Thursday, December 09, 2010

VoM2: Canada Catch Up

I’ve been without internet the whole way across Canada, so here’s a quick catch-up…

A no-brainer ride from Seattle put me in Vancouver late Saturday night. Had a nice day wandering around there on Sunday, then boarded VIA Rail Train #2 in the evening. For the next four nights (and three days, obviously) we made steady progress across the vast northern landscape, with only a few brief stops along the way.

The VIA train was good, but not as great as I thought it might be based on things I’d heard. The ride, room, meals, service, etc., were certainly all quite satisfactory, but not any better than what I’ve experienced on Amtrak. So there’s my opinion on that competitive issue.

The western portion of the ride from Vancouver to Toronto is quite picturesque, as you can see in this photo taken from the viewing car. The eastern portion is more of an endless prairie and woodland combo, but still fun to watch roll by!

I arrived in Toronto early this morning and proceeded straight to the Holiday Inn Express — my customary home away from home (wherever that is!) — and was allowed a very, very early check-in… They LOVE me here!

Spent the afternoon wandering around Toronto, with highlights being four floors of the Bata shoe museum (everything you could possibly want to know about shoes!) and the city market (which is an indoor version of pretty much every city market around the world). It’s chilly here, but the weather has been fine so far.

I’m going to make it an early night — simply because sleeping on a train isn’t the most restful — and catch my Toronto-NY train in the morning.

So far it’s been a good start to The Voyage 2.0 and I’ve covered a surprising amount of the earth’s surface already… Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

VoM2: Gear All Packed!

My Voyage gear is all packed. I’m estimating it’s only about 60% of what I carried on the last Voyage… The bags are smaller, which is great, yet I’ve still got room to spare! I’m sure I’ll mess around with my gear a few more times before Saturday, but I feel like I’m pretty much good to go! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

VoM2: First Leg Taking Shape

I just booked the first major leg of The Voyage 2.0!

Canadian Rail from Vancouver to Toronto… Sunday, Dec. 5 - Thursday, Dec. 9… So, I’ll probably make the Seattle-Vancouver hop on Saturday the 4th…

The Voyage 2.0 is taking shape!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

VoM2: Macgellan Is Planning A Second Voyage!

Macgellan is planning a second expedition to circumnavigate the surface of the earth. It will be called "The Voyage of Macgellan 2.0"

Here's a quick map of the preliminary plan... Stay tuned!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Back In Seattle... Again

I'm back in Seattle after flying from Petropavlovsk through Anchorage. With that, my Alaskan Summer travels are officially concluded.

I'm going to hang out in the area for a while, to catch up with myself and my life as usual. I'll also be working on "what's next" for me, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Petropavlovsk, Kamchatka, Russia

We wrapped up our Aleutians expedition with a quick stop in Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka Peninsula of far northeast Russia. Although not part of the Aleutian Islands, of course, the area is certainly geographically, geologically and historically similar.

We spent the morning doing a typical tourist city-tour, mostly churches and statues followed by a "local" lunch. It was interesting and informative, but it was so far from my usual style of exploration that I often found myself wanting to jump off the bus and just mingle with the locals for a while.

In the afternoon, we went to a cultural heritage center where we were treated to an excellent traditional dance performance, though I admit to spending most of my time with the local sled dogs who were in residence there. I reprise my global assessment: Dogs are dogs everywhere, and I love them all!

It's been an excellent Aleutian expedition and we fly out tomorrow.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Aleutian Islands: Grizzly Bears

A real highlight of the expedition was zodiac cruising around Geographic Harbor in Katmai Park and seeing grizzly bears everywhere... It was fantastic!

I've always heard about grizzly bears' size, power and aggressiveness, but I don't think I've ever heard or seen anything about their grace, delicacy and perseverance. I hope this video does a little to balance the scales.

(Note: I'm sorry about all the ambient noise -- camera shutters clicking, etc. -- but I couldn't turn down the undesirable audio without losing the "bear sounds" too.)

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Aleutian Islands: WWII

One of my primary interests in the Aleutian Islands area was its role in World War II. The gist of the story is that after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese strategy was to occupy Midway Island in the South Pacific and the Aleutian Islands in the north, anchoring both ends of a naval defense line that would keep the US from retaliating against the Japanese empire and especially its homelands.

The failure to capture Midway is a famous part of the WWII story, but many folks have never heard of the Aleutian campaign and few could tell you that several of the Aleutian Islands were actually invaded and held by the Japanese for several years. The rest of the story includes the building of the AlCan Highway (and subsequent development of the rest of Alaska), aerial bombardment of Dutch Harbor, horrific living and flying conditions for US Army personnel, and a climactic counter-invasion of Attu Island.

