Travel journal Canada & Alaska fall 2011

by Claudia and PJ Potgieser

 

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August 2011, USA and Canada
1 August 2011 Utah
We are back in the USA. The trip from Amsterdam to Dallas, Texas was a long one (9 1/2 hours). Immigration in Texas was kind to us and gave us another 90 days visa. We had an overlay of 5 hours, so we thought it was a good idea to go outside for some fresh air. Well, it must have been at least 105 F, and with the pollution of the aircrafts fresh air was hard to find. Breathing in burned our lungs!
The rest of the five hours we spent relaxing on leather couches. PJ went through his back a week ago and needs to take it easy. With the time difference it was already 2am for us, and we can't remember the flight Dallas to Salt Lake City.
My cousin Diana came to pick us up from the airport and although it was only 10pm we went straight to bed.
 
          our camper in front of the house of
              Randy & Diana in Plain City, Utah
 

2 August 2011
Our fridge broke down just before we left for Holland, so today we went looking for a RV store who could repair it today. Sierra RV in Roy, Utah wanted to take a look right away and within five minutes the camper is parked in their shop. Sierra RV did not have a waiting room nor a coffee machine, so quickly we took out our camping chairs to wait outside in the shade. The temperature has warmed up to a 85F.
After FOUR hours I decide to ask around what was going on.
"We have checked the cooling system and that is still working. So now we are going the check the print board".
Strange sequence, we would have started with the print board, PJ thinks you can check that in a couple of minutes. We just waited.
After an HOUR (!) the guy comes around to tell us that the print board has to be replaced and will cost us 150 dollar. Well, okay, go for it. In the meantime we have moved about six times to stay in the shade. PJ's back hurts, forgot his pain killers, finished his book, smoked his last cigarette hours ago and we have not have coffee for five hours.

                print board

Costumers come and go, so we were not surprised when a guy parked in front of us and was having a conversation on his mobile phone. It got excited when a police car arrived from the other side and blocked his vehicle, grabbed the guy, took away his telephone and hand cuffed him! It got strange when the police officer picked up the boy's phone and continued the conversation!
We could not hear the conversation, but heard the word 'bond' a lot, so that must be what this was all about. While the guy is pushed in the back seat of the police car he yells to us: "Can you please call my wife and tell her that I got arrested?".
The officer asked us if we want to be bothered.
"We are Dutch tourists and no way I am going to interfere with this", was PJ's reply.
"At least you had front row seat", siad the friendly police officer.


These American camper fridges are huge!

In the meantime it is almost 5 o'clock when we are told that even with the newly installed print board the outside lights of the fridge were still not working.
"The not working outside lights was why I wanted you fix my fridge in the first place", was PJ's chagrined remark. Sierra RV needs some more time, so PJ asked if he could take the camper with him and bring it back tomorrow morning. The guy beeped somebody to get the camper out of the shop and PJ's had to pay the bill. Their hour rate is U$130,- and we were here already six hours. Fortunately the bill is 'only' U$230,-. Now we were waiting for the camper. Another 30 minutes passed by. PJ went inside the store to ask where his camper was. Without an apologize the guy beeped again for the kid. After ten minutes the kid came outside to tell us that the keys were in the truck and the doors were locked.
"Do we have spare keys?"
Can you believe that? Seven hours later we leave Sierra RV with still a not working fridge and 230 dollar lighter. We have never been treated so costumer unfriendly in the States.

3 Augustus 2011
The next day we arrived at Sierra RV at 8am and ten minutes later the camper is back in the shop. This time we came prepared and beside the chairs, we brought a thermos coffee, PJ's painkillers and breakfast (and lunch).
To our surprise, after only 30 minutes, we heard a familiar engine sound and the camper was parked in front of us.
"There was only a loose wire", said the guy. "You do not have to pay more".
"So there was nothing wrong with the print board?" PJ asked immediately.
"Oh, yeah, the print board was also toast".
We have our doubts, but what can you do about it?
It is only 8.45am and we still had all day to do our shopping list. We bought more stuff for our 'project flatbed' (the extra diesel tank has to be installed) and we took Diana and Randy out for a Mexican dinner.

4 August 2011 Wyoming
We drove 300 miles north to Grand Teton National Park. Never before we were here mid summer and we did not expect to see wildlife. We were not disappointed because we also saw mosquitoes and a bull moose in velvet.

   

But we came here especially to see our Jackson Hole friends and we saw a few. We spent an evening around the camp fire drinking Margarita's.
The next day we are sick when we found out that we have missed a spectacular Northern Light show at midnight over the Teton mountain range!

 

 

                          Picture taken by Mike Cavaron
                                    picked from the Internet

After two days we have enough mosquito bites to last a week, so we continued north. Straight through Yellowstone National Park, where we only saw wild tourists. We drove to Helena, where we spent the night. The next day we are going to cross the border of Canada. We picked a border crossing at Glacier National Park, just because that is where lots of tourists cross.

9 August 2011 Canada
From the window of our truck the immigration officer asked us some questions like: How much booze did you bring, cigarettes and do we carry weapons. We answer them all without lying.
"Do you know anybody in Canada?"
"Yes, we are going to visit friends in Kamloops".
Immediately we have to park the camper to the side and have to come into the office. Two cute lady customer officers, armed to the teeth, would like to have a look inside the camper. The blond one asked us: "Why do you know people in Kamloops"
Funny that customs always thinks of a question that you do not expect (and that make no sense).
"Why?....Uh, maybe because they are nice people?"
PJ is ready for a strip search, but he is dismissed by the ladies. We really have to go into the office now.
While we are questioned, the camper is searched from top to bottom. When the ladies are assured that we did not bring drugs, weapons or child pornography we can go. Just south of Calgary we spent the night.

The next day we check out the storage company in Calgary where we want to store our camper in October. It is just a grassy lot with a fence around it, but it looks okay. It is at least not expensive and really close to the airport.

We continue west to Kamloops, where our friends Bob and Charlotte live. We met them 4 years ago in Mexico.
In the evening we have hamburger dinner at their daughter Melissa and friend Sean.

 

Four days we camp in Kamloops. We give Bob & Char a hand with moving their new dining set from the store and installing it.
PJ works on project flatbed and Bob give him good ideas. The extra diesel tank has to be connected and I paint the doors in front of it.
We cook, eat and drink a lot and Melissa and Sean are always present.

 

14 August 2011 Kamloops
We left Kamloops and I immediately fell asleep. Five hours later PJ cannot keep his eyes open and parked the camper next to the road for an afternoon nap! We only made it to Quesnel that day and spent the night on a parking lot of Staples with free wireless internet. We watched some television on the laptop.

15 August 2011 Quesnel
We stopped in Prince George for grocery shopping and follow the John Hart Highway 97 to Dawson Creek.

 

 

There is a lot of road construction going on and at one point we had to wait more than half an hour for the pilot car. At the next waiting point I decide to go for a quick pee. I skipped closing the camper door and while I am in the bathroom (OMG TMI) PJ started the engine and started driving! The pilot car had arrived and the row of cars followed. Someone behind us saw the open camper door and warned one of the flaggers. He radioed the pilot car and everything stopped.
"Do you know that your door is wide open?"
"Do you know my wife is inside using the bathroom?"
The flagger did not think this was funny and while I climb back into the truck the row of cars can start driving again. Embarrassing! While we are following the pilot car I saw a black bear with cub eating on the side of the road! Unfortunately we cannot stop to watch, we have been into trouble enough with these people.

