Alaska 2010 - Part 1                                                       May 19, 2010

Now, if any of you are still capable of ordering a glass of wine with your dinner after this behind the scenes look at how the stuff is bottled, then you obviously haven’t been paying attention!   One of the Zimmerman wines will occasionally defy the odds and the ineptitude of the winemaker and actually turn out to be nearly drinkable.   More frequently the various concoctions are put to some other use, such as fertilizer, insect repellent or rocket fuel.  A recent blend of zinfandel and cabernet miraculously began a second fermentation after it had already been bottled and is now holding its own against Kentucky corn liquor at 180 proof!  Word spread rather quickly throughout the mountains of this new grapeshine and orders for the stuff were soon flowing in from as far away as Sacramento.  An inconspicuous method of transporting the stuff was required so Jerry, a big fan of Robert Mitchum and the movie, Thunder Road, picked up a 1931 Ford hot rod and installed a 40 gallon tank for moving the stuff from the Zimmerman Fly Farm to the Governor’s Mansion in Sacramento . . .

Meanwhile, the brother-in-law chose to clear large globules of jelly fish-like material from the filling tube by blowing the stuff back into the cask . . .

Within minutes after touching down once more on U.S. soil we encountered this . . .

These stretches of one lane dirt road only lasted for 14 miles but certainly represented a major let down for a couple of pilgrims who were anxiously anticipating leaving the frost heaves of the Yukon in the rear view mirror and driving, once again, on baby’s butt smooth American roads.  Just kidding!!  We’ve been to Alaska 4 times before and are very much aware that, like the Yukon, there are truly only 2 seasons here: winter and road construction.   If you can take your eyes off the road occasionally, the scenery is absolutely spectacular . . .

They were very similar in appearance to those samples you donate in a doctor’s restroom including the little piece of tape containing name and date.  I was given command of the most critical part of the process:  filling both the bottles and tasting glasses of the crew . . .

In addition to great food, the Klondike is just a fun place to be!  If you ever find yourself in Whitehorse, this is THE place to eat!  Just ask for Dona and tell her Chuck and Kalyn say, "Hi!"  Several hours after departing Whitehorse, traversing the absolute worst part of the Alaska Highway, we finally reached our destination . . .

Be sure to check back again next month to be regaled by fishing tales as large and wild as Alaska herself!  Hugs!!  Chuck and Kalyn

We enjoyed a great meal of salmon and halibut, and in exchange, outfitted her entire crew with a selection of our Monkey’s Fist necklaces and Turk’s Head bracelets . . .

Within hours after departing, my bride insisted that we make a quick stopover near Redding to visit our old working, RVing and Jeeping pal, Flo . . .

The depression you see in the road is a frost heave.  The actual “heave” is the rise in the road caused by the expanding ice beneath it and resulting in an immediate “valley” which unsuspecting drivers drop into after topping the “heave.”  If you pay close attention you can generally spot one of these things from a motorhome by looking at the road ahead of you for tire skid marks just after the heave.  The more skid marks you see, the more severe the frost heave.  The skid marks are caused by vehicles becoming airborne atop the rise and then dropping into the valley.  If you are in a vehicle that experiences one of these maneuvers, at minimum you will hear the chirping sound of your tires hitting the pavement on impact.  I’ve been told that it sounds very much like an airplane’s tires touching down on a landing strip.  Hitting one of these things at freeway speeds of 60 or 70 mph can be absolutely devastating . . .

In spite of all the pictures we have included of folks bundled up in their winter woolies, frozen lakes and snow capped mountains, spring is definitely in the air and, if you look closely enough, you can spot the occasional sign . . .

Fortunately, the two of us were considered fluffy enough to imbibe without the California mandated safety equipment and Kalyn was permitted to wear hers around the ankles.  The next morning we bid a fond farewell to The Duck as he caught a flight of northbound Canadian Geese and fluttered awkwardly out of sight.  We fired up that great big diesel and headed out of Los Angeles with Alaska firmly locked into our GPS.  Our Alaskan conquest was somewhat delayed when my brother-in-law, always in need of free labor to pick, crush and bottle his varietals of cheap wine substitutes called us during an overnight stop in Los Banos (surrounded by stockyards, the Spanish name is REALLY applicable here) and pleaded with us to help with the bottling process of his first attempt at white wine after his entire crew of illegals abruptly deserted what they saw as a sinking ship and headed out in search of greener pastures at the Auburn Wal-Mart.  Our arrival was met with a great deal of enthusiasm . . .

I really do love the fact that my bride takes all the pictures so I have a really great excuse to snuggle a myriad of delightful females!  We spent the afternoon and evening “catching up” and were soon watching the lights of California fade slowly into the sunset . . 