I was quite keen to land on Attu and walk the area, especially the primary landing beach. A dense cloud cover provided an ominous feeling, and though the beach may not look like much, it speaks volumes about the battle to those like me who have studied it.

Nature has pretty well reclaimed the area and most everything that was there, but numerous rusted artifacts can still be seen. Besides the truck chassis seen here, one can find gun emplacements, washed up Japanese mini-subs, fueling rigs and even portions of the harbor complex. The nearly 70-year old wreckage of a Japanese ship spoke volumes about the epic encounter.

I don't know how much the "birders" got out of the day, but it was certainly a highlight for me!

Sunday, August 01, 2010

If It's Flappin', They're Snappin'!

The vast majority of folks onboard ship are "birders" -- people who are quite literally bird nuts. For them, the Aleutian Islands provide the only opportunity in the world to see a few species that are on their "life lists." As a result, much of the entire expedition's attention was paid to finding and seeing these birds.

For me -- practically the only non-birder on board -- it was amusing to see the birders in action while we cruised around in the zodiac boats. The amount of camera equipment they carried and the number of shots they took was truly astonishing. I mentioned this to one of the expedition leaders, and she smiled back at me saying, "If it's flappin', they're snappin!"

I happened to get this shot of her the next day, and gave her a copy just for fun:

(To my surprise -- and amusement -- this photo was used on the cover post-trip photo book that was provided by the expedition company. I wonder if the birders know it started as a joke on them!)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Aleutian Islands: Geology

The Aleutian Islands chain is formed at the northern edge of the Pacific "Ring of Fire." As a consequence, there are many, many volcanic islands and peaks. On most days, sadly, the weather was -- very typical for the area -- too cloudy or foggy for us to see them. On the few clear days, though, we were treated to some amazing views.

A number of the volcanos gave us ample indication that they continue to be active, though despite our fervent wishes we were not treated to an actual eruption!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Aleutian Islands: Culture

The indigenous people were more or less invaded by the Russians a few hundred years ago and their culture was strongly affected. The superimposition of western religion is evident practically everywhere, mostly in the form of ornate churches. In a number of places that we visited, the local descendants of the original people put on little shows for us, and it was interesting to see the modern preservation of their ancient history.

The native economy and environment were strongly influenced by the Russians, especially the impacts of the fur trade which developed. In some cases, species -- including the fur seal -- were hunted to near extinction. The subsequent effects on local economies were devastating.

Things may have changed somewhat for the better after the American purchase of Alaska, though many changes to original lifestyles have become permanent. Nowadays, there is ample evidence of modern "mini-invasions" such as the announcement of tourist arrivals that was posted on the store bulletin board and in the assortment of modern products.

Everywhere we went, the people were quite warm and friendly to us. To be honest, I think we provided a little bit of entertainment in this very remote and isolated area!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Aleutian Islands Exploration Begins

Months ago, my mom and I scheduled a cruise-based exploration of the Aleutian Islands. My original plan had been to hang out up in Alaska and meet her there, but by the time I'd completed the Haul Road trip I was kinda "done" with Alaska. So, rather than hang around and drive south after our cruise, I got the long drive done early and will fly back up to meet her in Anchorage tomorrow.

I've got four main reasons for wanting to explore the Aleutian Islands, besides the simple fact that I've always just wanted to go there: Culture, History (especially WWII), Geology and Wildlife.

Our cruise itinerary is pretty complex, but will basically follow the route you can see below: Anchorage, Katmai, Dutch Harbor, Adak, Attu and Petropovlovsk. We will stop at a number of other islands along the way, but those should be the highlights.

I do not expect to have internet access during the trip, but I will post complete coverage after I return... Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Back In Seattle

Right on schedule, it took me six more long days of driving the AlCan to reach Seattle. The drive went without problem, except for its mind-numbing duration. I've taken a couple of days to recover, and will be here for a couple of weeks. Then, I'm actually going to fly back up to Anchorage where I will meet my mom for a cruise voyage we have planned in the Aleutian Islands… Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Leaving Alaska

Rob and I spent a couple of days back in Fairbanks, recovering from our Haul Road trip and preparing my rig for the long drive south on the AlCan back to Seattle.

Before leaving Fairbanks, I encouraged Rob to give some serious thought to whether or not he really wanted to stay with me for the eight long days of driving that the AlCan requires. We'd had a great time on the drives from Anchorage to Fairbanks and on the Haul Road, but I warned him that the AlCan is something else entirely. I also pointed out that Fairbanks is an easy place to fly out of (hint, hint). He said he wanted to "give it a go", so we set off.

During our first two days, we got to enjoy many beautiful vistas. We also, however, had to endure the rough roads and constant parade of heavy trucks which zoom by, kicking up dust and gravel. Facing the prospect of six more days of it can do funny things to your brain.

