Category Archives: 2007 Arctic Circle

This is the adventure that started it all… Read the day by day account as father and son drove from Seattle to the North Slope of Alaska and then East to Inuvik, Canada taking us in and out of the arctic circle several time before returning to Seattle.

FJ Cruiser and the bettys

Day 6: Well, Like I Explained I Aint No Drinking Man

fj cruiser north pole alaskaStart: Beaver Creak, Yukon
Finish: Fox, Alaska
Miles traveled today: 355
Miles total: 1671
Coyote:1

Fixing the mess I created but we’ll get to that in a moment. This may be the last Internet connection for a while, tomorrow we start up The Haul Road. You can see what the conditions are like and get road reports from the Alaska Road Travel site. We will be on the Dalton Highway

The road is easy it’s the technology that is hard. As I unwind in the B&B we are staying at, I realized I have uploaded some pictures with names that match the previously uploaded pictures. This is playing havoc with the site and driving me to drink. We’ll see if I can unscramble the mess by the morning.

We just finished dinner at the Silver Gulch Brewing & Bottling Co. When I was going to university at Portland State I quickly realized that while Seattle had a Starbucks on every corner, Portland had a brew pub on every corner. Falling back into my youth we pulled into the Silver Gultch so I can now say I’ve been to America’s most Northern Brewery. This place is pretty cool. Located in the small mining community of Fox, Alaska, it started out in the 1920 as a road house and became a bar in the 50’s changing owners and names over the years until in 1998 Glenn Brady took over the place and moved his home brew to the big time. You can read more about them on there website Slivergulch.com

Keeping with the frontier spirit I thought I would do a little horse trading at the bar. After our dinner I call over the manager, Mary and started to bargain. Following a few minutes of dickering back and forth we came away with a handshake and a deal… Mary gets a Last Great Road Trip t-shirt and I get a cool Silver Gulch Brewing & Bottling Co. t-shirt.

Surprisingly we found the North Pole just outside of Fairbanks. Ok, so this was a pure tourist trap but you have to do it. Years from now when we recall this trip we will be able to tell everyone how we went to the Arctic Circle and the North Pole. Hula Betty finally got over the trauma of the bear and is back in the pictures.

Leaving TOK put us on target to reach Fairbanks and than Fox. We have the road all to ourselves most of the time with only the occasional vehicle heading south. With tourist season over in the north very few motor homes are out on the road. This is good since this is now ADOT (Alaska Department of Transportation) orange cone, fix the roads season. Alaska uses a lot of oil and asphalt to patch the roads… in fact with all the construction zones we drove through today the Rig is getting an free undercoating thanks to ADOT.

We might have actually waved good bye to Mary and James from the ferry as we drove past the rest stop they were having lunch at. 663,300 sq miles and we keep running into our same two friends.

motorcylists Beaver Creek alaskaTok, Alaska is where you drive through if you are coming from or going to anywhere between Alaska and Canada. And Tok is were we caught up with another friend from the ferry. Traveling to university in Fairbanks on a student visa, it appears that it is important you have the right visa… Unfortunately homeland security back at the previous board gave him the wrong type of visa stamp. We hear you really get to know the scenery when you drive between the boarder and Tok several times in a single day to straighten out their mess. At least the visa is all good now.

Today when we pulled up to the US Boarder to get back into Alaska we were ready for Dad to come up with an alert. Sure enough that is exactly what happened. When we laughed and told the officer that Dad came up most wanted twice now, the homeland security guy quickly recognized that the middle name was different and told us he would fix that. I’m not sure what “fix that” means, but I’m sure Dad will find out when we cross over the board again in a few days. Mary and James beat us to the board and just left as we were waved to them both… again.

Harley riders used to mean tough bad ass biker gangs… now they are ex-CEOs and grandmas. They still look bad ass in leathers though. These guys are just one of the many groups we’ve run into on this adventure. Like us they are pursuing their passion for the open road on their own terms.

I knew the day was going to be another great one when grabbing coffee I run into two young women who lead adventure tours out of Anchorage. They are on their way to Utah with all their tents, rafts and equipment in order to set up for the winter season down south. Before leaving they wanted a couple of photos so they could tell their friends in Utah about us. I hope Hula Betty isn’t jealous, she was back at the hotel with Dad.

