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yukon ho!

Years ago, I made a plan with Rhiannon that when she was ready to start law school, I’d help her with the drive from Fairbanks to the “Lower 48”. I’d make it my big vacation for the year, and we’d have a leisurely two week adventure driving the Alaska Highway across the Canadian wilderness.

With my engagement to Nancy this year, however, my priorities have understandably changed. But I didn’t want to go back on my promise to help Rhiannon move, so she and I reworked the plan so we would need less than a week to drive from Fairbanks to Portland, where Rhiannon is starting law school.

So I hopped on the “red-eye” flight north to Fairbanks on a Friday evening just before sunset, with San Francisco Bay visible out of the window to the west. (San Francisco is on the middle left, the Marin Headlands are on the middle right, and Oakland is on the bottom. The little dark spot just to the left of the sun’s reflection in the bay is Alcatraz Island.)

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I arrived in Fairbanks in the wee hours of the morning, and it was already light! Rhiannon was there to meet me, and we drove back to her place, where I proceeded to get in a full eight hours sleep. Next morning, some of Rhiannon’s friends came by to help with the final apartment cleanup and loading of the truck.

Here are Rhiannon’s friend Kim, Rhiannon, Terry (Trevor’s father), and Terry’s friend Rob.

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Rhiannon already had the UHaul mostly loaded, so by mid-afternoon, everything was ready to go. Rhiannon put Trevor in his car seat, then loaded her two dogs in the back of the truck, and we were off!

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Our goal on Saturday was to drive the 200 miles to the town of Tok, near the Canadian border. That took about 5 hours, and we learned a couple of valuable lessons: 1) a four-cylinder truck can’t pull a fully-loaded UHaul up a mountain very quickly, and 2) travelling with two dogs and a nine-month old baby means lots of rest stops! :-) Fortunately, Rhiannon had already accounted for all this in her planning.

Along the way, we got a glimpse of the Alaska Range to the south of us.

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Sunday we crossed over into Canada, and we stopped for the obligatory tourist photo.

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This was a longer driving day, 10 hours and almost 400 miles from Tok to Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon Territory. We stopped for lunch at a town called Destruction Bay on Kluane Lake.

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I found the Yukon to have the most beautiful scenery of the whole trip (along with northern British Columbia). This is wilderness!

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Monday was scheduled to be our longest driving day: more than 600 miles and 14 hours from Whitehorse to Fort Nelson, British Columbia. Little did we know just how long it would really take! We were up at 6am and were on the road a little after 7. Somewhere around Watson Lake, we ran into a 20 mile stretch of road construction. The sometimes narrow and twisty “AlCan” highway is being widened and straightened, which will be great for future travellers, but for us it meant more than an hour’s delay.

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But eventually we got through it.

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As the day wore on the clouds built up, threatening rain.

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We passed by Muncho Lake…

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… and Stone Mountain, at the highest elevation of the whole journey.

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The steep slopes slowed us down considerably, and fierce thunderstorms broke out. Even with the long northern day, it was fully dark before we reached Fort Nelson not long before midnight. It was worth it, though, because the scenery was fantastic! The mountains lit by lightning were breathtaking.

Along the way (before it got dark) I got a snapshot of some mountain goats (or are they mountain sheep?) watching us drive by. The momma goat/sheep is in the middle of the picture, but you may have to search the picture a bit to find the baby! :-)

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In the morning, the storm clouds were gone, and the weather was nice and sunny for the rest of the trip. Here are Crasher and Leo, Rhiannon’s dogs, waiting patiently for us to load up for Tuesday’s leg: over 500 miles and 12 hours to Prince George.

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Heading south from Fort Nelson there was more traffic and more frequent towns, and we started to drive by farms and ranches. It was still pretty sparse by Lower 48 standards, but after the previous few days in the wilderness it felt practically rural! :-) Though the scenery was pretty, I was still quite tired (surprise!) from the previous day, so I didn’t take any pictures on Tuesday.

Wednesday we drove from Prince George, BC to Bellingham, Washington; almost 500 miles in 10 scheduled hours. But the area south of Prince George is an interior plateau that is semi-arid, which we didn’t expect. It was over 90 degrees with a hot headwind that both slowed us down and sapped our morale. Finally we reached that valley’s southern point, where it narrows into a canyon the winds steeply down toward Vancouver and the cool Pacific breezes revived us.

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Near Boston Bar, we saw what looked like heavy clouds ahead. I said that it looked like we were in for more thunderstorms, but Rhiannon pointed out that these clouds were red-tinged on the bottom. As we got closer, it became clear that there was a mighty big forest fire out there somewhere.

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Fortunately for us the fire was not threatening the road so traffic was being allowed through, though some area residents had been evacuated. As we passed under the cloud of smoke, it dimmed the sun to a deep red and the scenery took on the look of sunset twilight. It was very eerie.

With all the delays, it was late before we crossed the border into Washington. Fortunately, Rhiannon had planned a short last leg into Portland, so we got to catch up on sleep in Bellingham.

Thursday was the final day: 250 easy miles of Interstate highway in 4 hours to Portland. It was refreshing to be back in “civilization”, but it also seemed very crowded! :-)

We reached Portland in the early afternoon, and found Rhiannon’s new place. Then we started unloading the UHaul.

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Crasher and Leo were not much help with the unloading and unpacking, but Trevor was very happy to finally be in his new home!

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Friday I got to meet Trevor’s aunts and grandparents (Terry’s family lives in Portland), and I helped them move some furniture they were donating to Rhiannon. I caught the Saturday morning flight from Portland back home, went straight to bed and didn’t wake up till Sunday morning. The whole drive was 2500 miles, but my favorite places were all in the first couple of days in the wilderness of the Yukon and northern British Columbia. Nancy and I will definitely want to vacation there someday, though at a much more leisurely pace! :-)

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