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Old 08-15-2008, 07:27 PM   #1
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Default My trip to Alaska!

It all started a few months ago when my buddy Phil in Fairbanks, AK said he was starting law school at Florida State in August. After talking to him for a bit, it was decided I would fly up to Alaska, we would camp and fish for a week, then I would do the drive from Fairbanks to Pensacola with him.

Sunday August 3rd I left Pensacola airport at 7:15 in the morning. At 9:00 pm Alaska time (3 hours behind us) I arrived in Fairbanks. We drove to Phil?s house packed up the camping gear and headed down the Parks Highway towards Anchorage. Sometime the next morning I find myself standing in the Montana river catching pink salmon on the fly rod. Life is good. Later that day we move to another river and catch our limit of silver salmon. Camping that night was great. Fresh salmon on the grill and lots of cold beer. Tuesday was basically the same. We spent the day fishing the river where we caught the silver salmon the previous day.

We had a halibut charter booked out of Valdez on Wednesday. After we got our silver salmon on the Parks Highway on Tuesday, we departed for Valdez. Everywhere we drove the scenery was nothing short of breathtaking. Mountains, glaciers, and all kinds of wildlife. Pictures just can?t to it justice. We make it into Valdez late Tuesday all fired up for our halibut trip. I was excited to find a pay shower at one of the gas stations. After a nice warm $8 shower we set up camp and called it a night.

Wednesday morning we head to the dock and get on our boat, the Dan Orion. The captain has a reputation for catching big halibut. The 100 mile, 3 hour somewhat bumpy boat ride out was spent sleeping and dreaming of monster halibut. We made it to our destination, set the anchor and started catching fish right away. There were six of us fishing. While we didn?t catch any monsters, we all got our limit of halibut along with several rockfish and lingcod. On the boat ride back we saw seals, bald eagles, some whales and more breathtaking scenery. Later that evening after we got the fish taken care of we headed over to Allison Point in the back of Valdez harbor to catch some pink salmon. Again, the fishing was good. The fish were piled up so thick it was hard to not snag one. We did manage to get several to bite. The tide started to run out and the fishing slowed so we decided to take a drive looking for bears. We didn?t have to go far. Several hundred yards down the road from where we were fishing was a small black bear feeding on some salmon. We watched him for a while then headed back to the campsite and called it a night.

Thursday morning we headed back down to the dock to get on the boat (Alaskai) we had booked for a salmon trip. Thank god the run to the fishing grounds was much shorter on the salmon boat. Shortly after we began trolling we had our first silver salmon in the boat. There were a few slower periods throughout the day but for the most part the fishing was great. There was four of us fishing on this boat. We all ended the day one fish short of our limit. Again, the whole day we were surrounded by unbelievable scenery. When we got back to the dock the mate Dave offered us a beer or two while he was cleaning the boat. It had started to rain so we decided that there wasn?t much we could do but sit around the boat sampling the Alaskan beer. One of the fellas from the halibut trip joined us as we were headed to the local watering hole next to the marina. It was a good evening spent drinking and telling fish stories.

All the fish we had caught up to this point had been filleted and dropped off at a fish processor where they were vacuum sealed and flash frozen. Friday morning we picked up our fish and headed out of Valdez back to Fairbanks. We had picked out a couple rivers along the way to try to catch a red salmon. There was a lake about 25 miles off the road that had a good salmon river flowing out of it. The trail going to the lake was very rough, but the drive was worth it. The red salmon were stacked up thick. It was getting late in the run so it was a bit harder to get the fish to bite. Both of us finally managed to get a fish. We snapped some pictures then headed back down the trail to the highway. Our next stop was an area with a number of lakes that were filled with arctic grayling. After a couple hour drive we wet a line again and were rewarded with some beautiful fish. By this time the temperature had dropped into the upper 30?s. Guess it was hard to get a decent pic with the fish flopping and frozen hands. We bounced around to a couple lakes before deciding to call it quits. Our plans were to camp in that area that night. However, with 30 degree temps and a warm bed waiting in Fairbanks just a 3-4 hour drive away we decided not to camp. We rolled up to the house very late Friday night but were so glad to have a warm bed.

