North to Alaska: Destination Denali – Part 1


Highway 5 to Hinton

Highway 5 to Hinton

Everyone has a ‘bucket list’.  You know, a list of all the things you want to do before you die.  Maybe it’s hug a grandchild, go whitewater rafting, travel to Europe, and so on.

For us, Bob and Jill Hayward, our ‘bucket list’ for a number of years has included a trip by road to Denali National Park and the tallest mountain in North America, Mt. McKinley, in Alaska.  This is the year we plan to realize that destination.

With the fifth wheel loaded, two dogs installed in the back seat of our Dodge Ram pickup, and four weeks of vacation ahead of us, we left our ranch in Louis Creek on Saturday, July 2 – destination Denali!

As we are both committed to wildlife photography, Alaska, and the Yukon have always been huge drawing cards for us.   The Northern parts of our continent truly are the ‘last frontier’, and everywhere you go you find scenic vistas, abundant wildlife, and memories to last a lifetime.

British Columbia doesn’t have to take a back seat either when it comes to all of the above; even where we live here in the North Thompson Valley, every day brings the beauty and magnificence of nature to our front doors.

However, here we are on our ‘bucket list’ trip, so let’s get started.

Our first night was scheduled to be at Hinton, Alberta; 458 kms on the way to our destination.

After the wet spring and summer that B.C. has experienced we wondered if folks north of us had experienced the same soggy start to summer as our area has?   As we travelled along the Yellowhead Highway, the evidence that they had was everywhere; huge puddles and muddy side roads, tractors bogged down in fields, a late start to crops, and hay overripe and still uncut.

Of course, with such a wet spring, the mosquito population is set for an explosion, something I’m not very enthusiastic about.  Mosquitoes hardly ever bite Bob, but they oh-h-h so love me!   He tells me I’m “too sweet”, but then I can answer he must be “too sour!”  Anyway, due to my uncontrollable habit of inviting these nasty little blood suckers to dine upon my person, I am well armed with just about every brand of mosquito repellent you can imagine.  I now have a decided repellent “stink” to me wherever I go; and my dogs continuously voice their objection to this by sneezing voraciously and giving me rude glares.  Thank goodness Bob has enough of a chronic hay fever problem that his nose is usually so congested he can’t tell his wife is a walking advertisement for Deet.

Our trip through Jasper National Park, was under sunny skies with some beautiful mountain scenery, a black bear, a very large bull elk, and numerous coyotes out trying to scrounge up a meal.  I was sorry we couldn’t stop (due to traffic) to get a photo of a coyote sitting in a field with two ravens sitting beside him, all quite comfortable with each other’s presence.  The trio looked for all the world like they were in heavy conversation about the state of their world, and I wondered what First Nation Elders would find in this sighting?

Hinton has a lovely KOA campground, but due to the long weekend they were full, so instead we stayed at Gateway RV Park; small, clean, and quiet; and right across from the shopping centre – perfect!

The campground owner told us the area had only experienced six days during the month of June without heavy rain; and we thought we had something to complain about at home!

We found yummy Chinese food for supper in the mall across from the campground, and turned in about 10 p.m. for a good night’s sleep.

However, I woke up about 2 a.m. with excruciating pains in both my calves; I couldn’t move, and the pain was intense.  I managed to wiggle around enough to turn on the bunk light, and quickly found the source of my pain.  One of the dogs, Ali, had settled onto my legs for the night (she weighs about 45 pounds)!  I was so sound asleep I hadn’t even felt her get onto the bed, but after both legs went to sleep and then started to cramp – I sure felt that!

Ali was quickly removed, the pain left, and I drifted back to sleep; only to find the dog back in the same spot come morning (but this time no leg cramps – thank goodness).

On July 3 we left for Dawson Creek via Highway 40.  The fields still showed abundant evidence of heavy rain falls, and we caught a few showers and clouds along the way.

We stopped in Grande Prairie for lunch, and chose the Walmart parking lot as we needed to buy a few items before we travelled on.  Even though I had the RV loaded to the top, I had forgotten to pack our bathing suits.  Not too serious if you don’t plan on bathing at the Liard Hot Springs; but I understand the park staff there do frown on skinny dippers!  So shopping we must go.

Imagine our surprise to find Morley from Barriere, also parked at Walmart with his RV.

Grande Prairie brought back a few cherished memories from our last road trip with an RV to Alaska in 2009.  On that trip we had travelled under thunderstorms the whole way from Blue River north.  When we arrived in Grande Prairie the thunder was still rolling, and lightning seemed to be directly over our heads trying to find our humble RV and give us a shot we’d long remember – if we still had a memory after that.

However, we quickly paid for an RV site, hooked up the power cord, and rushed inside for a hot cup of tea and a warm bed.  Our dogs were so afraid of the thunder storm they scurried around the RV looking for a suitable ‘bomb shelter, but had to settle for under the table where they shivered and shook for hours.

With the storm came the rain, torrential rain, in fact the weatherman on the radio the next day said the area had received six-and-a-half inches in 24 hours, a record, and the first rain in three months!

Snuggled in our warm beds, and listening to the rain pound our roof, I quickly drifted off to sleep, but soon awoke when I felt something cold on my nightgown.  “What’s the matter,” mumbled Bob as I sat bolt upright in the bunk.

“I’m wet,” I exclaimed, “The roof is dripping on the bed!”

However, “dripping” was an understatement as that steady drip, drip, drip, quickly became an unbroken stream of water pouring right onto my side of the bed!  I leaped out, scrambled to the kitchen, and grabbed the plastic bucket we used for garbage to catch the water.  But the water had other ideas as it was also travelling along the seam in the ceiling and creating drips all over the bed.

It truly is amazing what you can think up when threatened with a fully soaked mattress and bedclothes.  And thanks to trusty Duct Tape and two plastic garbage bags we soon had the matter under control.

With the thunder storm still raging outside, and the rains trying to wash us away, neither Bob or I relished the thought of trying to put something over the roof outside, and we had nothing that large.  So we got creative, and it worked.

I split a garbage bag, taped each side of it up over the seam that was leaking, left one end dangling down and taped the second garbage bag to it;  then I put the end of the second garbage bag into the bucket, which could now sit beside the bed where the water collected into it.  Next I changed the bedding and my nightgown.  I had to empty that bucket three times in the night, but we stayed warm and dry in our bed, and even caught a few zees to boot!  Believe it or not, that roof never leaked again. We had a few other rain storms until we could do some re-sealing of the roof, but everything stayed dry from that night on.

Our plans weren’t to stay in Grande Prairie this year, and after lunch we took Highway #2 to Pouce Coupe, and then Dawson Creek where the Alaska Highway starts.  It was here that we finally found the warm weather and sunshine.

Watch for the next installment of North To Alaska: Destination Denali in an upcoming issue of the Star/Journal.