Alexander Supertramp And The Great NorthWest – Part 5 ~ The Hill

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The Hill

A person wanting to drive a vehicle to the coastal mountains of Canada has only three choices. We had already tread the well kept pavement of Highway 1 out of Vancouver to the interior and made our way north to Williams Lake. There is also Highway 16, the heavily travelled Yellowhead Highway to Prince Rupert which was a few hundred miles north of us. It was our intention all along to head West on Hwy. 20, the third alternative which would take us to our destination, Bella Coola and Grizzly Bears feeding on Salmon.

The Cariboo Chilcotin Coast is a huge swath of wilderness, perhaps the most remote area I’ve ever travelled to, including Alaska. Highway 20 is called the Freedom Highway, perhaps because if is over 300 miles with very few signs of civilization, or perhaps because a long stretch of it is free from pavement, guardrails, passing room and reasonable inclines. Soon after leaving Williams lake, I learned the hard way that even trying to do 50mph was unwise due to the likelihood of a Deer, Moose or Bear jumping out in front of us. At one point, after a brief distraction of some sort I looked up to see an elk as tall as my hood standing dead center with my trajectory. The loud scream of my locked tires sliding on pavement seemed to last forever and everything moved in slow motion. For an instant that seemed like an eternity, I accepted that our trip had been prematurely ended with the slaughter of a beautiful beast and the demise of Alexander Supertramp, what a bummer. Somehow, some way the giant creature vanished as quickly as he had appeared and we were continuing down the road like it never even happened.

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Nimpo Lake

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Alexander Supertramp at Nimpo Lake

We made it roughly halfway to Bella Coola before dusk and found a campsite at Nimpo Lake where we watched the sunset, ate dinner and went to bed. We went to sleep that night to the calming melody of a loon and the melancholy cry of a real life lone wolf, sounds that don’t exist where we come from. At sunrise, I stood on the shore and took in the beauty of the deep blue lake and the surrounding mountain ranges in the Tweedsmuir Provincial Park. A float plane taxi’d across the lake in the cool morning air then lifted into the azure blue sky for a morning of sightseeing. After a breakfast of instant oatmeal, we lowered the top of our mobile bungalow and headed down the road with a long trail of dust streaming in our wake.

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Tweedsmuir Air

The two thousand foot descent into the Bella Coola Valley is affectionately known as the Hill. Over two thousand miles into our journey and it had all boiled down to a one lane dirt road with 18% grades and spine tingling switchbacks. This section requires one foot on the brake, two hands on the wheel and an earful of advice on how to drive from your spouse. To be fair, I would not have been a happy passenger either. I was glad to be in control. To make matters worse, we had watched a number of youtube videos from “The Hill” and had worked ourselves into somewhat of an unnecessary anticipatory frenzy. Obviously we lived to see another day and I can now say that I drove “The Hill” twice, once down and once up.

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There’s a good reason this pic sucks!

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Switchback

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Freedom Highway

Just like with the Elk, when we arrived at the valley floor the paved highway resumed and it was the Hill never happened. Over the course of the next four days, we would become very familiar with the final twenty mile stretch of highway to the coast as we drove it daily in search of Grizzly Bears. But as we saw it for the first time there was a heightened level of appreciation for the mountains and glaciers and rivers. Before the sun set that first night we stood along the banks of the Atnarko River and waited for our first Bear sighting. Sure enough a 600 lb. Boar was “snorkeling” his way down current toward us and with Bear Spray and my camera in hand, I trembled as clumsily began taking pictures. Grizzly Bears feeding on Salmon..Check. We camped for the night along the River, cozy and warm within the confines of the hard and soft sided Alexander Supertramp. Every now and then the peaceful sound of the river would be interrupted with a ”Shhhhh…did you hear that? what was that?”

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“Who Sees Who?”

