Sep 27 2008

245 Days – From Niagara to Alaska

Published by at 3:53 am under xAmerica

Galeria 21 (USA – Canada)

The mechanical faults happened on the East coast; maybe they were not willing to present themselves on the lonely roads of Lewis and Clark or in the faraway Yukon or the deserted Arctic Circle. Several surgical interventions were necessary so that RoverTa could continue her march feeling like new, the way she was accustomed to; by the way she also looks fine with her new look of reinforced suspension and new tires (F) thanks to some sponsors. Now with more robust airs and that adventurous look, she readies herself with her best condition to reach the North Pole, and from there to go back home.

Still with the fear of another mechanical fault, my ears were looking for any strange noise; the radio was in low volume to identify any unfamiliar thing that could appear. I traveled this way for many kilometers until I regained the trust again in the vehicle; the paranoia was gone and again with music in the car, seeing the future through the windshield and the past through the rear view mirror, the march wouldn’t stop until I reached my final destination.

A few miles before reaching Boston there was a noise like the humming wind, I didn’t imagine that it could be related with a mechanical problem. Later on the dashboard the light of the transmission temperature came on, something that had never happened before; I knew that the light existed because the manual mentioned it. I stop on the side of the road to check underneath and see if I could find something; I see oil around the transfer but it doesn’t leak! After half an hour I start the car again and the temperature light had turned off. We reach Boston calmly, a 3 day stay and on the way to Vermont again the same symptoms. The oil level was low and I filled it to its normal level.

In Vermont there is Rovers North one of the biggest distributors of original Land Rover parts in the USA, and oddly enough in Peru on the road to Machu Picchu I met Andrea (F), who is the owner of such a successful company, so in this leg towards Canada the idea was to stop and say hi. They gave me a warm welcome (F) and gave me a new “heavy duty” suspension for free and they also installed it, this because with so much weight I carry, the back-side airbags were not working and the springs I had installed were not for rough terrains which made the car look too short for the territory that awaits. After the installation they completely checked the car and there was no apparent fault, only the small noise coming from the transfer but they told me that I was going to be fine.

And now finally, the last country to visit, Canada. A quiet border (F), only one car ahead of me to cross the line, routine questions and without checking the car everything was set to head towards Québec. All the road signs in French; restaurant menus, gas stations, everything in this Napoleonic language. The afternoon color, the highway, the constructions and what I said earlier made me feel in Europe, even though I’ve never been there. It was a unique feeling for the first time on the entire trip; I could smell kindness and a calm atmosphere.

With a full gas tank I crossed into Canada, and it was enough to reach Québec, where after seeing the gas prices to fill it up again, my calm was the one that disappeared, prices of almost 6 dollars per gallon; after that, and little by little, I discovered the beauty of the city and how expensive it was as well. Castles in the middle of the city (F), and from the highway I could see many more on the outskirts, churches (F) and buildings that seemed from the middle ages, all made of stone and with animal skins for sale hanging from the windows in downtown (F). The surroundings are entirely different, modern-day buildings where there seemed to be no people, as if no one else lived there (F). Could it be that because of the arriving winter many people move to other places? The center is filled with tourists (F), but the neighborhoods seem abandoned.

The road now pointed to the Niagara Falls, going through Montreal and Toronto, places where we were only passing by because the weather was still bad alongside the whole East coast of the USA, and with that same rainy weather Niagara was now under RoverTa’s tires. This time we didn’t want the weather to stop us (F) from admiring such a marvelous natural scenery (F), and it looked like thousands of tourists thought the same way as they were walking on a Saturday afternoon admiring the falls under their umbrellas or wrapped in plastic to stay dry. This is a city that lives from tourism, with 3 taxes for each item one buys or for each time one eats at some place, making it more expensive than the rest of the country, which is already expensive to begin with. A common meal can cost up to forty percent more of its value when you add up the 3 taxes plus the tip. On a side note, beer is not sold in every place, not even in Wal-Mart; you can only buy such famous liquid in the so-called “Beer Stores” that are like the Mexican liquor stores, and a 12-pack of Corona is worth $35 dollars, so drinking in this country is a very expensive luxury.