At this point the fun part of the trip is over. We spent Saturday unpacking the camping gear and packing the truck with Phil?s stuff to take back to Florida. The day before the truck had started making a noise after we got back on the highway from driving the trail up to the lake. It didn?t sound that bad and there was no fluids leaking anywhere so we decided to hit the road. About 7 pm Saturday evening (August 9th) we departed Fairbanks with our destination being Pensacola, Fl. Several hours later we were on the Alaska highway getting close to Canada. I think it was about one in the morning when we rolled through Canadian customs. No problems there so I take the wheel and start driving. About four in the morning we rolled into Destruction Bay, Yukon Territory to fuel up. Well, things are a bit different in Canada. The gas station is closed for the night. Guess we can catch up on some sleep. About seven the gas station opens. We fuel up and hit the road. About 5 miles outside of town the noise in the rear end of the truck catches up with us. As I?m driving we lose all power. There is something bad wrong with the truck. The engine still runs but does nothing when we put it in gear. At this point we figure we are pretty much screwed.

Fortunately we didn?t have to wait long for somebody to stop and give us a ride back to Destruction Bay. Now they call it a town but it?s basically a gas station and a motel and a couple houses. That?s pretty much the way things are along the Alaska Highway through Canada. We managed to find somebody with a tow truck but the nearest town with a mechanic was Whitehorse which was 165 miles down the road. Thank god for tow insurance. If you ever drive the Alaska Highway through Canada tow insurance is an absolute must have!!! So we piled in the very rustic tow truck and suffered through the most uncomfortable 5 hour drive I think I?ve ever experienced. It is now Sunday. You know how hard it is to find a mechanic open in the states on a Sunday? Our hopes were not very high at this point.

The tow truck made it to Whitehorse about 3 pm Sunday afternoon. As the tow truck was dumping us off in the parking lot of the Chevy dealership in Whitehorse the owner of the dealership came out and greeted us. With dollar signs flashing in his eyes he asked us if we needed any help. Luckily this fella also owned a rental car company next to the dealership. During the summer the rental car company stays pretty jammed up busy. Our spirits were lifted when he said there was a mechanic there working as we spoke. He took a look at the truck and quickly determined that the rear end had gone out. It was another stroke of good luck when he went out in the salvage yard behind the shop and found a used rear end that would work. He said he?d have us back on the road sometime the next day if he didn?t run into problems. Cool. That was much better than we had originally thought. So we get dropped off at a hotel and begin to explore our options in Whitehorse, the capital of Yukon Territory. It was just our luck that we were able to find a number of establishments that happily converted American currency into cold Canadian beer. They have a nice downtown area in Whitehorse with everything within walking distance. We call it an early night and stumbled back to the hotel with hopes of hitting the road again on Monday.

Monday morning we call the mechanic and he says he will have the truck ready around lunchtime. Very cool! We pick up the truck, find some dry ice to pack on the cooler of fish then hit the road. The truck runs fine, our bad luck is now behind us.

At some point Monday evening Phil and I switched places and I took over the wheel. Our plans were to drive through the night and get out of Canada as quickly as possible. The longer we were in that country the more we began to despise it. Anyways, it was about 10:30 pm and had just began to get dark. As I was driving along making good time, we began to approach a truck in the other lane. The vehicles that drive the Alaska Highway regularly have some of the brightest lights to be able to spot the abundant wildlife frequently encountered at night. Well, this truck had his brights on and didn?t turn them off when I flashed mine. I said to Phil that I couldn?t see a damn thing. Instead of looking down the road at his lights, I slowed down and focused on the white line on the side of the road like I?ve always been told to do. It was about this time that Phil looked up and shouted ?BUFFALO?. Holy shit, there?s a herd of buffalo in the road! I locked up the brakes and realized I wasn?t going to be able to stop in time. SMACK! I thought I was going to be able to navigate through a small hole in the herd of 25 or so buffalo, but that wasn?t the case. SMASH!!! Shit, we just hit a buffalo! Thank god it was the smallest animal of the herd. We skidded to a stop on the side of the highway. It was the second time in my life that I really thought I was going to die.

