Driving the Alaska Highway

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If you plan on traveling the Alaska Highway, try not to do it in winter.  Just saying.

My adventure driving to Alaska through Canada began on February 21, 2017.  My son-in-law had asked me to drive with him to Alaska, because he was anticipating a 6-day drive and didn’t want to go it alone, especially in winter.  I was up for a road trip, and a new adventure, so I agreed to go with him.  We left from a little town called Fruita, Colorado at about 6:00 p.m. local time.  Our first stop was Tramonton, Utah, about 2 hours north of Salt Lake City.

Day 2, Canada.

We crossed into Canada on Wednesday, February 22, at about 4:00 p.m. at a place called Sweetgrass, and continued on to Calgary, British Columbia, that night.  Customs was not a problem.  Traffic was light.

The big change from entering Canada?  Right after crossing the border we noticed that the speed limit signs and distance to destination signs were all in kilometers.  That was a new experience that took a little getting used to.  Our vehicle had a U S. speedometer that measured how fast we were driving in mph with kph in smaller increments on the dial.  With a little practice we were able to stay pretty close to the speed limit by learning the mph equivalents.  We drove about 13 hours that day.

Thursday, February 23, we made it to Grand Prairie.  It took us 10 hours of driving today. The day was uneventful with pretty light traffic.

Day 4, entering the Alaska Highway.

After an early start on Friday, the 24th, we reached Dawson Creek, British Columbia, at around 10 in the morning and caught the Alaska Highway.  There was a roundabout with a marker to the north side, announcing the beginning of that historic path to Alaska.  The day was overcast and gloomy.  Cold too.  Our destination for the day was Johnson’s Crossing.  Before we got on the highway, we stopped at a convenience store just north of the entrance to get a drink.  Imagine our surprise when we found out that in Canada you can’t buy a fountain drink in a convenience store or gas station, because they don’t have them.  Instead, the stores sell slushes in several flavors.  It struck me as strange to be selling slushes in winter, but they do.  If you want a Coke or Pepsi or whatever, you have to buy it in a bottle.  After we got our bottles of soda we got on the Alaska Highway.

The Alaska Highway was begun and finished in 1942 by the Army Corps of Engineers as a link between the lower 48 states and Alaska through Canada. The Canadian government approved the highway with the provisions that the United States would build it and pay for it, and after the war the ownership would revert to Canada.  The road is approximately 1,700 miles long and ends at Delta Junction, Alaska.  The road was opened to the public in 1948.

Driving through Canada in February made for short days of daylight, some long twilight, then a lot of darkness.  The road itself was totally paved, although there were some potholes.  Most of the road was snowpacked and traction was fair.  The 24th was a great day for driving.  We had blue skies all day, and the roads were clear of traffic except for the occasional vehicle.  There was very little traffic in either direction, and the scenery was incredible.  We saw some buffalo along side the road but no moose.

On the morning of Saturday, February 25th, we stopped for a couple of hours in Whitehorse, Yukon territory.  We wanted to take an hour or two to relax and see the town, and maybe do a little shopping.  It turned out that we had arrived on a day when the town was having a snow festival, so we were able to see some amazing snow sculptures and try some of the local food while we were there.  It was a nice stop, and it was really cold.

By this point in the trip driving has changed from being a routine to being a lifestyle.  Get up, drive.  Stop to eat, drive.  Eat again, drive.  Stop overnight.  Get up, drive.  Stop to eat, drive, etc., etc.  You get the picture.

We made it to a little place called Beaver Creek on the evening of the 25th.  We had reservations at a motel called Buckshot Betty’s, which was a group of small cabins.  We tried to find a restaurant to get some dinner.  There were 2 in the town, and both were closed until spring.  Luckily we were able to buy some snacks and sandwiches at a gas station so we didn’t go hungry.  We found something there the we hadn’t seen in the States, Ketchup flavored potato chips.  We bought a bag just to try them out.  They weren’t horrible, but i’ll just say that they are an acquired taste.

Crossed into Alaska on day 6.

Beaver Creek is about 25 miles from the Alaska border.  We crossed into Alaska at about 8:00 on Sunday morning.  it was still dark.  No more liters and kilometers for us; we were back to gallons and miles. We stopped for breakfast at a restaurant along the side of the road and I ordered reindeer sausage for the first time.  It was pretty tasty.  Way better than ketchup potato chips.  We drove through magnificent scenery and got off the Alaska Highway at Anchorage, driving south to Sedotna.

So, now I can say I drove the Alaska Highway.  Well, maybe not the whole thing, since we didn’t go to Delta Junction, but enough of it.  My take on the trip?  It’s a fun drive, but can get monotonous and boring.  Be prepared for long stretches of nothing, except wilderness.  Mostly you won’t have cell coverage except around the larger towns.  We didn’t have any mechanical problems but it’s best to be prepared in case you break down.  Have some water and food along.  Think about it and plan ahead.  You’ll be glad you did.

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