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John and Mandi

us --> van --> overland
7 yrs and 6 days - end of the road

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Rain Rain Go Away, John and Mandi Want to Play

Aug 28, 2015
by John
in: Alaska, USA

Nearing the end of our Alaskan leg we pointed the JaMvan to Haines. This meant crossing back into Canada then following the shoreline of Kluane Lake. The weather was still rainy and foggy so we didn't get a great view of the lake, it's a pleasant drive and one we might need to repeat someday as we've heard it's spectacular on sunny days. We ended up skipping the hikes we had planned, fair weather peeps it seems. The US border is a little over 40 miles from the coast, some of the most breathtaking we've driven thus far. Just before reaching Haines the rain and fog lifted, allowing us to be ushered in by a blue sky.

Following our new M.O. we drove straight to the visitors center to get the skinny on the what and what not to dos. Haines is a cruise port, so it was also nice to have a rough idea regarding the ship schedule even though we completely ignored it to chase the weather. We knew there would probably be some bear activity near the Chilkoot River, why not head that way while scouting for places to free camp. We took a few side trips before reaching the river, arriving at the most opportune time to catch the bears working the shoreline.

We're a bit torn with wild bear watching. The experience is indescribable, the unfortunate side effect undeniable. In this instance, some spectators got within 10 yards of the bears. It's not the fear that weighs on our minds, rather the desensitization the cubs are subjected to. Many young bears have been shot as a result, it's our influence that breaks the natural understanding. A gentleman started yelling at the couple that were undoubtedly too close, "I don't care about your lives, I care about the bears". Our sentiments exactly. We carry a 200mm zoom lens, it was more than enough to capture great closeup images. They had a 400mm, entirely inexcusable. If we all behaved this way then there would be nothing wild left to see, let alone photograph.

Haines, AK, USA

Arthur! Arthur, King of the Britons!

Chilkoot River, Haines, AK, USA

Single mom with 2 kids and she just got her nails did

Arriving in Haines early allowed us to take a couple of days to complete some chores. We were able to give the van a half-assed washing, the car wash brush totally sucked. With showers, laundry, grocery shopping, blog (library WiFi is really slow), and a few other assorted things out of the way we were free to just chill. Each morning we would drive to one of the many waysides, sometimes hanging out with other travelers that were passing through. Kurt and Kristi gave us the skinny on Juneau and some fresh Halibut...thank you, thank you, thank you! Adam and Leila (sp?), heading North in a Mitsubishi Delica, shared stories and enthusiasm. Hopefully we'll see all of them again someday.

The weather remained iffy but we managed to sneak in a hike to Battery Point. It's fairly short, through old growth, and not entirely marked. We pushed our way as far as we could deciding it was good enough, then turned back. A portion can be walked along the shore, the view exceptional. Many locals let their dogs run free here, a joy to witness the furry exuberance. All in it was maybe 3 miles, a much needed stretch.

Battery Point Trail, Haines, AK, USA

Yup, they shit in the woods

Battery Point Trail, Haines, AK, USA

And we were expecting the energizer bunny, a copper top, or something

We could have stayed in Haines longer, but we had to catch a ferry to Juneau. Our original plan was to wing the ferries but Mandi was finding most of them were out of vehicle space. Just before reaching Haines we booked our entire trip out of Alaska from Haines to Juneau, Sitka, Ketchican, then Prince Rupert. The ferry has often been referred to as the poor man's Alaskan cruise, at $1200 it's still a sizable chunk of change. We'll spend a substantial amount of time in each port verses a cruiseliner, the main problem being the unreliability of the ferries. One had already broken down by the time we reached town, causing changes to many of the itineraries. We had to leave Haines a day earlier than booked and at a later time of day. Looking at our updated itinerary, we might miss seeing the inside passage since we'll be traveling almost entirely at night. A bit of a bummer, maybe we'll come back as a cruise zombie one day.

The ferry to Juneau was mostly uneventful. Having to back the van out became quite stressful due to a breakdown in communication with the ferry employee over its maneuverability. Eventually ignoring him all together and turning around had us driving off a wee bit peeved, it was after 1 in the morning. Finding a site in the dark was exciting, putting it nicely, we persevered and located a trailhead which ended up being the quietest spot during our entire stay in Juneau.

