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Published: September 11th 2018
Around Every Corner
Around each corner was an even more beautiful sight.
Since we’re now on the final leg of our trip, I can muse on the road part of this road trip.
At one point, Tom said, “This would be a great trip except for the roads.” Sometimes they were good, sometimes terrible, sometimes they didn’t exist at all. Sometimes drivers were good, sometimes terrible, and – sometimes – we were all alone, which was lovely.
We had plenty of time to talk as we drove, and grouped the challenges of this road trip into groups:
· Road conditions: once you get off the US interstate highways, you’re on two-lane roads. The trans-Canada highway is not a limited access highway. Chip-and-tar surfaces are common, as is a type of dirt and gravel that dries into concrete in your wheelwells. Road construction is crammed into the few warm months, so there’s little consideration for the feelings or schedules of drivers. Often, the entire road is torn out for 5-10 miles, right down to the dirt. Whenever they get around to it, they pave.
· Animals: we saw every kind of wild northern animal you can imagine – on the road. Foxes, wolves, bison, bears, deer, elk, antelope moose, and
Why drive all the way to Alaska? Because it's SOOO beautiful, huge, majestic, desolate ...
– my favorite – porcupines. In Alberta, Montana, and South Dakota at least cattle are not fenced; you can expect to see them on the shoulders, if not in your lane.
· Other traffic: enormous trucks hauling stone, crude oil, dormitories for oil workers, normal truck and car traffic with very impatient drivers (Alaska) and caravans of RVs. The trucks threw rocks and drove so fast that your only hope was to get the heck out of the way. They must carry much heavier loads than in the lower 48; they had 20 to 40 wheels. We had to replace the windshield on the way north and had a star crack repaired on the way south.
· Caravan drivers also drove like maniacs, and we learned why when we heard that they were expected to drive 3-400 miles each day. We drove around 100 miles each day.
· Weather. Alaska and northern Canada didn’t have much of a summer this year, and we gave up on our Dempster Highway trip because camping in rain, snow, and 20-40 degree (F) temps didn’t sound like fun. You can expect a lot of rain and cooler temperatures on the coast
The best places to camp were government-run parks.
and Kenai peninsula than the interior.
· Wildfires. They were everywhere this year. Altering your route is sometimes an option, but we were glad to have some emergency freeze-dried food with us. We stayed full of water, gasoline and propane, and kept our holding tanks empty while we drove through chancy areas, as we had no idea whether and for how long we might be stopped.
· Distance between services. Reliability of vehicle and tires is critical, as is gas mileage. Often, you don’t see a gas station for 200 miles.
· Cost. Gasoline in Canada cost up to $5 a gallon, motels cost $150 up, and food is expensive. On the Alaska coast, groceries are delivered by barge from Seattle once a week. You buy what they have and pay their prices. No whining. Restaurants and campgrounds must cover the costs of their very short tourist season. We estimate that this trip’s cost was twice the cost of our 2007 trip.
Will we do this again? Probably not. Though I still want to see the northern lights and still want to stick my toes into the Arctic Ocean, the road trip was a
A small room here was $85; the one large room was $125.
long one. I'd definitely go back to north-western Canada and Alaska if I had the resources to hire a plane and pilot and skip the roads. But for those who haven't sampled this huge and beautiful continent, go!
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