After the road construction is over, we can speed up, but suddenly we ran into three 'Mexican speed bumps'! Too late to hit the breaks and the camper flies a couple of millimeters and hit the back glass of the truck. This cracks like a spider web. Shoot! Only the middle part (moveable part) is still okay.

It is still 50 miles to the next civilization, so we continue. At every little bump in the road we can hear the window moaning and we leave a trail of little squares of glass! 


 

 

At 7 pm we reach the town Chetwynd and went looking for a place to spent the night. In the middle of the village is a truck stop were RV-ers are welcome too. We are surrounded by small hotels, but we cannot pick up Wireless Internet. Why bother staying on this noisy spot when we cannot use Internet? PJ drives around looking for a quiet place to spent the night. He finds it next to a cemetery. While I am cooking dinner, PJ starts up the laptop to play a game and to our big surprise he picks up Internet! I don't know which higher realms PJ is connected, but we can check our email.

 

16 August 2011 Chetwynd, Canada
The next morning we looked for a place to replace our truck back window and they have one in the small town! It is going to plexus glass and we have to move the camper a feet or two for the boys to be able to work. With our project flatbed we do not have much to spare and it takes us an our to get the camper back. The boys also need an hour and than we need an hour to get the camper back. Believe me, PJ did not get his nickname 'Grumpy' for nothing!

   

After three hours we are back on the road and spent the night along the Alaska Highway.
This highway was built during the second World War to protect the United States from Japan. It was built in only nine months right through the wilderness of Alaska and Canada. Before it was paved, fifteen years ago, the highway was loved by travelers who wanted some excitement. Despite its name only 350 kilometer of the total of 2500 kilometers are in Alaska. The rest of the Alaska Highway is in Canada.



 

17 August 2011 Alaska Highway, Canada

If we mention in the lower 48 that we are going to Alaska Americans react with admiration: "Cool, you are going to take the Alaska Highway?"
They are probably thinking of the seventies when this road was a big adventure and you needed at least two spare tires and you were guaranteed to loose a windshield.
Now the road is paved, smooth, with wide paved shoulders, almost boring!
After Fort Nelson it starts to turn interesting nature wise and by then we have already drive 450 kilometers of the Alaska Highway.
Fort Nelson was in the fifties a community without electricity, telephone, tap water, fridges or doctors. Nowadays it is still nothing much, but when we stop in front of a hotel we have high speed Internet and I am able to upload my website.
We continue the Alaska Highway. We see coyote following a hare, a cow moose with calf, two cranes and a black bear. When we are driving through the Stone Mountain Park we see wood bison (smaller than their big brother in Yellowstone) and caribous (bigger than their cousins the reindeer).


 

   
        Black Bear                      watch out for crossing caribous                      there the are; but without the impressive antlers

 
                                                                                                     young caribou

   
      watch out for wood bison                        and there is the first one

   
       the camper and a wood bison               Folded Mountain in Stone Mountain Park

Nature is beautiful, with turquoise colored rivers and rough mountains. Weather is changing rapidly: one moment the sun is shining, the next moment we are in a hail storm.

 

Just before Muncho Lake Park we see a black bear. He does not wink an eye and keeps on grazing.
Around the next corner we see a black bear with triplets! They also don't do anything else than grazing and grazing. But they are cute! After 15 minutes we give up and go to Liard Hot Springs.

 

 

 

We have been twice to these hot springs in a beautiful natural setting. A wooden boardwalk brings you through a fern forest to the hot river. The path to the second spring (a pond) is closed because of a problem bear. While we slowly turn red as lobsters it starts to rain.

   
                             A floating river, the water is really boiling hot!

                       
                                                                                Grumpy: I hate rain!

The campground is full, so we park for free across the road. A black bear is grazing in the shoulder. While a cook a quick pasta meal (it is rather late now) we see another black bear trying to climb into a dumpster. The hotel personal is not too happy about it and tries to scare the bear away with fire crackers. This is what you would call a problem bear.
The next day we see a black bear that has been hit by car on the road in front of the hotel. What a waste!

 

 

18 August 2011, Alaska Highway Canada
We start the day with a hot bath, that dead black bear, a life black bear, another dead black bear and a dead wood bison. In tne years traveling through North America we have seen a dead black bear only once and now two on one day!

The rest of the day we do not see wildlife. In Watson Lake we wanted to do our laundry but there is no Laundromat in WL. I am telling you this because there are not a lot of towns along this road and WL seemed a bit larger. It is so hard to imagine for us living in highly populated Holland. We are having a good pace and from Liard Hot Springs we drive 700 kilometers north to Whitehorse.
Wal*mart lets his customers camp on the parking lot and there are lots of campers. We mostly try to avoid this, but this time we have no other choice. At 11pm somebody still runs his generator and at 6am somebody drives through the parking lot honking his horn. Oh yeah, that is why we don't like it.


 

PJ gives a beggar with a good story 5 dollars and we check the weather forecast in Alaska. Next week rain everywhere! That sucks. We do our laundry and outside a Swiss guy admires the pictures on our camper. We ask him where he is going.
"When my car is fixed I am going to drive the Dempster Highway"
"Is the weather okay there?"
we do another weather check and it looks like that the north part of Canada will be fine. We immediately change our plans and go north to the Dempster Highway.

Although we love to have travel company (mostly we travel to Alaska with photography couples) it is really nice to be able to change your plans without having to consult your fellow travelers.
The rest of the day it is drizzling, nice weather to read a good book, sit on the couch with a blanky and the furnace high. So we stop already at 4pm in the township Pelly Crossing and are able to pick up Internet. We are inside while the rain taps on the roof and the wind howls around the camper.
In the late evening a cross fox comes along to bring us a visit.


a gravel parking lot claims to be a RV park
19 August 2011, Klondike Highway
We leave early and at 9.30am we are already at the beginning of the Dempster Highway. We decide to stay a day on an expensive RV park but with electricity, hot showers and Internet. We charge up all the batteries, reorganize the truck and I wash the back of the camper a bit: it is our front door you know.
Mid afternoon the sun starts to shine.
At the gas station you can immediately see which vehicle came from the Dempster; mud until the roof! We ask them if the have seen caribou, but they are only there sparsely. It would be a pity if we are too early to see the migrating caribou.


 

August 2011, USA, Canada en Alaska
20 - 24 August 2011, Dempster Highway


 


The Dempster Highway is a dead-end road that goes from Dawson City to Inuvik (see circle map above) and is about 450 miles long.
Map left: Tuktoyaktuk is only reachable in winter by the so called iceroads.
In 1958 the Canadian government made the decision to built this gravel road through the arctic wilderness. Nowadays it is still gravel but it goes through a fantastic variety of nature, so it is worth the trip.

