We finally made it to the lower 48! It took 11 days to cover 3,678 miles from Denali to Lincoln, Nebraska, where we are visiting with friends for a few days before finishing the trek to the log cabin in Michigan.
Of course, the terrain changed with every passing state or province. We finally left the northern Rocky Mountains in British Columbia and spent several days crossing the northern plains. Our photos captured the corresponding changes.
Kaye and I are currently resting up, restocking the fridge, and enjoying the return of decent internet services. We’re pretty worn out but basking in the accomplishment of driving the Alaska Highway… both ways! We’ll be writing lots more about our experiences as we get rested up and ready to return to a more normal flow of life.
Alaskans are only half civilized… and proud of it. The call of the wild includes the lure of wild wide-open spaces, but it brings a lot of inconvenience for the outsiders from the lower 48 who are used to their perks. While camped at Denali for the last five weeks Kaye and I have had to accept that we won’t have a good internet link, and for me that has meant a long silence with regard to my travel blog. I haven’t posted because I simply couldn’t get online for much of the time.
Anyway, we departed Denali yesterday for the 4,000 miles trek back across the Alaska Highway to Michigan and plan to take about three weeks doing it. Our first stop near Anchorage provided a good internet connection, so I’m logging a quick post to let everyone know we are on the road again and will likely not be posting very often while heading across through the Yukon and northern Canada.
I am planning to write some more extensive reviews after arriving back in civilization.
“Climbing a mountain” is a figurative expression that is used to acknowledge the presence of a monumental challenge, something that we know will be difficult. It could be something like pursuing a college degree or quitting smoking or any of a thousand other tough quests.
For us three years ago, it was the process of downsizing and moving out of our house of 40 years so we could move into an RV and pursue life on the road. It was truly monumental.
But yesterday, “climbing a mountain” was not figurative language for me but an actual event. After a couple weeks of consideration and a practice run at it, I took on the challenge of the difficult hiking trail to the Mt. Healy Overlook. A week before, I had hiked the first half of it then turned back, deciding it was too strenuous. Finally, I was able to view the first attempt as conditioning for yesterday’s ultimate climb. And it worked; I made it to the top, a vertical climb of 1,700 feet over 2.3 miles! In fact, I cut a bit of time off the predicted duration of 4 to 5 hours for the round trip.
Arriving back in the canyon in the late afternoon, I went to see Scott at Denali Adventure Tours to update him on the details of the climb (Yes, I decided that the steep trail would be more accurately described as a “climb” rather than a hike). That’s when I discovered that my first information ranking the difficulty of the climb as “moderate” was bad intel. Sure enough, Scott’s vast encyclopedia of adventure knowledge pegged that trail as “strenuous”. Now I could believe that!
As I had been scrambling over large boulders on the upper slopes I had heard myself grumbling under my breath about the guy who must have ranked the trail without ever climbing it. “Only a 16-year-old athlete would call this a “moderate” hike!” I fumed.
In terms of “Climbing a mountain”, this one was the real thing! The truth is, I would definitely not have taken on that climb if I had known up front what a grueling challenge I was in for. But now that I’ve done it, I’m happy about it… and happy to still be alive!
“Tree line is at 3,000 feet,” said our pilot, Dan. “Above 7,000 feet there’s just rock and snow.” We had just taken off in a little 8-seater plane for a fly-by of Mt. McKinley, the highest point on the North American continent, and Dan was already sharing his comprehensive knowledge of the mountain geography, naming rivers, glaciers and mountains as we skimmed over snow-capped peaks on a bee-line for Denali.
At first there was a lot of color as we climbed out of the dark green forest, but before long there was only snow and rocky cliffs, sure enough. There were glaciers by the dozen, some of them perched in hanging valleys, others stretching into the distance like long wide rivers of ice.
Our flight took us delightfully close to the jagged peaks as Dan zig-zagged his way between spires and pinnacles all along the way. We soon reached Mount McKinley itself, a huge, disorganized heap of rock with all sorts of cliffs and mounds facing in all directions and several glaciers oozing from its high canyons and valleys.Pretty soon we made a wide banking turn over a massive glacier and headed back through the dizzying maze of peaks as Dan pointed out a trail across a snow field left by the last team of climbers on the mountain. I wondered how they knew where it was safe to cross; I was seeing dozens of crevasses from the air.
This flight to the Mountain was certainly the pinnacle of my Alaska experience. We are just about halfway through our summer in the land of the midnight sun and realizing that it is such a vast area that we will not get to see everything; there is just no way.
Seeing it from the air certainly covers a lot of territory in a short time. Maybe I’ll get to catch another flight around the Mountain before my time is up here. What a natural high!
My flight was arranged by my son-in-law, Scott, the owner of Denali Adventure Tours. It’s just one of many adventure trips they provide.
(Click on any of the photos in this post to see a larger view.)