Up where the air is clear

Tok, AK


A long gap again. Trees should be fitted with internet connections. Then my life would be a lot more straightforward.

We’re spent a lot of time playing I Spy recently. But it gets dull. ‘I spy with my little eye, something beginning with T’.

As an act of remittance for all the sitting in our car viewing sights that we’d managed over the previous few weeks (we were just trying to get into character as true American tourists), we decided our last stop Montana should be a back country hike. We spent three beautiful, if gruelling, days in Glacier National Park. The world is round, and sure enough, it feels like we’re back in Argentina when we get up among the icefields.

I loved Argentina, so no surprise I loved Montana. I think I could live in Montana. It is a slightly loopy, but wonderful, place.

Here are a couple of places I really couldn’t live:

Banff, Alberta. Surrounded by truly gorgeous scenery, but dressed up like a Swiss chocolate shop window. So we went backcountry again and slept below a huge glacier. Just like old times. It took us a while to get it together hanging our food 10 foot in the air to deter bears (maybe we should have done in while it was light, and before drinking a bottle of wine, but you live and learn!).

Pink Mountain British Columbia. We set off up the Alaska Highway. 1500miles from Dawson Creek (not the one on TV) to Fairbanks. Dawson Creek is crazy enough – it’s already a frontier town, a good days drive from populated Canada. Then you go north. After the last two towns of any significance, you start to reach the small stuff. Pink Mountain has a population of about 30 and consists of two cafes and a store. Its several hours drive from anywhere, and surrounded by nothing. An elusive pink mountain, some gas wells and er, trees. What is anyone doing there?

So we were a bit unsure what to expect ahead. The answer was 4 days driving through unpopulated nothing. But boy was it beautiful, and the sensation of being really, truly in the wilderness, is incredible.

And amongst it are a few places I could definitely live, such as Atlin, a small old mining town on a beautiful lake, with mountains and warms springs, an interesting mining history, some cool cafes, an artsy community and a line of flat planes on the waterfront.

From where I sit, in Alaska, it’s strange to think all these places lie between me and ‘civilisation’. Last night we stopped in a bar in Chicken. (The story goes the miners wanted a name for their town and opted for Ptarmigan, a local chickenlike bird, but they couldn’t spell it, so everyone calls it Chicken.) In Chicken there’s a store and a bar, and the locals hang out. Their idea of a good time is to persuade tourists to donate their underwear, then they blow the up with a stick of dynamite and hang the remains from the roof of the bar. But, when you’re a thousand miles from nowhere, you make your own rules.

And people have had worse ideas than that, believe me – such as a sourtoe cocktail. You don’t want to know.

Everyone raves about Canada, and for good reason. It’s extremely beautiful and the people are friendly. Maybe its because they have no one else to talk to. It would be easy to write this journal about how Canada differs from the USA. But that would be to fall into the trap, as its obvious everyone, including Canadians, is liable to define Canada by its big neighbour. When Canadians spend a lot of time describing very ordinary things as being ‘very Canadian’ as they do, and when they seem to have a national culture about the fact that they say ‘eh’ a lot, as though its their signature tune, its as though they protest too much. ‘Eh’ is sung louder in Australia and New Zealand than here.

Indeed there are even TV adverts there about being Canadian!

So I’ll do Canada the benefit of leaving that comparison to all our imaginations.

They do have the biggest stretch of wilderness on earth, and its very beautiful, and they’re very friendly and quite funny, and you can’t help loving all of that.

Are you experienced?

Life is made up of experiences. Here’s one of ours.
270 miles up a dirt road
50 miles from the nearest building and
30 miles north of the Arctic Circle with
2 flat tyres and only
1 spare

You can guess the rest. It involved hitchhiking with tyres under our arms. Fortunately, with Stuart and Neil travelling with us at the moment, we had a lot of hands.

And its only what you should expect if you decide to go up the Dempster Highway, the road that has the meanest reputation in Canada.

When you say to someone ‘We did the Dempster’ they say ‘How many flats did you get?’ and we say ‘Five’. In 24 hours.

Ever tried superglueing a tyre or sticking a cardboard patch over it? Neil and I did. In the end I ended off learning how to operated tyre repair machinery in a Canadian government road maintenance camp. A new career maybe?

But we did the Dempster. We saw the tundra and the northern lights. We slept in the Arctic and met Inuit hunters. It was what this trip is all about.

And now, the end is near

In 10 days we will no longer be in the Americas. We’ve already reached two of our final destinations – the Arctic and Alaska. In a few days we will be in Anchorage, with our tickets in our hands, trying to work out how to get everything back in our rucksacks.

The greatest journey I could ever imagine will be over. We have covered 130 degrees south to north. 13 countries. About 50,000 miles by bus and a further 10,000 in our car. Our poor dilapidated tent has been erected nearly 90 times. Maybe its time we hung it up for a while.

Then again I’m sorely tempted to take a boat out to the Aleutian Islands and hitch a ride with an Aleutian to Kamchatka.

But in reality, we’re going to Australia for 3 weeks – visiting friends and a bit of tourism, and then back to New Zealand for a few weeks. Those of you there, see you soon! Everyone else, see you before Christmas?

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