Days Six & Seven: Alaska at last!

For the first time since I got on it in Dawson Creek, BC, I am off the Alaska Highway. I got to the official end of the road at Delta Junction, Alaska, this morning:

Now that I’ve driven the AlCan from one end to the other, here are my immediate thoughts.

  1. It’s not nearly as bad as it used to be. The horror stories of washboard ruts and giant potholes are things of the past. I found less than ten miles of unpaved road over the entire distance, and even that wasn’t too terrible.
  2.  Still, be prepared. It’s not unusual to go more than 100 miles or more between any small sign of civilization. It’s good to be prepared for small mechanical problems.
  3. There’s still bad weather in April. I spent half a day driving over ice, packed snow, and slush. At one point, the Emerald Bullet was so covered in mud, I thought I might have to rename her. No worries, though, a torrential rainfall later in the day took care of that.
  4. In mid-April, at least, traffic is very light. It wasn’t unusual for me to drive twenty or thirty miles without seeing a vehicle in either direction. That means you should be prepared for a lot of solitude if you’re traveling alone. I liked this part.
  5. As far as I could tell, The Alaska Highway is litter-free. I don’t recall seeing so much as a gum wrapper on the side of the road. It made me slightly more proud to be a human being than I normally am.
  6.  Be prepared to rough it. Many “Rest Areas” are just that – a wide spot on the side of the road where you can park and stretch your legs. Most of these have a garbage can. Many have primitive rest room facilities – emphasis on primitive. Picture a permanent port-a-potty, and you’re on the right track. Bring your own toilet paper, as there is none provided.
  7. Most of the towns aren’t much. They may look big on a map, but it’s only big in comparison to the emptiness around it. If you’re expecting to find a decent-sized grocery store, or a drug store, or a “nice” hotel, you’re probably going to be disappointed. I found that most of the towns I stopped in reminded me of traveling back in time – like to the seventies. Even the gas pumps are older, and most don’t take credit cards at the pump.
  8. There’s lots of wildlife. I spent an entire day counting how many bison I had seen. My favorite sighting was two photogenic foxes that I watched get together over the course of half an hour. I saw caribou, hares by the dozen, two bald eagles, and more rodents than I could count, including one I rolled over at 65 MPH but did not injure. I think he dropped a little chipmunk poop as I rocketed over him. I know I would have.
  9. Driving the Alaska Highway was one of the best things I’ve done in my lifetime. The solitude, the overarching beauty, the impossibly sweet-smelling air, combined to give me the gift of a never to be forgotten experience. If you’ve always dreamed of driving the Alaska Highway, I encourage you to do so.

I started Saturday in Haines Junction, which is a tiny little town with a huge, huge view. I took this standing in front of my room:

Can you stand another scenery picture? Honestly, I could fill the entire blog with them, but I’m trying not to put dozens of pictures in each blog. This is the very frozen Big Whitefish Lake:

You’ve got to be alert, both for wildlife, and the unexpected. I was in a long straight stretch of solitude, when I saw this on the side of the highway:

Of course, I pulled over to see what was what. It turns out to be a memorial to a young man named Douglas Richard Twiss II, aka “Dougie.” Here’s what it says on his memorial stone:

I know that’s hard to read, but here’s a closeup of the bottom of the stone, which I think is a wonderful summation of a life philosophy:

There are many a worse life motto than “Follow your dreams, be kind, and always remember to enjoy every day of your life.” In fact, that lines up with my own ideas pretty closely.

I also liked this view of the Emerald Bullet as it sat on the Alaska Highway, taken from Dougie’s memorial:

That sky should tell you the kind of weather I have experienced the last two days – nothing but blue skies and sunshine. Every time I talk to Dawn back home, she says it is cloudy and either raining or about to rain. I feel like I am getting the better end of the deal by far.