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“Power”

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“Atnarko Sunset”

Alexander Supertramp And The Great Northwest – Part 4 ~ Whistler and Beyond

Goodbye Vancouver Island

Goodbye Vancouver Island

We left Vancouver Island on a full ferry, crossed the Straight of Georgia and connected with the Canadian mainland at Horseshoe Bay. Seeing Vancouver was on the trip checklist and we found ourselves on the winding four lane road heading directly into the city. Something didn’t feel right. Really seeing and experiencing Vancouver would require at least on overnight stay. Before we even got a glimpse of the skyline we grabbed an exit and came about back toward what we craved most, to get into the wild.

Hello Vancouver (almost)

Hello Vancouver (almost)

Arriving at Horseshoe Bay

Arriving at Horseshoe Bay

The Sea to Sky Highway followed the shore of the Howe Sound for 28 miles where we found ourselves being drawn into the parking lot of a tourist gondola at Squamish. We were in the land of Fjords and Glaciers and the idea of getting a birds eye view was irresistible. I grew up with Gondolas in the ski town of Vail, Colorado. In fact I was in high school in 1976 on the day that two of the cars fell to the ground. Details of three dead and nine critically injured were broadcast over the school intercom and every since that day I have been cautious about trams. The Sea to Sky Gondola was a good experience. Tammy and I had a car to ourselves on the ride up. We snapped “selfies”, gawked at the scenery and yawned to pop our ears as we quickly gained over 2400 vertical feet. After eating lunch on the observation deck, we strolled across a cable suspension bridge and through the forest, taking in our first up close views of the precipitous and glaciated coastal mountains.

Sea to Sky

Sea to Sky

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There was a long line at the upper tram terminal for the ride down which we were able to circumvent as the lift attendants were in need of two for a car that was loading. We were kept company by a pair of grim faced women who said nothing the entire ride down and a family of four who I judgmentally guessed could not speak English. It turns out they were from Toronto and as Canadian as maple syrup. When we told them that we had driven from Colorado and we were heading 12 hours north to see Grizzly Bears, they asked “Why do you want to do that, Eh”. All in all, the day was incredible. After all of the tough times we had been through in the previous year, it was good to just feel like we were two kids on a date.

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A couple of hours later, we found ourselves driving through the villages of the Whistler Ski Area, contemplating a place to park for the night. It was interesting to see what Canada’s world class resort looked like, how it felt in comparison to Vail and the large Colorado resorts. It didn’t take much of that however and we found ourselves heading on down the road in search of “The Wild”. We ended up pulling into a rustic campground at sunset, parking Alexander Supertramp next to a picnic table and a river. For the first time on our journey, we had escaped civilization and the masses of humanity, we were finally alone.

Alexander Supertramp in the Wild

Alexander Supertramp in the Wild

“Nocturne”

Time Out For Gracie

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“Nap Time”

This post was meant to be the next chapter of my chronicle about our recent adventures in British Columbia, however the pause button was hit hard this week. We adopted an Italian Greyhound. At the National Mill Dog Rescue in Colorado Springs, they called her Betsy. Nobody knows what they called her while she was caged for her entire six years of life, regarded as livestock, an asset on which the return was dwindling. She certainly would have been written off the books had NMDR not stepped in.

The moratorium on new pet acquisitions within our family evaporated in the blink of an eye. The last of our four beloved canines passed on (“went to college”) last year and I told my Wife we had to travel 30,000 miles before we brought a new dog home. Lets see, We’ll put last spring’s trip to Guatemala generously at 5000 miles and last months trip to the Northwest at 5000 miles. We made it a third of the way and besides, if Mama ain’t happy!….

When we brought home Betsy, now called Gracie, she was scared to death. In particular, opening and shutting doors, shuffling paper and darkness set her off into a trembling panic. Tammy showed her, perhaps for the first time what it was like to stand in the cool grass on a warm day, to have a bed that was her very own, to accept the soft touch of loving hands in a place that would become home.

