Sunday, May 22, 2011

Juneau Adventures

Juneau. Alaska's capital. Stunning mountain and coastal scenery. Rains a lot. Ferry or air is the only way to get here. And in the summer home to hundreds of sled dogs, mushers and handlers - all working either on glaciers or on land giving sled and cart rides to the hordes of tourists who flock off the cruise ships. This year the dogs and I are working for Alaska Excursions which gives cart rides to folks. Getting here was a typical Harpham adventure.

It started with loading dogs onto the truck. Thirty six very muddy dogs. The highlight was having Sasha put her back foot into my mouth as she tried to leap into a dogbox. Now I know what dog poop tastes like. Sigh.

After a very sweaty 60 minutes, we were finally underway. We stopped in Tok to let the dogs out for a pee and a stretch and as always happens in Tok, I got hurt. A dog's toenail caught my chin and there was a lot of blood as it was sliced open. Last time I dropped dogs in that tiny town my chin and my hand were cut.

We got across the border without incident and then pushed on to Haines Junction, Yukon where the credit card promptly stopped working. I spent 30 minutes on a pay phone, at 1 a.m., listening to bad elevator music and a cheerful recorded voice telling me that Wells Fargo valued my business and they would be with me shortly. Finally a nice young man somewhere in Arizona, assured I was in fact Peg Harpham and that I was travelling, turned the card back on. Good thing because we were out of fuel and weren't going anywhere until we got some.

We decided to keep driving, thinking we'd cross the border again at Haines, Alaska and then let the dogs out for a good long while. Did you know that they close the country at Haines from midnight to 8 a.m? We didn't either.

What followed was 6 hours of fitful sleep in the front seat of the dog truck. Fitful because it was snowing/raining and cold. Here's my cheerful self the next morning.

The country finally opened and we hit the border. The customs officer really hated his job. You know the type. Mirrored sunglasses he didn't take off even though it was cloudy and raining. Monotone voice. Even Solo, the wonder Malamute, didn't get so much as a pet on the head. Quite a difference from the Canadian officer in the Yukon.

As we are answering questions, Darrel's window falls completely down in between the door panels. At least it didn't fall onto the ground. We pulled ahead and tried to fix it - all under the watchful eye of US customs.

Here's the dogs stretching their legs in Haines, before getting on the ferry. This is how you manage 36 dogs at a dog drop.

Before getting on the ferry we drove around Haines a bit. I needed to call my employer but didn't have a cell phone. No worries, because everyone we asked was willing to let me use theirs. That's the nice thing about Alaska - most people are generous.

Darrel decided to put fuel in the truck before we got on the ferry. Every old dog truck has idiosyncrasies and ours in no exception. The pipe into the fuel tank is practically horizontal, which makes using the nozzle at the gas station really tricky. You have to fuel very, very slowly. But if you have a jerry can and a hose, well, it's just like fueling up a regular vehicle! This is definitely not Sarah Palin's Alaska.

As we arrived at the ferry terminal we saw we weren't the only musher truck. The parking lot was littered with them. On the boat we were informed that there were more dogs on board that people.

Darrel and I napped, snacked and occasionally spotted whales. Here's how you nap on the ferry. Mushers can sleep anywhere!

After almost 32 hours on the road we finally pulled into camp. And that is where I leave off for now.

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