9. North to Alaska: Chapter 12 and Chapter 13 – Life Out Here
When Donna gave me the room key and took our credit card, I recognized her voice.
I recalled Prattville, the hours of reconfiguration and recalculation at my dining room table that had driven me to the Milepost one afternoon and an advertisement for the Coal River Lodge and RV.
“Yes, we are the last stop before Watson Lake,” a matter-of-fact voice had said. “If you leave Fort Nelson mid-morning, we’ll expect you for dinner. It’s a beautiful drive.”
She was direct, but kind enough, and had given me all I wanted: confirmation on what truly is the last stop before the Yukon.
I had decided every destination up to Fort Nelson but I was hung up on Watson Lake, our Yukon entry-point.
Mobile quarantine is required; you must exit the Yukon within twenty-four hours; you may sleep either in Watson Lake or Whitehorse if you must break the journey.
These are things the Yukon website told me, and the hotline man I called at least three different times to check for changes.
I was fraught with indecision.
With only the Yukon puzzle to solve on my color-coded itinerary, and no changes in policy, I rehearsed the facts to myself one more time: the journey from Watson Lake to the first motel in Alaska is 10 hours. Which translates to at least 12 hours in a UHaul. Which translates to at least 15 hours considering the Yukon contains the most dangerous stretch of all 1,365 miles of the Alaska Highway.
It became obvious.
The trick was then to time our departure from Watson Lake just right so our stay in Whitehorse might occur in during nighttime hours, bright as they may be.
Now, if you suppose I overthought this puzzle, you have no idea.
If you figure I am crazy, I should think it quite obvious by now.
But consider these facts: a 5,000 mile trip; one minivan; one “as-big-as-they-come” UHaul; two dogs; one deadly pandemic; one foreign country; unfamiliar terrain; spotty cell service; spotty humanity; the choice between a one million dollar fine or one year in prison.
No, I like to look back and see myself not as a wasteful worrier but as a reasonably responsible problem solver, who, after committing to Whitehorse phoned the Coal River Lodge and RV, the very last chance to sleep before Whitehorse.
At Coal River, we saw bison, ate bison burgers, stayed in a room kept cool by the opened window. We walked to banks of the swift Coal River and got eaten alive by mosquitoes and escaped to our room to watch Hamilton. There was no way to update family on our arrival and lodge was quiet save for the ongoing game of Yahtzee in the dining room because with Covid customers were few. We were told to leave our dogs in the van, and it was a war zone of dead and living mosquitos the next morning. I used baby wipes to clean off blood-stained upholstery.
Coal River was an odd sort of refuge nestled into the foothills of a yet unknown mountain range. And Donna was right, the drive out was beautiful, even if perilous at times.
I drove the UHaul over the Divide a third time, felt my weary nerves fray when the Highway turned unpaved. The steep mountain grades might have been fun if not for all the dust and semi-trucks that made our caravan seem ant-like. We saw caribou and sheep and six black bear munching on wildflowers and other roadside fauna. The narrow passage was all stone-faced mountainsides and deep, cold, windswept lakes.
The next morning, we ate a cowboy breakfast with the hosts, gassed up, and set our minds to the Yukon, mentally prepared for a twenty-four hour ordeal with the mosquitoes of Coal River still buzzing in our ears.