I had the opportunity of a lifetime this past June to travel from Vancouver to Alaska with my 80-year-old grandpa. I learned a lot about faith, family, and fishing, as you’ll see as you follow us on our Alaska fishing road trip.
Day 1: After a long day’s work, I went home and met my grandpa to load the car and head to Bellingham. We left at 6:21 p.m. and arrived in Bellingham four hours later. Left with perfect timing to miss Seattle traffic. The day happened to be my grandparents’ 55th wedding anniversary, so within minutes of leaving the house, we were already talking about marriage and relationships. Grandpa’s words of wisdom for the day, regarding marriage: “Always work to compromise and say ‘Let’s try it’. That way you’re both in it together versus being against each other.” We also began listening to the first of many Blue Collar Comedy Tour CD’s. Git R Done!
Day 2: Left Bellingham at 9 a.m. and arrived in MacKenzie, British Columbia at 11 p.m. Border crossing was fine but do they have to be so stoic? And they stare you down after asking simple questions. It made me question whether my name was actually Justin Farrell, despite the fact I’ve never been called anything else. In the late afternoon, we drove through the worst thunderstorm I’ve ever been in. Lighting flashed all around us and hail the size of large marbles pelted the car for what seemed like an hour but was probably more like ten minutes. I couldn’t believe the windshield didn’t crack. We spent the day talking about religion, politics, and living trusts. Words of wisdom: “Men think more logically than women. If you’re helping a woman find something, look in places that seem illogical to you. You’ll find it there.” That would explain why my wife’s keys were in the refrigerator last week. But I guess it doesn’t explain why I left the milk in the pantry….
Day 3: Slept in late and on the road at 10:45 a.m. Had a hard time sleeping as thoughts kept creeping in my head about what if something went wrong at home, how would I be notified? My cell phone was off through Canada due to international roaming fees and it was weird to not be able to have someone contact me in case of emergency or until I was able to check messages using a calling card in the evenings at the hotel. Arrived in Fort Nelson, B.C. at 7 p.m. and stayed at The Blue Bell Inn, which was a gas station, convenience store, and hotel. Kind of an odd combination but the price was reasonable and the room was nice. This was the only place we stayed at both coming and going.
Day 4: Left Fort Nelson at 7:30 a.m. Saw more wildlife today than any other part of the trip. At least a dozen black bears eating dandelions right off the highway, moose, stone sheep, and bison. Muncho Lake was the most beautiful color of turquoise I have ever seen. The Signpost Forest in Watson Lake was one of the most unique things I have ever seen. Over 72,000 signs put up from around the world in one place. Amazing. Arrived in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory at 8:45 p.m. Stayed at Stop Inn Family Hotel located at 314 Ray Street. Nice place to stay and reasonably priced. Angela at the front desk was very friendly and helpful.
Day 5: Left Whitehorse at 9 a.m. Many of the gas pumps along the way didn’t have nozzles that kept the pump running while you went inside, washed your windows, etc. so I had to hold the pump the whole time. It was frustrating because I’m used to being able to multi-task. It forced me to not be in such a rush and take in things moment by moment. Crossed the border and made a comment to the Border Patrol agent about hoping he could do something about the mosquitoes that were obviously crossing the border without proper identification. He smiled, or maybe glared. I rolled up my window and just kept driving, hoping that having a sense of humor wasn’t a federal offense. Arrived at camping spot where we met my cousin at 6:30 p.m. Alaska Time just outside of Glennallen, Alaska, 2,364 miles later.
Days 6-9: Fishing in the morning, nap in the afternoon, and time around the campfire at night were on the itinerary for the next few days. Good thing we weren’t counting on my fishing skills to survive. Fish were literally being caught at my feet but somehow I only managed to catch two. There was a combined 130 years of marriage from the four of us who were camping. I’m now convinced the world’s problems can be solved around a campfire with S’mores. Peace in the Middle East? Pass the marshmallows, Mr. Ahmadinejad. Poor economy? Ms. Pelosi, can you please pass Mr. Boehner the chocolate and graham crackers?
