The Road to Alaska: Part 2
Thank god, Thor, and whoever else -- we're into Part 2. Real talk: I started this post . . . like a month ago. And the sheer magnitude of what Part 2 included made me keep putting it off like I put off putting away laundry or washing my hair. Yes, I am gross. That's neither here nor there.
Part 1 was full of nerves, flat land, and, well, Subway sandwiches. We sure do enjoy a good Subway sandwich. It was actually one of the things we were looking forward to on the road trip. It's the little things.
After stopping in Regina-sounds-like-vagina for our first night in Canada, we were excited for what was up next -- leaving the barren plains of Saskatchewan for the incomparable peaks of British Columbia.
Daniel has spent time in crazy places like Norway and Afghanistan. I've lived in Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah. But nothing could prepare us for the beauty of Banff. When you get to Calgary, the peaks start to rise in the distance, and even at that point you can tell that they are particularly striking.
We had managed to book a room at the Lake Louise Inn, which is a hop/skip/jump away from what is probably one of the more photographed lakes in the world -- and if you couldn't guess by the name of our hotel, it was Lake Louise.
Lake Louise, BC
Beautiful but GTFO, Americans
When we rolled in, we did a quick drive-by of the digs for the night then immediately took off to Lake Louise. There's not much to say about it that hasn't been said before or hasn't been shown in pictures. It's beautiful. Breathtaking. Must-see. And so on and so forth.
Forward to: Checking into the hotel. We were asked to present our papers. No shit. Hand over your papers to prove that you're allowed to be in the country. They double checked our border crossing documents (something about this whole thing feels very . . . lots of references to things that are probably not politically correct to reference). We were pretty high on being in such a beautiful place until that screeching moment of reality. We weren't welcome there, and lingering was not an option.
We piled our family of three humans, two dogs, and one cat into the room for the night. Daniel, the dedicated photog that he is, woke up at the pre-crack of dawn to go snag a few more shots of Lake Moraine and Lake Louise, we packed up, and off we went.
If we thought the drive into Banff was gorgeous, I'm really not sure what adjective to use for the drive through Banff. Breath taking? Beyond compare? Otherworldly? That's all I've got without taking a visit to thesaurus.com. I'm pretty sure we said "holy shit" every . . . 13.2 seconds. It really was insane. Once this whole corona-palooza passes over, we will 1,000% be returning to this magical land.
Good thing it was so gorgeous, because boy, did we have a real gem in store next . . .
Prince George, BC
Why Does This Place Exist
No, really. Why. Why does this place keep limping along. It was like someone took Detroit, robbed it, crushed its dreams, and then told it that no one loves it.
But wait, there's more! Whatever seedy and c'est magnifique hotel we were staying in for the night was definitely either a) a former prison or b) a former mental institute. Maybe a little of both? I don't need to pigeon-hole it into one option. It had cinder block walls and flooring that was very easy to bleach. But hey, that ended up being a good thing, because as soon as we walked in the door, our Great Dane lost all bladder control and peed an impressively large lake on the floor. I guess serendipity does exist.
The next day was a drive full of lush, gorgeous greenery and rolling farm/ranch land. We drove through misty mountains and alongside roaring rivers. We stopped to take pictures in an indigenous town while the locals fished and Daniel was promptly yelled at for photographing them. You know, quaint stuff like that.
Oh Hello, Glacier
BAM. Most unexpected and rewarding stop probably of the whole trip. At the end of the day, driving down a two-lane, exceedingly windy road through god knows where Canada, and we round the corner to a glacier. Did you read that correctly? A glacier. A surprise glacier. Out of nowhere. This wasn't like seeing a glacier in Banff. You expect that. This was like . . . getting birthday cake on some random Tuesday. Or finding out that you were getting a $10,000 tax refund. Or something. How unexpected it was made it that much better.
We were awe-struck. The drive itself had been gorgeous. Pretty sure I described it at the time as looking like something out of Jurassic Park. But really. It looked like a land frozen in time and unspoiled by humanity. Maybe because it was in the middle of fucking nowhere and literally unspoiled by humanity. It's anyone's guess.
And then GLACIER. Definitely our favorite part of the entire trip. Doesn't hurt that the town of Stewart legitimately belongs on a postcard (and probably already is). The town itself has a few glaciers sitting above it and there's a constant picturesque fog hanging over the town. It's an old mining/logging village that is quaint perfection.
We stayed at the History Hotel Bayview -- a lovely inn of sorts (hotel is a strong word -- it's more like an Air BnB with rented rooms) with very thin walls, but it was a wonderful place to stop. The proprietor is an accommodating Scandinavian man with a thick accent and very easy-going business practices. He gave us the door code over the phone, left the key in the door, and we were free to do as we pleased.
PRO TIP: Go to Temptations Bakery next door and spend some time reading the signatures of all the other world travelers who have passed through. Mind was officially blown at just how many people from the vast corners of the globe had been to that tiny little map dot of a town.
OTHER THING: Stewart is the only way (besides going up an insanely long fjord) to get to and from Hyder, Alaska. So while we were in Stewart, we could've literally thrown a rock (if we were Derek Jeter or A-Rod or some other famous baseball player) and hit the United States. There are 87 people who live there. What a crazy world.
