And so my journey ends here, in Homer.  

Monkey Motion made it the entire way: navigating DC traffic, scaling desert mountains, taking the curves of Highway  1, and dodging the well-known potholes of the Alaska Highway.  There is a chance that part of the trip may be replicated this August if I drive back to school at Berkeley, but that is another tale of another trip.  For now I am enjoying being home and getting ready for the fishing season.  I cannot even begin to thank everyone who made this trip possible and infinitely more enjoyable!

Oh, Canada!!!!!

This final leg can be kind of deceiving.  It is strange to think just how far away Alaska is from Washington, at least for me it is strange.  To put it in perspective, my drive from New Orleans to Seattle (across on I40 to Los Angeles, then up through San Francisco) was roughly the same distance as getting from Seattle to Homer where I live.  Whereas I had taken a month to do that first part, we gave ourselves 4 to 5 days to get through the last chunk.  It worked out well because with winter still in full swing there was not much else to do but drive.  Of course there was plenty of scenery and wildlife to take in.


Lake Kluane

Sheep licking the salt from the road

The second day of driving ended abruptly when the road was closed for an accident.  Reports were the highway would not be opened for 6 to 8 hours so we set up camp at a pull-out with a few other travelers. Conscious of our good fortune to have not been involved in the accident we settled in for a very cold night.

On the third day we did take a short break to enjoy the Liard Hot Springs. Despite the slight sulfur smell, they were absolutely amazing and I wish we had stayed there all day, though our entire bodies would have been pruned by the end.  

Traveling northwest that third day allowed us to chase the sunset and get in about 15 hours of driving putting us well ahead of schedule.  We spent that night just past Haines Junction and woke up the next morning knowing that Alaska and even Anchorage were within our reach.  

Chugach Mountains, Alaska

I spent the final night at Claire's house just outside of Anchorage, leaving the final 4-hour drive south to Homer for the next morning.  It was comforting to be back on roads that I have driven before and navigating the 'big city' of Anchorage now seems like a piece of cake.  I had a few snow flurries as I drove through the mountains but thankfully signs of the record snow falls from this winter were scarce by the time I got home.

Sunny Seattle

From Olympic National Park I headed around Puget Sound to Seattle.  Due to my inability to communicate properly I ended up surprising my friend by showing up about a week before she was expecting me.  Luckily she had a couch to spare and wonderfully understanding roommates that put up with the invasion of their home.  I settled in and awaited the arrival of my road trip buddy, Claire.  

I had the good fortune of making it to watch a Sounders MLS game, which was very fun.  They won, making it even better!

While I was there Seattle did all it could to discredit it's reputation as a rainy and gloomy place.  Do not get me wrong, it rained while I was there but I had more than my fair share of beautiful, sunny days as well.  Pretty much most of my time was spent enjoying those sunny days with my two best friends from home.  It never fails to amaze me how much my sense of 'home' is based on the people as much as the location.

That being said, I was still looking forward to reaching actual home.  So with approximately 52 hours of driving ahead of us, Claire and I said so long to Seattle on Monday around noon.

Comfort Zone Found

 From the Redwoods, I cut inland through Oregon and met up with friends from home who are living in Corvallis, and then I headed northwest to the Olympic Peninsula.  I spent 3 nights camping in Olympic National Park at the Hole in the Wall backcountry site along the coast.  It was awesome.  The first night graced me with a gorgeous sunset without any rain! 


I spent my days mainly exploring tide pools and wandering the beaches.  No crazy hikes or destinations this time, just enjoying the beach. 


I had gained a reputation for bringing sunshine to everywhere that I visited, except for New Mexico that was a fluke, but my powers were no match for the laws of nature.  When you camp in a coastal rainforest, expecting only sunshine is nothing short of idiotic.  That being said, Mother Nature did grant me some favors and it never poured on me while I was exploring, only while I was sleeping.  My rain fly withstood the test admirably and I came out Sunday morning as dry and as warm as I had gone in Thursday night.


I quickly realized that this wet, cold place falls squarely within my comfort zone and I could not think of a better place to wrap up the solo portion of my trip.  That’s right folks; from here on out I will have a companion on this adventure!

The Scenic Route

I have not really talked much about the driving portion of this trip, which is deceiving because there has been a good deal of driving.  I think thus far we have put on about 13,000 miles since we bought Monkey Motion in January.  This latest leg I decided to tack on a few extra and take the scenic route up the coast of California… Highway 1 here I come.  If any of you have ever taken Highway 1 you know that it is slow, windy going.  I would not suggest it to anyone who is prone to motion sickness. 

