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July 15, 2009

Five Finger Rapids, YT - Stewart's Crossing, YT - 109.1 miles

By Marcelo

Woke up to the sound of rain. The solar car was left uncovered to take advantage of light to charge its batteries. Had to run and cover the gap on the visor, otherwise water gets in. It has been flooded before, its no fun :(
Camping at Five Finger Rapids was wonderful to say the least, we are in good company, the view is amazing, life is good!
Well, at least it is raining, good news, the air is clear except my the mosquitoes feasting on us. No need to rush anywhere, the batteries are low, the sky overcast, we won't be going too far today. Slowly, everyone is getting up and feeling relieved, no smoke around us, the air is almost clear except by a still noticeable particles or haze in the air, even more noticeable when looking far in the horizon, the different shades of blues of far away mountains. Late morning, a bright spot in the sky, the array is tilted, shy at first the sun slowly appears from behind the clouds. Visitors, locals, going from point A to point B stop by to take photos, learn about the project. Even the candy man stopped by to check out the solar car, and donated a case of iced tea and two cases of 5hours energy drink. I tried one. WOW, it has a special taste, "its good for you, it will put hair in your chest" - I said joking. Only Willy was brave enough to chuckle it down. A group of kids, on the way to Whitehorse turn around to see the solar car. One of them tells me he saw the car last year in his school. The world is getting smaller :)
The sky continues to clear, yet I feel sometimes there is a cloud following me everyone I go. Last year, why in Chetwind, the forecast called for clear sky, and it was, it was clear every where to the right, to the left. However, right above a thin streak of cloud blocking the precious rays from energizing the solar car's battery. I look up, the sky is clear to the right and some what lighter to the left but clouds above. It all nearly cleared by the time we started driving. While looking like tourist, a truck drives by, the female driver waves smiling. It was Charlotte! we all waved back. Its her birthday today. We had hope to be in Dawson to celebrate with her.
Josh and Anne team up, on Anne's car. Taking some amazing photos, climbing hills finding the best angles to capture all the action of the solar car. We came across gravel sections, a prelude of the drive on the Dempster highway. It is fun to drive on the soft gravel, the car fish tails, the narrow tires sinks requiring considerable amounts of energy to sustain any momentum. Towards the end of the evening we made a stop to gas up the van, we take the opportunity to wash the array. It would been a good stop to stop for the night. However, the mountains near by would ride the sun until late morning. Battery low, we are back on the highway looking for a more suitable location. Willy drives ahead to scout a proper landing pad. He finds one but oversees the trees around it, carrying it on, looking for alternative location I find a 5 star gravel pit, open space, fantastic view. First order after arriving is to set up the array. I got busy digging a hole for a camp fire, it was hard to dig, lots of rocks. Willy, Josh, Claire and Anne got busy gathering wood. No we didn't make a Yukon fire, just a small regular fire. Anne indulged us with her amazing culinary skills and taking care of everyone. It is great to have someone with experience in the bush with us, seasoned with experience and determination "I am an Yukon women, I haul my on water and cut my own wood" -said Anne. She is a tough lady. I have been learning a lot from Anne. She is picking up things so fast, even doing things from just observing others. Glad to have Anne on the team!
The cookie monster in me got teased by Claire and Willy, glad to see them having fun at my expense :)
We are at Stewart crossing! Last year I just drove by. I can't believe the view. What a place, I go on a solo walk, I hear birds far away. It was exciting to walk on the forest capturing the sounds of nature. If a bird makes a sound in the forest does anybody hears it? I do!.
Great to be back in the wilderness, I feel at home. After experiencing this pristine nature and solitude, the big city life doesn't have the same appeal anymore. If more people could experience all this perhaps they would be more conscious and respectful of nature. Really hope this land will remain pristine and free of our human greed. It is a treasure, it should be preserve by ours to future generations!

