From Antarctic to Arctic

Stories, Travel

„Get your shit together and come to Canada!”, Raphael wrote this sincere invitation sometime between April and May. I was truly touched by his words, so I did. After traveling together in Antarctica and some other spots of South America, I arrived in Montreal June 21 to join Raphael for his Alaska road-trip. It took us 3 weeks to get out of Montreal, but finally, July 9, we hit the road.

It has been 33 days and 8748 kilometers since. We crossed French (and don’t give a f) Quebec, friendly Manitoba, boring Saskatchewan, oily Alberta, beautiful BC, wild Yukon. Met 2 moose, 10 bears as well as bunch of bison and awesome people. Tried to fish (no success so far) and tried to cook (becoming pro’s). Saw some shooting stars and our first pale green Northern lights coming back from a bar 3 o’clock in the morning (of course).

Usually we don’t talk too much (what might be one of the reasons we still haven’t killed each other after being together mostly 24/7). Basically, mostly we can get along by using these phrases.

10 most used Alaska road-trip expressions.
1. Oh, well…
Something went wrong or turned out to be different as we thought. Probably, the most used expression in this trip.
2. F-it!
We want to buy something too expensive. And we do. We are not sure to have another beer or not. And we do. We don’t know whether we can drive that road. And we just do.
3. Let’s do this!
We take a small brake, just standing and looking at Dempster highway, 737 km of gravel. And then we say that.
4. It counts as a shower.
Swimming in a lake or a river. Soaking in a hot-spring. Getting rain. Changing underwear.
5. Good call!
We finally remembered to buy something with a third try. We did something very logical. That doesn’t happen often.
6. Hey, we might learn something new today.
To distinguish animal shit. To fish. How the Alaska Highway was build. Poisonous plants and edible berries. How many spare tires to bring on Dempster.
7. It has been too long.
Not buying pistachios. Not listening Nick Cave. Sleeping in a tent. It needs to be changed. Now.
8. No idea.
Where are you going next? How long are you going to stay? When are you going to stop?
9. Antarctica.
Where did you met?
10. Oh, shit!
Too wide usage to describe. „Shit” basically is one of the most universal words you can express yourself.

These are not the only ones. We also use time and place description a bit differently – moose’o’clock is not a good time of the day to drive around or mosquito place is not good for stopping. As well as places what can be described as shitholes. „There is a hope” means a bit lighter sky far away on a horizon in a rainy day. „Playing Dave” means disappearing and going to sleep without saying goodnight, there is a great philosophy behind. We still use a lot of „sure” and „of course” if one of us comes up with some suggestion. And so on.

But, generally, this was just an introduction to explain my English speaking friends what’s happening – a road-trip to Alaska is happening. I decided to describe one day in English (as i usually do in Latvian) in order to celebrate something special we did today.

But let’s start from the beginning (ordnung muss sein). Today started very shitty. The rain that has been trying to get through the top layer of our tent almost managed and we discovered the first (and hopefully the last) hole in the ceiling of the tent – despite of the fact Raphael is always so cautious building tent away from a fire, one sparkle managed to get it. But, it was soon fixed with a Russian approach and a duct tape.

After having our usual and very different breakfast – Raphael eats toasts with peanut butter and cheese, I use bread with a normal butter and something on the top (it’s good as far it’s not sweet) – we go to the Information center to listen to some education lecture at 10:30 a.m. “Hey, we might learn something new today”, Raphael is full of hope.

Today’s topic is to learn to distinguish animal… shit! Shit and footprint can give you some clue who is around if you don’t see an animal itself. There were a quiz and if we were in the nature, we would run away from birds and embrace some bears – probably the most interesting mistake we made was presenting owl’s shit as a bear. Oh, well.

After shit explanation Raphael reads all posters – he likes reading almost as much as I like writing and taking pictures. I even take pictures of Columbian ground squirrels who’s company Raphael is not enjoying – most probably because they make competition eating nuts. But I think squirrels would lose – I never seen anyone else eating nuts so fast as Raphael does. What concerns me, I like mushrooms. Squirrels does too, I saw one day squirrel proudly bringing in a mouth a mushroom almost as big as herself. I also love picking them, cooking them and, of course, eating them. I have a feeling Raphael is not sharing this passion with me. After trying to cook mushrooms for three days in a row I received a look and comment in a voice what was expressing a combination of begging and hate: „Please, please, no mushrooms”. Oh, well.

While Raphael was „learning something new” from the posters on the Info center walls, I was also reading for a change. I found a book of local healing plants, trees and berries – was so happy finally get some English names of my old friends I know from Latvia – larch, willow, cloudberries etc.

We finished our intellectual morning but the rain hasn’t finished – everything around is wet, foggy and cold. „F-it”, let’s get out of here. We deconstruct our tent from inside by trying to separate wet parts from almost wet. Then we try to fit everything in the car – it’s becoming harder and harder as we are getting more stuff somehow. At the beginning of the road-trip we were considering sometimes taking some hitchhikers on our way, but at the moment it has become impossible, so we wave with a slightly guilty look to the two ones standing just near the camping road exit and off we go.