Much of the highway follows an old dog sled trail. The highway is named after Royal Canadian Mounted Police Inspector William Dempster, who, as a young constable, frequently ran the dog sled trail from Dawson City to Fort McPherson. Inspector Dempster and two other constables were sent out on a rescue patrol in March of 1911, to find Inspector Fitzgerald and his three men who never made it to Dawson City. They had become lost on the trail, and subsequently died of exposure and starvation. They had traveled without a native guide, who not only knows the route, but also can smell moose, so they would not run out of food. Fitzgerald kept a logbook and their trip could be reconstructed. The four men first ate their sled dogs to survive and then they cooked their leather pants to have something to chew on. Inspector Dempster found them 3 months after they left Dawson City. They are known as the Lost Patrol.
What a tragic story!

 

We have driven this spectacular road three times and we cannot get enough of it.
In 2001 we wanted to see the summer solstice, but we ended in a snow storm! In 2007 we drove the Dempster in August looking for caribou and we liked it so much that we did it again that same year in September.
Also this time we are looking for caribou. These animals look like reindeer, but reindeer are half domesticated (tame) animals that live in Scandinavia and Greenland, while the caribou are wild animals that roam the barren grounds of North-America and Siberia. The caribou has longer legs and is bigger and heavier.

The 'Porcupine' caribou herd members 123.000 animals and on the drawing right you can see their migration territory, all the way to Alaska. The herd is named after the Porcupine River not the critter.

Of course the caribous aren't traveling with one hundred twentythousand at the same time, they migrate in groups of 20 - 30 animals. Some of the caribou are wearing radio collars and are kept at close bay by biologists in airplanes.

In former times their migration was posted on the Internet, but that made it too easy for the hunters who could just sit and wait at the spot. So unfortunately for us we can only guess where the caribou are and if they are still around the Dempster.

 
              A reindeer from Scandinavia                                  A Caribou that we photographed in 2008 in Alaska
               I know they look alike, but as a wildlife photographer of course we are not going to shoot tame animals!

We start the Dempster in the fog, but soon it cleared, the sun peeks around the clouds and the scenery unfolds.
The road is unpaved and makes roller coaster dips into the river bed. At around six p.m. we stop for dinner and as I walk around the camper some fresh bear prints make me jump. It start raining and a complete rainbow appears above the camper.

 

 

   

   

When after dinner the sun reappears we decide to make another run for wildlife. Till around ten p.m. it is light enough to photograph. Soon a nice fat silver colored grizzly is seen in the distance and we wait for two hours for him to come to the road.

   

 

After the bear crosses the road, he moves slowly but steadily to a couple in a tiny tent trailer who had found a neat spot to spent the night. It is already 10.30 p.m., but we better warn these tourists that a grizzly is coming their way. The couple thanks us and we leave them with the bear that is getting closer and closer to their camp.

We also find a nice free camp spot just a few miles from the bear and the next morning we rise early. It is still dusky and when we get to the bear, he is just walking OUT of the couple's camp! I swear that he has been napping under their tent trailer next to the camp fire!! From the truck we can see the bear clearly at only 20 yards, but it is still too dark to make pictures.

We drive the Dempster north to km 450 to find caribou, but we cannot find one. So we decide to drive back to the Silvertip grizzly from this morning. We do not have to drive that far, because we run into a gorgeous blond sow grizzly, walking the road towards us.

While we stop a road constructor guy parks next to us and when he sees the bear he says: "That's Scruffy".
"One of your girlfriends?" PJ ask him.
The man grins. "That bear does not give shit, she won't move over when I pass her with the scraper".
What a nasty name for such a beautiful animal and I rename her Goldilocks.
Goldilocks does indeed not pay attention to us and we follow her for 3 miles along the road.
What a photogenic animal!

The rest of day we don't see wildlife. We find another nice camping spot and I set the alarm every hour, but no Northern Lights.

.

 

24 August 2011, Dempster Highway
Another early rise, it is in the low forties and a little foggy. We find a pile of fresh bear poop on the road at our camp! We can see the bear went north, so do we. After half a mile there is another pile and half a mile further another. It must have been a bad Chinese dinner last night...
We cannot find the bear, but 'Silvertip' is in his regular place. He is posing in a tundra field and relishing the ripe berries, constantly keeping an eye on us.

 

Later we see Goldilocks again, she walked quite another stretch along the road. We give up the search of the caribou and drive back to the beginning of the Dempster. Along the way we are enjoying the beautiful reddish-yellow scenery.

 

   
But now the camper really needs a clean up.

In the meantime we received an e-mail from the Dutch couple JP and Hannie that they are in Denali.
"JP en Hannie?", I can hear you thinking, "never heard of them".
Funny that you mention it, we don't know them either! JP and Hannie are beginners in world traveling who found our website and we have been having e-mail contact for months now. We would love to meet them in person and so we start our trip to Alaska.

25 - 31 August 2011, Alaska
Via the Top of the World Highway (another unpaved road that is called highway) we arrive in Alaska. Immediately we see the hunting camps and we wonder what they are hunting for. Probably moose and caribou. Well, we don't see them.
We continue north following the rest of the paved Alaska Highway to Fairbanks, where we do grocery shopping and top up with diesel (every tank and jerry can available). Then south to Denali National Park. We have just arrived when a very sturdy vehicle is 'blocking' our way. JP and Hannie! Man, they have found us quick. Because we have been e-mailing for such a long time, we feel that we already know each other. JP (short for Jean Pierre) and Hannie are staying at Riley Creek RV park, so we also book a night there. We can get along right away and we have a companionable evening together. I bake Dutch pancakes with real Dutch sugar cane syrup.

   

JP (45) and Hannie (43) have sold their house, quit their jobs and with a Landrover and a 'Safari' tent trailer  (never went camping in their lives!) they left Holland on July 2010. In the USA they decided that the travel trailer wasn't their thing and they had this camper on a Ford chassis built in the USA.

                  
                  
We passionately tell them about wildlife photography and when I say that I want to start at 6 a.m. Hannie turns pale. But loyal as they are they will also rise at 5 and join our hunting for moose. It gets late with lots of red wine and entertaining stories.
The next morning we rise as promised and are amazed by the radiating fall colors on the taiga and tundra. We have never seen it this pretty.

 

Traveling in Denali National Park is limited to tour and shuttle busses, but the first 15 miles is available for personal vehicles. From that stretch a small part is interesting for us because of the moose rut. JP and Hannie drive the stretch ones with us and then say goodbye. We cannot convince them that it is REALLY REALLY FUN to drive the same ten miles over and over again.
We can't blame them, they have their own ways of finding wildlife as you can see on their website:  http://www.jphannieontour.nl/. We hope to meet them again in Mexico or so.

 

 

We keep on driving and 5 minutes after our goodbyes a cow moose with calf crosses the road. When she walks through the colorful tundra I can make nice pictures of them. The rest of the day we spent at the bedded down bull moose with nice size rack and after he stands he poses in front of an ugly background. It is hard to believe his antlers grow this big in only 4-5 months.

 

After an afternoon nap we drive the park road up and down and up and down and up until we see some photographers packing up.
"What did we miss?"
"A lynx"
We can barely keep a curse inside.
"Great, did you get a good picture?"
"Two hundred".
What a shame me missed this rare opportunity. We would have love to see this wild cat.
 
