Summer in Alaska

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7 August 2014   2.00 PM     65 F      Some blue, some white

I guess, technically, summer is in full swing.  The days are still filled with bright, sunlit hours and the mornings are still pleasantly warm.  Most people are still looking at that summer “to do” list and wondering if it is all going to get done before Fall arrives.

This summer, we have been busier than usual. We’ve even managed some of the Alaskan things that we’ve always either avoided or missed out on. I’ve been fishing, we’ve tended the garden and even produced edible produce. We’ve done some much needed kennel improvement and expansion, I’ve spent ages working on an update for our website and we’ve had a litter of puppies.  Oh wait,  that last one didn’t actually happen………  still there’s always next year.  My wife is on her usual summer trip back to Scotland and I’m in charge for a change. So far, things have gone smoothly and there hasn’t been any drama or unnecessary excitement.

Fishing with Mike

Fishing with Mike

My biggest halibut,  forgot to take a "before" pic.

My biggest halibut, forgot to take a “before” pic.

Kapitan Karl,  boat captain, tour guide, fisherman, chef, beer supplier and fish filletter extraordinaire. extraordinaire

Kapitan Karl, boat captain, tour guide, fisherman, chef, beer supplier and fish filletter extraordinaire.

The fishing trip was wonderful, and I got to see some humpback whales playing around for an hour or so whilst we’re fishing. We also saw dolphins (or porpoises) and some sea otters, as well as some amazing scenery and glaciers. Plus we all caught fish !

Not quite icebergs,  but glacier ice having calved from the glacier.

Not quite icebergs, but glacier ice having calved from the glacier.

One of the many glaciers I got to see.

One of the many glaciers I got to see.

The next couple of days were spent checking for halibut recipes, trying some of them out and getting the rest of the fish prepped for the freezer. Our garden supplied some herbs, and also enough rhubarb to keep us regular for quite a while. The strawberries haven’t really come to much, the entire harvest consisted of 7 berries, although I think the birds may have done better than that.

4 lbs of rhubarb.

4 lbs of rhubarb.

We’re also waiting on our potatoes being ready. Well, when I say “our potatoes”, our neighbour did all the digging and planting, of the seed potatoes that he bought, but they’re planted in our vegetable plot – so I think we can lay claim to at least some of them.
We had decided that we could do with another exercise pen for the dogs and finally managed to get organised enough to get that started. Whilst our buddy Lev was here with his backhoe (he’s available for hire, very reasonable rates and very efficient,) we got him to take out the self seeding trees in our main yard, that over the 5 years we have been here, have started to make a bit of comeback. They’re smallish trees, mostly cottonwoods, but they’re in deep enough they don’t want to come out. The plan of a quick run over the yard with a bulldozer didn’t quite succeed and it took a bit more work than anticipated, but at least we can see dirt again.lev dozer
The new yard is all prepared and we’re just waiting on the fencing going up, which likely will be in the next 2 or 3 weeks. Long before the ground freezes and we can’t get posts in. We’re also going to make the temporary puppy pen, permanent. Not that it will always have puppies in it of course, but it will be a handy segregation area.

All of this is taking place with one eye on the weather forecasts, the hoped for arrival of cooler temperatures and the start of training season. We have some new dogs to incorporate into our crew, as well as Queen’s pups, now 18 months old, who will be learning what their future holds. We don’t have many dogs retiring from last year’s group, Oscar, one of our leaders is definitely gone, he’s 10 1/2 and made it clear last winter that he was happy to be dropped. Mermaid, who is the same age, seems far more vibrant and is still acting like a much younger dog, so she’ll stay in the pool, but be under closer scrutiny.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Duncan blog entry if there wasn’t some tale of mechanical woe to relate.
The front drive currently looks like a scrap yard – there are immobile bits of machinery scattered across it, like an obstacle course. The major casualty is our Yamaha Rhino, that has fried its digital brain and therefore won’t start and is currently useless and needs hauled to the dealer. Behind it, is the big snowblower, which is actually working fine, but without the Rhino to move it around, is just an ugly lawn ornament. The plan was to take the Rhino down to the dealer which sounds simple enough. Even with the Rhino not running –  we managed to winch the Rhino onto my trailer and proceeded to tie it down.  I set off and got all of about 100 yards before a loud crash brought me to a sudden stop. The trailer tongue had sheared in two, and the body of the trailer was now nose first into the ground.  Much muffled cursing could be heard – which I suppose means it wasn’t that muffled.

