Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Day 1: Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. It's snowing and 1 degreee C

After a bit of delay, we departed Haines with all systems go: coolant flowing from the engine to the back of our bicolored maroon and white 1993 diesel Ford van; the 100 gallon, bisected tank in back filled with some 60 gallons of partially hydrogenated oils from the various restaurants in town, the tank reading nearly full on the filtered half and the PSI of the flow around 8; and the sweet smell of fried food emanating from the tailpipe. "The smell of freedom," as Natcho likes to say, veteran of grease trips, coaching along the neophyte.

We cruised out of the northern terminus of the Southeast Alaska around 11 a.m. Only after 34 miles did we discover our friend Liam Cassidy asleep in the back. We gave him a morning jolt of warm grease and, after a farewell blessing and naming ceremony, kicked him to the curb to hitchhike back to town. Cottonwoods, birches and willows in partial fall foliage brightened the landscape, where hundreds upon hundreds of bald eagles perched, congregating along the Chilkat River for the late coho and chum salmon runs. Our van was filled with cases of smoked salmon, much of it coho caught on rod and reel from the same river. A summer of harvesting led to a stocked root cellar in the back of the van: one case half-pints of canned clams, two cases of pints of canned pie cherries with a few pints of Royal Anne cherries, two cases half-pints of thimbleberry and red currant jams and jellies, the salmon and one large, commercial pickle jar filled with dehydrated chantrelle mushrooms. A fat larder next to that tank of grease.

Eagles and a clearing river, fresh snow on the peaks as we left the valley. On the pass, fresh snow and migrating raptors. Natcho and I following the pacific flight path. We monitored the van, listening to rattles and clicks with an attuned, if not slightly paranoid, ear as we topped 60 mph for the first time on grease. No loss of pressure, temperature or power as we climbed over the pass and into the Yukon Territory. Any fears we might have had were assuaged after listening to Darren "DP" Shields talk shop last night with a few other motorheads, describing fuel systems for vehicles involving pressuring air captured from the stovepipes of wood stoves and arguing the mechanical feasibility of crafts in the movie "Waterworld".

We pulled into Whitehorse in the early evening, troubling busy Asian restaurants for used grease, having marginal success before a big score at Colonel Saunders. Many gallons and some spilled grease later, we felt good with nearly 80 gallons of grease for our next, most remote stretch of road, the Cassiar Highway.

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