We spent the night outside the park (for free of course) with a good view on the northern clear skies. I set the alarm clock a couple of times, but no Northern Lights.

 


   http://www.free-predator-pics.com/Download/Lynx_Wallpaper_Free

 
freezing nights will cause the red colors, but it is chilly in the morning!

The next morning we rise early again and go through the same routine. We have clear skies again and Mount McKinley is visible! This is pretty rare, it is easier to see a grizzly than the highest mountain of North America. De snow cap is glaring in pretty pink. There is some mysterious fog floating over the red tundra. And as the sun rises the tundra gets even redder.

 

The rest of the day we continue to have clear skies and we have the experience that if you see
Mt McKinley, you won't see wildlife. Yeah, that's correct.

30 August 2011, Denali National Park
Another early day and we immediately see four bull moose, two cows and a cow with calf!! But there is hardly any light. We give it a try and shoot with an extreme high ISO (3200!) and the pictures turn out pretty good.

 

When the sun rises, we see more moose.

 

 

It is so gorgeous here, but driving the road up and down is deadly boring too.

September 2011, Alaska
I forget to set the alarm and wake up at 6.30 a.m. We should have stayed in bed, because with this day our truck problems are starting. At 7 we are driving the Denali park road and an hour later the engine overheats, we have no power steering and no breaks! PJ parks the camper at a turnout immediately and looks under the hood.
"A broken serpentine belt".
After a while PJ gets a ride to Healy, a small village 11 miles outside the park. He buys a new belt and meets Denis Schwahn, a mechanic who promise to come by at the end of the afternoon to replace the belt. After two hours PJ returns and we are parked in the middle of the park. After another two hours the laptop batteries are empty and also the batteries of the camper aren't working properly, so the heater has a hard time.

We should have filled the water tank yesterday, so we cannot take a shower. It stars to get a bit annoying by now. Fortunately Denis shows up as promised, but sees that also the pulley need to be replaced. He suggest to tow us to Healy, but coming out of the park with a hill of 10% PJ does not think that is a good idea. The pulley has to come out of Fairbanks, 120 miles from here and Denis has to go there tomorrow anyway. He will come back tomorrow with a new pulley and the belt. We have to camp illegally in the park and fortunately a ranger comes to check us before dark. We explain her what is going on and she is compassionate and has no problem with us camping here. At least we know now for sure that nobody is going to wake us up in the middle of the night.

1 September 2011, Denali National Park
Well, there we are. With a beautiful view at the tundra, but after 36 hours even that gets boring! And without the heater it gets a bit chilly. Denis arrives at 5 p.m. from Fairbanks and works for two hours on the belt and pulley. He does not have the right tools and when we hear a curse and then it gets quiet, we know something is wrong. A hair crack in the pulley! Everything is working, we can drive again, but Denis is going to order a new pulley for us.
We are on the road again and spent the night outside the park.

 

2 September 2011, Denali National Park
Up and down, up and down the Denali park road we shoot a couple of moose. But when PJ looks under the hood and sees that the hair crack is bigger, way bigger. So we drive to a RV park in Healy and while we are paying Denis comes along (yes, Healy is really very small).
"The pulley has to come from the North pole and I think it will be here on Saturday evening".
First we think Denis is joking, but Northpole is a place near Fairbanks. We make ourselves comfortable on the campground, with Internet, electricity and coin showers.
If you in need of a mechanic around Denali NP in Alaska, call Denis Schwahn in Healy (907-491-3147).
He does road side service.

4 September 2011, Denali National Park
Sunday morning (!) Denis comes to our spot to replace the trolley and we can go back to the park. But it doesn't take long because Sunday afternoon the engine overheats and white steam is coming out of the hood! Beside coolant a gooey oil substance is coming out of the coolant overflow!! We hardly make it back to the RV park in Healy and Denis comes to take a look at 10.30 pm. This is really a major break down and to large for our handy man Denis to repair. We will have to had our camper towed to Fairbanks.

                   

7 September 2011, Fairbanks $$$$$$
We pay Denis to give us a ride to Fairbanks and he drops us off at the airport. We have reserved a rental car through the Internet (the cheapest offer for the cheapest class). A brand new Toyota Corolla is ready for us. Not bad!
We talk to Ron's Towing Company and he gives us a quote for the towing from Healy to Fairbanks ($$). PJ ask if Ron knows some company besides the Ford dealer that also can work on diesel engines. Ron recommend the "Diesel Doctor", specialized in diesel engines. The people are friendly and helpful, but they do not have time for us till September 15. That is a week from now! We make a appointment with them (another quote $$$) and arrange that Ron's Towing will pick up the camper on September 14.
Now we have time to do some grocery shopping in Fairbanks, because everything is so expensive in Healy.

It is 10pm when we get back to the RV park in Healy. PJ is wacked and goes to bed. I am on the contrary very hyper and bounce around the camper for hours. When I finally go to bed my teeth are chattering and it is not cold. Probably all the emotions of today. Man, what an amount of money!

8 september 2011, Healy
So we have another week in Healy, but at least with the rental car we can go as we please into Denali NP. And a fridge full of fresh produce, what a luxury. Besides hours in the park we read a lot, play games on the computer. It is too cold to sit outside.

   

Because we don't rise that early (why bother?) and having boredom naps in the afternoon, PJ sees late at night the Northern Lights! It is cloudy, not that spectacular, but at least something we have something to brag about.

   

                                        hmmm...

9 September 2011, Healy Alaska
With our rental we go into Denali National Park every day for a couple of hours. The tundra fall colors are over their peak and the red leaves are dropping. But the aspen are starting to color now with yellow and orange. Every day we see bull moose and PJ makes this insane picture lying on the ground!

 

I am pleasantly surprised when I find out the the old school bus from the movie "Into the Wild" (2007) is parked only 100 yards from the RV park in Healy. This wonderful movie is based on the true story of Christopher McCandless who abandons his possessions and hitchhikes as a vagabond through the United States. On his journey McCandless (played believingly by actor Emile Hirsch) meets one extraordinary personality after another. But Christopher does not stays long, because his ultimate goal is to go to Alaska and live in the wilderness. In April 1992 Christopher arrives in a remote area of the Denali National Park and sets up camp in an abandoned school bus. At first McCandless is content with the isolation, the beauty of the nature around, and the thrill of living of the land. A wonderful philosophic movie with a tragic end. I can recommend it.
The real bus is still parked in the wilderness, but filming at the actual bus would have been too remote for the technical demands of a movie shoot, so a copy of the bus was built from two other old buses of similar type. This copy bus is parked in Healy at the restaurant 49th State Brewing Company.

     

 
                                                           de binnenkant van de oude schoolbus

   
Christopher's last postcard to his parents        The real Christopher with some prey                 His final words...

After a night of rain we drive into Denali park and see fresh snow on the mountains! The bull moose seem bigger every day. They even start sparring with each other.

 

 

Here is the link to our Youtube movie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnaQEMSlaz0 of the two bull moose above. It is like a slow motion dance.

