Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Epic Roadtrip

We have always loved roadtrips. A few years ago, we took a mega road trip from Colorado to North Carolina and down to Alabama and Texas, seeing all the family and friends we could squeeze in along the way. Our total for that trip was 63 hours of driving time. This road trip up to Alaska would be almost 60 hours one way. That's what Aaron calls "epic."

Our first two days felt like a pretty normal road trip--driving all day and stopping to enjoy the hospitality of family. Monday we went into new roadtrip territory--leaving the country.

Monday, June 20
220 miles, 5 hours
After stopping at one of our old favorite stores, WinCo, to buy some roadtrip and camping food, and then stopping in the last town in the US to find a thrift store where we could get Aaron a couple shirts to wear to work since we had accidentally packed them all in the moving truck, we decided that a good goal for the day would be to just get through Canadian customs, drive past Vancouver, and find a lovely spot to camp.

Getting through customs proved to be quite an ordeal. Since my husband is a hunter with very strong protective instincts we'll just say, he could not fathom camping in the Canadian wilderness without some form of protection from bears. Of course he declared this at customs, which apparently made them concerned that he was stashing other things in there, so they did a full search of the vehicle. Meaning they take everything out and you have to pack it all back in.

At least the kids got a break from the car while we tried to get them to sit respectably in the customs waiting area with only the Canadian News to divert their attention. We couldn't even use the bathroom without express permission from the officer handling our family, and since he was busy, we got to wait.

Once in Canada, we soon discovered that it is absolutely gorgeous. Yes, Washington was lovely, too, but things seemed to get more stunning as we drove further north. I was really impressed with the city of Vancouver. It is a HUGE city that just had a really cool feel. Something about it reminded me of the city of Luzern, Switzerland. I liked it a lot. Note to self: when we have more time and money, go back and take a vacation in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Our trusty roadtrip guide, the Milepost, described the awesome scenic route called the Sea to Sky highway. The views were stunning, with mountains jutting right out of the sea.

These sea to sky views also reminded me of some places in the Alps.
We saw an awesome campsite right on the water, but it was full. Just a mile or two up the road, there was another campsite. It was definitely dinnertime and we were ready to get our campstove cooking and set up camp for the night.
This campground was on the other side of the road, so it drew the mountain climbing bunch rather than the seafaring crowd. This mountain face, Stawamus Chief, is apparently the second largest granite monolith in the world. It seemed to be some sort of granola mecca. I don't know if I've ever seen so many dreadlocks in one place. The surrounding view was awesome, but the campsites were basically a gravel spot for your car another spot about the same size for your tent, right next to the next campers. Not much place for the kids to roam free, but luckily Xander and Elodie were great at exploring close by. I just had to hold Hazel until she was ready for bed.
We fired up our sweet propane stove and whipped up some cheesy rice with broccoli and cauliflower in no time. Delicious food, gorgeous view, the best people in the world--needless to say, we all had a great time! Aaron set up the tent for him and Xander and Elodie. We decided it would help more people sleep if I just slept in the car with Hazel.

Tuesday, June 21
300 miles, 7 hours

A little past William's Lake, we were ready to cook some dinner and enjoy the evening. We found a quaint little country campsite behind a mom and pop general store where there was plenty of grass for the kids to run around. I've never been a huge fan of hot dogs, so I whipped up some spinach soup concoction that Aaron affectionately called "Skunk Soup." Yes, I did throw in the rest of the road trip carrot sticks that had been sitting in a cooler since we left Denver (my father passed on his complete inability to waste food, even if it may be on the verge of rotten), but I was very careful not to put in the "skunky" ones, as Aaron dubbed them when he unexpectedly bit into one earlier that day on the road. Skunk Soup was actually pretty tasty, but with a name like that, Xander and Elodie weren't too keen on trying it, so the rest of the fam enjoyed their fire-roasted dogs and left all the nutrients for me to enjoy!
Hazel LOVED the chance to stretch.
She was ecstatic to have room to roll.
Wednesday, June 22
600 miles, 13 hours

