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Drive to Alaska

by Barbara K. Almy (1233-4668-1323)

Last May, Barbara sent me on the Internet a copy of the journal she wrote on her drive to Alaska in 1999.

Barbara's parents are Harold (1233-4668-132) and Norene Elizabeth (Beth). Her sister is Tina (1233-4668-1321). Kathryn is her sister-in-law, wife of her brother Richard (1233-4668-1322). In the journal she also mentions her father's Uncle Floyd Almy (1233-4668-15) and Aunt Evelyn.

The journal will be included in installments in the newsletters as space permits. Enjoy!

5-28-99 * Day 1 * 402 miles * 10 hours.

For me the adventure began on Friday May 28, 1999 at 7:14 in the morning. That was the time we left my house in north Seattle with an odometer reading of 20002. It ended on Sunday June 27, 1999 at 3:20 PM with the odometer reading 25568. We had put 5566 miles on the "Silver Bullet" (Mom and Dad's 1998 Honda Civic). We were headed North to Alaska!!

Our quarters were limited; the trunk crammed full, the seat and floor behind the driver occupied with the cooler, binoculars, tackle box, Kleenex, my camera, the extra tapes and the cookie bin.

During the drive we kept track of the UPS versus Fed-Ex trucks. The final tally was 42 to 22. The ratio the way we like it! We also tried to "collect" all 50 State's license plates. We came up short Mississippi, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Although, as a bonus, we saw one from Panama and of course, a lot of the Canadian ones, but we really don't know how many of those we might be missing.

Along with the absolutely beautiful scenery we saw an abundance of wildlife. We saw 13 species of mammals (19 black bear, moose, caribou, weasel, silver and red fox, rabbits, gophers, marmot, deer, porcupine, coyote and grizzly bear) and countless birds including bald and golden eagles, grouse and ptarmigan. We stayed in some very nice, economical accommodations, as well as some not so economical ones and one downright; shall I say "unique" motel room?

On that first day we stopped in Bellingham, WA at McDonald's for breakfast. Then again in Everson, WA for a quick visit with Dad's uncle, Floyd, and his wife, Evelyn. They are both 91 years old and while Evelyn suffers from Alzheimer's, Floyd's mind is as sharp as a tack. Floyd knew immediately who I was (many other relatives who haven't seen me for a while often mistake me for my sister, Tina.)

Our final stop for the day was at 5:00 PM in Williams Lake, BC. We had driven 402 miles our first day in about 10 hours -- counting our hour visit with Floyd and Evelyn, breakfast, lunch and general rest stops. Our rooms at The Valleyview Motel were a very reasonable $40 Canadian for me and $45 for Mom and Dad, not including the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and BC's room tax. At the average exchange rare of $1.46 that equaled about $27 and $31 respectively. They were clean, adequate rooms with a nice view of the lake but a tiny bathroom. We ate dinner at the Bil-Nor Restaurant next to the motel. The service was slow and we had serious communication difficulties with our waitress. We all had Chinese food. Mom and Dad thought theirs was good. I did not.

5-29-99 * Day 2 * 584 miles * 14 hours 15 min.

We left Williams Lake at 6:50 AM. We saw deer, weasel, black bear and moose. We had thought (according to the map) that there would be a place to stay between New Hazelton and Mezidian Junction. **WRONG**. We should have stayed in New Hazelton. The only accommodations that Mezidian Junction had to offer was a bunkhouse with a common sleeping area and shared washroom. They had two suggestions for us; drive approximately 70 miles north and take a chance on a place that has 10 cabins, which they thought were likely to be booked up with the road crew working on the Stewart Cassiar highway. The other choice was to detour 41 miles southwest to Stewart, BC/Hyder, AK. The folks at the store at Mezidian Jct. were confident that we would find rooms there without any problem. We opted for that. It was an interesting drive. We saw more black bear and Bear Glacier, which terminates very close to the highway. We stopped to take pictures of both the bear and the glacier.

We arrived in Stewart and the first motel was not yet open for the season. The other one's only accommodations on the ground floor included a kitchenette, which of course they wanted extra money for. That coupled with the fact that the motel receptionist was downright rude to Mom, we elected to go the further mile to Hyder, AK. After passing through customs, we wound up at The Sealaska Inn at 9:05 PM after 14 hours and 15 minutes and 584 miles on the road. We had to check in at the bar (which should have clued us in to what we were in for.) They quoted us prices of $30 (Canadian) for me for a room with a shared bathroom and $52 (Can) for Mom and Dad's with a private bathroom. Mom wanted to have a look before we "signed up." Their room appeared adequate so we took them.