Because signs of civilization are so few and far between, I usually eat my lunch at one of the little rest areas on the sign of the road. Yesterday, the weather was so lovely that I sat with my car door open, soaking up the sunshine. The whole time I ate, this little magpie kept me entertained with his antics:

Several people told me that many think they are pests and vermin. I don’t know about that, but I do know that this bird seemed to have a warped sense of humor, which I can appreciate.

I hit the Canada-Alaska line earlier in the day than I had anticipated. Going through Customs was a painless experience, and two minutes later, I saw a speed limit sign in MPH, instead of KPH. It felt good to be home. Now I don’t have to do math again until I head south in a few weeks.

I stopped for the day in Tok, Alaska. I had hoped that it was pronounced like “tick-tock,” but no, it is pronounced like “toke,” as in “One Toke Over the Line, Sweet Jesus” from the seventies. As soon as I hit town and started talking to people, I knew I was back in Alaska. The very first man I talked to, in less than five minutes of conversation, told me there was “No taxes, and no government in Tok, and that’s the way we like it.” He also mentioned, “You should just assume every person you meet is armed.” Good advice. I always assume that.

I actually found a pretty nice motel, with truly horrible wireless internet, thus no blog update last night.  That meant I got to sleep early and woke up early, though. My eyes flew open at 4:30 a.m. and I was on the road at 6:00.

My first stop of the day was at Mukluk Land, which is just north of Tok. It’s a very Alaska amusement park that is completely shut down this time of year, and in fact was covered by about six inches of frost-hardened snow. There were no signs that said, “Do not enter” or “no trespassing” so I went in and looked around.

For those of you who have followed my blog or read my book A Lap Around America, you know I love roadside attractions, Americana, and kitsch. That being the case, how could I resist an amusement park with a twenty foot tall mukluk in the front. Inside, the place does not disappoint. I’m sure it’s a lot more exciting in-season when people are streaming through and playing putt-put golf and riding rides, but there was something immensely satisfying about walking through an empty, frozen attraction like this. Here’s an idea of the kitsch factor, Santa’s rocket powered sled:

If Dawn Adele is reading this, I know she is thinking, “Thank God I didn’t go on this trip with him.” I love you, baby!

I drove north to Delta Junction, where I officially ended my trip on the Alaska Highway as I showed above. I also found that the mosquito problem is much worse than I remember it:

Those buggers were about eight feet tall. Is there a nuclear plant that has reported a leak anywhere nearby?

Who knew there was so much Americana and kitsch so soon after you cross the border? Just north of Delta Junction is North Pole, Alaska. Not the North Pole, which would be a lot colder, but the former town of Davis, which changed its name to “North Pole” as a publicity stunt in 1953. It worked. Santa himself obviously hangs out there:

I’m pretty sure I know which list I’m on, and I am fully prepared for coal in my stocking next year. Also, the expression on his face kind of freaked me out. Here’s an interesting tidbit: this 42 foot tall Santa, which is supposedly the tallest Santa in the world, was originally built in 1968 to be installed at Seattle’s Westgate Mall. I don’t recall ever seeing it there, and it’s not the kind of thing that is easily forgotten.

As I left North Pole, I saw the most surprising thing of the entire trip so far. A sight so rare, I thought I would never seen another one in my lifetime:

Yes, boys and girls, that is an actual open, functioning Blockbuster Video. I had no idea there were any left, but I saw it with my own eyes.

I have stopped for the night in Fairbanks, which is the farthest north I have ever been. When I spent my summers here in the seventies, I never went much farther north than Anchorage. I was always interested in visiting Fairbanks, but my brother Mick always said, “Fairbanks is a city built on yellow snow.” I don’t know what he had against the city, as I am finding it quite nice so far.

I am thinking I want to take a drive on the Dalton Highway tomorrow to reach the Arctic Circle, then I can start working my way south.

Thanks for following along with my travels. I love reading your comments as we go.

