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P.O. Box 34
Caribou, Maine 04736
Toll Free: 1-866-4-RETRAX
Tel: (207) 492-0022
Fax: (207) 493-3077
Email: retrax@maine.rr.com

Alaska to Maine,
Ride of the Millennium

Click Here for Map & Days 13-18

Map Courtesy of DeLorme Publication. Thank You DeLorme for your Generosity!
NOTE: Each Number on this map represents each day.


(Day 7) Wednesday, January 20, 2000

We were up at 6:30 am (-16ºF, getting warmer!) and had breakfast at Trapper Ray's before striking off for Fort Nelson at Historical Milepost 300 on the Alaska Highway in British Columbia (194 miles from Liard River). We are at least a day ahead of our estimated schedule. Things are falling into place, thanks to all of the great people that have helped us along the way. We rode ditches and the shoulder of the road along the Alaska Highway. (In our radio interview on Channel X (97.7 FM at home), we asked the kids when the highway was completed and why it was built. Also, it is sometimes referred to as the "ALCAN" - we'll let you in on the answers later on.)

On the way to Fort Nelson, we passed through Muncho Lake (population 26), where the lake is known for its beautiful deep green and blue waters. The beautiful colors are from a compound leaching into the lake - those interested kids/adults might want to try to find out what might make water blue green (chemistry lesson). We stopped for coffee and hot apple pie at a restaurant in Toad River (Historical Mile 422) and an employee at the restaurant asked us to talk about our journey to a class at the school across the street. Professor McCarthy gave a nice 10-minute presentation and again, half of the kids thought we were crazy and the other half thought it was really cool (about the same response as back home). The popular artist Trish Croal lives in Toad River and Toad River Lodge is world famous for its collection of hats, which numbers more than 4,500.

As we headed for Fort Nelson, we also came out of the Rocky Mountains, which was a pity because riding through the mountains for the last 6 days was absolutely magnificent, an almost religious experience (Mike O. said to tell Deb Sutherland that it was just like being in Church). Words cannot describe the beauty of this trek - everybody should see this area at least once in their lifetime, if not by snowmobile, then by car or camper.

We traveled about 200 miles today and pulled into the Travelodge Motel in Fort Nelson at about 7:00 pm. It was a very nice place with an excellent restaurant. At dinner we discussed heading east instead of south to Dawson Creek as planned because there was not much snow south of here. Thanks go to Hendricus Lulofs at the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Caribou for keeping us updated on the snow cover across Canada! We finally decided to head east tomorrow to Rainbow Lake and then High Level (both in Alberta) and we'll let you know our destination from there when we find out.

We thought this might be a good time to explain our group dynamics. We are working great as a team and all decisions are made by consensus (or coin flip!). So far, we have been right on the money. Speaking of money, Mark Baker tells us that over $5,000 has been pledged for the charities we are riding for and we heard this is now updated on our web site. After you read this, if you haven't already done so, please either make a pledge online (very easy to do) or contact Mark at the Caribou Fire Station at (207) 493-4205. It is a great thing to help out the kids and their families in any way you can - we thank you.

Back to group dynamics, Mike M. is the treasurer and in charge of our group credit card. He pays for all of our gas, oil, and lodging expenses and we will square up at the end of the trip (that's what he thinks, anyway…). He also coordinates the next day's ride by making reservations and calling snowmobile club members in the areas where we are going.

Mike O. is in charge of P.R. He talks about hunting and fishing to anybody that has ever held a fishing pole or looked at a rifle. He is in his absolute glory up here. He is also usually the lead dog when we're riding, taking us safely through the trails (if any of you have ridden with Mike O., you know that this is also a religious experience for the two of us following him).

Yours truly, Kirk, is the secretary and scribe. I try to keep track of all of the places we go and the things we see and do, then scribble it down whenever I get the chance (it is now 11:45 pm). I then fax it to my wife, Cheryl, who types it into her computer (editing it and making it grammatically correct - thanks, honey - she also adds a lot of the historical/scientific tidbits [she used to be a teacher], so if you find them interesting or annoying, thank her or blame her). Kathy Ouellette (Mike O's wife) and Sue McCarthy (Mike M's wife) often review these updates before they are posted here for the public, to see what I say about their men. Cheryl then e-mails it to Dave Bell Jr. at Web Impressions, who posts it here for you to read. By the way, Dave, we just saw the new maps on the web site (Cheryl faxed them to us with the updates and the new Guestbook messages, which we love to read, even if they make us miss home) and the maps look great - Thanks! We also want to thank DeLorme Mapping Company in Yarmouth, Maine for the complimentary copy of the AAA Map n' Go CD that Dave used to make the maps (since Kirk took his with him).

