Ceremonially leaving Alaska. #alaska #yukonyerritory (Taken with Instagram)
We woke up late this morning, assuming we’d have an easy 324-mile drive from Tok, AK to Whitehorse, YK. It was not meant to be. The sun was bright and warm as we left Tok for the 90-mile jaunt to the border. Papa was driving the U-Haul at a good clip, and the traffic was lighter than I expected. We stopped for a couple of potty breaks and for gas before we made the border, but things looked really promising for an uneventful but beautiful drive through the Yukon Territory.
The big YK sign at the border proved far-too cool to bypass, so we stopped for pictures. I noticed some very fresh bear poop on the grass near the sign, and I warned everyone to steer clear and keep an eye out for the bruin. Cole has been sick for two days now, and in his delirious state, he walked right through it. But we didn’t know this until he got back in the car, which promptly filled with the nasty aroma of whatever that bear had for breakfast this morning. We were all still gagging and holding our shirts over our our noses when we pulled up to Canadian customs. Driving into the Yukon is an interesting reminder of just how small we are in this world. We crossed so many wide rivers I lost count, and we drove in the shadow of so many peaks and saw so few people, it reminded me of a bigger, emptier Alaska. Like a leaden-gray wall in the distance, the Yukon opened up its waterworks for us as a welcoming sign. We left the sunshine in eastern Alaska and drove into a torrential furry that seemed somewhat normal for the surroundings, but it made for a miserable drive. Like doing a road trip in Oregon on spring break. We stopped and slapped ourselves silly trying to keep the mosquitoes off for a short trip to fetch salami out of the back of the truck or to order sandwiches at a Tasty Freeze. The road, or what might be called a road, or perhaps a trail, was so rough in spots we never traveled faster than 35 mph at times. You expect these patches on the Alaska Highway, but you cannot know how long and tedious they are until you finish a 324-mile drive 10-hours later and crash defeated into a hotel bed with the sick and snoring all around you. Towards Whitehorse, the trail picked up speed. my father-in-law took it up to 60, before the trailer started to weave back and forth dangerously. The other memorable part of today was the tremendously large dragon flies that I mowed down like so many windshield sacrifices. Ordinary bugs make their presence known with a gooey splat on the windshield, some of which you dread the task of trying to remove with the gas station squeegee later. Dragon flies in the Yukon look quite like a bird of prey coming through your windshield. I was so surprised by the sight of such large creatures smacking my windshield, that I actually flinched and swerved a few times. The second day is down, and the real test comes tomorrow. we have a 550-mile drive to stay on target. If we leave at 7 a.m., that puts us into Fort Nelson around 10 p.m., judging by these road conditions.
An auspicious start to the ALCAN. #alaska (Taken with Instagram)
This mountain compelled me to stop and record its purple majesty tonight. #alaska #mountains (Taken with Instagram)
The Matanuska Glacier. #alaska #glaciers (Taken with Instagram)
It’s 11:30 p.m. In Anchorage, and it’s light enough to see the dark storm rolling in. #alaska #weather (Taken with Instagram at Europa Bakery)
Today was a traumatic day for the kids, which means it was a traumatic day for their parents, of which I’m told I am one half.
We started the day with a cat we suspected was male and which we were calling Oliver. He showed up on our doorstep a month ago, and a week later we were feeding it. I think I was in the middle of reading about Hemingway’s cats when it happened, and I let me guard down a bit.
Knowing we couldn’t take the cat with us to Chicago, we decided to price out the cost of getting a health certificate in order to fly the cat to Seattle to live with some friends there until we decide if we want to buy a place in Chicago.
In order to facilitate the health certificate for the cat, we realized we’d need the same in order to transport Morris the leopard gecko with us across Canada and back into the United States.
While at the veterinarian, and while digesting a $92 bill for a health certificate for an 8-inch gecko, the doctor informed us that our little Morris was actually a girl. He actually showed us the private parts and then apologized to Morris saying, “I know, it’s improper.” Something he said several times to what I’m now calling Alanis Morrisette.
Isn’t it ironic?
In order to assuage our disbelief that Morris wasn’t the manly killer of crickets in his terrarium that we once thought he was, the doctor told us a story of male cats that have bladder stones and which then must undergo a sex change operation in order to survive the surgery.
Apparently the owners of these cats are frustrated at having to rename their cats after the surgery.
