Juneau to Anchorage

The following are excerpts from my journal, unedited… from the 3-week drive from Seattle to Anchorage. This is Part 3 of 3. Or go back to Part 2  

Route, 848 Miles

8/26, Monday (Juneau to Quill Creek, Yukon)

“5:30 AM, water on the windshield and a soft drizzle, this is Juneau. No sun in 12 days.”

“I overheard the term for the retired folks who travel in Australia – Grey Nomads. Even though I’m not grey and nomadic now, I hope to be nomadic still when I’m grey.” 

“… perfect country, with the peaks rising high and jagged with their spines and sawtooth ridges. The Chilkat River, with its grey corners finding purpose amongst an assortment of rock islands that stretch to the horizon.”

“At Canadian Customs I started to get the drill again, but when I told her that I had been on the road for 5 months looking for a new home, she perked up and laid off… "Well that’s kinda cool,” she said.

“… in between passing rain showers and no passing cars, I saw my first brown bear, a grizzly I think… not a big one but on a mission for something, sauntering along, didn’t even notice me.”

“I don’t know if it was a lot of coffee, emotions, the murder mystery I’m reading or the camp spot next to the road, maybe a combo?, but I felt alone and scared for the first time in a very long time. I awoke often, heard many fictitious noises, and kept peaking to see when morning would come and my brain could rest. I was disappointed that this irrational fear had made a return, but I couldn’t turn it off. About 4:30AM, the light in the East grew stronger, and I finally got some sleep.”

8/27, Tuesday (Quill Creek, Yukon to Yarger Lake Camp)

“Groggy wakeup, around 9:30, after losing that hour yesterday only to regain it today. Not really sure why I’m keeping track of time as if it really matters.”

“… I felt something change today, like the way you feel rain coming… and that change was Fall. I felt it, it asked me to use two blankets for the first time since May in Oregon, it asked me to wear my down jacket more often than not, it asked me whether I really wanted to take that swim at lunch, to which I answered No but would later answer yes, YES! It’s the time of year where the No Vacancy signs remove the No and the first dusting of snow reaches the uppermost heights, as it did when I reentered the Yukon and saw the Yuke (as I like to call it) alive with real mountains, not merely an infinite pine tree in these parts.”

“I drove down the narrow dirt road to Yarger Lake to inspect (although it was earlier than I had planned on stopping). Saw that all of the requirements existed here, so I pulled into site #11, right on the water, collected fire wood, and had my first naked swim in some time.”

“After my gut-bomb dinner and quickly-burning but adequate campfire, I turned to the Lake for one last sunset peak before bed, around 8:30. The damn thing was fiery orange with purple and blue cloud reflections and the Wrangell-St Elias Range’s jagged teeth standing in a noble upright stance in the far distance, near the horizon. My brain was quiet, except for the thought that we had so many adventures ahead of us in this overwhelming place.”

8/28, Wednesday (Yarger Lake Camp to Nelchina Glacier pullout)

“Probably another 2 days to Anchorage, could do it in 1, but why rush to the big city?”

“Got to Tok and and finally got a gas break… $4.15/gallon, felt like I had just hit the lottery. Met Bradley, the rural mail carrier for these parts. He loves living in the Bush and he’s "got two ex-wives in the lower 48… couldn’t get far enough from ‘em.” He went on to warm me that 7 years ago, Tok reached -76.6F and that “trucks would drive in and their gears would freeze up.” Warning for keeping Donnie here longer than his fill :)

“Talked to mom, told her I was eating Ramen. "You’ve resorted to that?” she said… little does she know about its perfect body-warming qualities on days like today.“

"At 2:30 I made pancakes for the first time (great decision) and was eating them off my cutting board overlooking the Cooper River, when a couple from the Netherlands stopped. The old woman thought I was painting (Europeans), but I told her it was only pancakes that were painting my belly. She was very disappointed.”

“After being stuck behind the school bus for the first time in 12 years,  I met the road Laborer [what they call those who operate the stop/slow signs up here]. Kendall and I talked the whole 10 minutes I was waiting, and I learned why the laborers were almost all female. She said, "My theory is that if you’re going to tell someone they’re about to wait 10 minutes, they might take that better from a woman.” 

“Found a nice pullout by the Nelchina glacier and typed a letter to Kyle about the Internet and made pork chop tacos and started reading, getting back to my road rhythm just to get out of it again tomorrow… the eternal change that the road is so good at.

8/29, Thursday (Nelchina Glacier pullout to Anchorage)

"… cold morning, need to check the elevation, I may have been higher than I thought. Temps felt below 40 for the first time in some time.”

“Put on the arctic pack boots[knee-high rubber boots with insulator] - who knew how handy these would become? - could I have ever imagined trotting around Alaska in these things when I was 16 and looking through the LL Bean catalog to buy them? The answer to that rhetorical question is no, definitely no. But that I liked prancing around in the snow, shoveling the snow on the coldest Midwest mornings could or should have been foreshadowing of some sort.”

“This section of the highway (entering the Chugach Mountains) was the best since leaving Seattle – behind the first 4-5,000 foot peaks laid taller snow-covered peaks, their spines proudly boasting "climb me if you dare,” their hanging glaciers somehow hanging on for dear life… and on-n-on into the infinite imagination. You know from the topographic map that an ice sea exists just out of the vision of the eye, which stokes the imagination that much more.“

"Found a perfect lil’ pullout to make a bulging brunch and stare at the Chugach Range, which rose above a river and pines and foothills and more pines to the waterfalls that led to the glacier terminus. It’s brunches like this, letting this place that isn’t home but also is home, fill you completely with that feeling of Home. A feeling of ownership - you own it and it owns you, an equal respect between land and man. Here at this pullout, I felt home.”

“Entering Palmer and then Anchorage was, not surprisingly, a bit of a shock. The comforts of community living - mostly grocery stores and strip malls and gas stations, plus other scars on the landscape - are unavoidable, unless you leave. The benefit is you get gas for $3.85/gallon and free wifi with a $2.50 cup of coffee. Amazing how quickly the wilderness butts up to the Land-of-Man out here. Bam… just like that… back in a city, a proper city, that is Anchorage… over 250,000 people, skyscrapers, a downtown, midtown, suburbs, etc. Not sure what I expected, but not something this big.”

“… easy to be down on a place when you come in from the Bush on a dreary, rainy day. And so with that in mind, off to some lettered and numbered street I went to street-sleep with Donnie.”

The van parked at Quill Creek, a spooky spot for some reason
One of the many braided rivers I would start to see in Alaska
A gorgeous sunset as I made my way to Anchorage
My first view of the Chugach Range coming into mainland Alaska
Mother moose and her calf on the side of the road nearing Anchorage