My tale of being the most hated vehicle on the roads between Fairbanks Alaska and Boulder Colorado!
Day 1 --- I can't drive 55, especially on ice and snow
Daily Milage: 404.7
Unlike the song, I really can't drive 55. Around that speed, the U-haul plus truck on trailer starts to really fishtail. Rather like a dog's rear end that wags along with its tail. Plus any bump in the road tends to require a steering correction, leading to more fishtailing. So I can already tell that this will be a very long trip, as I'll have to drive slower and longer each day.
I think it was about North Pole that I started to realize what I was trying to do, and that part of me might actually miss Fairbanks and Alaska. I knew this would be the last time I drive these roads, and of course probably the last time I would see the various people I met in Alaska.
As sleep was at a premium last night, I decided to take a short nap around Dot Lake. I wake up to see snowflakes. Yes, snow. Thankfully it stopped a little while down the road. Though as I approached the Canadian border, I noticed snow on the ground, but not on the road. I had been stopping for gas frequently in Alaska, knowing Canada may be exorbitantly expensive. So at the last before the border, the guy warned me that cars coming from the other direction had slush on them. Lovely....
Crossing into Canada was pretty easy. The U-haul made it obvious that I was moving. After passing over my cat's and my passport, we were on our way. Soon after Beaver Creek, it started snowing, and the road conditions started getting worse than just slush on the road. It was actually sticking! So at an appropriate place, I pulled over to put all the plants into the cab of the U-haul. Walking on the icy surface was tricky, so I was glad that the truck was so heavy.
Thankfully this section of road was all paved since that last time I drove it. I was able to drive until Burwash Landing, just north of Klaune Lake. The giant mirrors on the U-haul reflect all headlights for quite a distance, so eyes get very tired quickly. Plus high beams failed to even tell me what the road conditions were like. So I found a nice Yukon rest stop, with outhouses, to park for the night. With the plants and the temps being below freezing, camping within the cab was in order. With all the stuff in the front, it was quite interesting to get a sleeping bag and the cat litter in the front. Bagheera didn't seem to worried, I was keeping her warm.
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Day 0: Packing
Day 2 --- Why 2 trailer tires are better than one
Daily Milage: 410.2
Total Milage: 814.9
Woke up to a fairly cold morning with mountaintop clouds. At least the cooler in my Toyota stayed nice and cold! With the light of day, I could see that the roads were clear of snow. But the snow is sticking on the ground.
Hardest thing about waking up in the front of the U-haul, is convincing my cat that she has to get off my lap and out of the sleeping bag. Every time I put her somewhere, she kept trying to get back where it was warm. At least she seems to be taking the experience fairly well.
Red Flags. If youíve never seen them before, slow down. Immediately. It means the road is damaged and hasnít been fixed yet. One difficulty is that you canít tell the severity until youíre on top of the damage. Iíve always thought there should be multiple flags depending on how bad it is. 3 for slam on the brakes, to 1, slow down a bit.
It was nice to come upon Kluane Lake in daylight. It is such a nice area, even in the clouds, as usually you can catch an angle with some nice mountain-lake reflections. It seems there is always ice on the lake. I drove through in June 2002, and there was ice.
The road has been widened dramatically by blasting through the cliffs. 5 years ago, I remember the road being so narrow, you felt like you were driving practically in the lake.
Climbing up the pass after the lake, ice and snow was sticking to the road, making for slippery conditions. The clouds started lifting and sun began to shine on the surrounding mountains, so I started looking for a place to take a photo. I look out the mirror to see that the right tire on the trailer was shredded. I didnít really notice until then that it was shredded, probably due to the thick layer of ice on the road. No sparks. Thankfully a nice man, driving with his dog to Arizona, stopped to help me get to the next town. He let his wife fly with the cats. Thankfully Haines Junction was only 31 miles away.
The first place we stopped at was a tire repair shop. So after calling U-haul and getting some brunch at the local diner, I got the tire replaced. The repair guy said that there were quite a few trailer tires blown recently. So maybe all the sharp blasted rocks in the constructions zone did in my tire.