By Laura
My pain is recurring and reluctant to keep popping pills, I endure the lightning shooting down my legs, arms and up my neck until Marcelo gives me a muscle relaxer from the first aid kit that knocks me out cold. It is the best few hours of sleep I’ve had in a while. I wake up in a pain free drunken haze with little control over my motor functions. Feeling drugged and sloppy, I decide to walk the path with Anne into the woods and along the Yukon River to revive my spirits. Along the way we discuss the environment, the current state of utter neglect and the government's shady motives. She had a home in Tagish and the method of solid waste disposal there is pile burning, no recycling, no composting, just a big ol’ pile of trash flaming into the sky. All the toxins and chemicals sent spiraling into the sky, it’s enough to make one just want to die. Batteries, plastic, building supplies, mega-monster toxins released into the atmosphere and available for all the First Nations people predominant in the area to breathe. Raaaar! Inside I am fuming...I just cannot abide ignorance and inaction. I can only imagine the health problems caused by the gross negligence of igniting such materials. And to think the deterioration of the beautiful natural environment of the Yukon as well. I agree with Anne wholeheartedly when she begins to say that it is a root problem with how we live. More localized economy and less transported and packaged food will result in less waste. Living a lower impact lifestyle and recycling and reusing useful items otherwise tossed into the fire pit is essential to our health, and the health of our environment. We overlook the Yukon River from the farthest point on the trail before heading back to the crew, Koodi leading the way. In the van Marcelo goes over the possible route to Alaska up the Top of the World Highway, if we can get funding. Not sure of the path ahead and needing to get home, I spent the last of my money yesterday on a plane ticket home. The only one I could afford is from Los Angeles in the beginning of August. Three weeks from now I will have to have made my way to California and I discuss this time frame with the crew and Marcelo. Everything is up in the air, making it up the Dempster Highway with minimal delay, the weather, the conditions of the (gravel) road, how long we stay at each point all play into how long it takes us to get to Inuvik and how much time I have to get from Whitehorse to my flight. Shortly after our pow-wow we are mobile and headed to Dawson City. With a late start we don’t quite make it and stop instead about 110miles from Five Finger in a secluded off highway gravel pit. We park, a fire is made, a real Yukon fire, and Josh hands me a bowl of hearty yam stew that in the darkness of the van looks like tar but tastes like heaven! It is hot and hearty, spicy and just what I need to keep me from overdosing on peanut butter.

By Josh
This morning began with a really slow start. With the clouds clearing the way for the sun, and an uncertain end to the forest fires, we charged with every drop of sunshine we could capture. Laura finally got caught up on some much needed rest, I climbed a steep hill to read and relax, and Claire worked on the computer. Willy was charming tourists for donations, as usual. I even was able to take a nap in the van along with Laura, as the day slowly went by. We had a huge cinnamon bun split amongst us for breakfast, while Laura opted for a simpler fare. Willy was able talk to some folks from the Netherlands too. I did a quick video shot of Willy and Marcelo reminiscing about the good old days. It was wonderful to relax, but we had to hit the road, eventually. After waiting out the smoke for about 24 hours, we were on the road again!!! I drove with Anne today, since she was by herself, I wanted to keep her company, and take advantage of her superior acceleration in her Toyota. We drove past Pelly's Crossing, where we planned on stopping last night, Anne dropped off her dog, Koodi, somewhat close by. I had a great time jumping out and getting passing shots with Anne, By the end of the day, we had stopped at Stewart's Crossing, a beautiful overlook by Stewart's River. We all got together to make our first big fire in the wilderness. Willy, Anne, Claire, and I gathered wood while Marcelo dug a fire pit in some rock, and made a veritable piece of art. Willy and I took turns sawing and stomping logs into pieces for firewood. Anne's handsaw came in very handy for making such a fast fire. Anne and I made a vegetable lentil stew on the fire, and got started eating it while we waited for Willy and Claire to return. I gave a bowl of our soup to Laura, which included yams, peppers, celery, kale, garlic, black beans, and lentils. When Claire and Willy returned we had some s'mores by the fire, which was a first for Willy. After eating some sweet desserts, Willy and I covered our fire we headed off to make our last Claire sandwich, seeing as Willy will be leaving us in Dawson City. Goodnight everybody, and it will be wonderful to finish the Alaskan Highway tomorrow.

