Hannah Goes Fishing

A Fishing (and more) Blog

Driving Toward the Sun Part II: Alaska, the Yukon, and British Columbia

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Entering the Yukon Territory

The morning of May 13th, I awoke to below freezing temperatures and a nasty head cold. It was also the first morning of my six week road trip, part of which I would be driving with my dear friend Adrienne.  I sat up in bed and felt my sinuses immediately seal themselves as a headache began to pound in the back of my head.  Fantastic. 

However, travel takes priority over almost everything else in my young life, and so I rounded up my gear, packed up the car, and headed to the grocery store where my friend and I were to meet.  We purchases our groceries, she said goodbye to her husband (Hi Mal!), and we both slumped in the driver and passenger seats, caffeine-deprived and a pile of used tissues already building in our trash bag. 

The drive out of Fairbanks was quiet, both of us groggily staring out the windshield at the dreary grey sky.  Grey, crusty snow blanketed the ground and every river was frozen over.  I couldn’t wait to find warmer weather.  And then, the first bird dove.  And then another.  Dozens of tiny sparrows which had previously been sitting benignly along the side of the road were suddenly alarmed by the passing car and dove into the road way, scattering to all sides.

I threw on the brakes, shouting, “Ahh! Birds! Why are they dive-bombing us!?”
Adrienne shouted back, “Ahh! I don’t know! They’re everywhere!”

Then, as quickly as they had come, they were gone.  The road was clear.  We scanned the roadside carefully for more suicidal avian, and began to creep forward.  I really did not want to begin our trip feeling responsible for the deaths of a dozen tiny, adorable sparrows.  As we regained cruising speed, we began to relax.  A one time event, surely.

And then, the second wave hit.  And the third. And for miles afterward, we dodged clouds of tiny winged specks as they exploded off the ground right into the oncoming path of the car.  Then:

THUNK

A cluster of little feathers clung to a sticky bug splatter on the windshield.

Adrienne gasped, “Did we just hit one?”

“Nope.” I replied.

“I think we did.”

“Nope.”

“But…”

“Nope.”

We drove on in cringing silence.

Adrienne, being an intrepid adventurer and wonderfully brazen woman (my favorite kind), biked with her husband from Tok, Alaska to the Golden Gate Bridge a few years ago.  The Alaska-Canadian Highway (or ALCAN, as it’s more commonly known) is familiar to her all the way to Watson Lake, whereas everything after Whitehorse was totally new to me.  As we drove, she would occasionally point to the side of the road and say, “we camped there. It was pouring rain,” or “we saw a coyote right there. It stalked us for a while.”  A trip narrative that I had not expected, but that was a delightful element to the drive.

Our goals that first day were to reach Whitehorse, Canada.  While we had originally planned to camp, it was in the low teens at night (temperature wise) and I was trying to nip my head cold in the bud so as to enjoy the rest of the trip with a sense of smell.  We booked the cheapest hotel room we could find in Whitehorse ($89+tax), and ordered an extremely mediocre veggie pizza from a nearby Dominos.  Sleep was a welcome reward after the long day.

Our first bison, all fancied up with my camera’s new
and unfamiliar-to-me settings.

The next morning, we were up early to visit Tim Horton’s (a Canadian coffee chain that is a coffee tradition for me, thanks to a dear friend) and hit the road.  Our goals our second day were to get to the Liard Hot Springs in B.C.’s Liard Provincial Park, about an hour and a half past Watson Lake.  The drive was beautiful, and we began to see lots of wildlife along the way.  Perhaps the most exciting (at first) were the frequent bison sightings along the road corridor.  Bison are tremendously huge beasts (sometimes up to one ton of animal), and it was delightful to see them in such large groups as we drove.

Signpost Forest

Our first major city after Whitehorse was Watson Lake, home of the signpost forest.  They are home to over 75,000 signs of all kinds, as well as the world’s most helpful and friendly visitor center.  The woman there was, hands down, the nicest and most affable person I’ve ever met.  She loaded us up with maps, mile markers, and everything else we could possibly need to guide us through the Yukon and B.C.  I highly recommend a stop there, even if you know your way through B.C. well.  All of their information was free, and delightfully presented in an expedient manner.  Can you tell I enjoyed the experience?

We had a picnic lunch at Watson Lake, and then continued on to meet our dear friend/sister-in-law/ex-roommate Mariah, husband Kevin, and four dog-children.  They were headed up the same highway on their way to moving back to Alaska.  As Mariah was unable to join us on the road trip, we were determined to see them.

Now, I should note that I’m the type of traveler who can become very narrowly focused on getting through the miles, and am not really one to stop and take pictures, check little things out, etc.  Adrienne, on the other hand, is the type of person who would stop to take a picture of every.single.bison we pass.  Thankfully, she insisted that we stop at Liard Hot Springs, and I reluctantly agreed (“But we could drive another couple hours!” said my inner monologue).  Sure
enough, Mariah and Kevin were there waiting for us, dogs in tow, and it was absolutely wonderful to see them.  Yet another great reason to travel with someone – I probably wouldn’t have stopped if I had been alone, and would have missed out on a wonderful evening of fun, friends, and hot springs.

Simple pleasures

The Liard Hot Springs are, without question or hesitation, some of the very purest and – for lack of better words – magical springs I have ever visited.  They are located in B.C.’s Liard Provincial Park along the ALCAN, and begin in a relatively small camping pullout.  We met Kevin and Mariah in the pullout, had a quick moment of excited dog petting, and then grabbed our suits (required at Liard) and towels and walked the 100 yards of boardwalk through marshlands to reach the hot spring facilities.  The hot springs were recently re-done, and the boardwalks now lead to a beautiful, yet simple facility that provides changing rooms (separated by gender) and a gentle walkway down into the hot springs.  The boardwalks and changing rooms are made of cedar (one of my favorite smells) and are a very unobtrusive presence in the otherwise natural pools. 

Camp

The springs themselves are a series of pools, connected by small waterfalls, that branch off from the main spring.  The edges of the pools are unaltered, and so despite the cold weather, ferns, flowers, and other greenery draped around the edges.  There are a couple of cement benches submerged in the center of the pools, and you can adjust your position within the spring to find colder or hotter water as you desire.  After several hours in the springs, we returned to our now joint camp, cooked a lovely dinner compilation, and retired to our first true night of camping. 

Next Entry: British Columbia, Alberta, Jasper, and Banff!

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