Well, that's our group in a nutshell, except for the kids - Ally and Chad McCarthy, Neali and Haley Ouellette, and Michelle, Jessica, and Amy St. Peter, all of whom we miss and love dearly (keep up the messages kids). Now for you, our faithful followers, thank you so much for your support, prayers and snappy one liners. We truly appreciate the messages to us. This is not a trip for the weak-hearted (weak-minded, maybe) and reading the messages in the Guestbook is very uplifting. Our morale is high, we are working hard, but having a blast! Every time the track rolls over, we are closer to you, our family and friends. We are going to make this journey, all three of us, safely. Again, thank you and we'll send an update the next time we get a chance.

[In answer to one of our earlier questions for the school kids (and curious adults), the reason it is sometimes up to 20 degrees warmer on top of mountains than it is in the valleys, most often on a clear, calm night with radiational cooling (when the earth gives up its heat to the atmosphere), is because the cold air sinks, pushing the warm air up to higher elevations.]

(Day 8) Friday, January 21, 2000

We were up at 8:00 am today (we slept in) at the Travelodge Motel in Fort Nelson, British Columbia. We took a step outside and found balmy 20ºF weather, plus 20ºF - WOW! What has the weather been like back home? (har, har) The extra carbides we needed to continue our journey were due to arrive here at 3:30 pm today, so we took the time to re-organize our gear and send back the items we won't need anymore. We also took time in the morning to read our email messages from the Guestbook (we just LOVE them!) and to talk to the local people to get information on routes and accommodations for our newly planned course - east to Rainbow Lake, High Level, and then Fort Vermillion. We had decided to deviate from our original route south from Fort Nelson to Dawson Creek - we needed a challenge! Actually, as we said in our last update, the reported snow cover was not that good in the Dawson Creek/Edmonton area and we are determined to ride every inch of the way home on our sleds!

The time we spent socializing really paid off, because we discovered that there are "ice" roads not shown on maps, used primarily by the natural gas and oil companies (big business in this area). These roads could take us directly from Fort Nelson in British Columbia to Rainbow Lake in Alberta. Again, our prayers and those of our well wishers sure are being answered. Rainbow Lake (population 1,146) is a service community for the oil and natural gas development in the region; the natural gas and oil is then piped to Edmonton, Alberta.

We spent the afternoon at Red Line Recreation, the Polaris dealer in Fort Nelson, where Rick Rossi (owner) and Dwayne Thompson (associate), let us bring our sleds into their new shop to thaw out and to check the sleds over. We also spent time talking to Greg Thompson, a helicopter pilot, who was very familiar with the ice roads and helped us lay out the next leg of our trip.

The new carbides arrived at 4:00 pm and by 4:30 pm we were off to Rainbow Lake in Alberta via the ice roads. Although we were off to a late start today, we didn't want to waste the opportunity to crank out a few more miles in the great weather. As we were leaving town, we gassed up our sleds and extra gas tanks at the Husky Bulk Plant in Fort Nelson and Nick Bidulka, the Husky bulk agent, wouldn't take a penny of the $100+ worth of gas we put in. We're telling you, the Canadian people we have met are just amazing! People that we talk to about our trip can't believe we don't have a support vehicle, but we tell them that our "support vehicle" is the wonderful people that help us, in whatever way they can.

On our way to Rainbow Lake on the ice roads, we saw numerous "camps" the gas and oil drilling companies set up to house their employees (similar to the logging camps in northern and western Maine). We also saw huge flames shooting 50 feet into the air from the natural gas wells that were being developed or vented. Luckily, we were traveling in the dark and these were pretty impressive to see. At about 10:00 pm, we stopped at one of the camps, owned by North American Gas Company, to take a little break. There, we met Cynthia Smith, who works as a cook at the camp. She was proud to tell us that she was the only female in the camp of 200 employees and she gave us sandwiches, pie and coffee, what a nice lady - another one of our Guardian Angels. Thank you so much, Cynthia!

