After the strip down search my car suffered getting into Canada, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the U.S. Border Patrol. The officer was professional and to the point, and after a quick exchange of identification, I was welcomed back home. For the first time, I was asked for my car’s registration, but other than that, everything was par for the course.
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 fourth day of the drive back to Alaska took me to McLeod Lake on the famed Fraser River of British Columbia.
I was starting to see more wildlife now, and that always adds to the drive for me. I was woefully unprepared for wildlife photography however, with a cell phone and the 120 shooter, a Kodak 66. I made do, as best I could.
The first real sighting in BC was a moose. I did not stop for a moose, nor did I later stop for a caribou. I see them all the time, as it is.
One of many black bear
I do not normally see a lot of black bear in Alaska, so I stopped to take pictures of a couple of them. In all, black bear ruled the animal sighting roost: I spotted 17 along the road, all eating the lush grass, like the one in the picture.
This picture came about, mainly because I had spotted a lynx, which is an incredibly rare sighting along a road. I hit reverse, but by the time I came to where I had seen the wary cat, it had made its way to the tree line. Just 100 yards further on, was this black bear. I hadn’t even made it out of second gear yet, so it didn’t take a lot of effort on my part to slow for it.
Further on down the road, I came across a pair of bison. I would go on to spot several on this day. They really are magnificent beasts.
I did not see my first grizzly until the final day of my drive, after crossing into Alaska. It was a sow and her cub. The cub was absolutely adorable, as it stood on its hind legs in order to get a better look at me, or maybe my car. I did slow down in order to attempt to get a picture, but that action seemed to intrigue the mother a tad too much. She started to trot right over to my car, leaving her cub standing on the opposite shoulder. Since I was in a car that sat lower than she stood, and I had an open window for a clear view, I decided the picture wasn’t that important and released the clutch to move forward. The sow continued to trot, and I proceeded to engage second gear.
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.
Rolling hills of NE Wyoming, after the thunderstorm
Recently, I found myself in the Lower 48, with a car and no where to park it. The smart move was to sell the car in Minnesota, but the lure, and frankly, the need for a road trip was too strong to resist.
The rumor was that Canada would allow Alaskans to cross the border to return back home to Alaska. There were also several reports, that the final judgement was up to the individual border patrol agent at the port of entry. I decided to roll the dice, pack up the little 300zx, and drive the car back to Alaska.
This would be the twelfth time I have driven the AlCan, or the Alaska Highway, as it is more commonly known. I knew it would be a different sort of trip, but I didn’t know what to expect in these anxious times, so it was hard to predict how different it would be.
I drove I-90 across South Dakota. I have not driven the interstate for ages, as I try to avoid them, when I can. This trip, it seemed like the smart move. The interstate made it a lot easier to avoid people, plus I wasn’t sure if the small towns in South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana would care to see a car zip through with Alaska plates.
Day one’s goal was to get to the Black Hills National Forest, just past Rapid City and into Wyoming. The weather was hot & sticky, and the air conditioner in the car had recently stopped blowing cold air. An attempt was made to fix that, but with working windows and a T-Top, I wasn’t overly put out by the heat. The 90 degree weather did force me to take the top off before I made it out of Minnesota.
Aladdin General Store
I veered off I-90 and took SoDak Hwy 34 near Spearfish. The hot & humid weather had been building dark storm clouds on my horizon for a while, so I stopped to put the tops back on the roof of the car. Immediately after, the wind picked up, the sky darkened even more, and the sound of hail hit the recently replaced glass tops. The cell phone gave me an automated message that I had never seen before: Tornado Warning in your vicinity until 7pm. Then the rain came down in absolute torrents. I was impressed, but I pressed on. There was no place to stop anyway. I followed a truck’s set of taillights as best I could, and continued on.
I eventually drove through the storm, and it was beautiful weather on the west side of the Black Hills. I stopped briefly in the community of Aladdin, Wyoming: Population 15, Cell Coverage: zero, wonderful country: as far as the eye could see.
Not long after Aladdin was the campground I was looking for in the national forest. Within minutes, I had started some charcoal, and was setting up camp among the tall pines of the Black Hills.
When I sent in the film from the Billy-Clack, I had one roll of 120 black & white film that I could not remember when I had shot it. Somehow, a roll of film had been forgotten in a pack pocket during one of my travels. It sat around for a bit more, as I waited to get some more 120 used up.
The roll does have some history to it, and it has been a while. It’s from the last time The Rover was down in the Lower 48. Probably right after I swapped out the motor, because there are a few shots of San Antonio.
There was also a shot of some young punk, riding alongside me in the Land Rover, taking a picture of himself as he stuck out his tongue at the camera. He also took this shot of the Rover dash, probably scared at how fast we were moving.
I must have been concentrating on traffic, because I do not remember him sticking his tongue out at me or the camera.
Camera: Agfa Clack (not the Billy-Clack); Film: Kodak 120 TMax 100; Photographer: Minnesota “Moose” Matthew