September 1st, scheduled departure date down the Alcan, the official start of our journey south, and somehow miraculously we were leaving on time. Granted with a bit of a hangover, but on time nonetheless. We pulled out of the driveway in two separate vehicles. Ken and Pika in the Skamper, myself and Rio in my Subaru. It was a surreal feeling to follow the Skamper along the Seward highway realizing that this will be our home for the next year.
After months of dreaming and planning, we were really doing it. Selling my car in Anchorage, sitting in the passenger seat and watching the Subaru drive away made it 100% real. Here we go on one of the trips of our lifetime.
Somehow, the truck’s odometer rolled over to 91,000 miles as we were leaving Seward. By the time we were in Tierra del Fuego roughly 30,000 kilometers later it should read 101,000. We drove about 200 miles that first day and camped in Glenallen, AK. Remarkably everything fit in the camper relatively well, although it was a tight squeeze with two dogs sleeping on the floor every night.
The next day we remembered why the Alcan was so brutal, frost heaves galore, and had to keep reminding ourselves that it would only get worse. Crossing the Canadian border was simple, probably the easiest border between here and….well until we are back probably. The second night we experienced the joy and freedom of our first “pirate” camping site. “Look at the dirt road, that looks promising!” Were Ken’s exact words. Ever the voice of reason I made him stop the truck before barreling down the ‘road,’ merely two tire tracks with thick alders on either side and growing in the middle. It did turn out to be a promising road and we ate dinner besides a beautiful braided river with snow and glacier covered mountains watching over us.
Unfortunately that night the wind picked up, and we realized the drawbacks of sleeping on the roof of a vehicle in a tent. The truck was rocking and not in a fun way. We put top down and drove a few miles further and found a more sheltered pirate site and settled in for the night with some wine, some reading, and some sleeping.
After another day of endless scenery and our second sweet pirate spot, we turned onto the Cassiar Highway, the more remote, not quite as well known little side route sister of the the Alcan.This would be the first road we would be on that neither of us had ever driven on.
From all accounts the Cassiar was more remote, less maintained, and more gorgeous than the particular section of the Alcan that we skipped. All accounts were right. The narrow, two laned highway dipped and weaved between soaring mountain ranges, through thick forests and along many streams and lakes. Rarely did we encounter a vehicle.
From the Cassiar Highway onto the Yellowhead Highway and more population then we had seen in a few days. Luckily we were headed towards Jasper National Park, and knew we would be back in the mountains shortly.
Jasper did not disappoint, except for the fact that we were driving through the Park on September 6th and a majority of campgrounds closed for some inexplicable reason on September 3rd.
We ended up camping in our first parking lot site. There wasn’t much to complain about considering we were directly beneath the Athabascan Glacier, surrounded by jagged mountains. We also took some pride in the fact that we were by far the smallest RV in the parking lot.
At around 6,000 ft the parking lot was the highest elevation we had camped at so far and the coldest. The only significant, recurring issue that we had been having with the Skamper was the pilot light on the heater occasionally going out. That night the pilot light refused to stay lit, Ken mumbled something about a bad thermocoupler as he relit it for the 10th time.
Being Alaskans for the past 4 years, we decided we could tough out temperatures hovering at freezing without getting our extra sleeping bags out of the roof box, just add a few layers of long underwear and require Ken to actually cuddle and we survived the night.
We were close enough to Montana that we pushed through the next day with brief stops at Lake Louise and Radium Hot Springs to soak our road weary bones, arriving in Kalispell September 7, 2372 miles into our 30,000 mile journey. We are going to take an interlude and head to Colorado (which seemed so much closer in our heads while we were in Alaska) to celebrate a wedding and then spend some time in Montana with the parents and buttoning up the truck, camper, and the lists that are begetting lists that are begetting lists as I type this.