Micah Henning

The Day of Surprises

Extravagant Trek to Alaska and Thereabouts: Day 9

Glacier Panoramic

I planned two surprises for Veronika for today. They didn't have to be surprises, but I like surprising, and she gets appropriately worried about what I have planned (for good reason!), which is particularly entertaining to me.

We left early in the morning and drove from Fairbanks south to Healy, which resides just north of world-famous Denali National Park. We had plenty of time to spare, but went straight to the airport seeing nothing else to do in the meantime. It was fun to watch Vee come to realize that we were about to take a small airplane ride over the Alaskan mountain range, and then land on a glacier. And that's exactly what we did. Even though it was overcast and rainy in Healy, the weather was beautiful on the south side of the park, and weather on the glacier was emaculate. In fact, it was warmer on the glacier than on the ground! We had quite a bit of turbulence on the way due to a moist, high-pressure airmass moving in from the north, but the experience was incredible nevertheless. Here are some photos for your viewing pleasure:

Snow on mountains Landslide on glacier Loads of snow View of Denali from Glacier Denali Glacial Crevasses Mountains above Boreal Shot from inside plane

After our flight, we hung around the shop and chatted with the pilot and receptionist before driving to Denali National Park. There's just a short portion of the road that splits the park that's actually driveable. It's a beautiful drive, for sure, but it was overcast and very frigid, so we refrained from beginning any hikes.

We drove right back out of the park and headed a few kilometers north to the touristy area to grab some fish and chips from Denali Park Salmon Bake while waiting for 7pm to come around. That's when surprise number two began.

We've Made It to Alaska!

Extravagant Trek to Alaska and Thereabouts: Day 8

Top of the World Highway

As though I didn't feel on top of the world already, having seen and done so many new and beautiful things on our roadtrip to Alaska, we were about to take the world- famous Top of the World Highway. From the campground on the other side of the Yukon River from Dawson City, we headed west on this poorly-maintained, mostly dirt road to the Yukon-Alaska border. It was two hours of beautiful vistas on winding roads, though for us overcast and frigid. Near the Canadian side of the border, we reached the pinnacle of the highway: the highest point. We got out of the car and hiked the short, but steep path to the top of the hill. We had a 360º view of the world beneath us--we truly were at the top of the world. The site is marked by a set of rock piles, the largest about a meter tall.

Vee and me in front of the Alaska welcome sign

The border itself was a breeze to get through. It's literally only open from 8am to 8pm (9am to 9pm Canadian time), and only during the summer months. There was just one border patrol officer. She asked us a couple questions about what we had with us, so Vee and I started talking to each other trying to figure out where we bought what vegetables, etc. The patrol lady just ushered us to move ahead. So that's what we did. We stopped a quarter mile ahead to snap a photo of ourselves in front of the Welcome to Alaska sign, then continued onward.

The road was very nice, paved even!, though for just twelve miles or so. Then it turned back to gravel. It was in much rougher shape than the Canadian side was. There were potholes everywhere, and the turns were very sharp. We saw one camper in the trees below the road on one of the turns, which must have slid off. Within a few miles, we made it to Chicken, Alaska where we stopped to get gas ($4.12/gallon!), used their Wi-Fi, bought some souvenirs, and ate breakfast at the little café across the lot.

Foot bridge in Chicken, AK

Chicken is an interesting town. There are about 12 permanent residents, year-round, and the entire town is completely off the grid. They have a single generator for the area and run exclusively on solar energy. The gift shop is the only place in Chicken with flush toilets. Nevertheless, the people were very friendly and welcoming. We decided that we had our fill, so-to-speak, of Chicken, so we turned down the offer to pan the creek for gold, and continued on our way to the Tok junction, where we proceeded west on the Alaska Highway.

Completion of Alaska Highway sign

We stopped in Delta Junction to commemorate the completion of the Alaskan Highway, even though we skipped a portion to do Top of the World Highway. We stopped at the gift shop to buy more shit and enjoy their free tea (they have free coffee too!) After chatting with the staff and looking at their museum display, we proceeded toward Fairbanks.