Every day we keep our eyes open for the Northern Lights forecast. The Northern Aurora is like a huge donut on top of the world and is always there! But of course only visible when it is dark and the storms in space aren't always stongly. For September 9 a large aurora storm is predicted, but in Healy we have overcast and drizzle. We can see the aurora graph peaking. We consider to drive to Anchorage but that is 5 hours south, so not really an option.
The next day we read that the Northern Lights were visible all the way to Montana and most of Scandinavia was covered with the green lights. Very frustrating, when you are in the middle of it but you cannot see it.
But for the night of 11 to 12 September another storm is predicted. Not as strong as two days ago, but the night sky will be clear, so we will be ready for it. One disadvantage is the full moon, who might give too much light on the Aurora.

   
              At 7.30 the full moon rises.            Fairbanks is in the middle of the range        September 11 .....

At 10.15 pm a green 'rainbow appears in the sky. We first take some pictures of our camper and then some with our own 'into the wild' schoolbus.

 

Then we start driving around with the rental car to other spots, were the northern skies are visible. Mostly we only see the arch or a beam, the lights are not 'dancing'. Sometimes it is very quiet and we wonder if it is over already. But we are holding on.

 
Picture left: the Great Dipper is visible in the green arch.

We even drive to Denali park because the mountain range will look neat on the foreground. But as we reach the highest point of the road about ten photographers are waiting in their cars for the Northern Lights. Oh no, lets get out of here, I will probably open our car door and ruin somebody's picture with the indoor light.
So we drive back to Healy. At 1.30 am the Aurora start 'dancing' What a sight! We have a hard time taking the pictures, because we are parked next to the highway which is still pretty busy. But we really like to have the Aurora with the Alaska train in the foreground.

At 3 am we still see some green stripes in the sky, but also the clouds are coming in. At the cemetery of Healy we take this last picture (we found the spot to late) which I think is very symbolic with the cross. At 3.30 am we go back to the RV park and tired but satisfied we go to bed.

 

 

 

The next morning we sleep in and at the end of the day we make another Denali round. This enormous bull moose is hiding most of his antlers behind a tree. A way to estimate the size of a moose rack is to count the brow tines of his brow palm (not the palm tines!). If a moose has 3 or 4 tines than the spread of the antlers are about 50 inches. We counted six brow tines on this guy!

14 September 2011, Healy Alaska
Today the camper will be towed to Fairbanks. Ron's Towing sows up at noon and and hour later our house is on its way. Ron brings the truck to the 'Diesel Doctor' who is specialized in diesel engines. We hope our house is in good hands.

   

The next morning half the engine is taken apart and Friday afternoon we hear that we did not blow the head gasket. The oil cooler has been replaced but the radiator is full of viscous oil and also the water pump needs replaced. It will take the mechanics a few more days before everything is running again.

15 September, Fairbanks Alaska
In the meantime we have rented a apartment at Wedgewood Resort in Fairbanks.

   

The aspen are started to turn. Twice a day we hike through the "75 acre Wedgewood Wildlife Santuary", bought by the resort. It contains a lake with viewing platforms and a photo blind. In the summer there a lots of birds, but most of them have migrated south by now. In the blind we shoot beavers and two Tundra Swans.

 

   

 

There is also a taiga forest and a enormous corn field ("Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge") where in the summer the Sandhill Cranes rest and feed. Also they have left, but there are still hundreds Canada geese grazing at the field. The trails are all wheelchair accessible (PJ's first question when we go hiking). On the property there is also a Antique Car Museum, a Bird Observatory and a Alaska cabin display with wild flowers on the roofs. There are still lots of flowers at the planted borders.
A really neat place if you have to stay here for a while.

   

   
Wild flowers growing on the roof of a Alaska cabin.                               Intriguing leave patterns...

Besides hiking, shopping, watching television, reading, bull sh**ing on Facebook we drive around. Moose hunting season has started and we find out the hard way when we are driving the Chena Hot Springs Road (always a nice place to be in other years). The bullets are flying around! Not the best place to hang around.

22 September 2011, Fairbanks Alaska
The Diesel Doctor takes his time on the operation, but finally after a seven working days the truck is ready to leave the shop. Except for the head gasket almost everything else has been replaced. We pay an arm and a leg and are on the road again.

23 September 2011, Fairbanks Alaska
Yesterday the camper was fixed at the end of the afternoon, so we kept the hotel room another night. The next morning it takes us a while before we have everything that we have collected in eight days hotel stay back on the right spot in the camper. We drive to the airport to return our rental car, getting diesel, doing grocery shopping in different supermarkets and finding a tap with drinking water to fill our water tank. It is already 11am before we are ready to hit the road for a test drive. We have chosen for Denali NP, because we know that road by heart now and it has some nice test hills. But we have not yet left Fairbanks, when the 'check engine' light goes on. "Go to your Ford dealer immediately". We are close to the Diesel Doctor so we drive to the doctor.
The owner says not to worry. The EGR cooler has been replaced by a by-pass kit and the computer in the engine does not recognize this. He checks the engine and sees that there is a bit of oil floating in the coolant, so he flushes the system. We can be on our way. "No worries".
The light 'check engine' turns on immediately. Just outside Fairbanks PJ looks under the hood and sees again oil floating in the coolant. It does worry us.
After three hours we arrive in Denali National Park. Officially the tourist season has ended and all the shops, the visitor center, the mercantile store, the Laundromat and public showers are closed on September 17th. The busses have stopped driving at September 15th. But strangely enough the the only road into the park (85 miles) is accessible now for every vehicle (weather permitted) till Mile 30. Normally we can only drive 15 miles into the park with our camper, the rest of the drive you have to take the bus, but now the park is 'closed' we can drive much further!

   

It is weird to see everything boarded up. It is looks spooky. We are the only ones with 'out-of-state' license plates, the rest of the visitors are all from Alaska. It is late in the season to still be in Alaska. Friday evening we drive up and down the road, but did not see wildlife.
We can stay for free at the Riley Creek Campground and we do not get less or more service than we got when we stayed here with Hannie and JP and then had to pay 28 U$. It is getting colder and we take out our down winter comforter. Officially fall has started today.

24 September 2011, Denali National Park
Just after sunrise we drive into the park. It is cloudy and above the rivers is a dense fog. Nice for pictures. The fall colors has mostly disappeared. After driving up and down a couple of times, we see a larger bull moose running down a hill. He is steaming and sweating in the cold morning air. What a great sight. And he picked the only place where there is still some fall colors. I shoot a couple of pictures with the 600mm lens through the open window.

   

We still are not confident about the oil in the coolant and drive back to Fairbanks and spent the night at Walmart parking lot. We have made a test drive of 500 miles and the the coolant is now milky from the floating oil and the walls of the reservoir are black from oil clinging to it.

25 September 2011, Fairbanks
it is Sunday so we have one more day to worry about it, before we can go to the Diesel Doctor tomorrow. We book two more nights in the Wedgewood Resort. 'Our room' is taken, so we get another one. One floor higher, same interior, different view and this time with a large flat screen television. The whole afternoon we watch episodes of Ice Road Truckers. For our dinner I make a Sock-eye salmon in the oven.

