Big Mac Drive Thru

Trip Start May 31, 2010
1
8
15
Trip End Jun 29, 2010


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Where I stayed
glacier view campground

Flag of United States  , Alaska
Friday, June 11, 2010

Wed 9th, Thu 10th

I'm partly deaf today. What's that you say? All will become clear....

Arose bright and early Wednesday - mainly to top up the charge on my camera batteries. I discovered a plug socket in the campers 'Pavilion' (glorified wooden outhouse with some sofa's) last night and the car charger / adapter for my camera is annoyingly the only one that doesn't work. I have my phone camera (used for this blog) so it's not a big deal, but figured I'd blag some free electricity before I left.

On a personal note to my family - Seaside Farm is reminiscent of Wilf's in Cornwall where we used to go most years for summer holidays, only with a better view. Remember how we hated using Wilf's toilets? Trust me, they were Hilton Hotel compared to the 'campers' toilet at Seaside Farm. The long drop toilets I spoke about the other day, although basic, are cleverly designed to air well and always smell fresh. The bonkers owners of Seaside Farm decided to build their own version - basically a cubicle with a wooden box over a hole. Not a very deep hole.... I only used it once and almost gagged, after which I'd just piss in the bushes and save the rest for a visit to town! Shudder!!

See what you're missing folks? Anyway, batteries charged and after a supply stop at Safeways, I was on the road.

The nature of the geography in Alaska means that much of the terrain is impassable. This and the relatively recent increase in tourism means the road network for the main is pretty arterial and many destinations require backtracking once visited. The central network is pretty well connected, but start venturing out peninsula's and you'll either have to retrace your steps or deal with ferries (expensive). It's not necessarily a bad thing - both instances for me so far have simply meant I get to see what was behind me on the way down. No bad thing here.

So my plans had changed to schedule in hooking up with Jeremy and Lou on the 15th, and after much consulting of maps I'd decided to head for the towns of McCarthy / Kennicott deep in Wrangel St Elias national park over on the eastern Interior - some 500+ miles away. From research, and now personal experience, I knew to set aside at least 2 days traveling for this. Back home 500 miles is still a fair trek, but factor in the road network here, a (strict) 55 / 65mph speed limit and endless RV's to slow you down then you see why journeys take a fair while longer. This particular trip had the added jewel in the crown of the last 60 miles being on an untreated gravel road. Woop!

My first stop was after about 100 miles where I wanted to do a hike that came highly recommended. Remember my first night sleeping in the Chevvy when I camped at one end of the Resurrection Hiking Trail? Well, this was the other end of it - 36miles over a mountain pass inbetween. The 4.5 mile hike (it felt like twice that!) from here to Juneau Falls was said to be more than worth it and I fancied the exercise, so parked up and headed out.

Eternally in bear country, I'd remembered that I had a whistle in my first aid kit (I'll have been wishing I hadn't) - it would certainly beat Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Kitted up, I set off apace. Off at a tangent, I'm certain that my somewhat urgent walking pace comes from my folks - Dad used to drag us all over Cornwall on foot while mum would always manage to climb the hill from our house on her way to the shops seemingly in seconds. I know this because I'd always run out after her to flutter my eyes for sweets / toys, only to find her nowhere in sight even though the door had only just closed. You were just hiding weren't you mum?

Back on trail, I was stretching my legs in good time as it wound up through a now dense forest. I've often been asked the rhetorical question "Do bears shit in the woods" by some joker or other and while I know it's technically not supposed to be answered, I'm happy to report to anyone who really wanted to know that yes, bears do shit in the woods. In my first mile of climbing, I passed what looked like a very fresh example of just that. Encouraging.

Not to worry, I had my new whistle. I'd been giving it sharp blasts every hundred yards or so since entering the forest - that would keep them away. I began to notice that after every hearty blast, all the birds went quiet too. Cool. Actually, what was happening was that I was sounding off so loud and so often that I was momentarily deafening myself - something I only realised when I got back to the Chevvy and the music sounded like it was underwater! It's taken 24 hours +, but back to normal now and my green whistle has been retired back to the first aid kit.

