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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Road to Alaska

North To Alaska - Parts Three & Four
Sam Black

The morning air was cold at 0500, cold enough for water to freeze. The heater in the RV felt real good fifteen minutes after I hit the switch and after I walked two hundred yards to the facilities. We have been and will continue to use the RV Parks facilities except when the bladder calls in the middle of the night. Guys have a thing about cleaning bathrooms and since the other two don’t have a clue on how to clean a bathroom we have all opted to follow the bathroom rule: Use only when in an emergency or in the middle of the middle of the night. The middle of the night is a common occurrence at our age.

We headed out at 0600 on highway 2 westbound. Our goal today is to drive as far as we can. The state of North Dakota is rather boring until you get to Devils Lake. The lake is over 122,000 acres and is fairly shallow. Over 90% of the lake is undeveloped. You can catch your limit according to the locals of perch, walleye, northern pike, and white bass. Ice fishing is very popular for the locals.

Minot, North Dakota is the capital of the state with a population of a little over 36,000 people. The largest employer for the area is the Air Force Base. Housing is the lowest in the US including Canada and Puerto Rico. I don’t want to live there.

We entered Montana around 1300 after stopping for lunch at very clean rest area in North Dakota. The temperature now is hovering around 50 with clear skies.

Montana (Big Sky Country) became the 41st state in 1864. The home of Chet Huntley the famous newscaster often spoke of his home state. The population is over 900, 000 but growing less than 3% in last seven years.

We drove through several Indian reservations and saw thousands of acres of wheat stubble and watched thousands of head of cattle and sheep trying to find some green grass to eat. Montana is second to Nevada in wild horse population, but we didn’t see any driving 65 miles per hour on a two lane road. The first three-hundred miles into Montana was sparsely populated with people and we would drive thirty miles and never see another vehicle. I listened to many stories from Mike who rode shotgun. Jim slept part way. Picture taking was not a priority in this part of the country.

Shelby, Montana is over seven hundred miles from Grand Forks, North Dakota and a good spot to pull over and have some fine wine at a RV camp ground. This seems like a lot of miles but we averaged 59 miles per hour with two fuel stops and lunch. It was 6:45 p.m. when we pulled into Lewis and Clark RV Park.

In 1923 in Shelby, Montana Jack Dempsey fought Tommy Gibbon for the world heavy weight championship. It was the largest financial loss of any heavy weight fight in the history of boxing. Four banks in Shelby went bankrupt one month after the fight. Dempsey won in a decision. The attendance was too low.

My homemade spaghetti was on the menu for this evening and everyone enjoyed it. We purchased a loaf of garlic bread and also had a salad. Many stories and laughs and two bottles of wine made crawling into bed a dream come true after a long day running over asphalt. Even Jim was a happy camper when his head hit the pillow. Jim rectified the bed collapsing problem with some skillful engineering.

This sunny morning and with the temperature in the low 40’s. I’m still wearing shorts and plan on wearing them until I get to Alaska then I might have to change my mind. We headed out of Shelby, Montana at 0610 still on highway 2 heading westward toward Cut Bank, Montana where we will be in Black Feet Indian Reservation. The mountains are getting bigger as we drive farther west because; you guessed it we are getting closer to them.

Highway 2 was under construction with one lane traffic for five miles. We have been driving a fairly clean RV up until now. The dusty, dirty, rough, road and driving less than five miles per hour made for a long five miles. Jim couldn’t sleep I know because the grumbling was directly behind me.

We are almost a day ahead of schedule and we thought about trying to visit Glacier National Park. The idea was scratched from our plans when we saw a large sign reading ROAD CLOSED SNOW IMPASSABLE. We continued onto Whitefish, Montana. We are in the heart of the Rocky Mountains and the scenery is breathtaking with the snow covered peaks. This is a great time to travel through this area even though the weather isn’t warm.