The vehicle came to a stop and we realized we were not hurt. That was a good thing. Looking at the vehicle from the drivers seat I could see that the buffalo had done some considerable damage. The hood was crumpled and the drivers window was now in tiny pieces all over the inside of the Blazer. We get out and survey the damage. It was at this point that we realized the truck was still running. That was good! It was shortly after that when we realized the truck was quickly overheating. Not good! Damn, we just hit a freakin buffalo!

It wasn?t long before several vehicles had stopped and offered assistance. Adrenaline had taken over at this point and we were not sure what to do. We looked back at the animal laying in the road to see that the whole herd had surrounded the dead animal in mourning. Great, now we?ve got a truck that isn?t drivable and a herd of pissed off buffalo a short distance away. Somebody ended up driving up to the herd and scaring them off the road. Once we thought it was safe the dead buffalo was drug off the road. Now what do we do? One of the vehicles that stopped offered to take us to the next phone which was at a lodge about a half hour drive down the road. Since we had all of our stuff sitting in and on top of a truck alongside the road which we now could not lock, I decided to stay with the vehicle. Everyone took off and I?m now sitting in the middle of the flippin wilderness with a dead buffalo on the side of the road 100 yards behind me. Great! Many situations were running through my head at this point. None of which had a happy ending.

I finally worked up the courage to get out of the vehicle and see if I could get the hood open. The truck still ran but was overheating. It could be an easy fix. There wasn?t any fluid leaking so I thought there might be a chance to get the truck back on the road. I was able to bend the hood enough to get it to open. Sure enough, the plastic shroud around the fan was in pieces and preventing it from turning. The whole time I?m working on the truck I?m nervously looking around with the flashlight just waiting for a bear to come leaping out of the woods or a pissed of buffalo to come charging at me. I finally got the fan free and started up the truck. Everything appears to be working fine! I let the truck run for a minute or two before slowly creeping back on the road. I mustered the courage to drive about 30 miles an hour down the highway hoping the truck would not break down. After driving for a few minutes I got passed by a semi. He was running about 55 mph. I caught up with him thinking that if there?s more buffalo in the road I?d much rather him hit them than me. It wasn?t long before I saw more buffalo standing beside the road. We passed a couple more buffalo along the way but they were all off the road thank god! About 45 miles later I pulled into the lodge/gas station. The gas station had been closed for some time but had briefly opened the pump to fill up some more travelers. They felt sorry for me and graciously allowed me to fill up. They said they hadn?t seen anyone asking for a phone or a tow truck so I thought Phil had gone up to the next town. I got the numbers for some towing services and they said there was a pay phone in the lodge. As I walk into the lodge there is Phil standing at the phone with a weird look in his eye. ?How?d you get here? he said with some amazement. I told him the truck was running and now full of gas. We went back outside and talked with the owners of the gas station. They told us they would let us stay at the campground for free if we wanted. Probably wasn?t a good idea to drive any more that night. We set up the tent and got some sleep.

Tuesday morning we wake up and survey the truck. Everything looked to be alright. After talking with numerous other travelers at the lodge, we got back on the road. We really couldn?t wait to get the hell out of Canada! At this point we still had another 400-500 miles to go on the Alaska Highway. After we got off the highway, we still had another 750 or so miles of Alberta, Canada to drive through.

(note the buffalo shit all down the side of the truck!)

We kept on driving all day, finally reaching civilization sometime Tuesday evening. Every time we stopped for gas it took forever getting back on the road. Everyone that saw the truck had to ask what happened. Evidently hitting a buffalo on the Alaska Highway isn?t that rare of an occasion. Now at this point we are driving through Canada without a drivers side window. It?s cold in Canada. Driving all night without a drivers side window when it?s 40 degrees outside really sucks. I think I put on every shirt I had brought with me and topped it off with a rain coat. I cinched up the hood so that only my eyes were showing. We really don?t have any use for Canada at this point. It was also the same any time we encountered rain!