Trailer tongues are not supposed to point at the sky. Dead Rhino clutters up the yard.

Trailer tongues are not supposed to point at the sky. Dead Rhino clutters up the yard.

So, now we’re in a bit of a pickle. I’ve tried to borrow 2 different trailers from friends, only to find that whilst their’s are not quite as broken as mine, for various reasons, they’re not roadworthy either. I’ve tried getting hold of the trailer manufacturer to purchase a replacement tongue, which “should” just bolt on – except there seems to be no-one at the factory. And no dealer has such a part. The Rhino, meantime, will just have to wait it’s turn, for a trip to Big Lake and a new brain.

Machines,  pah !

 

 

 

 

Good dogs, Good truck

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11 July 2014       2.30 PM      64 F      I can see blue, almost

As the miles roll on, the dogs and I are getting more relaxed. Even Katya decided that perhaps I wasn’t so bad after all, and deigned to join us in the fresh air eventually. The days tend to blur into each other, as there really isn’t much to distinguish between them. The further north we get, the more daylight we encounter too, which really means you either go by your watch and proper time, or else just wing it and go by your stomach, your bladder or the truck’s fuel tank. I had tentatively arranged to visit friends in Whitehorse, if I didn’t pass through town at the 2 in the morning,however with so many variables affecting the driving time, I pretty much put that to the back of my mind and went with the flow.
So, if I saw a nice parking spot to drop the dogs, I used it. If I wanted to have coffee and a delicious bagel from Timmie’s, I’d detour till I found one. Now, I’m not seeking sponsorship from anyone for our dogteam, but if any company wanted to do so, and if they happened to be called Tim Horton’s, then I’d be in heaven.
Passing through Fort St John and Fort Nelson on a lovely sunny day, knowing how much truly amazing countryside lies ahead is always a “we’re getting there” moment. The mountains are majestic, the surroundings amazing, the people population is minimal and even the traffic is greatly reduced. Equally delightful, as the miles rolled by, the bears seemed to determined to make themselves known. Did you know that bears like to eat dandelions? Well, I certainly didn’t, but I saw quite a few happily munching away on the bright yellow flowers at the side of the road.

Do you mind?  I'm having a snack.

Do you mind? I’m having a snack.

Oh look, another bear.

Oh look, another bear.

As well as bears, I saw several porcupines, a few moose and of course, the gigantic bison that decorate the stretch of road between Liard and Watson Lake. The main herd seem to travel together, but scattered across the 100 kilometres or so , are small groupings of young males, and occasionally a single bull who must consider mixing with the rest of the herd, as far beneath his status.

Tatanka !

Tatanka !

Heading up into Stone Mountain Provincial Park, the road was so quiet, that I managed to take a photograph that every time I have tried for before, I’ve had to abandon the attempt before I got squished by a large 18 wheeler barreling down the hill.

Daunting scenery

Daunting scenery

Another couple of hours driving looking at similar backdrops, I decided it was time for a long break. What prettier place than the side of Muncho Lake. The dogs got fed, and enjoyed the breeze and sunshine and attracted the attention of some passing tourists, who pulled over to ask lots of questions.

14 muncho home

Pretty Muncho Lake, amazing mountains and relaxed dogs

After a few hours, it was time to load up and move on. One of things I have learnt to do is to load the dogs, put everything away and then drive forward 4 feet before jumping back out and double checking that I haven’t left anything behind that I shouldn’t have – like say, a pile of dogbowls and water container. Not that I’ve ever done that, I just know a guy who might have!

The view in the morning from the roadside.

The view in the morning from the roadside.

Quick rest stop at Teslin

Quick rest stop at Teslin

More by luck than judgement, I found myself making the approach to Whitehorse in the late afternoon, perfect timing to go visit Jacob and Gwen at Grizzly Valley Kennel. Jacob also has Seppala Siberian Sleddogs, including the brother to Nik, who is on my truck. It was great to spend time with them, to get to meet his dogs, to swap stories and drink a couple of beers. Happily, Sedna felt relaxed enough to sleep quietly in the truck for our stay. The next morning, I was back on the road, and heading for Alaska. A smooth run, an easy border crossing and dinner at Fast Eddy’s in Tok.

