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Friday, June 20, 2014

CHANGE OF PLANS - BIG & SMALL


Yes I know we frequently change plans, but this trip has been preplanned with 4 bookings: 3 ferries & camping in Denali, so we would prefer no changes.

The next morning we head to the Canol Road. No signs & the police we have spoken to don’t know if it is open or closed. So after stopping to look at the old rusty trucks at the start of the drive we head off. 10km up the road there is a sign “Road Closed”, but the barrier is not closed & a vehicle has already come through. After having lunch & seeing no other vehicles we decide to change our plans. The maps are out. Yes we will go to Skagway instead, No looking back, we are off. As we near the coast the weather clouds over & starts to get downright chilly. At the mountainous pass it chills down even more, with lots of snowy patches on desolate high country .It is stark & beautiful. We even meet our first Grizzly Bear- I am definitely not getting out of GR2 to take photos - he looks big & cranky.  It is misty as we descend into Skagway USA – an incredibly touristy little town with a population of about 900, but up to 8000 when the cruise ships come in  – it is a totally renovated mining town. There are 2 massive cruise ships in, and we (I don’t mean us, I mean GR2) become the centre of attention. GR2 gets more photos taken of her than the main street. We know there is free camping at the Nat Pak, so we decide to stay in town for dinner, and then head out to the Dyea Camping Area.

We wake to rain. So we head back over the pass & border back into Canada, out of the rain, and on towards Carcross. Here we stop for bread & end up having delicious soup & cinnamon rolls. Yum! So much for losing weight! The rhubarb scones are pretty good too. Finally we head on to the Klondike Highway (by now we have learnt an incredible amount of info about the gold rush). Pass the very gorgeous Emerald Lake & Miles Canyon on our way to Whitehorse. Here we stop to explore the SS Klondike (free tour), an amazing old steam ship, and the engrossing McBride Museum (also free). Even I find the museum fascinating! Finally leave at closing time. Camp Wal-mart is full of RV’s, but we decide to head on as the weather is so perfect. Finally stopping at Twin Lakes.

Today we detour past Frenchman’s Lake– another magic campspot – but not for us today. We have more miles to cover. Three stops worth mentioning today. Five Finger Rapids, with a brisk walk to the river, a local cultural museum at Minto with a very helpful Athabascan girl, and another Grizzly Bear.

 Finally reach Dawson City with its quaint new replica, old restored, semi restored & derelict buildings. It is a gorgeous hot afternoon so we explore town while eating ice creams. Some of the local girls are even out in their bikinis!! Bump into old Swiss friends we met on the road in Peru years ago. They are at a camp ground – so we arrange to meet them there later. First we head out to Dredge No 4 (25km out of town) to look around. A quick visit, as we are heading to the show at Diamond Tooth Gerties – a real traditional music hall show with lots of cancan dancing. Heaps of fun. Finally to the National Park Camp beside the Yukon River. To get there we need to use the free ferry. After a very late dinner we sit around our camp fire chatting to our friends until the wee hours (very easy to do as it just doesn’t get dark all night)

The next morning we return to town to check out the lookout. This means using the ferry twice. The second time is a much longer wait as there are 3 fifth wheelers & they are enormous. Then on to the “Top of the World Highway,” and into Alaska. This is a very desolate stretch of dirt road following a ridge high up in the mountains. At the border into USA the only concern they have is our firewood – so we off load our collection & head on. The previous group of motorhomes have a whole Ute load to empty out! Finally we reach the gold mining area of Chicken. It is a tiny place with a few shops & heaps of RV parks. There is another huge dredge here & lots of chicken stuff (surprise, surprise!) It is getting late, but we decide to push on to Tok where we fill up with diesel, (cheaper than Canada) water & some fresh food in readiness for our 3 night stay in Denali Nat Park. Then find a quiet spot beside the Tok River for the night.

Today is Wednesday. The plan is to follow the Glen Highway south until we meet the Richardson Highway, then head north until we meet the gravel Denali Highway to drive the scenic route through to the National Park, where we are booked tomorrow night. We are nearly there, the weather is perfect & the scenery just keeps getting better when……We overheat. Unfortunately John has to tilt the cab to top up the water, which means unbolting before tilting. It takes a lot of water. We head onto the Denali Highway. The light comes on again. Again tilt & refill. We make the decision to head to Delta Junction rather than the Nat Pk. Back on the main road we stop every 6km to top up the water. We have a long way to go. The scenery is gorgeous – Summit Lake is still frozen over & the Polychrome Hills look awesome. Fortunately some vehicles stop – they will ring us a tow truck when they get into ph range. We stop for the night in an obvious spot & go to bed at 11pm, only to be woken by the tow truck rolling in at midnight. GR2 is hitched up & towed all the way to Fairbanks. We arrive at 3.30am getting the chance to watch the sun slide down & then rise up again shortly afterwards. At no stage did it get dark.  We also get to see quite a few moose (we had been told it was easier to see them at night)

Later that morning we head off to a truck repair yard. It sure won’t be fixed before the weekend, & parts will have to come up from the States. John heads off to get a rental car & I get onto Skype to try to find some accommodation at the Park. We decide to go the full hog and book an all inclusive place right inside the park at Kantishna for 3 nights. So Friday morning we head off. As warned, it is a longish drive with lots of roadworks, and we just make it in time for the bus. Private cars are not allowed inside the park. Our bus isn’t very full so we can move around to take photos. And there are lots of photo opportunities. Dall sheep up on the ridges, caribou grazing, a grizzly wandering on the road & holding up 4 buses, and best of all a mother bear & her 2 clubs with a kill. Great stuff.

The next 2 days are spent going on long hikes, bike riding (John), gold panning (Lynda- I even have a speck to bring home), a great talk about the Iditarod (the 1049 mile sled dog race in March from Anchorage to Nome) including seeing the dogs in action  & chatting to new friends. Our last day starts very early so that we will be out of the park by 1pm. Another great ride with glimpses of Mt Denali & more wildlife. We farewell our new friends & head back to GR2 to camp at the workshop. Hope it won’t be for too much longer.

Sadly not much seems to have happened while we were gone. John decides to check online himself. The next day GR2 is inside the workshop being pulled apart. Bonus for me – I have full range Wifi so can Skype, do some MYOB work & change our ferry bookings (It doesn’t look as if we will make them, so better to change them now). Eventually we are pushed back outside & lose our Wifi.

The next day some parts are located & will be air freighted from Seattle. It is raining so we head to the Museum of the North for the day. Actually it is pretty awesome, with so much info our heads are stuffed full. My favorite exhibit is the loo, & then the exquisite embroidered/beaded outfits.

The parts didn’t arrive so we have another day up our sleeve. It is still wet, so we head to North Pole to visit Santaland. We spend much more time in the shop than usual & even chat with Santa. Then a long drive to Chena Hot Springs for lunch & a long soak in an outdoor rock pool. Parts of it are extremely hot. Back to GR2, but instead of sitting in all evening we head to Pioneer Park to explore the old paddle steamer, old buildings relocated from town & go to the hilarious musical comedy at The Palace Theatre- the show pokes fun at Fairbanks & why the heck people live here! Excellent. Can't wait to get out of here.

Friday – finally our parts arrive & GR2 is towed back inside the workshop – fingers crossed. It would be lovely to get out of here before the weekend!
Stop press news: It is 5pm & she is finally going! The sun is shining. All is good in the world.

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