Almost two weeks ago, a beat up green suitcase, a crying 7 month old, and a half crazed mother loaded into a Honda pilot, along with an adventure bound young man, and the troupe went spinning off for Alaska. My baby Job, myself, and my brother were about to trek over 3,000 miles in 5 days across some of the most desolate land on earth. My brother was moving to Alaska and invited me along to help him make the drive.
The Alaska highway, which connects the lower 48 with Alaska, also known as the ALCAN was built in 1942 after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Feeling that America needed to be able to better defend the Alaskan territory, President Roosevelt and Congress commissioned the Army Corp of Engineers to build a military road from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, to Fairbanks, Alaska. In eight months, more than 10,000 U.S. Soldiers, Canadian military, and civilians completed a rough dirt road, 1,543 miles long. The actual Alaska Highway begins in Dawson Creek, BC.
We drove for three days before we reached the beginning of the ALCAN highway. Up until then the drive was mostly like driving through the western United States, mountains, prairie, and a town every so often. But after Dawson Creek, there was very little of anything. In an eight hour drive, we only passed a town of about 1,000 people and a few whistle stop gas stations (mostly closed for the season). After about 500 miles we stopped in the heart of the Rocky Mountains to stay the night in a mountain lodge which runs most of its business in the summer time for people going on fishing trips. Because it is so remote, the lodge has its own plane which they land on a frozen lake in the winter time!
The next day we set off for the city of Whitehorse in the Yukon. Again, it took 8 hours and about another 500 miles to reach this tow. Also, once again, there was very little of anything, but a lot of wilderness. When we reached Whitehorse I felt like I had truly reached the middle of nowhere-it took 16 hours to reach a city so small there wasn’t even a Wal-Mart! Whitehorse began in 1892 when men stampeded north to find gold. Since then the town has mostly survived on mining, timber, and tourists.
After Whitehorse, we began to enter more of “the middle of nowhere” as we drove from Whitehorse to Tok, Alaska. On this part of the highway we saw about 4 cars. The drive was all in the mountains and was absolutely gorgeous. The road was bumpy and wavy from the permafrost in the soil. Since the dirt that the road is built on is made up of a lot of water, when the permafrost begins to thaw in the summer time, it wreaks havoc on the road. Apparently engineers have yet to be able to come up with a solution for how to build a stable road on this unstable ground.
On the fifth day of driving we finally entered into Alaska! Oddly, at first the terrain in Alaska looked very much like the terrain in Canada…. Sorry, I know, stupid joke. But that is how I felt when we finally made it to our destination, rather giddy, rather stir crazy, and quite relieved to be out of the car. The drive into Anchorage was absolutely breath taking. The mountains were incredible, their inspiring majesty rising up into the blue sky. My brother and I discussed how we could look at a mountain over and over, day after day, and still be in awe of its craggy heights. I think this must be because mountains are a way God reveals Himself in His creation. In mountains we see God’s power, might, and reassuring faithfulness.
Once we were in Anchorage, I had a few days to kill before returning home to Klamath Falls. I was disappointed to find that nearly everything to do in Alaska is a summer activity, and even many of the museums were closed for the season. However, the Museum of Anchorage was open, and so one afternoon Job and I wandered into the museum and enjoyed the self guided tour of Alaska’s history. Or rather I enjoyed the tour, and Job enjoyed chewing on my water bottle.
Alaska’s history is rather brief, much of it revolving around the native tribes who were the first to venture into Alaska’s forbidding land. The natives lived a nomadic life, moving around according to the season and what could be hunted during the season. Russians were the first explorers to come to Alaska during the late 1700’s. They began a lucrative fur trade which they carried on until when the sold the land to the United States. Many Americans were critical of the purchase of the distant “icebox”, however, when gold and oil were discovered, people began to realize the value of the Alaskan territory. Many of the early settlers in Alaska came in search of gold, but today the major industries are mining, fishing, oil, and tourism. Oh, one other interesting detail was that not only was Pearl Harbor attacked in WWII, but the Aleutian Islands in Alaska were also bombed.
Then, on Sunday morning, at 12:30 a.m., Job and I boarded a plane to return home. Job had a blast on the trip, I think he has his mom’s travel bug, and he was enamored with the airport, I think because he has his dad’s social bug. So perhaps we have created a monster! I definitely recommend a trip to Alaska, and if possible, a trip along the Alaska highway. An experience in true wilderness can be life changing. However, I do recommend a trip in the summer time!