We finally made it to the U.S. border early Wednesday morning. There was some skepticism as to whether or not they would let us in the country. We had a beat up truck with buffalo shit all down the drivers side. Phil and I both hadn?t shaved in about a week and a half. We hadn?t showered in two days. Both of us looked like we could easily be related to the Unabomber. The border patrol didn?t say anything about the truck and let us thru with no concern whatsoever. As glad as we were to be out of Canada, we both began to have some doubt about the competency of our border patrol. If they let us through without even searching the vehicle, I?m sure they?d let anyone cross the border. Oh well, we were out of Canada and that?s all that mattered at the time.

The rest of the drive was uneventful. When we stopped for gas we still got many inquiries about what we hit. We stopped in Billings, Montana and picked up a sheet of plexiglass to manufacture into a drivers side window. 30 minutes and half a roll of duct tape we had a window! That made life much more bearable then next day and a half as the temperature started to creep up in the 80?s and 90?s.

As we got further from the border the attitudes of the people changed from curious to a bit scared. I guess we were looking a bit rough at this point. More than once parents grabbed their children and pulled them to their side in fear. I suppose I couldn?t blame them. We finally pulled into Pensacola about 11:30 Thursday night. I have never been so glad to be home!
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Old 08-15-2008, 07:37 PM   #2
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Default RE: My trip to Alaska!

Man great post and i bet thats a trip youll never forget.....well i guess it was a great trip minus the rear end going out and hitting a buffalo...thanks for sharing
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Old 08-15-2008, 08:22 PM   #3
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I knew you made it back when I started smelling buffalo shit this morning!! Enjoyed the read & photos Dirk!! Next time I wanna go!!
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Old 08-15-2008, 08:24 PM   #4
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man what a trip i was wondering how long it was going to take before the duct tape came to the rescue. oh yea did you guys get any of the buffalo meat. if not what happend to it.
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Old 08-15-2008, 08:26 PM   #5
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Default RE: My trip to Alaska!

Wow. What a trip. Thanks for taking the time to put that all together. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your trip. Great detail with pictures to back up the story. Sounded like a rightfine adventure. :bowdown :bowdown . I guess you had to leave the buffalo back strap and tenderloin on the side of the road , huh? I do not know canadian law or being able to bring back to the states is even legal.

Glad ya'll made it home safely.
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Old 08-15-2008, 09:04 PM   #6
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Freakin' great post. Wow at the fish that ya'll caught. I've always wanted to go to Alaska or Canada and do some hunting and fishing and the wife would like to do an Alaskan cruise. Thanks for sharing all the info and great pics! :clap :bowdown
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Old 08-15-2008, 09:15 PM   #7
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Default RE: My trip to Alaska!

Thanks for the post. Alaska is a amazing place. Want to go back again.

Almost did that with a Moose when we drove up there.How did ya like the Alaska Hwy????

Those rigs come'n70 mphdown that gravel hwy.:angel
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Old 08-15-2008, 09:28 PM   #8
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Default RE: My trip to Alaska!

Holy crap, I don't think I've even heard you say that many words since I've known you. Sounded like a great trip cept for the buffalo...oke Did you keep it's wings?:letsdrink
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Old 08-15-2008, 09:39 PM   #9
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Great post and wonderful pictures! :bowdown

Our youngest son and his wife just spent three years in Fairbanks at Eielson AFB and did a DITY move to Offutt AFB in Omaha. They shipped their car and pulled a travel trailor with his Chevy truck. All of us parents were a nervous wreck during their travels but they did fine. They ran up on a herd of moose that would NOT move off the hwy. Our son had to stop......get out and run them off before they could proceed.

He LOVED fishing in Alaska and had lots of fishing stories to tell us.

Thanks for the post!!
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Old 08-15-2008, 09:56 PM   #10
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WOW! What an adventure! Thanks for sharing, great photos too.
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