Baby Bison, don't tread on that pretty flower...

Baby Bison, don't tread on that pretty flower...
Custer State Park, SD; June, 2010

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Columbia, TN, United States
I am a Christian, married over 43 years to my gorgeous first wife; in 13th year as professor of education at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, TN; 4 children and 9 grandchildren.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Top Ten Highlights of My Arctic Ocean Road Trip

Glad to be back in Columbia with working technology (pc-virus interrupted weekly submissions to my blog after about a week of my trip), so it’s time to let a few friendly inquiring minds on Facebook and elsewhere read and see more details of my Arctic Ocean road trip. From May 12 to June 22 (the last two weeks spent relaxing with grandkids in New Mexico and Texas), I drove 14,500 miles traversing 12 states and three Canadian provinces. My Nissan Sentra functioned reliably as a hard shell, mobile “tent” for 20 of my 27 nights alone on the road.
I’ve learned how to road trip on a budget (topic of future blog).

There were many high points of my 27 solo daze. With apologies to Letterman fans, here are my Top Ten:

10. Reaching Mile Zero of the ALCAN (Alaska/Canadian Highway) in Dawson Creek, British Columbia. From there on, the scenery got more incredible and the wildlife more prolific quickly.
9. Riverboat Discovery Cruise on the Chena River from Fairbanks. Saw Susan Butcher’s dog sled kennel, a float plane demonstrative, and an Indian village. They even had free donuts for the first half of the trip and free salmon on crackers on the way home from the village.
8. Ferry to Seldovia (Russian colony turned tourist trap in far south Alaska) from the Spit in Homer. Saw an awesome rainbow in the Pacific, Gull Island’s thousands of birds, and ate some delicious halibut in the unique d├ęcor of the Tide Pool Restaurant. The old sea otter performing rollovers "on command" seems to be a longtime inhabitant of that harbor.
7. Glacier/wildlife cruises (one each from Seward and Whittier). In addition to the plentiful viewing of advertised sights, the real highlight was the meal on the Whittier ship. We had salmon and prime rib (the best I’ve ever eaten – chef prepared it in the ship’s lower galley that morning. The Seward tour took us out into the unprotected ocean at a very fast clip. Glad I’d am not susceptible to motion sickness. It was quite a bouncy ride with people getting seasick on every side. Some stood leaning over the strategically-placed trash cans. Others welcomed the barf bags the crew were passing out to all in need. That only last about 20 minutes as we made our way from one sheltered bay to the next. Seas were calmer with the Pacific swell at our backs so that the return trip did not have a recurrence of this.
6. Denali National Park tour (Mt. McKinley, the Great One) on a CLEAR day. They state that the mountain is only visible about 20% of the time. I got lucky on the only day I was within eyeshot. The problem was that the road was only open for tours about halfway in; so, while I got some good views, I was still nearly 40 miles away at the closest. The bus tour I joined was certainly worth it allowing for reasonably close viewing of caribou, moose, two grizzlies, dall sheep, ptarmigan, a wolf, and numerous other critters.
5. Kayaking in Resurrection Bay near Seward. Paddled four miles to a beautiful waterfall. I’ve been an avid canoeist and even instructor and wilderness canoe trip guide most of my life, but I’d only been in a kayak once previous to this. That was on a calm lake at a beautiful, relaxing Virginia resort. This was sea kayaking but still in the relatively calm waters of a bay of the Pacific. Saw eagles, sea lions, and lots of water fowl as we paddled the four miles to the falls, had a snack, rested up, and then returned to Seward. I’m still much more comfortable in a canoe, but I’m working on the kayaking skills. Perhaps I will experience that thrill several more times in my life before I transform to that great lake in heaven where I will have my own personal model of both water craft. You can have you jet skiis. Give me a self-propelled, easily maneuverable, sleek kayak or CANOE. Make it a new canoe for floating on a new canal. I will never carry a gnu with it, I promise. So, I’m looking forward to a new canal canoe without gnu.
4. IditaRide Real Alaska Experience near Seward. I’ve always wanted to take a tour at the kennel of an Iditarod champion and see the dogs up close. In addition to hearing the rambunctious noise of the dogs barking, “Pick me! Pick me!” as their buddies were selectively hitched to the “sled” by their tow lines; I got to pet and hold puppies, get pulled several miles through the snowless woods, and see a demonstration by a musher and retired lead dog of the care and cold weather dressing needed to make a champion-caliber sled team member. After that we ate an amazing baked salmon lunch at the nearby Resurrection Restaurant and then hiked to Exit Glacier for a close look and sip of pure glacial water.
3. Wildlife viewing. Prolifically “posing” for tourists along the highways (elk and fawn, grizzly sow and two cubs, sea otter performing rollovers, ocean raft of sea otters, humpback whales, lone wolf on a snow ridge, dall sheep, mountain goats, moose, musk ox (with baby), caribou (when domesticated they become reindeer), eagles (one eating a bird on a boulder and then flying away as I videotaped), two pronghorn being stalked by a coyote that fled when they entered a bison herd, etc…the big critters were everywhere! One two-hour road stretch through British Columbia I lost count of the black bears at over 20.
2. Thompson Pass north of Valdez. Glaciers and snow amounts along with steep cliffs and waterfalls made this the most scenic spot on my entire trip. My favorite three towns to which I would someday like to return with my wife and spend more time were Valdez, Homer, and (my favorite) Seward.
1. Driving the Dalton Highway and stepping out on the frozen solid Arctic Ocean. This 400+-mile stretch of road connecting Fairbanks with the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay is the overall highlight of my road trip (separate blog planned). I have a new respect for the truckers that drive it on ice in the dead of winter. It is plenty challenging in summer for an aging professor in a Sentra.
Many more photos of the Dalton Highway part of my Arctic Ocean Road Trip adventure will be forthcoming in an article and blog devoted solely to the "Haul Road."

I’m considering hiring out as chauffeur and guide for road trips in the western national parks of the U.S.; Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, and Yukon Territory; and the Alaska mainland reachable by roads (of which I have traveled most). As to cost…I rather like what the star trucker in B.J. and the Bear (TV show airing from about 1978-81) charged: $1 per mile to haul anything. That might be a pretty good rate in your vehicle in which I would sleep, of course, while you enjoy the luxury of a resort, motel, or bed & breakfast. I’d even pay for my own food and activities. I’m free from mid-May until Independence Day. (This is written somewhat tongue-in-cheek; however, all things are negotiable…)

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