If you aren’t familiar with “Iggy’s, you aren’t alone. I’m not sure that I had ever seen one before. She is highly intelligent and curious, watches TV as if the images are real people and she tests the perimeter of all enclosures like a Jurassic Park Raptor. She is lightning quick..”duh.. Greyhound”. They say that if they get loose outside, you may never find them and I believe it. Just trying to get to her to put a leash on can be like trying to corral a wild horse. Once and only once it left me looking and feeling like a Colorado Buffalo Defensive back on a really bad day, I won’t go through that humiliation again. You might also look at an “Iggy” and think that it looks like a baby fawn. Imagine how freaked out I was when I was all alone with her and she started howling like a wolf. I had no idea. Tammy did some reading and is hypothesizing that she has indeed become the alpha for which Gracie will forever howl to find in the future. “Recalculating”.

Three days in and things are looking up. Gracie and our two cats look like they will get along. Gracie is showing some promise of being a travel dog at some point in the future. More than anything, its good to see the smile on Tammy’s face, fulfilled for now with her passion for the animal kingdom.

Goodnight Gracie

Goodnight Gracie

Alexander Supertramp And The Great Northwest – Part 3 ~Vancouver Island

Hugging the Shoreline blog

“Hugging Shore”

Something about driving your vehicle onto a ship to cross an international border is intriguing and so we had altered our plans once again to do just that. We arrived in Port Angeles, Washington about two hours prior to departure and had no problem getting a place in line for the popular Black Ball Ferry to Victoria, British Columbia. We even had time for a sit down breakfast at a busy main street diner, an authentic gathering place for working locals who apparently had hearty appetites. The portions were huge and the people watching and eavesdropping was enlightening. We had such a great experience while in coastal Washington that we would have delayed our departure had it not been for the anticipation of what was yet to come.

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Hello Canada

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Nanaimo

The 23 mile crossing of the Straight went quickly. After going through customs “drive through” style, we found ourselves being pushed and pulled right through downtown Victoria in the congestion of traffic coming off the ship. It was late in the day and a two hour drive to Nanaimo was ahead of us. We would come back to Victoria another day when we were fresh we thought and we pushed on up the coast highway. Vancouver Island is not small. The main north and south road is over 300 miles long and the highest point is over 7000 feet. The majority of the island is not reachable by road so there is a ton of wilderness. Some doomsayers say that Vancouver Island is not a safe place to live in the event of earthquakes. After seeing how beautiful it is, I say “who cares?”. I’d live there in a heartbeat if circumstances allowed.

On the way to our reserved camp site in Nanaimo, we stopped at a farmers market to replenish our food supply. A small metal building was stocked to the ceiling with locally grown fruits and vegetables, we learned that almost everything grows on the island. In its offerings, this place made Whole Foods look like a small town convenience store. We arrived at our wooded seaside campsite in the late afternoon and we popped up Alexander Supertramp, ate produce for Dinner and turned in for the night. Fires were not permitted due to dry conditions on the island so we laid in bed and read as we discovered that our campground was anything but peaceful. I kid you not, dozens of french speaking children were shouting and screaming at the top of their cute little lungs. They were apparently having the time of their lives at some sort of youth camp nearby. Plans are meant to be changed, right?

We did end up staying in the campground one more night, enduring not only the Mickey Mouse Club but the addition of family reunion next door and one particular woman who never stopped talking. We needed a day of rest anyway and we rode our bikes into town and ate dinner. Nanaimo is a port town, pretty rough around the edges and very industrial. The harbor is a hub of activity with people coming and going by private vessels, ferries and float planes. As the day progressed, we decided that we would leave our reserved campsite and drive to the remote west side of the island in the morning.

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Cathedral Grove

I still had warm coffee in my cup as we arrived at Cathedral Grove, an old growth Cedar forest in the interior of the island. We spent an hour or so walking among the giants and snapping pictures, before continuing up route 4 to Port Alberni and the next 60 miles through the wilderness to the coast. The fog was thick when we arrived at a seaside village called Ucluelet and contrary to the rumors we heard, there were campsites available. We pushed on up the coast past Long Beach to the end of the road at Tofino. All of the bonafide campsites in Tofino were taken, reserved months in advance. Fortunately for us, there is a campground there that is something like a hostel for tents and R.V.’s. The rule seems to be that if you can find a place to put yourself, we will gladly accept your $60 and “no we don’t do windows..or bathrooms”. Oddly, it turned out to be the quietest night yet..go figure.

