Yes, it's road trip season. I did my part to prepare: the full-size spare, a couple of flares, tools, gloves, gas can and a bag of corn chips. Well, the corn chips were a gift from my neighbor. I ate most of them by the time I got to Eagle River.
My road trips this month are split into bite-size parts. The first was to get to Haines and to the Alaska Marine Highway.
Even in mid-May, the big lakes still are frozen on both sides of the border. The green buds are just barely sprouting, so the hillsides are gray and brown as more snow melts away. Still, the beautiful vistas at the Matanuska Glacier, at Kluane Lake and the Haines summit are compelling. Go ahead — pull over and take some photos. Fear not — the bug count is low. The weather was kind to me: 40s and 50s the whole way with high overcast, affording uninterrupted views of the spectacular Wrangell Mountains. There was very little traffic.
Along the way, there's plenty of time to collect bits of useful information for the drivers still to come this summer. Here are some of the things I learned … by the numbers.
756: Number of miles from Anchorage to Haines. I've driven the route a couple of times, but not as many times as our state legislators. True story: just south of Tok yesterday, I passed a lobbyist who was returning from "a difficult session." Her vanity license plate gave her away!
33: number of litres of Canadian gas I bought for $50 at Haines Junction.
4: The number of CD audio books my neighbor gave me to listen to on the way: a little Stephen Colbert, a little John Grisham, but nothing too scary.
4: number of major highways between Anchorage and Haines. Glenn Hwy to Glennallen, Richardson Highway to Gakona, Tok Cutoff to Tok, Alaska Highway through the border to Haines Junction in the Yukon, then the Haines Highway into Haines. Actually the Alaska Marine Highway counts as a fifth highway. Right now, we're passing cruise ships down Lynn Canal to Auke Bay/Juneau.
3: Number of different states/provinces you'll travel through: Alaska, the Yukon and a thin slice of British Columbia before re-entering Alaska near Haines. You'll cross two borders: into Canada 90 miles southeast of Tok and back into the U.S. outside of Haines.
99: The number of dollars I spent to stay overnight at Young's Motel in Tok. Bronk Jorgensen runs the "All Alaska Gift Shop" at the "T" where the Tok Cutoff intersects the Alaska Highway. He gave me the heads-up on lodging in Tok: "Young's is really convenient since Fast Eddy's restaurant is right next door."
4: Number of different beers on tap at Fast Eddy's. They're all from Alaskan Brewing in Juneau. I opted for the Icy Bay IPA. It's one of my favorites.
2: Number of scoops of ground coffee I used to fix my own cup in the room at Young's. Oh, they have the pre-packaged coffee-by-the-cup. But since I travel with the Aeropress system, I just used the in-house coffee maker to spit out the hot water. Then I poured it into the compact plastic contraption for a top-notch cup of coffee.
3: Number of black bear cubs that I scared when I rounded a corner near Kluane Lake between the border and Haines Junction. Later down the road, a big boar hesitated for a moment so I could take a picture.
6: Number of young caribou that ran across the Tok Cutoff in front of me near Chistochina.
2: Number of road construction sites that required a hard stop. That's not counting the two border stops. There was one on the Glenn Highway before Sheep Mountain Lodge. The road crews are working hard to cut away a mountain that had a habit of spilling boulders on the roadway. There was another delay right outside of Haines along the Chilkat River. There are crews on both sides of the border continuously filling in potholes and regrading stretches of road damaged by frost heaves. If you see a sign that says "bump" or "road damage," go ahead and slow down. If you see paint marking off an area on the road — that's code for a really bad bump: slow way down.
6: The number of hours to drive from Anchorage to Tok. The next day, it took me about eight hours to drive from Tok to Haines. It took me a little longer because I was stopping for photos, but not for meals. I waited to eat at my destination.
1. The number of Holland America cruise ships that call in to Haines each week. Wednesday is cruise day. All of the Chilkat River rafting tours, eagle-watching expeditions and other activities are in full swing. So is internet usage. When the ship docks, it boosts the town's population by about 2,600 people. Everyone's checking their email and posting on Facebook — and the network speeds slow down.
I arrived too late to visit the Hammer Museum in Haines. Don't make that mistake. The kids love it. It's right on main street and has all manner of hammers on display. It's one of many local treasures in Haines.