Bald is Bold (Seattle-Stewart-Whitehorse, Sept 9-11)

Pretty much the farthest north in the US that we ever travelled with Juliet was to Seattle, when she was three. We had a long layover that day, on the way to Montana, and then some local friends (former Cahill Park clan) swung by the airport and took us on a short excursion to Pike’s Fish Market. It was super fun and it was a really nice little moment. Truth be told, this had been the original design start location, with the thinking that we would continue on in her footsteps. At least , this was the rationale until we learned that there were really very few ways to bring rental vehicles, one-way, from the lower 48 up to Alaska (specifically in the Fall, too!). Voila! More travel distance…but Seattle still in the travel plan.

After our epic Day 1+, we were nonetheless perched in Seattle and the crew quickly got to work with various tasks. Provisioning vehicles (I ordered a matching full spare which was quite a bit cheaper there than at home), picking up some supplies from SBF (also finally meeting Kelly Forebaugh, my first SBF contact, who happens to live in Seattle) and we got set up to do our third oncologist interview with Dr. Doug Hawkins of Seattle Children’s Hospital. The interview video is forthcoming, but it featured some of the efforts to bridge international gaps in how pediatric cancer patient and outcome data are tracked and mapped so that fighting these cancers and seeking the best treatments can become more of a global effort — especially where more rare cancers limit patient populations in a single site.

Another key bit of awareness is that the cost of these sorts of efforts is something well within range of Juju’s Journey funding targets. To anyone thinking, what can my $20, $50, $100 really do? Well…it really adds up and across the two labs we featured and programs like Dr. Hawkins’ global pediatric cancer data consortium, together we can actually make these programs a reality. It is really very exciting thing to think about! Together, we can make a direct and measurable impact!

Shifting gears from interviewing – which feels a lot like some of the work I do and in that it makes me thankful I don’t ever need to be on camera – we turned to the task of headshaving. We had accumulated enough funds to justify lightening the scalps of three more of our crew (Phil Michael, John Keefe & Matt Wascher). We had a special treat in that our first barber, Jackson, is himself a pediatric cancer survivor. This made for a great and inspirational start and as it turns out, shaving heads is both kind of fun to administer and as a spectator support. The folks at the Residence Inn (Thanks Janice!) were super accommodating and supporting and we hope to cross paths with them again (which we actually will, up north, in fact).

But with that behind us, it was time to break up the party and get moving. Richard and I headed north for the border while the rest of the gang set out to Pike’s Fish Market to pass out Juju’s Journey flyers to random passersby deemed to be sufficiently-blinded by our crew’s blazing neon pink JJJ shirts. (Which are actually pretty nice!) Richard and I are actually on our own for several days until we reconnect with part of the crew once we get properly up into Alaska.

The drive itself has been pretty massive. As a guy who grew up in Texas, I have a peculiar regard for how big things are supposed to be (at least in comparison to Texas, and presumably smaller). I haven’t lived in Texas for a long, long time, which is probably good, because it is positively humbling just how much territory there is to travel here. These amazing stretches of countryside stretch out before us and really just keep on, keep on going. Richard is repeatedly amazed by how much it looks like parts of northern Sweden, but for the fact that it is seemingly endless. The other thing that keeps on going seems to be the rain (at least here in British Columbia). It’s almost like part of Hurricane Irma either got lost or was put in detention and it’s been loitering around in BC ever since.

We did finally cross the border, gave up some apples we weren’t really trying to smuggle in, and had Rush playing in the background to smooth our passage as we explained to the border guard why he should track and follow us. He was a bit confused and probably very happy to see the tail end of us. Rain persisted, but we continued to make good time, which was a real benefit. The roads are actually pretty decent, and most of the summer construction appears to be done. We passed a momma bear with two cubs, but remain on the lookout for herds of meese and other large, striding, scruffy ruminants, the closest we have come to now so far is a healthy portion of elk and blueberry sausage accompanied by a nice stone ground mustard and blue cheese mashed potatoes.

Monday’s drive up from Stewart to Whitehorse was largely billed as our second longest jaunt. Per Google, we had 14 hours on the go. Thankfully, we are interpreting the speed limit signs as challenges (90Kmh…clearly intending us to attempt 90,000 miles per hour) and we comfortably arrived in Whitehorse in time for dinner. Not without a bit of excitement and precipitation. We got immensely lucky right out the gate outside of Stewart and stumbled across a full rainbow right at the foot of Bear Glacier. It was so beautiful and unexpected, and it also laid to rest any further deliberation re: whether we had actually departed Stewart on time, or not. From the right angle, the rainbow appears to land right in our car, which was just awesome.

The rain kept on railing right through, most stunning of all when we finally crossed into the fabled Yukon Territory. We got out to take a picture at the sign (it had lightened up). About the time we finished scrambling up this rocky slope to pose, the sky opened up and it hailed on us. Startling, pretty funny, too, we got back to the car and continued north. As an indication of how intense it was, the hail appears to have completely stripped off the identifying JJJ/SBF/Deloitte magnets we’d had on both sides for the prior couple thousand miles. Gone. Amazing.

Once in Yukon, we finally seemed to be driving along the edge of the storm front, giving up vibrant cloudscapes at every corner. Photos don’t really capture the shots well (and stopping to take them can be tricky). We’ll eventually get some GoPro video up on the site here, too. The vastness of the landscape is everywhere, with streams, rivers, small ponds and stretching lakes punctuating the mountainous countryside and often needle straight forests. It’s just beautiful, but it’s really remote and empty.

And just about everyone is travelling south. It starts to make you wonder about your direction…

The road merges with the Alaska Highway once you get to the Yukon, and the sides of the road are very rocky, which countless prior travelers have put to good use leaving behind messages in the slopes. Rain deterred us for awhile, but we did get a spot at last (second blue pin on the map) where left behind a Juju cairn for our little girl. I’d like to have more time some day, a couple hours to build some massive structure that would survive many seasons and be viewed over and over again. But for now, we have many, many more miles to go until we are done.