On the road home, what a vista

On the road home, what a vista

One more night on the road, somewhere between Glenallan and Sheep Mountain, and it was one last run for home. It always seems to come quickly, after the days of driving and being outside, Wasilla seems like a bustling metropolis and then I am home. The truck performed perfectly, the dogs all did remarkably well – and considering that for most of them, this was their first time travelling any distance, they did it without real trouble, complaint or fuss. They ate and drank well, and aside from Sedna’s first night of noise, they took it all in their stride.
They were given a quick walk and then taken over to their new pen, where they’ll be segregated for a while, before being integrated into their new places.

A warm welcome to Gealach Mor Seppala Siberian Sleddogs for Nikola of Seppala, Inchounski of Seppala, Yekaterina of Seppala, Zuryanka of Seppala and Sedna of Seppala.

Heading South, Heading North

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5 July 2014      4.30 PM      83 F    Sunny

Day 3 of the dash to Manitoba had a bit of a slow start, as there is a 2 hour time difference between Alaska and some place east of Fort St John, and I needed to speak to my bank to finally get the situation resolved. Eventually, I managed to convince them that I was indeed in Canada on holiday and that I had a need to have access to my money and that I was still planning on buying frivolous things such as fuel and food. So, it seems American banks regard Canada as a hot bed of fraud and deception.

Happy that I now could pay for things, I set off from Grande Prairie, which seems to grow in size at an amazing rate between each visit, and headed east towards Edmonton and greater traffic. The next 2 days are just a blur of vehicles and towns, gas stations and food stops. It was a relief to pull into Rossburn, Manitoba and find my B&B and have a very relaxing evening, followed by an early night.  The next morning I headed over to meet up with Jeff & Susan at Seppala Kennels and to meet my new dogs as well as revisit all my favourites from previous trips. Time there always seems to fly by, throw in a vet trip for the dogs making the return journey to Alaska, a feeding, and hours of chat, suddenly it was late evening and the day was over. One of things that I am incredibly happy we don’t have to deal with in Alaska are ticks. On my return to the B&B, whilst prepping for my shower, I had to pull a couple of ticks off the back of my neck and another couple off my shin. As well as making me shudder, it also made me slightly paranoid. The slightest itch had me frantically searching for an offending creepy-crawly.  Ugh…………….

Returning to Seppala Kennels the next morning, it was time to load the new dogs, and say farewell once again to Jeff & Susan. It is hard to watch as they also say goodbye to the dogs that they have raised and cared for, the only consolation I can offer, is the reassurance that the dogs will be loved and cherished by us.

JJB gets one final farewell kiss from Nikola of Seppala

JJB gets one final farewell kiss from Nikola of Seppala

Jeff & Susan and the incomparable Sedna

Jeff & Susan and the incomparable Sedna


With the goodbyes said, it was time once again to head north, and deal with thousands of miles of road that lay ahead. As I have said before, travelling with dogs is always interesting, with new dogs it is also slightly concerning. There is always the worry that equipment malfunction could lead to disaster, and it makes me very cautious at each and every stop. I got into a nice routine, and we all very quickly got into the swing of things. Except Katya, who like her brother Yuri on his trip north, decided that she preferred to stay in her box rather than come out for a rest break. With pleasant early summer weather, it was still cool enough that I wasn’t concerned about the dogs getting hot, but I still enjoyed the warmth when we stopped and had some time to get to know each other and bask in the gentle sun.
Finding a shady spot for the dogs

Finding a shady spot for the dogs


Katya decides she would rather stay in her box.

Katya decides she would rather stay in her box.


I have always been amazed at how quickly the dogs adapt to their new routines and circumstances. Aside for Katya’s reluctance to emerge fro the safety of her cocoon, the only one who had anything to say about her new surroundings was Sedna. She decided that everything was good and all was well with the world, if she was out of the truck and on the picket line, or was in the truck and we were driving. However, if the truck was stopped and she was left in her box, then the complaints were loud and vociferous. Not a good combination if the driver is trying to get some sleep – and I can’t imagine that anyone parked within earshot would have been too impressed either. This protesting meant I actually contrived to get much further north than I was planning, before becoming so tired that I managed to get some sleep despite the digging and screaming. The upside to the long drive meant I was that much closer to home, and to quieter roads with better scenery.
Heading north.

Heading north.

Just A Little Misunderstanding

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24 June 2014      6.00 PM   67F     Scattered clouds and sunshine

Day 2 on the road dawns bright and early. A little too early for my liking – I suspect the temperature drop may have had something to do with that. It seemed pretty cold in the truck and true enough, it turned out that I was experiencing my first below zero day in quite a while. My other problem was that it seems in the intervening years between trips, either the back seat of my truck has somehow become narrower or I have got bigger. (Bigger as in taller,before the cacophony of cries abut me indeed being rounder.) I suspect that my ever increasing age and my complaining knees may have just made the situation a little less comfortable than it used to be.

