North to Alaska
Today is our final day of packing, fixing machinery, and getting things ready for our trip North. I'm packing the last of the things in the camper, and we are hooking the 5th wheel up. We are hoping to leave here at about 6 AM tomorrow morning. We'll be driving from our farm to Sault Ste. Marie Michigan first, where we'll spend a few days visiting Kevin's brother and stuffing ourselves with whitefish... with our truck camper it takes about 10 hours to get there from the farm. With the 5th wheel - we have no idea how long it will take us. Since we've never driven it (the 5th wheel) anywhere before, we don't really know what to expect. We've been estimating our mileage at 6, 8, and 10... we are not yet sure just how bad it's going to be! We figure if we leave early enough, maybe we'll make it in one day, which would save us having to risk whether or not we'll find a campground along the way that will accommodate our 5th wheel - most of the campgrounds are not built for such large machines along this particular stretch of road.
One of my blog readers asked if I would write a bit about why we are heading North to Alaska, since a lot of my readers might not know about our second home there.
Not every year, but most years, we travel the 4,000 miles (from our farm in Eastern Ontario) to Tok Alaska. Two years ago, we finally bought 10 acres of our own land there, as a retreat, a haven in the spruce forest with the Alaska range looking over us.
Why Alaska and why more specifically a small town in the interior of it? Tok is a small bush town, 90 miles from the Alaska/Yukon border. There isn't a heck of a lot there... a couple of restaurants, campgrounds, a grocery store, and a few places to fuel up. Anyone driving into Alaska, has to pass through Tok, and a lot of people spend their first night in Alaska there, but then excited to start their Alaskan adventure, quickly pass through. I would have been one of those people who just saw Tok as a small bush town where I only spent one night in, if it had not been for Kevin.
Kevin lived in Tok, in the eighties. He spent 12 years in Alaska with the Coast Guard, most of it on Kodiak, but a couple of years in Tok. When I went to Alaska for the first time in 2006 with him, we stopped in Tok, went into the Husky Lounge and met a few of the people he knew from his time there, local business owners mostly, who had no idea we were coming and had not seen Kevin in many years. They were very happy to see him, and one of the first things one them, Dale, who runs the best gas station in town (wink, wink), said to me, having never met me before was, "welcome home." Which meant a tremendous amount to me.
From the time I was about eleven years old, when I first saw pictures of Alaska, of the glaciers, the mountains, the wildlife, I knew I had to go there. It's difficult to explain but when I looked at pictures of the mountains of Alaska, it was like looking at pictures of my home. There was a feeling in my heart of comfort, of security, of knowing... this feeling like I'd been there before. Which of course I hadn't - I'd never even seen a mountain.
As a child I told everyone of my dream. One day, when I could drive, I would pack my dog in my car and we would drive to Alaska together. I dreamed at night of driving on the Alaska highway and seeing the big mountains of the Kluane range in the Yukon coming into view...
As I've mentioned before, my mother was sick for a long time. She battled cancer for five years before she passed away when I was sixteen. I went to every doctors appointment with her, and was very involved for a child with what was happening. I wanted it that way. But it was difficult. She asked to die at home, which was kinder on her, but maybe not so on us. It was, put simply, brutal. There was a long time before she passed that she stopped talking, she just wasn't able to anymore. But the night before she died, I told her through my near hysterical tears how much I loved her, and I told her all the things I could think of that I wanted to, knowing it would be my last chance. She never moved, her eyes closed through my whole speech. As I got up to leave and walk away, she pulled on my hand, and I turned around to face her. Her eyes were still closed but she spoke to me and although it took a great deal of energy to get anything out, she told me she loved me. Then she said, "Whatever you do. Go to Alaska."
That was it. My mother never had much of a chance to fulfill her dreams in life. She was a single mother, her relationships had been difficult in life, and she struggled a lot. She took care of her children and that was that. She was a good mother, but as an adult I realized, so many of her dreams had to be put aside because of it. I don't think she was bitter about it, but she instilled in me that dreams were important - and also to always strive to fulfill them when possible, at least the most important ones.
Many years went by before I got to Alaska, although I did manage to get there a lot earlier in my life than expected. A year or so after Kevin and I had been together on a complete whim, we hopped in the truck and went with a couple of days notice. We had animals then, Llamas, chickens, a horse. I thought we'd never find anyone to watch them for a month while we were gone, but we did. Everything fell into place and away we went. It was completely crazy, but I thought it would be my only chance to see Alaska.
I didn't have my dog with me, as I'd always imagined, but I had my dwarf rabbit Nibs - who had been with me for many years, and I had my mothers ashes. I left part of her on the Matanuska glacier, between Glenallen and Palmer, which we were able to walk out on. It was an incredible thing to share with Kevin and with my mom - we both made it to Alaska. I also had my cats ashes with me. You know, we all had to go one way or another!
