Posts Tagged ‘alaska highway’

Cinnamon rolls on the Alcan

July 7th, 2011 1 comment

I don’t recall precisely where I heard the assertion, but I was under the impression that a sort of informal competition existed along the Alaska Highway with regard to cinnamon rolls.  Since I really like cinnamon rolls, it seemed only natural that I try to sample as many of the rolls along the road as possible.

Well, it turns out that I had bad information.  I found all of 3 spots along the nearly 1500 mile route selling cinnamon rolls, a disappointing 500-miles-per-roll ratio.  I admit that I might have missed a few, but I made a point of stopping at all of the little holes in the wall advertising fresh baking, so I can’t imagine I’m off by much.

Fortunately, two of those spots had some of the best cinnamon rolls I’ve tasted.

I was feeling pretty glum about Sam’s sprained ankle when I ran across the first.  About 50 miles north of Fort Nelson, British Columbia, I started seeing signs along the road advertising “amazing” cinnamon rolls.  Clearly written by a Trekkie, they said things like “Reduce to impulse from warp” and “Prepare tractor beam” in relation to the cinnamon rolls.  They had me at “cinnamon rolls.”

After half a dozen signs, I finally reached the home of the self-proclaimed best rolls on the Alaska Highway: Tetsa River Services.  The little business was multiple things: cafe, gas station, campground, and cabins, all nestled between the Tetsa River and the Alaska Highway in the shade of some very large hills.

I pulled in past the 1970s-era gas pumps, one for regular unleaded and one for diesel, parked, and walked into the office/cafe/bakery.  My mission was twofold: secure a campsite for the night, and procure one of the heavily advertised cinnamon rolls.  They were near closing for the night, but fortunately one of the rolls remained.

The family that ran the business caught me a bit off-guard with their hospitality.  The daughter manning the store register was polite and reserved, with a bit of a western drawl.  She handled the cinnamon roll reverently as she gave it to me.  Likewise, the mother and father were exceedingly polite.  The father, a big man dressed in flannel and jeans and afflicted with strabismus, earnestly encouraged me to join them for their fishing derby’s steak dinner, an overture which I politely declined.

Really, everybody at the campground was great.  I suppose that one could label them “redneck,” but I use the term only to facilitate description and certainly not in the pejorative.

I set up my tent and then dug into the cinnamon roll.  Wow.

Tetsa River Services cinnamon roll, still wrapped

Maybe it was just the fatigue of driving several hundred miles that day burdened with the stress of the tire problem.  Maybe it was the remote location.  Maybe it was the hinting from the advertising.  Regardless, the cinnamon roll from Tetsa River Services was one of the best I’ve ever tasted.  Maybe the best.  Previously, I had considered Isles Bun in Minneapolis to have the best cinnamon rolls in the world, but I think the crown must be passed, especially since the Isles Bun offering relied so heavily on the quality and quantity of its cream cheese frosting.

If you’re ever in northern British Columbia about 50 miles outside of Fort Nelson, stop at Tetsa River Services and try a cinnamon roll.  The $5 price is wholly justified.

Now, if you find yourself a bit further along the Alaska Highway, there’s another exceptional offering to try.  I’m not sure of the name of the place — there was no sign, there was no mention of them on the internet, and the best description I could find was “where the old Pine Valley resort was.”  I can, however, provide this outdated Google Streetview link to the location of the self-described “bakery and creperie”  Roughly speaking, it was located about 10 miles south of Koidern, Yukon on the Alaska Highway.

Run by a nice francophone couple, the bakery seemed to be well maintained.  In fact, it exuded pride.  Most of the stores and restaurants along the Alaska Highway are run-down shells of their former selves, with dirty floors and everything done on the cheap.  This place was different.

For example, the bathroom was spotless.  So were the tables.  And the details for the products were similarly attended to: the to-go coffee cups were thick paper like you’d find at Starbucks, with high-quality lids that fit tight — something worthy of acclaim after dealing with the Styrofoam cups and poorly fitting flat lids that one encounters at most stops along the Alaska Highway.  Although there was a bit of a language barrier, I think I managed to convey how much I respected their high quality standards in the middle of the Yukon.

I purchased a cinnamon roll and coffee and dug in.

Amazing.  The cinnamon roll was of the style similar to what’s widely sold at Panera, but the execution was far superior.  The bread was flaky like a croissant.  The levels of cinnamon, sugar, and frosting were all balanced nicely.  The interior of the bread was neither too dry nor too moist.

Cinnamon roll from the unnamed bakery/creperie in the middle of the Yukon

It was an excellent cinnamon roll.  I generally prefer more cake-like rolls, such as the one from Tetsa River Services, so I won’t declare this one the absolute winner, but I appreciate the skill involved in its creation.   It certainly was a beautiful roll.

There you have it.  There weren’t many cinnamon rolls to be had on the Alaska Highway, but a couple of the ones available were world-class.

The Tire

July 4th, 2011 Comments off

I was speeding up the Alaska Highway from Fort Saint John towards Fort Nelson when it happened.  I think I was admiring how similar that part of British Columbia looks to the river valleys of Indiana and central Minnesota: rolling hills, farms, deciduous trees, and so on.  The only major difference was the occasional appearance of chemical facilities alongside the road.