On the way, I managed to get pulled over for speeding. The officer purports that I was travelling 11 miles per hour over the speed limit, in a 65 mph zone. I'm still trying to figure out how that could be, given that I had my cruise control set to 70. I rounded a corner and saw him approaching me... in my lane. He quickly cut in front of the "law-abiding" citizen he was passing. Then, I postulate he slowed down to a stop in front of the individual he cut off, before cutting in front of all the cars behind me in order to pull me over. After all that, it was I who was an unsafe driver? I fully intend to contest this one.

Annoyed until we found beer, we eventually reached Fairbanks, which is a small, but bustling community of hipster culture with an outdoors vibe. I was reminded quite a bit of Portland, Oregon, and also a bit of Madison, WI, where I currently reside on a less nomadic basis. We stopped at Hoodoo Brewing Company, a must-see for anyone visiting Fairbanks! The beer was fantastic, and the feel of the place was very rustic. We shared their beer sampler, which comprised of four 4oz "flutes" containing their German Kölsch (ABV: 5.1% IBU: 25; 4 out of 5), "I'll Have Another" Rye Saison (ABV: 6.5% IBU: 42; 4.5 out of 5), American IPA (ABV: 7.2% IBU: 73; 5 out of 5), and Belgian Golden Strong Ale (ABV: 8.4% IBU: 30; 3.75 out of 5). I also learned that in Alaska, state law prohibits the sale of more than 32oz of beer, per person, per day.

Beer sampler at HooDoo

Now mildly buzzed with dusk approaching, we found a campground on the state fair grounds, which had all the amenities (showers, laundry, etc), but lacked that remote feeling we've had all the while on our trip. In fact, as we were preparing the campsite, we could hear the melodious bassline of a gangster rap song bumping from a car trunk nearby.

After setting up camp, we did a little grocery shopping at the nearby Fred Meyer since we were still out of water, did a little laundry, then eventually went to bed. Fun fact: It was still light out by the time we went to bed at 11pm Alaska time (+3 hours from Central Time).

The Yukon

Extravagant Trek to Alaska and Thereabouts: Day 7

Bird landing on my hand

We awoke at the Watson Lake campground in Yukon, made breakfast, and enjoyed the natural beauty that surrounded us. There were a few very friendly birds joining us for some grub. They were picking up our food droppings quickly and opportunistically. So I wondered just how friendly they really were. I left the last nibble of my english muffin on my hand and stuck it straight out. In just five seconds, one of the birds landed on my hand, pecked the morsel, and took off back to the tree. It was a pretty cool experience for me, though I know better and should not have fed the wildlife. As they say, "a fed bear is a dead bear." Well, this was a bird, and unless life turns into an Alfred Hitchcock movie, I think we'll be okay.

Cheese Heads on the Road

Veronika is making sure we represent!

We packed up camp and made our way westbound on the Alaska highway, now highly conscientious of the quality of the roads we would be using. We stopped in Teslin for gas. Right by the gas station/restaurant was the Northern Wildlife Museum, which is small but really cool. They show local wildlife in reconstructed habitats. All the wildlife were found dead, not hunted. The gift shop was very cool and featured handmade items created by the local Tlingit people, and were reasonably-priced. Needless to say, we bought lots of gifts at this shop.

We stopped again several hours down the road at a small truckstop for gas and a quick meal. This lady cooked food like my mother would, but in small quantities at gourmet prices. We had two grilled cheese sandwhiches and a bowl of pea soup. It was all quite tasty, but not nearly filling, especially for the $20 price tag. At least she had Wi-Fi, though limited bandwidth.

There is definitely a market for Internet to northern Canada. At least in Yukon, there is just one ISP. The physical medium is satellite, which is notoriously slow and unreliable due to eather weather patterns, interference, and this really common thing in the north called the Aurora Borealis. Calling all ambitious Canadian Entrepreneurs: Run fiber to Yukon. The tourists would appreciate it, and the safety for local residents would be further ensured. Money could probably be made by selling bandwidth to cell providers pushing data through their cell towers, in addition to standard subscriptions.