So, I brought the subject up again when we got to Haines Junction yesterday. I reassured him that it was really okay with me if he wanted to bail, and pointed out that our pass through Whitehorse today would be the last opportunity he'd have to fly out if he wanted to.

He confessed that while he really didn't want to "abandon ship", he was pretty worn out. Plus, he'd already been away from home for two weeks and was feeling some pressure to get back and take care of business. I reassured him that he had already gone "above and beyond" and that I was good to go for a solo return. He made what I think is a good decision to fly out, and we toasted our very enjoyable and successful road trip together.

We pulled into Whitehorse this morning, got him a seat on a pair of Air Canada flights to Seattle and said farewell. I've motored down the road to Watson Lake and called it a day. I'll probably just set my jaw and push on from here, probably not posting anything until I get back to Seattle.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Driving The "Haul Road"

In the previous few posts, I've tried to give you a sense of what it's like to drive the James W. Dalton Highway -- "The Haul Road" -- from north of Fairbanks all the way up to Prudhoe Bay. The truth is, it's impossible to do justice to the 400+ miles of "out there" road, but in those posts and this "start to finish" video I've given it my best shot.

Using some of the many hundreds of shots from my "DashCam" -- taken once each minute along the entire route -- along with some narrative video and a few other still photos, here's a ten minute overview. Like I said, it's impossible to truly represent this amazing drive, but I hope this will give you some sense of it.

For those of you who are "Ice Road Trucker" fans, this will at least give you a start-to-finish perspective on what it's like for Lisa and her colleagues in the summer. It's obviously way, way more difficult in winter! Thanks to my friend Rob who rode along and shared the experience! Thanks also to Alaska's Hobo Jim for a couple of perfect tunes!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Haul Road - Return

Driving back down the Haul Road brought several things into sharp focus for me. First, if you drive the road, you will get to enjoy many, many beautiful vistas along the way.

But along with the beautiful comes the not so pretty. You have to remember that the Haul Road is a working road. It's really there for the trucks to bring equipment and supplies to the oil field. You are a "guest" there, and you have to be patient. Even better, try to be entertained by the amazing assortment of rigs you see go by.

Here are a couple of video clips to illustrate my point:

You'll have your high points, like when your trusty truck takes you boldly over the Atigun Pass. You will also have your low points, like when you have to wait for the driver of the pilot car to put some gas in her tank.

When you get back to Fairbanks, wash your truck. It will be filthy, and the chemicals they put on the road are highly corrosive. So "get after it" immediately, then hurry off before the car wash manager sees what you left behind!

Driving the Haul Road has been a fantastic experience and I am so glad I've done it!

Rob and I are going to hang out in Fairbanks for a couple of days to prepare my Road Rig to leave Alaska and make the long drive down the AlCan highway... Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Haul Road - Prudhoe Bay

If you're going to drive to Prudhoe Bay, "just getting there" had better be the only reward you seek, because there's not much else there to see or do. As you enter the area, you are greeted by immense compounds of machinery and equipment. This is, after all, really nothing but a working oil field, and they've got all the stuff there for it.

When we finally reached our accommodation at the Arctic Caribou Inn, Rob got out and moved to the middle of the parking lot to call his wife. I don't know, but I'm guessing the conversation was along the lines of, "Hi, honey. You'll never guess what my friend has gotten me into!"

He probably would have had an even better story if he'd waited until after he saw our room and then had dinner with the pipeline/oilfield workers. Burger night at the dormitory, yummy!

Early in the morning we got up and took the "tour" of Prudhoe Bay, the only way you can see it. Basically, you and a few other crazy visitors climb in a bus, drive past buildings and equipment, then dismount and stick your hand, toe, whatever in the arctic ocean. On the way back you pass the "forest" which is actually a nice bit of humor because there isn't a tree around for 200 miles!

I certainly can't say that Prudhoe Bay is one of the nicest or most interesting places I've been, but that was never the intention. I just wanted to get here, and I did!

Haul Road - Day 2

We continued from Coldfoot early this morning, on what ended up feeling like an endless day of driving. There was vista after vista, but after a while it all started to blur together. The day was made more endless by the frequent and often lengthy waits we encountered for construction, equipment, pilot cars, etc. We often resorted to keeping ourselves entertained by playing TV shows from my iPod on the truck's dash monitor. That helped a bit, but not a lot.

A high point -- literally -- was crossing over the Atigun Pass to which the road is very steep on both sides. It was a bit "sporty" in mid-summer, and I can see how it could be treacherous in winter. On the other side, we spilled out onto a pretty flat plain and barren road. Again, we frequently had to slow or stop, often for caribou crossing.

After not seeing any wildlife on our entire first day, we were delighted to finally see some. Next stop, Prudhow Bay!