We arrived at the Rainbow Center Hotel in Rainbow Lake, Alberta at 2:00 am. We traveled 160 miles today and about 1,400 miles total for a 175 mile per day average - not bad! By the way, we have crossed through two time zones so far in our journey. Alaska is 4 hours behind Eastern Standard Time (EST), which is the time back home and the time you see on all our email messages in the Guestbook. Yukon Territory and British Columbia are in the Pacific Time Zone (3 hours behind EST), while Alberta is on Mountain Time, only 2 hours behind EST, so we might be able to stop calling our wives in the middle of the night now! So far, we have also traveled in one state (Alaska), one territory (Yukon), and two provinces (British Columbia and Alberta). Good time for a trivia question - what is the difference between a territory and a province in Canada?

(Day 9) Saturday, January 22, 2000

We slept in this morning until 10:00 am. You might think we're getting lazy, but remember, we didn't get into Rainbow Lake until 2:00 am this morning. It was about +10ºF - the PERFECT snowmobiling weather. We had breakfast at the Rainbow Center Hotel, packed up and took off for High Level by 1:00 pm, following Highway 58. At High Level (population 3,093), which is at the junction of Highways 35 and 58, we ate dinner at a Kentucky Fried Chicken (emphasis on chicken, Kathy M.), where we met Joyce Harback and her family. Thanks for the nice email message Joyce, but did you have to spill the beans about one of us getting just a touch of frostbite?! Actually, we are all very healthy (as we keep reassuring our wives) - even though Kirk seems to be eating ALOT of red meat. In his defense, he has two vegetarian daughters at home and NEVER gets red meat there!

The terrain near High Level is fairly flat, with lots of wide-open fields where they grow grain crops (wheat, barley, etc.). In fact, High Level, which was a small settlement on the Mackenzie Highway after World War II and grew in the oil boom of the 1960s, has a strong agricultural economy and boasts the most northerly grain elevators in Canada. The Mackenzie Crossroads Museum & Visitors Centre is also located in High Level, which has a web site you can check out at www.town.highlevel.ab.ca. An interesting thing happened to us at High Level. We actually rode on a groomed trail for a mile or so (first time since we started out) and Mike M. did something when we first got on it that caused me (Kirk) to split a gut laughing. You will all have to ask him what it was when he gets home!

From High Level, we traveled along Highway 58 East to Fort Vermillion (population 850), which was established on the Peace River as a trading post by the North West Company in 1786. We can't go any further east from here, so we are spending the night tonight at the Sheridan Lawrence Inn in Fort Vermillion before continuing tomorrow (Day 10 - Sunday, January 23, 2000) south down Highway 88 (the Bicentennial Highway), which goes 255 miles to Slave Lake. We are planning on spending the night in a town called Red Earth, about ¾ of the way to Slave Lake, then we'll head southeast to Athabasca, where the groomed snowmobile trails are supposed to start for us, but who knows, we're flexible.

It was pretty hard riding today following the road, most of the time half way down in the ditch on a 20-degree incline. We were also fighting through 6 inches of soft snow, all the while leaning over the side of the sled so it wouldn't tip over or slide down into the ditch. Eight hours of riding like that tends to make a person pretty worn out, but we made it and are 160 miles closer to home!

Just a quick personal note - Hey Rick {Kirk's brother and business partner}, I read your email message where you sold our family business - where'd you find the sucker and please send me my half of the proceeds in large bills - you know, $5s and $10s.

In our last update, we asked what might cause the water at Muncho Lake on the Alaska Highway to be known for its beautiful deep green and blue colors - well, the colors are attributed to copper oxide leaching into the lake. Those adults who took high school chemistry should remember that the metal copper burns with a blue-green flame. Also, if the water coming out of your faucet has a lot of copper in it, it can cause blue-green staining in your sink and tub. We'll tell you about the polar bears (or lack of them) and the Alaska Highway history question later, to give you time to research them yourself.

