We bedded down last night in Tok, Alaska in a highway frontage hotel. If I have learned anything on this trip so far it’s that there is no need for an alarm clock with five kids, three dogs, and two cats who are all used to the silence of the backwoods. Nobody sleeps through hotel noise. Sometime around four a.m. the dogs jolted us awake with a howl that would make a huntin’ dog jealous when a trucker out front started his rig. And so began our day.
Tok is about 90 miles from the Alaska/Canada border and so we hit the crossing fairly early. The nice lady commented about the length of the truck and the husband said something about us being long enough to span two countries. I gave him a ‘look’ because for years he’s been told not to joke with the border folk. Some day he is going to get us deported. We handed over passports and birth certificates which she examined and had each child say their name through the truck window. “You had two children in 1999?” she asked. “We both had affairs,” replied the husband and I pinched him on the elbow.
Once that was cleared up she waved us through, declining our offer to leave her a “Border Cat”.
The first time I came up the Alcan (Alaska/Canada) highway was in 1979. The worst stretch of the whole trip back then was between the border and Kluane Lake. Thirty-four years later and it hasn’t changed a bit. It resembled a well groomed off-road track of broken pavement and wicked frost heaves. It seems no matter what they do, it just goes from bad to worse. Near Beaver Creek, Yukon, a particularly evil frump sent the kids heads to the ceiling and the bike rack hanging off the receiver hitch buckled. Cool. Two thousand dollars in mountain bikes barely hanging on and we were miles from anything.
If you’ve ever seen one of those circus acts where sixteen clowns pile out of a car and run around like idiots with no real purpose at all, this is what we looked like on the side of a snow blown road in the Yukon today. Only it was somewhere around negative twenty windchill and we were, for some reason, completely ill equipped for the weather. Boys in t-shirts grabbed dogs by leashes and took them for laps around the pull-off praying they would pee (one hasn’t peed yet). The girls and us parents pulled the bikes from the teetering rack and one by one, tried to shove them into the tiny space once occupied by dogs. The food tub, duffel bags, bedding all went into the cab to make room for the bikes and then boys, girls, dogs, elephants and lions piled back into the cab. Meanwhile the cats huddled somewhere deep in the bed of the truck, now trapped behind a mountain of bikes half hanging out the canopy door.
We rode like this for a couple of hours. Our food froze in the back so we shoved ham and cheese slices in the glove box, the warmest place in the car, to thaw. I made ham sandwiches and we sneakily ate them behind the dogs heads, switching hands as they twisted to see what was the smell. Beazie crawled from the third seat onto Mya, who already held Bagel, then across the laundry basket of food to Robin where she snuggled in like she’d found home.
Early in the evening, having lost about a half a day between the dogs, the bikes, and my leaving my Ipad under the pillow in the hotel which sent us backtracking, we hit the town of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory at the advice of a few fine Canadian folks. We found a brand new bike rack at Canadian Tire (Coolest store ever, btw) and again battled the bikes, the cold and the dark. A fellow with a rich French accent visited us while we worked and we took turns warming ourselves in the cab of the truck between bolts, washers and curses.
Halfway thru assembling the new bike rack with numb hands the good people of Whitehorse reminded us it was Sunday night and every light in the vicinity went to black. Good thing I had a flashlight between chattering teeth and another stuffed inside my bra. (cabin life finally pays off) As we fastened the last bike into place under the lights of the Walmart parking lot next door, a red fox casually moseyed by while the locals didn’t even seem to notice. Just like home.
Tired, frustrated with our loss of time and chilled clear through we called it a night and checked into a pet friendly hotel. We’ll rise early tomorrow and attempt to make up some time.
I flipped off the hotel light switch a bit ago and Luke jumped up to go turn on the generator. You can take the kid out of the backwoods…but you can’t take the backwoods out of the kid.