365 photos [372 - 378]

Photos from my final week in North America.


Anchorage

Anchorage market. For some reason I was determined not to like Anchorage, probably because I was bitter about having to leave Denali, but I actually got a really nice vibe from the place. Sorry to prejudge you, Anchorage. Sanchorage.


Anchorage → Whittier → The Sea

Fearing another Dawson incident, I began hitching to Whittier ridiculously early and arrived twelve hours before my ferry was due to depart. Smooth. Here we are lining up to enter the Whittier Tunnel, North America's second longest highway tunnel. It's 4 km long and has just one lane. To make things even more exciting, it's shared by highway and railway traffic, so you're actually driving along the tracks. Sadly they coordinate everything so trains and cars never crash into each other which takes away from the experience.


The Sea

Denise and I. We met some US Coastguard boys that night and got drunk on Grog in one of their cabins. I had no idea Grog actually existed, but I'm so glad I made the discovery whilst aboard a boat. Horrible stuff. I half expected being drunk on a boat would cancel out the natural rocking motion of the sea, but in fact the rocking was greatly amplified and I fell over a number of times.


The Sea

It was lovely sitting out on the deck and watching the landscape roll on by. Lovely for a day or two, anyway. Two days was probably enough.


The Sea

The beginning of my first proper sunset since Whitehorse two weeks previous. It felt strange sleeping in actual darkness that night.


The Sea

You probably remember that time I murdered my Kindle back in April. Well, soon afterwards, I bought a replacement. I took the replacement to Alaska with me because there were I couple of books I wanted to read on the way. It ran out of batteries on the ferry, so I left it somewhere to charge. When I returned, this is what I saw. The most annoying thing about having something stolen on a ferry is that, unless the thief jumped overboard (in which case the joke is on him), I was actually living with the scumbag. It was a locked room mystery! If I wanted to, I could have gathered all 150 passengers in one giant room Poirot-style and started pointing fingers. But this didn't seem feasible so I just got drunk instead. My only consolation is that the pikey responsible for this is almost certainly illiterate and therefore unable to enjoy his prize.

R.I.P. Kindle - loyal book servant of 1 month - I'll miss you.


The Sea → Bellingham (USA) → Vancouver (Canada)

We docked early and I caught the 10am train to Vancouver. I did some necessary goodbye Canada chores like closing my bank account and cancelling my phone contract before going out with Steve for farewell drinks at a karaoke bar on Davie street. I sang "Yesterday" (my karaoke staple) badly and met a girl I probably should have met months earlier. Sod's law really, but a lovely way to say goodbye to a continent I will miss badly.

365 photos [365 - 371]

And so we arrive both at photo number 365 and at Alaska!


Dawson City (Canada) → Fairbanks (USA)

We had the best time in Dawson and really didn't want to leave. As we were about to find out, Dawson didn't want us to leave either. The hitch across the Alaskan border was easily the toughest of the whole trip. Access to the road we were standing beside (the only road to Alaska) was by ferry across the Yukon River so traffic arrived in 15 minute bursts of disappointment. After almost five hours, when morale had hit rock bottom, a guy named Oliver walked past. Oliver was our savior. Oliver suggested that instead of us both thumbing together, Beatice should do it alone while I hid in the bushes. When somebody inevitably stops for the pretty girl, Oliver said, I should spring from the bushes. By this point, the driver is sort of obligated to take us both. It was a dirty trick to play, but we were getting desperate. So when the next ferry arrived, I took my position amongst the vegetation and watched as literally the first car to pass Beatrice pulled over. Incredible! To make things even sweeter, we soon learned that Jim, our chauffeur for the day, was actually heading directly to Fairbanks, exactly where we wanted to go! His company transports heavy machinery between gold mines in Dawson and Fairbanks, a 620 km trip he's been doing weekly (!!!) for almost 30 years.


Fairbanks

Fairbanks is Alaska's second largest city and has population four times smaller than Ipswich, England's 160th largest town. This despite the fact you could fit 13 Englands inside one Alaska with room to spare for eight Luxembourgs. Hopefully this gives you some idea about the scale of this incredible state.


Fairbanks

Tuesday 12th June, 2012 was the official one year anniversary of my leaving home. Here we are celebrating in some Mexican place downtown.


Fairbanks → Denali

The hitch to Denali was perhaps the most comfortable yet. I'm sure there are laws against sitting in the back of moving campervans, but I wasn't about to raise this with Glenn.


Denali

Camping in Denali National Park was one of the most amazing things I've ever done. It's free but strictly regulated to minimise the effect humans have on the wilderness. The 6 million acre park is divided into around 40 so-called "units", each of which may only be occupied by a certain number of campers (fifteen, I think) on any given night. Hardly any, if you think about it. When you apply, you have to go through a whole procedure where you pick a unit, watch a safety video (what to do during bear encounters, how to cross rivers, how to store food, that sort of thing) and give all sorts of information about yourself. Then you're free to do whatever or go wherever the hell you want. So cool.


Denali

Mount McKinley is the tallest mountain in North America and crown jewel of Denali National Park. It's famously elusive and only "comes out" about 4 days a month, so I felt very lucky to get this sort of view. It's the snowy one in the background.