(Day 10) Sunday, January 23, 2000

We were up at 7:00 am (+20ºF again, Yay!) and headed south along Highway 88 from Fort Vermillion to Red Earth (population 1,000). We put our wheel kits ("training wheels") on our skis because the ditches weren't very good and we had to ride on the road shoulder. We got into Red Earth at about 6:00 pm (hungry, since there's usually no lunch stop) and the restaurant at the Red Earth Inn was very crowded. When we asked some local people if it was always this busy, they said "only during the winter months". Evidently, the gas and oil drilling operations that we previously mentioned are only active in the winter here because during the other three seasons the soil is too soft for the heavy equipment (drill rigs, tankers, support vehicles, etc.) If you're wondering how the town "Red Earth" got its name, it's because of the Red Earth River, which has reddish soil on its banks (we obviously didn't get to see this red soil, since the banks are now white). If any interested kids/adults know why the soil is red, please leave the answer in our Guestbook. Our guess is that it has a high concentration of iron oxide (similar to the blue-green water of Muncho Lake, because of the copper oxide leaching into the water).

We haven't been getting the 200 mile per day average that we were hoping for, due to a couple of factors: (1) there is no groomed trail system in the areas where we have been traveling, and (2) the towns that have motels are far and few between, so we either have to ride 150± miles per day or 300 ± miles per day. Under the conditions, 300 miles would take 15 to 20 hours - no thanks! Besides, we plan to make up for it once we hit the Canadian Transcontinental Snowmobile Trail System, somewhere around Athabasca in Alberta. We sure are looking forward to groomed trails! The trails don't even have to be half as good as Aroostook County's (which are the best!), but just something flat. We've had enough of side-hilling and powder-riding, not that we're complaining, because we're still doing what we love to do most - RIDING!

(Day 11) Monday, January 24, 2000

When we got up at 7:00 am this morning, the weather in Red Earth was fantastic - about 15ºF. As an added bonus, the ditches of Highway 88 heading south to Slave Lake were wide and heavily traveled by snowmobiles, so the going was great (comparatively speaking). However, about 50 miles south of Red Earth, the snowmobile tracks stopped - oh, oh (with good reason, we were to find out), so we were breaking trail again. When we were about 10 miles north of Slave Lake, Mike O. ran out of gas. He had been breaking trail, so was using more gas than the other two of us. This was the first time we had run out of gas, so we were standing by the sleds discussing the best way to get more gas when John Doll, a Conservation Officer (Game Warden) pulled over. He quickly informed us that we were traveling through a Provincial Park (Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park) and that riding snowmobiles in the park was NOT a good thing. In fact, it is considered VERY BAD (so that's why the tracks stopped before - oh, well).

As the saying goes, "Sometimes it is easier to beg forgiveness after, than to ask permission before". Luckily for us, after we explained our journey to John, he not only let us off the hook, but he also gave Mike O. a ride into town to get a 6 gallon gas can filled, then gave him a ride back and showed us a short cut to Slave Lake. Whew - Thanks John and it won't happen again!

[I know we keep saying that our prayers and yours are being answered, but it sure seems that way to us!]

We arrived at Slave Lake (population 6,000), named after an Indian Tribe pronounced "Slavey", at about 4:00 pm. We brought our sleds to Whitecap Recreation (the local Polaris dealer), where Karl Congos, the owner, let us bring our sleds into the heated shop for the night and Tim Stonehocker, the mechanic, thoroughly checked over our sleds (2,000 mile tune-up). We then walked across the street and checked into the Northwest Inn, a very, very nice motel with an excellent restaurant (those of you faithfully following these updates may notice that Kirk no longer includes his menu choices - hummmm?!).

After we got settled in, we decided this would be a great opportunity to do our laundry. As of today, we have been away from home for two weeks - PU! We have found out that you can only turn your underwear inside out so many times. A quick trivia question for the men in our readership (the women all know the answer) - what happens when you wash your underwear, white socks and tee shirts with your blue jeans?

Well, we are almost out of "the bush" now and Mike M. is busy lining up local snowmobile club members to escort us to the Transcontinental Snowmobile Trail System. We plan to travel from Slave Lake to Plamondon, Alberta tomorrow. Although the snow cover is limited because it has been a very mild winter out here so far, the groomed trails are still passable. It looks as if our efforts to stay north are paying off, and except for when we traveled from Anchorage to Tok, no trailer will be hauling these sleds on this trip (we hope!).