By Claire
It turned out to be a gorgeous day. Soon after we got up, a group leader from a homebound conservation trip stopped by and asked if we could give a presentation to their kids. I video taped as the kids rounded out their weeklong experiential camping trip with the mission of the solar car, a current, tangible effort that lines up perfectly with the environmental issues they spent the past week learning about. It was a great way to start off the day and I was happy that Anne was there to see the randomness of our day. I spent a good number of hours working on the master contact sheet and used my break time to take pictures of mountain goat, ukulele playing Josh, watching Willy charm the buses of tourists, chatting with Anne, and loving Koodi. Just before my pupils permanently converted to a square shape, I tucked the computer away and laid down under the shade of the sun thirsty solar car. I should know by now that if you want undisturbed sleep, you should go off and find a fort to hunker down in. Laying in crossroads of the awake crew is an obscene lure for silly abuse. It's ok though, a gigglefest is just as, if not more, refreshing than a midday cat nap.

I mark this day by is the most violent laughter spells Willy and Marcelo threw me into. The whole drive was a blur of taking pictures, running around to set up passing shots, jumping out to help with the car, and contorting myself to accommodate floods of unbearably wondrous laughter. Im thinking back now to see if any of the laughter triggers would effectively translate to the electronic word, but I don't think it will. It's just not third party funny. Though, for my own sake if anything, I'll specifically document one of these laughing bouts: when Marcelo needs something small, like a paper towel or a snack, but doesnt want to go through the hassle of getting out of the car, we send him his little desires through a small slit at the bottom of his facial windshield. Feeling slightly evil, Willy and I found ourselves torturing a helpless and hungry Marcelo.

Standing outside the solar car and hovering over him like bullies, we teased him by flying the food around him with nnnnnnnnneerrrroooooo and choo choo sounds. I'll say first that there is something very funny about seeing a foreign object on top of the headspace on the car, imagine a very earthly top hat on an UFO. The fact that Marcelo has no control over what objects we placed on top of him only intensifies the entertainment, so when Willy put a granola bar on top of Marcelo's head, I completely lost it, grabbing my belly and hurling myself forward uncontrollably. When it slid down the front of windshield, we opened it and sent it towards Marcelo, slamming into the visor only inches away from his mouth. Then the madness got madder as Willy and I took turns eating his granola bar in front of him, desperately trying not not to choke as we chewed and laughed. This external feeding frenzy was all caught on tape by Marcelo's digital camera he held from inside the car. Later that night, Marcelo, Willy and I watched the footage and I wanted to cry because I was so happy to see myself so happy. If only I could bottle up this collective fantasticness and sip from it whenever I feel a little emotionally thirsty. (Marcelo eventually got his own, unopened granola bar).

After six and a half hours of driving we stopped at a most gorgeous graveled platform by Stewart's Crossing, perched immediately above Stewart's River. Being cooped up in a car so much can make someone very eager to do just about anything besides sitting, so the idea of building a fire was enthusiastically made a reality. No questions asked, everyone was moving about, collecting wood, digging a whole, and preparing the food. It was midnight and the sun was out of sight but still shining bright. The slender, wispy clouds blazed with a rim of pink then orange then red, it was the hotspot of color that seeped away into shades of purple and blue as the sky reached out for a darker opposing hemisphere.

With the fire blazing and feast underway, Willy and I took some "normal" time out by going for a walk. Between laughing we stopped in the middle of the car-less road and soaked up the notion that so many things - good and bad - were happening across the world at that exact moment, a confetti of chaos that was rightfully unbeknownst to us. We were in the crook of peace, lighthearted and carefree in a wild land and contented by our off the grid status. We played Yukon Secret Ops by trying to spy from a treetop post. We saw Josh sitting by the other crucial evidence collected. The spy thing not working out as fruitful as desired, Willy made like an owl before we made our way down to join the warmth that Josh was settled in.

The stew they made was the most delicious food I have had in I don't know long. It was a vegetarian's edible fantasy. I'm sorry I missed the opportunity to bow and praise the night's chefs on the spot. I spooned the remains of the pot squeaky clean. We introduced a most treasured American fireside tradition to Willy, s'mores, but his opinion of the pastime was tarnished by the fact that his chocolate dropped from his sandwich on its way up to his mouth. He didn't really get it and was satisfied with the basic flaming marshmallow, but Josh and I mmm mmmm mmmmmed over the trio delight. It's hard to believe that it was 3:30am when we finally considered sleep. It was bright enough to leak too much light into our small trailer window, but we told our minds to be tired and succumbed soon enough.

