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John and Mandi

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

HD Off

Our Ka Must Sit While We Wrangle With Nemo

Sep 4, 2015
by John
in: Alaska, USA

We were excited to ferry to Sitka even though the forecast for our stay was for mostly rain, which turned out to be accurate oddly enough. When we were figuring out our ferry schedule we needed to add a couple of days to one of the ports due to limited availability of vehicle space and to prevent an unnecessary backtrack to Juneau. Sitka was the obvious choice for us. In total, we would be spending 6 nights on the island.

Our boarding call was at 6:30 in the morning so we awoke at 4ish to drive to the port, check in, make coffee, and eat breakfast. Arriving at the terminal, dreary and still sleepy eyed, we noticed a couple hazy green veins in the sky. Aurora Borealis, holy super crap cakes batman. The parking lot lamps were creating a bit of light pollution so we hightailed it up the road to a gravel pullout to watch as the sun overcame our little glimpse. How wonderful! We were hoping to get lucky and see the Northern Lights while we were up here, previous attempts while in Juneau all came up empty.

The early morning ferry was our best chance for viewing the inside passage. Soon we were in a dense bank of fog, we could tell there were some narrow sections but our visibility was too obstructed to really get a feel. The majority of our time was spent chatting with a younger couple who were moving to Sitka and discussing our plans once we make it to Prince Rupert. We’ve tossed around the idea of visiting Vancouver Island, we’re still undecided on what we’ll do. When in doubt, drink more coffee, which we did.

Alaska Marine Highway Ferry, USA

That’s right, plenty of space, she’s unpredictable

Departing the ferry, we drove to Starrigavan campground to check it out just in case we couldn’t find a nice free camping spot. It’s the northernmost point in Sitka, there are only about 15 miles of highway. Heading into town we stopped at the Totem Park Visitor’s Center and learned about a deadly landslide that closed Harbor Mountain the week prior to our arrival. Driving that particular road to camp on the summit was one of the main reasons we wanted to visit Sitka, becoming a seemingly shallow desire after such a devastating event. Many other landslides had occurred, a hard hit to such a wonderful community.

Wanting to scope out all of the highway we then drove south, detouring through the industrial park to regain the pavement after the remnant of another slide. We eventually ran out of tarmac then pushed a further 4 or so miles on gravel to a local day use area. It’s a really beautiful drive that hugs the coast the majority of the way. Backtracking, we pulled into Whale Park and wandered its boardwalks and view points. We discovered that the restrooms had hot water, a rare find these days.

We eventually settled on the Thimbleberry trailhead as our pirate camping spot (all 6 nights) and Whale Park as our primary day use area, roughly a quarter mile from each other. Cold rain was coming, we knew we’d need some dry outdoor space, the gazebos at Whale Park would be perfect. The next few days were spent trying to stay dry, walking downtown, eating at Highliner Coffee (great wifi), wandering through Totem Park in our rain gear, and eventually grabbing a $2.50 shower. There is a small health food store that doubles as the local head shop, so fitting, where we grabbed some wonderful fatty grass fed ground beef and thick sliced pork fatback. Bacon chili is back on the menu!

Many movies were watched, photos culled, and discussion after discussion over what crap we need to get rid of. We reorganized some of our junk into used and never touched bins. Looks like my sister will be the lucky winner of more of our stuff, some will be sold so don’t get too grubby sis. We also started reading “We Will Be Free”, A2AExpeditions’ book about their African and South American adventures. The most disturbing detail is that I’m 10 months older than Graeme, respect your elders homie! For clarification, ‘we reading’ is actually Mandi reading aloud and me lounging comfortably on the couch in jammies if she so permits.

I never poured a drop, no matter what Graeme says

I never poured a drop, no matter what Graeme says

One evening we decided to drive further up from Whale Park before parking for the night at the trailhead. It was an attempt at heating up the van to help combat the cold, our heater slurps propane so we try to reserve its usage until absolutely necessary. While heading up the highway I noticed a large disturbance in the water - whales! We pulled over at the many overlooks, eventually parking in the industrial park to watch the melee. Tail splashes, pectoral fin splashes, then stillness. I was scanning another section of the bay when Mandi observed a full breach. We lingered until rain obliviated all visibility, what an experience.

As predicted by the meteorologists, the weather cleared late afternoon on our last full day in Sitka. We decided to pay Totem Park a proper visit, walking some of the side trails to witness salmon nest defensive strategies and the feeding frenzy of Arctic Turns on those fish that have already succumbed to starvation. Salmon live an interestingly bizarre existence, talk about sacrifice. The next mom we hear spouting on about her devotion to her offspring will quickly be alerted to the fact she’s still alive. Salmons be hardcore, bitches, go the distance or shut up.