As we are getting ready for our next phase of this journey (with clean clothes!), we have to say how well our sleds (Polaris 550 Trail Tourings) have held up. We have taken them through -50ºF weather and almost 2,000 miles of riding the road shoulders and ditches - in deep snow, soft snow, hard snow, and no snow, while carrying about 150 pounds of gear and extra gas - and we have not had a single breakdown! We have gone through a half dozen sets of carbides and a few skis, but still have the original sliders. Even Mike O. (Mr. 800 XCR with a few extra goodies under the hood) can't believe how good these "little" 550s run. All snowmobile manufacturers should be proud of their accomplishments and the evolution of snowmobiles to date. We snowmobile enthusiasts can hardly wait to see what they come up with next!

In closing, keep those emails coming. Don't forget about us, we still have a long way to go (we're about a third of the way home). To all of the kids (and adults) following our trip and sending us emails, we hope this is as much of an enjoyable learning experience for you as it is for us. Speaking of learning, if you didn't find the answer as to why we won't be seeing any polar bears, it's because they actually live at sea on the ice, rather than on land. An interesting fact is that Alaska's coastal brown/grizzly bear is the world's largest carnivorous land mammal. Although polar bears are as large or larger, they aren't considered land mammals.

After this update are some photographs taken by Michelle Phillips of the Watson Ink newspaper in Watson Lake, Yukon. If you remember from an earlier update, Watson Lake has over 41,000 signs posted from visitors around the world and some of the photographs show us posting our "Caribou, Maine/MKM/January 2000" sign at the signpost. There are also some nice photos of us and our sleds (at least our sleds look nice, we look a little "scruffy"). Michelle was kind enough to email these pictures to include on our web site - Thanks, Michelle. She also sent us a nice email message and is sending our wives copies of the article she wrote for the paper. In her email, Michelle offered help with "travel, hotel, dining or just plain old information" to anyone wanting to head north to the Yukon. If that's you, email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..




(Day 12) Tuesday, January 25, 2000

We were up at 7:30 am and the temperature here in Slave Lake, Alberta was around +10ºF (seems to be staying above zero now!). We put on our nice clean (blue!) underwear and socks and after breakfast at the Northwest Inn (the very nice motel), we went to Whitecap Recreation, the local Polaris dealer, to get our sleds. Tim Stonehocker, the master mechanic and all around nice guy, had decided that we did need new sliders after all and was busy installing them while J.D. Dennis, another mechanic, told us a few stories about the huge ravens at Slave Lake that kept us roaring with laughter (we'll try to add some of the stories in a later update, when there's less to say).

When our sleds were ready, we headed toward the Athabasca River over about 30 miles of "ditch banging". At the river, we met Dave Bilski, Dave Delancey, and Pierre Caouette from the Athabasca River Runners Snowmobile Club. Thanks go to George Jones for lining up these "trail guides" for us. After a quick lunch at Needful Things Restaurant (must be Stephen King fans, like some of us are) in Smith, we were off and "running" down 90 miles of the Athabasca River. On the river, we came upon a coyote or small wolf chasing a deer, but our sleds spooked him and he gave up the chase - I guess we ruined his lunch!

Dave, Dave and Pierre took us as far as Jackfish Lake, where we were handed over to Frank, Donnie, Brian and Mike of the Grassland Knight Riders. These four trail guides took us to Plamondon, Alberta and told us that we were the first "official" guest riders on the proposed "Northeast Corridor" of the Trans-Canadian Trail System in Alberta. In Plamondon, located near the west end of Lac la Biche (deer lake), we pulled into the driveway of Voyageur Electric Ltd., an electrical contractor. Much to our surprise, when the overhead door opened, Cletus Gauthier (owner of Voyageur Electric), Danny Chevigny (President of Plamondon Caribou Trailblazers Snowmobile Club) and about ten other club members gave us a nice reception with cheese and crackers, kubisan (moose meat sausage) and coffee. The Plamondon Caribou Trailblazers also gave substantial donations to the two charities we are riding for - Thank you so much club members!

At the reception at Voyageur Electric, we all spoke at length about the trail systems in Aroostook County and about the efforts to get the trail systems here in Alberta to the same level. There are some very dedicated club members here and they should all be congratulated on their efforts. After sledding all day (about 160 miles) and talking about sledding all evening, we finally headed to the Chez-nous Motel in Plamondon, were we dreamed about sledding (and our wives, of course - oops, did I say that out loud) all night.