The drive from McCarthy, Alaska to Haines is 699 miles and about 16 hours and 43 minutes long. We left McCarthy the evening of September 8th and made it halfway down the road so that we could cut down our drive time the following morning. Less than five minutes after leaving McCarthy we saw a grizzly momma with two cubs. It was the quintessential shot, mom and cubs standing up on their hind feet to see what we were, unfortunately it happened so quickly that we didn’t snap a photo. We spent the night about halfway down the road next to a huge railway trestle and woke early to continue the journey.
Our two pit stops were the Wrangell – St. Elias visitor’s center to turn in Junior Ranger booklets and Tok junction for gas and lunch at the famous purple Tok Thai truck. The thai food was delicious! We had left McCarthy early for a reason. It wasn’t to make the ferry and luckily it also wasn’t to avoid weather. It was for food. It was for the world’s most delicious breadsticks. Haines Junction is not really notable for much of anything. The Village bakery though, wow! They make the most astoundingly delicious cheesy garlic breadsticks. You know when order nachos and there is the crusted cheese melted to the plate. The few scraps that usually cause family fights over who gets to eat it. Well these breadsticks, all of the cheese is like that. Oh, and the bread. It’s got just enough crunchiness and then is the perfect consistency on the inside. They have mastered the breadstick, and we realized that the greatest travesty on our drive through Canada was only picking up six of these things on our stop. I had eaten the same (well different) breadsticks, several decades earlier when I was in Haines Junction with my mom and step-dad and their taste still stuck in my mind.
Well, we were booking it to make it to the bakery before close. The plan was simple. Stop. Buy them out of breadsticks. Keep going. As we were pulling up to the bakery something didn’t seem right. Had there been a time change? Did we miss it? We parked and walked up to locked doors and dark lights. CLOSED FOR THE SEASON. For the season?! Which season?! Nooooooooooooooooooo. The rest of the drive to Kulane National Park and Lake Kathleen was spent under a dark cloud, both literally because of the weather and figuratively because of the great sadness of not having a breadstick at that exact moment.
We parked at our campsite and began setting up, the tent was staked and darkness came quickly. September was beginning to mark a rather significant change in the hours and hours of extra sunlight to which we were accustomed. Trevor was using the bathroom when I saw them. Two yellow eyes. I was in the middle of cooking burritos and tending the fire. The stove was in front of me; the campfire was ten feet to my 10 o’clock. Twenty-five feet away, at my twelve o’clock were the yellow eyes. It seemed to small for a wolf, and if it were it would have immediately recognized me as a pack brother and come up to lick my hand and nuzzle my mustache. This little guy was a coyote, I think. I walked closer to the fire, ‘Hey!’ I said sternly. ‘Get on, get!’ No movement. It just stared straight at move. Its lack of response meant that I was not the first human it had seen. It had been habituated, it knew that we left food and was looking for scraps. I kept yelling to no response. I kicked the dirt and it turned its head and moved back a step or two. I advanced several steps and kicked the dirt again. This wasn’t a dangerous situation, but we didn’t need a coyote lurking in the shadows so I had to make it known that hanging out by our campsite would be a very uncomfortable thing. After several expertly aimed dirt kicks and some wild full arm gesticulations I got the job done and the thing turned it’s tail and left. The wolf always triumphs!
The next morning called for an early rise, we had made burritos the night before so we simply had to hop in the car and go. As we made the 150-mile drive fall was in full effect. The leaves were bright yellow as we drove through a misty fog. We were less than a mile from the Alaska-Canadian border when it happened.
I am minding my own business driving the speed limit when off of my left periphery I see a huge brown thing barreling down the hill. I look over to see a massive moose running out of the woods. He sees the car and makes a 90-degree left turn to run parallel to the car. At this point he is galloping at about 30 miles per hour. I tap the brakes and manage to get my phone in slo-mo to capture the beast. He was massive. He carried the grey hairs of an elder fella and I if I would have reached out of the truck I would have had to raise my hand to touch his shoulder. He was a massive and majestic beast. He clearly wanted to cross the road, he runs in front of the truck and then runs next to the road for a good two hundred yards before turning into the trees. I thought that his antlers would clip one of the road signs and that he would either tear it down, or tumble in a violent array of legs and moose flesh. It did not happen and I wasn’t sure if I was sad or happy that we didn’t get to see it happen.
We passed through Canadian customs with hearts pounding from our near moose miss and were finally able to enjoy a drive without drama. Although, on our drive from Haines to Montana a week later we did see the remnants of a moose that got pulverized by a car. Take notice that the head alone is nearly as big as Trevor.