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Tofino Marina

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A Walk Before Sunset

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Tofino Sunset

In the afternoon, we rode a couple of Kilometers into the village of Tofino and had sushi on the patio of an Inn. We watched seaplanes coming and going and eavesdropped on a table of four Vancouver “Valley Girls” talking about how they “Soooo had to do this again”. Yea we do a lot of people observing, please don’t judge us for that. After dinner we photographed and pedaled our way back to camp just in time for sunset. The beach at Tofino has dozens of tiny timbered islands just off shore which adds up to fertile subject matter for the photographer. When the golden hour hits and there is that much to photograph, I can take my tripod and become entranced, losing all sense of time. As darkness fell, a crescent moon appeared over the horizon and people huddled around bon fires to stay warm.

"In The Bag"

“In The Bag”

Not crazy about staying another night in a parking lot and having to get up very early in the morning to make the long drive back to Nanaimo, we opted to head back across the island and we found ourselves that night in Qualicum Beach. We had now spent seven nights in a row in Alexander Supertramp and we longed for a hot shower and a running toilet and needed to do laundry, we rented a room for a night. It felt ok to have all the luxury but we both admitted that we missed sleeping in the camper. Early the next morning we headed for the port at Nanaimo to catch our reserved spot on the ferry to Horseshoe Bay on the Canadian mainland. We never did make it back into Victoria but no worries, we know we will go back some day, perhaps we will also go back to Tofino to watch the monster surf during a winter storm.

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“Crescent Moon Over Tofino”

Alexander Supertramp And The Great Northwest – Part 2 ~ Washington

“Cutting Chase”

When Tammy and I began the process of plotting out the course of this journey back in mid-July, our plan went something like this. Take the fastest route possible from Denver to Portland, spend a day or two exploring the Columbia River Country before zipping on to the Seattle area for two nights to visit a long lost Cousin and an old college friend, two visits that were long overdue. From Seattle we would go to Vancouver Island for three or four nights, then proceed up the Adventure Coast of British Columbia to the end of the road at Bella Coola.  Grizzly Bears eating Salmon or Bust!  Our route back to Colorado would likely be through Jasper and Banff, Alberta. All in all, we had ambitious plans for our 20 day sojourn.

You already know that the wild fires diverted us straight to the coast of Oregon. The best laid plans oft go awry don’t they? After breaking camp at the Kathy Bates rabbit sanctuary, we headed north on 101, anticipating a leisurely coastal drive with lots of stopping. As we progressed however, we began to realize that we had become a little too numb in our coastal euphoria. Dinner had been planned and prepared at the home of our host in Kingston, Wa., and we were anxious to get there. We were trying to fit a seven hour drive into six hours and we kept moving at full pace across the Astoria Bridge into Washington State and then on up the wooded Olympic Peninsula.

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“Good Conversation”

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Gamble Bay Sunset

We arrived at the home of Bruce and Laura at dusk and right away we felt welcomed by their Family and Friends. We ate, drank and visited around a warm fire in the back yard until well after midnight on that perfect late August evening. We were mesmerized by the tranquility of their waterfront property on Gamble Bay and we had our own private campsite in paradise, a level spot for Alexander Supertramp, our tiny condo on wheels. Not surprisingly, we decided we wanted to stay forever but would be lucky enough just to spend one more night there.  As the voice on the GPS says, we found ourselves “recalculating”.

