The Whitehorse Dog Show Trip

The Day I Left

I woke up on Tuesday, June 17, with a million things on my "to do" list. I wasn't feeling too great and grumbled a bit about the possibility of being sick on this trip, but I didn't even entertain the thought of not going. The van was ready. My brother Jeff (or Jim-Bob, as we call him when he's in "mechanic" mode) had gone through it and had given it a tune-up. I'd built a bed in the back, about 30" high, so that I could store exercise pens and a port-a-potty underneath. This was an older van, 1978 Ford, but my Dad had purchased it new and it only had 62,000 miles on it. I was looking forward to escaping for awhile.

With errands on my mind, I put Trick and Kylee in the van and headed on down the road. In the edge of the woods ahead I saw a moose, and slowed down to check for calves. Sure enough, as I drove by I could see there was a tiny calf peeking out from the bushes. I turned around and pulled up near the moose, jumping out with my camera to get some pics. The van idled quietly behind me as I snapped shots.

Suddenly I heard a hissing sound and turned to see steam billowing out from the radiator, with antifreeze flowing into a puddle on the ground. I hurried around and hopped in the driver's side, turning off the van as I noted the temperature topped out on high. "Damn." I thought. "Just what I need." I dug around in the back and came up with a heavy rubberized glove that my Dad had left in the van, and went around front to open the hood. Immediately I saw the problem - the upper radiator hose had a small slit and it was spraying everywhere. Gingerly I began unscrewing the radiator cap, letting the steam vent slowly until I was able to open it completely.

I went back into the van and grabbed my cell phone to call good ol' Jim-Bob but only got his voicemail. I left a message and went back to check the radiator. It was obvious it was going to take awhile to cool off, and peering in I could see that it needed quite a bit of water added. Luckily I had put a 2 1/2 gallon jug of water into the van in prep for the meeting. I looked at the hose and gauged the size of the hole in it, then climbed back into the van to see what I could find that might be a temporary fix. Finding a roll of electrical tape, I went back to the radiator hose and made about a dozen wraps around it. I hoped that would hold long enough to get me to the parts store!

As soon as the van cooled enough, I filled the radiator with water and headed out to the road. Jim-Bob called as I was pulling out onto the highway, and said he would meet me in half an hour. Heading into Kenai, the mountains were clear and gorgeous. Mt. Spur appeared bigger than normal and I wished I could stop and take pics then, but I figured it would be best not to. I had taken pics of it a couple weeks earlier but hadn't developed the film yet.

I went straight to the parts store and picked up the radiator hose, hose clamps, and a couple gallons of antifreeze. I'm lucky to have a brother who is so willing to help me out .. I think I could have changed the hose myself without a problem, but I KNEW he could. We joked a bit about it all, and I mentioned it was like a dress rehearsal - a bad dress rehearsal was supposed to mean a good performance, so I figured the trip would be good. Jeff just looked at me and said "Unless this is the calm before the storm." I glared at him and we both laughed. Little did I know how true that would be. Anyway, we got it fixed and I was back on the road running two hours late. I was determined to make it at least a couple of hundred miles that day.

By the time I finished my errands (bank, gas, drop off two dogs and the cat at my Mom's) it was nearly 5 p.m. I headed home, loaded up food, clothes, etc. into the van and then took a quick shower. I was on the road to Anchorage by 7 p.m. It was a great feeling as I headed out of town.

Finally On The Road

The road to Anchorage is one of the most scenic roads in the U.S. Once you get out of Soldotna and then through Sterling (ten miles farther) you are in wilderness that is full of color and surprise. As I drove along the Sterling flats, the mountains ahead drew my eyes. The snow was mostly gone by now, but there were still accents of white in streaks here and there. I glanced around, watching for wildlife, and remembered another drive to Anchorage years ago when a bear darted out into the road and was hit in front of me by a motorhome. I felt so bad for the bear. It had to be destroyed, and luckily someone was carrying a gun and could do it instead of having to wait for troopers to make it out from Soldotna.

