AlCan: Eight Day Road Trip from Seattle to Fairbanks

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 22, 2009

AlCan: Day 1 -- Seattle, WA to Hope, BC


After doing as much planning and preparation as I could, my Seattle to Fairbanks road trip commenced this morning. Sooner or later, you just have to start driving. Originating from a city like Seattle, the drive invariable began on a fast urban freeway. The fall foliage was a beautiful reminder that winter is on the way, and that it is about time I got started on my journey north.



After a couple of hours on the road, I pulled up to the border crossing in Sumas, WA, honestly expecting a swift clearance to continue on my way. That's not quite how it worked out, however, as the Canadian immigration officials seemed to be more than a little perplexed about what a guy was doing driving a truck and camper through their country to Alaska in winter.

Once their questions began, it was clear that my life choices are sufficiently outside their mental comfort zone that further investigation would be required. So, I was asked to pull over, my camper was searched, I was broadly questioned about my life, my background was checked, my websites were reviewed, my money was counted and then -- almost two hours later -- I was handed my documents and wished a pleasant journey.

Once in Canada, the road opened up quite a bit and the drive was easy, pretty and enjoyable. The weather remained overcast with occasional rain all day, but that's pretty much to be expected throughout this area at this time of year.



Unfortunately, the border crossing episode put me a couple of hours behind my schedule for the day, so I stopped a bit short of my mileage goal in the town of Hope, BC. I checked into a funky little motel that was perfectly adequate for my simple overnight needs, then had some dinner at a Chinese restaurant across the street. I hit the rack very early, happy to be on my way and looking forward to moving farther north and more into the wilds.

Here is the documentary video for Day 1:




FRIDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2009

AlCan: Day 2 -- Hope, BC to Quesnel, BC


I got a pretty early start this morning, with hopes of making up the time I lost crossing the border yesterday. The weather was heavily overcast, with mist or rain most of the morning. In the low light, the colorful foliage made the view through the windshield much like looking through a kaleidoscope.



The road itself was quite good, a smooth and well maintained pair of lanes that weaved through fairly steep valleys. There were signs of habitation in places -- even a tiny town or two -- but it's clear you are already "out there" and consistently heading further into isolated areas.

I stopped just before noon in the small town of Cache Creek, where I got a sandwich for myself and a full tank of fuel for Darth. A Subway shop next to the gas station made it easy for the two of us to fill up in a hurry, so we were back on the road in thirty minutes.

While passing through Cache Creek, I left "Canada 1" (the major west-east route known as the "Trans-Canada Highway") and joined "Highway 97" (the major south-north route that is known in the area as the "Cariboo Highway"). The road continues as "Highway 97" far into the north, and although it isn't technically part of the "AlCan" or "Alaska Highway" yet, it certainly starts to feel like it ought to be.

The sun came out for part of the afternoon and the road remained quite good and dry. Everything dried out, actually, including the terrain, offering quite a change from the deep, damp forests I'd mostly driven through so far. As you can see, traffic was pretty light!



By late afternoon, I was back in overcast and occasional rain. I was also in an area of pretty significant road work being done. I imagine it takes a lot to keep this road in good shape, and the various road crews were obviously taking advantage of their opportunity before winter arrives.



As a result, I had a number of delays, usually just a few minutes but almost a half-hour on two occasions. These delays thwarted my intention to fully catch up with my planned schedule, so I didn't make it to Prince George as I had hoped. Instead, I stopped in the town of Quesnel, a fairly bustling little affair with a nice hotel and several good dining options. Once again, I made it an early night and prepared for another early start tomorrow.

Here is the documentary video for Day 2:




SATURDAY, OCTOBER 24, 2009

AlCan: Day 3 -- Quesnel, BC to Chetwynd, BC


One of the most noticeable aspects of driving so far north, so fast at this time of year, is how suddenly the foliage changes. Just yesterday I was in thick, colorful woods, and this morning the deciduous trees were almost bare. The landscape really opened up and sped by.



After a pretty fast, clear, dry two-hour drive through the morning, I pulled into the city of Prince George. You might not normally think of a place this size as a city, but relative to the larger context in which it is situated it certainly deserves the moniker.