In any case, we moved on to Whitehorse, the capital city of Yukon. I really liked it. It's a small city of about 30-some thousand people. We stopped at a trendy restaurant called Klondike Rib & Salmon, which happens to be in one of the oldest-standing buildings in Whitehorse. I had the salmon burger with the Yukon Gold pale lager, and Vee had a spinach salad with raisons, craisins, cashews, almonds, feta cheese, green onion, and a really unique raspberry-yogurt type of dressing. She paired that with the Yukon Red ale. Both meals were extremely delicious and well worth the price. Apparently, this restaurant is known for its long wait times, but we had a seat straight away, and the food came to the table quickly. The waitress was vibrant and friendly, making jokes and sharing stories all the while. The beers were pretty good, too, which was a pleasant surprise to me, since all the beers I had had in Canada to-date left a lot to be desired.

Start of the Dempster Highway

As we travelled along the Klondike Highway, we reached the beginning of the Dempster Highway, which is famous for its beautiful vistas beyond the Arctic Circle, encompassing frozen tundra, arctic wildlife, fields of flowers, and untouched frontier. The road is composed of shale, which is very sharp and causes a lot of tire flats. People attempting the highway will often bring multiple tires with them. The Dempster Highway extends as far as the Arctic Ocean during winter time. One day, I'll do this roadtrip. ^-^

From Whitehorse, we took the Klondike Highway north to Dawson City, which took about four to five hours. The condition of the road was fairly good, but there were several long, dirt and gravel portions. It was dusk by the time we reached Dawson City, so we took the free ferry across the river and set up camp at the Yukon River campground. The campground was very nice, though not as "psychadellic" as the one from the night before. There were tent spots literally right on the bank of the swift and frigid current of the great Yukon River as it made its way to the Arctic Ocean.

Free Ferry at Dawson City

We set up camp, finished our leftovers from lunchtime (we couldn't make dinner because we ran out of water), and went to sleep.

Bears, Hotsprings, and the Yukon

Extravagant Trek to Alaska and Thereabouts: Day 6

Franziskaner beat us to the road, even though we awoke early. We packed up and stopped at the Triple G Hideway campsite's restaurant for breakfast. The restaurant has a very western, wilderness feel to it, and the food was pretty good. The seats at the bar were horse saddles on wooden stools, and there were taxidermy of local game that littered the walls.

We continued west on the Alaskan Highway toward the Liard Hotsprings on, what some people argue is, the most beautiful stretch of the highway, and I can understand why! Muncho Lake was a spectacular sight, as the road hugged cliff sides to the right, but fell into a gorgeous blue-green lake below on the left. Borreal Forest and mountains composed the rest of the landscape. We stopped at a service center at Muncho Lake for gas and for something to drink. The guy at the register, who was also the cook for the connected restaurant, mentioned how he lived in New Jersey for the better part of twenty years, but moved back to northern British Columbia because he missed it. I don't blame him--I'd live in Antarctica before I'd live in Jersey. No offense.

Water bison grazing on the side of the road

A herd of water bison were grazing on the side of the road near the Liard Hotsprings.

Vee is a little nervous about bears

We stopped at the Liard Hotsprings Provincial Park to bathe in 40º Celsius water. This is a locally-renowned, fun, relaxing, and thrilling spot. After paying the $5/person entry fee and parking just past the tent campsites, we walked the boardwalk through the lush and marshy forest to the hotsprings on the other end. The boardwalk was composed of planks of wood set side-by-side just centimeters above the water. Of course, there were plenty of warning signs along the way alerting us to the presence of bears. Several years ago, a woman was unprovokedly mauled by a bear in front of her son. They were moving from California to Alaska, and stopped on the way. This event prompted the park to permanently remove the boardwalk leading to the Alpha pool, leaving only the closer, Beta pool open to the public. However, ordinarily the hanging gardens are also open to the public, but were closed when we were there due to a problem bear in the area.


The pool itself was extremely hot and smelled mildly of sulpher, an indicator of how natural the hotspring really is. The ground beneath the water was composed of small pebbles and most of the pool sides were dirt, with trees above shading the area from the bright sun. The boardwalk met a sort of patio with changing rooms and lockers. The patio stepped down into the pool, allowing people to safely descend in to the scalding water, railings and all. Though frequented by locals and tourists alike, this pool was very nice, and not at all overcrowded. It was a much nicer experience than the Upper Hotsprings in Banff National Park (tourist trap!), which cemented the sides of the pool and chlorinated the water. After about twenty minutes of relaxing in the hotspring, Vee and I made our way back to the car to continue our road trip.

