Swoop! Southeast!

TSO and I have been travelling WiFi dry for a little too long, and in the time we've had a connection, I have not had time/motivation to write. It's hard to look at a computer screen when the alternative is hundreds of mountains and glaciers and swooping eagles and the like.

Yes, I shook the Anchorage blues. We went down into the Kenai Peninsula, which was originally supposed to be a short little side jaunt. I thought it was so close to Anchorage that I didn't even factor in the mileage to our trip total. So... it turns out that the Peninsula is actually like an upside-down "Y" with Homer at one tip and Seward at the other. and each over 100 miles from Anchorage. We ended up visiting both.


It's very late and I have to get up in 4 hours to go catch the ferry to Sitka. What should I write about?

Well, the mosquitoes here are every bit as big and bad as the warnings say. We have mostly avoided running into them, but our last few campsites have been some of the worst. We stayed at Huck Hobbit's Hostel in Slana, where they came by the thousands, and fell asleep staring up at the hundred or so that had gotten themselves trapped between the outside of the tent and the rain fly. When I took off the fly in the morning, a visible cloud of mosquitoes lifted straight up into the air. Then there was the campground in Haines, Chilkat Lake?, where I had to get up in the morning before our ferry left and boil water to wash the dishes. The water came from a hand pump, like most of the water in state/provincial parks, with an advisory to boil it first. It takes about half an hour to do enough for dishes and drinking, and in that time every mosquito from a five mile radius came and hovered around me, attracted by the heat and steam. A good fifty or so kamikazeed directly into the uncovered clean water bucket, which made washing dishes interesting. I finally busted out the mosquito hat that I brought, the first time I've had to use it on this trip. The actually mosquito net, however, remains packed and untouched. Oh yes. We are rough woodsmen now, aren't we?

Bears have not been a problem, knock on wood. The only ones we've seen have been A) on the side of the road while driving, B) in Denali while on the bus, and C) with enough people watching them already that they were no surprise. The first ones like that were the ones I mentioned in the Kenai. Today we encountered another similar case, but much worse. We went to visit the Mendenhall Glacier just outside of Juneau, discovering that apparently every person aboard every one of the four massive cruise ships parked outside of town was doing exactly the same thing. It was the most crowded "tourist" site we've seen yet, so bad that we had to practically march in a line as we walked up the trail. (We finally did break away and make it to a more remote spot much closer to the glacier.) But when we first arrived, I parked Bosco next to a large group of people surrounding a tree, taking pictures and pointing up at a little black bear high in the branches. The poor bear was agitated, but there was no way down, so it crawled around and gnawed on branches. Several hours later when we came back to the car, the tour buses and people were gone, and so was the bear.

We finally hit a nasty part of the Alaskan Highway several days ago, as we were driving from Tok to Haines Junction. This bit is all torn up, apparently a permanent thing, alternating between pavement unexpectedly turning to gravel, massive divots and waves marked only by a little orange flag (or sometimes not at all), frost heaves, and construction delays. It wasn't quite as bad as the drive from the Canadian/US border to Chicken, Alaska (a steep dirt road made muddy by a recent rain), but it was enough to shake and shimmy poor Bosco, who is beginning to take on a few extra rattle-y noises. The populous Kenai clubbed my Lower 48 driving sense back into me, so the first time I met a massive dip in my lane, I took it, causing things in the back to catch air and rearrange themselves, and then immediately realized that there was no one in the other lane for probably 50 miles and that I could - hey! - actually cross the yellow line to avoid things. It's funny I've forgotten this so quickly, considering how free and easy driving was for most of the Yukon. The Yukon - Where Road Markings Are Suggestions.

The drive from Haines Junction down to Haines is probably a leg that most people skip, since the RVers continue down the way they came and the cruise shippers never stray so far from the water, but this stretch was, I think, my favorite drive yet. The road goes up and over a mountain pass, one that was fiercely guarded by the coastal Tlingit so that they alone could control trade with the Interior Peoples. It starts in the taiga (Russian for "little sticks"), a forest in miniature. The permafrost stunts the growth of the trees, so that they can grow several hundred years and still look like a sapling. Occasionally there are "drunken forests" where the permafrost has melted under the roots of larger trees, causing them to tip this way and that like a bad hair day. Lakes and kettle ponds go past, and then the road climbs above the low treeline into the tundra, with massive snowy mountains in every direction. When it finally descends below treeline on the other side, massive trees quickly appear, the wet coastal forests of southeast Alaska.

And that's where we are now, one big jump from the Kenai to Southeast, and all I can say is "Finally!" For some reason I thought that it wouldn't take long to get from one to the other - the mileage in numbers certainly doesn't look intimidating - but when we finally turned around in Seward and set our sights on Haines, it took four days to get there!

I've got far too many stories to tell. We have a 25-hour ferry ride in our future. Maybe they'll have WiFi?

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