Since I'd just had a mishap with the radiator hose and I knew I might need to add more antifreeze as it circulated through, I kept one eye on the temperature gauge. I wasn't too concerned when it sat around the "R" in "NORMAL". But as I turned off of the Sterling Highway onto the Seward Highway and began the uphill climb into the mountains, the temperature began to rise. I watched it carefully. It wasn't too bad when it hit "M" .. but then it slid onto the "A" and finally reached "L". I pulled over at Johnson's Pass and turned off the engine. I could then see some steam rising from it.

Shaking my head and feeling pretty unhappy, I grabbed my heavy rubber glove, then went around front and popped the engine hood open. I wasn't even surprised to see two small sprays of antifreeze coming out of the radiator about 3" down from the radiator hose. I carefully opened the cap to the radiator and then walked back to my door. Leaning my head against the van, I thought for a bit about what to do.

I was about 100 miles into an 1800 mile trip. Maybe I wasn't meant to go on this trip - but I WANTED to go, SO badly. This was to be a mental and physical break from the pressures of the last few years. It was something I needed to do. I had two options at this point: go home or travel on to Anchorage. I stepped back from the van and looked around. There was no way I was going to give up at this point. So the radiator had a few leaks. I was pretty certain there was something that could be used to plug those - although I'm not exactly "engine literate" I knew I had heard of something to stop radiator leaks.

So when the engine cooled, I checked the fluid level and could see that very little antifreeze had leaked out. I left the cap on loosely instead of cinching it down, started the van back up and headed for Anchorage. I was nearly to the peak of the pass, and from there it was mostly downhill and flat driving. I watched the temperature gauge carefully and it remained cool throughout the trip into Anchorage.

When I reached an area that I could get cell phone coverage in (no service in the mountain pass) I called my brother. He told me to find a gas station in Anchorage that carried Bars Leaks. I felt much better once I'd talked to him. He has a way of making things sound not so much of a problem. Once I reached Anchorage, I found Bars Leaks at my third stop and picked up a couple bottles of it. I pressed on to Palmer, about 45 miles north of Anchorage, and got gas there. Stopping at a store, I also picked up another gallon of antifreeze.

By this time it was around 11:30 p.m. It was nearly the summer solstice, which means here in Alaska we get very little darkness. Even at this time of night, it was light enough to see. Up north they have 24 hour daylight, but in southcentral Alaska we get a few hours of "dusk" before it gets light again. I thought about camping in Palmer for the night, but figured it was a nice cool evening and was probably the best time to drive on.

I headed out of Palmer and drove along the Glenn Highway. It winds and turns through a valley and meets up with the Matanuska River. I drove through pockets of fog, which made me feel like nothing existed around me. At times, the side of the road dropped off twenty or more feet to the river, and the fog filled that depth. It was eerie.

About an hour later I pulled off on a long gravel area alongside the river. The water moved fast through here, and the roaring sound was soothing. I walked the dogs quickly in hopes of avoiding mosquitoes, and found that there weren't too many bugs in this area. As I got back to the van, I heard my cellphone ring. My brother was checking up on me. I let him know where I was and that I'd gotten the Bars Leaks and would use it in the morning, when the engine was cool.

I fed and settled the dogs, then put up my curtains. My bed in the back had two thick foam pads on it, and blankets and sheets instead of a sleeping bag. I had a battery powered Coleman lantern and a variety of books. I'd brought a training book, a mystery, a comedy and a couple of romances. It seemed that it was a long time since I'd read books - most of my time was on the computer these days and not buried in a book. I used to read a lot. I grabbed a romance (figured I wouldn't have to think at ALL with that book) and read for half an hour before turning off the light.

I had a tough time getting to sleep that first night. I had this feeling of "impending doom". It's a very strange feeling, and hard to shake. While I'm normally a pretty brave and positive-minded person, for some reason that night I just was unsettled. I had weird thoughts. Someone might try to break into the van. Someone might come around the curve in the road, lose control on the straight stretch and hit my van, knocking it into the river. Someone might .. well, you get the idea. I finally went to sleep but slept fitfully.

By 5 a.m. I was up. I slid the port-a-potty out from under the bed and used it. Afterwards, I noticed some wetness on the floor. The darn port-a-potty was leaking! Luckily it was just the gasket between the two tanks, and not the actual holding tank. I found that if I opened the section into the holding tank before I used it, it didn't leak. I was irked it leaked, but was thankful it was something simple.