Problem bear notice

Traversing the historic highway further, we made our way into Yukon at Watson Lake.

Vee and me standing in front of Yukon welcome sign

Watson Lake is apparently well-renowned for its sign-post forest. Apparently, there are over 70,000 signs posted here from people all over the world bringing with them a little piece of home.

Signpost Forest

After looking at a map, I realized that Highway 2 (The Campbell Highway) went straight to the Klondike Highway near Dawson City. It was a shortcut that cut off Whitehorse and a number of other little towns, since we'll be hitting those on the way back. Well, everything looked great for the first 75 km of the Campbell Highway. Then I hit construction. The chip-sealed highway turned to dirt. The construction sign indicated work for only 8 km, so I figured that it would turn to paved road again. Well, it didn't. Ten kilometers later, the fine, dirt road became quite ugly. The dirt became very muddy at one spot, and I wasn't sure I was going to make it though. The mud was directing the car into deep trenches, bottoming-out on mud and rocks, and nearly instantly bringing the car to a crawl. We made it through to somewhat better roads, though with numerous potholes, soft shoulders, and erratic bumps.

Nearly twenty kilometers later I realized that we weren't going to see paved road again anytime soon. We were about 400 kilometers from Dawson City, and only two towns lived on this road, both of which were well over 200 kilometers away. It was just us and the wilderness, no traffic, no towns for over 100 km, and no cell phone service. Vee urged me to continue since we've already come so far on that road, but then I saw a muddy portion ahead going up a turning hill, with deeper trenches than our first encounter. I had to turn around. If we got stuck, were pushed off the road, or blew a tire, we would be stranded with little food and water, and with no assurance that we would find any help. I turned around.

Car after mudding in the wilderness

By the time we made it back to Watson Lake, it was dusk. We stopped at the gas station, refueled, and bought a refill for our 3L water jug, as well as some bear spray. Then, we headed a few kilometers west to the Watson Lake campground, which was actually really great, except it had no showers. The campsite was littered with egregious varieties of mushrooms and moss. Because the ground was still wet from an earlier shower, we failed to start a fire. All Yukon campsites offer free firewood, but we coudn't easily use it because they were whole logs and we didn't bring an axe. So we gave up trying and just cooked dinner on the stove, then we went to bed.

Mushrooms Mushrooms Mushrooms

The Alaskan Highway

Extravagant Trek to Alaska and Thereabouts: Day 5

Surprise! We survived black bear infested Pocahontas. Although, I think I could hear them walking around last night... I didn't sleep all that well, and I clutched tightly onto my whistle the entire time.

We keep a clean campsite. All of our food is stored in proper containers and left inside the car at night. We wash dishes immediately after every meal, and we don't burn or bury food. We dispose of everything in proper bear-proof recepticles provided by the campsites. And we don't keep anything that has a smell or flavor (aside from ourselves!) inside the tent. These are all attractants for bears.

Tents get pushed over easily

That being said, if bears are there anyway, what will stop their curiosity regarding these soft-sided tent thingies? If a bear decides to push the tent or tear it open with its claws, how will it react if it fails to anticipate human beings inside them? I would hope it would just run away because there are people in numbers. However, bears can be seemingly unpredictable. So I carry with me a very loud whistle, which happens to be a great compass-thermometer-flashlight-mirror-magnifying-glass multi-tool.

I've been told that bears are very sensitive to loud sounds and do not hang around to keep hearing them. That's why park rangers recommend shouting and yelling at bears during unexpected encounters. Secondly, I carry a very sharp 5" knife on my belt. I use it all the time when camping, and it's the closest thing to a defensive weapon I can legally use or move through Canada, aside from a shotgun or rifle with special paperwork and permissions from the province of entry, but no firearms are permitted in Canadian National Parks anyway, and we've stayed in three. I did intend on getting bear spray, which is just a stronger dose of pepper spray, but I haven't found any yet, and it wouldn't work from my tent anyway, unless I wanted to dose ourselves with a proper mist of spicy pain and agony.

