A friend recently sent me this photo. I came back to Minnesota a year after first driving up to Alaska, because I needed a pickup, and vehicles can be expensive in Alaska, and often beat on. I forget all of the details, but it’s possible, I simply wanted to drive the AlCan again.
I found a 1966 Chevrolet C20, Camper Special in one of the auto trade magazines that were around back at the time. It came with bald, bias-ply tires, but a sound 327 engine, and a rather smooth ride, compared to my Bronco. I didn’t have anything in the trailer that belonged to me, but the canoe riding on the top is mine. I sent my Dad into a state of mild depression, when he saw what I was about to drive for 4000 miles.
I bought a set of tires, replaced all fluids, hoses and belts, and the truck made it to Alaska without so much as a hiccup.
The only restaurant food I had on the entire trip was in Missoula. I stopped at a small, local shop on Hwy 93. I walked up to the restaurant, and was greeted on the sidewalk by an employee. Several menus were on display boards along the sidewalk; it could have been a drive-in. There was only one other customer, a fellow traveler on a motorcycle. I placed an order, and waited out on the walk.
Any drive through western Montana is a passage through some beautiful country. The temps had dropped dramatically from the day before, the skies were overcast, and a light mist hung in the air. Highway 93 winds north out of Missoula, skirting the western shoreline of Flathead Lake. Eventually, it passes through Kalispell and Whitefish. The only bad traffic was in Whitefish. Oddly enough, I think it was the worst of the entire trip.
The Portal was different. Most of the normal questions were not asked, although I was asked if I was transporting a firearm. Covid-19 questions were on the front burner, opioid questions came in second. In all my travels through Canada, this was the first time my car was searched. And boy, was it searched. An agent even opened a mouthwash bottle, and did not screw the lid on properly. My duffle will have a minty fresh scent for the rest of the trip.
I was a bit surprised about the overzealous border agent, but I chalked it all up to boredom. I was there for approximately 40 minutes, and no one else came through. I was given my orders: Take the shortest route to the Alaska border, no stopping for food, no stopping for pictures, and only pay for gas at the pump. During the search, they found that I had all the food needed to cross, along with plenty of water and camping gear. I was asked if I had lodging plans, and I said I only had one night planned – camping near Golden, British Columbia. They must have been satisfied, because they let me pass.
*A footnote: I am not complaining about the procedure, as much as I’m detailing the account for other travelers. The world has changed, even between neighbors. I am extremely grateful that the Canadian officials let me return home through their country. They did not have to, and I am fully aware of that fact. Still, it was a night and day different experience, from what I have been through in the past.
The ZX resting in Kootenay NP
My first camp site in Canada was in BC’s Kootenay National Park. A little more formal of a setting than I had been visiting up until this point. Much of the facilities were closed. One tidbit of info: Just because a website says they have working showers at the campground, does not mean that one is allowed to use the working showers. All were shutdown due to the pandemic.
Notice, once again, I lost a front license plate to a souvenir hunter. The Nissan has been without a front plate since a visit to Tampa, Florida in 2016.
Day two of the road trip had absolutely beautiful weather. Slightly cooler than the day before, but still warm and a tad sticky.
I had camped out fairly close to Devil’s Tower, and actually had no real plans to stop. In the end, the sight of that column of rock rising up from above the Belle Fourche River valley, was too tempting.
Devil’s Tower is a butte formed of igneous rock. Known as the Bear’s Lodge locally, The Tower was the first national monument in the United States, established in 1906 by then President Theodore Roosevelt.
The Tower rises 1267 feet above the Belle Fourche River, and is 867 feet from base to summit. It’s an impressive sight, and I was not the only visitor to the monument.
The visitor’s center was closed. The parking lot at the trailhead was full, although the overflow parking was not. There was not one car in the parking lot with a Wyoming license plate; everyone was out of state. There were a lot of RV’s trying to force their way into some sort of parking situation, and park workers tried valiantly to get them to park in RV parking. So that part of the experience was no different than Pre-Covid.
There is a trail that runs around the Tower itself, that I had already trekked in the past. It was crowded, and confusion ran rampant. Once again, park workers were doing their best to get people to social distance, but few people were paying any attention. I decided to pass on that trail, and found a side track that no one else was on, just to stretch my legs.
Eventually, I had to get back on the road. It didn’t take long to pick up the interstate again, and I was off for Montana. Camping in the Lolo National Forest was the goal for the night.
Last summer, back in the days when I was volunteering to self-isolate, I was out at a lake cabin and happened to see a wildfire gets its start from lightning.
The following day, a pair of water scoopers showed up at the lake. They would fly overhead, bank around the lake, skim across the top of the lake, picking up their load of water, then take off again to fly back to the fire. The two aircraft made the roundtrip from fire to lake to fire, all day long.
Alaska’s Denali Borough and Denali National Park have teamed up with REI’s #optoutside movement this post-Thanksgiving Friday. You won’t catch me in a store this weekend, but you might find me out on the trail.
See you outside. It should be close to 0F, plus or minus.