While Dad closed out the hotel bill and said good bye to Mary and James I ran down to get some gas. We met Mary and James at a rest stop the other day and have been passing each other on the road and showing up at the same places ever since. They are retired and driving from Portland Or. to Anchorage and back.

Cooper: Any friend of John’s… Glad to have you’re along with us on this adventure. Keep the comments coming and start planning, your 3 year old will be 12, 27 and then 44 before you know it.

John: Thanks for the notes.

Mary: thanks for the encouragement.

Joyce: He was a Kodiac looking fellow about 19 feet tall when he came rambling over the hill expecting me to do one of two thing: flip or fly I didn’t do either it hung him up… He started sniffing around my body trying smell fear; but he aint gonna smell no fear; it hung him up… being charitable and cautious, well hell I approached him and said I want you to be my buddy… buddy bear. I forgot what a great song that is… Thanks for sticking with us on this Jimmy Buffet, Caribbean rock and roll, Zen based roller coaster road trip. Your links from Trauma: The Drama will over load our service if all your reads follow your advice and take a look at us. Thanks for the plug.

alaska brown bear fishing

Day 5: I Just Have to Out Run Dad

alaska brown bear fishing in riverStart: Haines, Alaska
Finish: Beaver Creak, Yukon
Miles traveled today: 350
Miles total: 1316
Grizzlies: 2
Eagles: 2
Salmon: lots
Coyote:3

We said good bye to our friends on the Alaska Marine Highway ferry and spent the night in Haines Alaska. In the early morning we decided to go down to the bay and fish the incoming tide for Chum Salmon. We were not the only ones who had that idea. I yelled, “Dad, you may want to avoid the bear.” Dad said “WHAT BEAR!” I don’t have a telephoto lenses… That grizzly was about |——-that———–| far away. As the old joke goes, I don’t have to out run the bear, I just have to out run Dad.

salmon fishing haines alaskaTwo different grizzlies poked around and kept us out of the water for a while. It was great watching them fish and move about the rocks in the river. They did decide to wonder off for a bit.

While the grizzlies were gone… the fishing was great. I hooked about a two dozen salmon and landed eight. The winning combination was anything pink on a dead drift. The fish were in the two to four pound range and put up a good fight. Dad did not fish but he did get a chance to try out his bug gear, stay on bear watch and man the camera. Dad also managed to spot a couple more bald eagles doing a little fishing of their own. After about an hour one of the grizzlies wondered back up to our location. The grizzly’s arrival was our cue to get back on the road.

chum salmon caught haines alaskaToday we started in Alaska, drover through British Columbia and entered the Yukon Territory. The character of the road has also changed. What started out as smooth well maintained pavement has transitioned to potholes and sections of gravel. The cars are becoming few are far between… so are the gas stations and mini-marts. Beaver Creek is considered a big town in the Yukon, population: 150 and one Internet connection. I’m sitting in the bar putting this entry together at 12:30 a.m. I have to beat last call if I’m going to get this out tonight.

Grizzly bears, fishing, the open road… How could this day get any better? How about we Blow something up!

arctic dirt roadWe came upon the road construction in the Yukon Territory around 4:00 p.m. and were told we would have to wait for about an hour. At that point we jumped out… stretched a little and started a conversation with the flag guys… As we started chatting they told us the crew was blowing up the overhanging corner of the old highway… that was all we needed to hear as we grabbed the camera and got set up. They gave us a one minute warning and than WOW. The rock was flying a good second or two before we heard the report from the charge. The clean up took a while but it was worth the wait to see rock fly.

demolition of arctic dirt roadWith the bear watching, fishing, road construction and loosing an hour as we shifted from Alaska time back to Yukon time, we were still on the road at 9:00 p.m. but as the pictures show we are clearly making our way north and the sun is still high in the sky late into the night. In fact the sun finally set around 11:30 p.m.