Allow me to segue back to the point of the post! =P

We made breakfast, packed up the camp, did dishes, et cetera, et cetera. We were on the road by 9am local time. First town out of Jasper National Park was Hinton, where we fueled and hopped on the "scenic route to Alaska." That road took us through Grande Cache to Grand Prairie, where we stopped for lunch at Cora, a fun, bright, and particularly busy breakfast/lunch joint. We had cream of leek soup, mushroom cheese crepe, salmon sandwich with cream cheese and capers, and a salad. All the food was very good, except for the salad which was a bit old and had a lot of flavors that didn't really work well together.


We filled up our gas tank at 124 cents per litre. The further north we go, the higher gas prices become. For those from the US, that amounts to about $3.82 per gallon. When the trip is over I'll calculate the total costs, including gas prices. Data <3

Welcome to the Alaska Highway sign

After watching a bear and her cubs run across the road right after our car, we continued onward to Dawson Creek and spent a few minutes at the little park at Mile 0 that commemorates the US Army Corps of Engineers, who built the Alaska Highway and caused the town's economy to skyrocket. On the way, we had a very large rock projected toward our heads. The windshield took one for the team.

Vee and me in front of the British Columbia welcome sign. Yes, we need showers.

Oh yah, and now we're in British Columbia.

From Dawson Creek we travelled past Fort St. John through loads of forested wilderness to Fort Nelson. We traversed an area on this stretch devastated by a past forest fire. We've already seen several spots of past forest fires, but this was the largest so far. Once in town, we inquired room costs at several motels, but $89-99 for one night was too much, so we found this cute little campsite at the edge of town called Triple G Hideaway. As we setup camp we made a friend, whose name is something like Hans, Fonze, or Fran... I'm not sure. So I'll just call him Franziskaner, since it's a really good beer and he's a really good guy.

Franziskaner lives in southern British Columbia and was visiting his brother in Whitehorse, who was travelling up to the Dempster Highway to do some wildflower picking. He told us stories from his Canadian Army days, and of his encounters with bears. We enjoyed our campfire, which we conveniently used for corn-on-the-cob, had a couple of beers, and went to sleep.


Extravagant Trek to Alaska and Thereabouts: Day 4

Beautiful Lake Louise

We awoke unscathed and groggy from our late night, washed ourselves with baby wipes since this campsite lacked showers, made breakfast, then departed toward Jasper National Park of Canada. On the way we stopped at Lake Louise, since it was "highly recommended" by every human imagineable. Well, everybody got the memo. There were more tourists here snapping photos of the lake than there are people tanning on Miami beach during Spring Break.

Our visit followed a brief gasoline fill-up nearby. After filling, I went inside to pay and Vee went to use the lavoratory. When we made our way back to the car, a nice lady on the back of a motorcycle felt obligated to impose herself upon us by sharing that she had been waiting to use the pump for ten minutes. I had no idea that she was in such a hurry to see a natural feature that has existed for hundreds of thousands of years. Had I known, I wouldn't have made her wait five minutes while simultaneously warping her perception of space-time by a factor of two.

In any case, back to Lake Louise. After a Nikkon-yielding psuedo photographer snapped several photos of us together in front of the majestic landscape, we did some auto-timed selfies since the only decipherable elements in the former were silhouettes. Afterward, we spent some time walking around the lake, filling our water bottles with fresh glacial spring water, and attempting to identify the strange, dark object in the snow on the mountain in the backdrop. At first, I thought it was a mountaineer and Vee thought it was a bear. Then, after some time and no movement, we decided that it was most certainly a rock. With fur.

Waterfall deep in boreal forest

We soon left Lake Louise eager to get to Jasper National Park. We exited onto the internationally-renowned Icefields Parkway, a several hundred-kilometer drive through a mountainous valley littered with bright blue lakes, more than fifty visible glaciers, and enough hiking trails to satisfy The Biggest Loser show for a hundred years. We decided to take one of these trails at Waterfowl Lakes. We spent more than two hours hiking about 10km through the beautiful, dense, and unadulterated forest to a waterfall, which we used to refill our water jugs. The water has a bit of a nutty flavor, but is incredibly refreshing. Afterward, we hiked back to our car and continued North.

