Driving the Alcan 5-27-2010

          During the following week I’ll be taking on a unique challenge: beginning in California, driving to Canada, and navigating the Alcan Highway to Alaska in a $600 vehicle, pulling a heavily loaded trailer. I have of course put adequate time and resources into the truck in preparation, but with 172,000 miles on the clock, it’s anybody’s guess how this might turn out. Total trip length will be 3600 miles.

            For those not familiar, the Alaska-Canada highway was constructed during World War II to assist the war effort and stretches 1400 miles across some of the most remote and beautiful country to be found, making this the ultimate road trip. In recent years the road has been greatly improved, and with the exception of occasional construction projects (gravel sections), is surprisingly well paved. I’ve packed an extra spare tire, spare headlights, radiator stop leak, baling wire, duct tape, tools, and all the anticipated spare parts one could hope to not need. A new windshield will likely be needed at the conclusion of the trip.

            Gasoline availability can be spotty and quite expensive. On a previous trip we paid a little over $7 per gallon (gasoline is actually sold by the liter in Canada) at one remote location and were thankful we had brought extra fuel for some of the longer stretches. One trick I previously learned is to look for skid marks ahead on the pavement, and to immediately slow down in preparation for potentially huge bumps in the road caused by frost heaving. A friendly Canadian told me the road is more pleasant during the winter, as the potholes are all filled with ice, smoothing the roadway! It’s interesting also, when in British Columbia, many folks finish each sentence with “Eh”, perhaps to ascertain comprehension or agreement, but as soon as you cross into the Yukon Territory, this seemed to stop immediately. Gracious and friendly folks everywhere we stopped!

            Another interesting aspect of traveling in Canada is the remarkably tidy and inexpensive-to-enter provincial parks. We would often be the only ones there, or one of a few, perhaps due to the earliness of the season or state of the economy. Without exaggeration, more often than not, one would need to exercise care using a restroom or picnic table, as the immaculately applied fresh paint may not be fully dry. Additionally, you would find complimentary firewood, neatly stacked– ready for use, along with occasional massive waves of hungry mosquitoes.

            My favorite memory of the previous trip was meeting Marl Brown, owner/curator of the Fort Nelson BC Heritage Museum at Mile 300 of the highway, and taking in his amazing collection of artifacts. This distinguished, elderly gentleman, with substantially flowing white hair and beard, and glowing smile, was almost difficult to properly photograph, due to overexposure. His garage was absolutely amazing, containing perhaps two dozen magnificent automobiles and a wide assortment of motorcycles, gas pumps, tools, signs, and all the toys a car buff could dream of seeing. Outside were significant parts of military airplanes, many of which were courageously flown by women assisting the US Government’s lend/lease agreement with the Soviet Union during the war. Over 8000 planes were delivered across the frigid and forbidding Alaska-Siberia route, and more than a few didn’t make it. 

            I hope this deviation of routine was of acceptable interest. Should next week’s column be preempted with the statement “on vacation”, you’ll know I may have missed something under the hood. �  

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