Denali → Anchorage

Latte. Saturday's trip from Denali to Anchorage could be adapted into a full-length feature film starring Eddie Murphy as me. Here's a (quite long, sorry) extract from my travel journal to outline the plot:

"Said goodbye to Beatrice and began hitching around midday. Was picked up 20 mins later by Joe (another J), a construction worker from Healy visiting his kids for the weekend. Heavily tattooed guy who didn’t say much, just listened to 80’s music really loud. Fine by me. Slightly nervous when he started blazing up in the car but he seemed to be in control. Offered me some but thought better of it. Dropped me off 40 miles from Anchorage along a really busy stretch of highway on the opposite side from a man selling live goats (business was slow). Got picked up just as it began raining by Deo and his lovely dog Latte. Deo was off to repair his rental house he failed to sell before the financial crisis and wasn’t happy about it. Nice man but a bit of a bore. Latte sat on my lap for the 5 or 10 miles and was a lot more entertaining. Deo dropped me off somewhere completely hopeless and I was amazed when the second car to pass me stopped. Driver was Seth, a guy my age holding a bible in one hand as he drove. Choir music played from stereo. Quickly saw where this was going. Initially played dumb to his attempts to convert me (realising the sooner I resisted, the sooner he would deposit me on the side of the road) but eventually argued back. He dropped me off somewhere even more useless than before, gave me a copy of John’s gospel, and said he’d pray for me. Had no idea where I was or even where the highway was so asked some guys selling pork ribs outside Fred Meyer’s for help. They recommended getting a bus into Anchorage which would only cost me $1.75. Made my way to the bus stop where I was approached by two more christians (what is this??) who were younger and less slimy than Seth. Amazing how quickly these guys can accelerate from small talk to creator of the universe. They were okay though, harmless. Bus arrived mid-anecdote (a miracle?) and I paid my $1.75. Sign on the front said “Downtown” which I hoped meant downtown Anchorage. It did mean downtown Anchorage but stupidly I got off 20 blocks early after some confusion with house numbers. Began the epic trek. Stopped a guy getting into his car to ask for directions. Sam not only knew where my hostel was, but drove me there since he was going that way anyway. Really nice guy, used to be a professional snowboarder. Stopped off on the way to pawn an electric guitar (as you do). He played “Nothing else matters” to the lady at the shop which seemed to increase the value. Arrived at the hostel, thanked Sam for correcting my blunder and checked in."

365 photos [358 - 364]

Photos from week two of Alaska. Disclaimer: you'll have to wait until week three before I actually reach Alaska.


Edmonton

West Edmonton Mall is North America's largest shopping mall. To picture the scale of this place, just imagine Tower Ramparts in Ipswich, then add a handful of shooting ranges, ice rinks, cinemas, huge interlocking roller coasters, and water parks. Shopping malls are usually my least favourite places on earth to inhabit (including snake pits and pools of lava) but I must admit being fond of this one.


Edmonton → Dawson Creek

Dawson Creek (not to be confused with Dawson's Creek) is the official start of the famous Alaskan Highway, so I felt I had to visit. That, plus the fact buses only ran further north on certain days and Monday wasn't one of them. It might seem like a pleasant enough place to spend a night, but let me tell you it was not. I woke up more than once shivering and without any feeling in either of my feet. My feet were the texture of semi-frozen meat left in the back of the fridge where it's unexpectedly colder than the rest of the fridge. Miserable.


Dawson Creek → Whitehorse

The epic 22-hour push from Dawson Creek to Whitehorse was probably my favourite bus journey ever. Every time we passed wildlife, the bus stopped, often to avoid a serious collision (as above), but in many cases just to admire the view, like a safari. We saw black bears, buffalogrizzly bears (!) and moose. So awesome.


Whitehorse

Walking the hostel dog - Angus - with some friendly Germans. Friendly Germans are a recurring theme when travelling around North America, I have found.


Whitehorse

The weather in Whitehorse was relentlessly miserable. Look at this place.


Whitehorse → Dawson City

I met Beatrice (swiss) at breakfast the morning I was due to leave Whitehorse. She wasn't sure what she wanted to do that day so I convinced her to hitchhike 538 km to Dawson with me. For some reason she accepted and we ended up spending the next eight days travelling together. Amazing how these things work out. We got to Dawson in just two rides, first with Jason and his truck, then John and his car. Both thoroughly pleasant people.


Dawson City

This picture wouldn't be particularly remarkable unless I told you it was taken at 1:02am! The sun literally never sets in Dawson City during the summer, it just makes circles in the sky. You don't realise how much you rely on the sun to gauge the time until it stops setting.

365 photos [351 - 357]

I really don't know where to begin with Alaska so I'll just start chucking photos around.


Vancouver → ???

Funny story this. Here's an extract from my travel journal to explain what's going on: "Bus stopped suddenly soon after passing Revelstoke at 11:15pm. Engine broken and steaming, sending a replacement due to arrive in 3 hours. Mood inside bus understandably bitter. I'm the only happy passenger since I don't have accommodation booked for tonight (was due to arrive in Banff at 4am so not worth paying for a night) and the stationary bus has become my hotel. This has worked out very nicely."


??? → Banff

We ended up arriving in Banff at 8am, which was perfect. I checked into the hostel, napped until midday then hiked Tunnel Mountain. Here's the view from the top.


Banff

Taking in the amazing Rundle Mountain. Here's another extract from my journal which is irrelevant to the picture but quite funny and taken from the same day: "Went back to the hostel and cooked pizza. Quite tipsy by this stage and distracted by a connect 4 tournament with the Germans so pizza burnt. Smoke filled the hostel. Had to shower and change the smell was so bad. Ate charred pizza then headed to the bar for pool, more beer, sexy bingo ("bango") and further connect 4 tournaments with the Germans."


Banff

Maarten and I atop Sulphur Mountain. I met Maarten looking confused at the trail head and we ended up spending the whole day together, hiking almost 20km. He's Dutch and his parents invited me to their farm when I pass through Europe christ knows when. Great people!


Banff → Calgary

Hello there, hare.


Calgary

I'm going to be straight and admit I didn't really like Calgary. There was nothing separating it from a billion other cities I've visited. The fountains were nice though.


Calgary → Edmonton

The Alberta Legislature Building.