A 2,000-mile winter road trip up the Alcan
WE’RE GOING 55MPH. . . SIDEWAYS. The ice-glazed roads have finally proved victorious over our tires, and we’re doing all we can not to plow into the snowbanks. Our predicament is exacerbated by the 7,000lb snowmobile trailer that’s currently driving us from behind.
The car turns one way, the trailer the other, until the weight of the trailer wins and repeats the scenario in the opposite direction. What’s worse, unlike a normal fishtail on snow-packed roads, this seems to be incredibly drawn out. For 20 seconds we hurtle out of control into the black night until, somewhat miraculously, we lose enough speed, the trailer falls in line, and we regain control.
There’s a certain romanticism in one’s survival depending on red gas cans, a vehicle, and, at times, the kindness of strangers. Driving a 22ft trailer 2,200 miles to Alaska in the middle of winter might sound like cruel punishment to most people. In some regards, I suppose it is.
While the roads have been improved and few of the original bridges remain, the sense of adventure and isolation is largely unchanged. Dawson Creek, BC, is the official start of the Alcan, although our journey began 1,200 miles south in Jackson, WY. From Dawson the highway heads north through British Columbia and outposts such as Sasquatch Crossing, Nugget City, and Trails North.
Each stop has its own Alcan claim to fame — the largest hat collection, a signpost forest, the location where the north and south highway crews met — each offering a touristy, albeit much needed, break from the white and yellow line.
Although the road has its fair share of manmade attractions, the natural beauty and solitude separate the drive from any other road trip — mountains that seemingly rise from nowhere and stretch on forever, hot springs one could soak in for days, and wildlife that’s as majestic as it is dangerous for drivers. All of it draped in the orange glow of a mid-winter sun that never climbs high on the horizon.
Now in the middle of the Yukon, with all eight tires headed the same direction, we continue our journey. There’s an itch to get to our final destination — Valdez, Alaska — but not the same sense of urgency that usually accompanies a road trip. Driving the Alcan, there’s a feel of “we’ll get there when we get there.” Theoretically, we could make the drive in about a day and half, but it’d be a disservice to the road to make such haste.