The next day, the sun finally came out, so the chance to take pictures with good colors had arrived (F), once again I walked by the place and then to the US side to take pictures from other angles (F) , and unlike in Canada here one is on top of the falls (F) and in the neighboring country you can see them up front (F); and there is another incredible difference, Niagara Canada could look like a small Las Vegas, with casinos, big hotels (F), famous restaurants and Niagara USA is a ghost town (F) where you can find the poverty of the most powerful country in the world.

The road awaits for us and the next destination was none other than the North Pole, and for this it was necessary to cross the whole continent going West, up to Alaska with a 4-hour difference in the time zone, but before that we had to round the great lakes to return to the maple leaf country and passing through Ohio again the car failed but this time it was a done deal, the transfer had burned!

The budget was limited, the fault was big, the options were repair it and go home from there or pay no attention to these obstacles that seemed like they were determined to not let us reach the end and continue to trust in luck and in the good will of friends and acquaintances. A little repair shop in Ashtabula, OH, that like a thing of fate stood right where the car stopped; in Ken’s auto repair (F) they took the case as if they were responsible for completing this mission, they looked for the transfer, they had it sent (I don’t know form where!), they installed it (F) and they checked every screw in the car (F), with such emotion and dedication that it was amazing to watch. On top of that, they let me use a pick-up truck so that I could move around town those days during the surgery; I lived for almost a week in a 32-foot boat (F) that the owner had on the river, and I’m not going to lie, I rested, slept properly and took a bath every day. We came out like new from that place with new friends (F), good memories from the kindness in the Northern US, recommendations and an 1892 one dollar coin in my pocket given to me by Derik, one of the mechanics go gave it to me for luck so that I can finish the adventure successfully; the best part about this coin is that his grandfather gave it to him 20 years ago and he is only 22.

The old west was waiting for us before the Rocky Mountains, and no two things are more similar to Patagonia in Argentina than Montana and the state of Alberta Canada, the topography is identical to the south of the world (F), with the Pacific Andes in the south and to east the great pampas, and here up north with the Rockies on the Pacific side and the great plains (F) to the east of them; I was amazed at how similar they are, with the big difference of the paved roads. The roads (F)  of Lewis and Clark were now behind leaving me with the memory of the worst electric storm I had seen in my life, now the mountains await as an obstacle to cross into Alaska, I have to go alongside them from south to north and cross them from east to west.

Calgary and Edmonton are only a bearing point on the map and we go deeper into the British Columbia and Yukon territories, and on the latter you can feel the loneliness, thousands of kilometers without cities in sight and only little towns with 2 or 3 houses where you can find gasoline but with prices of up to seven dollars per gallon. The weather is against us once again, and this makes me sad because I have a great desire to take pictures of one of the best sceneries in the world; I reach the halfway point, in Dawson Creek begins the famous Alaska Highway (F), after a couple of hours the sun shines again and follows me for two straight days. Each kilometer is a picture (F), every instant is beautiful, lakes (F) , mountains (F), wildlife (F), snowy peaks (F), the beautiful colors of autumn are present in every corner, incredible!

Three days were required to reach Alaska from Montana, a road filled with turns (F), narrow highways (F) , almost no civilization and terrible cold weather; during the mornings when I closed the tent (F)  it was necessary to warm my hands in the car’s exhaust every couple of minutes to continue working, and not even the extreme-weather sleeping bags gave me the necessary shelter against this incredible cold, for moments even with gloves my fingertips were aching incredibly when I was doing the morning chores before leaving the place where I had slept.

The Arctic Circle waits for us with unfriendly roads, and we are preparing to face it.

Goodbye and until next time when America allows us to meet again.

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