26 September, Fairbanks
At 8.30am we are parked in front of the Diesel Doctor. Also this time the owner is not impressed. "No worries", he just flushes the system again. When we blew the oil cooler so much oil has come into the system, so this is just some residue left in the engine. We did not expect to be on the road again within half a hour and we have one more night left in the Wedgewood Resort. Oh, well we just make the best of it. It is a beautiful fall day and we make another hike through the Wedgewood Wildlife Reserve. The two tundra swans are reflecting in the lake again. 
When I check the website of the Northern Lights, as I do daily, I see an enormous Aurora storm is hitting the earth right now!

But it will take at least seven hours before it gets dark here to see something of it. In the meantime clouds are slowly coming in. Finally darkness falls, but overcast too. I am getting very frustrated. One Internet site is talking about 'storm level', the other calls it 'extreme ++' and we are right in the middle of it, but we are not seeing anything! It is driving me nuts! I am also driving PJ nuts when I go outside every ten minutes, hoping to see something. At 11.30pm we go to bed and I set the alarm every hour. Maybe it will clear up any time...

27 September 2011, Fairbanks
Tired and frustrated I wake up. The first pictures of the Northern Lights show are appearing on the Internet. It was spectacular...Sigh! A man from Norway writes: "The strongest aurora I have ever seen, it even came through the clouds". Well, not with us.
This aurora is called "the strongest magnetic storms in years". Aahggrr.
The Fairbanks morning news paper slides under the door and an article says that also tonight the Aurora storm will reverberate. We have to get out of this cloud cover.

             

Today we have to leave. In between the cities Fairbanks and Whitehorse (almost 700 miles) are three settlements (Delta 884 inhabitants, Tok 1214 inhabitants and Haines Junction 811 inhabitants). Normally we love the great emptiness of this continent, now it scares us. If we break down, where do we get help?
It is 28F and PJ scratches the ice from the front window. The engine starts up after one time glowing and purrs like a kitten. The 'check engine' light is on. Lets just go. We intent to visit the Ford dealership in Whitehorse tomorrow for a second opinion and of course another flush.
In Delta I photograph a couple of signs, the coldest temperature measured in was in 1975 and was  -72 degrees Fahrenheit. That is MINUS 57 degrees Celsius !!!!! We do not want to get stuck in Alaska in winter.
The great emptiness seems overrated when we see a sign of a dog grooming salon in the middle of nowhere. Do you think they get a lot of customers? During a quick lunch break in Tok I check the Internet for the Aurora website: the storm is still going strong and will continue tonight.

At 5pm we cross the border Alaska - Canada. The Canadian immigration officer sees our passports and starts talking Dutch with a thick accent. Funny.
The whole day we are driving with a thick cloud cover above our heads. With the northern Lights in the back of our minds we keep on driving. Finally: blue skies in front of us. But it takes another hour or two before the northern skies behind us are also cloudless and that it what we need to see the show. At 8pm we have blue skies around us. Now we need a place to camp for the night with a nice foreground for the pictures. On the map I see we are not far from Kluane Lake. We have camped there once because it was such a nice place. And having water in the foreground would give some nice reflections. It starts to get dark and the road has some bad spots. If we hit it too fast with the camper we will start to fly. Finally at 9.15pm we find a decent spot to camp. PJ has been driving for 11 hours.
I heat up a can of soup and make some crackers with cheese. I am convinced we are going to see the Aurora, so I am starting to get itchy. We ladle our soup and halfway I turn off the light in the camper to be able to look outside. PJ gets angry.
"Can I please finish my !@#$% soup?
When we are finished with our dinner, I cannot wait another minute, I know for sure that the show is already going on. I turn off the light again and YES, the first green strings are appearing at the northern horizon.

 

We dress warmly and PJ adjust the settings of the camera and let me push the button the rest of the night. It starts with a sort of green smoke signal in the North, but soon also the eastern sky joins in. The darker it gets, the intenser the color. It is so beautiful.

  

 

PJ shows me how to light up the foreground by painting it with a flash light while the lens is open for a longer period. What a wonderful result this gives.

  

  

I experiment with the amount of seconds I leave the lens open; 10, 15, 20 or even 30 seconds. The camera needs another thirty seconds to write the picture on the memory card before I can take the next picture (and we have fast memory cards!). Maybe one minute per picture does not sound long, but I can assure you that it happens often that I am jumping around and encouraging the camera to hurry up. Sometimes I take a picture facing east and during that first 30 seconds the lights in the north are even better. As soon as I hear the camera click, I face the tripod the other way, aim the camera and then I have to wait these precious seconds before the camera is ready to take another picture. And the show is now going on for two hours! The reflection in the water is disappointing, I had forgotten that Kluane Lake is very large and when the wind gets hold of it, the water gets choppy. But the water reflects sometimes green, which is nice enough.

  

  

  

At 1am the strange clouds right ABOVE us start to turn green! The Northern Lights are now covering the northern sky, the east and above us to the west. That is almost the whole sky! At 1.30am the fireworks takes it one step up. The light is curling, dancing, waving and shoots through the air. We seen green stripes, white waves and red rims. Keeping the lens open for 30 seconds is now way too long, but in my enthusiasm seeing the show I forget to change the settings. But in my mind it will be stored forever. At 2am it starts to die down. We are dead tired (no wonder, driving for 11 hours with a knot in your stomach and four hours with your head in your neck)  and cold and decide to go to bed. Tomorrow we have a long ride ahead. It almost feels disrespectful to go to bed when the show is still going on. It takes a long time under the covers before we are warm again.

  
                               picture right: This is the last picture I took (when it started to die down). It is what you call dying down.

28 September 2011, Kluane Lake Canada
After 5 hours of sleep we wake up with cloudy skies and a satisfied feeling. We have got this in our pocket! To be honest: we think we deserved it. We continue our way on the Alaska Highway. It looks like we are driving backwards into the fall season: in Alaska the reds of the tundra have faded a long time ago, in Fairbanks we have seen the leaves turn from golden to brown and fallen off. The southern we are getting, the more yellow the trees are coming.

At 1pm we arrive in Whitehorse and go to the Ford dealership. What a bummer; this dealership only sells Ford cars and trucks, but does not have a shop.

We try to have the system flushed at Canadian Tire but they don't have time for us the coming three days. We do not have the time to wait that long, we have a plane to catch. We cannot think of anything else than keep on driving to the next civilization (500 miles south). In the township Teslin we spent the night. The Northern Lights storm is still reverberating, but we have overcast. This is going on for 48 hours now.

29 September 2011, Teslin Canada
The whole day it rains. The shortest route back to civilization is by the 500 mile long Cassiar Highway. But one and a half month ago a large mudslide has covered a part of the road. The road workers are doing their best to get it fixed, the Cassiar is an important entry route to Alaska. At Bob Quinn Lake the road is open every two hours and we have to follow a pilot car for 25 miles. PJ is not too happy about that, he would rather drive in his own pace, because the engine heats up when he is driving too slow. We know we have missed the last pilot of 6pm and will have to catch the first one tomorrow morning at 8. But still we continue to Quinn Lake to see the pilot car situation. When we arrive at 7pm a long line of cars and trucks with idling engines are waiting.
Hmmm, strange, so I walk up to the flagger and ask him if there is another pilot tonight.
"No, no pilot, from 8pm the road is open all night and you can go as you please".