Totem Park, Sitka, AK, USA

You give me gum-gum

Crescent Bay, Sitka, AK, USA

Ze plane, ze plane

Crescent Bay, Sitka, AK, USA

No, that’s not a totem penis

The rule in southeast Alaska is double or triple down. When the weather is nice you don’t do one thing and go home. We figured we should hike the trail we’ve been sleeping at before we leave, an easy stroll to Thimbleberry Lake with our morning coffee. The trail continues to another lake but we hadn’t prepared for the amount of water needing to be traversed so we went as far as we felt comfortable then turned around. We then drove back to Starrigavan campground to hike the Mosquito Cove trail. Returning from the cove we walked along the beach near the trailhead, basking in the deliciously warm rays of shine. Oh how we love the sun, some sort of religion should be devoted to worshiping only it and the seasons it creates. Wait a minute, isn’t that the great misinterpretation of all time.

Thimbleberry Lake, Sitka, AK, USA

Let the log rolling competition commence

Mosquito Cove Trail, Sitka, AK, USA

Cause it makes our apartment smell moss-ay

Starrigavan Bay, Sitka, AK, USA

Pompous grass, northern relative of the southern pampas, much more attitudinal

Starrigavan Bay, Sitka, AK, USA

Breath of Neptune, not impressed

We were set to leave Sitka but we weren’t entirely sure of Ketchikan, our next destination. Mandi did a little online sleuthing, I still can’t fathom how she is so efficient with the phone’s small screen, finding Wrangell as a possible substitute. We dropped by the ferry office and voila, Wrangell it is. We’d be traveling overnight so a cabin was in order, complete with private bathroom. What, our own shower? Thank the maker! After 93 straight nights in the van we spent a sleepless one in an absolutely uncomfortable bed. A welcomed break with an exceptional hot shower sans shoes. Maybe we’ll need to get a room more often.

Rolling off the ferry the next morning we parked downtown and walked to a breakfast place. We definitely received the welcome of outsiders, cold shoulders and an offhand comment about being from Florida. I guess we all be dumb hicks or sumptin’, pretentious sumbitches. We picked Wrangell for her beauty, not her bite, and set off for Petroglyph Beach. A really awesome location, best experienced at low tide. We wandered the shore peeking into the pools left behind while scrambling over the rocks. Magical, carvings from prehistoric hicks be purty ma. The port-o-lets at the parking area are a thing to behold, never have we experienced a portable loo so wondrous. We took a picture but decided to keep it to ourselves for now, you must visit to know.

Petroglyph Beach, Wrangell, AK, USA

Notepad version .0

Petroglyph Beach, Wrangell, AK, USA

For sale, S.S. Minnow, fixer upper, uncharted desert isle optional

Feeling the need to get out of town we hiked to Rainbow Falls, epic number of stairs, then drove to Nemo Point. There are several free campsites with pit toilets, all in impeccable shape. We explored most of them, selecting Yunshookuh which we had all to ourselves. We spent the rest of our time, one full day, in Wrangell parked at the campground. Mandi cooked our version of huevos rancheros for breakfast and pancakes for dinner. Our ferry to Prince Rupert was scheduled to leave the next morning at 10:15. We spent the evening reading more of “We Will Be Free”, stopping when it was time for bed. On a whim I decided to take a peek at the night sky, it was about 10:30. To our delight, Aurora was dancing in the darkness. We hurried out and tried our luck with the camera while watching the spectacle, no dice. What a wonderful send off, much appreciated Alaska.

Nemo Point, Wrangell, AK, USA

We looked and looked but never found Nemo

Say what? (3)
Glenn Light
Sep 10, 2015 at 04:46 PM
I'm really enjoying your posts and all the many details of your adventure. Never knew there are so many toilet options, and so few for showering while on the road. I was even enthusiastic to read about the van and your gear set up; wonk, wonk.

You two truly are inspiring! Keep the dream alive.
Sep 16, 2015 at 11:10 AM
love that camping view :) And thanks for the book recommendation. I'm always looking for something new.
Sep 17, 2015 at 01:45 PM
Thanks Glenn and Rhonda!

Finding good showers is an art we are still learning. We didn't realize how equipped Florida State Parks were until we ventured west. We miss the free showers included with camping. Token/quarter showers are now the norm, even in the state parks... *sigh*.

We've finished Graeme's book and have started Brad and Sheena's second book "927 Days of Summer". We just can't get enough overlander anecdotes... Sarah and Hani's book should be hitting the shelves soon!
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