And we were even given the primo parking spot, complete with electric and water right in front of the house!

This German shepherd, Rebel, belongs to a retired RCMP K-9 officer who lives near Quesnel and has trained the dog to herd cattle and apprehend sneaky people.  He is merely awaiting the command to pounce on the one he lured to this picnic table with a promise of free pizza!  The next morning we set off bright and early at 11am and in no time at all were making that hard right turn off the Yellowhead Highway onto the Cassiar and . . .

Hiring this particular driver was my idea.  You just gotta figure that if she gets pulled over by the revenooers, the last thing they’ll be looking for or at is illegal alcohol!  Some two weeks after our arrival, we bid a fond farewell to the in-laws and continued our northward trek...

I noticed after we left the Cassiar at Watson Lake and were westbound on the Al-Can Highway that we were losing pressure in our air system.  This can be a cause for real concern since both our suspension and braking systems rely on specific air pressures to operate properly.  We carefully drove what seemed like a million miles before reaching Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and a Kenworth Truck Dealer with the time to check our leaky air system.  A number of leaks were discovered and repaired in our front air manifold, a leveling valve and the parking brake.  Just for grins, and because I thoroughly adhere to the concept of “overkill,” we had them replace a second leveling valve, the air dryer, governor and an assortment of various air hose fittings and connectors.  We left the shop after 2 days, $2100 lighter, with brand new components in 90% of the air system and a bit more confidence in actually being able to make it the entire way to Alaska.  A lot of the damage to vehicles in the Yukon and Alaska are the result of driving on roads which are in various states of disrepair due to the permafrost-caused frost heaves . . . 

We normally park in what is known as the “south forty” - located on Mound 13 of the Nevada City Recycling, Reclamation and Waste Disposal Station.  He was obviously desperate!!  Within minutes we were confronted by 5 jugs of an amber fluid which he was calling viognier . . .

We first met her 7 years ago when we spent several afternoons at her place complaining about a seat belt ticket I had been unjustly issued by the Whitehorse Constabulary http://www.gallopinggeezers.com/poem.php  (Okay, I was guilty as sin but was nevertheless filled with righteous indignation!!).  This place consists of a gold mining era tent covered in corrugated steel for protection from the weather and is generally crowded with both tables and customers . . .

Our last night in Los Angeles was spent with our buddy, The Duck, from Sun Valley, Idaho at Pancho’s in Manhattan Beach.  We introduced him to the 40 gallon Margarita and the mandatory Coast Guard approved life preservers you must wear to drink one . . .

We made a quick stopover in Salem, Oregon, to buy a new Nikon P-100 digital camera and a set of new tires for the Jeep which I have been frantically searching for during the past 3 months through 9 different states!  The really great thing about buying “big ticket” items in Oregon is the absence of a state sales tax.  This is especially appealing to the frugal nature of my Norwegian war bride.  With all of our new goodies and 150 gallons of low-priced American diesel fuel, we crossed the Washington border into Canada, through the Fraser River canyon and on to our first stop in Quesnel, British Columbia . . .

When we last made this trip in 2003, the Cassiar was nearly all dirt and gravel.  We were pleasantly surprised to find that the highway now consists of about 420 miles of paved road and only about 30 miles of unimproved road.  Still, the best part about taking this route is the abundance of wildlife, especially bears, which you encounter along the way . . .

My bride, renowned in nearly every Third World country as a “real corker,” was given a task commensurate with her reputation . . .

This guy tore a shock out of the mounting bracket and drove it up through the turbocharger’s oil line resulting in oil loss which could have destroyed his $15,000 engine if he hadn’t immediately noticed the drop in oil pressure and shut it down.  As it was, a new oil pump had to be flown in from the “lower 48” (a term you hear a lot around here, generally said with a sneer).  Being unable to start the engine and having no convenient push point on the rear of the motorhome, they had to pull it up a hill with a chain and forklift, release it, and hope like Hell it had enough momentum to make it all the way into a repair bay while the mechanic driving it was just hoping he had enough remaining air pressure to stop it on arrival before crashing through the rear wall and down the next hill into the river below.   He did!  The best way to avoid catastrophic damage in a motorhome is to slow down on these roads.  The speed limit is 55 to 60mph along most of the Al-Can and you can drive safely at that speed on the southern section.  In the Yukon and Alaska we drive at 40 to 45mph MAXIMUM with the engine retarder on all the time to ensure that we immediately slow down when I take my foot off the throttle.  We still occasionally hit one of these things a bit faster than we should but have, thus far, not caused any major damage to our Urban Assault Vehicle.  While we were still in Whitehorse we had dinner at our friend Dona’s restaurant, Klondike Rib & Salmon . . .