Just North of Normal Part 5 – Welcome to Paradise!

Captains Blog – June 30, 2016

The Lame Duck has made it to Alaska! I mean, we still have 19 hours of driving left so don’t get too excited. In case you didn’t know, Alaska is actually two and a half times the physical size of Texas. You don’t realize that because on most maps Alaska is squashed and put in the lower left hand corner of the map. Understandably, the map makers aren’t too concerned about offending people since Alaska has few in it. Case in point: 40% of Alaska residents live in one city; Anchorage. This means there are millions of acres of lonely, unspoiled wilderness chock full of bears, moose, caribou, wolverines, porcupines, elk, and all manner of animals just waiting to be found, shot, and eaten. Or, if you are a particular kind of stupid (like many tourists), there are millions of cute fuzzy animals waiting to be coddled. Those Coca-Cola polar bears aren’t quite as friendly and one might think. Anyway, here we are, rolling across the border into the promised land!

The U.S. Border Patrol at the Alcan Border is really nice and understanding. “Hey folks, sorry you had to spend all that time in Canada.” We profusely beg him to allow us in and soon we were embracing the beautiful wilderness & freedom of Alaska.

Matt spots the Welcome to Alaska sign, which is about half a mile down the road from the border crossing, and guides the Lame Duck into the pull off so we can take pictures and prove that the Lame Duck actually made it the whole way. Afterwards I realized I never actually did take pictures of the RV beside the sign. It seemed to spoil the majesty of the sign.

Alaska Sign

Us at the Alaska Sign
My wife and I breathing some fresh air.
Back of Alaska Sign
Apparently it’s a thing to slap stickers on the back of the sign. I did my part by adding a “Promote Beard Envy” sticker to the distinguished collection.

I poke my sleeping wife – which is about as smart as waking a bear out of hibernation by slapping it repeatedly between the eyes – and point at the landscape. “Look! Alaska!”

She rubs her eyes. “Looks like Canada.” She flops her head back onto her crossed hands while sighing wearily. It’s understandable. Driving for 5 days in a rattling RV with 9 other people can make anyone delusional and pessimistic. Still, in retrospect, while her response was sort of disappointing I am lucky to still have my limbs intact.

We stumble out of the motor home bleary eyed and grumpy. We snap a few pics and stumble back into the RV and tear off towards the horizon, leaving behind only swirling dust, a bumper, and a vent cover.

Driving has become much more interesting since the road is twisting, turning, climbing, and dropping like a roller coaster. You know those wooden coasters that are really slow yet somehow so traumatic that they give you spinal fractures and near death experiences? That’s the Alaska Highway. Among it’s many standard, run-of-the-mill features such as potholes and hitchhikers in orange jumpsuits it also has small mountain ranges called “Frost Heaves” built into the road. They were built into the highway to keep drivers alert and on the verge of vomiting. Actually, it’s Mother Nature’s middle finger to mankind. When the ground freezes and thaws it expands and contracts creating gigantic speed bumps in the road. Man can try to tame the wilderness but the wilderness usually gets in a few good punches before it submits. The Alaska Highway is a feat of engineering but the Mallard RV we’re driving is not and evidence of this is abundant. The fridge door swings open every fifth frost heave, causing bananas, lunch meat, Dr. Pepper, and Snapple Iced Tea to rattle around the RV interior, much like shaking a spray can. The suspension is compressing and exploding like a cheap accordion being played by a 500 pound gorilla. I’m holding on to the steering wheel like a sailor in a hurricane. Here’s a quick tip for driving a cheap RV down the Alaska Highway, the best place to be is in the middle of the RV. This is because that’s the pivot point – or the fulcrum – of the vessel and so your vertical height differences are minimal. Those are big words. Let me try to explain this in a scientific drawing:

RV Bouncing

Then it started raining. That’s not a big deal unless your windshield wipers didn’t work. Did I mention that Lame Duck’s windshield wipers didn’t work? Driving down a highway with twists, turns, limited guard rails and high drops while squinting through a river of water was intense to say the least. Thankfully Alaska is only dark for about 2 hours a night or so in the summer (it depends where you are at in Alaska) so that helped visibility immensely. Once it got dark, the driving was handed over to Matt. It was his idea to drive this piece of junk in the first place. Let him suffer.

My wife and I settled into a deep sleep together – which sounds romantic until you realize we were on the floor of the RV, right between the bananas and the lunch meat. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds since the bananas and lunch meat softened the blows to our head. The rest of the trip is a blur since I was fading in and out of consciousness.

Things happened, we ate at some place called “Fast Eddies” in Tot, Alaska which sounds more like a used car mart than a pizza place but seriously; top notch joint. After that we had more driving and more misery. Sometime later we arrive at my brothers “house” in Anchor Point, Alaska in the morning. We immediately stumble out of the RV, wipe the debris off ourselves, and find a solid surface to sleep on. We’ll find adventure when we’re not bone dog dead tired (is that a thing?). Stay tuned!

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