As you recall Toyota’s Open Road Blog was going to mention our adventure. Today Bruce C. Ertmann wrote about our Arctic adventure and added us to the blogroll. Bruce said some really cool things… you need to take a look and leave a comment so he knows you like his kind words. We’ve had the Open Road Blog on our list for a while since Toyota supports our views on diversity and makes a great rig. Keep an eye on the Open Road Blog for video of our trips start.demolition arctic dirt road

Jim: The Roads in the Yukon are rough and not so Harley friendly. We did run in to a group of about six riders dining at our hotel in Beaver Creak. They seemed very glad to be off the road for the night. We can do the Baja. Make a caravan out of it… a string of rigs moving south to the sun and sand. When we get back we’ll start planning the next last great road trip… Friends conquering the the Baja

Jon: Yes Hula Betty is absent from the pictures. She was really upset by the bear. She should be fine after a good night’s sleep.

toyota fj cruiser arctic circle rest stopCarla: Thanks for the comments… Knowing you guys are out there following along and enjoying our stories is making this an even better adventure for us. Day 3 somehow fell off the map… it is back and you can see it below.

Juan: Glad to hear from you. This is the real thing and not a cyber road trip from my couch. The pictures don’t lie.

woman alaksa ferry passanger

Day 4:Waterway Not Information Highway

forest ranger on alaska marine highway ferryStart: Somewhere on the high seas
Finish: Haines
Miles traveled today: 0
Miles total
Whales: 10
Eagles: 2

The lack of Internet connections has been frustrating. I seem to spend all my time hoping to catch a WiFi connection as we pass little fishing villages and ports. The AT&T GSM is sketchy at best and the biggest racket in port is the hot spot connections where for a dollar a minute you can use their connections which I’m sure has all the speed of a 300 baud dial-up connection.

When you’re on a boat you run into the same people over and over and over… and eventually you can get everyone to tell you their stories. One of our new friends is Lisa who is traveling for a month with a tour group seeing the US and Canada. She is a little out of place with her group since they are all retired and twice her age. While not retired, Lisa has one of the more tranquil jobs you can imagine. She works in a monastery helping out an order of Carmelite Nuns. It also turns out that Lisa had seen us on the Internet a couple of weeks ago and recognized the rig when we pulled up in Prince Rupert. She was even telling folks on her tour about our adventure.

On board a ferry you become very adaptive and you appreciate how different everyone is. Take last night for instance; around midnight while putting together day 3’s story, the slow paced voyage took on a new attitude. On the ferry there is a lounge room with recliner chairs, much like a airplane only wider and room to move around between the isles and stretch out. This is an area where you can relax and those who did not get a cabin can sleep. As I sat there recalling the day’s events, a few folks were bedding down as we pulled into the port of Ketchikan, Alaska. You really don’t appreciate the peace and quiet until it is gone… and that is exactly what happened when the Hope football team as well as the Juneau girls and boys swim team showed up with their blankets, pillows and teenage hormones. About 60 high school kids joined us on journey.

You have to give these kids credit though, when they go to a meet or play an away game they really go. The football team will play two games and be away from home for six days on this road trip. So while we were enjoying the sights, many of them were having to crack the books now that school is started.

As for Dad and me, Dad seems to be the stronger of us. Today, I had to get some time in the rack catching up on my sleep, while Dad was out and about reading, seeing pods of whales, icebergs and advancing glaciers. Dad continues to read his financial books. I seem to benefit the most from his reading… after he digests the savings and tax impacts I get to hear how it can be used practically for my situation. Like most good financial information, you wont get rich over night, but you will build a solid portfolio that is working for you. The information Dad is helping me understand is all about solid foundation.woman ferry passager

Who is who. Of the women’s photos posted here, who is Lisa from Louisiana, who is Victoria traveling to Petersburg, Alaska and who is our Forest Ranger from Oregon State?

Shelia: the Harley riders are Bob and Deb. A couple of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Should we substitute Jim and Shelia on the next Harley story?

Mom: We are having a great time… Wasn’t the Last Great Road Trip T-shirt enough? Everyone wants something… Were were you when we asked who would come on the adventure?

Joyce: Whew thought we lost you… We knew you were reading the BLOG… we could see your lips moving.

