Day Five: Sign Post Forest, Mountains, Alaska on the Horizon

Traveling north has somehow thrown my body clock off. Even though I haven’t changed time zones, I keep waking up earlier and earlier. Today, that “earlier” was 4:15 AM. That means much less sleep, but at least I get on the road at a good hour!

I spent the night in Watson Lake, Yukon. When we did our Lap Around America last year,  we would start considering which of the towns ahead of us looked good  in the late afternoon. On the AlCan, it’s not like that. Looking north from Watson Lake, there didn’t appear to be any other motels for several hundred miles. That made the decision easy.

That means I woke up within a few blocks of one of the most famous roadside attractions on the Alaska Highway – the Sign Post Forest. This perfect piece of Americana, which just happens to be located in Canada (Canadia?) started innocently enough, when a Private Lindley was ordered by his commanding officer to fix a sign that had been knocked over in the 1940s. He did, but in a flash of genius, he added a new sign that pointed toward his home town and read, “Danville, Illinois” along with the distance. He had no idea what he had started. Ever since then, people have been adding their own signs. Private Lindley’s creation now covers several acres and has over 77,000 signs, with more being added every day.

My Lewis County, Washington, friends might notice the “Entering Chehalis” sign in the picture. I didn’t put it there, it was already hanging, I swear. If I’d put one up, it would have said, “Mossyrock, Population 402.” (Yes, I know the population has grown in Mossyrock, but I still think of it as 402.)

I think you could spend an entire day wandering the Sign Post Forest and not see them all, but it’s a great way to kill some time. Here’s a couple of my favorite signs I found:

I’m a big fan of epic road trips. I also love the work the Andersons were willing to put into their sign.

Some people had just discovered a life’s truth, and wanted to share it with the world, like this person:

I barely made a dent in the Sign Post Forest, so I’m going to have to stop on the way back down and peruse some more.

The weather today was fairly good. A few times, when I gained elevation, I saw a few snow flurries, and the temps hovered in the low 30s all day, but I saw a lot of sunshine, too.

A number of people have asked me if I get lonely, driving so far all alone. The answer is, no, I don’t really. How can I be lonely when I have so many people who live inside my head? I have a lot of ways to pass the time – great music, I plot out the books I’m writing, scanning for wildlife, and listening to audio books. I am listening to the audio version of Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth, which at 30+ hours, is made for a road trip like this. I’ve read the book before, but this narrator is so good, he brings everything a fresh perspective.

I admit I miss Dawn, and I know this trip would be so much better if she was with me, but aside from that, I am really very happy traveling alone. At one point today, I pulled over to eat a sandwich from the Magical Mystery Bag and sat staring at the scenery for fifteen minutes. Not a single car passed in either direction. That’s when it hit home just how alone I really was.

Another advantage of being on the road is that I am mostly cut off from the 24 hour news cycle that most of us live in. When something “important” happens, I am likely to not hear about it for days, if at all. I can live with that.

It seems like each road trip, I pick up a new interest. This trip, I’ve become really interested in bridges and how they are constructed. I loved this bridge, which spanned the frozen Nisutlin River as it led into the Village of Teslin:

The Nisutlin River was my constant, frozen companion for most of the early afternoon.

One thing I keep my eye peeled for are images that could be used on the cover for this book. I’d like it to echo the cover for A Lap Around America, but still be something that is different enough that it represents the North. Here’s a shot that I took this afternoon, that is in the running:

I admit, I am no photographer, but nonetheless, I love that shot. Those mountains ring where I stopped for the night – Haines Junction. Have you ever seen scenery that was so mind-boggling, so overwhelming, that it brought tears to your eyes? It happened to me today as I drove the last 20 kilometers into Haines Junction.

This little village sits at the edge of the single largest protected wilderness on Earth, made up of Kluane National Park and Reserve, the Tatshenshini-Alsek Park in British Columbia, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska.

Speaking of Alaska, the ultimate goal of this road trip, I will finally arrive there tomorrow.

I have dreamed of driving the AlCan for forty years. Now that I am near the end of that dream coming true, I can say that it has been everything I had hoped it would be and so much more. The solitude, the pristine air, the constant wildlife, and the astounding scenery have combined to give me memories I will cherish forever.

Cheers, and safe travels!

Shawn

 

18 comments

      • That’s so sweet. But you’re doing a great job. 🙂 (You’re also giving me itchy feet. I’m now thinking that this trip is in my future for real in 2018. I think you and I have been dreaming of it for almost the same amount of time. I’m so happy that you’re making it happen.)

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  1. Fantastic scenery so far! Feel like I am there with you. So much fun to see this with you. Hope tomorrow brings more fabulous adventure. Safe travels

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  2. I so enjoy reading about your day’s adventures. Today’s entry was no exception. Oh my goodness, that shot of the snow covered mountains is spectacular. It’s like the massive mountains are calling and drawing us in. Continued safe travels!

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  3. Shawn you words paint a wonderful picture, thanks you… By the time you read this you will no doubt be in Alaska but I wanted to agree with you about the painful beauty of the Haines junction area. I camped there on my first trip up the Alcan and met my first black bear. On later trips up and down the road I found I preferred to camp on the banks of Kluane lake, just past Hanies junction, at the base of some of those majestic mountains in your photograph.

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  4. This is freaking me out to 40 years ago I had planned a trip to Alaska and it changed all change due to a haircut . The woman that was cutting my husband’s hair had a horse for sale that horse was a horse of my dreams a black Appaloosa with a white blanket . Never made it to Alaska but the horse was awesome. Now in my 70″s, I think maybe I’m just a little too old to start but it’s wonderful being able to see you through your eyes. Thank you. PS….. Love the photo!

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  5. WONDERFUL road picture!!! I love how it is so straight like the pic on your Lap Around America cover….and yet has all the beautiful snowy mountain charm of the North!

    Am enjoying your AlCan travels. My parents took our family on a road trip to Alaska back in the 60’s. We actually traveled North to Alaska on the Ferry system. Thru the inland passage. I remember names like Prince Rupert, Ketchican, Juneau… then drove back home on the roads thru the towns you’re mentioning. We were traveling in late summer. I remember “white socks” (mean mosquitoes!!) And I was afraid a grizzly bear would get us! I was only six at the time. It’s nice to see your journey from a grown-up perspective 🙂

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  6. Love the way you are traveling wish i could do it someday! The picture of the road and snowcapped mountains is beautiful and perfect.

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  7. If I were to live in Canada the Haines Junction/Destruction Bay area would be at the top if my list! The scenery is amazingly spectacular, as you are learning, and the people were just so friendly. I’m truly enjoying reading about your trip and viewing your imagery; it brings back so many fond memories! Wrangell-St. Elias is an amazing place but then so are all the parks in ‘The Last Frontier’; my favorite state park is Kachemak Bay SP&P while my heart and soul live in Denali NP&P. Hope you’ll get to experience both as well as the other incredibly scenic places that make Alaska so impressive. If you are planning to head by Talkeetna let me know; I’ll take ya for a beer at ‘The Roadhouse’ or ‘Latitude 62’ in the village…

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