Halfway between Haines Junction and Whitehorse is the Takhini Valley. Here the clouds parted long enough to give some nice light on the surrounding mountains. It's too bad that I have to drive so slowly, otherwise there would have been lots of fun places to explore.
Around Whitehorse, I definitely get the feeling that I am the most hated vehicle on the road. Everyone wants pass me! So I spend half my time in the shoulder letting people go around me. Once I watched a semi carrying fuel, passing with a pick-up trying to double pass, and almost causing the semi to jack-knife right in front of me. Crazy!
With the delay of the blown tire, I know I have to keep driving well past sunset. While refueling in Teslin, a guy in the white truck that has passed me at least twice (who I saw in Alaska), comments that I must be brave to drive such a rig especially at night. We both want to make the next town, Watson Lake, but itís 150 miles away. I figure I have to at least make a reasonable attempt to get there. But with the glaring headlights I only make 75 miles down the road, up somewhere around the Continental Divide.
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Day 3 --- Animals on the road
Daily Milage: 422.7
Total Milage: 1,237.6
I wake up to find not only a thick layer of ice on the inside of the truck, but an inch of snow already on the ground with more coming. The roads were once again icy, so driving is slow, especially over all the hills.
In Watson Lake, I hear from a traveler coming from the east that says the roads get better, and that the snow turns to rain. That was the case, for a while. But soon the snow returns, but doesnít stick to the roads anymore. Now I have to watch out for animals. In the morning I saw a red fox at the side of the road, in the afternoon itís herds of Bison. Within the park (Muncho Lake), there were herds of Caribou and mountain goats.
Muncho Lake and Stone Mountain Provincial Park would have been so beautiful, if there wasnít a snowstorm and low clouds. It may be worth a return trip along with stops to Jasper and Banff National Parks. Though gas was so atrocious in this area, I decided to use the 10 gallons I had in the back of my Toyota. Felt a bit weird to empty my gas cans at the gas station/restaurant at the Toad River Lodge, but the price/liter was too much! I hoped losing the weight would help the fishtailing problem.
As I exit the lodge, a gal in a disposable Kia SUV, tries to push me up the hill. I can only guess that was what she was doing, as I couldnít see the vehicle in my expansive mirrors. So having learned to drive in NY, I do what anyone would do in this situation, I tapped on the brakes! Nothing to actually slow me down, but it was clear communication to the tailgater. It worked quite well, as I immediately saw the vehicle back off my tail, and then pass me making hand gestures.
Once out of the mountains, the roads improve dramatically, and so I could pass through Fort Nelson before finding a pullout for the night. Another U-haul plus trailer was there, but looked abandoned. As we were 40 miles out, that must have been a breakdown, as there was nothing for a very long while.
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Day 4 --- Have you heard of Red Deer, Alberta?
Daily Milage: 707
Total Milage: 1,944.6
Longest day of traveling on the trip, but with long straight stretches from Fort Nelson to Fort St John, I could drive a little faster. Of course, with moose and grizzlies crossing the road in front of me, I still had to be cautious. (And as I havenít perfected photography while driving in low light conditions, no photos of these crossings.)
When the sun finally gets higher up in the sky, I can see that fall has only just passed itís peak in this area, as the trees still have some colored leaves left. The Alaska Highway follows the Rockies on the eastern side until Dawson Creek. Then you leave the view of the mountains for the high prairie out to Edmonton in Alberta.
By now, Bagheera understands that when I stop for a break, itís time to come out of the kennel for food and water. She doesnít want anything when moving, as Iím sure itís probably disorienting for her. Nor does she seem to mind being harnessed and leashed to the seat, so she doesnít get near my feet. Some days she spends most of the time on my lap, at other times, mostly in the kennel. Usually as it gets dark, she comes out and does a lap, meows and gets back in the kennel. Must be her call for a stop for the night!