This climb was taking FOREVER! I'd passed a few walkers coming the other way, but for the most part it was a pretty standard walk through a forest. No spectacular views due to being deep in the forest and no wildlife as yet either, although more proof that bears do indeed shit in the woods. Next time someone uses that bloody annoying rhetorical to you, respond with "Well, my friend was in Alaska....."

My bear paranoia was well checked compared to my first few hikes. I was still hyper alert to everything, but felt more confident about being alone in the Alaskan forests. Just as well really considering how long this hike took! To be fair, Juneau Falls were worth the effort (see pic), but the elevation brought the rain so I headed back in earnest.

I'd only gone about a mile when I rounded the corner and froze instantly as I was confronted by a furry animal waddling down the trail away from me. 'Bear cub' was my instant thought, quickly followed by 'where's the mum'! Relief came with the realisation that it was in fact a porcupine! Funny, squat looking thing but much bigger than I expected and I also knew not to antagonize them. It was making a high pitched squealing noise, presumably scared, and stubbornly continued to waddle down the trail path meaning I couldn't pass. I managed to get a couple of zoomed in pics but don't expect too much - you're only seeing it's backside.

Oh yeah - got my first mosquito bite on that walk too! It's like a badge you know. Actually, the Alaskans call it their national bird but up until this day I'd not been victim to it.

Porcupine eventually scuttled into the undergrowth, leaving me to continue my seemingly endless walk back to the Chevvy. Once there, I decided to drive on until tired which wasn't much further on really. I'd considered heading back to Hope, but it would have been a 40 mile detour so settled for the rather picturesque Tenderfoot campground just off the main highway. Situated on a peaceful lake and surrounded by mountains, it was perfect for what I wanted. Sleep!

Typically, I had my worst nights sleep since I started camping. It thundered down with rain all night, sounding like machine gun fire on the roof of the Chevvy. I woke grumpy and tired. The rain had stopped and it was quite a spectacular morning now, with moody clouds circling the mountain and arcing up from the lake, all pierced with laser like rays of sunshine poking from a blue sky punching through the cloud. Very gothic. That cheered me up a bit. I got myself together and hit the road, stopping briefly for a caffeine fix and last access to internet for a while, then I was away.

Highway 1, which I'd taken down from Anchorage last week, also heads north east of the city and that was my destination for McCarthy. Also known as the Glenn Highway, the maps make it look like you simply sail through Anchorage when coming up from the south, so as I came into the bustle of the city I just kept going straight. And ended up in a downtown industrial estate! Eh? Thankfully, a quick look at the map and despite a few random one way streets, I was back on track pretty quickly - again the logic of the grid system impressed.

Now if I thought I'd seen the best of Alaskan scenery, the Glenn Highway was about to prove that I'd seen nothing yet. I've actually ran out of superlatives for describing driving here so I won't even begin to try for this particular drive. Hopefully the pictures will do it some justice, but I doubt it. Utterly beautiful.

At Glenallen, some 200 miles since Anchorage, I turned south east and drove the 60 odd miles to the head of the McCarthy Road. I had intended to camp here but the campground turned out to be a dry lake bed that was engulfed in a dust storm, so I bit the bullet and continued on towards McCarthy.

The McCarthy road is a 60 mile gravel road leading to a footbridge only access to both McCarthy & neighouring Kennecott. It seems like a bit of a mixed message these days. The residents like their privacy (hence those that want to visit should be seen to make the sacrifice of the effort), yet when you finally get there they're eager enough to take your tourist dollar. Kennecot I loved, but was it worth the drive? Given the following day, I would think long and hard about that one. Even the scenery driving in was pretty mundane compared to what I'd seen before.

The 60 miles wasn't as bad as I expected and has obviously been improved in the few years since my Rough Guide was published. Sounds like it used to be the vehicle equivalent of walking on hot coals, but for the most part now it's easily driven above the outdated 35mph limit. I finally reached the end, by now very tired, and weighed up my camping options. Seemingly the only legitimate option was Glacier View. $22 to basically park up for the night on a field of rubble. Hmmm.

Anyway, this post is long enough. I'll continue my McCarthy / Kennecott story for the following day in the next post.

Lots of love,

Deano XXX
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