Great, we now can go through the construction in our own pace. I still have an hour to make dinner and ten minutes after the line is gone, we leave in the pitch dark. Fortunately a lot of reflectors are placed along the road and we do not notice the mud slide. We spent the night on the other side of the construction zone.

30 September 2011, Cassiar Highway Canada
We have arranged with our English friend Doug to meet at the corner of Mezidian Junction. Doug emigrated three years ago to Canada and does not have a problem with driving 220 miles (one way) to meet us again! The last time we saw him was 2 1/2 years ago when we were 'hunting' Spirit Bears together. That is a rare black bear with a white fur (no albino). Estimated that there are less than 200 left, so when we saw two Spirit bears - with a lot of patience -  in 2009 we were very pleased. Dougie is a sort of magnet to these rare animals and has seen only this summer already four different ones! One was in the back yard of his neighbor!!
We enjoying seeing Dougie again. On our way south this morning we have seen two black bears and I ask Dougie if he has seen anything on his way up.
"Yes, two black bears', he replies and almost nonchalant: "and one white.."
I kick him on his arm: "You are kidding us!".
In the same pasture where we have seen one in 2009 he has seen one this morning. That's number 5 for Dougie! After Hyder we will give it a try.

The dead end road to Stewart/Hyder is 60 kilometers long and we have spent many summers at the viewing platform of Fish Creek to watch fishing grizzly bears.
Due to the heavy rainfall that lasted the whole summer, the river turned into a swirling mass of water that took whole trees downstream and the river flooded the shores. Because of this a bridge has washed away, the road is crumbed till the center line on ten different places and there was a rock slide that blocked the road. Our fossil friends Bob and SueAnn had spent seven weeks of their summer there when the two towns were blocked from the outside world. The road was officially declared as disaster area and the Army came in with equipment and a Bailey Bridge. Tourists who had come in cars were evacuated by plane, while their cars were brought to Prince Rupert by barge. Bob and SueAnn's camper and these of five other couples were to big for that, so they were stuck in Hyder not knowing when they could leave the area.

   
                                    I found these pictures on Facebook, do not know who took them.

At the moment the road is open once a day. I can understand that you are now wondering why the heck we want to go to Hyder voluntary. Well, this is the story: While we were stuck in Healy, Alaska, Bob was stuck in Hyder, Alaska and almost on daily basis we received e-mails from him about fishing wolves at Fish Creek! Wolves catching life fish is rare and unique and to see this from a viewing platform is something you might see once in a lifetime. So when the road finally was open again Bob and SueAnn did not join the group that escaped Stewart/Hyder. Bob wrote: "This is too good to leave." Finally after another week also they left the area.
We checked the weather forecast for Hyder and this weekend the prediction is sun! This is rare anyway in a coastal rain forest so we decided to give it a try. We might see the wolves too!

We arrived at the pilot one and a half hour too early, but we have lots to talk about with Dougie. Comfortable warm in our camper with coffee we have to catch up two and half years.
At noon the pilotcar with the caravan of us and trucks starts driving. The destruction of nature was shocking and devastating and it will probably take months before the road is passable again on both sides. We see a surprised looking black bear watching the caravan.

   
              surprised black bear                  The 'Bailey Bridge' is placed over the rubble

   

An hour later we arrive in Stewart. Dougie checks in in the King Edward Hotel and offers us lunch. We use the public laundry of the same hotel and we have a King Eddy burger. It takes hours before our laundry dries, so we talk for hours. Does not matter, it is raining anyway. The good weather is predicted for tomorrow.

At the end of the afternoon we check out the Fish Creek viewing platform. It has been three years since we were here last. The first thing we notice is that the platform is built so high. The tourist season has officially ended and the rangers stopped working. We may enter the platform on our own risk. The second thing we notice is that there is no fish in the creek! Due to the heavy rain fall all the spawned out salmon is washed away too and there is no reason for bears (or wolves) to check out the creek. This is a disappointment. We hang out the platform and a nice black bear with a cute spring cub shows up to eat the green grass along the creek.

 

1 October 2011, Hyder, Alaska
It stays dark long so we do not have to rise early. It is 8am when we arrive at the platform. Dougie has discovered two Chum Salmon and named them Claudia and PJ. Patiently we are waiting for what to show up. The black bear with cub shows up at 9 and after that two more times that day.

   

Two different black bears make their appearance. One bear balances on a fallen tree and falls into the lagoon. I have uploaded a Youtube movie about him: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdvKhFTwcng

 

There are not many tourists who visit Hyder this late in the season, but we run into German world travelers in a very cool camper. We chat and Martina and Lothar tell us that they are on their way to South America. They have been there before for a four week vacation and have met lots of travelers.
"One couple was already traveling for eight years and we were inspired to change our lives and spent our money for this camper and be on the road for indefinite time."
Of course we tell them some stories of our trip to South America in 2005 - 2006. A couple of hours later they walk up to us and Martina asks us: "Were you traveling previously in a red truck?"
"Yes..."
"Then we met you at the camping of Villarica in Chile in January 2006! You are the couple that inspired us to travel the world!!"
We start to remember things now and when they show us a picture with their rental and our red truck and camper in the background everything comes back to us.
What a coincidence that we meet them again and we are proud that we inspire people with our life style.

Unfortunately we do not see grizzly bears or wolves. Later we hear from a rangers' son why. One of the most bravest wolves walked up to two boys who were goose hunting in Hyder. They shot the wolf in the face with bird shot! The animal tried to get away and after another five shots it was finally dead. This wolf must have suffered horribly! What is wrong with some people?
Fishing wolves would have been a wonderful tourist attraction, but maybe certain people do not like that. In 2001 we have seen fishing wolves in Fish Creek (we were all still shooting analog) and in the winter of 2001 - 2002 the whole pack was shot by locals. It took ten years for the wolves to come back and we expect that the rest of the pack will not survive winter.

2 October 2011, Hyder Alaska
We spent half a morning at the platform and decide to catch the 11 o'clock pilotcar. I wanted to take a picture of the German couple with their cool vehicle, they said they would rise early to spent time on the platform, but at 9.30am they are still not there. I guess 'early' does not mean the same for everybody.
Also Dougie leaves with us and we see three different black bears along the road. We have decided to bring the truck to the Ford dealership in Terrace (100 kilometers the wrong way) so we can also visit Dougie at his home in Kitimat (another 60 kilometers the wrong way). But today it is Sunday, so we are not in a hurry to get to Terrace today.

 
                                                   Here we come! (pictures taken by Dougie)

Dougie goes home and PJ parks the camper at the familiar pasture where we saw a Kermode for a split second in 2009. After three days of waiting we gave up on her, she did not came back. This is were Dougie saw a Kermode two days ago. It is still sunny and we read a book in our lawn chairs. After an hour waiting I spot a white bear! It is a fat healthy bear, but very far away. For one and a half hours we enjoy watching this rare and illusive creature until she disappears in the bushes.