Chris: thanks for the email

alaska marine highway staging area

Day 3: The Waiting Place

alaska marine highway prince rupert terminal Start: Prince Rupert
Finish: Somewhere on the high seas
Miles traveled today: .8
Miles total: 968
Whales: 2

Today was all about hurry-up and wait… Since we arrived in Prince Rupert last night we only had to travel a few blocks to the edge of town in order to catch the ferry. The Alaska Marine Highway ferry system runs boats up and down the coast all year round. They have this down to a fine art… and the process goes: Have everyone arrive four hours early, check them in so you can move everyone from one line to the next waiting place. After an appropriate amount of time open the gates to give everyone a false sense of hope. After another 30 minutes have a customs officer show up, SLOWLY move everyone, one-at-a-time through customs and through the gates into one of eight different lines depending on their final destination. Finally four hours after you start the process (that is eight when you add int the get her early time) and just prior to everyone in line forming a rabid, lynch crazed mob, load them on board the ferry.

We did run into one small snag. Apparently Dad shares his name with a known home land security risk. That little coincident allowed us to enjoy a short side trip to the “your going to receive a full body-cavity strip search waiting place”. Luckily when the photos came back and Dad was cleared allowing us to continue through the lines.

While we spent the day in the “Waiting Place” the rig continues to be a great conversation starter and usually puts us at the front of the line. If you’re going to be in a line, at least be in the front of the line.

Customs line prince rupert ferry terminalThe rainbow at the end of our Waiting Place was the people we met. When everyone is trapped in line there is a lot of time to chat. We met a father and daughter driving from Seattle to Anchorage. She is a nurse moving up to a new life in Alaska. A couple on their Harley told us how they were heading back to White Horse. He was coming off a five week road trip with his brother through the California, Oregon, Montana, Idaho and Washington. His wife joined him in Vancouver for the last leg back home. And than there was Joe and Margarita. He spent 15 years in Alaska before marring Margarita and moving to California. After a couple of summer trips to Alaska , Joe convinced Margarita to take on the Juneau winter. With his wife, two trucks, one u-haul trailer and three dogs, Joe is going home.

Once on the boat we settled into our cabin. Spacious does does not begin to describe the cabin… Thimble sized more accurately describes the room. Bunk beds, one chair, three coat hangers and a shower room. I call it a shower room because when you turn on the shower on you have just enough room to turn around and water goes all over the toilet and sink.

I thought about rocking off for the bottom bunk but Dad made it pretty clear that the lower bunk was all his. We’re spending most of the time out in the other parts of the boat. They have a dining room, a TV Lounge where they play movies, a forward lounge for whale watching and a bar. Tonight will be the only real sleep we get in the room. Tomorrow at Midnight we disembark in Haines, Alaska. We are not sure if we will drive straight away or locate a room for a few hours sleep. We’ll just see how we feel and let you know.

Loretta: keep an eye out, we’ll get a group shot, Dad, me and Hula Betty… I’m not sure we can have a last great road trip shirt that will fit Hula Betty though.

Chad: not a chance in [email protected]!

Ken & Flo thanks for the note. Maybe I can listen to the book when we get back.

Maura: OOOOoooopps at least I did not loose the ferry pass and parking permit… they are right here with us… nice and secure. We would mail them back but I’m not up for spending $45 on FedEx overnight double rush priority first class delivery to save $10… IOU a new ferry pass.

Mary: did this give you your Dad fix.

fj cruiser at the geographical center of britsh columbia canada

Day 2: When It Rains

worlds largest stealhead rod and realStart: Prince George, BC. Canada
Finish: Prince Rupert, BC. Canada “Where Canada’s Wilderness Begins”
Miles today: 415
Total Trip Miles: 960
Bears: 1
Moose: 1
Elk: 3
Deer: 4

Yesterday’s drive saw blue sky and 83 degree temperatures. Today the high hit 56 and rain filled the day. The scenery also changed from rolling hills, scrub brush and canyons to coastal mountains, fur forests, and low hanging clouds. The drive was great. While it was wet out side we stayed comfortable and dry in the rig as we put the miles behind us. Shifting from the main British Columbia highway to a more rural one meant much less traffic and more wild life spotting… You can see the tally.

