Day 53 – July 28, 2001 – We left Muncho Lake for our drive to Fort Nelson. The drive out of the lodge ran right at the water’s edge for several miles. We saw the original hair-raising road yesterday from the air, a winding, treacherous drive up and down steep ridges overhanging the water. The next two years were spent cutting shelf in the rock face along the edge of the lake and hauling away the rocks with horses. It is narrow and winding but it is flat for about 8 miles.
We saw a lot of wildlife on the drive today. This time, there actually were animals when the signs said there would be. And several times, they were standing in the road and we had to stop to allow them to pass. Pretty cool.
We had been told that our highest point would be at a place called Summit Pass so we were surprised when it turned out to be a long approach that we made without difficulty. We stopped at Summit Lake for lunch (cooked on the manifold) and attracted a crowd at the picnic grounds. Some of the other travelers were from Texas, too, and it was nice to visit with someone from home. They were on their way to Muncho Lake for a fishing vacation at the Northern Rockies Lodge. Everyone, no matter where they were from, were amazed that we had actually been to Alaska and that we had driven these cars.
After lunch, we were set for an easy drive the rest of the way into Fort Nelson. We had passed the high point, right? Unfortunately, they didn’t mention the climb at Steamboat Creek Bridge. We stopped at this rustic gas station/campground/cafe/motel place (see pictures below) and, when we pulled out, immediately started an uphill climb. This climb went on for miles, getting steeper and steeper, as it swept around the edges of the mountain. (The interesting thing is that this is the improved road; the old one was steeper and with more curves. It wasn’t a frightening climb, just a long and very slow one. We stopped at the top and congratulated each other for making it. Then we started down and that was where it got scary. The grade down was at 10% and, partway down, Jennifer came over the radio and said that her floorboards had slipped and were blocking the brake. In a Model T, you don’t use your brake often but when you need it, you don’t need a piece of wooden board in your way. Ben and Nancy and Joyce and Ken were in the lead and had no choice but to go on down. Jennifer pulled off into a pull-out and Ross and Ginger stopped with her to fix the floor. We waited at the bottom for them to come on down. And we waited. When they finally drove into sight, we rushed over to see what had taken them so long. It seemed some guy in an MG had pulled into the same stop and started asking questions about the cars and the tour and did we really drive all the way from Texas and they had been talking with him!
The drive into Fort Nelson brought a totally different kind of landscape than we had seen in weeks: open farmland, houses in neighborhoods, paved streets other than the Alaska Highway. We were excited to see that Fort Nelson was actually a town and had a grocery. Joyce, Jennifer, and Nancy hit the IGA and were like kids in a candy store. Fresh fruit! Fresh vegetables! Real meat! We were out of Diet Coke and beer, dog food and bread. You know, the basic necessities of life. They also had a bakery and we had them letter a cake for Ginger. Her birthday on the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay may have been memorable but she had never even had a cake. So, after dinner, we lit the candles (with Ben’s new soldering torch) and sang the song and celebrated Ginger’s 20th birthday, eleven days late.