Veronika by the river

We took a pit stop at the Parkway Pub at The Crossing. We ordered a vegetarian burger and were surprised that we had to cook it ourselves. Made me wonder why we paid $14 and tipped the waitress. In any case, I tried the Grasshopper Wheat Ale by Big Rock Brewery in Calgary, Albert, and it was a very good wheat ale, a nice exception to my assumption that all beer made in Canada sucks, based on the four or five I had already tried.

Athabasca Glacier

We continued further north to the Columbia Icefield. We went into the Brewster Attractions building across the street from the Athabasca Glacier. When we purchased tickets for the Gondola in Banff (serviced by the same company), we bought a package deal that included a "Glacier Adventure" and "Glacier Skywalk." The former is a trip onto the Athabasca Glacier, which you can otherwise not walk on due to the presence of dangerous crevasses, which a nine-year-old boy fell into in 2001, dying from hypothermia before the three- hour rescue attempt pulled him out. The latter is a museum/interpretation center that features an all-glass bridge over a valley with a brilliant shot of several mountains part of the Columbia Icefield. While these sound exciting, we weren't given arrival times when purchasing the tickets. By the time we made it onsite, we missed the last bus by five minutes. And even though the interpretation center was just a half kilometer down the road, they would not allow us to join because there is no parking and admission is by tour bus exclusively. This was our only day for these activities, so we were really bummed. As if that wasn't bad enough, they refused to refund us for the tickets because policy. Now that's a reason with which I can empathize. Their recommendation was to try selling them, or to come back before they expire in October. Well, we're not likely to come back any time soon, but even if we would we wouldn't be supporting Brewster. And it's not because we missed our opportunity. Yes, it would have been helpful to have been told a time, or at minimum the very last time available. After all, there were at least three hours of daylight after their last scheduled departure, so our assumptions weren't unreasonable. What upsets me is the no refund policy. In my eyes, if they don't refund my money, which amounts to about $140 CAD, they're committing theft because they failed to provide a product or service in exchange.

Upset and diminished, we walked over to the Athabasca Glacier ourselves to check out the scnerey, and to attempt to sell the tickets. Though we're not very successful salespeople, we enjoyed the glacier immensely. I learned that the glacier used to cover the road and the parking lot and building for Brewster. Over the last several decades it has receded by nearly half, which scientists who study it attribute to global climate change caused by humans.

We had only two hours before dark, so we continued on the Icefield Parkway to our campsite at Pocohontas, which turned out to be much further away than we thought. On the way, we had to dodge wild... wait for it... human beings, who temporarily subscribed to idiocracy by parking in the middle of the road, driving on the wrong side of the road, and getting out of their cars. Why? Because there was a moose eating grass.

We eventually made it to our campsite. While checking in, we were a little perturbed by a warning given to us by the warden. She warned that there are a number of black bears currently roaming the area. Next to the building was a bear trap, with a live bear inside. YOLO, amirite? We set up camp, made dinner, and even managed to kind of get a fire started. Then we looked up. The skies were completely clear. I've never seen so many stars before!

Will we survive the night? Stay tuned to find out...

P.S.: Anyone want tickets to do the Athabasca Glacier adventures by Brewster?

The Great Sandhills, Alberta, and Banff National Park

Extravagant Trek to Alaska and Thereabouts: Day 3

The Great Sandhills Panoramic

This morning we awoke early and made our way south to the Great Sandhills. What a bizarre sight! While much of the sand dunes (many of which were at least ten meters in height) were grass-stabilized, there were several very sandy regions that made me question whether I was truly in Canada. The photos we took could appear to be from the Sahara, at least as far as I would assume since I haven't been there...yet. ;-)

Sand Dune with Driftwood

After a nice morning hike through the Sandhills, we drove another forty or fifty kilometers on dirt road into Alberta and eventually to Medicine Hat. Because the dirt farm road we used is uncommon for most travellers (obviously), there was no Alberta sign. We'll have to snap one at the British Columbia border to match the last provinces.