After the shock of learning Alanis (The Gecko) Morrisette’s real identity, we decided to forego the health inspection on the cat and have it checked for a microchip that might reveal who the cat’s owner was.
We went to Anchorage Animal Control, and the kind ladies at the front desk called a veterinary technician to perform a quick scan.
It turns out that the little cat we’d been calling Oliver for a month was actually a trouble maker named Sam.
We know from experience that Sam likes to jump into cars, and it seems that during a past move made by his owners in Eagle River, some 20-30 miles from Spenard, he must have become mixed up in a moving van and wound up on our doorstep, which is confusing for more reasons than just the obvious. I mean, how would you (Alaskan friends) like to wake up and find yourself on a doorstep in Spenard?
The Animal Control folks called the owners who were shocked that their little hunter and troublemaker was alive and well and living in Spenard. Within a half hour, we had reunited our new little buddy with his family and his twin brother.
But this was not without its problems. Cole was with us, while Carson and Gabrielle were with their grandparents. This meant that two of three would not get to say their proper goodbyes.
There is no way to prepare children for the unexpected loss of a pet. So why even try?
Cheryl broke the news to them, and Carson, as you might expect, was devastated. He couldn’t decide if he was more angry that he’d been calling Alanis (The Gecko) Morrisette Morris for more than two years or the fact that he didn’t get to say goodbye to Oliver/Sam.
All I know is this. With all the problems in the world, when your cat has a literal sex change or your lizard undergoes metaphorical sex change, your children are not going to handle it well. Handle with care, and realize that in the grand scheme of things, these little detours in life are just new experiences that are free or inexpensive, and you get to play psychiatrist, which, although extremely dangerous, is really quite fun.
Admittedly, I have done far more in Alaska than most people who dream of visiting this fine state will ever do.
The one thing I didn’t do is something visitors and Alaskans alike do almost everyday during the short but wonderful northern summer.
I have never caught an Alaskan salmon.
Reds, pinks, chums, kings, the names seem vainglorious and common all at once, but they, the legendary fish of Alaska’s pristine waters, are as elusive to me as my first million.
I have plied these waters from Prince William Sound to the Kasilof and Kenai Rivers with bait, yarn and lure. I filled my freezer with rock fish, cod and halibut, but I’ve never had the privilege of hooking a ferocious salmonid and fighting it to bank or boat.
Today I had the pleasure of realizing a dream I’ve had for many years now. Since the first time my father returned from a trip to Alaska with stories of barn-door halibut and fiery red sockey, I knew I wanted to go to Alaska and fish with my two favorite fishing buddies.
My dad and my brother and I don’t always catch fish, but something about just standing along some wild stretch of river or floating on a lake or on the ocean with these guys is good for me.
Nathan picked us up at 1 p.m., and we made the 2-hour drive to the Russian River Ferry, where we heard a small but steady stream of reds were making their way up the rim-full Kenai and Russian rivers.
We hopped on the primitive current-driven metal box that serves as a ferry and got in line with the 200-or-so anglers on the river.
The Kenai flop is not the easiest casting technique to learn but it’s close. It’s the repetitive motion, the constant snagging and the coordination with your often drunk river neighbors that make Alaskan combat fishing what it is.
Dad got the first big hit. It didn’t stay on long. My son, Cole got a good look at a red on the end of his line, and our buddy Nathan hooked into 8 or 9 fish, getting one all the way to the bank before it dislodged itself like Houdinii from a straight jacket.
I flopped all day without stopping other than to light my briar pipe. I tried fishing deep, shallow, on the bottom, mid current and by shaving the shoreline. I never hooked more than a piece of driftwood.
But it was fun to stand there in the river with my dad, my brother and my son. It was fun to watch my brother reel in a big red on his final cast. It was fun to talk about bears and those other things we fear.
I don’t fish to catch fish. Sometimes I wish I did. I angle because It’s one of the few social sporting activities out there that I can do with my friends and family in close proximity.
Don’t get me wrong, I would have loved to catch a salmon in Alaska. But I really enjoyed trying.
And it gives me ample reason to come back and visit some day.
Alaska combat fishing at its finest. #alaska #fishing (Taken with Instagram at Kenai Russian River Ferry)
Russian River red. #alaska #wildlife (Taken with Instagram)