   

According to a First Nations legend, the Raven changed the earth from white snow to green forest.
But he wanted a reminder of how the world once was in the Ice age, when glaciers and cold blanketed the planet so he made every tenth bear white.
He declared they would forever live in peace and harmony.

Kermode bears, otherwise known as Spirit Bears or Ghost Bears, do exist, however. The scientific explanation for the white Kermode bear's coloring is a little different - two black bears with recessive white genes pass them to their offspring. They are not albino, and they are not related to polar bears.

The bears are rare, elusive and unique to the rainforests of northern British Columbia and range from the coast from Prince Rupert to Princess Royal Island. Inland, the Kermode Bear ranges all the way to Hazelton, BC. Biologists estimate a population of 1,200 Kermode bears, of which less than 200 are white phased. While the white bears are protected by law, the other ninety percent...the ones that carry the gene but don't show the coloration...are fair game. The Kermode bear faces extinction due to habitat loss as a result of logging and mismanagement; restricted range; low and declining population numbers and hybridization with mainland subspecies of black bear which do not carry the unique genetics that produce the rare white "spirit" bear.

      
                  Habitat of the Kermode Bear                     This is how a Kermode Bear comes to life (source: National Geographic)

The Ford dealer in Terrace can wait a bit and we spent the night at a turn out with a beautiful view at the 'Seven Sisters' mountains. Tomorrow morning we will go back to the field and see if the bear returns.

3 October 2011, British Columbia, Canada
Oh yeah, there she is. This time her company is a fat black bear and this time closer. Two and a half years ago when we saw our first Spirit Bear in this same field she also was together with a black bear. It was June so we immediately assumed it was a mating couple. But now it is October and again a white bear is together with a black bear. We compare the pictures and we know for sure it is the same black bear (scars) and we are pretty sure it is the same Spirit Bear (although she has grown a lot). Very weird that these bears are hanging out together, a bear is a solitaire animal that only comes together during mating season. We do not have an explanation for it.

   

After an hour they go out of sight and we continue to Terrace. A guy from the Ford dealer listens to our story and tell us immediately that they do not have time for us today. But he does not mind to check the coolant reservoir. The mechanic is not impressed with the floating oil in the coolant, but the system need a flush (that will take 5 hours not 20 minutes as with the Diesel Doctor). But it can wait till Calgary. He explains the light 'check engine' that is burning since Fairbanks. Because the Diesel Doctor replaced the EGR cooler for a by pass kit the computer thinks something is missing. After placing a 500 dollar chip the computer can be fooled. Too expensive, so for now we will have to live with that. We are reassured and continue to Kitimiat to visit Dougie.
Just after we leave the Ford dealer a strange vibrating sound comes out of the engine! We do not want look paranoid and ignore it.

Doug move three year ago from London to Kitimat, a city with 9000 inhabitants, situated along a fjord and surrounded by wilderness. His dream was to live between bears. No, Doug is not another Timothy Tredwell, who liked that too and was eaten by a grizzly.
We agree with him; what is better than sitting behind your laptop and seeing a wolverine or Kermode in your neighbors back yard? Dougie drives into the forest and along the rivers every night to watch his favorite animals. He shows us his secret places and in the afternoon we hike with a Yellow Lab Luke that Doug borrows three hours per day from a friend. Just like in Hyder the rain has washed all the dead salmon away and we do not see bears.

   

4 October 2011, Kitimat Canada
After lunch we drive toward the Spirit Bear again. Doug promise us to come too tomorrow morning (more than one and a half hour drive). We turn up the music so we won't hear that strange sound.
Arriving at the pasture we have to wait an hour before she shows up with her black mate and this time only hundred yards away! We can make nice pictures, even the light in her eyes. This is definitely not an albino bear!

 

We spent another night at the 'Seven Sisters' and even pick up wireless Internet in the middle of nowhere. Here is al link to our Spirit Bear movie on You tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDc6rh36TuY (and don't forget to come back to read the rest of the story!)

 

5 October 2011, British Columbia Canada
The next morning Doug and the bears make their appearances. This time far away so we don't make more pictures. After an hours the bears disappear and we hug Dougie and take the Yellowhead Highway to Prince George. At the end of the day the engine makes a loud screeching sound. Will the problems ever stop? We spent the night in Burns Lake.

6 October 2011, Burns Lake Canada
We park the camper in front of a one man shop and wait until it opens. The mechanic comes to have a look at 9am, but he is to busy to work on it. He advises us to drive to the Ford dealer in Vanderhoof, 100 miles further. We turn on the music and sing lalala and hope for the best. The Ford dealership in Vanderhoof is also busy and the only diesel mechanic is giving a course and will be back around noon. So we sit and wait.
After noon the diesel mechanic shows up and takes the camper for a test drive. His conclusion is a crack in a 140 dollar pipe behind the turbo. It will take 2 hours to replace it, but the mechanic does not have time for that. He claims that we will make it to Calgary. Time pressure is on now, because within four days we are flying back to Holland. We put in ear plugs and pretend we do not hear the loud whistling sound and continue south.

7 October 2011, Quesnel Canada
We drive to Williams Lake and do our laundry at a public Laundromat. 45 minutes later PJ sees a puddle of coolant under the engine! We drive to the nearest Ford dealer and you can guess it: they do not have time for us. "Keep going and try to make it to Kamloops, 4 hours south". It is Friday afternoon and Monday everything is closed because of the Canadian Thanksgiving. Tuesday we are flying home. That does not give us much time so now we are really worried.

Half an hour before closing time we arrive at the Ford dealer in Kamloops and tell our endless story. This dealer does has time for us, although it will be Wednesday before they can start. And we are flying from Calgary on Tuesday! We will try to change our flight tickets to next week. Hopefully the repairs are just minor and we will soon be on our way.

We visit our dear friends Bob and Charlotte in Kamloops and park next to their house. We can plug in and pick up wireless Internet. Their daughter Melissa and friend Sean invite us for a Thanksgiving dinner. We forget our problems and are having a wonderful time.

     

   

Bob and Char heading south for the winter on Monday morning. We have changed our flight tickets to next week and Wednesday we leave early for the Ford dealer. We have a 8 o'clock appointment, but at 10 our camper is still parked outside. When I complain at the desk they have a lousy excuse. Finally at 10.30am our truck is inside the shop. The mechanic checks everything, but cannot find the coolant leak! But where did that puddle of coolant came from? The dealership does not have the cracked pipe in stock and all of a sudden it is a 300 dollar pipe and replacing takes 5 hours. We will leave that for a USA Ford dealership.
The mechanic is not very optimistic. "One of these days you will blow the head gasket", he says, "I would sell it as soon as possible!"
"But will I make it to Calgary and then to Salt Lake City?"
"Good luck".

We are devastated. We have spent so much money on repairs in Alaska and almost the whole engine is replaced by new parts and now a Ford mechanic advises us to sell the truck!!!
Without any problems we drive to Calgary and park the camper at a RV park. Three days later we park the camper in a storage in Calgary and take a flight back to Amsterdam.
Within two weeks we will be back and we will see what we will do next. We are not looking forward to this winter and spending winter in Mexico is now not first on our list.

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