Veronika and me in front of the Alberta welcome sign

From Medicine Hat we drove straight through to Calgary, jumped on the bypass, then drove through the gorgeous Canadian Rocky Mountains into Banff National Park. I was excited for Vee since she hasn't seen many mountain ranges before, and these were incredible!

View from the Gondola

When we arrived into the town of Banff, we made our way to the Banff Gondola off Mountain Road. The Gondola is a set of capsules (that happen to look a lot like the ones on the ferris wheel on the pier in Seattle) connected to a huge ski lift, essentially, that bring you to the top of a very steep mountain. At the top of the mountain is a round building with a gift shop, cafe, restaurant, and an amazing view of Banff. After taking in the view from their flooded observation deck, we took the footpath to the neighboring peak to check out the comsmic ray observation station, which was moderately interesting. Dusk was upon us, and we needed to setup camp. When we took the Gondola back down, I realized that there were hiking trails that worked their way up the mountain, so the gondola isn't necessary if you want to see the same view and save yourself about $40 CAD/person.

View from the top of the mountain

After reaching the ground safely, once again, Vee and I walked next door with our bathing gear to experience the natural hot springs. It's hard to think they were "natural," though. The signs say that the water is 100% natural spring water heated to between 35 and 40 degrees Celsius by geothermal activity, but they added chlorine, which makes sense given the probably 75 to 100 people there, but was disappointing to me anyway. It really was just a pool like any other public pool, with life guards, kids, tile, and no running. Perhaps we'll find a better hot spring later in the trip.

Since it was already dark by the time we finished the hot spring, we made our way into town and stopped at a local pub called Rose & Crown. The food was mediocre at best, the service wasn't great, and the beer I ordered, Alexander Keith's India Pale Ale by Oland Brewery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, was not an IPA.

After dinner, we were exhausted. We drove to our campsite in Johnston Canyon in incredible pitch-black darkness. On the way we found several caribou grazing on the side of the road, who were completely unphased by our speedy vector. But why should they? They stood far taller than my car.

We eventually made it to the campsite, set up the tent, ensured our dental health, then crashed hard into our pillows.

My overall impression of Banff National Park: Overcrowded tourist trap.


Extravagant Trek to Alaska and Thereabouts: Day 2

Vee and me in front of the Saskatchewan welcome sign

We awoke in Riding Mountain National Park of Canada alive and unscathed by the 1000 bears that thrive in the park, (as we learned after we left.) We showered and got ready for the day in the park's extraordinarily nice facilities. The bathrooms were heated and the showers were hot. Vee used the potatoes she made the night before and made a breakfast skillet for the both of us, which we washed down with some Earl Gray. As she cooked I packed the tent, and we were eventually on our way.

There's really not much to be said about our commute into Saskatchewan. There was quite a bit of "big sky country" scenery, but it remained that way for hundreds of kilometers.

When we arrived in Regina, we stopped by a restaurant called Earl's, which I think is a Canadian chain restaurant. It was very nice inside and they had free wi-fi! We started off with the house pale ale, which was brewed in Saskatoon by the Earl's brewery, served in 1.5L glasses, which is massive! The ale tasted to me closer to a pale lager, and I couldn't finish it. Vee really liked it though, and finished hers and most of mine. Needless to say, it was I who drove the next few hours while she napped the buzz off. ;-)

Food from Earl's restaurant

In any case, Vee ordered the Kung Pao and I ordered the Bibimbap. The dishes were very delicious and moderately spicey. I'd recommend the food, most certainly, even for the higher-than-average price. After lunch, we refilled our water at the local Co-Op and went on our way westbound.

After a few missed turns and several construction corridors, we made it to Sceptre, Saskatchewan, the gateway to the Great Sandhills. Unsure of how to get to the sandhills, we simply found a campgroud, walked about the town (which consisted of perhaps 30 total buildings), and got ourselves ready for bed.

Tomorrow we will see the Great Sandhills before directing ourselves toward Manitoba and the world-renowned Banff National Park of Canada.

CCNA Security Easy Peasy

I recently obtained my CCNA Security certification after passing exam 640-554. I studied for about two months straight after earning the CCNA, so switching and routing concepts were still fresh in my mind, making it quite a bit easier to connect security concepts to networking components.