Whitefish is a resort town and sits at the base of Big Mountain, (that is the name of the mountain) with a population of 6700 and an elevation of 3700 feet. With an abundance of snow, fall skiing is a big sport here. The fishing is great according to the locals and looks like a great place to park your RV or stay in one of many motels.

We took highway 93 out of Whitefish. We’ve been traveling on Highway 2 for days. It seemed like we had been on it forever. We welcomed the change. Canada here we come. We stopped for fuel to top off before we had to pay the high price for fuel in Canada. I was pumping gas and asked a local about the rules crossing the border. He informed me that any foods such as fresh meat, vegetables or fruit were not allowed. He offered to buy what we had. Well we just loaded up at Super Wal-Mart back in Shelby with all of the above. I wanted another answer before saying anything.

I asked the young lady who was the clerk at the stop and go where we bought gas (last stop before the border) about our fresh food. "Not a problem honey!" She said with a cute smile even though two of her front teeth were missing. I turned and looked for the local, but he sped away as I walked toward his thirty year old beater pickup.

Crossing the border was a breeze to say the least. We showed our passports and the patrol officer asked if we had any firearms and do you have any cigarettes? I answered NO to both items and off we went after showing him our RV rental papers.

We took the scenic route to Banff National Park. The mountains were simply awesome and the pictures will not do them justice. We arrived in Banff and took highway 93 all the way even after we crossed the Canadian border. We parked our RV in Spring Creek Campgrounds. Shortly after we had our water, sewer, and electric hooked up we spotted about ten elk grazing several hundred feet away.
Now to some people that is common occurrence, but to two city guys from Maryland seeing the elk was a real treat. Mike who is not one to take many pictures took several of the friendly elk.
Smelt fry tonight beer included. I’m not a bad cook, but tonight’s meal did not turn out like expected. I breaded the smelt in egg and milk and then tossed them into a dish of seasoned bread crumbs. I laid them in the frying pan with vegetable oil sizzling. I fixed the whole two pounds because I felt my traveling buddies would love the little buggers. I wound up with a mess and a plate full of shredded minnows (smelt). They had a taste of vegetable oil. Mike ate a few and Jim had a few too many if you asked him and I ate the rest. It took me another meal to finish them off, but I can’t stand to throw food away unless it is spoiled. Not one of us got sick so with a little practice maybe I will have you over for a smelt fry. Bring your own beer.

Part Four: Road to Alaska - Part Four
We slept in this morning. I was up at 0545 hitting the heater switch as I threw the covers off my rested body. I grabbed my clothes and pulled them on and headed for the facilities. I could see my breath on every step telling me it was colder than my Aunt Maude on her wedding night. I learned that bit of information from my late Uncle Clint. They were married for 57 years so she must have warmed up they had five children. I warmed up too when I opened the door to the RV after my hike to the facilities and back and my two traveling buddies were still sound to sleep. Well being an old country boy I knew that the morning light is the best time of the day. "You guys going to sleep all day? In order to see a grisly bear you have to be on the road bright and early." Movement started, but very, very slowly.

We ate our breakfast and headed for the road toward Banff National Park, Canada’s oldest national park where I saw a very large grisly bear and two cubs on this same road way back in the late sixties. It was very early in the morning. I learned back then to never try and take pictures of momma bear when she is with her cubs. The only time I’ve ever been scared of any animal in my entire life.

After driving around for several hours and not spotting anything even resembling an animal let alone a bear my traveling buddies with a camera in their hands started moaning about getting up so early to see a bear.

Over five million people a year visit Banff National Park. The park is surrounded by several glaciers. Peyto Glacier has retreated 6561 feet since 1880. Geologist feels that within 40 years it will disappear. The largest glaciated fields include Waputik and Wapata ice fields with the later covering over 30 square miles. During the 20th century Canadian Rockies ice fields have lost over 25% of there mass. I suggest you check it out soon or you might have to take a boat. My theory is in another hundred years the ice fields will right back where they were two hundred years ago. What do you think?
We headed to Lake Louise a pristine spot that should be visited by everyone after June 1st and before September 30th. When we arrived the lake was still frozen over and two feet of snow on top of the ice. Snow was piled twelve feet high in the parking lot. The temperature with bright sunshine might have reached 45 degrees. I’m still wearing my shorts with a heavy wind breaker and a cap to keep my mostly bald head warm.