We didn't really mean to drive so far on Wednesday. We made it to Prince George around lunchtime and found an awesome park. The town had a great, family-friendly feel. I found myself really falling in love with British Columbia! The kids would have liked to stay at that park the rest of the day, but we managed to get them back in the confines of the car. They are really amazing travelers. After two nights of camping, it seemed like we had earned a shower and a night in a real bed. Plus, our Milepost warned that there were a lot of bears in the area, and Aaron didn't particularly want to risk camping with bears on the prowl. So when we got to Hazelton and a cluster of towns at the junction, we started looking for a Bed and Breakfast. After two nights of sleeping in the car with Hazel (trying to sleep, that is), I was really hoping for a place with an adjoining room or somewhere we could tuck Hazel where I was not in her line of sight. We discovered that our trusty Milepost didn't list every B&B, so we were just trying to keep our eyes peeled. We passed one--it was too late to make the turn, so we blew past. Not wanting to turn back, we decided we'd wait for the next. Whoops, we passed another one, I think. But there were still some more towns coming soon, according to the book, and we were all still feeling good, so we kept driving. Those towns had no B&B's, so we kept going, hoping to find just the perfect place. We got onto the Cassiar Highway, which turns out to be the most isolated stretch of road we encountered our whole trip. Mile after mile after mile there were gorgeous mountain views and amazing forests and not a sign of civilization beyond the paved road. No lodging for us. At nearly 10:00, we came to the Bell 2 Lodge. Not the quaint B&B I had been hoping for, but a very nice-looking, new lodge with lots of cute little cabins. It did not look cheap, but since it was the only lodging we'd seen in 2 hours, we didn't have much room for bargain hunting. There was only one room left, and they were about to close for the night. The lady said she thought there was another place about 1 1/2 further down the road. So yes, they could charge us whatever they wanted. And we paid it, grateful for a safe, comfortable place to sleep!
Once again, Hazel was so excited to have room to MOVE!
The lodge was really nice and the beds were super comfy. While there was only one room (it was a 4-plex cabin type thing), the bathroom was large enough for Hazel to sleep in, so we got a pretty good night's rest. The fact that it was still broad daylight when we arrived at nearly 10:00 sure helped make the extended drive that day very doable. And the blackout curtains did their job nicely.
Thursday, June 23
460 miles, 11 hours

Not too far from Bell 2 Lodge, we saw this little guy. When we stopped to get a picture, he came right up to our car. I guess Elodie wanted a better view, so she started rolling down her window. Aaron kinda freaked out 'cause the bear was right by her window and started to try to put its nose in the car. Aaron got her window up in a flash and took away her roll-down power. Then the bear mosied around to the back and tried to climb on the tailgate hitch haul thing, so Aaron decided it was time to drive outta there.
For lunch, we stopped by a beautiful river and cooked up the most delicious Ramen noodles and leftover hot dogs ever. We must have been really hungry. Or maybe it had just been too long since our last hot meal. Breakfast was not included at the lodge, and I couldn't bring myself to spend $40 on breakfast after what we'd just dumped on lodging, so we shook up some powdered milk and had cold cereal for breakfast. And with the late arrival the night before, we had eaten roadtrip munchies for dinner.
I wanted to cook up some tasty tortilla soup, but it started raining right after we stopped to cook. Too hungry to be deterred, we opted for the much faster Ramen noodles. Ramen has never tasted better. And gratefully, it was just a quick mountain thunderstorm, so it was over before the food was ready. Again, what a gorgeous, peaceful setting. These leisurely meal breaks were some of the highlights of our trip.
Later that day, after making it to a new territory, the Yukon, and a new Highway, the Alaska Highway, Xander got to learn what a Totem Pole is.
In all of our days on the road, we had not yet stopped at any type of restaurant to eat. After seeing the bear, Aaron had determined that he did not want to cook dinner at the same place we camped, and we had already stopped to cook lunch, so it seemed like the perfect time to go out for dinner. Here's the classy joint we ended up with--Wolf It Down. Yes, that is the name of the restaurant. The food was overpriced and mediocre. Aaron and I agreed that the Ramen noodles at lunch tasted better. Ah well.
The day had been long and the night short, so in no time, Xander was asleep and Elodie ahd to go to the bathroom.
This was the next rest stop, complete with portapotty and informative signs about the native peoples of the area. of course the view in person was far more spectacular than my pathetic photography can capture.
The bear had made Aaron hesitant about camping in a tent that night, and the price of lodging made me hesitant about that option, so Aaron had the bright idea that we could lay down the seats in the Beast and all camp in the car. What fun! Well, if we were going to sleep in the car, there was no sense in stopping. The kids would be sleeping in the car either way. It was still daylight and we were still feeling chipper, so why stop? At around 11:00, we found a campsite and pulled in. Aaron rearranged the car and we all tried to sleep. Xander and Elodie thought it was pretty fun at first. Too fun. How are you supposed to just fall asleep when it's still light and you're all squished in there like a party? It was really hard for everyone to be quiet enough for Hazel to fall asleep. And it was super hot and stuffy with all of us breathing and the sun shining in, but the cloud of mosquitos outside prevented us from opening the windows. Did I mention that it was a little squishy? Somehow, Elodie fell asleep and said she slept great, but Aaron, Xander and I kept rolling into each other. And hazel kept waking up, of course. By 5:00 in the morning, we were done trying to sleep. There was nothing to do but get back on the road. We had planned 8 days to make the epic drive so we could take it easy and just enjoy it, but we somehow accidentally kept doing 11 hour days.

