Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Kimberley, British Columbia, Canada

I'm back for another retroactive Storification of a running event. On August 20-21 I was at the Kimberley Mountain Resort for the Black Spur Ultra. This is a 108km race on and around the ski resort. Our team of 5 tackled the race in just over 16 hours. It was an amazing test of fitness, strength, luck and determination.

The fun part for me was learning a few days before that I would be running 2 legs, instead of 1. It was fun!

Here's the story!

(Pretty sure I goofed this hashtag....)

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Skagway, Alaska, United States of America

Time for part 3 of the photo-journal of our trip to the north. I had left off the last post after we had arrived back at the Dawson City airport following our adventures in Tuk. Getting back to Dawson was a bit of a shock because the sun was out, it wasn't windy and everything was glowing with fall colours in the high sun. A far cry from the gloomy conditions we'd left behind.

When we arrived, rather than continue to push on down the highway, we decided that it would be better to explore Dawson City and its surrounding areas a bit more. So on our way back into town, we saw a detour to view a historical gold mining dredge. On the way to see the dredge, we passed by numerous active mining operations, along with a historical operation. For Mike, this was heaven. He loved every minute of it. After stopping at the Historic Dredge, we stopped a few more times before heading back into Dawson for a more thorough wander around town.

After checking into our hotel, it was time for us to knock-off one of our must-do's on the trip. While researching, we looked into the Top of the World Highway which is a gravel highway running west of Dawson City to the Alaskan border. Everything we read was that it was a gorgeous drive. We had a few spare hours so we thought we would head 10-20km down the road to see what it was like. Before we even really got started, it was already fun. We had to take a ferry across the Yukon River before we hit the highway, then we got an amazing view of the river and Dawson.

Almost immediately, we realized that we were in for a treat. Everywhere we looked was stunning. The road instantly climbed on top of the small mountains and never left. It swerved around the tops, from side to side, giving views to the north and south. We were loving it. We kept driving. We hit our limit of 20km and all we could see in the distance were even better views. So we kept going. And going.

After many, many stops, we were trying to keep making good time because we didn't know what time the ferry back to Dawson shut down. After coming over a rise, Mike yelled in the back seat, "BEAR." I screeched the car to a stop to see two black bears just out the right side of the car.

Right after we stopped, we we're surprised to see a third bear come over the crest. After a few minutes of fast camera snaps, the bears retreated, as did we.

Before we knew it, we weren't far from the Alaskan border. Part of our goal on this trip was to go to Alaska at some point. But given our good fortune with the first phases of the trip, we had extra days and planned on making an overnight trip to Alaska. Because of this, and because we had only planned on briefly travelling down this highway, we did not bring our passports. So when we got to the border and started wandering around, the border guards quickly alerted us to get back in our car and keep moving. We had no passports and couldn't cross, so we left back to Dawson.

When we got back to town, we had probably our best meal in days. But it didn't quite fill us up, so afterwards we started heading towards a gas station to pick up some snacks. Before we got there, we passed by the ol' Sluice Box and as we did, Dustin said, "Sluice Box has free popcorn." We were all sold. We made a quick turn, went inside, ordered some beers and started ploughing through the popcorn.

Most of us thought that after a few beers, our long day was finally ending. But I had checked out my aurora borealis forecast and it finally seemed like we were getting a clear night with some visible lights. I slept for all of a couple hours before forcing myself awake and heading out to the river to check out the northern lights. I eventually got the others awake to see the slightly glimmering lights. It wasn't an unbelievable display, but it did make for some good photos and one video.

Mercifully, we called it a night before the sun came up.

The next morning, we were headed south. Our target was Alaska. This time we had all our stuff, including our passports. We cruised south to Whitehorse in no-time (I even had a nap). What we didn't know was that one of the best drives of our lives was upcoming.

We headed south of Whitehorse and were surprised to find another bear. And another. And another. All grizzlies, feeding on the side of the highway.

We kept going and as we did the scenery just kept improving. We were still in an area with fall colours, but it was now blending with snow-capped mountains and inexplicably a desert. For some reason, near Carcross, there is an actual sand-filled desert in the middle of the mountains. It was definitely worth a stop and made for some great photos.

For miles and miles, the views just kept on getting better. We were losing time all over the place because we kept seeing something amazing which we needed to stop at. This was the Top of the World Highway all over again. Eventually, we made it to the Alaskan border (not really on the border) and into the USA.

After crossing the border, we descended a massive hill and found ourselves in Skagway, AK (the namesake of this post). This was going to be our home for the next two nights. We checked in to our B&B (an old brothel) and started to explore. We knew that Skagway was a cruise ship port, but were not expecting the town to still have maintained much of it's old gold rush charm, albeit with a certain manufactured and touristy feel. The town was still beautiful.