Eventually, I managed to drag myself from the warmth of my sleeping bag and become sufficiently awake to not be a danger to fellow road users. Firing up the truck and heading out onto the Alcan on the second day is always fun. It’s still part adventure, part holiday and despite having done it several times, it’s still a thrill. Running through some truly beautiful and breath-taking scenery, and knowing that there are lots and lots of wild animals around, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see some of them. Each time, I drive this road, I constantly wonder about the mentality of explorers and road builders. The Alcan was built in response to the Japanese invasion of two of the islands in the Aleutian chain during WWII, as prior to the road, the only way into Alaska was by boat or plane and the government of the USA felt it would be sensible to have a road link to be able to move large numbers of troops or equipment, if the need arose. The Canadians, on whose land much of the road was to built agreed on the understanding that the US would bear the cost. As I, and the many other tourists drive over it and complain about the pot holes and frost heaves, I wonder if we ever truly reflect on the effort that went in to carving such an amazing road out of, what was, complete wilderness. The fact that it was also Memorial Day added some degree of poignancy to my musings.

Brief stops in Teslin and Watson Lake for fuel, and confirmation that my bank card hadn’t miraculously healed itself, drained my dwindling stash of cash, but hey ho, onwards in hope and looking forward to the beauty of Muncho Lake. And beautiful it was, the green waters were visible, and yet it was still garnished with a crusting of it’s icy winter mantle, despite the late May warmth.

Slowly retreating ice still covering Muncho Lake

Slowly retreating ice still covering much of Muncho Lake

It’s a pretty drive through Stone Mountain Provincial Park, famed for it’s wildlife who often stubbornly refuse to give up the Highway to oncoming traffic. I managed to avoid confrontation with any of the big sheep who have dented more than one bumper, and caught glimpses of the, just a touch shyer, mountain goats.

Who are you looking at ?

Who are you looking at ?

I keep saying that one day I’m going to stop and visit the Hot Springs at Liard, but once again, it wasn’t going to be this trip. Of course as well as the Hot Springs, Liard is well known for it’s Bison herd, that roams hundreds of kilometres but always seem to be just lazing around grazing whenever I am around. Except today…………. Just after I crossed the river, the car in front of me suddenly veered off to the side and the reason quickly became apparent. A large bison was running, yes actually running, across the road and thundering down the hill, heading for goodness knows where – but doing it at what was an amazing pace. And just as impressive was the noise, a combination of his panting breaths and the resonating pounding of his hooves as he crossed the tarmac and then galloped down the shoulder of the road. Very, very imposing and an incredibly daunting sight – and that was me hiding in the safety of my 10,000 lb truck.

Look at the dust this guy is kicking up !

Look at the dirt this guy is kicking up !

I would hate to be between a herd of these guys and the place they wanted to be.
Arriving in Fort Nelson, I succeeded in getting cash out of the ATM again, but failed at actually being able to use the bank card to pay for anything. Whilst trying to pay for my fuel, I managed to have a very interesting chat with a Filipina lady about the vagaries of the Canadian immigration system. I was also delighted to discover that Tim Horton’s has opened a branch in Fort Nelson. Oh happy day ! Pushing onwards, with many miles still ahead, I didn’t mind at all having to stop when this guy decided he (or she) was going to cross the road at a leisurely pace just ahead of me.

14 bear black

A black bear taking it’s own sweet time crossing the road

The stretch of road, between Fort Nelson and Fort St John have always been very fruitful for bear sightings and so it proved again on this trip. My card was again declined in Fort St John, yeah I know, but you have to admire a trier and it rather threw out my plans for staying overnight in Dawson Creek. In the end, I drove as far as Grande Prairie before deciding that I really needed to sleep.

Mileage for the day 997

Big Blue Does It Again

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12 June 2012      4.00PM      62 F     Overcast

We tend to try and live our lives quietly and without drawing too much attention to our plans and our hopes (this blog not withstanding).  Sadly, it seems I have become rather too easy to predict. Two or three of our friends phoned to speak to me a couple of weeks ago. As I wasn’t around, my wife tried to cover my tracks and baffle them with convoluted stories as to my whereabouts. It seems that my friends have sussed that if I’m not in Willow, then as unlikely as it may seem,  it would appear incredibly likely that I am indeed somewhere on the road to or from Manitoba.