Friday, June 24
450 miles, 10 1/2 hours

Our stop at Kluane Lake was the highlight of the day. We stopped for lunch and cooked ourselves up a nice pot of spaghetti with green beans on the side. I tell you what, with the help of that camp kitchen set-up you see above, we ate well on this trip!
Fearless Xander did not care that this gigantic lake is in the Yukon and thus FREEZING. He had a lovely little wade.
The kids totally loved the beach time. While we were enjoying our leisurely lunch break, a tour bus from Alaska stopped there and we got to chat with a bunch of retired couples who were on a sea and land tour of Alaska, doing a tour bus loop from Anchorage, up to Fairbanks, down through the Yukon and back to Alaska at Skagway, and then on a cruise ship back up to Anchorage. Something like that anyway. It sounded pretty cool. And they got to enjoy our darling children and our unusual antics of cooking spaghetti on the side of the road.
Since we had gotten such an early start on the day and those summer days are so very long, Aaron just couldn't wait to get into Alaska itself. We danced and sang around this sign. It felt like victory! Alaska or bust? We'll take Alaska, thanks. No busting for us! Oh yeah!
We could have made it to Delta Junction that night, but we had no where to stay there since we had told our landlords we'd meet them early Saturday afternoon, not late Friday night. I kinda wanted to get our family a cleaned up a bit before making our first impression on our new landlords, and we definitely needed a good night's rest after the car camping attempt, so we found a B&B in Tok (where Aaron will sometimes be filling in the gaps at the clinic, about 2 hours from Delta) that had a 2 bedroom cabin available. Xander and Elodie got to sleep in the loft room, which they found pretty cool. And Hazel had the family room all to herself for the night. We had a bed and a door so Hazel couldn't see me. Wow. It was luxurious. And since it was a B&B, we had an amazing home-cooked breakfast of blueberry pancakes and eggs and reindeer sausage and fruit. Fantastic. Cheap? Not so much. But it's all relative--at least it was less than Bell 2 Lodge!
Saturday, June 25
100 miles, 2 hours
Yes, it was the end of June and this river was just thawing! Welcome to Alaska, right?

May I just add that my amazing husband drove the ENTIRE way. I just got to sit back and enjoy the ride. And entertain three darling children. :)


Rachel Sorber said...

W-O-W. You guys are up for the HIGH adventure! You have an excellent attitude for road trips, and it makes times like that priceless. I cannot boast the same sort of attitude, and so we do little road trips. Not very often. But it sounds like a great family-bonding experience, and I'm glad you shared it with us. It looks like you'll be having a wonderful adventure up there!!! :)

Karen said...

Yay for blogs where we can keep up with exciting people such as yourselves! Thanks for taking us along for the l-o-n-g ride to your new home. That was awesome. You are amazing, and your family is beautiful and sweet. What a wonderful adventure you are having!!!!!

Mirien said...

I've been waiting weeks to hear about this trip! WOW! You are pretty amazing, little sister. Can't imagine doing that trip with my crew! Makes me miss the simpler days when they were little! (Not to say that your days are simple--you've got plenty to do, I'm sure!)

Melayna said...

So fun to experience this with you! Well, kind of . . . :-) I am so pumped to come up and visit! Beautiful place and way fun people -- I can't wait! :-)

Maryann said...

Wow, what a trip! I'll admit, it makes me a wee bit jealous. I'll have to see if I can convince my husband into a long road trip. Hope you are enjoying Alaska!!!

Marliese said...

Holy Moly. I am impressed with how ably you conquered that road trip, and then how thorough your travelogue was! With picture documentation and everything. Love that cute bear picture! (I know "cute" is not a word Aaron uses to describe bears.)

What I really love is your cheery disposition despite tough sleeping and eating conditions. Does anything ever get you and Aaron down? Not much. I admire that about you two.

arizonamama said...

How fun! So glad you blogged about it. The pictures are fantastic! We love road trips too. How long will you be in Alaska? We'd love to do a road trip up there too and perhaps stay a while, while Lynn does clinicals... We'll see but your blog made me excited about the possibility.

Millard said...

Thanks for putting those beautiful pictures up for us to enjoy. The mountains, forests, rivers, and wildlife were enjoyable, too. Reindeer sausage sounds good.

jeannie said...

I love that I know you guys! Thanks for sharing your super fun trip with us! I hope to be as positive and energetic about life as your family is! Love you!