Alaska 09: The Drive Up

June 1st, 2009

Par for the course

Captain at the Helm, Self-PortriateAlmost exactly a year after my first trip up the Alaskan Highway I was once again on the Alaskan Highway. Masochism? Self-hate? What were my motivations to make this ghastly-long drive basically twice in the same year? The big one this time was the wedding of two good friends from college. The Alaska-Bozeman connection was manifest strongly here, as the two Alaskans getting married actually met in Montana and I was just one of many Montanans Alaska-bound for the event. And in addition to the wedding I really enjoyed my trip to AK last year and wanted to go again. But why drive again? 3000 miles each way? Well there were four of us splitting gas, and I could get the time off from work so… why not? My only regret is that since this trip was only 20 days total this time (it was 40 last time), the drive consumed a disproportionate amount of the journey. If you plan on driving, plan on a longer trip! It’s much better that way, even though the drive is part of the fun.

Group shot at the start of the tripThe Alaska Hotel in Dawson CreekA kitchenette in the Alaskan Hotel

Signpost forest in Watson LakeOur route would be pretty much identical to my route last spring. From Bozeman up through Great Falls, Calgary and Edmonton until we hit Mile 0 of the Alcan in Dawson Creek. Then shoot the Alcan all the way to AK, before heading south to Valdez for the wedding. Everything was the same… but everything was different of course. For starters after Edmonton we hit a big snowstorm this year, and felt compelled to stay at a hotel instead of camping in Dawson Creek. Without knowing it, this turned out to be a cool thing. Dawson Creek is the official start of the Alaskan Highway, and our search for cheap accommodations led us to the Alaskan Hotel. Turns out the place is not only the cheapest in town, but it’s kind of famous and full to the brim with character. It is an old and historic “European” style hotel with the bathrooms down the hall from the rooms. Like a Hostel, but without bunks/dorms. We paid for a room from the bartenders and enjoyed a cozy night indoors listening to muffled karaoke from the bar and drunk people bickering and trying to cook food in the common area. (Overheard: *microwave beep* THUMP/CRASH. *microwave beeping* “What’s all that banging?” “Sorry! I dropped my meat!” “Are you supposed to be in here? You’re not supposed to be here!” “I’m hungry, I need to make some food.” “Are you checked in here?” “No. Well, I was. I checked in, then I checked out.” And so forth.)

Liard River Hot SpringsChillin in Liard Hot SpringOur first bear sighting, just after Liard River

Yukon beer in the Yukon

Derelict tank of some sortFrom there it was smooth sailing. We did run in to a little more snow and rain, but our other nights were good enough for camping. This time we camped at Liard RIver Hot Springs, which is much more fun that just stopping in for a quick dip on your way though like I did last year. We sqeezed in an evening and morning soak this way, and the campground was nice and pretty empty this early in the season. In another fine example of the Alaska/Bozeman connection, we saw three other Bozemanites we knew at Liard! Then it was on to Whitehorse where we stopped in at the Yukon Brewing Company and did a tasting tour of their beer lineup. It was fantastic (one of the best IPAs I’ve ever had) and we felt obliged to stock up on tasty Yukon brews. Our last camp spot in the Yukon was fun too - an access road of some sort just off the highway. Very scenic, and with the added bonus of some kind of abandoned oil tank to monkey around on. A few hundred brutal frost heaves and a pleasantly uneventful Border crossing back into the US brought us to Valdez for the main event: the wedding. More on that next!

We made it!

Stone sheepSnow covered taigaAlaskan vista

The drive to Valdez

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