THE BOURBON TRAIL, THE RED AND OUR WAY SOUTH
We reached Squamish, just an hour north of Vancouver, after a long drive south through Yukon and British Columbia on the Stewart - Cassiar Highway, the only alternative to the Alaska highway to reach the north. This highway is less travelled and a much narrower road winding through the endless forests of Canada, passing breathtakingly coloured lakes like Boya Lake and offering the only option to enter southern Alaska by road (and without any border control) into Hyder, a small town with a scenery very similar to Valdez, glaciers reaching the ocean, rivers full of salmon and remnants of the gold rush. Further south near Prince Edward we entered the smoke and haze of the huge wild fires of this summer but it got better as soon as we approached the coast.
The last day of driving towards Squamish leads you through amazing landscapes but also to more crowds - something we had to get used to again after our time up north. We enjoyed the climbing of Squamish for a few days, got some chores done in Vancouver and celebrated Susi’s birthday - it was also time for her to leave us.
Our next destination was Mazama, or better the home of Gabe, Linette and Ethan nested just at the bottom of Washington pass. On our way I got invited on a canoe trip on Lake Shannon where we ran into a bunch of "red-necks" camping out in the wild, luckily my host had to get home and we were able to leave after a few drinks and gun shots. Once in Mazama the plan was to climb and fix the many small things that needed attention at Rouletout while always keeping an eye open for the slowly approaching wild fires.
After three weeks of repairs, climbing and eating ice cream it was time to say good bye and we started our journey south east, through Montana, where it was already surprisingly cold, through Yellowstone National Park into beautiful Wyoming and Ten Sleep, a famous climbing destination that became our home for a few weeks until the snow chased us out.
We passed Devil’s Tower, climbed in Spearfish canyon (South Dakota), finally got a new tire to replace the one we “lost” in Alaska and headed on to Custer State Park to see and climb the famous needles.
There we passed the lowest and narrowest tunnels we had seen so far and were welcomed with applause and thumbs up when we made it to the other side. It was the first time I doubted that we could pass but it still worked ;-). Mount Rushmore with the four presidents was our last stop in the mountains, from Rapid City on we were out in the plains of the mid-west and on our way to the Red River Gorge, probably North America’s most famous climbing destination located in rural Kentucky.
Crossing eastern South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana was not very spectacular even though the fall added a lot of colours but once east of the Mississippi we were surprised by the well maintained houses and meticulously maintained gardens. Kentucky is not only home to Bourbon but also to many of the best race horses. Of course we had to check out the Bourbon trail, a trail that leads you from Bourbon distillery to Bourbon distillery. We visited the famous Jim Beam distillery, not to miss the tasting and after a day of recovery we finally reached the “Red”.
What a place! We had heard and read a lot but it was better than that. Forget the dinner and shopping options but the rock and the quality of the routes are just amazing. Also the local people are just great, hard to understand at times but very curious and helpful. Sometimes we were reminded of India, we had to take pictures with grannies, with young families, with oil workers. Somehow it is a weird place, oil pumps in the middle of the forest that start operating by an invisible hand, churches at every corner, rotten houses, hunters and of course climbers. The climbing, it is just great! Whatever we touched, from 5.9 to 5.12 (we still don't climb harder) is just great. You might want to bring a stick clip and you will get used to the run-outs but it is simply great. Yes, it is crowded at times and at certain sectors, the weather is (was) not the best but as it is mostly steep you can even climb in a downpour. We entered our two/one rhythm again (2 days of climbing followed by a rest day) and started discovering this huge climbing area, finding the balance between checking out new sectors and projecting harder climbs was hard and the ever changing weather conditions made it even harder.
Unfortunately the cold season started way earlier than expected and after almost three weeks we decided to move on, way to early but with a promise to come back! Chattanooga surprised us with good Cajun food and a beautifully situated, sunny cliff above the Tennessee river with hundreds of trad routes. Crossing a tip of Georgia we made it into Alabama that welcomed us with its space center in Huntsville. This is the place where the Saturn V was developed, and we had the chance to get a private tour by a 90 year old member of the original team that developed the main engines. Mutlu got a bit scared by all the hunting, we hadn’t heard that many gunshots during the night since Pakistan, but other than that we were surprised by how pretty this state is.
We crossed Mississippi and made it into Louisiana where we had to stop in New Orleans. I have been there in 1994 and honestly, not much has changed, maybe it is a bit less crowded but the nightlife is still good, the music everywhere and we even had a quiet parking spot in walking distance of the French Quarter. Of course we visited the swamps of Louisiana. During a hike around a small lake we encountered our first alligator, suddenly not only Mutlu wanted to go back home as quickly as possible ;-). Following the sparsely populated gulf coast we entered Texas. We had to stock up on some spare parts and climbing gear before our next destination in Beaumont and Houston but our main goal was to visit our friend Hans just outside of Corpus Christi. We had met Hans and Ben in northern Thailand on their motorbike trip and stayed in contact every since.
Hans prepared a warm welcome for us and made us stay at a farm just above the coast with a little air field. Hans took us on a flight in a small Cessna, we followed the coast, saw the destruction that hurricane Harvey inflicted on the area and got taxied right in front of Rouletout by plane! We stayed longer than planned but soon it was time for our last stretch towards the border of Mexico. We left our I-94’s (US permits) at the US-border and crossed the Rio Grande into Nuevo Progresso, embarking on our journey into Mexico - at least we thought so. But more on that - as always - in our next blog entry.