We are settling into a groove. On the road I drive. Dad naps, navigates and keeps track the next dot on the map. Than at night… we pick out a hotel and restaurant, settle in and Dad downloads all his financial reports while I put the rig to bed. Yes that is right… Hotel!
No it is not the four seasons but we are enjoying crisp sheets and little mints on the pillows. Well deserved little mints after 10 plus hours on the road.

Today we discovered two very important things. One, Dad is the center of the world… well at least he is located in the geographic center of British Columbia. And “B” Dad and the Rig are starting to look a lot alike dressing in all blue.

In Houston, BC, not Texas, stay with the program, we found the worlds largest fly fishing rod and real. And while they would not let us use it, we were able to watch a few guys fish the Skeena river. One guy just set the hook and the fight was on.

fly fisherman with stealhead onSo what do you do if you roll into a strange town and need some help. That was us in Smithers, BC needing someone to check out our CB Radio. We immediately looked for the nearest Toyota Dealer and in Smithers that is Glacier Toyota. We were greeted by Teresa, a Product Adviser who after hearing our need immediately pulled out her Rolodex and came up with a guy who could help. She even verified he was at his shop on Friday’s but currently on a lunch break. On the way out we took a quick look at the FJ Cruisers in their lot, any excuse to see the other rigs. Turns out the CB radio is fine and we were back on the road.

Prince Rupert is the end of the road… Literally! there is one way in by road and one way out by sea. Tomorrow we leave by sea. This will begin the Alaskan Marine Highway portion of our road trip. We have a two person room to crash in when we are looking for a quiet place to catch a few Zzzzz. Can’t wait to see who me meet on the boat. I’m sure there are a number of folks who like us had to change over from Bellingham and will share their story with us.

So as I put this story together recalling the days events and listening to Dad suck the paint off the walls with his snoring, I know this adventure is going well. My Dad and I are talking about everything and nothing at all throughout the day as the miles go by.

Thank you to everyone for leaving comments on the website. Knowing everyone is out there reading along and enjoying our adventure makes it even that much better.

Mary: Dad loves it… he is up, packed and ready to hit the road before I’ve had my first cup of coffee and found my socks.

Shelia: The rig is great. Everyone… And I mean everyone stairs at it… Kids and adults go out of their way to tell us how much they like it.

John: Souvenirs? What could we possibly get the guy who has everything… including the love of his family. Ok how about moose turd golf balls?

Greg: We’ll look for the video Monday or Tuesday on Toyota Open Road Blog

Mom: We don’t need no stinking cash… They take Master Card… but not AMX or Visa.

Barbie: How is this post… Is it what you were looking for?

fj cruiser 0 dark thrity

Day 1: Getting Behind the Wheel

fj cruiser leaving 0 dark thrityStart Poulsbo, WA. USA
Finish Prince George, BC. Canada
Miles today: 538
Total Trip Miles: 538

Today we left the comfort of our home and took to the open road. Eager to get started we left the house at O-dark thirty and headed to Kingston to catch the Washington state ferry to Edmonds where Greg from Toyota was waiting to video tape the start of our trip.

washington state ferry terminal workerOddly enough as Christine informed us, the Washington state ferry system will allow you bring two gas cans on board. They will not let you bring four empty gas cans on board. A quick drive around the block and two gas cans thrown in the back seat, a look the other way by Christine and we were on our way again. Christine even let us jump into the car pool lane so we could be first on and first off the boat. It is great how everyone continues to help make this a great trip.

Greg, Toyota’s man behind the blog, caught up with us in Edmonds. Greg Brummer, known as Mr. Helpful, runs PlanetFeedback and has coached some of the best bloggers on the Internet. Greg was great! We talked, he video taped and we laughed… We laughed a lot, compared quick road trip notes and before we knew it, it was time to head out. Keep an eye out for Toyota’s video of Last Great Road Trip to appear on Toyota Open Road Blog soon.

Google maps is cool, Google world is very cool, Google directions… NOT so great. After a number of debates about the interpretation of Google’s instructions at various intersections and highway interchanges, we decided to scrap Google directions and go to the old gazette maps and compass. We did not look back even once.