After Dawson Creek, I am no longer on the Alaska Highway, and so the roads get better, wider and even have multiple lanes now. This makes it easier for everyone to pass me. It seems that Canadians MUST go the speed limit (110 km/hr). They are quite unhappy to go anything slower than that. Unlike the US, where not everyone goes the speed limit, here it seems to be the speed to go. I think one or twice going down a hill I may have ďapproachedĒ the speed limit, but it wasnít something I could safely continue.
I figured that it might be easier to pass through Edmonton at night, than during the morning rush hour. But this of course requires that the road signs be clear and not misinterpreted. It also seems that Edmonton is a Ďdestination cityí, not one that is just driven through. I had thought the signs for Rt 2 south to Calgary would be rather prominent, hard to miss in fact. Not so. I saw plenty of signs for all the small roads and other towns surrounding Edmonton, but no huge sign for Calgary.
Is this just a Edmonton Oilers vs Calgary Flames hockey rivalry? As I was driving I saw a sign for Red Deer, with a small symbol in the corner. This stuck in my mind, as I was planning to possibly stop at a campground in Red Deer. Itís halfway between Edmonton and Calgary, and would place me in Calgary in late morning, avoiding the rush (hopefully). But I thought, no there has to be another, more obvious sign. Nope. I end up in small street downtown Edmonton, trying to figure out where it all went wrong. I got off at the Rt 2 exit, but there must not be a highway on the southern end, just to the north.
So I backtrack and take that exit for Red Deer, noting the tiny symbol for Rt 2 in the corner. Soon afterwards I no longer see signs for Red Deer or even Rt 2, but for some random personsí road. As I have nothing else to go on, I head in the general direction I need to go. After a few more guesses, I finally see one sign for Calgary and Rt 2. Then nothing until I actually make it onto Rt 2. I am SO looking forward to the US Interstate system!
I make it to Red Deer and itís really late. After starting out at 6:30am, itís getting close to midnight, so I want to find a place to stop. I figured finding a RV or campground would be the best bet. But the place I found on my map, didnít have directions once off the highway. So I followed signs for one that did. Now driving gets tricky, as the road narrows and eventually turns to dirt. I tried, and failed to turn around, twice. Iím getting really tired, Iíve driven for almost 17 hours at this point, and my shoulders hurt from wrestling the wheel. So I have to continue down the road. I find the RV campground - golf course, but itís closed. So I have to turn around by driving through the place. Thankfully I meet no one to bother me.
I cross back over the highway and find the first hotel that looks like I can park easily. Itís now after 1am, no sneaking in the cat. So I have to get an expensive hotel room, but as Iím exhausted with no other real options (no nice Yukon rest stops, or British Columbia off the road a bit - trash container stops), it was the best I could do. Besides, I was almost out of gas, and it seemed every station I went to was closed and didnít have pay at the pump! How uncivilized!
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Day 5 --- Hurray for Montana and road signs that make sense!
Daily Milage: 516.3
Total Milage: 2,460.9
After filling up on hot coffee (I had been surviving on Iced Coffee from my cooler), and filling the tank, I head south. I even see a wolf by the side of the highway, with occasional deer. The closer I get to Calgary the more the traffic picks up. I had thought driving through the city at 11am wouldnít be so bad, but in fact it was rather intense. All the lanes (3-5) were full of cars and trucks, and lanes appeared and disappeared frequently, so picking a lane where I wouldnít annoy the most people with my slow driving was difficult. But during this, I notice that the city looks a lot like Denver, with the far off snow capped mountains. The area is also based on ranching like most of the high plains and prairie along the Rocky Mountains.
With the traffic, there was no way I could pull over to take any photos. After the city, the mountains receded further into the distance, so it was once again flat plains. Soon enough I found myself in Lethbridge, last major town before the border. I wanted to stop by the scenic train trestle, so when I saw signs for ĎRt 4 through towní, I took it. Stopped at the visitor center to take a short hike for some photos. Nice sunny day, why not?
