The Alaska Highway


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Published: June 28th 2018
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Beautiful CountryBeautiful CountryBeautiful Country

Between Tetsa Service and Toad River.
(PLEASE NOTE: We're not really in Fort Nelson, but it's the nearest town.)

We arrived in Dawson Creek, the town at Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway on 22 June. I don’t know how much y’all know about the highway, but it’s an interesting place and interesting concept.

MUCH OF THE INFO BELOW CAME FROM WIKIPEDIA:

In the early 1900s, the US government tried to convince the Canadian government to build a road that would connect the lower 48 with Alaska. Canada wasn’t interested in building a road for the US. In the 1930s, with Japan on the rise, the US asked again, but Canada worried that allowing the highway would prevent them from maintaining neutrality in their relationship with Japan. However, the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor changed priorities, and in February 1942, construction of a highway through Canada to Alaska was approved by the US Army, Congress, and President Roosevelt. Canada agreed to allow construction as long as the US bore all the costs and the highway would be turned over to Canada after the war.

Construction began on March 8, 1942, as crews started from both ends of the highway. On September
Midsummer's EveMidsummer's EveMidsummer's Eve

I took this photo at 10 p.m. on 21 June 2018. It was still completely light, but I went to bed.
24, 1942, the crews from both directions met at Mile 588 at the British Columbia-Yukon border. The whole route was completed on October 28, 1942 – 1700 miles built in eight months. The road was built mostly by the US Army Corps of Engineers, who assigned more than 10,000 men, about of third of whom were back soldiers. It was rough, with steep grades, temporary pontoon bridges and poor services. Paving began in the 1960s and 70s.

A very good description of the highway’s history and meaning to Canada and the US can be found at https://www.tranbc.ca/2017/08/10/why-building-of-the-alaska-highway-is-still-an-epic-feat-75-years-later/

When we drove the highway in 2007, we learned some amazing things, all of which are being confirmed on this trip:

First, and most horrifying: some people living in the US don’t know that you can drive to Alaska. Truth. They have seen too many maps of the US with a solid line at the Canadian border (as thought nothing exists above), and with Alaska stuck in a box in the Pacific Ocean off the west coast, along with Hawaii. After learning this, I’ve become a strong advocate of placing globes in classrooms.

Second, the Alaska Highway is largely
Midsummer's EveMidsummer's EveMidsummer's Eve

I woke up at about 4:15 am on 22 June and took this picture. We've learned to close the pocket doors at each end of the bedroom to create a nice, dark sleeping space.
a good, paved two-lane road with wide shoulders. Many people travel to Alaska with caravans because they are so afraid of the drive. You can travel with a caravan – if you have $10,000 to $20,000 to throw away. Neither Tom nor I can figure out what scares people so much about driving through Canada and Alaska.

Third, and important in the current political environment: we need Canada. Canada is not just the northernmost state of the US, or a place where people talk funny and say, “Eh?” Canada is a separate nation with its own national interests and is our closest ally.

Fourth, gas is really expensive in Canada! Oil is brought from the ground in Canada, sent to refineries in the US, and returned to Canada to be sold at higher – higher! – prices. Today we spent $5.00 per gallon (US) to fill up, and expect higher prices to come.

Fifth, trucks are huge. I’ve counted many with 32 tires – make our 18-wheelers look puny.

A lot has happened since 2007, our last trip. Northern Alberta and British Columbia (BC) have huge reserves of oil and gas in their shale, and the
Wildfire ImpactsWildfire ImpactsWildfire Impacts

It's been quite dry, and we've seen a few wildfires. This stretch was the result of earlier fires, one of which actually jumped the Alaska Highway. Wide margins have been mowed on each side of the highway.
first 100 miles of the Alaska Highway, north of Dawson Creek, are clogged with enormous trucks, pulling everything from pipes and equipment to pre-fab buildings that house oil workers to tank trucks carrying who knows what to and from the oil fields. Campgrounds are filled with trailers for oil workers; it’s hard to get a one-night reservation. We thought we’re pretty anal about getting reservations, but have found that without them, we’d be sleeping in beside the road.

After the first 100 miles, things calmed down considerably. For two nights, we stayed at off-the-grid campgrounds with log buildings, their own well- water supply, and huge generators to provide electricity. We constantly watch our electrical system monitor and check before we turn things on, as the quality and quantity of the power are shaky. Two nights ago, the campground had no TV, internet access, or cell service – not unusual in some areas near us in east Tennessee, but wildly exotic to many of the drivers of large motor coaches. The campground owner told me that they paid $10,000 to have their land line installed. If anyone is sending messages but receiving no answers, that’s why. I’ll try to answer
The First 100 MilesThe First 100 MilesThe First 100 Miles

Huge trucks, one after the other, speeding to and from the gas and oil fields. (Note the wide, mowed road margins.)
all today. Last night and tonight, we’re staying at the Toad River campground, where there’s no cell service, but pretty good wifi. Today, 28 June, I can post! To no one’s surprise, I’m sure, Tom’s spending the day doing maintenance tasks on the Cruiser.

I’ve included photos taken yesterday, as the scenery changed and we began to experience the wilderness.

Maggie is enjoying the trip, has met lots of nice dogs, and is currently sitting staring at Tom, hoping for a handout. She’s seen many children and is finally used to the constant change of scenery every night.


Additional photos below
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Worker DormsWorker Dorms
Worker Dorms

Several trucks carrying these buildings passed, setting up yet more housing for oilfield workers.
Wood for the winterWood for the winter
Wood for the winter

We all know people who heat with wood, but I've never seen this much wood ready to burn.
Dog Party Dog Party
Dog Party

Maggie's friends at Pink Mountain Campground.
Finally -- WildernessFinally -- Wilderness
Finally -- Wilderness

On 27 June, the Alaska Highway finally turned into a wilderness road, sparking our admiration for the men who built this road through 1700 miles of wilderness in just 8 months.


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