Alaska is a magical place, I'm sure a lot of people would agree, although a lot of people cannot handle the ruggedness of it, the wildness of it... the very things that make my heart skip a beat when I think about them. The Yukon is much the same way, the people are tough but good hearted... it takes a very determined and strong person to live in the bush, to make do, to survive. I managed to see 23 bears just on our first trip up and that never gets old, nor does seeing Moose, Elk, Caribou, or the Stone Sheep whom I'll share more about with all of you on our trip.
So, back to Tok. The reason we keep going back to Tok is the people. The old friends of Kevin's acted liked he never left and they accepted me as if they'd always known me, and I felt the same way about them, like I'd known them all my life. Tok just feels like home - like the farm does. We don't feel out of place, away from things, or at risk. There is a sense of comfort, of security there. Alaska is a wonderful place, all of it.... but Tok is home.
So after our first trip, we just kept going back. Again and again, and again. I thought I was lucky enough to get to Alaska once and never imaged we'd now be making our 5th trip back there (well my fifth trip, Kevin has made the trip a dozen times). This will be Norman (the Chihuahua's) fourth time going North, Douglas second time. We considered moving there several times, but we love this farm. We have 700 acres here, that's hard to match anywhere else. The U.S. border is currently closed to goats and sheep. It's very often seventy below in Tok in the winter, and it's known as the coldest place in North America. There are a few problems.
As with most things in our lives that are our meant to be though, things have just fallen into place to allow us to travel there. We first saw the piece of land we ended up buying in 2010 in person in 2009 - but we didn't think much of it at the time. The price was too high, it's out of town, which is good and bad, there was nothing there, no sewer, no well, no power. We decided we'd just keep waiting for the right thing to happen. In 2010 it did... that same piece of land dropped in price tremendously, and we realized, why do we need power, sewer, a well? We bid on it, and got it.
In Tok - there are no taxes. If you buy property there, you pay for it, you own it and that's it. So once your land is paid for, there is no cost. Not like most anywhere else where whether you live there or visit once and a while, you are going to pay property taxes. The cost of living there isn't really high - food costs more as it's trucked in, but really it's very comparable and often times less than it costs to live here in Eastern Ontario. The nearest place to buy stuff (major supplies, clothes, etc) is in Fairbanks and it's 200 miles away. It suits us fine. On our land we won't have power (except for our generator) or water, but we'll bring water in a barrel to the 5th wheel, and we don't need much. It costs us money in fuel to get up there - but we save that money by not doing a lot of other things the rest of the year... we don't have a lot of money, we just use what we have to suit our lifestyle and we make it fit when we can. When we can't - we don't go! A lot of people think we must have a lot of money to go to Alaska so often, but a lot of people think of a trip like that in a different way than is reality to us. We are camping, we spend little on food, not that much on camping (since we are usually off grid, and in way sides and the like), the real cost is only in the fuel.
Summer in Alaska is gorgeous, the temperature is usually between 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit, which is good for Kevin because he cannot handle the heat or sun, he's been sick for years with a condition that causes him to have major skin and systemic problems - many things set it off, so he always feels better in the Northern Climate.
It's daylight all the time -so you don't need lights! :)
But the main reason we go really aside from the wildlife, the mountains, the good weather, the amazing fishing, is the amazing people. They are worth the 4,000 mile drive.
With the amount of animals we have - and the level of care some of them need, finding a farm sitter is pretty much impossible. We've been truly lucky and blessed that a good friend of mine, whom I've known for about 8 years now, stays at our farm and watches the place while we are gone. The animals all know him well, and he cares for them as they are family and keeps everything here going, so we can leave for a while and live a bit of a different life, while everything here is taken care of.
The last time we were in Alaska in 2010, I was pretty sick, and I didn't get to enjoy it as much as I usually do, there were a lot of things I physically wasn't able to do that I wanted to, like even go fishing. So I'm really looking forward to us being able to get out in the bush more this time, and fishing.
I can't wait not just to be in Tok again, but just to be up North. Once we get in Alberta we know we are getting closer to home, and especially when we start up the Alcan highway, it feels like home... You never know what you'll see every single day, it's something new...
We do miss the farm when we are gone, and I miss my animals terribly at times... but I am a firm believer that you must always keep yourself open to things, travel is very important to me, to both of us, and we love the North. We are lucky to be able to enjoy our farm and the North both, for now.
Usually when we hit the road and head to Alaska I rarely get online - but that won't be the case this year. I'll be able to update the blog frequently, and I will have updates from the farm as well from our caretaker Jim... he always sends pictures. I really look forward to being able to share our trip, but also some of the special parts of the journey to Alaska and in Alaska, like the wildlife, the sheep, the goats, the mountains, with all of you.
I also look forward to traveling North this time with a bigger camper and a Pug who is potty trained, he was still a puppy last time and it was a big trip for him (and lets be honest, a lot of cleaning up for me.) But he's a well seasoned camper now and he's packed and ready to go!