When we were driving out the next day, we waved goodbye to our dear glacier and hello to seven black bears over the course of about 10 miles. And Emelia called out the window asking if they wanted cake. They didn't respond, so we kept driving. Their loss.
Dease Lake, BC
"They’ll Serve Americans"
As the prophet Eminem would say, back to reality. We drove by entire towns that had barricades up on the roadways to keep anyone from coming and going. It was unsettling and odd.
Dease Lake was a stop because it had to be a stop. There was literally nothing between Stewart and Whitehorse. Well, nothing that had availability or that would accept Americans.
That's right. No Americans allowed. There was one random "motel" along the route that would take us ratty people from south of the border (the Canadian border, that is). During check in, I was given a stern talking-to by the front desk woman reminding us that we had to wear masks anywhere in the hotel besides our room, we were not allowed to host guests (because that was SUCH a concern for us), and there was one "restaurant" (roadside walk-up shack) that "would serve Americans." Yes, we had to be given a tip for what culinary establishments in the vicinity would deign to serve us.
We ordered microwaved hot dogs and chicken nuggets from the shack, bought cat litter from the gas station next door (gotta do what you gotta do when there's a feline on the drive), and were promptly on our way the next morning.
WAIT. There was one good thing. The gas station had British candy bars. Our joy almost made up for having to stay in Dease Lake. Almost.
A Most Pleasant Surprise
After our experience the previous night, the heavens shone down upon us and gave us a gift in the form of Inn on the Lake. After passing through the border of the Yukon Territory and being stopped by law enforcement to be given a map of the only road we were allowed to drive, told that we had 24 hours total (including sleep time) to get through this very large territory, and being sent on our way, we were rewarded with a little slice of heaven.
I should probably say now that this was the one place on the entire drive that Daniel found. And it was the best place we stayed. There I said it. Credit where credit is due. Whatever.
Our luck had finally come in, because this morsel of nirvana had only just that day reopened after being shut down for corona-palooza. We had an entire cabin by the lake (no horror story involved) to ourselves to finally stretch out after being in the truck for . . . ever. The proprietor was a lovely gentleman who had been running the Inn for 25 years and had become an insanely accomplished chef in the mean time. No joke. Maybe it was our desperation for human kindness and food that wasn't packed full of preservatives, but we definitely compared his three-course meal to Per Se at the time. My mouth is currently filling with saliva thinking about it.
It was a short stroll down to the lake (hence the name of the place) and we loved every minute of it.
Now, nothing can be completely sunshine and roses -- so enter the least comfortable bed of the entire drive and the fewest hours of sleep because of said bed. But whatever. The place was adorable and we'd go there again.
We got up at 5:00AM to start the drive and beat our 24-hour-Yukon-clock. We barely made the cutoff, although we do seriously wonder how the hell they were ever going to prove when we left because the Canadian border patrol don't stop you on the way out. After driving what is probably the bumpiest and worst-maintained road in North America (lookin' at you, ALCAN Highway), the clouds parted, the sun shone down, and we saw salvation: the Welcome to Alaska sign. We had done it. We had left America and returned to America. We hadn't been vandalized, arrested, or had a bottle of maple syrup thrown at our heads. Although I really did want to see a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police because Canada, but whatever. We pulled up to the US Border Patrol stop, Daniel was asked to get out of the car and come inside because we forgot to hand over his Green Card with our paperwork and they wanted to interrogate him, and then we were on our way back to the land of the free. Although last I checked, the United States actually ranks somewhere around spot #50 on lists of most free countries in the world, but who's counting?
We took obligatory pictures with the sign. We stood with one foot in Canada and the other in America. Standard tourist shit.
FUN FACT: Canada had handy little trash cans and rest stops alllllll along the roadways. As soon as you cross into America? Fuck your trash -- throw it on the side of the road. That's why we bought Alaska from Russia in the first place. To serve as a giant landfill. Or so I imagine white male bureaucrats saying while chortling over single malt scotch. I digress.
The drive from Whitehorse to Fairbanks was 13 hours, and considering we were on about 2 hours of sleep at that point, we planned to stop in Tok or someplace just over the Alaskan border. Until we got close and I could find precisely zero appealing places to stop for the night. At that point, pushing through the remaining several hours just for the sake of being done with this epic journey was worth it.
So we messaged our lovely friends Jeff and Jeri of Frozen Trident Kennels to see if they were up for us arriving a night early (we stayed with them until closing on our new house), and that was that.
Oh Hey We’re Here
We rolled up to Frozen Trident Kennels in a hazy fog of 10-day road trip delirium. It didn't feel real. Daniel and I had both been up to visit FTK previously, but we'd flown there . . . Have you ever driven to a place that you've flown to before? It feels weird. Like you're suddenly realizing that the earth is round and you can get to places via modes other than airplane.
Guess what we had for dinner? Subway. That we got from the local Walmart. It was glorious. Except Daniel left his sandwich unattended and Drogo pulled it off the counter and ate it.