Despite the additional time, it is a wonderful drive. The scenery is gorgeous and the road itself is a bit more mentally engaging than the interstate.  

I took the lovely coastal route north from the Bay Area (I had to go back to retrieve some forgotten necessities and in the process got an exhaust system overhaul, Monkey Motion now has a very shiny muffler!) to the Redwood National Park.  Pictures from the Redwoods are shamefully limited due to the pesky darkness that comes with night.  There are some of the coastal portion of the park, which seemed very much like Homer, only with MASSIVE trees.



I was able to spend four days in Yosemite National Park.  It was (and still is so take advantage of it if you have the chance) fee free weekend for all the National Parks.  With that in mind, along with reports of deep snow at higher elevations, I spent my backpacking days away from the classic sights of Yosemite Valley and opted instead for Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.  The history of Hetch Hetchy is a fascinating one centered around the common conflict between conservation and human resource needs.  The reservoir supplies all the water for the Bay Area and I have also heard it is used for irrigating much of the Central California croplands.  Amazingly all of the water comes from snow melt, and the area actually rarely gets precipitation from May through September.  For the students that are working on city issues, water security may be something to look at.

The weather was wonderful, a bit hot for backpacking, but I got to keep the rain fly off my tent all four nights.  Because it was still early enough in the season and snow melt was keeping things relatively wet, I had the go ahead to have campfires, which made a huge improvement to my solo camping entertainment.

The hot weather caused the waterfalls, creeks, and in some cases trails to be rushing with water.  

Plants were all in bloom and the small creatures were roaming about. 

My final night I braved the crowds and descended into Yosemite Valley.  I will have to go back to properly explore that area because this time around I mostly auto-toured (with an ice cream sandwich in hand!) and I definitely got hooked.  I stayed in Camp 4 with countless avid climbers who had set up camp for the season.  I am not a climber, but enjoyed the company and the range of characters I got to meet.  

Feeling at Home

Though I ended up spending almost two weeks in the Bay Area, this is going to be a rather short update.  Its shortness should not reflect on the area, the people, or my time there.  What it really comes down to is that while I was there I got to feel like I was at home.  As refreshing as it was, that does not make the best material for a travel blog, or whatever this is.  Between getting to participate in a family egg hunt, receiving brownies from my parents in the mail, showering, doing laundry, and eating meals prepared in an oven, IT WAS WONDERFUL! 

During my bouts of solo driving I had also made the decision to attend UC Berkeley for graduate school.  That decision made these two weeks just the beginning of my exploring, I had to make sure to pace myself.  In other words, for the Bay Area much more got added to my 'must-do list' than checked off, not for lack of checking.  

Another consequence of feeling at home, is that my camera often got left at home.  I did get a few pictures of the bridges, Berkeley and San Francisco (also some lizards but I will not include those):

The Golden Gate Bridge


San Francisco from the East Bay side

If any of the students are doing their independent project on any of the Bay Area cities, please just let me know and I can get you more information.



Erika Heads West

My sister and project intern, Erika, is headed west with our trusty vehicle, Monkey Motion.  Here you can follow her journey to Alaska as she posts photos, updates, and maps If you'd like to learn more about this or make suggestions as she goes along, contact me here and I'll pass it along.

Desert living

I'm going to group a few days into one update for the sake of catching up.  As I reported last time, New Mexico greeted me with snow which was lovely but slightly complicated exploring plans.  However, by the evening the snow had all melted and I was presented with a chance to go horseback riding!  I have ridden on a horse before, but I have never been in control of the horse I am riding.  Now it could be argued that I wasn't in control of the horse this time either, but at least the horse let me pretend.  It was amazing and a very fun way to get to see a bit more of the desert mountains.  I had a wonderful guide (my friend's mother) who not only is an excellent horse trainer but also knew all about the transitional ecosystem we were exploring.  It was the perfect way to get better acquainted with the desert I was going to be calling home for the next few days.

I departed New Mexico in the mid-morning with the goal of getting to the Grand Canyon.  I hopped back onto I40 and continued to be delighted by the crazy rock formations littering the landscape.  Despite a few curiosity provoked stops, I managed to arrive at the Grand Canyon well before sunset.  I have of course seen pictures of the Grand Canyon and thought that I had a good grasp on what I was about to see, I had no idea.  It is such a tremendous sight, it was difficult to even process.  I won't even try to describe it in words, below is a picture which also doesn't do it justice.  All I can say is that if you ever have a chance, definitely visit!  After the sun set and I got thoroughly lost trying to exit the park in the dark, I finally found a place to camp in the Kaibab National Forest just south of the National Park.  I embraced the facts of desert living and left the rain-fly off of my tent.  The full moon made stargazing a bit of a stretch but lent enough light to read by.  I awoke to a frozen water bottle so I think it's safe to say temperatures got a little chilly that night, but camping in cold weather is something that I can handle.  