One in particular caught my eye, and my gaze drifted from the road to the plant’s sign. “Sour gas processing? I wonder what sour…”


My eyes immediately jerked back to the road, then up to the rear view mirror to see what I had hit.  Rapidly receding into the distance was an enormous pothole.  I had seen countless potholes already in the short time I had been traveling on the Alaska highway, and although the earlier ones had been large and deep, they were easy enough to avoid.  Easy enough, that is, when watching the road.

Poor Sam.  Just a day earlier, I had been in a Walmart parking lot repairing his windshield from a rock chip.  The pothole encounter threatened to be far worse.

With my heart thumping, I turned off the radio and felt and listened for any sign of mechanical distress.  Any new noises?  Any vibrations? I concentrated intensely.  After several seconds, I became satisfied that nothing was amiss, turned the radio back up, and sped up to about 100 mph to pass a truck.

In hindsight, that was stupid.

A couple hours later, I stopped to stretch my legs.  While I was out of the car, I happened to glance at Sam’s driver’s-rear tire.  What I saw made my heart sink: a huge bulge in the sidewall.

That's going to be expensive...

Sidewall bulges are bad news because they can cause blowouts.   They can’t be repaired; the tire must be replaced.  Based on the mark on the rim (which thankfully was not bent), I figure the impact with the pothole snapped some of the tire’s cords, causing the bulge.  Sam had a spare tire, but it was just a temporary, and those aren’t good to use for long distances.   And a long distance was exactly what I faced.

I was about 60 miles before Fort Nelson at the time I noticed the bulge, so I decided to press on.  I arrived at 4:30 p.m. on a Saturday; most everything was closed.  Fortunately, one of the two tire shops in town, Kal Tire, happened to be open, so I pulled in there and talked with one of the guys.  Unfortunately, they had only a single tire of the right size in stock, and it’s bad practice to replace only a single tire in an all-wheel drive car.  I weighed the risk of a blowout against the potential damage to Sam’s differential.  I also considered the high cost of the tire, which would have been around $200.

Complicating matters was the fact that I was in an extremely remote part of the country.  There wasn’t much between Fort Nelson and Whitehorse.  Not even cell service, for the most part (though I could have fallen back to the satellite phone).

In the end, I decided to press on the 600 miles to Whitehorse.  I knew that the tire could fail at any time, but if it did, it would probably not mean a loss of control since the tire was in the rear.  The presence of the spare increased my comfort with the risk.

The next day, I began the drive.  It was the slowest 600 miles I have ever driven: at no time did I exceed 60 mph.  That limited the stress on the bad tire and reduced the chances of loss of control should a failure occur.

Along the way, I encountered numerous large animals on and near the road: dozens of black bears, a few moose, some elk, some caribou, a few goats, some big-horned sheep, and a couple of herds of bison. Yes, bison.  I didn’t think that their range extended so far north, but there they were.  I was thankful that I had hit a pothole instead of a large mammal.

Bison along the Alaska Highway. Don't want to hit one of those.

It was a beautiful road, one of the most scenic that I have driven.  It was also, fortunately, an uneventful trip.  I reached Whitehorse without any difficulties.

The search for replacement tires in Whitehorse was not so simple.  Very few tires of the requisite 225/60R17 size were to be had in Whitehorse.  Canadian Tire had a few in stock, but none of them were very good (according to the Tire Rack reviews), and at any rate they were at least 50% more costly than in the States.

Since Sam’s other three tires were still in good shape, I wanted to replace only the bad tire.  As I mentioned earlier, that’s normally ill-advised with an all-wheel drive car due to the stress on the differentials, but after reading about the subject for a while, I decided that replacing a single tire was still the most economic course of action.  If the circumferences of the tires were similar (within 1/4″ or so), the stress wouldn’t be too great. I conveniently ignored the potential differences in level of grip.

Given the high cost of new tires in Canada, I decided to go the used route.  I found a guy named Art advertising used tires on Kijiji and gave him a call.   As luck would have it, he had some tires of the right size in stock!  I drove over to his place, a couple miles from downtown Whitehorse, to give them a look.

Art was working on a Hummer H3 when I pulled up to his house and workshop.  He was a husky fellow, with blonde hair and a jovial personality.  All around his workshop were piles of tires. Some were sorted and labeled, while others — the new arrivals, I would learn — were simply in piles.

Tires, tires everywhere

I took a look at the tires he had mentioned and found them to be a matched set of four in great condition.  However, I needed only one tire, and Art was understandably reluctant to break the set.

We talked for a little while, and I described my trip to him.  It turned out that he had moved to the Yukon from Winnipeg, and that he and his wife spent winters in the Philippines.  After a little while, he suggested another option to me: I could look through the unsorted tires and see if I could find a single tire of the right size.  So I did.

After about 15 minutes of digging through mounds of tires, I struck gold: a 225/60R17 with 8/32″ of tread left, the same amount remaining on Sam’s existing tires.  It was a different brand, Bridgestone instead of Continental, but beggars can’t be too choosey.  Art dug around too, and he found another tire of the same size, a Goodyear.  That gave me not one but two options.

Amazed at my good luck, I chose the Goodyear, and soon the old Conti was in the pile headed for the dump.

The old tire

Everything turned out fine. Sam got his game face back on.

Sam on the Alaska Highway