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Stars Over Gamble Bay

The next morning, Tammy and I walked on to the Shelton to Bremerton Ferry for the 30 minute trip the mainland.  We would meet my Cousin Danny for lunch.  Born less than a month apart, Dan and I were very close growing up. It had been roughly 25 years since we last met and there was a lot to catch up on. I think we were both a bit shocked how much our lives have changed since we last were together, and it felt awkward to say goodbye again so quickly. Somehow, the visit with Dan, just as with my old college friend Laura was a wake up call. It comes with the realization that we aren’t close to a lot of people in this life and we can’t afford to delay the re-connects that really matter.

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Gamble Bay Touch ‘N Go

After catching the afternoon ferry back to Shelton, Bruce handed us life jackets and rowed us out to the “Aksala” (Alaska spelled backward). He paddled vigorously I might add, as the transfer boat was leaking at a fairly steady pace. Bruce and Laura have had many adventures aboard the Aksala, up and down the coast from Alaska to Mexico.  Aboard the Aksala we set out on a private evening sail up Gamble Bay to the edge of the Straight Of Juan De Fuca. It was really special to vicariously experience the life of marine navigation, watching Bruce play the role of the Captain, and Laura the Skipper. That short evening cruise was a bucket list moment for me and I still smile inside when I re-live it in my minds eye.

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“Alaska Backward”

Visit Laura and Bruce, Check! Visit Danny, Check! The next morning, we drove to the north tip of the Peninsula, where we were first in line for the Ferry to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

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Leaving Washington State

Alexander Supertramp And The Great Northwest – Part 1 ~ Colorado to Oregon

Pacific Beach, Oregon

Pacific Beach, Oregon

The concept of the sabbatical is intriguing to me. I suppose in its truest form, every seventh year would be a year of rest and rejuvenation. If you ponder the roots of the notion you will find that they sprout from the Sabbath of the Bible. Imagine what it would be like to let go of our dominant concerns for an entire year in the interest of having new experiences, in the interest of finding a new and better way to approach life. Unfortunately, most of us have been conditioned by our culture to be pacified by occasional vacations, short slots of time that must earn their way onto our busy calendars. Too often, the vacation becomes nothing more than a temporary diversion from the status quo, mere entertainment which is quickly forgotten once we return to our old routines.

Fly By

Fly By

The modern classic “Into the Wild” by John Krakauer tells the story of a young man named Chris Mccandless who’s short life was filled with adventure. Chris lived as though life was one long Sabbatical, even taking a leave of absence from his own identity as he adopted the alias and persona of Alexander Supertramp. His story has long resonated in my own lust for adventure. Recently, my wife and I purchased a truck and pop up camper with the intention of using it to venture into our own metaphorical wilderness. We began planning what would become a 20 day odyssey through the Pacific Northwest. We just returned from a 5000 mile journey that included eight states plus British Columbia and Alberta. Along the way, we dubbed our new rig “Alexander Supertramp”.

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Hey Good Lookin’

We left Colorado on August 12th, symbolic I suppose in that it was the one year anniversary of my Father’s death. I wore his wrist watch every mile of the way if to somehow take him with us. For those who might be completely oblivious, much of the Northwest is on fire this summer as the result of extreme draught. On our second day out, the interstate highway was closed from Boise, Idaho to the Washington State line. Our planned route through Portland was dashed and we detoured directly to the Oregon Coast with the intentions of being able to breath again, it worked.

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Pacific Beach Cliff

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Soaring

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Time To Play

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People Watching

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Bringing In The Dory

We were almost giddy upon our arrival at Pacific Beach, Oregon. The Air was fresh and cool and humid and we spent the afternoon exploring the dunes and cliffs along the spectacular shoreline. The campground was filled with hundreds of wild rabbits and the hostess oddly reminded me of the actress Kathy Bates. Our closest neighbors talked long into the night about somewhat personal family matters, making Tammy and I flies on the wall as we tried not to listen from our bunk, just a few short feet away. We awoke to the sounds of the Dory boats revving their engines as they prepared to embark for a day of fishing and we smiled as we learned how to set up and break down camp, something we would be doing a lot of in the coming days.