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.

Silver Linings

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21 May 2014       6.00 PM       65 F       Cloudy

Regular readers will have been poised on the edge of their seats awaiting the “Spring Break Up” edition. Occasional readers will be much more of the “meh” , he’s going to whine about break up again. And any new readers who have happened to stumble upon this are doubtless wondering what the heck I’m babbling about.

In the interests of clarity, break up is the period of time between a lovely, happy, cold, snowy winter and the endless weeks of daylight, sunshine,  fire risk and mosquitoes. It refers to the time where daily life is judged by how many times you fall through the rapidly melting snow crust into a pool of frigid water, or find yourself up to your knees in the stickiest, gloopiest mud known to mankind. It’s not much fun for us humans, and I suspect that most the dogs don’t enjoy it greatly either.

6 boys 2014

Snow, mud, water and holes.

We are quite fortunate here in that our dogyard has been well designed, has been graded to a gentle slope and is predominately sand. These factors all help move the water that a winter’s worth of melting snow generates. However, it’s never quite as simple or easy as that, and some of the areas are a bit more of a challenge. The natural mess is often further complicated by some of the dogs’ predilection for creating a lunar landscape everywhere they can. We try to fill the worst of these holes (or caves in some cases) before the ground freezes and the snows fly, but sometimes they get dug back out as quick, if not quicker, than they are being filled in.  This usually means that the guilty parties have swimming holes during break up . This is also a good time to remember where that hole actually is before finding it feet first.

Those of you who experienced this year’s winter in Alaska, or followed the Iditarod will be aware that we actually had a very mild winter and fairly low (or none depending on where you looked) snow fall. We also had our usual January thaw which managed to make quite a dent in the snow levels at that time. So, by the time Spring arrived, we were quietly hopeful of surviving break up without tears or tantrums. And so, it proved to be.  There were a couple of weeks where we had sump pumps running to move the water from the girls’ pen, but generally it went by quickly and without too much fuss. We had lovely warm sunny days and crisp, cold nights – the perfect combination.

And now, we have had weeks of sunshine, the ground is completely dry and the dogs are back to digging holes and playing in the sand.  So, I could either moan about how poor our winter was, or be happy that break up was a bit of anti-climax and definitely over far quicker than in previous years. As I said, silver linings and all that.

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