I went out and opened the engine hood, unscrewed the radiator cap and found it had come apart. The top section of the cap (with the spring) was in my hand, but the bottom piece was still in the radiator. I found a screwdriver and popped it out, then put in the Bars Leaks, and added a little antifreeze. I wrestled the cap back on and shook my head. Great way to start day two.

On To Canada

The drive that day was mostly uneventful except that the engine would get hot easily. I found that if I drove with the heaters on it helped considerably. My Dad had put an extra heater under the rear bench seat, and it was a cooker! I'm sure in the winter it would be great, but when you're talking a summer day - well, driving with the heater on is NO fun. I had both windows open up front, but none of the other windows would open. The dogs were hot, I was hot. Such is life. I had perpetually rosy cheeks on this trip from the constant heat.

It rained part of the day, and that helped. The spray from the road cooled the engine, and I was able to turn off the rear heater on occasion. I did have a bit of near-panic when I realized I should have gassed up in Glennallen and I didn't because I still had more than half a tank .. but I had a long drive to Tok. I stopped at Mentasta Lake and bought $15 worth of gas (at $2.18 a gallon). I made it into Tok with no problem. Stopping at a gas station to gas up, I asked about a radiator cap and they had one that fit. I kept the broken one - trophy maybe?

The border between Alaska and Canada was only open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and I really wanted to make it well into Canada that day. I had another 100 miles to go to reach the border. I paid for the radiator cap and a cold pop and climbed back into the van. It felt good to hit the road again.

There isn't much between Tok and the border .. long stretches of road with mountains and forest around you. The Alaska range showed in the distance, in shades of blue and white. There were areas where the trees near the road showed recent burns, and it brought to mind my trip several years earlier when there were wildfires in the area. I didn't see any wildlife through this section, but it didn't surprise me. In my many forays between Tok and Whitehorse, I had rarely seen any wildlife.

I reached the Canadian border and continued on to the Customs station some 20 miles farther on. The Customs official was a tanned man in his 40's with brilliant blue eyes. Friendly guy too .. nice welcome into Canada. He asked all the prerequisite questions and then we had a little conversation about the dogs. I could have chatted longer, but someone stopped behind me and he sent me on my way. I did have to give up my pepper spray before I went though. Who would've thought that a pepper spray was illegal to carry? I was glad I had a German shepherd along for protection.

There was a great deal of road construction in the Yukon Territory - which means there were long stretches of gravel road. The northern areas get many frost heaves as the ground freezes and thaws, which means the paved roads get cracked and broken. I learned quickly that when a sign said "BUMP" or "BROKEN ROAD" .. they MEANT it. It rained much of the afternoon and things were often muddy. I continued on and made it into Destruction Bay later that day.

I pulled into the gas station/motel there and got out to gas up. The wind and rain hit me and soaked me as I pumped gas, even with the shelter overhead. I was tired, as I'd driven some 13 hours that day. Going into the motel, I handed my credit card to the attendant and waited to sign the slip. Glancing at it, I saw an amount at the bottom that looked right and signed the paper, taking my receipt and putting it in my wallet.

A word about the use of credit cards in Canada: they're GREAT. They do the automatic exchange from Canadian funds to U.S. funds. I had picked up a "no check" credit card just for this trip from my local bank. It's the type of card you put money on in advance, so you already know what you have available. I had put $700 on this card, knowing that gas would probably run less than $300 and a motel room for 2-3 nights might run $200. I figured, with the cash I carried too, that I was well covered. I really didn't want to use U.S. cash in Canada though, as most places didn't give a full exchange (to their benefit, of course).

So I headed on another 30 miles or so. By then I was driving along the banks of the Kluane Lake. This is a big lake and has several incredible shades of blue. As it was still rainy and gray out, the lake was gun-metal blue, kind of steely looking. But I had seen it before in an amazing turquoise/teal color, and streaks of that color showed even in the gloomy evening light. I pulled over in a large gravel area and camped for the night.