And so it was the case. Once again, myself and Big Blue have travelled 5, 307 miles in another quick dash to collect yet more of our beloved Seppala Siberian Sleddogs from Seppala Kennels. And I’m very happy to report that it was a trip without drama or undue excitement. Big Blue behaved itself impeccably – apart from its seemingly insatiable thirst. After 5 years in the US, it still amazes me that they still build vehicles that can only get 9 miles to the gallon ! For a few weeks prior to the the trip, I started coming over all sensible.  I actually joined AAA for the first time and made plans to carry my spare wheel with me on this trip. Apparently, not having a spare on the other trips caused quite a bit of consternation amongst my friends. For all of the issues I have had with the truck, tyres have never been a problem – but there is always a first time. Although, I do subscribe to the Mike Ellis school of thought – I’m running a dually, I already have 2 spares, they just happen to already be on the axles.

Finally, and only one day behind schedule, I set off, truck packed with the essentials for an cross-country drive. Water, soda, trail mix, chewing gum, chocolate and bagels. I had spare clothes, spare boots, a sleeping bag, rain gear, MP3 player, camera, GPS and even an old fashioned map. The spare wheel was strapped down on top of the dog box and I very much hoped that it wouldn’t be required – as there were 4 different sets of rachet straps in use, tying it down. That didn’t stop me pulling over 4 times in the first couple of hours to retighten them or just check they were still taut – for most of the first day I had traumatic visions of the spare hurtling off the roof and embedding itself in the windscreen of some passing vehicle. That fear did lessen the further I travelled, but there were a couple of huge frost heaves on the road to Destruction Bay that I was sure had to have launched it deep into the undergrowth.

The weather was great for driving, and terrible for taking photographs of the wonderful scenery. The marvellous mountain views were obscured by a kind of heat haze and whilst still giving you some idea of the scale of the countryside, it lacked the detail that draw the eye. Equally, the wildlife was proving elusive. One moose decided to test my brakes, which worked fine, fortunately. Other than that, the run to Tok was easy and spurred me on to the border without my traditional late lunch at Fast Eddy’s.  Crossing into Canada was painless but the same could not be said of the next 100 miles of road. The highway is a mess, holes here, there and everywhere, several sections of rollercoaster style dips and swoops and some kind of emergency patching which seems to involve dumping a truck load of gravel into a hole and getting the passing traffic to distribute it around.

Notice that they don't say "Welcome To"

Notice that they don’t say “Welcome To”

As well as the road surface, my next problem arose as I tried to buy fuel at Beaver Creek. For some reason, my card was declined. Cue much fuming from me and a distinct lack of care from the retailer. Apparently this is a normal occurrence as they are the first gas station over the Border and banks decline around 10 transactions for them ever day. Happily, they took cash, doubly happily, they took US $ cash, of which I had plenty as opposed to Canadian $ of which I had none.
Still, truck tank now full, it was time to get to Whitehorse, to survive more of the roughest road I’ve driven across and to enjoy some of the prettiest land around. I have said previously that I think the stretch of road around Kluane Lake to Haines Junction is my favourite of the whole trip and each time I see it, that feeling is reinforced. Also, getting sight of my first bears of the trip helped that feeling too – watching a very cute blonde walking along the side the truck always makes me smile. Although this is the first time I’ve seen a blonde bear.
blond bears 14
Having swooned over the blonde, I continued on my way in the gathering gloom and duly reached Whitehorse around midnight. Previous late night runs through the town mean I know where the 24 hour gas stations are, and I chose to frequent the friendliest one, (based on previous experiences) Goody’s lived up to their name, the guy on duty was great – now you may think that there’s not much involved in selling gas, but there is when the person buying the gas doesn’t have a bank card that works. He went above and beyond the call of duty, tried a couple of workarounds which didn’t work and then took my US cash. He also let me use the shop’s phone to try and clear the confusion up with my bank. It being midnight on a Sunday, of Memorial weeekend, I wasn’t too surprised that no-one answered the phones, despite trying the lost/stolen card phone number. Fortunately and somewhat strangely I felt, I was able to withdraw cash from the ATM so at least I had local currency as opposed to just the mighty greenback.
I adhered to my usual practice of driving for another hour or so before pulling over and taking a break in Hotel Ford.

Day 1 Miles driven 763 1 Moose avoided 3 Bears marvelled at.

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