I found the exam to be orders of magnitude easier than the CCNA. I think that's because many of the concepts are not very technical. For example, understanding the theory of Virtual Private Networks is one of the most important components of the exam, but knowing how to set them up was less important. Any ASA-related tasks were done in the exam simulators using the ASDM. Most IOS-related tasks using CCP. And once you under- stand the theory, it's easy to fumble through GUIs (although I understanding including training for ASDM and CCP--they're terrible unintuitive applications!)

If you already have your CCENT, CCNA, or lots of networking experience, you should go for this certification. It's a simpler renewal option for your existing options, and you'll also get a letter of recognition from the NSA acknowledging you as a Security Professional who meets CNSS 4011 training standards.

I read the official Cisco study guide several times over, practiced with the Transcender practice exam, and practiced on live equipment. I have two Cisco 2600 series routers, an 1841 router, two 2950-T Catalyst switches, and a Catalyst 3560-48PS switch at home. To practice firewall tasks, I found an unused ASA 1120 at work.

Once I finish my Bachelor's degree I think I will continue my certification path with Cisco and pursue the CCNP Routing & Switching, then CCNP Security. I can see a CCIE in my future. ;-)


Extravagant Trek to Alaska and Thereabouts: Day 1

Vee and me standing in front of the Manitoba Welcome sign

My girlfriend, Veronika, and I spent the night at my sister's house in Wausau, WI yesterday, which was just a short, two-hour trek north of our home in Madison. We arrived later than expected because we didn't anticipate how long being blessed for safe travels would take (her mother is just the wee bit nervous of our adventure.) Nevertheless, we made it and spent the rest of the evening listening to rap songs from the 90s and 2000s and watching the movie Hook. (RIP Robin Williams) I was very pleased to learn that while packing Veronika thought of practically everything. All that was missing was my tooth brush and deodorant. (But who needs that anyway. =P)

We awoke early this morning to get a head start, but ended up leaving about thirty minutes late. My concern throughout the day was that we wouldn't end up at our destination until after sunset, which would make setting up camp and cooking dinner quite a bit more difficult.

We swung by the nearby Starbucks before directing ourselves westbound toward Minnesota so I could fill my venti-sized Google thermos with Earl Gray. To my dismay (and to the dismay of my burned- off taste buds) the tea didn't actually cool to a drinkable point until nearly 1:30 in the afternoon! That's one effective thermos!

Our drive was mostly featureless, and I mean that in every imaginable way. Hardly any traffic, save for a brief spot in the St. Paul area, and absolutely nothing to look at all the way to our campsite in Manitoba. Actually, as we were nearing Riding Mountain National Park of Canada, I was a little skeptical that a National Park could exist here because it was flatter than Iowa and the terrain was virtually all plains and farms, as far as the eye can see.

We did run into a little border patrol trouble at Emerson. Apparently, there's some sort of bird flu thing going on? Yah, I thought it was over already, too. No, nobody told the Canadians yet. So, I had to sign a document acknowledging that I was giving up my dozen chicken eggs to the crown, and without any expectation of return or compensation. That was no problem, though. We simply bought another dozen in the nearest town for $4 CAD. Yes, we exchanged for Canadian Currency because we're good tourists. ;-)

We did end up making camp just as the sun was setting, so it wasn't much of a bother; however, we found ourselves dodging towering-cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds of variating shapes and colors on the way--oh! and we were purportedly in a tornado warning. Camp was a little wet, but the storms moved quickly southeast-bound and we didn't get rained on once after arrival.

I setup the tent and bedding while Vee prepared dinner. She made pan-fried zucchini and cut up some avocado with hot sauce. She also boiled some potatoes for breakfast. During cleanup, we deposited all of the garbage and food remnants in the bear-proof garbage canisters nearby and left all of our food, dried goods, dishes, and everything else that has a scent in the car. Afterward we discovered challenges with washing the dishes. Even though we had a ready water pump at the campsite, as it turns out, it's not a good replacement for a faucet... And it's awkward to clean dishes with. We agreed that next time we would boil a bunch of water and add it to our largest Tupperware container to use as a sink.

Tomorrow, we're Saskatchewan-bound!