By Anne
in the morning there was still a bit of smoke in the air and it rained a little. we stayed at five finger rapids for most of the day and i was interested to watch and listen to marcelo and the team members talk to people about the solar car and the tour. it was great for me to learn more about the car and the project, to see people's reaction and take part in discussions around sustainable energy.
it got pretty hot and the sun came out to charge the batteries. koodi, laura and i walked down the stairs and trail to the helicopter landing pad/lookout close to the rapids. laura told me about her non-profit that takes the roots of an invasive species and makes bioplastic. i was so impressed that someone so young had such vision and entrepreneurial spirit and was doing something smart to work for a better tomorrow! her florida based company is a non profit so it can have an educational component and provides a service in removing the kudzu plant (an introduced huge invasive vine species in florida that proliferates and overwhelms cars and houses) then uses this starchy waste product to create a biodegradable plastic that is not petroleum-based and will not clog our oceans and landfills or create dioxins and furans if burned. i told her about the burning garbage situation in the yukon and how it makes me sad the world creates so much waste. i understood why she was drawn to the solar car tour and i'm honoured to spend time with her and marcelo the other interesting people on the crew.

we left five finger rapids and i dropped off koodi at a friend's. we pulled into pelly crossing for a few minutes and continued up the highway towards dawson. there was a lot of road construction going on and long sections of gravel. we filled the support van up with gas at stewart crossing and two friends arrived in their little toyota with a canoe on top and two bikes strapped to the back. it was nice to see wendy and andre and introduce them to my new solar car circus gypsy friends. it was about 11 and we were losing sun but we carried on. we got some nice photos in the golden light and stopped at a gravel pit overlooking the stewart river. on our way we passed huge piles of wood on the sides of the highway... hundreds and hundreds of piles of wood piled up with heavy equipment ready to be burned when the weather cools down. it always strikes me as so completely wasteful that this continues to happen when highway and transmission line rights of way are cleared. it would be better if clearing were done on a smaller scale with less heavy equipment so more wood could be salvaged and used to heat something or generate electricity not just simply releasing the carbon without any return on investment.
as we are all in fact hypocrites, we built a campfire in the gravel pit we stopped at for the night. josh and i made a “big ole stew” on the coals with lentils, black beans, yams, red pepper, garlic, celery and some hot spices. we had a ukulele jam around the fire and went to bed.

By Willy Wanka
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Stellar Mountain sunrise!
The early bird catches the shot
Camping on the cliff
Morning lesson on solar technology
Wax on, wax off
Even Cotty loves green
The candy man donates drinks!
Anne and Claire hanging out
Bird's eye view of our overnight spot, a popular lookout.
The water bearer
Willy and Marcelo talking about the memorable moments of 5 months of being on the tour together
Final shot before we head towards Dawson City
Josh walks the line
Sun shield! Used to be gold coating, now paper
Dawson City 201km!
Hungry Marcelo? Want a granola bar?
Claire feeding the monkey. Say ahhh!
Warning: don't feed the monkey
Passing thru Pelly Crossing
The locals ask if we abducted Michael Jackson
Marcelo tries to distract someone to steal their granola bar
Josh sends Anne the power to close the solar car
Anne, doing it right the first time!
A scenic bridge
Bridging the gap
Beautiful Yukon!
What a view!
Wanna race?
Leave them in the dust solar car!
Gravel roads, it's just the beginning
Camera ready- Mountain Goat Josh
Claire Bear
Anne the Adventuress
Willy Wonka aka Dutch Oven
Rays of energy!
Wild flowers and wild rides
It glows!
wait, is that an real UFO?
Marcelo playing in the dirt
Anne and Josh saw wood for a real Yukon fire
Willy collecting fire wood
A solar sunset
"We come in peace"
Our stove.
Warm and cozy by the fire, stew and smores, yum!