With the experience in Edmonton not taking the first exit for the appropriate road, I figured I better not wait hoping for something better. The little map in the Milepost showed directions that were fairly straightforward, and I could even see where I was on the map. Should be easy right? Nope. Soon there were no more signs for Rt 4. So I continued in the direction I felt best. Then I see signs again. Great, back on track! Ha ha, nada again. After a while, I find the road I was on, dead end into a residential area. So I stop at a gas station, have to do some tricky maneuvering with my long rig, to get some directions. Unfortunately with the construction, the directions were negated quickly. The right turn I was supposed to take, was being blocked off as I arrived at the turn. So I have to go left. Winding around trying to find the appropriate roads, I find a U-haul location. There I get good directions and finally see the much desired sign for Coutes and the US Border. Yeah! Why didn't I set up my GPS for this trip?
One would think, with a U-haul and all the appropriate passports and documents, getting back into the US would be simple. I got grilled more than at the Canadian border in Beaver Creek. But soon I was through and in Montana where roads are nice and people donít always go the speed limit of 75 mph.
I stop in Helena MT, as I donít want to pass through the mountains in the dark. So after trying a few hotels, I find one where I can park and has room for me.
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Day 6 --- A day for passing up and down hills
Daily Milage: 565.6
Total Milage: 3,026.5
A nice clear and warm day awaits my return to the road. It is the peak of fall in the mountains of Montana, so I make stops periodically as I go up and down the continental divide. Along the way I even get to pass trucks laboring to get up the passes as well as those geared down to descend on the other side. This is a new experience for me, passing others on the road. Though with all the other vehicles, this is a fairly rare occasion.
After Billings MT, I head south to Wyoming with virtually no traffic again. Which was good. As right around the border, there was a sign for ďRough RoadĒ, and immediately afterwards I hit what has to be the worst road conditions Iíve seen. The U-haul plus trailer goes crazy bouncing around. In my head, I think, this is it! Iím gonna jack-knife! Somehow, white knuckled I pull through it and slow down to regain my nerves.
After a stop for dinner in Sheridan, I continue into the dark. Just before Buffalo WY and the I-90 / I-25 split, I hit a construction zone. The speed limit is 65, through this zone, with both directions on the same side of the split highway, separated by orange cone. Absolutely crazy!!! Obviously, in the dark, I canít go the speed limit. Others don't seem to value life as much. The truck behind me was not amused. After awhile he became irate, and flashed his high beams at me. He even tried to encroach on my tail. I couldnít go any faster, but the trucker was trying to make me. Once the highway opened up again to 2 lanes, he passed with his horn on and got in front of me and slammed on his brakes. Thankfully I had the habit of letting off the gas as truckers passed, to make it go quicker. So after the 5 or 6 other truckers passed, I made it to Casper WY with little else than some wind in my way.
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Day 7 --- Boulder or Bust!
Daily Milage: 274.2
Total Milage: 3,300.7
With such a posh hotel room, because of the cat, I spend the morning surfing the net for places to live in Boulder. Got a few leads, and made a few calls. So after getting a new cell phone charger, since my phone was dead, I head south.
Passing through Cheyenne, I see the signs for ĎSierra Trading Postí. Thatís the store that saved me from the inflated prices of Beaver Sports in Fairbanks. I may have to stop there once I make a trip to Glacier NP and all the other NPís in Wyoming.
The traffic picks up entering Colorado, so I canít get a photo of the state sign, as it came so quickly. Around Fort Collins I make it off the highway to call my friends in Boulder. With the high traffic, I donít think I can make it back onto I-25. I try talking to the retirees that run the welcome center, but theyíre all aggressive drivers, and see no problem getting back on the highway. At this point, I-25 is terribly rough, and all the bumps bounce me around badly. After calming down a bit, I manage to find a hole in the traffic, and make it back into the flow of I-25. Magically, others on the road give me a wide berth, not wanting to be in-front or behind me. Finally, sensible drivers!
Off the highway and heading down the diagonal highway to Boulder, Iím so happy to have made it. Though as I pull into Habitat apartments at 5:02 pm and the leasing staff are leaving for the night, I figure itís time to go to my friends place and call it a night. Especially knowing that driving 3,300 miles to Boulder is only the first step to the adventure of this move. Next task is finding a place to live, and after that a new job. Then the adventure will be overÖ. Or at least the most recent adventure ;)