My mid-day stop for food and fuel already had the feeling of routine, one that I will repeat another five times on this drive. How quickly we become accustomed!

I did take a little time to check in with a local tire and auto shop about what I might expect going further north. I am delighted to report that they looked at my road rig and said I was good to go without question or worry.

Speaking of my road rig, here's a photo of Darth that I just had to stop and take. We gained elevation throughout the afternoon, and with it we experienced a noticeable drop in temperature. Snow-capped mountains were another sure sign that we're getting higher, colder and further north.



At various times during the afternoon, the skies cleared and the scenery was just lovely. Except for a few areas of road construction, the drive was fast -- averaging about 50 mph -- and easy on a good, smooth roadway. I've stopped in the lovely little town of Chetwynd, still just a bit short of my intended destination in Dawson Creek, but quite satisfied with my progress for the day.

I've had no idea what to expect from this drive, but so far I'd have to say it's been pretty much a breeze. Long days behind the wheel, but quite manageable and trouble free. I suspect, however, that my luck is bound to change and conditions will become substantially more demanding!

Here is the documentary video for Day 3:




SUNDAY, OCTOBER 25, 2009

AlCan: Day 4 -- Chetwynd, BC to Fort Nelson, BC


Leaving Chetwynd, BC, this morning, I was tempted to take a cut-off road that bypasses Dawson Creek and connects with the AlCan a bit further down the road. This would save a few miles, but I was informed that the road wasn't very good and wouldn't save me very much time, if any.

Plus, it would have meant missing the actual beginning of the Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek, BC, and that seemed dumb in the context of my overall road trip. So, I drove to Dawson Creek and stopped for breakfast, fuel and a photo op. At right is the monument you see as you drive through town.

The official "Mile Marker Zero" is a few blocks away in the center of town. I also took a photo there, which I posted separately on the SP Kennel website to update folks there about my progress.

Heading northwest out of Dawson Creek, the road feels different. Partly, I think, because you are now on the actual Alcan highway, but also because the landscape is very different. The foliage has become much more sparse, the open ranges more barren and the distance between human establishments greatly increased.



The occasional 18-wheeler may go barreling by, but the traffic is remarkably light and you have a very strong sense of being alone and "out there."

The road itself is generally pretty good, always paved but not always smooth. There are some steep climbs and descents which deserve your attention.

There is sufficiently sparse development along the road that you're quite entertained by the few places you pass. This was especially true for me at the "Sasquatch Crossing" where I was happy to stop for coffee and a few friendly words with another human being in the middle of nowhere.





With the initial enthusiasm of starting a road trip long behind me -- and the energy boosts that come from the novelty of new surroundings successively diminishing -- it was a long day on the road. I never doubted my intentions, plan or resolve, but there was a moment when I realized I was not yet half way to my destination that I said aloud to myself, "Wow… This is a really long drive!"

In due course, I reached Fort Nelson, BC, where stopped for the night.

Here is the documentary video for Day 4:



Macgellan Update: On The AlCan Highway


Note: This is an excerpt from my contributions to the SP Kennel Dog Log

Howdy!... Macgellan here...

After three days of driving north from Seattle -- including a ridiculously long and involved inspection at the Canadian border! -- I passed through Dawson Creek, BC, this morning. While there -- after filling my fuel tank, belly and coffee thermos -- I stopped to have my picture taken at the famous Alaska Highway "Mile Zero" monument. You can see my "rig" in the background.


I am now in Fort Nelson, three hundred miles along the highway. I have been taking photos and video along the way, and I hope to wind up with something good enough to edit together for those of you who may be interested in what the road is like. For now, I will tell you that it is a generally good road, punctuated by patches of disrepair and some rather scary dives and climbs. Overall I am averaging about 50 miles per hour, a speed which seems to keep my knuckles from staying permanently white. The scenery is spectacular, but I can't really take my eyes off the road long enough to enjoy it!

I hope to reach Watson Lake tomorrow, then Whitehorse the following day. From there it should be only two more days to Fairbanks. So far the weather has been overcast but not bad, and I'm hoping my luck holds!

So, there's a brief update on my progress toward the Kennel. As we always say, "Stay tuned!"


MONDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2009

AlCan: Day 5 -- Fort Nelson, BC to Watson Lake, YT


It was still dark when I left Fort Nelson, BC, this morning, partly because I got an earlier than normal start but mostly because I'm sufficiently far north that latitude is significantly shortening the days.

This stretch of the AlCan is where the road crosses the Rockies, and while the passes aren't high by continental standards (only about 3,000 feet) the season, temperature and weather make them not insignificant.

Over morning coffee I'd gotten a range of reports about road conditions heading north, everything form "clear and easy" to "slick and miserable." So, I will admit I had a slightly heightened sense of anticipation about what my drive would be like.

After an initial "crunchy" patch, the road was quite clear and drivable at moderate speed. After several long, fairly steep climbs, I was "up top" and treated to some lovely sights.



Not long after, I had my first wildlife encounter -- which I filmed and narrated quite extensively in the video -- and was warmly welcomed into Yukon Territory (YT).



My lunch stop was quite entertaining. I pulled into the Rocky Mountain Lodge which -- despite there being no cars in the lot -- had a sign declaring it open. I envisioned a bowl of soup and a nice sit by the fireplace, only to find that during the winter the menu consists of a ham sandwich on dark bread to go. Thus, my "lunch stop" took all of five minutes and I was back on the road!

The weather cleared considerably in the early afternoon and I had a beautiful drive for a few hours.



Later, a very low overcast set it and a combination of light snow and drizzle made the roads a bit more challenging. Dropping my speed a little solved the problem, and I was quite comfy and happy, warm and dry, listening to my book on tape for the next few hours until reaching Watson Lake, YT.



Overall, it was a long and tiring day on the road, but so full of interesting views, experiences and encounters that I'd say it was the best day so far on the road trip.

Here is the documentary video for Day 5:




TUESDAY, OCTOBER 27, 2009

AlCan: Day 6 -- Watson Lake, YT to Haines Junction, YT


I got another early start this morning -- in the dark, of course -- leaving Watson Lake, bound for legendary Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. The morning coffee road report -- quite the social event in these parts -- called for a "crunchy" road the first hour or so, then clearing up considerably. The report was accurate, but -- thanks to the trusty road crews who had obviously been out -- the way was mostly plowed, graveled and much better than it could have been.



With my camper loaded on the back of my truck, the total weight of my rig is almost seven tons. That much mass creates a lot of momentum and limits my rig's agility.

Driving in road conditions like this calls for soft hands on the wheel, soft feet on the pedals, sharp focus and plenty of patience.

It also adds a bit of tension in the neck and shoulders -- if you catch my meaning -- so the whole experience becomes pretty tiring as the hours go by.

By late morning, however, the skies cleared, the road improved and I was able to get back into cruise mode.

The Yukon Territory is very sparsely populated, so any kind of establishment or habitation becomes noteworthy. Cresting a hill and seeing the small town of Teslin -- in its amazing locale! -- is a very pleasant and reassuring moment. The very substantial bridge crosses an arm of Teslin Lake.



The combination of few roadside services and making good time on clear roads prompted me to skip lunch and drive straight through to Whitehorse. I had planned to stop there for the day, but it was only 2pm when I arrived so I decided to push on another hundred miles to Haines Junction.

I stopped in Whitehorse only long enough to fill up on fuel and grab some snacks, then was back at the wheel. Almost immediately, the weather closed in and the road turned moderately messy.



By the time I reached Haines Junction at 4pm, I'd been driving almost eight hours straight and was quite ready to stop. I covered a lot of ground today, in varied conditions and through mostly vast, uninhabited terrain. More than once I commented aloud to myself, "This is some road!"

Here is the documentary video for Day 6:




WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2009

AlCan: Day 7 -- Haines Junction, YT to Tok, AK


I'm really glad I pushed the extra hundred miles into Haines Junction last night, because the overnight weather made the roads pretty slick and treacherous. The moment I started driving, I knew it was going to be a long, slow day!

There was a low, heavy overcast most of the time, but it opened up for moments here and there to offer some nice views. I would definitely put the combination in a "Beauty and the Beast" category!



Overall, I was able to average only about 30mph. In addition to the road's slickness, it had many "frost heaves" in it, undulations of a foot or more in depth that appeared out of nowhere and made my rig buck like a bronco. One minute you're cruising along, and the next you're bouncing out of your seat.

