creek, we moved on through this paradise.
At about six o'clock, exactly 50 miles to Destruction Bay, bear country, the Defender started to slow down inexplicably. I dismissed it as attributable to the slight hill we were climbing, and drove on. Then it started sputtering and backfiring. Since we were about 80 miles from the gas stop Beaver Creek, I was hoping I could mange whatever was happening until the next gas stop at Destruction Bay. Then everything seemed to be okay, but I did not chance giving it too much gas.
A few minutes later, the same thing happened again, and then again minutes after that. Twelve miles after this trouble started, I pulled the Defender over after the crest on a hill to the shoulder and got out to make sure the gas cap was on. It was, but when I got back in, the engine had died and the Defender would not restart. Trouble. I was in the middle of nowhere on an empty, remote, grizzly-infested stretch of the Alaskan Hiway with no knowledge of anything about the area. I was also within 280 miles of my destination, Haines Alaska on American soil.
I described this saga in detail on my several postings under the ALCAN Diary, so I will refer the reader there. But here is a summary.
- we were not pulled to safety off the ALCAN until 12:30 the next morning, Monday.
- as dark was beginning to set in, an RCMP supervisor stopped by to suggest we get into our vehicle as a huge grizzly was walking down the Hiway in our direction, a few hundred feet back. We did.
- we slept in the Defender just off the ALCAN in the very cold Yukon weather both Sunday and Monday nights. it apparently snowed a bit at Beaver Creek Sunday night. The Yukon winter was here, and so was I.
- on Tuesday, the Defender was towed 200 miles to the nearest town of any size, Whitehorse, capital of the Yukon, population 27,000 people, where it was again towed 15 miles again out of town to John's Auto Repair.
Days 50-54, Robert Service Camp,
After dropping off the Defender with Travis at John's Auto Repair and renting a car, I set up camp at the Robert Service Campground in town until it closed for the season. I was one of two tenters left in the camp each night, except the last, when I was alone.
On Friday, Day 52, Travis broke the news to me that my engine had failed. Big trouble.
My time these first several days was spent orienting myself to the logistics I would need, examining my options for the Defender, and coming up with an exit plan with or without the Defender.
Days 55-59, Wolf Creek Yukon Camp
After Robert Service Camp closed, I set up camp 11 miles from downtown at Wolf Creek Camp. But it too was going to close soon and did on October 7. I was among the last two campers in the camp, which tells you something.
A diversion....the temperature at night dips into the low 20s these nights, and will only get colder. Thank God for Northface's cozy summit series tents and sleeping bags. I would have continued to tent with this splendid tent, but all my water and food was starting to freeze and the walk to the car for heat and battery recharging was too long.
On day 57, after considering all the options, I decided to order a new engine shipped here and installed at John's Auto Repair and stay here until it was ready. I also ordered a number of auxiliary parts to make sure nothing interferes with the new engine and that we get home safely. The engine will arrive in 8 days and take about 2 days to install, which would put me in the October 24th 4-day ferry from Skagway to Bellingham Washington. This is Plan A.
Days 60-63 (today)
After Wolf Creek camp closed, I went looking for a reasonable accommodation that would permit dogs. I decided I needed the rental car under any circumstances. The first place I stopped, Mountain Ridge Motel, Aileen, the manager, told me there were no vacancies, but understanding my predicament, she offered me a small storage room with a bed and portable heater for $25 a night, a deal I could not refuse, which is where I am camped now. Most people would not call it the Ritz, but as far as I am concerned, it might as well be. Home Sweet Home, almost 6000 miles away from home by the route I must take. (The Transiberian Railroad, a road trip I still intend to make, runs about 6100 miles from Vladivostok to Moscow.)
With Plan A on track, I can do nothing more than wait. I completed my logistics orientation to Whitehorse for all the things I would ever need, so there's nothing more I need to learn or do there. I will continue to work on my Plan B, although I am 100 percent confident it will not be needed.
As I wait for the Defender, I have set a routine for myself as follows:
7:30 up at dawn, walk with Donner on ALCAN, breakfast, plan the day
10:00 off the Canada Game Center to work out and shower, shave
11:00 visitors center with Donner to use their wifi, now that AT&T is going to start charging me an arm and a leg for every byte I use on their cell service
12:00 long walk with Donner in/on one of the many parks and trails in town or work outside or errands/chores
2:00 Starbucks or Tim Horton's for coffee and wifi
3:00 long walk with Donner in/on one if the many parks and trails in town or work outside or errands/chores
4:00 shopping for dinner et al.
5:00 eat dinner in one of the parks
6:00 return to camp
7:00 in for the night upon sundown.
10:30 lights out
As for what to do while waiting, in addition to the numerous chores and Plan B, there's reading, writing, blogging, walking, talking with people, and planning my journey home.
One incident I already reported on my blog, which I will summarize here, is the thwarted theft of my jacket on Sunday, October 9. In the jacket were my wallet with all my credit cards, money and IDs, my passport, my keys to the car in which Donner was locked, and the key to me room, among other things. Read the blog for more information, Day 62. The good news is that I outsmarted the would be crook big time.
I will update this summary from time to time starting around here.
In the meantime, here we are in the cold, but friendly, capital of the Yukon waiting for the Defender to get up and running. Once it is, remember, I still have almost 6000 miles and at least 20 days to get home.