As I stepped between the front seats to move to the back, there was a "squishy" feeling under my foot. I looked down on the folded blanket between the seats and realized that it was soaking wet. This is where Kylee had been sleeping all day - no wonder she hadn't complained about the heater being on! I went into the back of the van and found that the floor was wet, and all the dog bedding that had been left on the floor was soaked. I thought at first that the cooler had leaked, but it wasn't wet beneath it - and then I realized that the back of the van leaked. The water was coming in and running down the back corner, then moving along the floor. I piled the wet bedding to the side and pulled out a piece of extra plywood I'd brought along. Putting that on the floor, I put a blanket on it for Kylee. Trick slept on the bench seat (her "throne").

I climbed into bed and turned on my lantern. I read for a bit, then laid there listening to the rain on the roof and thinking about the trip. It wasn't quite the peaceful uneventful trip I had wanted. I was having to watch the temp constantly, and keep the heaters on most of the time. The van leaked. The port-a-potty leaked. I was tired. I wondered what else would go wrong.

I woke up early the next morning but lazed around for awhile, reading and talking to the dogs. I only had about 120 miles to go to reach Whitehorse, and didn't figure there was any hurry. After a bit, I took the dogs out, checked the engine fluids and headed out again. We were in Whitehorse by noon. I stopped at a motel and asked about a room - they had one left. I took it for three nights, and put it on my credit card. The first thing I did when I got to the room was to take a hot shower - it felt SO good!

The Show

The dogs and I headed to a fun match at about 5:15 that evening. It was good to go ahead of time to the show site and check it out. AKC obedience doesn't allow fun matches on the show site the night before, but CKC is a bit more lax. I watched the competitors and then took Kylee through. She was sloppy but I couldn't expect too much - she probably hadn't slept any better than I had the previous two nights.

The three days of showing went well. There was a single obedience trial on Friday, two on Saturday and one more on Sunday morning. Kylee performed well, for an old dog yanked out of retirement and not shown in years. She took second place all four trials to the same Shetland Sheepdog, handled by a gentle mild man who was very sweet to talk to. Although I wanted Kylee to be brilliant, as I know she CAN be, I couldn't fret much about losing to this dog and handler. And Kylee's scores were okay: 194.5, 190, 186 and 192 (out of 200 points). I couldn't help but feel a bit competitive though, and a teency bit disappointed that she didn't get the 198-199 I know she's capable of. But regardless of how she did point-wise - she left the trials with a new obedience title (Canadian CD) to add to her plethora of titles.

One of the neat things about the trip were the people I was around. A fellow trainer from Soldotna came to the shows with her Golden Retriever, Cody. Cody is such a gorgeous dog! Trudy was showing in conformation, and the first day Cody took Best of Breed and a Group 1 win. The next four shows only garnered him a few more points, and Trudy went into that last show wondering if they'd complete the championship that weekend. Well, they pulled it off with another Best of Breed and Group 1 win. Cody is now a Canadian Champion.

I also met a very nice lady there who has a Shar Pei and a Cane Corso. What is a Cane Corso, you ask? Well .. it's a breed that is not well known. Gorgeous creature - dark brindled, with a head and body much like a Staffordshire/Boxer cross. Look it up on Google if you want to know more!

Credit Card Chaos

Saturday afternoon I went into town and bought some groceries, using my credit card. I figured I might as well get ready so that I could leave right after the obedience trial on Sunday, so I stopped at a gas station. I filled up the tank, picked up a couple bags of ice and went to pay for it. Imagine my immense surprise when my credit card was refused! I KNEW I had enough money on it. Gas and groceries to that point couldn't have been more than $150, and the motel would have been less than $200. I had put $700 on it. I grumbled a bit, and paid for the gas in cash (partly Canadian, partly U.S.).

When I got back to the motel, I started looking through my receipts. I was shocked when I picked up one of them. Remember the rainy night I got gas in Destruction Bay, and glanced at the receipt? Well, the amount I saw that I thought was correct was the tax at the bottom of the receipt. They had actually overcharged me by $400!

I was pissed. Shit. I was glad that the motel had already used the card, and that I only had one more time I'd have to buy gas before I made it over the border into Alaska .. but still, I needed that card! I started making phone calls. First I called the gas station and they were very apologetic, acknowledging that they must have made a mistake. I then called my bank - they were NOT very helpful. The two options were to have the gas station issue a credit (which would take a few days to process) or to have the manager fax a letter asking that the authorization for the money be removed, which the bank said they'd process immediately. I contacted the gas station again, and the manager took all the information and said he'd deal with it. With about 45 minutes left before the bank closed for the weekend, he faxed in the information.