This section is by far the most challenging of the entire AlCan highway, though even at its worst it was never as bad as I feared it might be when I planned the road trip.

Mid-afternoon I rolled up to the Canada-US border and cleared through after only a few questions. A welcomed difference from my ordeal coming into Canada!

From the border, it's about 90 miles to the town of Tok, mostly along straight, flat, tundra-crossing roadway. It winds through mountain passes in places, and occasionally offers pretty views.



It took me almost ten hours to complete the day's three hundred mile drive. (I'll let you do the speed calculation on that for yourself.) This was definitely the hardest day of driving yet, a clear indication that I am pushing the season. I'm glad I only have one more day to go!

Here is the documentary video for Day 7:




THURSDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2009

AlCan: Day 8 -- Tok, AK to Fairbanks, AK


It snowed overnight in Tok, and was still snowing pretty heavily when I hit the road this morning. The visibility was sufficiently poor that I got very few usable photos from my dash-cam, but here's one that will at least give you a feel for what I was dealing with.



For about a hundred miles northwest out of Tok, the road is almost perfectly straight and flat. The terrain is lightly wooded throughout this part of the Alaskan interior.

The Alaska Highway ends in Delta Junction, AK, about 1,400 miles from where it started in Dawson Creek, BC. There's not much in Delta Junction besides fuel, food and other travel necessities, but it's a substantial establishment by comparison.

At that point, my road trip from Seattle had been about 800 miles longer, with yet another hundred miles to my ultimate destination in Fairbanks. I turned right on the Richardson highway and kept driving.

The Richardson is one of Alaska's few major roadways, running from Valdez in the south up to Fairbanks in the north. I have driven this part of the Richardson many, many times before during my previous winter's sled dog escapades, so it felt very familiar to me. The sky had cleared and the road was plowed, so it was a pleasant, comfortable final leg of my road trip.



Pulling into Fairbanks actually felt a little anti-climactic, quite probably because I was pretty worn out -- even numbed -- by eight days of solid driving. Nevertheless, I was well aware that I had successfully completed my epic road trip, very happily without major incident or problem.

I hope you've enjoyed -- or perhaps I should say I'm glad you've endured! -- the journey with me.

Here is the final documentary video for Day 8:



Macgellan Update: Greetings From Fairbanks!


Note: This is an excerpt from my contributions to the SP Kennel Dog Log

After eight hard days of driving, I arrived in Fairbanks late this afternoon with a real sense of accomplishment.

It would be impossible to describe the AlCan drive in words, but I'm confident that I have enough good photos and video to edit into something special for you to see. I promise to work on it as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, I'd just like to give credit where credit is due. My trusty truck -- whom I call "Darth" for obvious reasons -- performed spectacularly during the entire 2,300 mile journey. Here is a photo of him on the road today from Tok to Delta Junction.


Considering the number of people I talked to along the way who suffered breakdowns, flat tires, busted axles and the like, I am very thankful for a mechanically uneventful drive. Thanks to Darth!

I decided to stay in town tonight rather than push on to the Kennel. Partly because it is already getting dark and I didn't want to try to get set up there without being able to see what I'm doing. Mostly, though, because I'm pretty worn out and wanted to give myself a night to rest up a little before diving into the fast pace of the Kennel.

And fast paced I can assure you it will be! Just as soon as I get done smooching every dog in the yard, I'll have a meeting with the bosses and "get after it!"

Stay tuned!

3 comments:

Anonymous said...


I just picked up these comment because I was wondering where the Yukon Highway started and stopped but read every page you wrote. Very enjoyable and glad you did it for us non adventurous people. I am glad DARTH was your pal. Often wonder, however, what people do if they have technical problems and cannot call AAA. Good Luck to you and the dogs.
G

Justin Estelle said...

Are there pull ins along the route so you can stay in your camper in the winter. Making a trip from Seattle in late march. I have 3 dogs and am not planning on staying in hotels, and from what I can tell all camp grounds are closed until after may.

Justin

Justin Estelle said...

Are there pull ins along the route for your camper that you can utilize durning the winter months. Making the same trip in March and don't plan on staying in a hotel.