My final desert destination was Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California.  I was back country camping for two nights in the park, with a full day set aside for hiking.  I was excited for the chance to do some camping away from the car, though leaving Monkey Motion is always rough, and to get to see more of the park.  Most importantly I was ready for another full day of no driving!  Joshua Tree also proved to be chillier than I expected, with a steady wind that made a jacket and pants necessary during all my excursions, along with a sun hat and fanny pack that made for quite the ensemble.  I can thankfully say that I did not have any interactions with rattlesnakes or, more importantly, scorpions.  I did get to see a good number of lizards (and only took a few pictures of the them), birds, jack rabbits, small ground rodent things, a coyote, and of course tons of crazy plants.  

Another incredibly gorgeous place that was unlike anywhere I have ever been, and another place I highly recommend visiting if you ever have the chance.  I hiked out early on the second morning to find Monkey Motion patiently awaiting my return.  With the Pacific Ocean (and water in general) calling my name, I headed out of the park leaving my days of desert living behind.  

A whole new world

Alright, day two! I'm going to try to be a little more linear in my thought process this time around, you got a bit of a thought-dump that first entry.  Day two started with a wonderful sunrise over Lake Arrowhead in Texas.  

After going on a short run, packing up camp, and showering, I was back on the road. The trip through Western Texas provided me with a bit more of the flat desert I had been imagining.  This time the surprise came in the fact that I actually enjoyed the desert and found it shockingly beautiful. Definitely not the same kind of beauty you find in Alaska or which I had recently encountered in the Gulf Coast, but a beauty all it's own.  

As I crossed into New Mexico I was informed that I had arrived in "The Land of Enchantment", I appreciated the heads-up. Each mesa that popped up added to my ever escalating excitement as I gawked in wonderment, or maybe enchantment, at this place that was unlike anything I had ever seen.  

The final portion of day two took me into the Sandia Mountains near Albuquerque.  As Monkey Motion powered through the elevation gain I suddenly found myself in the midst of a snow storm!  It was quite a relief after having spent the previous day literally cooking inside the car. Monkey Motion proved quite adept at tackling the adverse conditions and I made it to my friends' house before roads and fellow travelers got too crazy.  

After only two days I think that I managed to travel to complete opposite of the Gulf Coast: snowing, 6,000 feet above sea level, and a desert.  I'm excited to spend a little more time exploring the desert and its unknown beauty. 

And away we go...

In case anyone has stumbled upon this by mistake let me explain that my name is Erika and I'm Katie's younger sister.  I accompanied her for most of the work she was doing for the project on the Gulf Coast.  I'm now driving back to Alaska, making many stops along the way.  I'm not very good with the whole blog writing thing, but I'm going to give it a shot.  The main purpose of this is so that some of the classes Katie and I worked with on the Gulf Coast have a way to follow my journey.  I promised them that I would try to limit the pictures of birds and lizards, we'll see how long that lasts.  Well, here goes nothing...

Quick background of the journey thus far.  Katie and I purchased Monkey Motion (our '94 maroon Honda Accord) in Pennsylvania right after New Years.  It has since been used to visit Washington, DC, New York City (parked outside of the city), Cincinnati, Nashville, Nelsonville (Ohio), Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.

Day one of solo driving technically started when I dropped Katie off at the airport in New Orleans a little before 5 Sunday morning.  I returned to the hotel to get a few more hours of sleep before beginning the push to Central Texas.  Main thing that sticks out about this leg was that it was hot, something like 86.  But I survived. Also, Texas was much greener than I had ever imagined, which sounds ridiculous.  My mind had created a mental map in which Louisiana was completely green swamp land and Texas all brown desert.  No surprise, that is not the case.  

I find driving through most cities overwhelming, and Dallas proved no different.  Though I had two navigational errors while maneuvering through, one took me to the post office and the other to the grocery store, both stops I needed to make.  If I had found the library it would have been the trifecta of my favorite places.

By about 9 pm I finally made it to my campsite at Lake Arrowhead State Park outside of Wichita Falls.  I set up my tent via head lamp, crawled in, opened every vent I could find, and promptly fell asleep. Day one done!