Raphael holds the steering wheel now. Usually we are changing drivers day by day but Dempster requires a bit more attention so we switch in the middle of the day. Our car disappears in a fog and we can’t see a shit. It means also others can’t see a shit, including us, so Raphael turns emergency lights on. But today everyone drives slowly, even the locals. We’ve heard an urban legend that some locals are doing the full road in 8 hours. Tourists usually slow down seeing another car coming, locals don’t give a shit – they drive by and a stone heal wave is coming towards your windshield. Theirs are already broken.

– „We have to offer something to the Cosmos if we’ll arrive back from the Dempster with unbroken windshield”, I say to Raphael. I tried this technique in South America and it works pretty well.
– „Ok, like what?”
– „I don’t really know.”
We discuss some options for a while and then Raphael comes up with idea:
– „Ok, we gonna swim in Yukon!”
Yukon river is cold and fast so I think it’s a good deal for Cosmos. If I were Cosmos I’d like to see two stupid getting really cold.

We stop for a short lunch break in some campground shelter (it’s still raining) and then we switch. Next stop is a place called Eagle Plains. „Fill-up every time you see a fuel station”, told Markus, a German guy we traveled together couple of days. He lived in Canada for more than 10 years and so far his advices have proven to be useful. By the way – Eagle Plains population is.. 8.


After that comes a next small miracle – a part of the road is used also as an emergency plane landing lane, so you can get a chance to share the road with a plane. And then, right after a small blue bridge, a moose decides to cross the road. I brake and try to take a pic, but moose is faster.

– “Here you are, your first moose in Canada”, Raphael says.
– “Actually two”, I add, seeing another buddy waiting in bushes.

Usually we stop for viewpoints, but as the weather is shit today we are mostly passing them. But for this one we decide to stop – good call! On the post is written: „Artic circle LAT 66 degrees 33 minutes N”. „Oh, shit”, we almost passed an Artic circle without noticing that. But as we say in Latvia, „almost doesn’t count”. So, we step out of the car, take pictures and Raphael celebrates the place in his own way. So, it was one of the purposes of our trip – to make from Antarctic to Arctic in the same year. And, we did it! Yay!


Afternoon weather turns out a bit better and we start to feel optimistic about tonight’s camping. But shortly before reaching a campground the sky melts with an earth, even more dramatic effect is added by dead black spruce trees on the both sides of the road.

– „We are going to Mordor”, I predict.
– „There is a hope”, Raphael says, seeing a small white line at the horizon, „Gandalf is coming”.

But the hope disappears as soon as we reach the campground. It’s raining cats and dogs, it’s f-ing cold and it’s almost empty. Ok, let’s find a shelter, make a dinner and decide what to do after. We always postpone a decision if we don’t know what to do and letting the solution present himself. And it works. When we open a door of the shelter we see an old couple hanging out next to the fire. Fire is bueno! Oh, well, it looks like we are going to sleep here, it might be the only dry place in a few hundred kilometers. We chat for a while with Tom and Cyndi from USA and then return to the car to get our things out.

– „Raphael, I don’t like this sound”, I say.
– „Oh, shit!”

So, we got a flat tire. Oh, well. We empty a trunk because all needed tools are under everything. Like always when you need something. Then Raphael turns into „El Mehanico” and I, of course, document the process and cook a dinner meanwhile. It takes maximum half an hour – our spare tire is on, the old one is fixed. „Remember, I worked as a car sales man for five years”, Raphael answers my surprise. He also tells he was sending virtual „thank-you” to Markus who advised us to buy those supplies and helped to choose the most appropriate ones. I’m muddy just from watching the process but Raphael is muddy, muddy. Oh, well. „I deserve it”, he says and opens a beer. He deserves it, indeed.

After dinner we chat for a while with American couple who tell us some crazy bear stories (very appropriate in our situation) and we answer to their questions by most using phrases 8 and 9. Then they go back to sleep in their cozy and safe RV, but we pull out our sleeping bags and mattresses, and turn picnic tables into the beds for tonight. I load my bear banger, Raphael puts a bear spray next to him, we push tables closer to the heat source hoping to get some sleep and hoping to wake up next morning.

So, Raphael, thank you for letting me to be a part of your crazy road-trip!

Written in the deepest gratitude in my shitty English.

August 10, 33rd day of Alaska road-trip, 281st in total.
Today we made 375 km, so far 9123 km in total.

Expenses (CAN, 2. pers)

Gas 65 CAN
City transportation
Food and beverages
Expenses of a day 65 CAN
Total expenses of this road-trip 4985 CAN

One comment

  • You both are amazing guys.I enjoyed very pleasant landscapes of Canada just reading and watching your pics.thanks a lot!!!greetings from Argentina!!!!

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