It has been one year since our family moved to Alaska. Reflecting back on the move – what an EPIC trip! Leaving Genoa and our friends and family in the Midwest was the most difficult thing we have faced as a family. The first day on the road was a sad one indeed. And uncertain! We had compressed our most valued (and needed) possessions from a 3000 SF Victorian home into a 8’x20′ Box Trailer. The trailer was “loaded to the brim” and we were pulling it with our 2004 Yukon XL. Would the 13 year old truck and trailer make it across the Great Plains, through the Canadian Rockies and across sparsely populated northern British Columbia?
Our rig “owned” the right lane of Interstate 90/94 and I was downshifting to slow my speed. My mindset was to to preserve our brakes for the mountains ahead. Thankfully, we arrived to the Minneapolis area without incident. Our wonderful friends Jeff and Michelle opened their home to us on night one. Our time with them helped us focus on the adventure ahead as opposed to what we were leaving behind.
We planned 6 days to travel almost 2800 miles from Genoa, IL to Prince Rupert, BC. From Prince Rupert, we would load onto a ferry for the 90 mile ocean journey to Ketchikan. It would be a five day wait for the next ferry if we missed our planned departure. While I secretly hoped for a breakdown to enable us to spend an extra 5 days exploring Alberta and BC, it was the heart of the season at Alaska Travel Adventures and Harmony was anxious to get into her new classroom. Our intended route was Genoa, IL > Minneapolis, MN > Mt. Rushmore, SD > Glacier NP, MT > Banff NP, AB > Prince George, BC > Prince Rupert, BC > Ketchikan, AK.
Day 2 would prove to be “adventurous”. We blew through 2 trailer tires on the long stretch between my birthplace of Sioux Falls, SD and Mt. Rushmore. Fortunately, I had prepared for this eventuality and purchased two full size tires as spares. Knowing the long distances between cities in western US and Canada, I didn’t want to leave the trailer to drive to the nearest tire shop (hundreds of miles away). My routine of putting on a spare and driving to the Walmart in the next town to have the blown tire fixed would become habit. Over the next two days in South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana, we would have four flat tires!!! Fortunately, Canada was a friendly as most Canadians and we did not have any flats once we crossed the border.
The Rocky Mountains never cease to amaze! We continued our conservative approach with the rig and skirted the eastern side of the range through Wyoming and Montana. Our route was intended to keep the drive from being too painful for the kids. Early morning departures, 8-10 hours in the car and fun destinations along the way. Despite our best intentions, our day from Mt. Rushmore to Great Falls, Montana was a LOOOONG one. We pulled into the hotel late at night.
One of our biggest concerns was crossing the border into Canada. Would border security make us unpack the trailer to ensure our “shady” looking family wasn’t trafficking drugs or contraband? It had taken me three days to pack the trailer and two days to re-pack the trailer (as it was too heavy the first time). I did not want to go through that routine again! Marre’s biggest concern was her Guinea Pig – “Oreo”. We had papers for our German Shepherd Dog “King”, but no papers for our daughter’s pet. We pulled up to the booth, passports in hand and expecting the worst. A few questions later and we were through the border! Ohhh Canada!
I had been looking forward to the stretch between Calgary and Prince Rupert for some time. When I was a child, my family traveled to Calgary for a Pastor’s conference. My father was a Pastor (minister) and our church belonged to a denomination which had an annual convention. The conventions were held in a different city each year and conventions in LA meant exploring Yosemite National Park while Denver meant playing in Rocky Mountain National Park. The conference in Calgary allowed us to spend two fantastic weeks in Banff National Park! Those yearly trips out west created some of the most cherished memories I have of my childhood. They spurred a love for the outdoors and introduced me to wild places. This trip, I was headed west as a father. As we drove north through Calgary towards Banff, my family was in awe of the beautiful Canadian Rockies.
It was time to relax. Tensions loosened with a growing confidence in the rig and our successful border crossing. I will never regret splurging on the Kananaskis Mountain Lodge as our choice of lodging near Banff. Surrounded by soaring peaks, we checked into our room and headed out for a hike. Words can not do justice to the beauty of the wilderness surround the lodge. We WILL return some winter to ski in that beautiful place.
The Icefields Highway and road to Prince Rupert has to be one of the most beautiful stretches of highway in the world. Leaving Kananaskis, we soon entered Banff National Park. I pushed down the mild frustration over our tight timeline and simply enjoyed the panorama of breathtaking views. In the heart of winter the passes in Banff and Jasper are buried in deep drifts of snow. On this day in August, the only challenge was the desire to stop at every turnout for a photo.
We arrived early in the afternoon to the town of Jasper. It was time for a break. We explored this quaint mountain hamlet, stretching our legs and checking out the shops. File Jasper into the folder of places we need to spend time as a family.
The road west lead to BC’s Mt. Robson. Why oh why did we not have a week to explore this place? Pressing westward we enjoyed the long stretches of gradual ups and downs through mountains and forest. The quaint towns of Smithers and Terrace were added to the “let’s come back here someday” list. It would take two days of travel to reach Prince Rupert. Arriving with two hours to spare, we had made it across the continent!!!
There was a remarkable sunset on display as the ferry headed north. We would arrive late that evening to Ketchikan to begin our new life in Alaska.