Our 9-week, 7,500+ mile sojourn into the Great White North and beyond (Alaska) was an epic adventure! We headed out July 20 in our pickup truck, pulling a cargo trailer with dirt bikes, kayaks, fishing poles, rockhounding gear, extra gasoline, spare tire(s) and a bucket toilet (in case we couldn’t find a bathroom along the way). Our truck bed contained a mattress (in case we couldn’t find a motel along the way).
For much of the time we traced the routes of the Alaskan Highway and/or the Yukon Klondike Gold Rush stampeders of the late 1800’s. As we braved the northern wilderness, we often felt like stampeders ourselves! Only, unlike the painting above, the main treasures WE sought were FAMILY and FISH. Another difference . . . Karen was an eager participant, unlike the woman pictured above. Jeff continued his work while we traveled, with sometimes sketchy phone and Internet connectivity. In the end, even 9 weeks weren’t enough. There were more things we wanted to see and do.
Our first day included a stop at Elkhorn Hot Springs (very rustic) and the next day rock hounding at Crystal Park near Polaris, Montana. Digging for crystals is not quite as easy as some of the YouTubers make it look! After about 6 hours of hiking, searching, digging and sifting, we came away with a couple of fanny packs of little crystals and clusters that we will add to our growing “treasure” collection. It is fascinatingly intoxicating to discover mother nature-formed crystals of varied shapes, sizes and colors.
Our second day was spent exploring dirt biking trails at Wolf Creek, Montana. After that, we headed north to cross the Canadian border.
From online appointment options up to 8:00 pm, we had chosen a 6:00 pm slot at the crossing near Glacier and Waterton national parks. It was close to 6:00 when we thought we’d take just a few minutes to view a lake on the US side. As we were approaching the border guard station, they pulled the barricades across RIGHT IN FRONT OF US. It was 6:02 and apparently we were too late. We understood they’d be open until well after 8:00 pm. SO CLOSE and yet so far away! A 4-hour backtrack later, we crossed into Canada at a 24-hour station further east, and finally reached our hotel in Waterton Lakes National Park.
In Waterton we spent 4 days enjoying the laid back town and exquisite scenery, and hiking A LOT. Karen collected digital wildflowers as we walked . . . they were too pretty and varied to pass by! Our most ambitious hike of the whole trip was Crypt Lake, one of the top-rated hikes in the Canadian Rockies. This 12-mile route involves a boat ride to the trailhead, several waterfalls, a ladder up an exposed cliff, a natural tunnel to squeeze through, and a cable traverse on a narrow ledge, with a pristine lake as the destination. Can’t beat that! There were plenty of animal sightings in the park too (can you say 10 bears plus more?). It was a tiny taste of the expansive beauty and wildlife we’d witness over the next 2 months.
On this Service Nomads trek, we knew we’d be moving around a lot, which makes embedding in a community and coordinating with local service agencies difficult. So we decided to spread some love along the way, by giving out HEART ROCKS to unsuspecting individuals. We acquired 70 rocks from a local nonprofit called Take Heart Creative Studio (click for link). Since we’d be on the road for 70 days, we thought that’d be a good number. Our first recipients were some folks on a challenging hike in Waterton . . . a dad carrying a daughter on his shoulders, a young boy leading his family up the steep trail, and a senior citizen tourist with a huge camera lens, struggling with each step.
These heart rocks gave our days added purpose, as we were always on the lookout for people who might benefit from some encouragement to “rock on.” We gave some rocks WITH the cards and some with just a smile and a “Thanks, you’re awesome.” A few especially memorable heart rock recipients were:
- A young First Nations brother and sister duo in our hotel with their foster parents, on their way to take part in a tribal celebration
- Residents of a homeless shelter in Nikiski, Alaska, who we cooked dinner for, visited and ate with one evening
- Karen’s rainy day fishing buddy John who gave her—not the shirt off his back—but something more important to a fisherman . . . the leader off his line (including weight and hook) . . . to make sure she was successful
- Friendly mechanic Adrian and his wife in Whitehorse, Yukon (originally from Bern, Switzerland) who saved us in a pinch by repairing our failing trailer wheel hubs
One major goal of our trip to Alaska—up through Alberta and down through British Columbia— was to see members of Karen’s family and birth family, some of whom we’d never met before. We had many loving reunions and fun first-time meetings. Mission accomplished!
In chronological order of visiting:
In between jobs, Ethan bought a ticket to join us in our Alaska Airbnb for one week, helping with a “socks for the homeless” project, among other fun activities.
Our last 5 days in Alaska before heading south again was spent at a remote fishing lodge on the Togiak River with son Jordan and friends/colleagues Tyler and Mason.
The last week of the lodge fishing season, it was very stormy (our inbound plane barely made the scary landing!), and the river was unrecognizably flooded.
When our guides miraculously found where the fish were hiding in the new waterscape, those fish bit HARD. We were able to fill the freezer back home with Silver Salmon.
It’s impossible to fully encapsulate our experience in this blog post. Two words come to mind —
. . . but we’ll try to communicate with these additional photos and highlight lists . . .
Mountains, Rivers, Lakes, Trees, Tundra, Fireweed, Wildflowers, Berries, Mushrooms, Lily Pads, Sunsets, Rainbows, Fog, Clouds, Rain, Waterfalls, Hot Springs, Beaches, Rocks, Glacial Silt, Tidal Bores, Icebergs, Glaciers
Several locals explained that in Alaska the year consists of 9 months of winter, and one month each of spring, summer, and fall. It was summer when we arrived and almost winter when we left.
46 Bear (black and grizzly), 24 Moose, Humpback Whales, Dall’s Porpoises, Stellar Sea Lions, Sea Otters, River Otters, Harbor Seals, 1 lone Wolf, Lynx, Deer, Elk, Prairie Bison, Rabbits, Wood Bison, Caribou (Reindeer), 3 Coyote, Red Fox, Dall Sheep, Beavers, Mink, Muskrat, Arctic Ground Squirrels (too cute!), Great Blue Herons, Sandhill Cranes, Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles, Crows, Magpies, Seagulls, Kittiwake Gulls, Ptarmigans, Trumpeter Swans, Hawks, Ducks, all sorts of BIG Insects including Mosquitos
Do you you know the difference between a Caribou and a Reindeer? Same species. Santa’s reindeer are just domesticated (and highly trained and talented!) Caribou.
The last type of wildlife we enjoyed, but certainly not the least . . .
. . . the catchable kind . . . Silver/Coho Salmon, Humpy/Pink Salmon, Halibut, Rainbow Trout
As well as the Crystals mentioned earlier, we did a little hunting for Jade, Agate, Ammolite, Opal, and Gold (some hunting in nature, and some in rock shops!)
Other misc things that we experienced include: frost heaves, sinking power poles, potholes, ice castle, a gazillion boats, trains, tunnels, countless churches AND cannabis dispensaries. Unique service opportunities. Most and best of all . . . friendly people everywhere we went!
Thank you for reading about our northern adventure! Our next (and shorter) post will be soon, since Karen’s journey to Manila, Philippines has already come and gone (she returned one week ago). Please stay tuned for the what’s and why’s and photos of her special pilgrimage…