Day 10: On the road again after a wonderful few days in the great outdoors. Left at 8:49 a.m. and stopped at an awesome gift shop in Tok, Alaska on our way back to Whitehorse. Arrived in Whitehorse and hoped to stay at the Stop Inn Family Hotel again but they were full. However, they made some calls for us and were extremely helpful in getting us a place to stay a few hours away at Teslin, Yukon Territory. Arrived at 10:22 p.m. During today’s drive I asked my grandpa about his mom. He said, “She was the most wonderful person in the world” with a tone of admiration I’ve never heard from him before. The fact that this amazing adventure will be coming to an end soon is starting to hit me.
Day 11: Left Teslin at 10:49 a.m. Stopped at Watson Lake again and wanted to put up our own sign in the Signpost Forest to commemorate our trip. Went to a hardware store across the street and bought a board. The total came to $1.31 and I didn’t want to use my debit card for such a small amount so I cleared out my ashtray and I had exactly $1.31 in it. No doubt it was meant to be. Made the sign and put it up so we will always have a physical reminder of our trip at Watson Lake. Starting to wonder how many people have an opportunity like this to spend with anyone who’s close to them, but especially a grandparent. Stopped to eat at Toad Lake. Really cool restaurant and gift shop that has a ceiling lined with over 8,000 baseball hats left by customers over the years. We didn’t stay there but they have $89 rooms. Arrived in Fort Nelson shortly before 11 p.m. Long days of driving are getting us home faster than on our way up. The feeling of approaching home is bittersweet.
Day 12: Left Fort Nelson at 8:14 a.m. Asked Grandpa what he hoped his legacy would be. He said, “That Grandpa was a nice man who taught me a thing or two along the way.” Simple, to the point, yet profound. He also said, “If you’re not learning something from everyone you come across, you’re either not listening or not paying attention.” He talked about the daily coffee groups he goes to and how he learns new things from the 90-year-olds in the group. Funny how my grandpa has little to no interest or knowledge of social media but he is probably one of the most socially connected people I know. Arrived in Williams Lake, B.C. at 9:14 p.m. and stayed at the Lakeside Motel. Nicest room we stayed at on the entire trip and the cheapest too.
Day 13: Vancouver or bust! Left Williams Lake at 8:28 a.m. Drove hard all day and 4,737 miles from when we started, we arrived home at 8:28 p.m. We both hadn’t shaved since we left and looked like mountain men. As he got in his car to head home, he summed up the trip perfectly by saying, “This was the most enjoyable trip I’ve ever had.”
Sometimes the most wisdom comes from listening and observing the world around you. My grandpa’s philosophy is basically, “If you ask my opinion on something, I’ll tell you but if you don’t ask, I won’t.” We spent many hours of our drive in silence just taking it all in but when I asked him about things, he was happy to talk. I hope my generation of 30- to 40-somethings gets better at that. We don’t seem to take the time to ask the older generations, and when we do it doesn’t seem like we listen very well. Our biggest mistake and biggest regret may be not utilizing the wisdom of our parents and grandparents.
Although this adventure lasted less than two weeks, the memories will last a lifetime. I am so thankful to have gone and experienced the life lessons that were shared by my grandpa and learned by me. Just as all the world’s problems could be solved around a campfire with S’mores, I think that, if only for a brief while, our own problems seem to fade away when there’s nothing but open road and mountain peaks ahead of us.
Checklist for road trip to Alaska:
- The Milepost. This is the Bible for anyone traveling to Alaska. Has mile by mile descriptions of restaurants, lodging, points of interest, animals to watch for, etc. If you take nothing else, this is the single most important thing to have.
- Bug spray
- Proper identification for border crossings. Washington residents are eligible for an Enhanced Driver’s license that is cheaper than a passport and works for getting across the border.
- Bug spray
- Bug spray
- GPS. There are great maps in The Milepost but a GPS is great to have, especially if you’re not going to be using your cell phone.
- Check with your cell phone provider before going regarding international calling and data charges
Justin Farrell is a married father of two who lives in Vancouver. He hopes that he is able to have as much of a positive impact on future generations as his parents and grandparents have had on him, and that when he is 80 his grandson will take him on a road trip to Alaska. Look for his upcoming book that details this trip even more, entitled God and Grandpa: Lessons Learned on the Roadtrip of a Lifetime. Justin writes a blog that can be found at courageousvancouverdad.wordpress.com.