When I arrived back in Fairbanks after the Dalton Highway I was in need of a few important services. First, a car wash. Dirt patina on your truck looks great, but if you're having to get up on your truck to open a tent or pull out an awning then you always end up wearing the dirt patina. Considering how often I get up on my truck to open close my tent, open up my bumper swing outs or even open my door you can likely imagine how covered in dirt I'd be; this of course means all my clothing would need a wash, which leads to the second well-needed service, a laundromat. Luckily for me, the laundromat also offered half decent wifi so I had my third service well covered. Lastly, I needed groceries. I find Walmart the best option for groceries since they usually have competitive prices and they also have wifi for when you're stumped on where the heck a certain item is in the massive store and inevitably have to stand in one spot and look it up (also the people who work there don't even know where half the stuff is a lot of the time.).
Upon arriving at Walmart, I quickly spotted another toyota to park beside, as I often do, and pulled into my spot; however, as soon as I parked and got out of my truck I spied my new Swiss friends who I met on the Dalton in their Land Rover, so back into my truck I went, then drove over to them to park. Marcel and Gratiella had been parked at the Walmart for a night or two while they helped another European traveling couple, Andreas & Desiree, to fix a broken leaf spring they had sustained on the Dalton (I had spotted Andreas & Desiree's 4x4 Sprinter van in Whitehorse then again in Fox, AK.). I chatted with the two traveling couples for a while before I went into Walmart to purchase groceries.
When I came out of the store, parked in the parking lot almost exactly where I had been before I spotted the Euro's was @novosolhos a Brazilian family that has been living out of their Toyota Landcruiser for almost two years! I had been speaking with Gustov a few weeks previous about possibly meeting up in Alaska somewhere but had feared I'd missed them. I walked straight over to them and introduced myself and invited them to come and join our little overland camp in the Walmart parking lot.
Long story short, after some lengthy indecision we finally decided not to camp in the Walmart parking lot. While waiting there and mulling around trying to figure out what to do a local overland group (@ordinaryoverland) came and introduced themselves and handed us some patches. Seeing that they were locals I asked them if they could steer us towards a free camping spot. They suggested we follow them out to the Chena River Rec Area 30 miles outside of Fairbanks. We didn't end up following them but did make our own way out to the rec area around 9:00 pm. 30 miles happens to take a lot longer to drive then 30 kilometers and when the LC doesn't like to go over 90kph, 30 miles takes a while to drive. We ended up at our camp spot by roughly 10:15pm. 30 minutes after arriving Gustov had cast a line and bagged a fish and Jane his wife was cooking it up for dinner. Best fish I've ever had.
The next morning it was my intention to finish the remainder of my errands then leave for Cantwell, AK; however, things tend to take longer when you don't know how to navigate a city very well and you're unorganized to begin with. The day came to an end and I still had not left Fairbanks so I returned to the Chena River Rec Area to stay another night with Gustov and his family as they had decided not to leave that day.
CAUTIONARY TALE: Having just broken my folding pocket knife I decided I'd like to purchase a new knife made somewhere in the North. I did a little research and began looking through stores, gift shops and galleries for a knife that I'd like. After a week of searching I located a knife maker in Fairbanks. His knives are sold at the local farmers market so I went there to make a purchase. A few days after I purchased a knife from his booth I realized that I had purchased a knife that was far too big to be applicable in my everyday life so I decided to sell the knife and search out a different knife maker. My first google search led me to a vast selection of demascus steel knives (same material of my previously purchased knife) on amazon.ca. After a few hours of browsing amazon I happened upon a knife that looked identical to mine but less than half the price...yes, I had been duped into buying a knife that was purchased on amazon then marked up and sold as someone else's handy work. Make sure to do your research and get a certificate of authenticity.
Fast forward a day, I've traveled from Fairbanks to Cantwell, AK. It's getting close to 6:00pm and I'm looking for a camp spot. I've turned off the highway to drive into Cantwell, as I drive I peer through the trees to see my friends Marcel and Gratiella parked in a campground just off the road. Immediately I turn in and park beside to say hello. What started out as a quick visit turned into a 4 hours of conversation, laughter, food and drink. Marcel is a man of many talents and has built himself his own custom pop-top camper very similar to what I want to build in the next few years, he's also very eager to show off his handy work and thorough tour was in line.
I finally managed to pull myself away from my new friends to go find a camp spot and quickly found myself parked on a little gravel pad surrounded by a river. I had a good chuckle because my Swiss friends had paid for a parking spot and I had literally traveled 3 minutes down the road and camped in a free spot that was WAY nicer than the campground.
The next day was departure time for the Denali Highway, but not before stopping in with Marcel and Gratiella for a coffee! I could write all kinds of things about the Denali Highway, but instead I'm just going to give you pictures to look at. The highway has tons of camping spots along the way so it is definitely a return-to place for me. Enjoy.
The next morning I woke up and drove the remainder of the way to Glenallen. Shortly after departing from my campsite I came across a small parking lot with a sign for Omar Lake. I hadn't had a whole lot of exercise and Willow definitely needed a walk, so I decided to go check it out. The information sign suggested the trail to the lake as a good mountain bike route and being only 7 miles return trip it was a pretty decent idea. So, I pulled out the steed, mounted up and went for it. I think my crotch still hurts from that experience. Mountain biking on the Omar Lake trail was an optimistic suggestion by whomever typed out that sign. A lot of rocks. Luckily, on my bumpy journey I was joined by a herd of caribou giving Willow lots of opportunity to test her sprinting speed and scare the crap out of me every time I spooked one out of the brush. Good times. Actually, it was a really cool experience riding my bike with caribou.
At 36 miles to go on the Denali Highway I passed a certain familiar van and quickly after slammed on my brakes and pulled a u-turn. The other Swiss couple from the Walmart parking lot had just begun their journey up the Denali Highway and luckily recognized my truck. We stopped and chatted on the side of the highway for about an hour, I was able to share some information about the highway and other places they could visit in BC and they showed me around their cool 4x4 Sprinter Van...which, was SOOOO cool!
After exiting the Denali Highway it was pretty much a straight shot to Glenallen. I found some wifi at the local library there so that I could update my family on where I was then I moved on down the Richardson Highway to find a camp spot. After turning down a gravel road only to find it blocked by a family in their truck I was informed of a spot along the river just a few minutes down the road. Add a point for asking the locals. Next stop, Valdez!