If you just found this here’s Part 1
There is a certain camaraderie that exists amongst folks when they live on the fringes of the map, a bit of a good neighbor policy for sparsely populated regions. The most surprising aspects are its tolerance, bipartisanship and an overall good-natured spirit. As I was reminded yesterday there are many different forms of desperation, and backwoods survival, I’m sure, accounts for at least a handful. When you live in situations like those of the folks that deck the small towns and camps of the Alaska Highway it becomes pertinent to look out for the well being of you neighbor, but pertinent is a word reserved for the passers by writing stories of their fleeting encounters. When you actually live there it’s a way of life. For if you neglect your neighbor in his time of desperation, who exactly is it that you expect to turn to in yours? This spirit took hold, for me, when I hit Pink Mountain. If any of you guys ever stumble across this know that I am in your debt. And for the rest of you, if you’re traveling in this part of the world, stop by, grab a campsite, fill up your tank, buy something at the store and support these guys.
Oddly enough, I brought a spare alternator pulley to replace the one that was mangled over the course of this tribulation. The unfortunate part is that the fan that bolts to the back of the alternator was bent and the shaped key that keeps it turning on the shaft was rounded out, which will ultimately blow the bearings and bend the alternator shaft as well as over heat the engine if it weren’t so blasted cold already. With no time or money to wait for additional parts, not to mention the rapidly encroaching winter, I bent the fan as straight as possible, banged, and finagled and rigged the whole ordeal back together and hit the key. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant sounding moment and my sense of relief didn’t ever quite break the membrane of momentary, but reason told me it would hold. I, like I suspect most bus driver do, have an exceptionally loud radio, which is absolutely priceless in these sorts of circumstances. Out of Pink Mountain and back on the road, three weeks and only 143 miles behind me it was time to cover some ground.
Between Pink Mountain and Whitehorse is 700 miles of country that one might think god created on the eighth day. He certainly kept it hidden from man as long as he possibly could. I’d do the same. Its beauty, vastness and imposing sublime is something that in my life has only been paralleled by the great Himalayas. It was late fall as I passed, which left every breathtaking view stroked with vibrant colors as far as the eye could see. Absolutely amazing, but as a result of my slight three week setback, little food to speak of and even less money I didn’t do too much dawdling. This section of the highway does offer two absolute must sees, however. The first is the Laird hot springs. Now, New Mexico has a rather nice assortment of hot springs scattered about the mountain sides and even though the view is generally better it’s no physical comparison whatsoever to the Laird hot springs. They are the largest, cleanest, deepest hot springs that I have ever seen, and with the most varied temperatures, too. You can relax in almost tepid water or scald yourself until you see fit. The only dilemma aside from having to wear a swimsuit (I don’t in fact own a swimsuit, so my knickers had to suffice) seems to be that it is crowed pretty much all the time and often the upper pools are closed with posted signs that read “problem bear in the area.” Any other closed sign I would probably just ignore, but to this one I paid heed. I was there in the fall, but I imagine that winter is probably on the verge of pure magic at Laird. The second stop is the sign post forest. There’s something very healing to the will of one’s adventure in this forest, especially when you’ve been broken down for several weeks and home is a number of dotted lines in the rear view mirror that’s even higher than when you were a child and tried to count as high as you possibly could. I was a fastidious one, got a good ways, too. The story has it that in 1942 a fellow by the name of Carl K. Lindley, a homesick U. S. Army Engineer, placed the first sign in what is now Watson Lake’s sign post forest reading “Danville, Illinois, 2,835 miles.” The tradition has continued ever since and the forest now contains more than 50,000 signs from every corner of the world. I spent an entire morning there waiting for a friend I had met the night before to get off of work for the afternoon. You can wander endlessly about smiling, laughing, daydreaming and talking with nice folks from all over the world who will undoubtedly take more photographs of your VW than you ever will. It was here, on the other hand, that I started to notice that every camper and RV on ALCAN was southwardly bound. It was getting cold, below freezing some of the time and I was sill in an automobile without heat headed North against the grain of sightseers. I met my acquaintance for a friendly lunch and walk around the lake, and made haste, northwardly bound.
I camped all of what turned out to be a four day trip from Pink Mountain to Whitehorse, not that it’s particularly unusual in way, but I want to briefly comment on how easy it is to camp out on the ALCAN. After coming up the West coast of the lower 48 where some diligence was required in avoiding the astronomical fees that campgrounds charge to park on their dirt and not getting run off by either the black and whites or some disgruntled property owner it was quite refreshing. I don’t recall seeing a single no camping sign and never felt for a second as though I might be harassed for doing so. Basically, the camping situation was the complete opposite of California. What more can you ask for in a camper van?