The Alaskan Highway or Alaska-Canadian Highway or just Alcan runs 2,450 kilometers (1,523 miles) from Dawson Creek, British Columbia to Fairbanks, Alaska. It is an amazing road that seems to stretch on forever into cloud covered mountains. Just when you crest one hill you see the highway curving past the horizon. To get to the official beginning of the highway, mile zero at Dawson Creek, was a bit of a trek. It took two days from Calgary, with a stop just north of Edmonton, Alberta. An epic trip indeed. The Alcan was constructed in 1942 in a little over eight months. The highway is a civil engineering wonder. We’ll never take road construction for granted again. Originally, Canada was opposed to the highway and would not contribute any funds. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, things changed. It became necessary to connect and re-supply the military bases in Alaska.
For years I heard stories of the rough gravel roads. No services, multiple flat tires and a few new windshields were common. My aunt and uncle, John and Ann, made this trip years ago and talked about how extraordinary their trip was. I believe they did it in a VW bus, which means they must have physically pushed the van up most of the steep grades. Today the road is paved, smooth and superbly engineered. The shoulders are wide and at least thirty yards on either side are mowed for the first half of the Alcan! There are numerous steep 7-9% grades. So far, the truck pulls the 10,000 lb. trailer just fine. Our backup sled dog Sam is ever ready, should we get stuck. Finding diesel has not been a problem as there are Gas Stations, RV parks, and diners a plenty. I must warn you however. The real danger of traveling the Alaskan Highway is the sheer number of calories consumed along the way. We’ve stopped at numerous lodges (truck stops) advertising the “World’s Best Cinnamon Buns.” We must judge for ourselves. How could we take their word for it? Canadians . . . remember?
We dropped off the Alaskan Highway to see the towns of Skagway and Haines. These Southeastern Alaska Towns are favorite stops for cruise ships. These ships are massive. Today there are four of them in town. That means we’re sharing the streets with 16,000 tourists. Skagway was the landing point for the Klondike gold rush of 1900. One hundred thousand “Stampeders” arrived in Skagway within two years for their first stop in Alaska. (Oh, come on! A forty-niner was what they called the folks who went to California in 1849 to strike it rich. The Stampeders went to Skagway). I’m sure that few of them knew that the harshness of the terrain and the weather would either kill them or turn them back. The gold fields of the Klondike were still 400 miles into the frozen north.
Alaska is huge! Much bigger that even Texas. Today, Skagway is a charming coastal Alaskan town with quaint shops and nice restaurants. It also has all the trappings of a “cruise ship town” with shops selling expensive watches and jewelry. Apparently, cruise ship people need expensive watches and jewelry. Haines on the other hand was laidback and comfortable. For a change of pace, we rode the ferry the fifteen miles from Skagway to Haines. Had we drove, it would have added 391 miles to our trip. We’re trying to conserve mileage.
No moose for you! So far, we seen a dozen or so black bears, a herd of bison, and two young caribou. Owls and hawks a plenty. Finally, on July 20th, our first moose! Just as we rounded a bend, Mamma and her young were as startled to see us as we were to see them. Wow! They are big.
Saturday July 20, we made it to Fairbanks Alaska. The Alaskan Highway is truly an engineering and construction marvel. The last 800 or so miles were a bit rough, however. With all the freezing and refreezing, the road buckles and forms what are called frost heaves. The dips are deceiving and hard to spot. If you drive over 50 mph (or 7,000 k per liter) you will dump all the contents of your trailers cabinets into the toilet and cause your wife and dog to throw up.
Hope all is well in your land.