I left right after the trials the next day and was on the road home by about noon. There was a tremendous amount of road construction that I was now hitting in the daytime (I'd driven through it in the evening before). Several times the traffic was stopped and we had to wait for a pilot car, sometimes for 30-45 minutes. I took pics of the Canadian Rockies as I waited. It was a partly sunny day, with clouds showing over the mountains. I had recently purchased a polarizing filter and had it on my camera to see how it would affect the contrast in the clouds and mountains.

I stopped in Destruction Bay at the gas station there and gassed up again. Inside, I told the girl who I was and she went to find the manager. He came out, apologized again and gave me a copy of the fax and credit slip. I handed over my credit card to pay for the gas .. and surprise, surprise, it STILL didn't work. So much for the bank promising instant credit if we faxed in the information. I shook my head, paid in cash and headed out.

Back to Alaska

The road construction really slowed my travel that day, and I had to hustle to get to the Alaskan border before 8 p.m. Keeping one eye on the temperature gauge, I flipped on both heaters and sped up. The van did well if I kept it under 55 mph and took it easy on uphill grades, but I needed to move out so I pushed it pretty hard.

I did stop once to take pictures though. As I came over the crest of a little hill, there was a brown bear crossing the road in front of me. I stopped quickly and scrambled for my camera. I had both a digital cam and a 35mm with a telephoto, and couldn't seem to get my hands on either one! The bear was very obliging though, and crossed through the ditch then turned and headed my way along the bank. I finally grabbed the 35mm, but didn't take the time to remove the polarizing filter. I snapped several pics as the bear meandered by. Trick was barking in my ear, and I had to use some pretty strong language to shut her up. She's not used to being cussed at!

The bear headed off into the trees and I started down the road with a smile on my face. The van had heated up some while I was stopped, but I didn't care at that point. I had photos of a brown bear!! It was an interesting looking bear though .. not like the grizzlies I'd seen. It looked more like a large black bear, but brown. Maybe it wasn't a brown bear after all, but the rarer light-colored black bear. Whichever it was, I was just tickled to death to have gotten photos!

Even with the photo stop, I made it to the border with 45 minutes to spare. The Customs people at the U.S. border were not nearly as friendly as the Canadian official had been. I looked at the guy's face and figured I best not joke about anything - I didn't want him having a reason to not let me through!

I reached Tok a couple of hours later and gassed up again. I made a mental note to be SURE to get gas in Glennallen this time. The road stretched long before me but I felt awake and ready to go. I drove on through the evening, reaching Glennallen close to midnight. There was a gas station open, and I stopped there. I asked about any road closures, and was told that a section was closed up ahead. I made it another 50 miles or so, then pulled over to get some sleep. I actually slept pretty soundly that night.

Because the van was still overheating on a regular basis, I opted to not stop at the Matanuska Glacier. My original plan had been to stop there, hike out onto the glacier and get some photos with my new filter. But I figured I'd do it another time. I just wanted to get that van home before something else happened! Once I was on the road on Monday, I drove straight through to Anchorage. Gassing up there, I headed on and was in the noon traffic. I watched the temperature gauge with a sinking feeling as I idled at stoplight after stoplight. The temperature rose to the "A" and touched on the "L" before I made it onto the freeway and out of town towards home.

The drive along Turnagain Arm is amazing. The upper section of Cook Inlet is framed with mountains and the road winds along the water. I have taken some amazing pictures here, and I chose to drive on without adding any more photos to the ones I'd already taken. I drove to the bottom of the pass and then pulled over. I had decided I wanted the van completely cooled before I started up the long uphill grade to the summit. Letting the dogs out for a bit, I played with Trick and then filled the water dish and put them back into the van. I climbed up onto the bed with my third book of the trip and read for about 45 minutes. It was very relaxing.

I took it easy on the way home, and was into Soldotna by 4:30 p.m. It was with a mix of relief and disappointment that I drove into town. I was glad to be safely home, with the van still working - but it hadn't been the trip I had wanted.

So .. I'm already figuring out my NEXT trip. I feel I still am owed that peaceful trip I had originally planned!