Chateau Lake Louise is an elaborate hotel on the edge of the Lake Louise. If you would like to book a suite over looking the lake they can accommodate you with several months advanced notice for a little over $1700.00 per night. That doesn’t include a continental breakfast. You can enjoy a budget room starting from $375.00 per night. We looked around and peaked at the 200 seat dinning room over looking the lake, glacier and mountains. We opted for hot dogs, chips and a cold beer in the RV which was closer to our budget.

We purchased a small portable gas grill at a Wal-Mart somewhere back in Montana. With the sun shinning brightly, no wind and the temperature in the 50’s F and a few hours till dark Mike and Jim decided they would put the grill together. Opening the box and finding over one hundred parts (nuts, bolts, and washers so tiny you needed a magnet to pick them up) that some low wage earner (Chinese) tossed in the box. Mike a very smart individual had a difficult time understanding the vague directions that were written on two sheets of paper. Jim’s approach; if I can’t fix it throw it out. After two hours, two bottles of wine and a lot of profanity the grill was lit. The steaks were seasoned and laid on the grill and then the wind started to blow and the Chinese grill wouldn’t stay lit. We all tried to block the wind till our steaks were finished. After a few more foul words the steaks were cooked in the RV which had a broiler in the oven.

We continued west on highway 93 crossing over the Bow River several times and enjoying the spectacular views on both sides of the road. We motored slowly crossing Red Deer River putting us on Icefields Parkway (still 93). This highway is rated the most scenic highway in North America. We spotted several big horn sheep, elk, moose, deer, but not one bear. My two traveling companions were still grumbling.

After driving several miles and leaving Banff National Park we entered Jasper National Park. We had to pay a fee to enter each national park. Columbia Icefields covers 241 square miles and can be viewed from the road. We had an opportunity to take a tour with a track machine which I did back in the late sixties. The temperature today was cold but sunny and my two buddies decided to stay in the comfort of the heated RV.

We parked in Jasper National Park camp grounds and again had all the amenities anyone could ask for if you’re camping in a RV. The area is extremely clean.

The next morning after I let the guys sleep to 0700 and we had our breakfast then we headed for Whistlers Mountain. We took the Jasper Tramway (the longest and highest tramway in Canada) to the top of Whistlers Mountain. Jim was apprehensive going from 4279 feet above sea level to 7472 feet above sea level in seven minutes. His rugged complexion turned very white after one hundred feet. He asked me on the way up in shaky voice if he could walk down. After reaching the top and looking down he guessed he would ride back down.

We ate lunch at the restaurant on top and Jim had two glasses of wine to calm his nerves for the ride back down. The view of Athabasca River (the longest river in Canada) and the snow packed mountains was spectacular even with the wind gusting up to 40 miles per hour. I think Jim was more scared going down than going up.

We headed to Athabasca Falls a few miles away. The falls has an 80 foot drop and is 60 feet wide. We had to take a short hike of approximately one mile to reach the falls. Breathtaking! You can pull any of these mentioned places up on the internet and view pictures. I you don’t have a computer go to the local library and they will help you.

Of all the places I’ve been in my life these two mentioned national parks are heads above anything else I’ve seen. Check it out!

Next; we arrive at 0 marker of the Alaska Highway. Are you ready? Maybe we will see a bear.

© sam black February 7th 2009

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Sam Black in Alaska
I believe in having goals. I’ve been that way since my early twenties I guess.
North to Alaska
Sam Black
Petoskey sits on Lake Michigan and if you haven’t been there I suggest you visit it someday.

North to Alaska - Parts 5/8
Sam Black
We left Jasper National Park at 0600 hoping to find a bear early in the morning. We are on highway 16 heading northwest to Kluane Glacier

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