The next morning we decided to head downtown, a mistake if it was a weekday, luckily it was a Sunday. The streets are narrow with cars parked on both sides, single track narrowly describes it. We stopped at the health food store for some hard to find items, drove over to and through Douglas, then headed back through the city past the ferry terminal. Auke Bay ended up becoming a go to spot for us. It was still raining so we started discussing the possibility of changing our plans and just skipping the next two ports all together. The forecast was much of the same except for two mostly clear days, one of which we were scheduled to be traveling on another ferry. Our thought was to spend both good days in Juneau then ferry in the rain to Prince Rupert, we're planning to drive the coast of the PNW so there will be many more cold and rainy days ahead.

Douglass Island, Juneau, AK, USA

You go see what it is

Auke Bay, Juneau, AK, USA

We still don't know how to pronounce Auke

Knowing we could use some advice, we posted in the Facebook PanAm group. A friend of ours smacked us back to reality. Our supposed problem of sticking out our existing itinerary or moving on was not a problem at all. Thanks again for the gut check Mike, we can't wait to see you and Tiff again. What's a little cold rain that is blowing directly in your face, well rather shitty for one. Besides being an annoyance we knew we could ride it out and enjoy the sunny days ahead, especially after the experiences shared on our thread, muchas gracias.

Mendenhall Glacier is probably the most well known attraction in Juneau so we ventured to the visitor center as soon as the rain broke. Our National Park pass allowed us free entry into the center, $3 each if you don't have a pass, an unnecessary stop as the trails around the center are free. There were hundreds of people, four ships were in port, so we wandered around then drove to Mendenhall Lake. In our opinion it provides a better view, it also lacks the hoards.

The following morning our plan to hike the West Mendenhall trail was almost foiled, did we mention we like to sleep in. We lazed about, sipping our coffee at the lake peacefully staring at the beautiful glacier, taking breaks to throw rocks. Realizing it was after noon, we decided to hike the trail for a bit then turn around when we felt like it. A few hours later, about 200 yards from the end, we called it and headed back to the van. It's a tough but extremely rewarding hike. The trail isn't marked as well as it could be, we wandered off trail more than once accidentally. On one occasion I stepped too close to the edge, landing hard on my left knee and barely catching myself as the ground gave way under my right foot. On the way down we found an obscure sign that pointed the way to ice caves under the glacier. WTF! Oh well, maybe next time.

Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, AK, USA

Looks like a giant can of whipping cream exploded, mmmm Frapuccino

Our minds have obviously shed the burdens suffered by most. The daily grind is a distant memory, no longer a calculable factor. Unlike a vacation, we can change course in an instant, unfettered and mostly carefree. Instead of long days and short years, we experience short days and long weeks. Weekends only matter for logistics. Detached yet bound by what we have always known, a surreal reality. When weather becomes our most adversarial adversary, we are aware of the moment. Each instant, desired to be optimal, yearned to be lived. We are just shy of 120 days on the road, we've barely begun.

Say what? (6)
Pam and Randall
Aug 28, 2015 at 02:26 PM
Great adventure! Looks like you still have 2 months to join us as we intend to cross at Nogales, Arizona to Mexico about November 7. Or, stop by in beautiful Dillon, Colorado for a hot shower and view of the Continental Divide.
Aug 31, 2015 at 02:41 PM
Hey Pam and Randall!

Right now we are planning to run the west coast to Baja and catching a ferry from there to mainland Mexico. Let's keep in touch so we can meet up somewhere on the road.
Aug 29, 2015 at 06:12 PM
You guys look so happy and oh the amazing adventures you've enjoyed! Been following along and am so happy for you! Hope you continue to enjoy every moment! Safe travels! :-)
Aug 31, 2015 at 02:46 PM
Hey Angie!

We've been missing you and hoping everything is going great. Just remember, you can always fly out and be a part of our adventure anytime you want. Little ones are welcome too, I'm just a big doofy kid Mandi puts up with. XOXO
Sep 1, 2015 at 10:01 AM
All your Alaskan pics and blog write-ups are great. Alaska looks so close to nature.
Sep 8, 2015 at 12:29 PM
Thanks Sri!

Alaska is one of a kind.
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