My experience was less than pleasant to say the least. My room was small and dark and without windows. The only light in the room was about an 8" high lamp with a 40-watt bulb. It sat on an end table. The only way I could read at all was to turn my own Kleenex box upside down and put the lamp on top of it, after removing the shade. I had to walk outside and about four doors down to the washroom. The bed was a twin with about an inch thick mattress with one blanket and a lumpy pillow. Thank goodness I had brought a thin blanket and a pillow from my couch. The best was yet to come. My room was above the bar. It was Saturday night in downtown Hyder and as the drunks got drunker, they got louder and louder. Consequently the jukebox kept getting turned louder and louder. I probably should have just gone downstairs and joined them, since I was not able to sleep anyway. To top it off, at 5:00 AM when the bar closed, three or four of the patrons evidently did not want to leave. There was a fracas outside the door (just below my room) with much shouting and the barkeep trying to calm the folks down. I don't think it ever got to fisticuffs, but I was unable to find sleep after that.

While Mom and Dad did have a bathroom, they too had the same lighting arrangement and their bathroom's light was no better. And when they opened their curtains, anyone going upstairs had a grand view of their room. The phrase "We've been Hyderized" (me in particular!) Seems appropriate.

5-30-99 * Day 3 * 410 miles * 11 hours

With my rude awakening at 5:00 AM, we left Hyder at 6:33AM. We drove past the other motel in town and we think it would have been a far better choice.

We stopped for a good breakfast at Sandy's Place in Mezidian Junction and then resumed our journey north on the Stewart Cassiar highway (Rte 37). Between there and Watson Lake, YT, we only encountered about 70 miles (total) of unpaved road. In fact, the worst part of the road was the last 100 miles or so of the paved road that was full of chuckholes. We arrived in Watson Lake at 5:30 PM. We stopped at the Signpost Forest, which is an amazing sign collection started by a recuperating, homesick GI in WWII. He put up a sign stating how many miles and the direction to his hometown. Subsequent soldiers added directional mileage markers to their own homes. Now tourists leave license plates and other memorabilia from their own places of residence. The people at the Visitor's Center estimate there are now over 40,000 signs.

We checked into The Gateway Motel. It was rather expensive ($79 & $84 Can), but the rooms were very nice. They had apartment-sized refrigerators and a coffee maker with some very good coffee provided (Nabob brand). We were going to stay at a motel across the street, but 4 teenage native boys harassed us me in particular. They followed us when we went to look at the room and then ran up and down the hall knocking on doors.

During the drive we saw a mama black bear with two cubs. The mama seemed completely unconcerned with us while one of the cubs darted up a tree and the other dashed over the bank. The babies went back to mama and we took pictures and watched them for about 15 minutes. I only had my 50-mm lens on so the cubs just look like blobs in the photos.

5-31-99 * Day 4 * 278 miles * 7 hours

We left Watson Lake at 7:33 AM. We were now officially on the Al-Can highway. We had snow mixed with rain at the beginning of the drive. We stopped for a break at the Continental Divide. We ate lunch in Teslin (about way between Watson Lake and Whitehorse) at the Yukon Inn. Mom had sourdough pancakes, I had a grilled ham & cheese sandwich. After 3 tries Dad ended up with a ham & cheese sandwich. He had first ordered something they were out of, then the pancakes, but by that time he was too late. They had switched to serving only lunch! It all was really good. We sat across from a couple from Whidbey Island, WA, Bud and Mia Wahlgren. They were on their way back home after staying at Susan & Buzz Kyllonnen's (Tina's friend) guesthouse in Anchor Point, AK. Small world!!

We stopped at Jake's Corner. They have a small motel, repair shop and a café and gift shop. Mom and Dad think it's where they stayed on one of their previous drives up there. Where they had their own "motel from hell" experience!! But with that name they had to stay there! Since its Dad's nickname totally unrelated to his real name, Harold.

We arrived in Whitehorse about 2:30 PM. We spent about an hour checking prices at motels. We finally got checked into the Two-O-Two Motor Inn. The price was $69 for both rooms. Although mine was bigger and had an apartment sized fridge. Both had coffee makers and provided the same good coffee.

To be continued.

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