Although the largest number of miles driven today where in Canada, we are still getting used to a few things. For example: highway signs tell you “100 mile lodge house” in 75 kilometers. You purchase gas by the liter and it cost 94 cents and you have to use the Canadian dollar. In order to calculate cost of miles per gallon you need a degree in abstract algebra and that is too much thinking for the driver. We are saving all the receipts and will figure it out later. It was cool though driving 100 on the long straight away. Did we mention speed limits are in Kilometers per hr. Go metric or go home.

Overall a great first day. We covered a lot of ground. Met a few new friends and are getting lots of second looks as we drive the open road. We are becoming internationally famous.

heartland toyota crew

T-4 Days and The Rig Gets a Checkup

With only a few days to go before the big Arctic adventure starts, it was time for me to get a hair cut and the rig to get the once over. Eddy and the guys (gender neutral, non-specific use of the term guys) over at Heartland Toyota put the rig on the lift and ran it through its paces. They checked all the fluids, belts, filters and breaks and gave the rig a clean bill of health.

It was great to hear from the techs, who see these rigs all the time, how they liked the mods we’ve done. They also said they would keep an eye on our progress by checking the website and want to see us as soon as we return. These guys can crew in our pit anytime.

arctic circle globe

Snow, Ice and the Road Trip Triangle

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) describes the Arctic Circle as consisting of ocean surrounded by continental land masses and islands. The central Arctic Ocean is ice-covered year-round, and snow and ice are present on land for most of the year.

The southern limit of the arctic region is commonly placed at the Arctic Circle (latitude 66 degrees, 33 minutes North). The Arctic Circle an imaginary line that marks the latitude above which the sun does not set on the summer solstice and does not rise on the winter solstice. North of this latitude, periods of continuous daylight or night last up to six months at the North Pole.

The Road Trip Triangle is where we will shed our worries and search for new adventures.  It extends from Poulbso WA, to Deadhorse AK, and Inuvik Yukon Canada and we are driving right into the center it.

ferry columbia

T-8 Days: Best Laid Plans of Mice and Road Trips

We have been planning this adventure since March. In June we purchased tickets for the Alaskan Marine Highway to ride the ferry from Bellingham WA to Hains AK. Today I opened up my email only to find:

    “Please be advised that due to failure of the starboard main engine, all sailings of the M/V Columbia have been canceled for the remainder of the summer season.”

Yes we are holding tickets on the M/V Columbia and that means we had to quickly find a new ride north. With a some schedule juggling, a couple of calls and a little luck we are back in business. We will have to leave a day earlier and drive an additional 1,000 miles in order to catch a different ferry out of Prince Ruper, BC Canada, but we are back on track.

The M/V Columbia was the largest ferry in the fleet. In Prince Ruper we will drive aboard the M/V Matanuska. Its claim to fame is that it was built in 1963… and is still in service.

These little adversities are what makes a great road trip and adventure. The ability to adapt, change and overcome what the road throws down shows clearly the Last Great Road Trip will not be stopped. Certainly not stopped by something as trivial as a ten ton diesel engine failure.

dempster highway

T-9 Days And An Extra 900 Miles

As we drop into the single digits of days left before the adventure starts and we are making some exiting changes. The goal of reaching the Arctic Circle and traveling up the Haul Road to the northern most ‘road’ accessible place in the USA remains. And after reading Overland Journal’s Arctic Ocean Expedition we are going to attempt the same Arctic adventure traveling up Canada’s Dempster Highway to Inuvik “Living Place” the most norther town in Canada.

Inuvik is a place of rich cultural and natural diversity, located on the Mackenzie Delta – Canada’s largest fresh water delta, with a spectacular view of the Richardson Mountains. Inuvik is nested between the treeless tundra and the northern boreal forest, and overlooks the incredible maze of lakes and streams of the Delta.

If we complete this adventure we will cross latitude 66 degrees, 32 minutes North four times, travel over 1,800 miles on unpaved roads, and participate in the 25th anniversary celebration of the Dempster Highway.