Following dinner, we only had one thing left to do. That was to find something to do the next day. We had the entire day and were hoping to catch a tour somewhere. And oddly enough, I had an idea. While we were waiting in the airport in Dawson a few days before, I started looking through the travel pamphlets and saw one for a Fjord Express that would take you to Juneau, AK with a quick ride through the Inner Passageway. Both of these things were intriguing to me, and enough to sell the others. We called hoping to be able to book a ride only to find out that, of course, the cruise was full. Ugh. We were stuck again. We really wanted to do this, and didn't really have any other good alternatives. So, we stayed persistent and had them put us on the waiting list for the morning.

We woke up nice and early, headed for the piers with some faint hope. We needed more good luck if this was going to work out. We met the captain of the boat and told him that we were hoping to get on. He mentioned he had a fully booked boat but would let us know if there were some no-shows.

The departure time was approaching quickly, and many people had filled the boat. We didn't think that it was going to work. We wandered around aimlessly. I took pictures of boats. Finally, the captain came back down towards the boat and said, "I have 3 opens spots." We were in. Somehow there was just enough room for us. Before we could blink, the boat was launched and we were on our way to Juneau.

The ride to Juneau was spectacular. Everywhere we looked there were bald eagles. So many that we lost count. There were sea lions, seals, porpoises and the promise of whales. Also along the way were amazing views of mountains, waterfalls and glaciers.

After a bus ride into town, we will suddenly in the capital of Alaska, that can only be reached by boat or plane. We had a few hours to tour around so we quickly grabbed lunch and started wandering.

Almost immediately after walking around, we got separated. Not wanting to miss out on the opportunity, and having my camera, I headed for the gondola that takes you up the side of the mountain. I didn't want to spend my limited time in Juneau looking for people so I kept on. Within minutes I was floating over the city. Having less than an hour to tour around, get back down and catch the bus, I had to power walk everything. I did the loop on top of the mountain just under running speed (but just as sweaty) and made it back down in time for a couple more pictures in town before departure.

We boarded back on the bus, then headed back north to see another glacier. This time a little more close-up. We got dropped off, checked out the view point and decided that we wanted to get closer but didn't think we had enough time. I did a bit of walking speed math and determined that we could get to the waterfall and back in time without missing out bus. It was well worth the effort as we managed to see some icebergs and get up close and personal with the waterfall.

This marked the end of our quick trip to Juneau, but meant that we were getting back out for another boat ride. Before we even started heading north for Skagway, our captain informed us there was some whale activity a few miles south and that we should go look. No one was going to say no. This wasn't a whale tour, but would be a nice bonus. Soon we could see whale blowing mist in the air in the distance. Then near us. Then all around us. At one point, people were just running side-to-side and front-to-back as whales were surfacing arround our boat. We couldn't keep up with how many there were, but it was constant for 20-30 minutes. Finally our captain reluctantly told us we needed to go or we'd be out past dark. We were all mostly in shock. Even the helper that worked the tour everyday said she'd never seen whales like that before. There was even a massive breach as we started to head back.

The rest of the journey was mostly uneventful, except for some more sea lions, sea otters and a lighthouse. But we did get a great meal and some more great photos.

After a quick meal, we were fast to sleep. Still amazed by how close we were to not going on the cruise and missing the amazing day we just had.

The next morning was the beginning of the end. We were officially heading home. Our plan was to drive to Muncho Lake, BC and stay at the lunch there. We checked availability in the morning and there was lots so we continued on without a booking (you know where this is going). But before we got too far down the road, we were seeing wildlife again. First it was another grizzly bear, then another black bear. And a while after that, bison. Bison everywhere. All this wildlife kept us entertained as we went back into the Yukon and eventually back into BC.

Our plan was to take a break for a swim at Liard River Provincial Park in the hot springs before hitting up the lodge. The swim was fantastic and great rest after a full day of driving.

It was a good thing we got a good break, because when we got to Muncho Lake we found that all the rooms in our price range were now sold out. After a not-so-hard sell from the front desk we said forget it and kept driving. We made up time while we could in the daylight but eventually found ourselves in the dark and pushing over 12 hours of driving. Late in the night, we made it to Fort Nelson and found a much more affordable hotel.

The extra driving was a bit of a pain, but made the next day a lot simpler. We had planned on driving back in three days, but with our misfortune in Muncho, we actually had made it halfway home from Alaska. Rather than stop in Grande Prairie for the next night, we were able to just keep on going right back into Edmonton. We were going to get back from Alaska to Edmonton in 2 days.

And just like that, it was all over. The car made it safe and sound. So did we. We pulled the car over in front of our original departure point and took one last group photo (patched into the collage below).

What an amazing 10 days. Memories that will last forever and hopefully new discoveries that we will get to see again someday.

Thanks for reading about our crazy northern adventure!!