Saturday, June 15th 
Beaver Creek - Valdez

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Everyday life with mosquitoes.

 

10h30
We leave in the direction of Alaska, which is not far away as we reach the Canadian customs somewhere outside Beaver Creek.

11h10
We're back in Alaska and we will stay here until the end of the trip. Our watch has to be put back one hour, so 10h10.

10h25
Nothing on the radio and we are stuck in the such-and-such road construction. While driving on the dusty gravel I realize what a luxury an asphalted road can be.  But we should be happy: we still can continue our planned trip. 
Imagine a traffic diversion in this country; it would take hundreds of kilometers and multiple hours loss of time...

11h00
Again a road construction, with pilot car included.
The flagman, this time a "he", tells us that he worked 28 hours in the last two days.  He definitely has difficulties in staying awake.  And the summer has just begun...

11h30
We leave the Alaska Highway to go to Northway, 7 miles further on. It was initially a settlement of Athabascan Indians, but since World War II a small airport has been constructed here. As part of the Northwest Staging Route, a chain of airports between Whitehorse and Fairbanks, it has been used for the supply of material during the Alaska Highway construction.
Apart of this
curiosity, nothing special happens here.  The airport looks abandoned and the Athabascans continue a peaceful life.
The Milepost indicates that the average temperature in January is -30C.  I suppose there will be even less to do at that time of the year ...

12h05
In Northway Junction, back on the Alaska Highway, where a laundromat, a coffee shop, a grocery store and a gift shop make out the town center, we turn off westwards.

12h20
We just passed a sign "END CONSTRUCTION", it's hard to believe after several hours on gravel.
Apart from that, splendid weather, a few clouds in a blue sky, almost no wind and not to warm, about 17C, I guess.
To the left we see the Mentasta Mountains, part of the Wrangell Mountains.  We drive in a forested area, with the usual birch and spruce trees.  The road is in good condition, but we cross our fingers.
12h45
At about 20 miles from Tok, we enter the area where we had the forest fires a week ago. We drive past a fire engine that is cleaned by some firemen.

13h00
Tetlin Junction for the second time. It's the inevitable passage for those coming from Yukon and going to Alaska, or vice-versa.
This is quiet usual in a country like this, with only a few roads and only two border crossings over a length of more than 650 miles. Such a situation is hard to imagine in Europe.

We pass a temporary helicopter base: a small campsite and two helicopters on an open space. From this place the area is still observed for possible fires.

13h15
Tok and lunchtime. So we enter the Tok Lodge.
People don't search a lot to find a name for a hotel or restaurant; it must be practical in the first place.
During our lunch we get acquainted with Joe, an older man in a wheelchair. He looks like a Vietnam-veteran, but to avoid possible heroic stories, I don't bring up the subject. He must be a local personality, as everyone who enter or leaves the restaurant, interrupts our conversation to say hello to Joe.

"The roads are really bad at the moment, don't you think?", he says.
"Well, we already got used to it", I reply affirmative.
"Where are you coming from ?"
"Canada."
"And how is the Alaska Highway over there ?"
"Quiet the same", I must admit.
"Yeah, it's a hell of a way. They are always working to make it better, but they will never find a solution against the permafrost. The cold is really the strongest here, that will never change !"
"And how are the fires ?", I ask.
"It's calmer now. They are going north with the wind, so they are not a danger anymore. By the way, where do you come from ?"
"Belgium", I say a bit proudly.
"Oh, I've never been there. Do you also have forests ?"
"Not as much as here", I reply less proudly, "We can't cut down a tree just like that".
"Well, here we do, but it won't last for long anymore. You know, with the oxygen and the ozone, it will become a problem. I can tell you that !"

Joe is assisted with his wheelchair when he leaves the restaurant. He sits down behind the steering wheel of his old 1970 Buick and puffs away.

14h05
We continue our trip on the Glenn Highway, direction Valdez, with still the luxury of an asphalted road.  Some good-hearted clouds appear in the sky and the radio offers some music again.

Alaska is definitely a country for senior travelers with an RV.
"Too old to work, too young to die,
Granny and Grumpy on the road, bye, bye !"
That's what I read on the bumper of a camping car in front of me.

14h35
We cross Tok River. There is still a lot of snow and ice on it, though the hills are already green with spruce and birch trees. Meanwhile, the radio is dead again.

15h10
Mentasta Summit (742 m), at 88 miles from Glennallen. It's the continental divide separating water, which flows in the Yukon River north towards the Bering Sea and the Copper River that ends up in the northern Pacific Ocean.
A large white mountain massif arises in front of us: the Wrangell Mountains, with Mt. Sanford (4949 m) as highest peak, a sleeping vulcano.

16h25
Chistochina. 20C, half cloudy and a fresh breeze.

17h15
We cross Gakona and Gulkana River, and join the Richardson Highway. On a Saturday like this, a gathering of anglers is standing here with hip boots in the water, trying to catch a salmon, fascinating ...

Gulkana Airport17h30
Gulkana Airport, the bush planes are standing in line.
The Wrangell Mountains are now on the left.  Mt. Drum (3661 m) and Mt. Wrangell (4317 m) give their best view.
In front of us the Chugagh Mountains appear, also with snowy peaks but less high.

The mosquitoes are really annoying.  Once out of the car they buzz around my head and the time to take a picture is enough to be bitten.  How can people live here?

17h55
At the Wrangell-St.Elias National Park Headquarters I want to drop in to gather some information.  You never know we come a second time to Alaska, and then we will surely visit more closely this region.
While driving back to the main road, a bush plane passes by over the road in the opposite direction.  This seems to be quite normal.

18h35
We are in the middle of the Chugagh Mountains. Since Gulkana the Alaska Pipeline is following us beside the road, but only now it is clearly visible. It could be an artwork of Christo, like the 'Running Fence'.

Worthington Glacier19h30
Worthington Glacier. Seen from a distance, it looks like he crosses the road.  Fortunately, the grey-coloured glacier doesn't come that far.

19h45
Thompson Pass, only 816 meters altitude and yet above tree level.  Big piles of snow lay beside the road. The snow poles indicating the road are very important: it may snow here from September till May and this place holds the Alaska snowfall record of the past 50 years.

20h00
We arrive at the Valdez city limits, but we can't see the Pacific Ocean yet. First we have to drive through the Keystone Canyon, accompanied by the Lowe River. We admire the Horsetail Falls in the evening sun.

20h40
Village Inn Hotel Valdez, after 384 miles.
We also check the ferry reservation for tomorrow, check-in at 6h15. It will be a long day

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