Cheers, and safe travels,

Shawn

 

 

 

 

 

 

15 comments

  1. Great blog! The scenery is incredible. There was a report on CBS Sunday Morning today about the Blockbusters. Apparently most of the remaining stores are in Alaska. I found that interesting. Keep your eyes open and drive safe! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Who knew? It seems like having the infrastructure in place for such a small number of stores would be prohibitive, but it must work for some reason.Driving the Dalton Highway, ofttimes called “The loneliest road in America” tomorrow, so I’ll be sure to keep my eyes open. 🙂

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  2. Oh Shawn, so much has changed since we were there in 2002! I was stunned to see that memorial, as I knew a Richard Twiss who lived in Alaska. I’m wondering if it is a relation, no way to find out, as he has passed too. May I bug you to pick up a couple “I drove the Alaska highway” bummer stickers. I promise I will make it up to you, as I fully plan to meet you and Dawn this summer. I’m happy to say, today we put money down on a new to us mini van, that has been stopping us from getting to the coast, our 21 year old Avalon is dying. The van is silver, so I told my husband if Shawn can name his cars, we are naming ours. Maybe the silver bomb? It’s the newest rig we’ve owned, a 2005 Toyota Sienna LE, so it’s the bomb to us. It’s so fun to read your blog, and whence I stop, Jim asks is there any more? Love your journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, Carmen! I didn’t see any of those bumper stickers on the way up, but I wasn’t looking for them I’ll keep an eye out and pick you up a couple if I see them. 🙂 Congrats on the new car!

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  3. I’m so glad you were technically able to put out a blog entry. I really miss it when you can’t. I love reading about your journey. You make us feel as though we’re right there with you riding along in the back seat. Thank you very much for taking the time to share so much with us. I have two quick comments on two things in tonight’s blog: 1.) Where you say the magpie has a warped sense of humor that you can appreciate…..I say, “two birds of a feather flock together!”, and 2.) Where you say, If Dawn Adele is reading this, I know she is thinking, “Thank God I didn’t go on this trip with him.”, I say….HAHAHA!!!! I’ve never met either of you, but through your writing, I feel as though I have, and can thoroughly appreciate and love the differences between husbands and wives that we all experience. As always, continued safe travels!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ah, the Dalton Highway. I took a bus tour from Fairbanks to the Arctic Circle. Seventeen hours on the bus. I learned a *lot* about permafrost and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. 😀

    When we got to the Arctic Circle rest area, our guide told us that the restrooms (yeah, those permanent porta-potties) farthest from the Dalton Highway were actually across the Arctic Circle. The ones closer to the road were not. I trust you know what to do with that information. 😉

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  5. Another interesting, entertaining post. I do remember those primitive rest stops from vacations I took with my family as a kid. We always packed food and ate at those places along the way. In a way, they were much neater than the places you stop now. Everything is commercial, and the old stops were often at very interesting sites of nature. Stay safe.

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  6. I echo Mary Beth, I feel like I know you too! Now I am glad I bought the horse but also see what I missed by not taking the trip. Hind sight really is 20/20…. lol! I also really enjoy your posts. Good travels, my friend, enjoy, we only go around once…so grab all the brass rings you can!

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  7. Great post once again, Shawn! Fairbanks is kind of the last of the ‘Wild West’ towns remaining in the 50 states. It isn’t particularly scenic but then none of the Alaskan towns would fit that description. Try to find out conditions on the Dalton Highway (aka ‘AK 11’, ‘The Haul Road’, etc.) before you attempt it as it could well be icy, snow covered with huge ruts from the massive semi’s that run back and forth between Fairbanks and the North Slope. Your ‘Mile Post’ should have some websites/contact numbers for checking out conditions. Take care and enjoy ‘The Great Land’!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I am getting ready to come visit again and sit through as many pictures as you want to share!!! Enjoy your travels and safety to you!

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  9. It starts getting light a little after 5 a.m., which usually wakes me up. It’s just starting to get dark around 10:30 or so, but I’m usually crashing by then. For all I know, the Northern Lights are dancing outside my window all night. 🙂

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